Evolution is just a theory without direct proof. Or is it?

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“Evolution is just a theory, there’s no proof!” argued my friend Jason, “No one has seen a new species emerging from another species”. I felt sad and angry at his naivety, as he was wrong on two different levels. First of all, the definition of the phrase ‘scientific theory’ states “A scientific theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment”. Therefore it is meaningless to state that something is ‘just a theory’. Secondly, he is mistaken in his assertion that there is no proof for evolution. The natural world is peppered with evidence for evolution – linked lineages, fossil records, molecular evidence, and direct observation of speciation! Yes, we have observed a new species evolving from an original species!!

Science had been constrained from viewing evolution in action, due to the large number of generations that it takes for a species change. It roughly takes around 100,000 generations for speciation to occur. Given that humans create a new generation every 20 years or so, it would take 20 years X 100,000 = 2 million years for human evolution, which is coincidently the time it took our ape ancestors to evolve into Homo sapiens.

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However, bacteria reproduce fast, spawning out new generations every half hour. A rough calculation, 30 minutes X 100,000 = 5.7 years for new speciation. Therefore, they are the perfect playground for viewing evolution in action. Countless species of new bacteria have been observed in the lab and in nature that evolved from older species, often with much faster timescales than my rough calculation above. The most well-known are the anti-biotic resistant strains of pathogens, which evolved from more benign strains after widespread use of anti-biotics.

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A few examples. In hospital environments, MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus) naturally evolved from Staphylococcus Aureus by gene transfer and natural selection. In 2008, Zachary et all of the National Academy of Sciences, published results of observing E. coli evolving radically, by adapting themselves to metabolise citrates. This is a profound change, as E. coli by definition are a class of organisms that can’t metabolise citrates! In 2016, biologists at the University of California, San Diego, and at Michigan State University observed another speciation event in their lab when a lambda phage virus that was cultured in hosts, evolved into two new species and the original species went extinct!

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In larger organisms, obviously we have to wait longer to observe formation of new species. In the early 1900s, three species of wildflowers called salsify were introduced to the United States from Europe. By 1950s, botanists observed that these had evolved into two additional entirely new species of flowers, which were perfectly capable of reproducing with their own kind but not with any of the original three species – the classic definition of a new species. The maggotfly which is a native of the Native America solely fed on hawthorns. With the introduction of apple trees by settlers in the 1800s, the fly forked a new species, one that could feed on apples alone. The new species was substantially different from the original, in several other aspects as well – wing beat frequency, maturing time, and lifespan. And now for the most interesting of all – the case of the London Underground Mosquito. Discovered in the London Underground, it is thought to have evolved from overground mosquitos, but adapted to the warmer, darker conditions of the underground.

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In still larger organisms, although we have not directly observed full speciation yet, we can clearly see micro evolution at work – gradual changes in traits. The moth Biston betularia was mainly light coloured prior to the industrial revolution, with just 2% of the population being dark coloured. After the industrial revolution, pollution darkened many light coloured surfaces, making it difficult for the light coloured moths to hide from predators. The number of dark coloured moths increased from 2% to 95% – a massive indication of natural selection. In 1971, ten Italian wall lizards were introduced to the island of Pod Mrčaru. A few decades later, the lizard population had evolved from an insectivore diet to a vegetarian diet. This change drove major structural changes – larger head, more bite strength, and new valves in intestines for digesting vegetation – all major evolutionary changes. In the isle of Dapne of the Galapagos, the medium ground finch had been established for several centuries, and it had large beaks suited for cracking large nuts. In 1982, when large finches were brought to the island, they prevented the medium Finches from eating large nuts. In a couple of decades, the medium Finches evolved smaller beaks to crack smaller nuts, which the large Finches did not want!

