Friday, 21 September 2012


The clan of Pallavas rose to power during the reign of Mahendravarman I (571 to 630 CE) and Narasimhavarman I (630 to 668 CE) and dominated the Telugu speaking Andhra region and the northern parts of Tamuzh Nadu for about six hundred years until the end of the 9th century. This is a fictious story set in the period of the Pallavas; so read on & I hope you enjoy it…

The young woman stared desolately out of the window. Her vacant gaze revealed the turbulence in her mind. The young lady was rather attractive and must have been not more than twenty-five years of age. She wore the finest jewelry and ornaments of her time. Her features were exquisite and she was one of the most attractive women in the entire capital city of Kancheepuram. However, she was also one of the unhappiest women in the entire city

The young lady in her unhappiness and resentment began to think of her past; a past filled with poverty and hunger. The young woman had hailed from a poor agrarian family, which had lived in a small town called Goontur, which belonged to the Pallava Empire in the 8th century A.D. During a terrible time of drought and famine, ten years ago, her father had brought his two daughters, her elder sister and herself to the capital city of Kancheepuram. During those days it was the custom to get daughters married within a couple of months after they attained puberty but unfortunately the poor farmer from Goontur had no money and his resources were further depleted by recurrent drought and famine. As a result he could not get his two daughters married at the appropriate time and they had grown to be sixteen and fifteen while continuing to live in their father’s house.

The poor father soon realized that the two girls were well past their marriageable age and had therefore decided to dispose them of in an alternative manner. He had therefore brought these two daughters to the market in Kancheepuram in an attempt to sell them off to the highest bidder.

While at the market, the eldest daughter, Kamya, had caught the fancy of a Chola Nobleman who had come on a visit to the capital of the Pallava kingdom as an emissary of the Chola king. Attracted by the beauty of the elder sister he had taken away the sixteen-year-old girl as his concubine to Thanjavoor the capital city of the Chola Kingdom after paying twelve gold coins to the poor farmer. The poor farmer was overjoyed with the money he received and thought of taking back his younger daughter with him to Goontur. But he then realized that she would still be a burden upon him and therefore waited for the right customer to come and buy her as well.

Maya which was the name of the younger daughter did not fetch as much as her elder sister but a Minister in the Pallava court who happened to pass by the market happened to take a liking to her and therefore after a lot of bargaining agreed to buy her for ten gold coins. The poor farmer was indeed overjoyed and without even a cursory good bye to his younger daughter left the market to enjoy the benefits of his new found wealth and numb his consciousness into a drunken stupor.

Poor Maya was rather frightened as she followed the Pallava Minister who dragged her along to a big house situated on the out-skirts of Kancheepuram city which belonged to him. The Pallava Minister was almost fifty years old and was already married to a mean matron who was forty-two years old. His wife was a shrew and kept lashing the Minister constantly with her verbal tirade. She found fault with any and everything, which the Minister did for her. She neither fed him properly nor took care of his sexual appetites leaving the old Minister frustrated and despondent.

When he bought Maya from her father, the Minister had two sons aged twenty and eighteen respectively. His sons were the apples of his eyes and he loved them very much; but not as much as he began to love Maya. He was then a Minister in charge of maintaining the King’s Palaces of that time. He considered Maya as his Talisman for it was only after she came into his life that his professional career graph soared up and he soon became the Principal Minister of the then Pallava king Raghaveendra Varman. Ten years had passed since he had bought Maya and it was the happiest ten years of his life.

Initially, the girl had been rather frightened and uncooperative but as time passed Maya began to accept her fate and settled down to her life as the mistress of one of the most powerful men in the Pallava Kingdom. The Minister for his part really doted on Maya. He showered costly gifts on her of finest silks, exquisite jewelry and costly stones. Having been sexually starved he behaved like a starving man in front of whom a royal feast had been laid. He initiated young Maya into the world of sexual pleasures and taught her the fine art of making a man happy.

He taught her various methods, postures and positions as expounded in the “Kokko Shastra” which was a treatise in Tamuzh, which equaled the Sanskrit creation of Vatsayana, which was popularly called the “Kama Sutra”. In fact a few Tamuzhs even believed that the “Kama Sutra” was a plagiarisation of the “Kokko Shastra”. For her part, Maya was happy to make the Minister happy and remained loyal and faithful to him. His smallest whim and wish were her commands and she did all that she could to make him happy. However, that was not the cause of her unhappiness.

Meanwhile, Kamya, her elder sister too had done very well for herself in the Chola capital of Thanjavoor to which the Chola Noble Man had taken her. The Chola Noble had a rather sickly wife who could not take good care of him and all his needs. This was the reason why he had purchased Kamya from her father. He had no children since his wife was too sickly to bear a child and therefore he lived a rather lonely life.

Within a year of his bringing Kamya to Thanjavoor and setting her up in a palacious house, his legally wedded wife passed away. It was Kamya who then filled the vacuum in his life and made him happy. The Chola Noble Man began to love Kamya sincerely for he sensed a character of steel within her that added to her beauty. When his relatives started searching for another wife for him from within his community he put his foot down and refused to toe their line. He insisted that he would only marry Kamya and much against the wishes of his friends and relatives he married her in a simple but stately ceremony and brought her to live with him in his ancestral house.

It was eight years now since the Chola Noble had married Kamya and they now had two children; the first-born a girl who was six years old followed by a boy who was just four years old. They were very happy and Maya soon obtained all this information from the traveling salesmen and tradesmen who went from kingdom to kingdom to sell their wares. Maya had even sent a message to Kamya through one of them and the wandering salesman had brought back a message from Kamya on his next trip. In her message Kamya had expressed her happiness at Maya being the mistress of the Principal Minister of the Pallava Empire and had invited her to come and stay a few days with her in her house in Thanjavoor.

However, this was not the cause of Maya’s grief and remorse today. Though she was one of the most beautiful women in the Pallava Empire she was still not accepted amongst the womenfolk of Kancheepuram city and was only treated with contempt for after all she was only the mistress of the Principal Minister and not his legally wedded wife.

Maya had made several attempts to be friendly with the wives of the other Ministers and nobles in the Pallava King’s court but had failed miserably in all her attempts and only ended up being sarcastically called a whore and a prostitute. This hurt Maya rather badly for she did not consider herself a prostitute. She was not the kind who sold her body to all and sundry without any emotions. She loved her Master and Lord, the Principal Minister and was sincere and faithful to him and only him. The more she pondered on the taunts of the neighbourhood women, the more she felt heart-broken. She was unable to accept their taunts with a couldn’t care less attitude and every taunt was a whiplash on her soul. However, Maya was not one to take things lying down. She decided to do something about it; but before that she wanted to spend some time with her elder sister and play with her kids for she felt that would be the balm that would soothe her soul….

That night when the Principal Minister came to visit her, she casually told him that she wished to see her sister since it was ten years since she had last seen her and a lot of water had flown under the bridge since then. Moreover, she told him that she wished to play with her niece and nephew and spend a week or two with them.

The Pallava Minister at first objected since he knew that his nights would turn desolate if Maya was not there to spend them with. However, Maya insisted that she should go and that it would also provide the Minister an opportunity to spend some time with his children who were now in the prime of their youth. The Principal Minister of the Pallavas mulled over the idea of spending time with his two grown up sons and decided that he would take them out hunting to the forest near by as it would provide an opportunity for male bonding and comradeship.

Finally, with great hesitation the Principal Minister agreed to let Maya go to her sister’s house in Thanjavoor while laying the condition that she should not be gone for even a day more than two weeks. Maya happily agreed to this for it was only two weeks that she needed. The next morning the Minister made arrangements for a stately Palanquin with strong able-bodied eunuchs to take her all the way to Thanjavoor. It was a journey of almost 200 miles and with a heavy heart he bid farewell to Maya while bestowing a lot of expensive gifts, which she could give to her sister and her children.

Maya was full of joy and wanted to reach Thanjavoor as quickly as possible. She therefore informed the Minister that she would prefer to ride on horse back since the journey would take more than four days in one direction if she traveled by the Palanquin and she would not be left with much time to spend with her sister and her family. A woman on horse back was a very rare phenomenon in those days and the Principal Minister was therefore shocked at her request. He refused to let her go on horseback but Maya was adamant and the Principal Minister had to relent.

Finally, by eleven that morning Maya left on a black stallion accompanied by two male eunuchs as her escorts riding two brown geldings. Maya did not even bother to rest that night and stretched her horse to the maximum limit possible. She knew that her horse needed rest and that physical exertion of the horse would affect all her plans. However, her emotional need was far greater than the physical needs of the horse and therefore she hardened her heart and drove the horse hard as she rode all night long.

By the next morning she reached the out skirts of Thanjavoor and managed to find her way to Kamya’s residence. Kamya was overjoyed to see Maya and the two sisters hugged each other as tears flowed down their cheeks incessantly. Kamya’s two little children were bewildered by their mother’s display of emotions while her husband the Chola Noble man observed their reunion rather dispassionately.

