Appa was doing his annual spring cleaning routine, which involves going through his termites infested cupboard and pull out papers and old correspondence. The sorting process is elaborate and too many of these papers cannot be got rid of - just yet. May be next year, he would tell much to Amma's chagrin. Amma is due to return in another two weeks time and Appa decided to do the sorting out before she returned.
Several worn out pieces of paper jostle for space in the cupboard. These include some old Term Deposits, bank deposit slips, old telephone bills, house related bills, letters that were exchanged with some NBFI's that went bust in the late 90s, etc.
Why do you need these, I asked him? Shall I throw them away, I volunteered.
Appa very quickly pulled the papers from me and looked mortified at the thought of all these papers being thrown away. We CANNOT throw them away, he insisted.
What if we need them tomorrow, he persisted.
What happens after I die, he demanded to know?
You mean to say that these companies will revive and pay us the money, I asked?
Appa looked a little defensive and then pulled out one letter and showed it to me. Look at this letter, Mr AK Katiar himself has promised that he will pay us back the money once RBI does something. Or else, he says pulling out another letter, this company has a office in Barakhamba Road and you could get my five thousand rupees from them.
Are you suggesting that I go to Delhi for this?
Looking up from the paper Thatha informs us rather excitedly that bombs went off in Barakhmaba Road. Paati joins in and asks me, what is the use of being a journalist if you can't help your own father?
I give up and instead start wildly swinging the broom to gt rid of the dust like powder accumulated and driving Paati and Thatha out of the room temporarily. Besides these yellowed papers of hope, there are also a few plastic covers and files that are marked as: T Anna, S and ATP.
What are those, I ask Appa?
Those are all the papers from the time you were born until now, he said.
Do you know we can register births and deaths online these days, Thatha butted in. After I die, you must register my death online. Thatha loves to talk and speculate about death and post death scenarios. I had visions of me logging into the Chennai Corporation website and have my entire extended clan crowding around me as I tried to find the register buttons to do the needful.
I told Appa that I will sort the file that said ATP and see what all I needed and what I didn't. Appa wouldn't hear any of that. You are not yet settled, we can't sort your file, he insisted.
I sighed. How about T Anna's then, I asked. Surely, he is settled, I said and ripped open the file. There were a million copies of T Anna's Class XII mark-sheet. So, he got fabulous marks, still what was the need for so many copies.
Well, one needs the Class XII mark-sheet for everything, Appa said. It was also because, at that time we lived at Thatha's house and Attestation Maama lived next door. He was the gazetted officer for all the inhabitants of our street and every week, someone or the other would ask Attestation Maami to ask her husband to bring the seal from office. Unfortunately, Attestation Maama died suddenly and S and I don't have the luxury of having a life-time supply of attested mark-sheets. Appa not so willingly agreed to get rid of the the mark-sheets. I think a little dead cockroach that dropped down from between the sheets is what did the trick.
The next was a bunch of certificates that T Anna had got from a non profit firm for allegedly contributing towards the welfare of the elderly. I really couldn't recall T Anna doing anything meaningful towards this cause. It then stuck that the school had given us a book of raffle tickets to sell, the proceeds of which were to go to some cause. While Poongothai and I divided the various houses of Boag Road between us, T Anna delegated the task to Paati. Paati got all the Maamis from the Paatu Group to buy a ticket each and T Anna was given an award.
Paati looked at the certificate and beamed with pride. T Anna was always such a conscious and caring boy, she said. I giggled and decided to not burst her bubble.
Then there were several copies of T Anna's horoscope. Now, that can be thrown. By all accounts, M Manni didn't look like she was going to divorce T Anna anytime soon, so why keep it. Before throwing them away, I decided to take a look at it, to see what fabulous qualities my brother possessed. Among references to his wheatish complexion, athletic built and gleaming gold medals, was a reference to his multiple hobbies and interests.
T Anna had interests, I thought with a feeling of wonder.
Apparently he does. Or did, at any rate. Among the many that were mentioned, included – Quizzing and Chess.
Quizzing? Quizzing? T Anna wasn't into any quizzing, I said indignantly.
Appa waved his hands dismissively and said that this particular hobby was a later addition. Apparently, there was too much pressure to add some extra curricular activities as part of the horoscope. A little bit of embellishment you see, Appa said.
But T Anna wasn't into quizzing. I said sounding like a spoilt record by now.
He wasn't, but could have been, Paati said with an air of finality.
You must admit, he could have been a quizzer if he wanted to, Appa continued. After all, he went to an IIT, followed obscure European league matches and spent more time reading the newspaper than any sub-editor did.
Correct, he was perfect for quizzing, Thatha said in a tone that said that we ought to close the discussion.
I was horrified at this make believe world that my family had created, attributing a wish-list of personality traits to their children. And if they were doing this to their perfect son, imagine what all embellishments went into mine.
I pulled out Version 2.0 of my horoscope and looked in. I knew most of the contents, but I still checked, and there it was. My hobbies included – Quizzing and Chess.
Chess brought back some humiliating memories. I must have been seven years old or so and on a lazy Sunday afternoon T Anna was teaching me how to play chess. When he was explaining the intricacies involved in moving the horse (knight, if you prefer), he said with exasperation, how difficult is it ATP? It is just 1-2-1. You have to move it in a yeLL shape. I didn't see the multiple yeLLs that T Anna was seeing. I didn't understand, why he said, 1-2-1 and not 1-2-3. But, I wanted to impress my brother. So, I tried. And tried some more. Eventually, T Anna walked away in disgust and left me there with tear filled eyes. I never tried playing chess after that. Unless you take into account the occasional game with Thatha, where he suggests moves for me too.
So, I suppose, I might get away with that.
Now on Quizzing, I don't even have the required Quizzing Personality. Surely this was a bit much. I confronted the family about it. Appa shrugged and said that, all bright Tamizh boys want girls who are into Quizzing.
Really? How do you know that, I asked.
Thatha offered an explanation, nowadays all the girls can tell the difference between Madhuvanti and Dharmavati, but if you also know about things like how candle light was used to ascertain the value of postage before the invention of stamps, that gives you an edge.
I am scared. I mean, saying my hobby is Kolam putting or kozhaktai making is not something that can be really tested in a first meeting with a boy. What if I am quizzed about something? I recall not so fondly the Bournvita Quiz contest book that N Chitappa gave me as a child. I was excited enough to write my name possessively on it. Of the thousand questions that the book had answers to, I had memorized just one. The first question that asked, what was the capital of Ghana. Accra, I would say over and over again. I had an Accra rule of making friends even. When I met new people, I asked them, what was the capital of Ghana. If they could answer that, they could be my friends. I even supported them during a World Cup. Not that I watched anything, but it was a conversation point.
Back to the cleaning, I take away all the papers that Appa has decided to discard this year. I put them into the dustbin before he changes his mind. I still can't get over the – ATP is an avid quizzer tag. After a while Appa tells me, it needn't be that complex you know. Most likely, the boy who claims he is into quizzing, could be a quizzer because his parents were trying to add some drama to his marriage resume.
It could be a case like T Anna, I concede.
Yes. And if he is in Madras, he probably went to the Landmark Quiz. As an audience, he adds.
I laugh at how wicked Appa is. And if some boy marries me for my alleged quizzing skills, serves him right even.
I tell Appa that now that we have got rid of so many papers, he can share T Anna's shelf and this cupboard be given to keep some other stuff.
Appa shakes his head and mutters something about how I am turning out to be more and more like Amma with every passing day.
I am horrified.