Sep 6, 2012


"Do you realize that the only time in our lives when we like to get old is when we're kids? If you're less than 10 years old, you're so excited about aging that you think in fractions. "How old are you?" "I'm four and a half!" You're never thirty-six and a half. You're four and a half, going on five! That's the key. You get into your teens, now they can't hold you back. You  jump to the next number, or even a few ahead. "How old are you?" "I'm gonna be 16!" You could be 13, but hey, you're gonna be 16!"
 - popular quote attributed to George Carlin, though some people dispute it

Long, long ago, there lived a boy of twelve who, like all boys his age, couldn't wait to get into his teens. Except this boy wanted to grow older faster than others, because he naively thought that growing older automatically meant growing bigger, taller, stronger. It's another matter than two decades (give or take 2-3 years) down the line, he would realize that growing older simply meant growing fatter, balder and lazier, and try to stop the process. Unsuccessfully. But we are getting too ahead of the story. I mean, we are not some Ekta Kapoor soap that we start taking two-decade leaps! So, getting back, the reason our boy couldn't wait to get older (and taller!) was because he was unusually short. Not a dwarf, mind you, just shorter than almost everybody in his class.

And he was constantly reminded about his stature, or rather the lack of it.

By friends who made fun of him in the playgrounds by throwing the ball just out of his reach. Or refusing to pick him in their team whenever they had an 'odd' number of players, thereby making him the 'common' which meant that he got to bat last, but had to field twice and could get to bowl only the 'baby over'. Which, if you haven't realized, is the worst situation to be in, especially since one of the only two bats on the ground was owned by the boy.

By grumpy old relatives who would make him stand near the door, draw a small line above his head, and remark disapprovingly that there has been no change since the time he visited them 3 months back. Quite like those grumpy old equity analysts who expect growth every quarter.

By his teachers, who made him sit on the first bench and stand at the head of the queue in the morning assembly. While all the vertically endowed bastards would be having fun at the back of the line, our boy had to stand at attention, raise his hand very straight and couldn't afford to goof up on a single line of the "All Indians are my brothers and sisters..." without incurring the wrath of the PT Master and his cane. Thankfully, he had a reasonably good memory which helped him escape the cane.

By the disgusting taste of Protinex, and Chyawanprash, and the ache in his legs as he stretched to reach the pedal of his bicycle after some misguided advice that raising the seat on the cycle would increase height.

Two decades (give or take 2-3 years) down the line, he would realize the being short had a lot of advantages. Like being able to fit comfortably in the side berth of a train, the front of a small car, the economy seat of an aircraft and most importantly, the ability to lie down and sleep on the back side seat of a Qualis. But again, we are going too far ahead of the story. So, we get back.

So, to put it shortly (ouch!), he hated, detested, abhorred (and other synonyms that I can't think of now) being short and wanted to grow older, as quickly as possible.

One day, the boy and his mother set out on a long train journey to Bombay. It was still called Bombay then. And they settled in comfortably, and the boy got into his favourite upper berth and plunged headlong into the 1 Tinkle and 2 Champaks he had. His mom had strictly told him that they would not be buying any more books for the trip and he should read them slowly, taking breaks in between to admire the scenery outside. The boy simply nodded and got back to the exciting adventures of Shikari Shambu. When one is passing through the arid landscape of Andhra Pradesh in the summer with just dusty, brown mud fields to see, only his mom could have conjured up the imagination to call it 'scenery'.

Anyways, the ticket checker comes along, and the boy's mom hands him the ticket. The ticket checker looks at the ticket, then looks up, and asks mom "Half ticket? How old is he?"

The mom replies, without batting an eyelid, "Ten"

The boy blinks. His mother never tells lies. And has taught him repeatedly never to tell lies. In fact, she had this wonderful way of narrating the story of Harischandra, making even the unfortunate king who lost his wife and kid and had to slog it out in the cemetery sound like a hero worth emulating. To repeat, emphatically, his mother never tells lies. Except to myopic ticket checkers, as he now realizes.

The ticket checker looks up, squints a bit and says "he looks older." Well, maybe the old man isn't all that myopic after all.

The mom replies "I am telling you, he's ten."

"I AM TWELVE, AND IN 2 MONTHS I'LL BE THIRTEEN!", the boy wants to scream. In fact, the boy is screaming inside. For the first time in his life, someone has looked at him and said "he looks older." The boy wants to jump down from his berth and hug the old man in the black coat. But he's afraid that they'll take him away for not having a 'full' ticket and lock him up. And so, he keeps quiet as the old man walks away, looking unconvinced but deciding against making a scene of it. Something dies in him that day.

He never understood, why his naturally honest parents, deemed it okay to hoodwink the system for a paltry train ticket (or rather, half of it!). Maybe because it was really a stretch on his father's salary to buy two long distance tickets. Maybe because, at the end of the day, his parents were only all too human, and not mythical kings from those stupid stories.

The boy is now grown up, although he never really grew tall. And as his father turns 60, and he logs in to IRCTC and clicks on "Senior Citizen" and books his father on a 'half-ticket', he smiles with a perverse sense of pleasure. After all, he has waited years for this moment.


  1. Anonymous12:11 PM

    Growing up was painful.I'd not like to be ten again.
    Nice post.

  2. Anonymous9:27 AM

    Yeah,talk about responsibilities,a staid 9to 5job and the family clamouring to get you married.In the same boat bro.

  3. True... who is the protagonist? You?

  4. @ Anon 1:
    It was painful, yes, but I'd rather be ten again :)

    @ Anon 2:
    Two people on a sinking boat makes it sink faster. Get off and find your own boat :P

    @ AKM:
    Yes. Me.

  5. Anonymous12:03 PM

    Life will come full circle.
    And will accelerate too.btw,how tall did you grow exactly?

  6. @ Anon 3:
    Life moves in random directions, we think it is a circle.

    And no questions on height/ weight/ other sizes will be answered. Sorry :)

  7. Anonymous5:00 AM

    Magnificent! (As usual. :-P )