Maya spent the next two days with her sister and her children. She was so happy that she wondered if she had ever felt happier than that in all her life. However, by the end of the second day Maya began to feel restless. Though Maya had been happy during the past two days she still felt a void in her heart and she soon realized that she was missing her beloved Principal Minister. On the third day morning she informed her sister that she would like to go wandering around the city market since she wanted to pick up some trinkets for her dear Principal Minister.

Kamya offered to come with Maya to the market but Maya refused stating that she wanted some time to herself to think over a lot of issues. Kamya was puzzled by Maya’s response but did not probe her. Maya then proceeded on foot to the market. In the market she avoided all the luxurious shops and went in search of the seedier parts of the market. At some places she would stop and question the uncouth louts who happened to be lazing around on the wayside. She returned to Kamya’s house that evening without making any purchases. When Kamya questioned her about what she had done the whole day she replied that she had not been able to find anything suitable or worthy of her beloved Principal Minister.

The next day morning Maya again ventured out into the city. When Kamya again offered to accompany her she muttered that she needed time by herself and left in haste leaving Kamya surprised. That day Maya finally found a man sitting outside a hut with a potter’s wheel in front of it. However, the man did not look like a potter but appeared to look more like a brigand with his rough unshaven face, coarse hands and muscular frame which could put any theatric villain to shame. After a lot of bargaining Maya settled at a price that seemed to make the roguish villain satisfied.

That evening when Maya returned to her sister’s house, she had two dolls made of clay in her hands; the dolls were a pair; a male and a female and were neatly painted on the outside, with bright colours. The dolls were attractive and what was more attractive was that the dolls kept shaking their heads in unison without remaining still. They were what is popularly know as the famous Thanjavoor head shaking dolls which were the specialty of the region.

Maya did not venture out of the house for the next four days, but preferred to stay at home and play with Kamya’s kids. Though she seemed to be physically in Kamya’s house her thoughts were far away and her mind appeared vacant. When Kamya questioned her about it she said that she missed her beloved Principal Minister and it was her longing for him that made her appear to be far away.

The next day Maya again ventured out into the city early in the morning. When Kamya again offered to accompany her, Maya again refused saying that she wanted to be by herself for a while. Maya’s strange behaviour perplexed Kamya but she kept quiet, as she did not want to make her sister unhappy. That morning Maya hurriedly went to the same potter’s hut where she had met the roguish oaf.

The brigand seemed to have been waiting for her and as soon as Maya appeared he got to his feet and went towards her. “Have you done what I have asked you to do?” Maya questioned the potter. “Yes, I have”, replied the potter. “Did you leave any clues behind?” she questioned him again. “No. I made sure that I left neither clues nor witnesses. In fact when I was strangling the lady a man in royal attire came into the house and surprised me. He tried to raise an alarm but I did not spare him as well. I finished him off with my knife and left without anyone observing me” he replied. On hearing this, Maya wailed out loud and swooned.


On the outskirts of Chennai, the city where I live in Southern India, it is said that there once lived a famous knife thrower. I don’t know how many of you know what knife throwing is all about for now it is a dead art and you rarely find knife throwers except in a few stray circuses.

For the benefit of the uninitiated let me explain what knife throwing was all about. The knife thrower was usually a man who could throw his knife blind folded with deadly accuracy. Normally, the knife thrower would have a partner; usually a female who would be strapped on to a rotating wheel and the knife thrower who would then be blind folded would hurl his knives from a distance of about fifty metres at the rotating wheel. While the knives would land on the circumference of the wheel with precision and accuracy they would appear to just miss the hands and feet of the woman tied to the wheel, while a collective gasp of anxiety would go up from the assembled gathering with every miss of the knife.

It was such a knife thrower that I am now referring to. The knife thrower and his paramour who also was his female partner in his knife throwing act, lived on the outskirts of Chennai and frequently toured other parts of the country to display their skills and make a living out of it. It is said that the knife thrower during one of his tours had by mistake thrown the knife at the heart of his paramour and killed her on the spot. It was also rumored by a few people that the knife thrower had begun to doubt the fidelity of his paramour and had therefore deliberately thrown the knife at her heart and had killed her.

Whatever, the case may be it is said that the grief stricken knife thrower took to the bottle in a huge way to overcome his grief. It is said that in his inebriated state he turned into a dacoit and began looting the passer bys who traveled on the high way near which he lived. It is also further said that the knife thrower turned dacoit amassed a huge fortune and one day in a fit of drunken frenzy stabbed fifty knives into his heart and killed himself in remorse for his lost paramour.

While this incident had taken place nearly a hundred years ago, many of my friends who used to travel on this high way regularly have informed me that while traveling in the middle of the night on a particular stretch of the highway they come across an apparition of the knife thrower turned dacoit who appeared before them with a knife dripping with blood and staring into their eyes demanded, “Shall I throw?”, with the arm holding the knife outstretched as if in preparedness to throw the knife at them. Needless to say that all my dear friends who witnessed this apparition and faced its threatening gesture ran away in fear before the knife thrower could kill them.

News of this midnight apparition spread far and wide and people started avoiding that stretch of the highway at midnight and rather took a detour while traveling. However, there was another friend of mine who did not believe in God or Ghosts and having heard of all this decided to go and meet the apparition of the knife thrower at midnight on a new moon day.

The apparition appeared to this non believer just as it had to all the others and threatened him as well. My non believing friend assumed that it was all a prank being carried out by some mischievous elements and boldly challenged the apparition, “Throw if you wish. I am prepared.” The moment my non believing friend said this, the knife throwing apparition dropped its knife and picked up a huge wooden chest and threw it by the feet of my non believing friend.

My friend was surprised to find that the chest contained rubies, diamonds, emeralds, pearls and many other precious stones and gold coins as well as ornaments. The apparition then peacefully looked at my friend and said, “Thank you, for accepting what I threw at you; for this treasure is what I had looted from all the innocent people who passed by this highway and I was destined to escape my bondage as an apparition only if a living human being accepted the treasure from me. Thanks to you, I can now go and live in the spirit world with my dear paramour,” having said this, the apparition vanished and never again reappeared on that stretch of the highway.

My dear non believer friend is now a rich believer. He is greatly into charity and social service as well as the renaissance of religion. All my other friends who ran away from the apparition now curse themselves for not having had the guts to face the apparition and accepting its challenge.


There were hardly ten people inside when the first bus for Palani left the Madurai bus stand at 4:30 a.m. that cold November morning. The driver had, consumed too much hooch the previous night and was in no condition to walk, let alone drive. The conductor who began issuing the tickets a few minutes before the bus left the stand had still not woken up from his sleep. The passengers on board were also sleepy eyed and cuddled themselves inside long shawls which they had draped over themselves to keep away the cold and early November morning dew.

Of the ten passengers, seven were men who appeared to be rustic and rough hewn. They seemed to look like farmers who had come to the city from the nearby villages to buy seeds and fertilizers the previous evening and had stayed back to enjoy the pleasures of the city before boarding the first bus back home in the morning.

Of the three women on board the bus, one was a health worker on her way to a remote village to organize a vaccination camp to arrest the spread of Dengue, which was affecting the neighbourhood The other two women were slightly older and one of them was the wife of a temple priest in the town of Palani; the destination to which the bus was heading. The third women appeared to be much coarser than the other two but appeared to be wealthy for she was adorned with gold jewelry from head to toe. The jewelry hanging from her ears were so heavy that it had stretched and elongated her ears so that the hole pierced in the ear had grown to the size of a one-rupee coin (Not the new one rupee coin but the one that had existed twenty years ago).

When the driver boarded the bus and took his seat behind the steering wheel he noticed a huge bronze vessel, which had been placed near the bonnet covering the bus engine. The vessel was of the type, which was used to prepare food during huge wedding feasts and was covered by a thick yellow cloth, which appeared to have splashes of red vermillion sprinkled on it. The cloth was tied tightly around the neck of the vessel to resemble the vessels, which are used to carry sacred items during temple consecration ceremonies. The driver wondered which of the ten passengers could have brought the bronze vessel and stored it inside near the windshield of the bus. It would have certainly required immense strength to carry it up and place it where it now stood right in front near the windshield to the left of the driver.

A few feet away from the door of the bus sat the coarse woman adorned with gold jewelry. She had actually come from the village to visit her son and his family who lived in the city of Madurai. The son had obtained employment as a small time government servant in the city and had therefore settled down in the city leaving behind his mother and his farm in the village. It was this son that this coarse old lady had come to visit and was now going back to her farm. Her son and grand children had come to the bus stand to send off the old lady and had departed after biding good-bye, when the bus began its journey.

Madurai to Palani was a distance of approximately a hundred and twenty kilometres and took about three hours to cover with the last seventy odd kilometers consisting of uphill climbing on the Ghat section.

The bus conductor walked up to the old lady and asked her where she wanted to go. When the old lady replied, he ripped off the ticket and handed it over to her while demanding the money for the same. It was at this moment that he noticed the huge bronze vessel and asked if it belonged to her for then she would have to pay for the extra luggage.

