27 Dec 2018

WHAT IS UP, WHAT IS UP ?



(Art Of Writing Letters in Rimc)


My father was a compulsive letter writer and seeker of news, ‘What is Up, What is Up ?’, like the present day fingering decease of ‘What’s App’ on mobile phone. Dad couldn’t, and wouldn’t, leave anyone alone for more than a week, without imperious gazetted court of inquiries, ‘What is Up, What is Up ?’. If I didn’t write home for more than ten days, he would berate venerable SP, the Principal, with gazette notifications, ‘What is Up, What is Up ?’ SP didn’t like show cause notices and writing explanations, especially tell anyone what was daily happening in Rajwada camp, called ‘Are You MC ?’ by Punjabi Doscos like Amrinder Singh.  SP the Princy loved whacking our bottoms with a four feet long Malacca Cain. During one of those whacking, I accidentally lost my one ‘L’, and hence became a wounded Rimcolian, while everyone else are proud Rimcollians, with two ‘Ls’. 

Dad was past his prime at 52, a suave Asst Commissioner of Travancore Devaswam Board when I joined Rimc in 1962. He was MA (Hon) in mathematics too, from Oxford, mind you. Therefore, Dad was more English than the British. He had the same bad habits. He always wrote letters in ‘Inland Letter’, which by Govt decree got rid of the necessity for self-attested writing paper / letter pads, as well as envelopes and the tedium of ‘licky-lick’ postage stamps.  He always wrote in Bradley Hand (ITC) script, size 8 font, which required a magnifying  glass to read. In Rimc and NDA, we were taught precis writing and the religiosity of brevity. But before Rimc, my father had taught me the art of writing the entire 1000 page Ramayana in an inland letter using ‘Bradley Hand ITC script, size 8 font’ assuming that  everyone had a microscope at home. Reason why I failed in Staff College in later life because the DS didn’t have a microscope at home and was myopic about my suggestion to apply air power like SP’s Malacca Cane.

Dad’s letters always gave a comprehensive coverage of news from home, to make sure that I didn’t get ‘home sick’ and run away from Rimc. His letters were like a newspaper, starting with headlines and ending in sports. It gave me a complete picture of what is happening at home. ‘EMS Namboothiri-pad was behaving like Rasputin’, Dad’s headline read, then went on to discuss local politics. Then came routine stuff, laments that Mom fed him good food daily despite PL 480 and severe rationing. ‘Economics’ of supply vs demand, creating fluctuation of price of go-go nuts, which paid my tuition fee in Rimc. Which tree went nutty or fruity, gossip about how many ltrs of milk ‘Sita’, our cow, produced daily,…..things like that. He asked for advise too, whether he should plant ‘Palmolive Tree’ instead of going nutty. Then came ‘what is up’, with family news. About two nephews, one a future Rimcolian (Balaji), and the other a stalwart of SS Kazhakootam (Gopi). That they had jumped out of their cribs and had begun to totter about, run away;  qualities that would stand them in good stead 8 or 9 years later, when they grew to be 12 yrs old and followed the footsteps of their wayward ‘Ankle’.

Dad believed that his share of parenting responsibility was only 51%. So he used only 51% of the Inland to write letters, which also covered the flap, and external reverse space meant to write address of sender. He didn’t want the postal department to return any of his laboriously written letters, and hence secretively wrote 15% of news and views in this space too, to convey the last part, how to mathematically prove ‘zero is not equal to zero’, and how to avoid venerable RCS adjudging me as Zero instead of Hero. He would then hand over the inland to Mom, to do her share of 49% parenting and letter writing. I suspected that Dad cheated and copied; the letters to my brother (Balaji’s father), sister (Gopi’s mother) and an elder unmarried sister then in college hostel, were identical, because my mother sometimes mixed up the letters and wrote complaints about Peter to Peter and Pan to Pan, instead of Peter to Pan !!

In her 49% of the Inland, Mom didn’t know what to write, and usually didn’t have time to write because of her routine of running a small farm single handed and feeding dozens of people who came to meet Dad. So she cleverly invented a Malayalam ‘Font 72’, like headlines of the local ‘Mathru Bhoomi’ newspaper that was so large that even a blind man could read it from 100 feet. It was unusually gibberish, waffling without conveying anything, a trick I learnt to make excuses to dorm coms who ‘shoe racked’ us for some misdemeanor.

Like everyone else, I loved the letters from home, a solitary Inland that came every week to ten days during my days at Rimc and NDA. No one else, in all my life, including my wife and son, or friends, ever wrote any letter to me. Once in a while my Commanding Officer would write show cause notice to me and I became adept at writing fictional stories.  But back in 62 in Rimc, precis writing and brevity was the order of the day.

Just to irritate him, I always ignored Dad when I sat down to write the compulsory weekly reply, in the same ‘Inland’ device which made P&T bankrupt. Because of the  compulsion for brevity, I only wrote, ‘Hi Mom, your loving son, Unni’, that was it. Made my father crazy, but as a force of habit, he never changed his style of reportage, about go-go nut trees that went nutty or fruity, and when the cow stopped lactating and butted Mom when she went to pull Sita’s titties.  Fed up  with my weekly one line sit-reps, Mom instructed, ‘tell  me everything that is happening to you’.   