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Apart from all the above directly observed evidence for evolution, there exists a plethora of indirect evidence. The huge amount of fossil record clearly shows one species evolving into another one, or splitting into multiple species. Most fossil records show a gradual progression from one species to another. Many living organisms have similar physiological features that indicates a common ancestry. Also, genetic analysis of currently living species unambiguously shows that all living beings are related, and can be traced backward to common ancestors. Against this backdrop of overwhelming evidence, there is absolutely no doubt of the veracity of the “Theory of Evolution”, as much as the Theory of Gravitation, Pythagoras Theorem, or the Spherical Earth Theory.

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Never

Searching but never finding

Screaming but never hearing

Drinking but never quenching

Crawling but never moving

Touching but never feeling

Breathing but never living

Trying but never forgetting

Hurting but never crying

Wounding but never scarring

Bleeding but never dying

That’s what I am

After you walked away.

 

Naughty moments (part4) – The explicit magazine

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In every high-school class, there exists a certain category of boys, who are older than the others by a couple of years. This is a universal phenomenon. They are the heros who possess information about the years beyond, which was a mystery to the rest of us. Mysteries like girls – their strange minds and even stranger bodies. The majority of us had absolutely no clue. Therfore, we turned to these apparent seniors for knowledge of the third kind, which they rationed out to us in bits and pieces. I was impatient, having already reached the age of 14 and with many gaps in my understanding of the opposite sex.

One lucky afternoon, during lunch interval, a couple of these senior heros were huddled over a magazine of sorts. Just as the bell rang, they jumped up and hid the contraband behind the public address system in the ceiling of the classroom. When I whispered about this suspicious activity to my best pal Sawyer, he made a right guess “It’s probably naked pictures of adult women!” We then planned to grab it during the next break. For the next 1.5 hours, it was a case of “Can’t Hardly Wait!” through Abraham Master’s Chemistry class and Leonie Teacher’s Biology. Then the sweet sound of the mid-afternoon bell.

As soon as the class was sparse, Sawyer grabbed the magazine from its hiding place, put it inside his shirt and marched straight to the toilets, with me in tow. Qatar John sensed that something interesting was afoot and promptly joined us. Thus the trio walked toward our destiny, leaving innocence behind.

Sawyer had the first go, leaving John and I standing guard just outside the toilet doors. All we could hear were the rustling of papers from inside. With growing impatience, I cursed Sawyer and hurried him out. He and I quickly transfered the magazine under our shirts as I went in.

I went straight to the centrefold, and stared in shock and disbelief. “Oh Noo!!” I cried out; I had not expected to see what I saw. My watch-guards outside panicked at my pandemonium. “Shut up Vincent and come out”. I did not want see anymore and I rushed outside. “This is a tragedy, man! I did not expect this!!” I wailed to my friends.

“What happened? What did you see??” John was wide-eyed, dying with anticipation. Wishing him luck, I passed the book and pushed him in. A few seconds later, we heard screams “Oh Shit! What is this? What is this???” John rushed out, eyes wider than ever, face ashen, as though he’d seen a ghost! This revelation was too much for us young teenagers .

Walking back to class, we consoled each other “Let’s never get married, OK? “. “I am going to become a priest!” I declared. “Maybe a Bishop” chimed in John. And heart-breakingly Sawyer decided to give up his dreams of becoming a Gynaecologist. With heavy hearts, the 3 of us walked into life, fully realising it was not all milk and honey.

 

Naughty Moments (part3): The Shoe Thrower

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Barely in our first year of teenage, Dianny and I were restless for adventure. After the fiasco at the goods railway station, we decided to shift our hunting grounds closer to home. We scouted out pigeon roosting areas and we homed in on an old building in Kacheripady. Only problem was that it was the Central Excise, no less.

Prudently, we decided to leave the gun behind and ask for permission. To our delight, the policemen there were very welcoming and they actually asked us to ‘do something about the pigeon nuisance’! But no guns. For the next two evenings after school, we roamed the verandas of Central Excise, stalking the pigeons and brain storming about best methods of hunting without a weapon.

Then Diany had a brainwave. Our school shoes had large heels and were quite heavy, thanks to our ‘Madam’ Lilly Kurien who wanted her school to be well heeled 🙂 . “Let’s sneak up behind a group of pigeons and throw our shoes at them”, he said. “The heavy footwear were sure to knock a few of them dead.” Thereby, we started our shoe-throwing operation, much to the cops’ amusement. But  results were poor. Dozens of shoes thrown about, but no dead pigeons to boot!