The old woman looked around furtively and found no one claiming the vessel as their own. At the spur of the moment her greed overcame her caution and she impulsively replied in the affirmative. The conductor then demanded ten rupees extra for the additional luggage; which the old lady immediately paid for and obtained a booking slip for the same.

The woman wondered what could be inside the bronze vessel which was securely tied with the yellow cloth around its neck. The vessel appeared to be smeared with sacred ash and vermillion on all sides. She was quite certain that the vessel contained some temple treasures which some thief had left behind in his hurry to escape from the law.

She dreamt of gold coins and ornaments bigger and heavier than what she herself was wearing. Whatever it may be, she was quiet sure that even if there was nothing inside, the very bronze vessel itself could fetch her a few thousands for it appeared to be quiet heavy.

As the woman day-dreamed of her new found wealth the bus wound its way through innumerable villages and small towns on its way to Palani. Within a few kilometers from its point of origin, many more people got on to the bus and soon the bus became very crowded with farmers and local business men on their way to their daily chores to earn a livelihood.

It was about an hour after the bus had left the Madurai bus stand that dawn began to break and the first rays of the sun gently kissed the landscape; brightening up the world and making it appear divine as the morning dew glistened on the blades of grass and dripped off the leaves like sparkling diamonds falling down to the floor. The old woman began to doze off and her head drooped down when the bus abruptly came to a stop. She was jolted awake from her dream and looked up and found that the bus had been held up at a police check post.

The conductor got down from the bus and walked up to the check post officials to show them his papers and request them to let the bus go. However, the policemen were insistent that they should check the bus and the conductor requested them to do so quickly, so that he could proceed on his way as quickly as possible and not be late.

The policemen got into the bus and started checking the luggage and belongings of all the passengers thoroughly. Then they came to the front of the bus and demanded to know who had brought the bronze vessel on board the bus. The old woman was petrified and did not respond to the query but the bus driver pointed her out and informed the police that the vessel belonged to the old lady who had obtained a luggage slip after paying for the excess luggage.

The policemen then ripped open the cloth covering the vessel and found a banana leaf neatly placed around the mouth of the vessel. They then removed the banana leaf and peeped into the vessel. One of them immediately turned around and retched as he spewed puke. Another policemen rushed to the old woman and grabbed her hand as she sat there looking puzzled. The policemen then informed her that she was under arrest. The old woman then coolly demanded why she was being arrested. The policemen dragged her over to the vessel and she looked in to find a human form which had been neatly cut into small pieces. The policemen dragged the woman out of the bus to the nearest police station while the old lady kept protesting that the vessel did not belong to her.

The bus then wound its way through the snake like narrow roads passing by the towns and villages on its way to Palani.


The Prologue:

It was the late seventies. The flower generation was the happening thing and the hippie culture of the decadent west had spread far and wide even to frontier out-posts of western civilization such as India. Loud music, sickening sweet Mary Jane, LSD, booze and free sex had taken root and was being aped even by youth in India. This story is of three youngsters caught in this quagmire and their adventures. Please don’t even think that I am propagating this culture for it is not worthy of imitation.

The logue:

Summers in Madras are hot and humid making the youth of the city fretful and sour. As they await the rains; boys hang out in street corners, bus stops and chai shops, whiling their while with cigarettes and chai as they pass lewd comments at young girls passing by. Some of the more adventurous youngsters had deviated to other forms of entertainment and our three musketeers who are indeed the three heroes of this story belonged to such a category.

They were all school and college drop-outs. The group of boys comprised a varied assortment of addicts each one bound together by the common principle of getting stoned. They lived in neighboring localities but met at a common meeting point; the bus stop outside a girl’s school in the heart of the city. There were approximately fifteen boys who used to meet at this bus stop every day.

Some of these boys had no home having been thrown out of their homes for their crazy behavior. The bus stop was a convenient location for the boys since it had a roof over it and also had cement railings on the edge of the pavement that served as excellent spots for squatting and gawking at the girls go by. Moreover, there were a line of shops and other business establishments that could take care of the needs of the boys who used to assemble at the spot everyday. A little distance away was a Government Hospital which provided adequate secluded space for the boys to go and do their thing. Adjacent to the hospital was also situated a playground of a Missionary association which these boys used to jump into and indulge themselves to their hearts content.

The boys would begin to gather at the bus stop from 8 am onwards. Each would come with whatever money they had been able to muster or steal at home or elsewhere. Money for their needs which were varied. Their staple drug of choice was marijuana which was popularly termed, Mary Jane, weed, grass, dope and so on and so forth. Money permitting the boys used to indulge in other drugs as well. The boys rarely found booze to drink as it was prohibition or the dry law that was in place in the state of Tamil Nadu. It was to this group that our three heroes belonged.

There was Ashley Lipton aged twenty four. An Anglo Indian boy brought up in a broken home, Ashley was a guitarist par excellence and had already earned a reputation as one of the leading guitarists in the city and was in demand with the rock bands around town. However, his addiction made him fickle minded and he would never last for long with any of the bands. His mother who took care of him worked in a handicrafts show room by day. Ashley had a gorgeous looking girl friend which made him the envy of all the boys in the neighborhood. This girl friend was the only saving grace in his otherwise dirty and lurid life.

The next of our heroes was Sunny aged nineteen. An only child of working parents, Sunny was an intelligent boy who was led astray due to lack of sibling companionship and it was this lack of companionship that drove him into drugs and all forms of intoxication. Sunny loved poetry and used to be found always with pen and notebook in hand; ready to jot down whatever interesting thoughts came his way.

Sunny also had pretentions to being a singer after having been part of a western classical choir group for about three years. Sunny had also attempted singing with a couple of rock bands but had failed to make an impact on the music scene of those times. Sunny had great difficulty in coping with his parents’ demands and would frequently walk out of home in disgust and try to live on his own but would fail miserably every time.

The third hero in this story was Rashid aged twenty six who was an orphan having lost his parents at a very early age and had grown up with an assortment of aunts and uncles between whom he was shunted frequently. Rashid was not technically a citizen of Madras since he spent his time shuttling between city to city courtesy the Indian Railways on which he had learnt the art of travelling free and ticketless. He would return to Chennai once in a while and would spend a couple of weeks or a couple of months with the boys at the bus stop before moving on.

Rashid had no source of income but had managed to maintain himself by lifting bags from the trains in which he travelled. At times luck would smile on him and he would find a couple of thousands or some valuables inside the bags and it would then be celebration time for Rashid who would return to Madras with a huge amount of Hashish or Charas for the boys to smoke and stories of his exploits in other cities as well as his new found friends in those towns.

Whatever, may be the bad habits which these boys possessed, the note worthy thing about them all was their unity. When one of them was down and out all the others would rally to his rescue and chip in with whatever they could to make the life of their affected comrade easy. Out of all the boys in the group our three heroes were the most mischievous and Ashley was noted for his humor and clowning around. The other boys were the more conventional types who were afraid to venture out on their own.

One day during September 1978 the boys were all lazing around on the grass of the play field nearby. They were all stoned out of their minds and had nothing else to do. It was Ashley as usual who started the topic of making some money to support themselves. Sunny agreed that they had to make money to at least take care of their personal needs if not support themselves. Sunny’s parents had tightened up on Sunny’s pocket money and poor Sunny had even tried working in a local Cola company as a bottle washer for in those days the local soft drink companies had not yet gone in for mechanisation.

It was Rashid who had suggested that they try their luck in searching for jobs outside the state in neighboring states. They could travel free where ever they wanted to go and find jobs in that town. Ashley was taken up with the idea for he had experience of working in towns and cities of neighboring states and playing music in restaurants and cabaret shows. It was he who suggested that they head to one of the small towns of Kerala such as Cochin or Calicut for in those days there were a profusion of such restaurants there and they could easily find employment there. All the three boys agreed to this. They audited their pockets to check the cash balance that they had for such an adventure. While Ashley and Rashid were completely broke, Sunny had only thirty paisa in his pocket. Moreover, all three of them were hungry.

The other members of their group stared at them as if they had gone crazy. Ashley and Sunny went home to pack a couple of jeans and shirts and scrape together as much money as they could while Rashid went to collect his airbag from a shop where he had placed it for safe keeping. Ashley returned with about five rupees in his pocket and his acoustic guitar slung around his shoulder while Sunny returned with ten bucks and his haversack. The three boys then assembled again at the play field where it had now turned dark.

They bid goodbye to their friends and proceeded to walk for about half hour to reach the Madras Central Railway station. On the way they found a pavement vendor selling dal vada at five paisa a piece and they bought six so that each could have two. After this frugal supper the boys purchased sufficient cigarettes and beedis to keep them going and entered the station. Rashid warned them that they should only travel at night and must get off the train early the next morning to avoid detection. The security in those days was lax and not as tight as it is now. So their chance of not being spotted in the night was pretty bright.

