We stood there quietly, me and my brother, as Amma and Maami negotiated with the guys in the shop. The shop had bales and bales of cotton strewn all over the 10ftX10ft area and housed three or four guys, in various stages of labour. After much bargaining from our side and patronizing from their side, we took home a pillow. It was grey with Yellow-golden lines criss-crossing each other at right angles and turning black where they met. That night me and my brother fought for rights to use the new pillow.
The place Karnataka Bedding House, nestled on 3rd Cross, next to the conservancy lane between 1st and 2nd Main Roads, of Chamarajpet. It required visits at times as the cotton pillows and beds ended up with the cotton moving away from where the body rested and needed to be spread even. We’d watch with fascination as one of their workers would put a bed on the footpath and slam it all over with a rod. This meant that if a stick was at hand at night we tried the same, slamming our freshly unrolled beds, evoking much anger in the elders.
Sometimes the cotton went old and beds had to be mixed or combined. These involved multiple visits, carrying the beds once, and then following up repeatedly. “Two more days” he’d promise before we had to tag along with Appa who always used to give them a tongue-lashing. He always seemed to have the right anger and the right words to go after them. Growing up looked very daunting – to have those words, use them and get things done from people who never worked otherwise. The beds turned up in a few days – thick, taut and squarish, grid-like to hold the cotton where they had to be. As always me and my brother fought for rights to the bed – the new pillow, a negotiation point. When one of us was shipped off to some cousins’ place, the other got full access to both and promptly bragged on return.
There was always this feeling that Chamarajpet 3rd Cross had the answer for everything one might need. Except for a decent place to eat – Hotel Majestic was one place we never entered. There were the book shops, Bata shoes (which still stands), Aachari’s shop for provisions, the old-paper Mart next to it where we dropped our old papers and saw our parents receiving money and felt proud about selling something, the hardware shop for tools Appa always seemed to need, the crowded Vadiraja shop for kitchen-ware where you never got things until Appa lost his patience and screamed at the manager about the service, the cassette shops he always wanted to enter. For more specialized services you crossed 4th Main Road – Photocopies which cost Re 1 and were done in a few seconds as you looked in wonder, Venkateshwara Medicals which was bigger and had more chocolates. And you crossed 5th Main rarely, sometimes for Oil in the Oil shop, where the shopkeeper sat behind big steel oil drums.
The turn of the 90s meant that winters generally had holidays because of some riots. By around 1991 we had started looking forward to them, come December. If 1990 was for Babri Masjid (or was it for the Mandal commission?), 1991 was for Cauvery water with Tamil Nadu. We walked through empty streets – me, my brother and cousin with our Uncle – all the way to Gavipuram. The Police in riot gear looked at us and waved us along through empty streets. A bus stood charred and we tried to make out which factory it belonged to. It turned out to be of ITI and I wondered how Amma would get to work after this. The next day morning we woke up early and watched Kris Srikkanth thrash the West Indies in Australia.
1992 came and as it went schools promptly shut down as riots took over again. This time we saw the visuals of a Mosque’s dome being brought down on TV. You could sense this was a big moment – there was that lump in the throat. Being the last Hindu house in that area there was fear. There was curfew, there was rioting. Stones were pelted at the landlord’s house and we noticed where the window mesh had bent and the pieces of brick lying in our compound. But at the end of it all, schools reopened and a semblance of normalcy returned.
We went back to 3rd Cross for our shopping. The old paper mart was gone. It was closed and you could see things charred near its shutters. Paper burns well. Aachari’s provision stores next to it stood still and he went about his business as usual. Once we went up 3rd cross towards 1st Main and the bedding shop was also gone. Closed and charred remains near the doors. Apparently cotton also burnt well.
We left Chamarajpet in June 1994. Within a few months, there were riots over Urdu news being shown on Doordarshan in October. This time they had entered the houses in the compound and beaten up the landlord. People had roamed the streets with choppers in their hands. The toll stood at close to 25 deaths.