Then, there was this final throw that ended it all. It was my turn. I tip-toed to a group of pigeons and flung my shoe with all my strength. The shoe completely missed the pigeons, and to my shock sailed straight out of the wall of the Central Excise compound, and flew straight into the interior of a crowded bus at the busy Kacheripady bus stand!!! Back in those days, busses had very wide windows with no glass. I am sure, my shoe wold have smacked at least 2 to 3 people in the bus before settling down inside it.

Aghast, I hid behind a pillar as I heard the expected ruckus from the bus passengers. I’d rather go home missing a shoe and subject myself to Mummy’s smacking, than face the people I had smacked in the face with my well-used footwear. Fortunately, my good friend Diany could be trusted to use his English skills to retrieve my runaway shoe. In no time and with plenty of “Please Uncle, Please Uncle” he had my estranged shoe back.

The guard at the Central Excise advised us in no uncertain terms that we are never to set foot here again. They said that they can’t be liable for public injury because of us! So I walked home that day with no pigeon in hand, but gladly two shoes on my feet 🙂

Naughty moments (part2) -The Huntsman

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Ever since Daddy got me a borrowed 0.177 air-rifle, I’ve fantasised about being a true blue huntsman. At 13 years of age, I was a pretty good shot, hitting a 10 sq cm piece of asbestos from 10 metres away. The passion was fuelled further by some Russian ‘hunting folklore’ books Daddy got me. And when my Egyptian friend Diany John joined me on my hunting escapades, it triggered an explosive mix of recklessness and adventure.

The goods railway station near the High Court was a great location for pigeons, who arrived in hoards to feed on sackfulls of DCI grain. So Diany and I boarded a bus from Kacheripady to High Court Junction carrying my rifle, which was as tall as me. The general public were astounded if not terrified seeing a couple of 12 year olds with a large gun on the bus! “Pottuvo mone??” was a frequently asked question!! My reply – I would stick my finger into the rifle barrel; as though that would stop the slug being shot out 😉

Although we entered the goods railway station stealthily, we were whisked up by the Railway Protection Force before we could fire a single shot. The burly policeman in Khaki had us in his vice-like grip as he plodded to his superior’s office. I could almost imagine his Vogon voice screaming “Resistance is Futile!” Once inside, it was their turf. The senior officer fielded a wooden ruler to beat us up.

Just then, Diany burst into a speech in American accent, much to the surprise of the policemen. He went on and on about the innocence of childhood, vagaries of teen hood, and the greater benefit of compassion over punishment. Not that they understood most of it. However, one thing was sure – they were taken aback by his impeccable fluency in English and that too in a foreign accent. They let us off without a beating!!!

The lesson I learnt from this episode was priceless. English can save you from a beating! Pun aside, this really works in India. If you find yourself in trouble: start an English verbal diarrhoea and any opponent will be taken aback for a moment. Use this moment to time your escape. Worked for me countless number of times 😉

Naughty moments (part1): Me, the arsonist

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It was the winter of 1981. I was feeling big as I’d turned 5 a few days ago. Adding to the feeling was the pride of having graduated from LKG and now being a member of the “upper” KG. Our class was elite in a school that had just pre-school and KG classes. I was already musing about high school where we would have complicated sums like 100 plus 100.

Deepavali was a riot, it being the earliest fireworks display I can remember. Someone was foolish enough to teach me how to strike matches – those colourful ones advertised for kids! How pyrotechnics can be advertised to kids boggles my mind now, but back in the 80s it was all cool. My five-year-old mind was enthralled at being able to strike matches and fling coloured flaming sticks high into the air. I took this as my “earned right” for having grown “big”. Luckily nothing untoward happened that day.