It was almost 9:30 pm and the boys noticed that The Blue Mountain Express was about to leave in fifteen minutes. This seemed rather convenient to them as the train would reach Coimbatore the next morning at the crack of dawn and they could escape detection. They could then break journey during the day in Coimbatore before proceeding to Calicut the next night. The boys got into an unreserved compartment that was quite crowded and found themselves places to sit down near the lavatory. There was great anticipation of adventure and excitement on their faces as the train chugged out of the station.
It was a frightening experience for Sunny. Travelling ticketless was a kind of first for him since he was too timid and had never even attempted ticketless travel in the town buses. He was scared and also exhilarated. Once the train moved out of Madras city the three boys decided that it would be best for them to stretch out on the floor of the crowded compartment and Rashid warned them that in case of a visit by the Travelling Ticket Examiner (TTE) they should feign deep sleep and not wake up even if the TTE tried to shake them awake.

Things passed rather uneventfully that night and at day break the next day the train entered Coimbatore station. Rashid was the first one to get off the train and he quietly moved to the exit used by the Railway Mail Service (RMS) to carry sacks of letters in and out of the station. The other two boys followed Rashid in trepidation as no one called out to them or halted them. Sunny was pretty relieved to have got off scot free.

After finishing their morning ablutions at a public lavatory outside the station the boys moved into the city. After walking for hardly five minutes the boys found themselves standing outside a busy marriage hall with loud filmy music blaring from conical speakers placed all around. As they stood there wondering what to do a young man came up to them from the entrance of the marriage hall and welcomed them. The boys were bewildered on being welcomed into the marriage hall but their pangs of hunger quelled any conscience that they may have had.

The people at the marriage hall had assumed that they were part of the group of musicians upon seeing Ashley’s acoustic guitar slung over his shoulder and welcomed them. They showed the boys the stage on which the bride and groom were seated and the place where they would have to perform. Ashley and the boys were really in a fix and didn’t know what to do. The bride’s family who was taking care of the guests insisted that the three members of the band should first have their breakfast and escorted Ashley and company to the huge dining hall wherein rows upon rows of table and chairs were laid out with banana leaves ready for the guests to use instead of plates.

Ashley and the boys were happy for this reprieve for it gave them some time to think up an excuse for not performing after breakfast. Breakfast was indeed a sumptuous affair with sweet rava kesari or sooji halwa as it is called in the North followed by delicious rice pongal, crisp dal vadas and steaming hot iddlies served with coconut chutney and sambar. Once the boys hunger was satiated they mumbled an excuse of wanting to have a post breakfast cigarette and had come behind the wedding hall to a secluded corner.

Ashley seemed the least flustered of the group while Sunny and Rashid contemplated jumping over the huge walls of the marriage hall and escaping to safety. Ashley had secretly scored some grass the previous night before leaving Chennai since he could not do without it and always thought of the next day’s high. He proudly revealed his treasure to the other two and they hurriedly made a smoke and stealthily smoked it in a small chillum or pipe that Rashid always carried with him. The euphoria of the grass hit them providing instant relief.

Ashley was of the view that they should brave it out and go on stage and sing a couple of songs for at least the food they had consumed, while Sunny and Rashid were hesitant. Ashley coaxed them on and soon Sunny and Rashid found themselves standing on stage while a confident Ashley slung his guitar and took charge of the mike. Ashley confidently greeted everyone and mentioned how happy they were to be present at the wedding but it was rather unfortunate that the other members of their band had not reached the hall as they had missed the train with all their equipment.

Ashley therefore told the audience that they would attempt to entertain them with the limited equipment at their disposal. He then embarked on a rendition of “We wish you a happy wedding, happy wedding, we wish you a happy wedding and a happy life thereafter” set to the tune of “We wish you a Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas”. The other two boys soon caught on and joined in with gusto. Ashley sang a true a clear tenor while Sunny sang a false soprano and Rashid a flat and guttural bass.

Ashley’s fingers created magic on the guitar and soon the entire audience joined in clapping and wishing the married couple. Soon Ashley moved on to a slow romantic number suitable for a wedding. Sunny was not to be out done and he sang a couple of songs including, the Beatles’ favourite, “Eight Days a Week” and the theme song from “Love Story”. After staying on stage for almost an hour the boys left the hall quietly and unnoticed by anyone. It was almost 11 am and the sun had come out.

The boys found refuge in a nearby park and had a smoke on a park bench before proceeding to other parts of the city. As they walked further afield, they came across a big school which seemed to be managed by a Catholic order. A school run by Catholic fathers meant that there was a Catholic convent nearby and a convent meant a place to stay. Ashley’s eyes roved the surroundings until he spotted the convent which was located to a side of the school.

Without a word between them they moved in unison towards the convent and knocked on the huge wooden door which was immediately opened by a young novice. The boys said that they had been lost and separated from a group of musicians and Ashley requested the Brother if he could provide them a place to have a bath and change their clothes. The young noviate took pity on the boys and let them into the huge bathroom in the boy’s hostel of the school. The boys soaked away their weariness and were completely refreshed. They then went to thank the young brother but could not find him and found a senior cleric standing near the lounge of the convent.

The senior gentleman wearing a white cassock looked at them probingly and enquired if he could help them. On being told their sob story he invited them to stay on for lunch in the convent. The dining hall of the convent was a hive of activity and Catholic fathers and brothers, young and old alike could be seen relishing their afternoon meal. Some of them who had finished their meal had withdrawn to a small foyer wherein they lit up their cigars with relish.

It was to this foyer that Ashley headed. He slung his guitar and took off on “My sweet Lord”. The boys were too stunned to react but gathered their wits about them and joined in with bits and pieces since they were not too familiar with the lyrics. Ashley proceeded to sing a few more gospel songs. Sunny remembered an old Jim Reeves song he had heard his mother sing. “Have Thine own way Lord” he broke out much to the pleasure of the clerics gathered there. After a while the boys began to tire and the fathers exhorted them to attend to the serious business of eating which the boys willingly obliged.

After lunch was finished the Catholic fathers took out a small collection from amongst those assembled at the dining hall and then handed over a sum of three hundred rupees to Ashley and the boys which was a princely sum in those days. The elderly cleric advised the boys to proceed to their destination and join with their fellow group members. The boys thanked the fathers profusely and left the convent to trudge back to the railway station.

Once the boys had moved a bit away from the convent they let out yells and whoops of joy for they now had three hundred rupees amongst them. Evening had set in and it was about 5 pm. As they walked on it was Rashid who suggested that they buy some illicit hooch and get drunk before boarding the train. They could then sleep in stupor and thereby avoid any TTEs they may come across. The other two willingly agreed to the idea and Rashid went to source the hooch while Ashley and Sunny stretched out their legs in a neighbouring municipal play field.

Rashid returned after about an hour with a bottle tucked under the waist band of his Jeans with T shirt hanging loose over it. Dusk had set in and the boys sat together and shared the bottle until it was dry. The cool breeze had set in and the liquor warmed their bellies and removed the nip in the air. It was 8 pm by the time the boys left the play field. They then ate some cheap briyani at a roadside joint and then entered the railway station. The boys had spent seventy five rupees on the evening’s refreshments and dinner and were still left with rupees two hundred and twenty five from what the fathers had given them.

At about 10 p.m. the Island Express proceeding via Coimbatore to Calicut and beyond entered the station. The boys viewed the serpentine train with awe. The train had quite a reputation in those days for its speed and punctuality. The boys huddled together on the platform wondering where they should get in. Normally there used to be two unreserved coaches per train. One right in front behind the engine and the other right at the end just before the Guard’s cabin.

Since the unreserved compartment at the back of the train was choc a bloc with passengers the boys decided to board the unreserved compartment in front and started walking towards the front end of the train. It was a pretty long walk for it was a pretty long train and while the boys were midway the train suddenly took off from the station without any warning in the form of a hoot of the horn or a whistle blown. The train started gathering speed rapidly and Ashley and the boys didn’t know what to do. They ran for their lives chasing the fast moving train since the end of the platform was fast approaching.
As the train gathered speed Ashley lunged forward and caught hold of the door railings and was immediately followed by Sunny who jumped onto the doorstep while clinging onto the hand rail by the side of the door. Rashid who was running a few steps behind them jumped on to the rear doorstep of the same compartment. Both the doors of the compartment were locked from inside and the boys banged on the door frantically as the train gathered more speed and moved at a fast clip with the wind rushing past their ears at great speed.

After a few seconds the door outside which Ashley and Sunny were clinging on was opened and both Ashley and Sunny fell inside the compartment. As they leaned on the walls of the compartment with chests heaving they realised that the door had been opened by a man in black jacket and white trousers, none other than the TTE in charge of the coach. The boys were panting away not knowing what to do while Rashid continued to keep banging away on the rear door of the compartment. Sunny took the opportunity to walk down the aisle of the compartment to the rear door and open it from inside to let Rashid in while signaling to him that they had the TTE for company.

Ashley was the first one to recover his wits and thanked the TTE for opening the door. He explained to the TTE that they were part of a bigger group of people and were travelling in a compartment further ahead. He elaborated that they had moved away from the compartment to buy some fruits and the train had moved all of a sudden forcing them to jump on to this locked compartment. The TTE happened to have fallen for Ashley’s glib line and told them to get off at the next station and join their friends. During those days the reserved coaches were not inter linked and each reserved compartment was a separate unit with a TTE per coach.

