I'll always remember Kalpana 'cos of two unforgettable incidents in which she was the protagonist, and I, a helpless, supporting actor.She was a PUC student in a college in the then Madras where I was doing my masters. But she was almost a foot taller than me - mebbe that explains the allotment of the afore mentioned roles. We became good friends 'cos we travelled together back home for vacations. While I got off at Bangalore, she proceeded to Mysore from where she was 'picked up' by her mother and taken to Coorg. Yes. she had to be picked up- or she would have landed back in Madras. - that's how much she had her wits about her.
Once, we were returning to college after vacation. WE took an auto from the station. The auto took an unfamiliar route. We just had to come all the way down the Mount Road and then turn to the Cathedral Road to reach our college. Instead, the auto turned into a small lane as soon as it entered the Mount Road and went through small gullies we had never taken during all our days in Madras.
Kalpana, despite her size, got jittery. 'N-e-w r-o-u-t-e-,' she spelt out, for fear the driver might follow spoken English.
I nodded and kept silent, keeping a keen eye on the road.
Kalpana got more jittery. 'He might take a l-o-n-e-l-y r-o-a-d-(she spelt out the hyphenated words) and r-a-p-e us". She sounded scared by now.
But soon, the auto turned into the Cathedral Road and we were relieved. Kalpana made something like a sign of the cross and loudly heaved a sigh of relief.
WE reached the college gate. The young auto driver helped us with the luggage. Kalpana paid him and he spelt out with a twinkle in his eyes, 'T-h-a-n-k y-o-u, m-a-d-a-m'
The second episode was not just funny. It made me angry enough to twist her head off her neck if i could reach that high. WE were going home for summer vacation. Kalpana had fifteen pieces of luggage which we piled into a cab with a carrier. The cab charged us a bomb, and both of us were furious - she with the cab driver, and I with him and Kalpana. As soon as we reached the station, the porters pounced on us. Kalpana knew no Tamil and so I started to bargain with them. Kalpana suddenly let out an excited yell and pointed her long finger towards the trolleys parked under a "self service' name board. I was a little hesitant, cos the porters warned us that we will not be able to handle the trolley. Kalpana pooh poohed what she thought was a sexist remark and proudly strode all her six feet towards the trolley. She pushed it with great ease towards our luggage and together we piled our luggage (her 15 pieces, and three of mine)on to it.. And then we took the two ends of the handle and pushed. The trolley refused to move. I began to feel embarassed but Kalpa would not give up. She pushed and pushed and panted and puffed. The trolley moved one millionth of an inch forward and then refused to be pushed around. I looked at Kalpana whose face had become the colour of tomato. She stared back at me with a never-say-die expression and pushed. And then she did something whch made me want to do the same thing to her. She gave the trolley a violent kick and then let out a yelp, holding her toes and hopping around. By now, the porters were guffawing loudly and a crowd began to gather. I begged Kalpana to let the porters do their job. 'Never', she snapped at me. 'I'll finish this damned thing I've started'. An onlooker then let us into the trick of the trade. He suggested that we check the iron wheels of the trolley and set all four in the same direction and then push. WE went round the trolley and found that that while two wheels were forward looking, the other two were turned in two different directions. With a clenched fist pumping the air, Kalpana let out a triumphant "yes' and we went about fixing the wheels. and pushed. Hurray! the trolley began to move. The audience(porters included) applauded, laughed, hurrayed. WE pushed the trolley smoothly , followed by a large crowd in the Central Station of Madras, with passers by looking at us and grinning from ear to ear, and I wanted drop dead then and there but kill Kalpana before that happened. We must have pushed for about two minutes and then the trolley began to behave like the dhobi's donkey. It stopped and refused to move. By now Kalpana had become a mechanical expert and started adjusting the wheels while I stood there holding the handle sullenly. WE pushed the trolley again. The crowd had grown larger and their excitement increased seeing that Kalpana's colour had turned from tomato's to beet root's. Some one remarked that she was going in for a heart attack. Some one chided me for not pushing with all my might and letting my friend down. The porters loudly remarked that they should look for some other employment. No need, some one said. We'll enrol the ladies in our union. Some one emphatically disagreed.'don't think we'll have any use for the shorter one', he said. I bore it all but did not grin. I began to wonder why the almighty did not choose that momnent to use his legendary thunderbolts to punish me for all the sins i had committed in my life. If media menace was what it is today, that sensational scene would have been on the front page of all the national dailies the next day.
Just then we heard a very refined voice asking us if he can be of help. I turned around and saw a man in his thirties, looking sympathetically/disgustedly? at the two of us who were making a spectacle of ourselves there in the big metro railway station. Gratefully, we handed the trolley to him and he pushed it without much ado. The crowd disappeared slowly-so did the porters. The man unloaded the luggage, put them into our compartment, and started to leave. I asked him what his name was. I took the initiative 'cos i had a terrible feeling that Kalpa was going to throw her arms around his neck and cry on his shoulders. I must surely spare him that, after his wonderful service."Never mind my name. Only, don't bite off more than you can chew', he said and vanished in the crowd.
I've lost touch with Kalpana completely. Wonder if she is somewhere reading this.