Next afternoon, as Mummy and Daddy were asleep, my sister Reshmi and I decided to play on the terrace. My choice of toy – matches from the kitchen. It was great fun lighting matchsticks and throwing them high, especially at the clothesline full of clothes. When the flaming sticks bounced off Daddy’s shirt on the line, Reshmi squealed with laughter. It felt great to have a younger sibling who thought I was cool.

My next target was Mummy’s chiffon saree. Funnily enough the burning matchsticks were not  bouncing off the saree, instead they were making holes. Suddenly the whole thing caught on fire! The clothesline burnt through, fell down, taking all the clothes with it. In a second there was a bundle of clothes on the floor, alight with leaping flames. While I stood back, too shocked to move, Reshmi ran into the house screaming “Mummy Daddy, Naveen Chettan set your clothes on fire “!!!

I will forever fondly remember the smacking I received that day. There was one positive outcome though. I developed a fantastic reputation with my cousins, although Uncles and Aunties were  nervous about letting me in their houses, least I burn it down!

A true story: The Leopard of Tahr Mountain Camp

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That mist filled evening at the Tahr Mountain Camp, my buddies and I were eager to hit our sleeping bags after having polished off a full bottle of Japanese Whiskey. The three musketeers – Prasanth, Nevin and I – were on one of our usual escapades. Fueled with alcohol and recklessness as usual. This time, we chose a solitary mountain somewhere in the Western Ghats, miles away from civilisation. Just a bunch of tents pitched between a sheer cliff and a towering jungle peak, with no habitation for miles around, just virgin jungle. I wanted this. The solitude. “To reconnect with myself” as I told a friend back in London. Reconnect I did, as will be evident towards the end of this story!!

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We had two tents between the three of us. How do you make a choice with those sorts of numbers? Luckily Nevin stepped in. “I won’t sleep alone” he announced. Though he was a military guy, he was always prudent on matters of darkness and being alone. After poking fun at Nevin, I volunteered to sleep in the lone tent, not due to misplaced bravado, but because I knew that Prasanth and Nevin were great snorers. The more alcohol in their system, louder their snores are. As I walked through the darkness towards my solo tent 50 metres away, with just a dim torch to light my way, I had this weird trepidation. The tent was the furthest one from the centre of the camp, and closest to the jungle and the towering peak. No other tents between mine and sheer wilderness.

In the dim glow of my torch, I slid into my sleeping bag, grateful for the warmth it provided me in the 12°C of the mountain night. I reached out and switched off the torch. That’s when I got the shock of my life. The darkness engulfed me mercilessly, so much that I felt like the world shut itself on me. It was so total; I could not make out my fingers held in front of my face. A feeling of “lack of control” swept over me as I could not figure out what was happening around me. Slowly but surely, all my other senses were amplified making up for my lost visual sense, which had completely shutdown. The sounds of the forest became alarmingly loud – strange cries and bellows which I could not identify. Then came a comforting sound from 50 metres away… Grrrrr Brrrrr KRRRRR GRRRR…. Nevin and Prasanth snoring away alternatively. Somehow they had managed to synchronise their snoring frequency and phase so that one always snored after the other finished.

*Pitch Black Darkness*

Darkness

The waxing and waning sound of crickets were nearer than the wild calls of lusty beasts far away… or maybe hungry beasts!! Despite best efforts to sleep, my mind wandered to gory descriptions in Jim Corbett’s bestseller – The Leopard of Rudraprayag. “The leopard clawed at the Indian man’s flesh gnashing it to the bone while he thrashed about in pain and his pitiful screams falling on deaf ears.” Damn it, my friends would never hear my screams through their drunken slumber. More of Corbett’s analysis followed as I began cursing my bravado:
“A leopard first wounds its victim by clawing and then bites down hard on the neck, suffocating it to death.”
“The man eating leopard will choose its victim who is furthest away from a crowd of sleeping men.”
“Crickets and small animals will go silent when they sense a predator’s presence.”

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And then the unthinkable happened.