The boys were grateful that they had managed to escape such a close shave and got off, at the next station which was ‘Olzhavacode’ to proceed to the unreserved compartment in front where they managed to sleep for a while. Ashley and Sunny were shaken awake by Rashid at around five in the morning for the train was crawling into Calicut station.

The boys did not use the RMS exit this time but walked backwards to the rear of the platform where they found a shunting yard with goods wagons and managed to find their way out into the town. It was still dark and Ashley took the other two to a temple where the boys sat by the edge of the temple tank until day broke and it gradually began to brighten. Ashley had planned to take the other two to a working men’s hostel kind of place where rooms were let out on monthly rent. It was those rooms that were provided as quarters for outstation members of hotel bands to stay in. However, he didn’t want to go too early to the hostel for the band members would have been playing till one o’clock in the morning and would be fast asleep at this time of the day.

After waiting until 8 am Ashley and the boys proceeded on foot to the working men’s hostel. Ashley seemed to be familiar with all the people who worked there as well as the people who lived there. The boys went up to a room where a couple of guitarists from Chennai were staying. The boys knocked on the door which was opened by a sleepy eyed guy in shorts whom the boys knew as Val who was a regular hotel musician and spent his entire life moving from hotel to hotel where he worked on a contract basis for three months and would move on to another hotel if his contract was not extended. He was about thirty five years of age and was well known to all the bus stop boys.

Val only looked too pleased to see them and welcomed them into the room where another Chennai youngster named Sanjay lay fast asleep. Val informed Ashley that he had taken a three month contract commencing the end of September which was exactly the time of the year they were in now and had brought two other boys from Madras; Sanjay and Guru to form a three piece band and perform at a Hotel called “King’s” in Calicut. While Val had planned to play the lead guitar he had hired Sanjay as a bass guitarist and Guru as the drummer of the band. He had commenced his contract a couple of days ago but last night after the show was over Guru had got drunk and entered into a fist fight with some locals that had landed him in hospital. Val also told them Sanjay had received a telegram that his Mom was seriously ill and therefore wanted to return to Madras.

Val was in a fix and Ashley agreed to bail him out by playing bass guitar for his band. He also told Val that he knew a local drummer named Prasad whom they could ask to fill in instead of Guru. However, he laid out the condition that since Sunny and Rashid were with him Val should atleast take on Sunny as the lead vocalist of the band. Val was hesitant for he had a contract only for a three-piece band and no provision to pay for a fourth member. He however agreed to speak to the hotel management about Ashley’s request. Ashley also agreed to talk to Prasad the local drummer during the day and find out if he could fill in that night.

All of them then went down to the mess attached to the hostel and ate rice “puttu” which is powdered rice steamed in hollow bamboo stems and ate it along with bananas and Tea. Later during the day while Sunny and Rashid slept off the journey in the hostel room, Val and Ashley went about their work and returned to the room by about two in the afternoon.

Val was the first one to return and he informed Sunny that he had managed to persuade the Hotel Manager and the Owner to take on a lead vocalist as the festive season was fast approaching and a vocalist would be an added attraction for the Hotel. The owner had agreed to pay rupees two thousand per month extra for the vocalist and had insisted that Valerie redraw the contract and sign up to play until the fifth of January nineteen seventy nine.

Meanwhile Ashley returned with Prasad and thin frail man who seemed to be more than the thirty five years he claimed to be; who was only too willing to play the drums. All of them then trooped to the Hotel where they met the Manager and jointly and separately signed the contract to play on until the fifth of January the next year.

As per the contract, Val, Ashley and Prasad would be paid rupees two thousand five hundred per month with room and food provided for the outstation band members at the Men’s hostel and Mess, while Sunny would be paid rupees two thousand per month along with the same perks of boarding and lodging. It was good money considering that it was still nineteen seventy eight and gold sold at less than hundred rupees per gram in those days.

They called themselves “Val’s Pals” and they were to start performing starting at seven that evening.
“King’s Hotel” was located in the heart of Calicut in a busy market road. It occupied the first floor of a building on that road and was accessible through a small stairway leading above. The term hotel was a misnomer for it was nothing more than a simple restaurant with minimum frills. It had a small one foot elevated stage like structure in one corner which had a drum set and other equipment strewn about.

The hall was dimly lit and looked cozy. However in stark daylight it revealed its true nature as a dhingy, dirty room which had a dirty old carpet on which bandicoots scurried around every now and then. The restaurant was popular among the locals since it had two floor shows per day starring three cabaret artistes. Just as the bands were changed every three months, so also were the cabaret artistes, who would be replaced by three new faces every three months.

After the contracts were signed Val took his pals to the dressing room to introduce the band to the artistes and check out the kind of numbers they would expect from the band to back them up while they went about their routine on the floor. The three women had just arrived at the hotel to prepare themselves for the show. It was five in the evening and they had two more hours to kill. The three cabaret artists who were to work with the band were Sofia, Kajol and Sharmilee which was what they were called professionally though it was doubtful if those were their true names. The three women in dressing gowns seemed lackadaisical and were lounging around as they prepared to don their make up and costumes.

The three women were being pampered by a feminine male who was addressed as ‘Master’ by those ladies but seemed more of an agent for these belles; for one never saw him teaching any of these women any dance moves. The three so called artists were nothing but professional strippers who were not in the least bit bothered about the kind of numbers that they wanted the band to play for them. In the evening sunlight they looked bored and their faces haggard and listless. They seemed not at all musically inclined and mumbled something about alternating slow numbers with fast numbers.

The boys then went out to get some fresh air and have a few smokes in preparation for their little gig. Val was a non-smoker but a moderate consumer of alcohol. He therefore wanted to have a couple of shots before the commencement of the show. Ashley, Sunny, Rashid and the new comer Prasad also agreed to accompany him since they were all used to mixing their smokes and booze. They all then went into a local tavern which sold country liquor and had quite a few drinks. Ashley and Prasad also picked up a couple of half bottles of the hooch for later use and they moved out of the tavern tipsily. It was six thirty in the evening and the boys headed back to King’s.

On the way back they discussed amongst themselves about what they would play and checked out if all the members of the band were familiar with those numbers. As soon as they reached the hotel they headed straight to the stage where the boys began testing and adjusting the available equipment, which was rather basic. There were elementary amplifiers and four speakers’ two of which were massive. The boys connected their guitars to them while Prasad adjusted his stool and realigned the various parts of the drum set to suit his physical frame.

There were also five mikes available and Rashid assisted Prasad and Sunny in setting up three of them around the drum set to effectively catch the sound. The fourth mike, which was a huge ball mike, was kept aside by Sunny for him to use. He also found a stand where the mike could rest when he was not inclined to use his hands to hold them. The fifth mike was set up in a separate stand and was to be used by Val and Ashley to support Sunny with their voices lending support.

The restaurant gradually began to come alive as people started trickling in. The clientele were purely locals who were dressed in spotless white shirts and dhotis. They spoke to each other loudly in the local language, ‘Malayalam’ as they settled down. At exactly the stroke of seven the band broke out into a welcoming note as Val took charge of the mike and welcomed all the guests to the restaurant. The band then started off with their own rendition of the ‘Deep Purple’ all time favorite “Smoke on the water”. Sunny who was an avid Deep Purple fan loved this song as it suited his voice and he also knew the lyrics perfectly.

Val’s guitar was steady if not flashy while Ashley’s bass was lively and bouncy. Prasad for his part rolled out a mean snare and high-hat while his bass drum boomed out under his steady foot. Smoke on the water or not, dense smoke started billowing out from the tables as the patrons lit up their cigarettes, ordered their drinks and settled themselves down to the serious business of watching a strip tease.

The song set the tenor for the day and had the guy's adrenalin flowing. Over the three months that ‘Val’s Pals” played in the hotel, "Smoke on the Water" became the signature tune of the band and every show that they commenced at the hotel was commenced with “Smoke on the Water”

The guys followed up with ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’, a Rolling Stones hit that was both lively and pacy. It was at this juncture that Sofia entered, clad in cowboy attire with shorts that were so tight that they left nothing to the imagination. Sofia was the oldest of the three artistes and as was the custom it was the oldest who performed first leaving behind the younger and more luscious girls for the grand finale of the show.

Sofia started prancing around on the floor in front of the mini stage where the band was performing. She wriggled and thrashed as a strobe light kept flashing an eerie silvery flicker all over her. Within a couple of minutes she got into serious business and commencing with her cowboy hat started parting with her attire from her body and throwing them onto the stupid, frenzied audience that gaped and grabbed as more flesh was revealed. A few members of the audience were showering money on her.

Sunny was in a daze as his jaw drooped down while the lyrics were forgotten. It was left to Ashley and Val to salvage the song for Sunny seemed to have turned to stone. Sunny was the youngest member of the band but was by no means a virgin. However, the sight of such open expanse of human flesh with itsy-bitsy pieces of cloth still remaining was enough to get a virile young man like him highly agitated and into a condition of near nervous break down.

