An Ordinary Life 7 - Sekar
"Splaaat!" Water hissed out of the hose pipe and shot out prematurely onto the hot earth. Sekar waited for the vapours of that delightful smell to reach his nose before he trained the pipe onto the lawns. Water sprung in an arch to wet the green grass, turning the dusty blades into a beautiful dark green. Sekar couldn't help thinking they looked rather celestial, beads of water crystal goblets settling gingerly on blades of fresh green grass.
His reverie was suddenly interrupted by the barking of dogs. Even as he threw the pipe onto the lawns and walked towards the imposing wrought-iron gate, he could hear Kranti the Gorkha raise his voice, shooing away a lady, dressed in tatters, from the gate.
Most of her features were unclear, caked with mud and dirt and a certain vacancy spread in her eyes. But it struck an instant chord in Sekar. "You are Kannamma, no?" he asked her. In her neurotic daze, the lady was not inclined to answer, but as he peered closely at her, Sekhar was convinced that it was Kannamma, the mother of driver Muniyandi. He had, long ago, seen a fading black and white picture of her, folded in four and tucked into her son's wallet. Some five years ago, the old woman had wandered away from home, her mental illness blurring reality in her head. Distraught, Muniyandi had launched a virtual manhunt, but drew blanks every where.
Now, lunging at the gate, the woman looked nothing like she did in her son's wallet picture. In fact, when Muniyandi turned up, he couldn't recognise her, until they had given her a bath.
As the water washed down the mud, her features, though altered by gauntness, began to show. Muniyandi was ecstatic, he gushed his thanks to Sekar, "If not for you, brother, she would have been lost to me forever. I am indebted to you, this birth and the next."
Sekar felt a tiny frisson of happiness explode in his brain. Perhaps, he thought, it's good to be gifted. But then, it was not often that he felt this way.
They say if a man is gifted, then he must also be unhappy. If they knew Sekar, they'd have found a sterling example in him.
* * *
As things were, however, they did not know Sekhar. In fact, few people unconnected with him were aware of the existence of Sekar or his singular talent. Unassuming and rather shy, Sekar could not care too much to talk about his unique gift. He was the kind of guy who would take the last seat in class, melt in a crowd or crouch into his own shadow. No, not a man to talk of himself.
* * *
The fact of the matter was simple. Or maybe, complex.
Sekar could remember every face that he had ever seen, E-V-E-R-Y face. This does not mean he remembered every face he had MET, but simply, every face his eyes had ever set upon. And at 21 years of age, he could no longer keep track of the numbers.
It was as if his brain was like an optical mark reader that operated at phenomenal speed, scanning, copying, storing information away in neat little folders in his well-ordered brain. So ordered, that he could, in a jiffy, recall any face and along with it, the associations at the moment of image capture.
Now, it also meant that along with a face, Sekhar could remember where and why he had seen the person in a sequence he would detail as if it were all unfurling for him again.
Sekar's unhappiness lay in the fact that his singular talent was a people one. In fact, his regular memory seemed rather dulled by his unique skill. His people memory was just that and no more: for instance, he had no head for numbers, formulas, theorems or even Tamil grammar. School was wasted on him and he stopped going when he had failed fifth standard twice. Sekar genuinely believed that if he did not measure up that way, he did not measure up at all, and that his gift was only a millstone around his neck.
And yet again, as he saw Muniyandi walking, an arm around his mother's shoulder, perhaps for the first time in his life, that unfamiliar frisson came back!
* * *
The shout pierced through his thoughts. Shaking his head, as if to shake off the thoughts he had been thinking, Sekar ran up the stairs to the hall where Rathnasamy Mudaliar sat on his large "Kerala" easy chair, his legs stretched out on the two long arms of the chair. Mudaliar was relaxing, so Sekar hesitated, "Aiyya...you called?" he whispered.
Mudaliar opened his eyes and wiped the pan juice before it dripped onto his chin, looking around for his spitoon. Sekhar moved it from behind the chair and pushed it where his employer could see it. Mudaliar spat, wiped his mouth with his special red towel and turned to Sekar. "Yesh," he said, the pan clogging his tongue, "what ish thish I hear," spat out again, and continued, " You could recognise that Kannamma even when her son could not?"
"Aiyya...the image was in my mind. I had seen her picture once..." he dragged.
"Ennada, are you concealing something from me?" Mudaliar raised his voice slightly.
"Aiyya, will I ever do that? This orphan will be on the streets now, if not for you.
It is just that I don't know how to explain it. It is a useless gift...Err...It is something I have been able to do even as a child...."
Mudaliar listened fascinated, even forgetting to wipe the betel juice off his lips. "With this talent, I've set you to digging up weeds! Shiva Shiva..." he chastised himself, as Sekar watched, scratching his head, perplexed.
* * *
On his tall perch, Sekar felt like a king. At least like a prince. Perhaps it was the crisp khaki that made him feel good, perhaps it was the binoculars, perhaps it was the elevation. Feeling important, he cocked the lenses to his eyes and swept through the crowds, scanning and filing away information into cubby holes in his brain.
Below, the sands were a swarming mass of black and grey. As they usually are on Kaanum Pongal day. Families wearing new clothes, eating cotton candy, chilli bajjis, flying paper kites, riding the merry-go round. The children were running around, harried parents chiding them to stay in sight. They would not have worried though, if they had known about the singular talent of the young man standing tall in the police outpost, keeping watch.
* * *
Certainly not the best of my efforts. But it was the best I could manage in a season of drought. :(
And of course, thanks, Sheky! :)