“You are so very jobless. At least let me do my job” this is a favorite sentence of my girlfriend to tell it to me. I am kidding. I have this knack of annoying her all the time by calling her at work and telling her I have nothing to do. I always had something to do. At least I had the resources to do so. But I didn’t. I blamed it on my mental state. You know, it may be starting stages of chronic depression. But I knew once I got my hands on my tools, I will jump back like a spring and everything would be normal.
My girlfriend was obviously concerned about me at first. She gave me small tasks to finish. I think she was talking to some of her doctor friends trying to help me out. She cared deeply about me. So in the last three weeks, this was the second time she said this. “You are so very jobless. At least let me do my job”
Chinthamani aunty has called. She was Pandian mama’s wife. She said she had some of our stuff in her house and wanted me to clear it. I know what that means. It means I have to get a tempo traveler and take things out of her house. Pandian mama died just four months ago. He was bedridden for a long time. He was not a blood relative of mine. If you are from a tier 2 or 3 cities from Tamilnadu like me, you will know all your father’s colleagues are either an aunt or uncle for you. As long as you are in the same town as them, you don’t have to worry about your next meal. They will annoy the shit out of you alright and speak some bad things about you to their neighbors during the night when there was a power cut. But they will still cook something for you and make sure you don’t go to sleep with an empty stomach.
Pandian mama was one such person. He had stayed at our house for a long stretch before his marriage. My father was a traveling salesman. And Pandian mama was his colleague. Whenever they got to leave or work brought them home, Pandian mama stayed with us. He would walk the markets on his own giving my father some time with the family. And he always brought some candies for me when he came back in the evening. It was a treat to watch Pandian mama and my father reconcile the accounts and Daily status report at the end of the day. After all his hard work, he would still get nicely from my father for his one or two silly mistakes.
When there was a lay off in the company, my father got to keep his job while Pandian mama didn’t. The desolate mama asked if he could stay with us for a while and my parents readily agreed. Pandian mama for some reason took upon to help my mother with all the chores that he could do like buying vegetables, paying the electricity bill, cleaning the house, cataloging the audio cassettes.
During the days I faked stomach aches and stayed home rather than going to school, I saw Pandian mama listening to songs, rewinding it, and take some notes in his diary. I thought he would go on to write songs for the cinema. Sometimes he would walk into the living room and asked if I could watch my cartoons with less sound to which I happily obliged. There was something in watching cartoons standing close to the TV.
I remember he got a job somewhere in Trichy shortly after that but made it a point to visit us every month. I was growing up and Pandian mama was the first to take me to the grown-up hotels to just have a coffee. It made me feel like a man and ready to face the world. I next met him at his wedding with Chinthamani Athai. It was clear neither of them was happy about the marriage.
Then, he would come to our home someday asking to borrow money, hiding from his money lender. “She purposely told the thugs that I was inside the house sir” he once said my father his voice quivering, his hand in the food my mother lovingly prepared. Not one morsel had gone in his mouth. I moved away from the place as quickly as I could. That is what grownups do right? Or rather I didn’t have the strength to hear about what happened next and why he had a black eye.
Then things changed for us too. Dad lost money in business. We had to sell our house and move to a rented house. Pandian mama tried to find us. There was no phone connection with number portability and I didn’t give a redirection notice to our local post office, a job entrusted to me. I was so lazy. I could proudly say I hadn’t changed a bit. After so many years, he found me on Facebook and pinged me. We had kept in touch since then.
I called my girlfriend to say I was going to Chinthamani Athai’s place. I took my car and drove. I could see a large cardboard box full of audio cassettes. “You can take this with you,” she said without looking at me. “Are you sure?” I asked. She dismissed me without even a look. Till then I had no idea that the cassettes would weigh so heavy. Most of the cassettes were not company-issued ones. It was recorded from music shops. I stopped a moment and smiled. We called the cassette shop as music shops and not the shops which sold musical instruments. I wondered why. But then I took the cassettes to the car. I connected the Bluetooth in my car to the phone and let the music play. For some reason, I had not grieved when Pandian mama died. Chinthamani athai could only talk about the debt he had left behind. Suddenly the old songs playing in the radio station made me think about all those afternoon Pandian mama was sitting around the tape recorder. Listening to it in very low volume to not disturb the rhythm of our house, very well aware that he was a guest. He made sure he doesn’t become an unwanted one. I called up my girlfriend “I want a tape recorder.”
“Ugh! What are you going to do with a tape recorder?”
“Listen to songs”
“Where should I find a tape recorder? Why do you think I always have the answers?”
“I don’t know. Whenever I am lost I look at your eyes and feel like it has all the answers. Probably this is just an extension of it.”
“You haven’t written a word in three weeks for your novel Mr. Writer. But you can come up with all these cheesy lines.”
“I want to write but you know. I am jobless”
“Yeah right. You are so jobless. Let me at least do my job.”
I was fighting the urge to nap after a heavy lunch and beer when the dunzo guy came with a parcel. He gave me the tape recorder and asked to take a photograph of it. I kept the tape recorder down. “No. Your wife has said to take a picture of this with you. She wanted to make sure you are okay too.” I gladly posed.