The crickets stopped!! A numbing chill shuddered through my body. I involuntarily sat up in the darkness, sharpening my ears. Then I heard it. The sound I had been dreading. The unmistakable rustle of leaves and breaking of twigs as an animal walked outside my tent. The sound started on the right side of my tent, then slowly moved to the front and then to the left side… it was circling me. Obviously it was searching for a point of entry… a point of attack. Once it stopped circling, I could clearly hear the beast’s panting breath. I started sweating in the cold. I pictured claws tearing at the flimsy fabric of my tent, 2 feet to the left of my rib cage and the monster commencing its attack. I sat motionless in the dark, hardly daring to breathe and bathed in cold sweat.

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I don’t know how many minutes passed by in that frozen pose. I couldn’t wait like this till dawn as I had a full bladder and was bursting to go. One thing was sure; I wasn’t going to piss myself in my dying moment. I was in half mind, whether to fight or resign to my fate, when I heard another bone chilling sound. The distinct sound of the animal shaking its neck from 2 feet away – the swish of ears, the movement of muscles, the click of spinal bones. It was ready to make its move. “Enough was enough” I cursed to myself. I gritted my teeth and made up my mind to confront the creature. I would fight or die trying. Zipping down the tent flap, I stepped out with the torch in my left hand and the empty whiskey bottle in my right. I turned around the corner to the tent’s left side, the bottle raised, ready to deliver a crushing blow to the monster’s skull.

Leopard at Night

The sight I saw in my torch’s circle of light will be the most relieving one for many years to come. Lying down, snuggled up to the exterior of my tent was not the spotted black and yellow form of the leopard I expected, but was the white shape of a tail-wagging mongrel dog. “Goddammit!!!” I yelled at the poor creature, who stared back with amusement and tail still wagging. My anger gave way to relief and love. I had to pat him once, forgiving him for keeping me wake for the past couple of hours and nearly killing me with fright. Moving away, I unzipped and relieved my bladder and my racing mind. Looking up I saw one of the clearest skies I’d seen. The stars were so bright and dense that I could barely identify my favourite constellations. It was a glorious sight. Then I took a long walk in that cold starlit night at 3.00 am. Passing by my friends’ tent, I listened to their snores as they slumbered away blissfully unaware of the drama that had unfolded. For moment I was tempted to impart a flying kick through the sheer cloth of the tent, but then I just let sleeping souls sleep. I walked through the forest for a good 20 minutes without a care in the world, celebrating life, glad that I am still alive! “Connect with myself… I did indeed!” I remembered the advice of my good friend… “Though it was via Baptism with Fire”. Returning to my tent, I slept like a log, assured that my “White Leopard” was standing guard outside for me.

Dog at Night  Starry Night
After a hearty breakfast of hot Appams and Mutton Stew, we embarked on our long trek across the mountain-side. And guess who decided to trot along? My dear friend – the white leopard. Apparently, he was a stray who came up the mountain in a supply Jeep and then refused to leave the camp. For the rest of the day he was our unwavering companion through thick foliage, across boulder fields and steep ravines. We spoiled him rotten with scraps of food, including my gluten free pork crackles, which we had saved up for drinking sessions. The next day we said our goodbyes to the camp and to our white leopard. As our Jeep pulled away, I wished for my friend to follow us down to the valley. But he stayed put at the helm of the camp, wagging his tail, well determined to scare the shit out the next batch of campers!

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First Love: 1992 A Love Story

There she was!  I caught her eye again as our gazes met for a split second. Curly locks of jet black hair falling over her white school blouse, while her big beautiful eyes darted all around, occasionally  in my direction; she was quite self-conscious that I was staring at her. I could not help, but stare. Those high-set cheek bones accentuated her inset eyes, while her giggly smiles gave her cheeks the prettiest dimples. “How come I’ve never seen her before in school? How do I find her name?”

Cute girl smiling, sketch for your design

Standing in the hot sun, in the school assembly that spring morning, I searched for answers, while my heart was feeling confident. Not that I had much experience in these matters; I had only turned 15 three months ago. Then I saw Zumi, my friend from KCSL,  standing close to my mystery girl. “Hmm she’s  in the 7th, so that would make her 13 or at least late 12”. Now Zumi was Melvin’s cousin and Melvin was amoung my closest buddies. I decided to direct my investigation via that channel, not realising that the more people I involved, the more widespread my secret enquiries would become public.

