The Gang War and the Truce

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The Gang War and the Truce — My Childhood Nostalgia Series – Chapter 16

I took the kitty (danda) in my hand. Adrenalin flowed through my veins as it always happened whenever I played Kitty-Pul (Gilli Danda) at the street. Venu was ready at the throwing end, with the pul (gilli) in hand.

It was a typical Saturday afternoon in the month of December, when the sky was a shade overcast and breeze was cooler. This happened 49 years ago and I was 11.

As my eyes focused on Venu, I suddenly saw Rangu Sir, our elementary school head master, at the distant back ground in his bicycle. Sure he had noticed me all set in ‘batting’ posture and was signaling me to come towards him!

“Venu, Stop, stop!  Rangu Sir…. There….”

I dropped my kitti and ran towards Rangu Sir.  The other boys immediately gathered into a group and were curiously looking why I was running towards Venu Sir like a sprinter. Trouble for sure!

As I reached Venu Sir panting, he looked at my eyes with his characteristic penetration and strictness and said “These rascals will play kittippul and they won’t ever listen to teachers or parents. But how come you are playing it? You are such a nice boy and I can’t believe you too will be playing along with them. Don’t you know how dangerous this game is? In my childhood I have seen a boy getting hit at the eye and losing eye-sight in one eye. I have seen some old people getting hit at head and bleeding. Better think about it”. Curtly, he started pedaling the bicycle and moved away.  

I was shaken. I was a pet boy of Rangu Sir.. I cannot afford to disobey him. What he said penetrated right into my heart

Yes. I knew Kittipul was dangerous. 

It is a game played with one large wooden stick (about 1.5 ft in length and 1 in inch diameter called the Kitti ) and a small stick (about 3 inches in length and 3/4 inch in diameter, called the Pul). The Pul‘s both ends are actually made conical and sharp.

One player (striker) plays at a time and all the rest are fielders. In essence, it is hitting the Pul with the Kitti in different ways, styles and techniques. One of the steps in the game is where the Pul lies in the ground flat; you hit the conical end of the Pul with your kitty and the Pul jumps up; once it is airborne, hit it hard; the farther you hit, the better you are. If the flying Pul is caught by some fielders, you are out.

Being a wooden piece with sharp conical edges, the Pul is really dangerous when it flies and has every potential to hit someone — some player, or a third person walking in the street and cause injury. Some strict parents would not allow their children to play this game at all. My parents too warned me of the game, but somehow, I ignored the warnings. I was indeed overpowered by my love  towards the game and it was due to the simple reason that I was somewhat reasonably skilled in playing it, when compared to the hopelessness of my stature in other street games!

I walked back to the place where boys were waiting for me to resume the game. I picked up my Kitti and declared: “Rangu Sir does not approve of my playing Kittipul. Actually my parents too had warned me about it earlier. I can’t continue now; sorry boys…” and walked away with a sense of guilt, shame, disappointment, fear of loss of “respect” amidst street boys and further alienation from them. 

I could see Venu becoming furious. He started heckling at me: “Ah! look,da! Here is a dharma putra! He keeps his tail amid his hind legs and runs like a dog when he sees Rangu Sir! Coward — real, spineless coward!” He shouted aloud behind my back as I walked and all the other boys jeered at me in chorus.

Can I term Venu as a bully?

Not really. Venu was not big enough or arrogant enough to be called a bully amidst our village street boys. Venu was about three years elder to me. He was of course street-smart, had some natural leadership traits right at the young age, was below average at studies but highly skilled in all sorts of street games; he was loud mouthed, a good conversationalist, loved MGR cinema, made fun of school teachers and spent more time on the street playing or chitchatting with like-minded friends, than inside his home.

He always had an air of authority around him; he was very sure of himself on whatever he said or did. He freely used filthy language in conversations. That gave him a hero status amidst school boys in the street. 

On the other hand, I was a typical timid boy of the street; the son of a school teacher, studious, a perennial class topper, temple-going and pious looking nerd, rather cautious to mingle too freely with “porukki” (rogue-like) boys  and never too smart at street games. I was a parent-fearing boy who would run back home before dusk as per strictures from parents (even if it means we were half-way through in the games) causing irritation to fellow players like Venu who would go on playing under dimly lit street lights ignoring calls from parents to come home and study.

To be frank, I always carried an awe about Venu; he appeared to be a unique hero-cum-villain concoction in a single brew  and both of us always maintained a love-hate relationship.

Next couple of days were highly testing time for me and my conscience. A logically-sounding inner voice, supporting my love for the game kept saying ‘This village game has been played for generations; Even your father would have played it when he was a boy. Which game is not risky? Even in football or kabaddi, we get injured; should we then stop playing all games? It’s nonsense! Come on! This is a game of your liking; perhaps this is the only game where you can compete reasonably with Venu and challenge him…’

I remained confused. The lure of the game was tempting me to resume playing it. But the very genuine and valid warning of Rangu Sir could not be ignored; I respected him and I can’t afford to lose his affection on me. I kept on thinking about it for the next couple of days. Finally I made a clear and firm decision — Okay. I will not touch Kittippul hereafter. Period.

Coming to know that I had called quits to the game, Venu and his goons continued to heckle at me whenever I passed them in the street. They took it as though I was displaying a ‘holier than thou’ attitude towards them. I was virtually blacklisted in their street games.

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But I too had a couple of timid friends who would morally support me. Unknowingly and unintentionally, a small group of boys started rallying around me — typical coy and timid boys, too serious about studies, not too good at sports, pious and obedient ones to parents and teachers, boys who had had their share of heckling and intimidation from Venu and his goons in the past.

