Pongal and Deepavali were the days we got new clothes. There was a shop near the railway station that we always got all our clothes from. The owner gave us a discount for our loyalty and extended a credit when it was needed.
Every Pongal, after our celebrations, my dad would take two big cylindrical, stainless steel jars with handle, two “Ever-silver Thookkus”. One filled with Ven-pongal and the other filled with Chakkara-pongal. He would give it to the shop owner who eagerly awaited it on that day.
I was 11 or 12. Fairly reserved. During the Pongal holidays, an older kid, maybe 14 or 15, from the neighborhood started playing with me. One day he told me that he goes early in the morning for exercises. “It is super fun”, he said. “It’s not just exercise and yoga, but we also play kabaddi, go and other outdoor games. Bring your friends”.
I roped in a couple of my friends that played street cricket with me. I went to the huge playground nearby. The exercises were fun, the games were fantastic. At the end of the week, we had a visitor, he brought in new games. We played and when we were exhausted, we all sat down in a circle. Most of us were around the age of 11 or 12, all expecting some talk about the benefits of exercise.
The talk went on for about 30 minutes. The talk was angry, accusatory and targeted one group of people. I stopped going the next day. My older friend came home in the afternoon and asked me why I didn’t show up. I said I didn’t like the talk. He said, anna wants to meet you. I went with him and met this burly, charismatic guy that I had seen several times earlier but never spoke to. He and his brother had a reputation.
He said, “I have high hopes for you, why did you stop?”. I said, “I liked the exercises but I didn’t like the talk.” “Come, join me for breakfast, you are too young and don’t understand”. I said, “I am sorry” and walked out.
I was wearing my Pongal shirt that wasn’t paid for yet. The older “friend” never visited me after that.