The cyclone drove itself unerringly west, crossed the Coramandal spice coast without a pause and vented it’s fury upon the city, shattering the glass window and my pleasant dreams. I woke with great zest and a sense of purpose on a manic Sunday fully aware that my time on Earth was limited to the few days remaining on the top of page of the calendar facing my bed. For as long as I could remember, Sundays were family days, the day when grandpa Vijayan’s clan got together at his place. My family support system is large, with many uncles, aunts and their children, my peer group that positively contributed to my emotional well-being. Rain or shine, we met at Gran’s place for lunch every week. On this Sunday it was not going to be any different, even with the cyclone inundating the surroundings. Especially this Sunday. The family had a mission impossible, I had given them a task. “Hey folks, you know what!” I had announced the previous Sunday while Grandma and my aunts laid out the sumptuous lunch.
My uncles stopped their loud irrelevant discussions and turned to me with concern. Even Vishnu, my kid brother, stopped his garrulous cricket commentary to listen. “I have been selected,” I said and paused for dramatic impact. “Well, I am going away into space for five years,” I stated without youthful simplicity. my temperature. My father made a face and went to investigate whether I had imbibed any of his precious beer. My uncles were embarrassed. “Wow,” said my grandpa, he said, “I knew, you had Columbus in you.” He had sailed the seven seas as a marine captain and was usually a man of few words. “Ma, I am fine,” I told my mother reassuringly. “It is just that I have been selected by NASA for the next expedition to Jupiter, I need to go into pre-training within few weeks.” My paternal uncle, a flamboyant and suave B777 captain in Singapore Airlines, had his mouth wide open as if he had lowered his under carriage. “You got to be joking,” said Vishnu with his usual aplomb. “Give him a drink,” said my marine engineer uncle. “His diesel engine has fouled.” “I am not joking,” I stammered with the beginning of a smile. “You remember my application to Iowa State University Honours Programme?” I asked. “They liked my application and recommended me to NASA. I am going into space for five years,” I said without pausing to breathe.
There was pin drop silence for about ten seconds, while thousands of small wheels clicked in my family brains and comprehension dawned that I was deadly serious, as serious as a 16-yearold could be. My mother cried. My father hollered. My uncles thumped my back. My aunts ran helter-skelter rejoicing. Vishnu looked at me very suspiciously and shook his head with mounting concern. “I say you got to be institutionalised,” he said quietly. Just entering his teens, he was beginning to use big words. There was pandemonium for many hours and the lunch lay forlorn on the dining table. Nobody ate. They just discussed me and my space travel as if I did not exist. Nobody asked me anything. “Thundering Typhoons, does he need a compass and a sextant to navigate in space?” my grandpa asked with great concern. My airline captain uncle dismissed it saying, “No, they now use a computer, laser gyro and an inertial navigational system.” Many quesries followed, my marine engineer uncle asked, “Would he have to berth to get POL and pump out the bilge?” He required a speaking tube from below deck to be understood. “Jupiter Ahoy,” said my eldest uncle who is also a marine captain, and promptly went back to sleep. He usually sleeps though cyclones even when sailing in the Bay Of Bengal.
I thumped the table for silence when I could no longer remain unaffected by the irrelevant bonhomie. After all, I had a right to be heard. “Well Guys”, I said when I had requisitioned their attention. “I am allowed to take onboard with me only three things. A non religious book, a technological device and something small and personal.” There followed a loud chorus and suggestions. “Take a magnetic compass,” said grandpa, “When I sailed in the State of Madras way back in 1949, the electrics went out and I got through the Malacca Straight just by my pocket compass.” “Don’t forget to take a plastic bag to pee,” said the chief engineer uncle whose favourite worry was always pumping out the bilge. “Shall I pack your favourite pickles?” my grand mother asked. “I shall give you a handmade soap to bathe,” volunteered my eldest aunt who makes soaps for a living. “Can I design your space suit?” Asked my eldest cousin who is training to be a fashion designer. Vishnu looked very thoughtful and eventually jabbed me in my ribs. “I will give you my iPod, the one that I had refused to give you last week.
You can have it since you are going away for so long.” He paused for effect. “That is, if I can have your play station for that long.” His bargains were always very clever. I was quite emotional, touched and overwhelmed. “The spaceship would be well stocked with everything that one needs for five years. And iPod wouldn’t be required as the on board computer has just about every music, comic and game one can imagine.” I scowled at Vishnu telling him, “If you touch my play station while I am away, I shall come back and box your ears.” I said, “I need suggestions here, put your thinking caps on and come up with one item each that I can select and carry with me on the mission, do it by next Sunday.”
That was last week
Today was that big day, the day of reckoning. I went to grandpa’s place with trepidation, nevertheless with an anticipatory glee. He insisted on giving me a compass and a mariner’s clock, to calculate the latitude and longitude if the electrics gave up on me in space. My mother gave me my first tooth and said, “May the tooth fairy be with you.” Grandma gave me a jar of pickles, “To add a little flavour to the useless junk food the Americans give on board the flight from Chennai to Pitsburg,” she mused. My father provided a wad of rupee notes, “Spending money for your coke and burgers, and don’t waste it on girls,” he said with a wicked wink. The airline captain provided a pilot’s flight bag with Jepson letdown charts, “For re-entry from space if there is congestion over Neveda,” he said seriously. The marine engineer uncle provided a shining new screwdriver, “Just to fix things in space you know,” he said.
The dining table was stacked with the affectionate junkets that the Vijayan brood lovingly brought with them for me to take on my space journey. My cousin the fashion designer gave me a group photo of the entire family, just to remind me of the Sundays. “Hey Vishnu,” I hollered to my kid brother. “You got nothing to give me?” I asked with great disappointment. He looked unusually down cast. He said, “I am kind of going to miss you for the next five years. Can I kick your butt so that you don’t forget me?” I felt I ought to give a speech. Everyone agreed. So I climbed the table and cleared my throat. I began hesitatingly. “I shall miss each one of you. I shall miss you every Sunday for the next five years. Obama probably will be seeking the next term as president. By the time I come back I’d probably have a moustache and grandpa would have no hair left on his head. All my cousins would be grown up and Vishnu would be in college and too old to box his ears then. Life is going to change for all of us.
I don’t think NASA will permit the loving Indian junket that you all have brought for me, the sheer weight of it’s love is going to bend the spaceship off course. Yet, I don’t think they would mind if I carry a pocket book with a list of all these things that you have given me with such love and care. I could then remind myself of all the things on this table and feel it’s warmth and utility. I will carry the group photo to remind me of you when I look out lovingly through the spaceship window, at sunsets over the earth, and count the days for my return to this very room. And Vishnu, I will exchange the iPod for my play station. Not because I will probably need an iPod. It will be just to remind you and me that for all our lives we will share and care.” I had a lump in my throat. “I will just take with me the pocket book with the list, the photo, and Vishnu’s iPod,” I said with a sense of anticipation, for a journey from here to Jupiter, somewhere near eternity.
— The author uses the pseudonym of Cyclic to relive his memories