By break time, next day Melvin had her name “Vikki Ann Harris”. “Hmmm nice, rhymes with Vincent Naveen Morris”.   I found out where she lives. Also that Teena was her first cousin. So more information flowed from Teena about her family, which church she attends, who her friends were etc. However before long, nearly the whole of the high school “knew” about the “relationship“ between Vikki and I. Except there was one problem – Vikki and I had not spoken to each other, let alone have a relationship.

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However one thing was true. I could not get her pretty face and super cute smile out of my head. My interest in her grew into infatuation, which in turn became an obsession. Frequently, I found myself bicycling to her home at all hours (including wee hours of the morning), hoping to catch a glimpse of her.  And in more than one occasion, I did. Back in those days, before internet and iPads, kids spent a lot of time outdoors. A favourite past-time was to stand by the gate and admire the passing traffic. On one such afternoon, she and her friends were camped outside her gate, as I rode on by on my usual crusades. As soon as she recognised me approaching she ran inside and hid behind the gate. Unknown to her , I saw her through a gap, hiding behind the gate giggling and shaking her hands. At that moment, I realised that my dear Vikki had feelings for me. Elated from my usual shy self, I made a loud announcement  to her friends “Ask her not to hide from me…she’s not going to get away from me”. And one of her friends, Roseleen, enthusiastically replied in the affirmative. So now I have support from her closest friends as well. “Yay”. I couldn’t have been happier.

Teena, being a good sport, continued to be our messenger. I learnt that Vikki’s parents were super strict and hence was advised to wait until I was bigger and stronger!!!  I agreed, partly due to the sound logic of that argument but largely due to my naivety. In the course of the next few weeks, Vikki’s grades started slipping. I held myself responsible and took up the job rectify the situation.  I entrusted Teena to guide Vikki in her studies and to pacify her and convince her that I would wait for her. Wow, childhood naivety has its limits, but not in my case. These decisions just got in the way of me going ahead and just talking to the girl I loved.

The academic year was drawing to a close. As I was in the 10th Std, I was leaving school. It was autograph season, where in all outgoing pupils bought little decorated books and got their friends to pen down a personal message. I bought mine and I knew who I would ask to write on it. As discussed and conspired with me, Teena brought Vikki down to my classroom on some pretext. I did not lose a moment. Grabbing my autograph book, I cornered Vikki and asked her to write in it, and then I promptly disappeared. During the process, I spoke all of two words to her. I am sure the poor little thing was taken aback at the swiftness of all that transpired. So she jotted down something and handed it to Teena. After that, I have wished again and again that I had spoken to more…that I had made her talk to me…

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I was out of school and the 2 month long summer holidays were becoming a drag. I was unable to see my beloved little girl. Even my frequent bicycle rides in front of her home failed to pull her out. And this was the time Mummy bought me a Walkman. The old Philips. I binged on romantic songs from the “Everlasting Love Songs” series by Magnasound.   More and more I listened to those songs, the more I missed my girl. Something had to be done.  I knew she went to church every day for the morning mass. I wasn’t much a church person. However I decided to brave the early morning cold, waking up at 5.30 am and reaching church at 6.30. I did not stop there. I spoke to my friend Rodney, who was an altar boy in church and expressed my desire to be an altar boy there. That would be ultimate, I told myself, to see her up close when she queued for communion. It barely mattered that I was from a different parish to her!!

 

Then started my one month adventure in church – learning the chores of assisting the priest, striking the perfect praying pose as I stood in front of the entire church congregation, balancing the communion plate just under the chins of the pious. And there she was…way back in the queue of communioners, inching her way towards me. I practiced my technique of holding the plate, as close to chins as possible without actually touching. Finally she was here, at the front of the queue,  two feet from me, ready to accept communion. Those two seconds stretched out , as I intently studied her face. Her chin was upturned, face looking straight, angelic eyes acutely aware of my stare, heaving chest betraying her racing heart. My fingers were just inches from her flushed cheeks. I wanted to drop the plate and caress those rosy cheeks, run my fingers though her jet black locks.  I had this overwhelming desire to take her in my arms and kiss her then and there…to hell with what the priest would think, to hell with what the congregation would do to me. That was my true cocaine moment – total Euphoria!

