Our story begins on a warm summer day, many years ago. Seated on a rickety bench in an unfamiliar hall – venue for my tenth board exam – I felt my mind go strangely blank. The building was ancient. The crumbling walls and gaping holes in the gabled roof stood testimony to years of neglect. And lost within its entrails, I felt cursed. For eternity. Damned by a single plop.
Though I had discarded the desecrated answer sheets and got replacements, the stench of failure pervaded my senses. Even as salty tear drops threatened to drench the rest, I could not proceed. Limit of tan theta plus cos… “Rrooo rrooo rrrooo…” they seemed to mock me from above.
Fast-forward to my college days.
Ramu kaka had finally managed to prise it open – the single window of our dingy mouldy hostel cell. Even as we welcomed the first breath of fresh air, I felt tingly. Something was terribly wrong. Over the week we developed sudden inexplicable rashes and acute wheezing.
Normally, I’m not a superstitious person. But from then on, I started acutely sensing their presence wherever I went. They lurked everywhere as an ominous gurgling sound reverberating through dark shafts and alley ways, as a putrid stench wafting from unoccupied spaces, as a cloud of debris suspended in the air, or as a single red eye peering through half-shut windows. They seemed to be omnipresent. Omnipotent. Omniscient…
Anything that disturbed the status quo made them vicious. Our new kitten was harassed. Everything placed outside the four walls of my house – vases, plants, paintings – were either trashed or destroyed. I knew I had to fight back. But how?
I’m not at ease being a badass… You could say I’m happy-go-lucky. Warm and fuzzy. Like a panda. “Or slow. Like a sloth…” my mum suggested now, rolling her eyes. But how could I be offended? Sloths have such dear smiles! (See what I mean? I’m nice!)
And then, the unthinkable happened.
I had just got back from a long and tiring day at office. With a sigh of relief I turned on the hot shower – my few moments of peace before I had to rush for dinner. Today’s special was Chettinad prawn masala – a mouth-watering delicacy ordered from a restaurant nearby!
My grandma, a militant vegetarian, disapproved my tastes.
“Live and let live, granny dear,” I would tell her with a smile. Grudgingly, she would forgive me my Friday-night indulgence.
The very thought of dinner made my stomach rumble. I patted myself dry with my recently-laundered sun-toasted towel, fresh from the terrace. Was there something squishy and pasty on my face? Didn’t I wash away the soap?
One look into the mirror and I turned into a raging black bear… “Rrooo rrooo rrrooo…” I could hear it snigger, peering through the slits of my bathroom window with one beady red eye.
Roaring, I threw open the pane. “Smack!” The avian menace catapulted off the window ledge in a flurry of dust and feathers.
Ouch! That must have hurt. A lesson well-learnt.
How wrong I was!
That spank was like an adrenalin shot. In an admirable display of wing power, the loathsome creature took a U-turn. It was an Angry Bird, and I, a dirty green pig. I ducked. And suddenly, it was inside my bathroom.
Screaming, I shot out and streaked across the living room, a bird in hot pursuit. As I crashed into my startled mother, the casserole in her hands took flight.
Boy! Wouldn’t it have made a beautiful sight – the dove, like Christ the Redeemer; wings spread, iridescent under the halo of hanging lamps above, framed by a wonderous rufous arc of steaming Chettinad curry – had it not been for my grandma seated nearby…
“Grandma… Pigeon!” I spluttered. “All its fault…”
A sizeable chunk of prawn slid down grandma’s neck onto her lap. I could feel heat radiate from her body… Was it the warmth of the curry? Her hostile glare suggested otherwise…
“Rrooo…?” cooed the culprit innocently and settled near my grandma. “Rrooo…?” And the brazen devil started eating. MY dinner. Seated on MY grandma’s lap!
“You filthy bird… Rodent of the skies!!!” I hissed. “Feasting on...”
“Erm… Roaches of the seas?” My mum suggested helpfully.
She had always been a hopeless fan of alliterations. (â—”_â—”)