“Are you sure you want to do this, Sir?” the specialist in stretch-torture (Torture for Higher!) asked me, his shaky, uncertain voice at odds with his massive, muscular frame.
“Yes, yes!” I barked. “Come on! No time to waste! I want this! I need this! Now!”
He looked at me one last time and started cranking the rollers that were attached to my wrists and ankles. Slowly they moved away from each other, stretching my frame to a point of unimaginable pain.
I blame it all on the various aunties in my life. I was 16, it was summer and we were, as usual, packed off to Kasauli where we have a house.
One day, on the way to the Kasauli Club, my mum and I bumped into a Chandigarh Aunty
(CA). You know the type — immaculately dyed hair, large sunglasses, eyebrows plucked into a thin, high arch. My mother and she clasped each other, chattering away in Punjabi. Then CA turned to me with a florid smile. “
Arre! Vekho, vekho
! Look who we have here! You must be Rahul, na?” I nodded. “You know
, I last saw you when you were six years old. How much you’ve…!” She stopped abruptly, looked at me again, recovered, and with a large smile said, “I mean, you’ve grown…stouter!”
Another time, we were in Kolhapur, meeting my Maharashtrian side. It was the Ganesh vacation. I was 18. The ancestral house was swamped with
. My hamstrings were so warmed up touching feet that I could have run the 100 without thinking. On one such hammy-stretch in front of yet another KK (Kolhapur
), she held me and said, “Oh, ho!
(see, see)! Kumud
(Kumud’s son)!” Suddenly, a gaggle of KKs gathered and began to affectionately pat my head. KK1 beamed with pleasure and said, “My! How much you have grown! When I saw you ten years ago, you were this high!” She shot out her hand and held it out. It just about grazed the top of my hair.
“Sir! Sir! Please let us stop! Take your money back! I can’t do this anymore! Haven’t you had enough?” the medieval torturer asked as he splashed water on my unconscious face. I opened my eyes, looked into his, shoved a fistload of thousand-rupee notes in his hand and said, “Don’t stop till you can feel my heart beating.” I passed out again with a smile on my lips and just one thought — Never again will CAs, KKs and BPs (
) humiliate me. I will walk tall. If I ever walk again.