There were a also a couple of boys, who were friendly to me and at the same time loved the company of Venu too. These ‘ intermediates’ would at times face bad times with Venu’s group due to petty fights and then join my group for a while, and then resume their company, once issues were patched up with them!

Our group too soon started playing street games independently. But the problem was that for some type of games, number of players were not adequate to effectively play the game. This problem was faced by Venu too, due to shortage of some of his members who changed loyalty frequently!

When our group could not play any game effectively, we would sit and chitchat on various subjects. I was a good story teller as I read plenty of story books that my father brought from school library to encourage his children to read.  .

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‘Kulla’ Cheenu (Short Cheenu) was two years younger to me and he was deeply fond of three things in life. First, listening to stories, second – MGR movies and third, Kittippul. For his love of the stories he would come to me and for talking about MGR movies and playing Kittipul, he would go to Venu’s gang.

‘Kulla’ Cheenu donned the role of an informer for us. He would feed us with the stories of internal squabbles happening in Venu’s gang — who was fighting with whom, who became unhappy with Venu for what reason and so on.

One day, when our group of four was sitting and chitchatting, Kulla Cheenu wanted me to narrate to him for the second time, a long and gripping thriller story that I had told him hardly a week ago. I was not particularly in a mood for story telling that day. In order to bait me for telling him the story, Cheenu said that he had a juicy news to share with me. He said “You know the latest news? Venu’s group is virtually breaking up; no one likes Venu’s high handedness. Frankly, if you call Venu for a duel and hit him, no one from his group will ever come to his support! They will all secretly appreciate you if you really slap on his face for whatever humiliation he has done to you so far!”

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Ah! That was very heady indeed! I becoming a hero and challenging Venu for a duel! I knew pretty well that I never had the guts for any such thing to attempt even in my dreams! I laughed and kept quiet. Cheenu was rather disappointed that his bait didn’t work; he left the spot giving some excuses.

As the rest of us continued with our chitchats sitting at the Thinnai of our house in the late afternoon, waiting for the sun to move further west so that we could go out and play. Suddenly Venu appeared in front of our house, surrounded by 5 or 6 of his gang members.

He started shouting at me: “You spineless worm! Do you really want to challenge me in a duel? If I blow air at your face, you will simply fly! Can you even lift a finger in front of me? Why lifting a finger, can you stand in front of me and speak 3 sentences coherently and boldly challenging me? You unworthy idiot!”

I and my friends were shell shocked to hear this! With faces becoming blank , mouths becoming dry and sweating profusely out of fear, we sat there frozen, even afraid to breathe!

Laughing aloud to see the palpable display of panic in us, Venu walked away triumphantly from the spot.

After about 15 minutes, when we could regain our senses, we started wondering: How come Venu became aware of the loose talks we had a while ago about challenging him for a duel? 

By that time Ganesan happened to come by. He was a happy-go-lucky sort of boy who was friendly with us as well as with Venu and company. We told him what happened.

“I will investigate and come back to you” said Ganesan.

The next day, the cat was out of the bag. It was the mischief done by Kulla Cheenu indeed. While we were thinking that he was an informer from Venu’s group, he was actually donning the role of a double agent, feeding Venu with real and imagined stories of the goings on in our group! 

We instantly banned Kulla Cheenu from our group. Thanks to the diplomatic moves of Ganesan, we came to know that Venu too got convinced of our incapacity even to think of posing a challenge to his authority as the street’s gang leader and he reportedly chided Kulla Cheenu for his double-play.

A couple of months went by uneventfully. Not much of playing happened in the streets on account of annual examinations in the school. The exams got over and summer holidays began.

I  and a couple of my friends including Ganesan were returning in the evening from the Shiva Temple which was located in the farmer’s street, a little away from our street. Right at the entrance to our street, Venu was standing tall, with his gang of 5 or 6 boys, as if to confront us en route.

What to do now? We were really scared. What is up his sleeves now?

As we went closer, we decided to hang our heads, ignore Venu groups’ presence there and walk straight ahead.

Venu spread his hands wide, as if to block us and said, “Stop, CV, I want to talk to you”.

“Wh..What?” I asked. I could not control my voice shaking in fear.

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In a very levelheaded and mellowed voice, at the same time, with his characteristic self confidence and sense of authority, Venu said, “Look CV; I have been thinking about this for a couple of days now. We all live in one street, we have all grown up together, played all along together; then why this groupism and bickering between us? Can’t we forget what happened and start playing together? Some new boys have come from Madras to their relative’s houses for vacation and they know how to play cricket. We have only heard about cricket in news papers. Imagine playing it ourselves in our street! They possess real cricket bat and cover balls! If we learn to play from them, then all of us put together will be big enough to play as two teams! What do you think?”

I was virtually “clean bowled”.  A real diplomatic coup by Venu!

Involuntarily, all in our group smiled gleefully ear to ear and extended our hands for shaking with Venu and his gang!

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Post script:

From young boys in early teens, we grew up to big boys of late teens in the same street and the truce continued. Cricket entered into our street games in a big way and became one of the mainstay games over the next years. Venu and myself continued our diplomatic friendliness alright, but frankly, we could never become real friends.

Still I do think of Venu much more frequently than my other closer friends of the street, for his diplomatic coup. I cannot help but admire the leadership traits he had right at that young age. As we grew up, I saw him maturing in his behavior and demeanor considerably. I could observe those days that his interpersonal skills and managerial abilities were far better than mine.

We lost touch with each other post teen age. Though, due to his parents’ financial limitations and his own lackluster performance in studies he could not get a good college education, I am quite sure he would have definitely become a successful manager in some business on account of his inborn merits.

Note: Real names have been changed in this story.

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