Tuesday, June 13, 2006


It has not been very long since I started ‘surfing the net’. A novice treading warily into the e-world, I was introduced to the ‘net’ by my college-going son. I can barely navigate my way to a site, while he has astounded me with his prowess at the desktop. He keeps a dozen windows open, and hears music, reads the latest news, looks up the tax laws as part of his home assignment, reads up on the genome project which fascinates him and prepares for the next weekend quiz, all at the same time by letting his fingertips dance on the keyboard.

One day he told us, ‘Anil Grover has switched from civil engineering at IIT Kharagpur to an integrated M Sc course in Mathematics’. We wondered how he knew because after we left Patiala in 1996 consequent to my transfer, there was practically no contact between the classmates except for a letter or two. The correspondence had petered out; perhaps Anil’s father had also been transferred and they had left without a forwarding address.

‘How did you come to know this?’ my wife, who knew that there had been no letters, could not contain her curiosity. His face beaming, he told us gleefully that he had been able to establish contact with him through the services offered by batchmates.com.

Next Sunday I sat before the computer, my wife peering over my shoulders at the screen, to see if I could use the facility to find any long-lost friend, with some help forthcoming from my son,. I thought I would start from my schooldays and then progress to college and university days. It was rather easy, I could go to ‘Koodali High School’ in Kannur District, Kerala. When I punched the relative keys, the batch of ’61 popped up on the screen before me. Yes, there was the name of Karunan, T P, my bosom pal of my school days. We had shared the bench for six years and had maintained contact for a decade after that, but the thread had snapped some time around his marriage.

I looked up the details: he was in England now. The father of two daughters, he was running The Zambesi, an inn in Middlesex, he was manufacturing and selling personalised stationery under the brand name Zambesi. He ran a store in the neighbourhood, also called The Zambesi Store. ‘But, of all things, why Zambesi?’ my son asked.

The name Zambesi did ring a bell, but I couldn’t quite recall what it signified. That night, as I lay awake waiting for my eyes to droop and ‘sleep, perchance to dream’, I tried to clear the cobwebs of my mind … and, suddenly, it came back to me.

A popular boy in the village, Karunan was the man for all jobs. Not one who had set much store by the virtues of learning, he was there to pedal his way on a hired bicycle to the town to get the doctor to attend to an immobilised patient, to assist in the erection of the pandal when the Kathakali troupe paid its annual visit to the hamlet and to distribute the bit notices announcing the arrival of Gemini Circus or the Sivaji Ganesan starrer ‘Naan Aanayittaan’ in the town.

That was the day after the night on which the ten-day long theyyam festival in the village. Karunan had spent an active night in the fair grounds amidst balloons and bangles, plastic whistles and palmyra sirens, rubber balls and catapults. Naturally, he nodded off for a while in the biology class. Engaging us in an afternoon session, Vasudevan Master was holding forth on the digestive system and the alimentary canal when he caught Karunan napping. Stopping briefly, he asked Karunan, ‘Which gland produces bile? Karunan, stand up and answer!’ Rudely woken up from his siesta, Karunan stood up and looked around for a helpful hint. Rahman, known for his practical jokes, who was sitting right behind Karunan poked him lightly with a pencil and whispered, ‘Zambesi.’ Assuming an air of confidence, ‘Zambesi,’ echoed Karunan.

The name ‘Zambesi Karunan’ stuck.

And Karunan is not one to forget his roots despite traversing continents, I was convinced.

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