At the closing moments of the song the band went wild as Sofia now completely revealed seemed caught in the throes of death and the light went out providing sufficient time and opportunity for her to retrieve her dropped clothing and dignity as she hastily beat a retreat to the dressing room. When the lights came on minutes later the audience erupted into applause which was acknowledged by Sofia who returned to the floor to take her curtain call as it were; now fully clothed of course. The audience had become frantic and quite a few of the guests rushed out to the toilets as many more woke up to reality with embarrassment and mud on their faces as it seemed.

The boys now slowed down a bit as they would have to perform non-stop for two hours before they could break off and it was advisable to conserve their energy for the final blast which would be the revealing of young talent or young flesh as it could be termed. It was Sunny’s day as he next sang “Sky line pigeon” which was an Elton John number and followed it up with “Honky cat woman” by the same musician.

The next to get on the floor was Sharmilee who came clad in a thin transparent white saree and nothing else except a strand of jasmine in her hair. She danced or should we say pranced, wriggled, juggled and dangled her assets as a feast for the beholder. The guests were now showering money on Sharmilee as well. The band was playing their own version of “Feelings”, a rather slow number and Sharmilee enjoyed the music as it gave her ample time to dance between the tables and tease the guests with her wares until finally casting away the flimsy saree to pose vulnerably before exiting into darkness as the lights went out.

As before, quite a few guests rushed to the toilets in a great hurry as if unable to hold on anymore. At last it was the turn of Kajol to appear. Kajol was the youngest of the performers and therefore the more nubile too. Her slender frame was draped with a fur stole -probably artificial- and a mere two piece bikini. The audience really went wild and showered currency notes on her like never before. The band played “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club” this time and as the song drew to a close she seemed hesitant to remove her bikini but one stern look from the feminine “Master” had her cringing and hurriedly loosening the straps. The audience rushed to the toilet again.

At exactly nine o’clock the show came to an end and Val and pals got off too relax their feet. They left the hotel to relax themselves and finish the two half bottles that Ashley and Prasad had procured earlier. The second show was from ten in the night to twelve midnight and was the same as the first show. The second show went of as smoothly as the first and the Hotel Manager, a Mr. Bunny, came over personally to congratulate the boys on a great inaugural performance. The boys were then served dinner at the Hotel along with the cabaret artistes who also joined them. The Manager also kept them company as they steadily ate the rotis and chicken curry that was prepared by the chef. It was left to Ashley to break the ice and start talking to the ladies who were rather wary of his attempts at conversation.

The boys soon settled into their daily routine. They would sleep till nine in the morning each day and then go down to the mess to have some breakfast before going back to sleep again. They would then wake up around two in the afternoon and have lunch at the mess which normally consisted of thick coarse rice served with Sambar and a vegetable dish. They would finish their small chores and get ready for their gig by six in the evening when they could have a few drinks and take the stage at seven. This routine became normal practice and habit for the boys in due course of time.

Sunny was moved by the plight of the cabaret artistes. He especially used to pity young Kajol who used to be treated badly by her ‘Master’ since she was not too keen on the profession that she was being forced to practice. The Hotel management had rented out an independent bungalow and provided the three artistes along with their 'Master', accommodation therein. Sunny used to muse at the condition of the accommodation provided to the musicians as compared to that of the three dancers. It was rumored that these girls were paid rupees ten thousand per month which was salary worthy of a CEO in those days.

However, their “Master’s” greed made these girls also undertake part time assignments in the form of pleasing clients in what is considered to be the oldest profession on this planet. The floor show served as a wonderful platform to show case these three ladies and the rich who visited the hotel would vie for their favours and literally bid for the pleasure of their company later that night. The “Master” would then ensure that the highest bidder was permitted the carnal pleasures that is sought and indulged in by the human mind which is nothing but a product of the five elements that constitute the human body. At times the girls would feign illness and the master would then allow them to stay alone and unpestered that night.

It was only during dinner every night that the band boys could interact with the ladies. Initially, Ashley’s humour would be blunted by cold indifferent expressions amongst themselves. Val’s behaviour in front of these ladies during dinner was the subject of many jokes amongst the boys. Val was very cold with the artistes and he made no bones about his feelings of displeasure when he was in their presence. Val had been on the music circuit for almost seventeen years now. During his youth it was said that he had fallen very badly for a cabaret artiste while performing at a very big Hotel during his hay days.

He had been madly in love. The girl too, though five years his senior, had seemed to reciprocate his feelings and they soon got married. Val rented out accommodation in Bangalore for her to stay while he performed at Hotels and stage shows in that city. Everything seemed hunky dorky and life was bliss as far as Val was concerned. However, by the end of the first year of marriage the girl had grown restless and her restlessness increased as she conceived a child. As the girl grew unproportionately puffy and swollen in places, she craved for her lost beauty and would blame Val for the loss of it. They gradually began to quarrel and their quarrel turned into bigger spats. The child was then born and within a month of the same the girl walked out on Val with the baby in the tow. Val had then grown bitter and vowed never ever to be nice to women and more so to cabaret artistes.

It was actually Sofia who broke the ice between them. She being the oldest member amongst the artistes was not too much in demand with the clients for carnal activities after the show. There were quite a few nights when she was free and it was during one such that night that she invited the band to come over to her bungalow and have a couple of drinks. Val visiting her was out of the question while Prasad being a local married man wanted to rush back to his kids and wife every night. It was therefore left to Ashley and Sunny to go over to her pad while Rashid trudged off to the hostel room rather unwillingly. He had not been invited since technically he was not a member of the band.

Once they reached the bungalow where they were put up, Sofia unlocked the door and let them into the lounge. She told them that the “Master” and the other artistes could return at any time and therefore asked them to step into her bedroom for the sake of privacy. Her bedroom was fairly large with a double bed and dressing table to one side while the other side was occupied by couch and a couple of leather backed chairs. As the boys settled down on the couch Sofia poured them all a round of stiff whiskey and after providing soda and other requisites went into the bathroom to change into house gear. She returned soon in a flimsy negligee over which loosely hung a bathrobe with sash holding it together at the waist.

Sofia appeared middle aged but still retained her spirit. Devoid of make up she looked more like the woman next door and not a glamour puss of the cabaret variety. As the whiskey warmed their insides Sofia told them a bit about herself. She claimed that she was only thirty five years old. She too was from Chennai and therefore avoided appearing professionally in that town. She could speak quite a few languages and had a biting vulgar sarcasm which at times made the boys wince.

She had the utmost disregard and contempt for men who were crazy to lust after women. She said that it was ironical that what all these men were ultimately lusting for what was after all only an excretory organ and an unclean part of the body. She ridiculed men for lusting after such a cheap excretory organ that was made of elastic tissue. Though her statement sounded crude and rather unpolished, Sunny realised that there was a profound truth in what she was saying. She was perfectly right for sex without love was only akin to the act of performing an excretory function and therefore cheap and dirty. It was indeed love that made this cheap excretory organ sacred and the very act of physical union filled with sanctity.

Sofia was full of humor of the crude vulgar variety. She opened her bag of gags and rolled out jokes incessantly which had the boys amused, if not laughing. The boys were very comfortable chatting with Sofia and did not realize the passage of time. Soon, as was his won’t Ashley took out his dope and made himself a joint which he lit and passed around. Sofia looked on curiously for she claimed that she had never ever tried it. She had a couple of tokes as the boys completed the rest of it.

It was almost five in the morning by then and the darkness was beginning to lighten when Sofia finally yawned and suggested that the boys share her bed. Sunny agitatedly muttered his apologies saying that he preferred to sleep in his own room while Ashley being a man of the world took up her offer and stayed back to sleep with her. Sofia seemed disappointed but Sunny did not entertain arguments and quietly slipped out into the early morning without disturbing the other occupants of the house. Ashley did not return to the hostel that day and appeared directly at the Hotel; just in time for the gig. His face appeared tired but his spirit seemed satiated.

It was soon evident to everyone at the Hotel that Sofia had a crush on Sunny inspite of their vast differences in age. Even while dancing around on the floor she would look directly at Sunny as she casually flung of her clothes making Sunny rather uncomfortable.

It was Sunny’s habit to wear goggles while performing since his eyes were sensitive and could not take the flashes of the strobe light that they were constantly exposed to. One night while dancing, Sofia had deliberately walked up to Sunny, removed his goggles folded it and put it inside her scanty under garment, all the while gyrating to the music. After a while she removed the goggles and cleaned them by stirring it in a glass of water on a nearby table. The audience went berserk and there was a mad clamoring amongst the assembled men to get a sip of the glass of water resulting in almost a fist fight while Sofia walked back casually and unperturbed to restore the goggles to their rightful place.

During one of these days Sunny’s goggles lost one of its hinge screws and Sunny being lazy to get it repaired by an optician had opted to roll a ball pin into the groove of the hinge and twist it around to make it stay in place. That night as usual Sofia performed her "goggle act" and was pricked by the pin in her most sensitive region. She hastily withdrew the goggles and returned it to Sunny's face after cleaning it as she hissed venomous expletives at him.