Boy Girl Communion

And so my early morning sojourn to her church continued unabated every day. Communion time was obviously my favourite. Often, I would catch her eyes, slyly looking at me while she was way behind in the queue! As soon as our eyes met, she’d panic and avert hers so suddenly that I struggled to supress my smile in front of the entire church audience. After mass, the priest and I had a duty of blessing graves in the church cemetery. Without fail, she would follow us making pretence of paying her respects to departed souls. I knew she was buying time so that we would leave church at the same time. But she couldn’t hang around for too long as she was accompanied by her teenage cousins, Roseleen and Norla who, to my irritation, were pestering her to leave. They always succeeded in dragging her out before I could leave the priest’s side. Winding up my duties at full speed, I mounted my faithful steed – the Atlas Blueflame bicycle and rode feverishly, to catch up with them. As I neared her and the protective entourage surrounding her, I could clearly see her sly eyes stealing a look at me while pretending to stare at the ground! Before I could even get a word out to her, the annoying cousins would start teasing me and passing comments. And I would ride on by, without saying all the words that I should have spoken to her. I never got my break that summer, or for that matter; ever. That was my last summer of innocence.

Girls and Boy on Bike

The summer drew to a close and the monsoon of 1992 arrived in full fury. I entered college. Stopped going to church. Avoided church even on Sundays. I let my heart dry up. Threw feelings to the wind. Learned to be foul mouthed, bunked classes, picked fights with gangs and nearly joined one myself. Even managed to get suspended from college. My personality had changed for worse. However, I never forgot my first love. Every time I had the chance, I took a de-tour via her street, and peek over her gate hoping to catch a glimpse of her. As years passed, the bicycle gave way to a Bajaj Scooter and then to a Suzuki Mobike. At that time we had moved house and I was staying 20 kms from her. At least on a dozen occasions I rode on my mobike, breezing past her house. This continued until 1998, when I migrated to a different state altogether and subsequently left India. Never saw her. I realised with finality that the summer of 1992 was the last glimpse ever.

A decade and a half passed. The social media revolution was in full swing. I got back in touch with a lot of school friends. But not Vikki. Her name drew a blank on all social media sites. Even my close friend Melvin had only sketchy information “She’s somewhere in the middle east, with her hubby and kiddo”.  No more news. I wonder how she’s doing? I wonder if she’s happy, if she’s being loved? I wonder if she remembers that teenage boy on his blue bicycle? I wonder if she goes to church and reminisce about the altar boy who served her communion back in the summer of 92?

Hill Valley High School – Our beloved garden patches

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“Work during your free periods. Something useful to do with your youthful energy.” Thats how our ‘Madam’, the school owner wooed us 10 year olds into gardening for the school. There was a patch of barren ground right in front of the school, and what better way to transform it to a beautiful garden than using free youthful energy? Add in a bit of competition to the mix – “Each class will own a garden patch and we want to see who does it best” – and little minds (and hands and feet) would clamour to outdo each other.

To be honest, it wasn’t a bad idea at all. Excitement was high. Although some smart alecks like Vinay pointed out the conspiracy of “child labour”, I was really bought into ‘Madams’ idea. Maybe it was because I had just finished reading Enid Blyton’s “Children of the Cherry Tree Farm” and was itching to try out my green thumb. More honestly, it was because I really sucked at Cricket, languishing in the bottom rungs of the C team, while Vinay and company were rising stars in the A team.

Ahh gardening! A welcome break from Cricket!!