It took me a couple of minutes to set up the tape recorder. I chose the cassette which said “Tamil movie Sathya” written on the label and inserted it. The other side of the label had Pandian written on it. I loved songs from both movies.
Ilayaraja’s stereo mixing started to blast on the tape recorder speakers “Potta vadiuthu”. I don’t know why it had an impact on me. I took the tape recorder to the kitchen and started doing the dishes. My girlfriend’s job demanded her to be on her feet for a long time. Sometimes it felt bad when she sort of bent over the sink and doing dishes. I wanted to help. But I realized this posture helped her hamstrings and calves, so I kept my wish to myself. Today the song was perfect to rinse, soap, wash and toss the plates around the kitchen. I completed most of the job the song stopped. Instead of going to the next track, Pandian mama’s voice filled the kitchen.
“ I wanted to write this as a letter. But there is a possibility of your brother reading the letter. I wish I could write in English so that he wouldn’t understand but nevertheless, he would find out it is a love letter for you and thrash you. I miss you so much” It was weird. We see the aging people in the different photos taken during various stages of their lives. But voice. Pandian mama sounded unbelievably young in the tape. I wished I had a voice like him. I wondered if he was my age when he recorded this clip. “The next song reminds me so much of how I bunked a day to work and lied in my DSR. We took a bus to another town where nobody could identify us. That was the first time you let me hold your hands. I don’t know if you believe me when I say this. But the warmth of your hand is so fresh in my memory that I can bring myself to feel that warmth anytime wanted to. That is the only solace in these lonely days.” This cannot be for Chinthamani Athai. “Neengatha Reengaram Neethane” These words keep coming to me whenever I hear this song. You don’t leave me for a minute. Your voice resonates with me all the time. Your face doesn’t let me sleep. I don’t know how long I can handle this.” I stopped the song. Did Chinthamani Athai listen to this?
I turned the cassette. I wanted to hear some Rajini song after this shock. “Pandiyanin Rajiyathil Uyyalala” leaked into the room like incense smoke and soon it filled the room as incense smoke does. The song ended and I was already picturing my girlfriend singing “Anbe nee enna antha kannano” while a rather sweet voice started speaking “Pandian. I am yours. I will be yours. All these days I was wondering if something was wrong with me for not getting married. If it was my fault like my mother told no prospective grooms liked me. But now I am sure it is because I was waiting for you. My destiny was waiting for you. The first time when I saw you with your boss, you were even shy to look at me. But I couldn’t take my eyes off you. I felt like it was very bad to do that. When I knew you fell for me too, I was flying in the air. Listen to the next song to know how I feel” It was that song. It was the song I was imagining myself with my girl. Now it is ruined forever.
I took a bunch of cassettes. It was in no particular order. I skipped songs to listen to the monologues. At one point in time, I was in awe with their ingenious thinking and in the next moment, I wondered why we didn’t have any such innocent cute things to do. What happened between the time of exchanging the cassettes? Did Pandian mama record another cassette before a reply came to him? Did they even think about CDs, MP3, and streaming? “I love the place where I stay” Pandian mama had once said. “Akka cooks really well. I want to take you here once and lock you with Akka in the kitchen. I will only let you out when you have learned everything from her. I think Akka and my boss is very close because of the taste of her cooking. They fight too. But everything is resolved before night. After dinner, they play Hindi songs in tape and lie down and listen to it. I could hear it from the terrace where I sleep. You won’t know how many fights the song “Baahon mein chali aah” has resolved in this house. I want to live this life with you Sathya. I want to enjoy each and every moment of life with you like this.” Pandian mama has said. I always thought I had a modest childhood. It is even possible to be somebody to envy our lives? I tried to remember when was the last time when my girlfriend and I fell asleep listening to songs. We have our own playlists and ear pods. What are we missing?
Slowly as the chronology of the movies went up, the voice notes between Sathya and Pandian were filled with various emotions. The frustration, fear, sadness, and loss of hope. But they kept talking. I wondered if Pandian had spent all his words with Sathya. Is that why he didn’t have any words for Chintamani Athai? Would Chintamani athai have listened and reciprocated Pandian mama’s feelings?
How much ever I tried, I couldn’t find the last cassette exchanged. Was there a last cassette exchange? Or did it end abruptly? Who did Sathya marry? Why can’t I remember any aunty named Sathya from my childhood? Damn, I need some closure.
My phone rang. It was my girlfriend.
“You are unusually quiet. You like to annoy me saying you are jobless. What are you up to?”
“I was just listening to songs,” I said.
“I messaged you.”
“I couldn’t hear my phone.”
“Should I leave you alone for a while? You don’t feel like yourself. Get back to your songs” She was about to hang up.
“Listen! I said. Don’t type messages, please. Send voice notes. I want to save it and burn it in CD or upload it in the cloud or whatever”
My girlfriend seemed to be amused by the suggestion.
“Sure. You can do that. You are so very jobless. At least let me do my job” she said and hung up.