Sofia however remained undeterred and a week later as luck would have it, the Hotel celebrated the birthday of the Owner’s young son, a dumb bloke named Georgie. Georgie and his guests whom he had specially invited for the bash participated in the second floor-show that was held that night between ten to twelve midnight, making the artistes as well as the musicians extra cautious.

After the show, while the other paying patrons had dispersed Georgie and his friends stayed on and Georgie cut a huge cake to the accompaniment of ‘Val’s Pals’ playing “Happy Birthday”. A huge feast was then laid out by the chef and his associates, while the boys continued to play on aided by the extra fuel provided by the Hotel in the form of free flowing liquor. Some of the guests began to dance clumsily with the three artistes as the band played on.

Sofia appeared to be thoroughly enjoying herself on the dance floor. She would somehow find opportunities to shrug off her partner and make her way close to Sunny and dance tantalisingly in front of him. Later the band shut down their equipment for the night and settled down to eat some dinner. It was when Sunny made his way from the buffet table with plate in hand that Sofia cornered him and in no uncertain terms invited him alone to continue the celebrations at her place.

Sunny befuddled and intoxicated as well as aroused by the proximity of her physical form had managed to lay his conscience to sleep and evading the queries of the other boys had slipped away with Sofia. The other two girls had been retained by Georgie and company for their own pleasure and Sofia and Sunny were all alone in the bungalow that night. Sofia did not try to hide her intentions as well as her lust for Sunny, as soon as they reached her pad.

Sunny was hardly nineteen and was only a novice when it came to the physical activity of love. Though no virgin he was not an expert at these affairs and it was left to Sofia to guide him; to teach him to give as much as to receive. Sunny soon began to appreciate Sofia’s understanding of his need and hers. The next day afternoon as Sunny wound his way back to the hostel he felt rather relaxed and warm.

Though he was not in love, Sofia atleast proved to be a good companion and Sunny found himself spending more and more time with her. They were soon the best of friends and whenever Sunny felt depressed he would head to Sofia who would comfort and soothe him as he lay on her bosom. Ashley and Rashid resented Sunny’s proximity to Sofia and would advice Sunny on maintaining a distance with the dancers.

It was the festive season and word spread around about ‘Val’s Pals’. They soon started getting offers to play in marriages and dance shows late at night, immediately after the floor shows were over at King’s. The boys started accepting those offers so long as they did not affect their work at King’s since the additional shows would bring in some extra money for the boys. As is the norm, time kept rolling on and it was soon December. The boys only had one month more of their contract left to go and Val was already planning for the future. He was being sent feelers by a Hotel in Cochin which wanted him to bring a set of boys for a five month contract.

The Christmas Eve shows at the Hotel were a special draw with three shows chalked out, commencing from six o’clock that evening. The boys wanted to give it their best since they had hardly two weeks left of their contract and wanted to make a good impression at the Hotel. Normally the music at the Hotel was considered secondary and the strip tease was the primary draw. However, at times a member of the audience would appreciate them and have a special request to play a number of their choice. This was encouragement enough for the boys who would be happy that someone was atleast listening to their songs.

The regular clients were hard core native sons of the soil who cared not and could not figure out even the lyrics that Sunny would sing. At times Sunny being the poet that he was would substitute the original lyrics with his own creations teasing Sofia and Val or mocking one of the clients who would be watching the girls with mouth wide open. At times, the boys would be tipped by one of the clients in appreciation of their music and the boys would thank the gentlemen with a special song for him.

It was one such gentleman who came one evening to watch the first show who offered an assignment to them. The gentleman claimed that he was a representative of a Youth Association. He told them that their Association was organising a Ball on New Year’s Eve night and that three bands were expected to provide music for the dancers to have a good time. While a local band was expected to perform first, the gentleman wanted ‘Val’s Pals’ to take the second slot in the wee hours of the morning after which a band from Bangalore which was supposed to be the main draw would take over until early New Year’s morning. The association would pay the band five thousand rupees to perform between one to four o’clock on New Year’s morning and Val and the boys happily agreed to play.

As December progressed the weather turned chill and cold. Mist would settle down heavily at night and all the boys fell ill one after the other. However, the show had to go on and sick or not the boys had to perform every night.

Sofia began to worry about Sunny who repeatedly fell ill and she began to request him to come along with her to Bangalore where she was headed for her next assignment. Sunny had not taken any decision about the future as yet and was mulling over his options. Ashley and Rashid too wanted to head for Bangalore since they found the scope for action in a small town like Calicut rather limited.

Sunny had managed to save upto rupees three thousand so far inspite of spending on hooch, dope and other needs. He wanted to save some more money by the end of the contract and hopefully his share of the money from the planned New Year gig as well as the salary for the final month of their assignment at king’s would help him to do that.

Christmas Eve was a big hit at the Hotel with Val and the boys excelling themselves to the extent that even the dancers were involved with the music. Patrons also showered tips on the artistes as well as the musicians and also got them free rounds of drinks. The boys were sloshed but it did not let that affect their performance in any way, barring a couple of stray cases of Prasad dropping his drum sticks from his drunken hands to be faithfully picked up and handed back by Rashid. After the show the Hotel threw a party for its employees and the dancers and the musicians performed for them as well. The Hotel then was closed for Christmas and Sunny spent Christmas alone with Sofia. All the while, Sofia kept exhorting him to come with her to Bangalore but Sunny kept postponing his decision for he felt that it would be more appropriate to take the final decision on New Year’s Day as a kind of resolution for the coming year.

New Year’s Eve gig at the Hotel was also a special affair and the boys once again had a gala time. Ashley and Sunny tried to experiment with a couple of their own tunes and were amazed by the favorable reactions of the audience to their compositions. The boys had decided to limit their drinking as they knew they had a long night ahead. Ashley had managed to befriend a local chemist and had managed to get some ‘speed’ or dexamphetamine, for the uninitiated, going by the brand name of Dexedrine. Val refused to experiment with speed and stuck to his customary two pegs before the commencement of every show. New Year’s Eve was also celebrated with three shows, as was done during Christmas Eve.

Their signature tune of ‘Smoke on the water’ was temporarily shelved and they commenced each show with a “We wish you a happy New Year” that Ashley and Sunny had composed. At the stroke of twelve midnight the band wound up the final show with the same number. As a special item the three artistes got onto the floor together and did their act in unison much to the pleasure and excitement of the entire audience who seemed to like the ringing in of the New Year with the display of raw flesh.

Immediately after the gig that night the boys rushed of to the hall where the New Year’s Ball of the local Youth Association was being held with great fanfare. They reached the hall to find a lively crowd of people both young and old alike thoroughly enjoying themselves, while the local band, which was playing ahead of them, was just winding up their performance. Ashley was really speeding by now as he had completely finished the can of amphetamines that he had procured. Sunny was a bit worried as Ashley was mixing his speed with alcohol and dope. This made it a deadly cocktail.
As the boys got on stage they were called aside by the organisers who requested them to stick to slow dance numbers as much as they could and pep them up with an occasional fast whirl. Val too believed that music for a dance show should be slow, romantic and set the mood for dancing. However, Ashley was really speeding by now and was in the mood to go wild. Sunny kept restraining Ashley and calming him down.

They started off with a slow waltz which was fairly good and then proceeded into a fox-trot which turned out to be more of a jaguar-trot as Ashley could not be restrained any further. Led by Ashley, the band then went into a rendition of “Uriah Heep’s” popular number titled “July Morning”. The crowd seemed not too pleased with it but was not too sour when the boys moved on to a number called “Sunrise”, which was also a Heep number. The people on the floor were gradually tiring as they had been dancing since ten in the night. It was well past two in the morning on Christmas day and ‘Val’s Pals’ then struck up a lively tango, which had the dancers back on their feet.

Hooch was flowing like water at the hall though the organisers of the ball were not officially serving it. The dancers seemed to have managed to smuggle in their own rations with the organisers turning a blind eye to the going ons. Ashley mellowed down a bit as the show progressed. The boys then began to play some “Bee Gee’s” and “Boney M” numbers as well. Since the boys had to perform till four in the morning they had sufficient time to try out their own slow compositions on the crowd.

The dancers were really tired by now and most of them were found lounging around in chairs laid out on the edges of the dance floor. The boys finally completed their performance and were provided hot coffee which they doctored with spirits to refresh themselves. The band from Bangalore then took over and Ashley and the boys strolled around observing the action on the floor. The Bangalore band was really quite good and there seemed to be a revival of interest on the dance floor.

As Ashley’s eyes roved around they came to rest on a doe eyed beauty named Lisa, a local girl who had been escorted to the dance by a rich local boy. She was indeed a stunner and had a rare innocence around her which served to make her all the more attractive. Ashley lost no time in staking his claim for the attention of this beautiful lassie. He walked up to the girl and introduced himself at an opportune moment when the girl’s escort had gone to the men’s room to relieve himself. By the time her escort had returned, Ashley had led the girl onto the dance floor and was to be found happily dancing away much to the chagrin of the escort. At the end of the dance, the escort rushed on to the floor and reclaimed his girl while Ashley and Lisa parted regretfully.