Sandwiched between those of 6th and 8th standards, our little rectangular plot looked perfect. Completely barren, completely open to fresh ideas. Someone had the grand idea of creating walkways along the garden, so that admirers can walk around in a pre-determined path so as not to miss any attraction (plant 🙂 ). So began the grand theft of red clay bricks to line the walk ways – all stolen from a construction stack. “No one would notice the minuscule reduction in the brick stack”. Or so we thought. Within hours, all other classes decided that they wanted brick walkways too! The ‘constructin brick stack’ started disappearing at an alarming rate!! I realised with trepidation that our ‘Salami Method’ of thievery had all but failed. Unsurprisingly, the next morning brought with it the stern order from Madam to return all our illegal booty.

Again, we toiled under the hot sun spending our free periods (away from Cricket) on manual labour. Wasn’t nearly as fun as the previous day. However our spirits weren’t dampened and in fact were raised by Christina’s idea of lining the walkways with smooth stones. This was luckily in ample supply around the grounds. Thanks to this idea being non-patentable, by evening all six classes’ plots were filled with ‘smooth stones’ arranged in a manner recognisable by only its creators!

We decided to dedicate the next day to Botany. With great enthusiasm, we brought to school whatever botanical specimens we could lay our hands on at home – saplings, broken stalks and even some beans seeds from the kitchen. Fervently, the boys dug up the hard ground using primitive iron tools. There were actually iron rods from the left over construction work (our school building was never actually completed). The girls chose wisely to stick to the more artistic work of deciding where each type of plant would go in. They seemed to learn early in life how to stand around and tell boys what to do. It was at that point that Reshma had a brainwave – “We should have a pond in our garden”. Consequently by the end of the day, some of us were busy digging a 3 feet deep and 3 feet diameter pond to exact specifications!!

Bubbling with excitement about their soon-to-be-built pond, they seemed not to understand about what will happen to the water once we pour it in. Some of boys may have had doubts, but we decided not to challenge their unviable idea. We too seemed to have learnt lessons early – even after 25 years we do not challenge our women’s ideas of ‘white kitchen work tops’ or ‘crown pashmina hallways’.

Despite all the early lessons about the opposite sex, the inevitable happened. Fault lines appeared, disagreements lead to disputes, and finally the bulk of the boys boycotted our beloved garden patch. They setup in a small neighbouring plot. I say “they” because some of my friends and I decided to stay faithful to our original patch, where we spent many finger blistering hours digging planting holes and not to mention the 3 X 3 feet pond. My dear friend Girish was on the opposite side now and was quite vocal with his jokes about us working with the girls. Those jokes cannot be reproduced here, but I will gladly do so in the “Standard Boys HVHS” Whatsapp group 😉
Manju must have sensed our predicament and hence called for a meeting around the pond. “I want you to promise me that you will never leave this garden!” And she stuck out her up-turned palm, bidding me to touch it and make a promise. My head reeled as thoughts rushed through my mind “For god’s sake, I am only 10 years old and I am not going to touch a girl’s hand even if my life depended on it.” As if reading my mind, Manju retorted “if you are too shy to touch my hand, you can touch it with a ruler or a pencil”. I looked around for help! “Where was my dear friend Arun, who was standing next to me? Where was he when I needed him?” To my despair, I realised that he had dropped to his knees and was furiously digging away at the pond 🙂 🙂 Finally resigning to my fate, I made the promise using a stick on Manju’s palm 🙂

The estranged teams worked hard over the next few days – planting, watering, beautifying and warding off bullies from the 8th standard. Then it arrived. The first weekend after we started our gardening endevours. As we ushered in the fresh week, everyone seemed lose interest in the garden and Cricket gained in popularity. I believe that was the death knell for our green enterprise. The week after all our plants had withered and died. Sadly.

Thus our beloved garden patches faded into our memories along with the friendships, lessons, excitement and aspirations. Faded as they may be, those lovely memories from that ‘unlikely’ week will never be erased from our minds.

Dream

Through iron bars of the solitary window
Through the void of mindlessness
Through raspy breath between sighs
Through searing cautery of hopelessness
I dream of…
The touch of the brush on canvas
The splash of drop on the parched
The touch of bow on string
The meeting of our roads

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