Letter writing, usually in the evening self-study period, was a bane of my life. We had to submit a letter addressed to someone on Fridays (I think). If we didn’t submit a letter, we would be punished, shoe racked, ‘legs up hands down’, a military manoeuvre taught and practiced in Rimc to biologically migrate the brain to the butt and fill the occiput with previous days dinner. It was the general belief after 62 war that the Chinese cannot torture or interrogate anyone who sits on his brain.

The famous letter writers in my class were Tota, Soli, Suhas and Jasbir. Tota and Soli did simultaneous equations, wrote letters to their anytime money (ATM) dad, mom, siblings, ankles, aunts, knees, …….. individually, the same thing. I suspect that the main theme of the letters would have been ‘send money order c/o Paltu, the waiter’. Hence, they had thick wads of inlands inside their desk. Rascal Jabir never had any inlands, he stole them from Tota or Soli to write same message to his dad ‘send money order c/o Thople, the butler’. That was the beginning, we invented 'Hawala'.

I soon learnt the trick of stealing inlands from Tota’s desk, like Jasbir.  Soli used to hide the inlands in Maths text book to keep an account;  now who would ever do a thing like that, except 'Bawaji' ? Suhas the 'Tant' only bought one inland at a time, clever chap. Since I didn’t have any ideas of my own to write, I used to lean over to take a look, cheat, copy what others were writing. 'Tinda' Arvind was the worst letter writer. He broke nibs of dip dip pen, scratched the inlands and used Egyptian hieroglyphic script to convey ‘send money order c/o Paltu, the waiter’. Once I got a brilliant idea, to write letters with nothing in it, addressed to myself.  My father issued ‘What’s App’ to SP and I got caned again. So I had to find other ways to write letters and for the life of me, didn’t know what to write. Dad was a 'Kanjoos'. He gave me only Rs 5 as traveling allowance for five days journey from Kerala to Dun. It was no use trying the 'Hawala' route. So I invented ways to sign for OP shoes in Mochi Shop, but eat Samosa and drink Vimto in the canteen, a barter system, since the same fellow owned the Mochi shop and Canteen.  As I grew older,  I still  had to write letters, a little more expressive with superior education in Rimc.

‘Dear Mom, it rained here, hope it rained there too’, I once wrote. ‘I have a hole in my socks, I hope you have a hole in your socks too’. Dad loved my superior English education and chutzpah. But it drove Mom crazy. Frustrated after ‘Kakkad Qen’ (Mr Malhotra) gave me a Zero in Maths class test, I wrote to Mom that I love Scotch Eggs and was awarded an ‘Anda’, in Maths. It fooled Mom. Dad immediately scribbled the entire formula of proving zero not equal to zero, theory of Ramanujam. I appealed to ‘Kakkad Qen’, attaching letter from Dad, to treat me a decimal man 0.007. But ‘Kakkad Qen’ was not impressed and re-valuated my test result to minus 0.001. Neither Ramanujam nor Dad ever said that zero can be minus too.

Then one day, I was elevated from cricket score keeper to fielding in the boundary, while Manu bowled and Swapan scored a century. I just stood there on the boundary, did nothing and so helped Swapan to score the century. I became Swapan’s favourite and was further promoted to fielding in the slip, ‘silly midon’, a position designed for morons like me. Soon I became 11th man to bat. We had leg pads, but no guards for the gonads. Manu was a super bowler, an expert; he could bowl at a target and hit it with 100% spherical accuracy, and break gonads.

So that is how I landed up in sick quarter c/o the Matron with a mustache. She would come around 3 times daily to ask ‘how are you ?’, and to inspect my tiny gonads, that had swollen like go-go nuts. 

A standard cyclostyled message was sent by Rimc to Dad; ‘your son / ward, ………………………. (enter name), hospitalized, / wounded / killed  (delete what is not applicable).   …………….(name and signature)………………(date).

For inexplicable reason, someone had forgotten to fill in the blanks, or scratch out the options. When the blank form arrived at Ambala-Puzha at the southern tip of India fifteen days later, Mom went ballistic. Dad ran to the post office to send a telegram to SP.  I didn’t get caned, but was told to write a detailed letter home, describing nature of injury. How does one explain nature of such injury to one’s Mom.  So I emulated Tinda sketching the incident in Egyptian hieroglyphic and wrote to Dad, ‘personal & confidential’ and left it to him to explain to Mom as best as he could without hieroglyphics.  Go go nuts had by then become oranges and matron had stopped inspecting them.

One day when I crossed 16, I found a curly hair between my legs.  It was a proud moment of my life, great achievement. That week I wrote to Mom, ‘I  have grown a mustache’.  She promptly wrote back, ‘shave it off, you are too young to grow a mustache’.  Tragedy of my life.

In all my stay in Rimc 62-66, I never wrote to anyone except Mom and the hieroglyphics to Dad.  But I confess that once, before leaving Rimc, Jas dictated and I wrote, a stupid, mushy, maudlin love letter to Sita Ramaswami of Welhams. Though she did not reciprocate, I dubiously claim my fame ‘# me too’ !!. 

In retrospect I wish I had written to Sita in explicit hieroglyphics !!!



6 comments:

  1. You bring back memories of my father's letters too. Being from the older school, he insisted on affixing the addressee's qualifications after the name and so his letters to me were addressed to me plus BA, MBA. I had the mortification of hearing one postman delivering a Registered Letter asking for Bamba sahib. And to add insult to injury, my nephew started calling me Bamba Mama after he saw one letter at home.

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