It was soon tag time and Ashley rushed off to obtain his tag coupons while the others looked on amusedly. Prasad wanted to return home as it had dawned by then and he badly wanted to get back to his wife and kids and spend the New Year’s Day with them. Meanwhile Val had gone into a huddle with the organisers and was busy collecting the money due to the band. As the dancing continued Ashley kept tagging Lisa and taking her away from her escort. The escort was rather exasperated by now. As Ashley tagged Lisa for the fifth time, her escort blew up. He walked out in a huff leaving Ashley and Lisa to dance blissfully unaware that the guy had gone only to return with his friends at the end of the number.

The escort asked Ashley to step aside into the garden for a chat and as soon as Ashley obliged the escort and his friends set about Ashley and attacked him. Ashley was no pushover for he had grown up as a kid on the sordid streets and bye-lanes of Madras. Moreover, he was tripping on amphetamine and alcohol which made him a vicious customer. As soon as the local boys laid their hands on him Ashley let out a volley of blows aimed purposefully at the escort. A huge right hook caught the escort flush on the left side of his jaw, throwing him backwards as his jaw hung limply and uselessly while blood rushed out from the side of his mouth.

Ashley’s reaction made the locals all the more furious. They charged towards him but Ashley deftly avoided them and landed a couple of more punches on his assailants leaving two of them badly wounded; one with a fractured right forearm and the other with a couple of crushed ribs. As Val and the boys heard the commotion, realised what was happening and rushed out to help Ashley and separate the locals from him, pandemonium broke out in the hall. All the locals ganged up together as Prasad, Val and Sunny tried to pacify them while Rashid quietly dragged Ashley away from the hall.

As tempers began to subside, the three injured were rushed to the hospital. Prasad being a local had considerable clout amongst the local men who were angry with Ashley’s behavior. Finally at eight in the morning Val returned to the hostel room while Prasad found Ashley and Rashid loitering on the beach near the train tracks and took them along with him to his own home as he considered it unsafe for Ashley to return to the hostel. He knew the locals would try to retaliate and he wanted to make sure that nothing untoward happened to him and the other boys.

It was therefore left for Sunny to proceed to Sofia’s bungalow and celebrate the remainder of the New Year’s Day with her. Sofia was only too glad to have Sunny spend New Year’s Day with her. She made him roast chicken which they drowned with wine for lunch. The wine made Sunny drowsy since he had not slept the previous night. It also served as an aphrodisiac and they both bolted themselves inside Sofia’s bedroom and stayed in bed until the evening when they left for the show at six.

The remaining five days of their contract were a terrifying period for Sunny. Prasad would constantly escort Ashley and Rashid wherever they went for he was sure that tragedy would befall them if they ventured out alone. Hitting an escort had resulted in Ashley needing an escort for the remainder of his stay in Calicut. The gigs at the hotel seemed lifeless in comparison to their earlier performances. A sense of melancholy seemed to grip their music as they realised that ‘Val’s Pals’ would soon be breaking up.

Sunny stayed on at Sofia’s place for the remaining five days and refused to return to the hostel for fear of being bashed up. Sunny was feeling rather home sick and missed his home with his cosy room as well as his friends, ‘the bus stop boys’. He had decided that he wanted to return to Madras. He wanted to go back to college from which he had dropped out. He realised he was not cut out for the romantic life of a wandering musician and the adventures it entailed. Sofia was upset that Sunny did not want to accompany her to Bangalore and shed copious tears in Sunny’s arms while Sunny assured her that life was nothing but a cycle and that they surely would meet some day.

The members of ‘Val’s Pals’ were quite clear about their future plans. Prasad had agreed to come for a five month contract with Val to Cochin after a couple of weeks while Val planned to go to Madras which was his hometown and rest a couple of weeks there, before assembling two musicians and then moving on to Cochin where he would be joined by Prasad. He was determined that come what may he would continue to call his band ‘Val’s Pals’. Sunny was also going back home and he hopefully planned to rejoin college by June that year. He had saved sufficient money to pay his way through college. Ashley and Rashid were headed for Bangalore to try their luck there before proceeding to Goa. Sofia and the other girls along with their ‘Master’ had obtained a three month contract to perform at a hotel in Bangalore and were proceeding there after spending a couple of days more in Calicut.

Soon it was the fifth of January, nineteen seventy nine and the boys were playing their last gig at king’s. Each of them knew that they would not be seeing the others for quite sometime and the boys were in a sombre mood. That night after the show, the strip-tease team threw a farewell party for the musicians. Val was not present as was expected of him. The boys, Rashid included, enjoyed themselves thoroughly. Prasad for a change stayed back to join the fun without rushing back home to his wife and kids. The boys had trains to catch the next evening and therefore finally called it curtains at six in the morning.

As was their practice Ashley and Rashid decided to travel ticketless to Bangalore. Sunny did not want to bear another night’s agony of ticketless travel and ensured that he and Val had reserved tickets with berths for them to travel to Madras that night. Mr. Bunny, the Manager came to the station to see them off at six in the evening along with Prasad, Sofia and the other girls. Ashley and Rashid planned to hitch a ride in the same train along with Val and Sunny and get down at Coimbatore to take another train to Bangalore. Sofia cried and cried and cried as the train moved off from the platform.

The Epilogue:

It is now thirty years since ‘Val’s Pals’ was formed. The flower children are not children any more. The flowers have begun to wither; some of them prematurely. “The bus stop boys” of our story had a tough time surviving the new era that was dawning. Ashley returned to Madras six months after he left for Bangalore with Rashid. Actually, Ashley was forced to return as he was served an ultimatum by Pearl, his steady girl friend in Madras to return and marry her or forget her. Rashid as was his nature had taken off from Bangalore and had proceeded to Kulu Manali in the North, ticketless as usual; breaking journey during the days and stealing bags at night.

Ashley returned to Madras, married Pearl and got a job as a sea man in the merchant navy. He would sail for nine months and then return to Madras for three months before setting off on another voyage. However, Ashley continued to do drugs until his thirty fifth year, when tortured by his addiction and on the verge of death due to disease he had attempted suicide in the Bay of Bengal but was saved and helped by a Christian evangelist to reform his ways. He was baptised by the evangelist in the Bay itself and began a new life as a born again Christian.

After having saved sufficient money in the merchant navy, Ashley took to the pulpit to give his testimony. He soon set up his own church on the outskirts of Madras. Ashley  or Bro. Ashley as he is popularly known today is the pastor of a large congregation and owns two buildings, one which houses his family and the other which serves as the church. He is chauffeured around in a Scorpio while his wife drives a Chevy. The church has been built differently and the pulpit is nothing but a three foot high stage fully equipped with all the latest musical equipment and electronic gadgets. It is on this stage that Ashley performs every Sunday along with a band of born again Christians who play Christian rock, much to the delight, of the gathered congregation. Ashley is now “Mr. Clean” personified and does not touch a drop of liquor nor does drugs anymore. He frequently travels to the US on retreats and delivering sermons. Pity the poor buggers there.

Val has now retired from the music circuit and lives in Madras with an aged aunt. Val has also been born again at the hands of Ashley and helps out in Ashley’s church by being a part of the band. Prasad continues to live a secluded life in Calicut. Both his children have done well for themselves and are settled abroad. They send sufficient money for Prasad and his wife to live a fairly comfortable life.

As for Sunny, he went back to college paid his own way through without depending upon his father; did well for himself and became a corporate hot-shot. At the age of thirty, Sunny happened to meet a Sanyasin who changed his life thereafter. Sunny turned clean and began an inner quest that was to gradually wean him away from his corporate career. At the age of forty eight, Sunny after almost twenty six years of corporate existence renounced the world and began to gradually shrink his desires. He has currently gone off consumption and feels that consumerism is the curse and bane of society. He stopped keeping up with the Jones’ and remained completely content to spend his time in prayer.

Rashid used to continue his occasional visits to Madras to hang out with ‘the bus stop boys’ but after ten years or so he stopped coming. No one knew what happened to Rashid but it was rumored that Rashid had lifted a heavy suitcase off a running train on which he was travelling, ticketless as always and as luck would have it, the suitcase was found to be filled with gold bars worth cores of rupees. The grape vine had it that Rashid had taken the money he had obtained by selling the gold ingots and had settled somewhere in Rajasthan which afforded him proximity to Ajmer. Much later another rumour started floating around that Rashid had been travelling ticketless on a train that was passing through Godhra in Gujarat when it was set on fire by arsonists leading to Rashid’s unfortunate end. Whatever, the case may be; may God bless his soul.

Thirty years later on 15th September, 2008, the founder members of Val’s Pals had a reunion which was arranged by Ashley. Prasad was invited and managed to come by train, with a ticket of course. Ashley managed to locate Sunny and send him an invitation to join the reunion. Sunny willingly set aside his vow of laying of consumption, for a single day and joined them at the reunion. There was no liquor, no dope, and no speed at the reunion. Only dinner prepared by Pearl, Ashley’s faithful wife was served and the friends were high on pure friendship and reminiscences of that winter of 1978-79.

Some of the flowers had indeed borne fruit.