The belt's buckle - which has my school’s name, logo and postal address embossed on it - acts as the hilt and provides awesome grip while dad wields it during the ritual. And it is the other end, with a metallic loop / clasp (henceforth referred to as the Loop-end) that usually makes intimate contacts with my skin and leaves discernible traces. Each independent trace resembles a sort of mini swelling as though a group of 12 mosquitoes had conspired to bite me simultaneously by sitting in a straight line.
Humor apart, after dad stopped moving towards me, he swang his arm out and I saw the loop-end of the belt wildly zooming in towards me. Incredlibly fast.
“AMMMAAAHHHHH!!”. I yelled my bladder out as the belt made its first contact.
During the assault, I scrunched down and twisted my body in reflex. Due to a mis-timed scrunch, I ended up receiving the blow on my back, precisely in the small area right between my shoulder blades - the spot we often consider an uphill struggle to reach out with fingers to scratch at a random mosquito bite.
Crying my lungs out, tears gushing over my cheeks, and ‘FEAR’ written all over my anatomy with a virtual highlighter, I gave a quick self-sympathetic glance at mom anticipating she would jostle my dad aside and run towards me to give me a motherly massage on my back.
She did not budge. Nor did she give a hoot about me. I lost heart.
She got on with her blank stare at me as though she was not fully satisfied with the proceedings yet. For once, her indifference coupled with dad’s hatred made me feel like an orphan - well, not a real orphan but sort of metaphoric you can say. I struggled to reach my back myself and somehow managed to rub the impact area with the middle finger. This eased the pain a little.
To induce sympathy in her mind, I played an innocent about-to-be-slaughtered lamb and looked at her with a pity-inducing frown. Even butter wouldn't melt. I sniffed twice, deep from the lungs. And this time she moved, but only to shift her weight from one leg to the other, and kept staring at me indifferently. Not a speck of motherly emotion could be noticed on her face. Then I wiped my nose against my shoulder to wipe off the watery fluid draining out through my nostrils. Right before I tried wiping my nose against the other shoulder, the watery fluid shaped itself into a small bubble at the nostril.
I burst it out by exhaling hard.
The pain on my back didn’t seem to alleviate completely and so I tried touching the impact area again. I felt a 2-inch bump out there. Before I could feel the bump and do further analysis of its shape and size, I saw the loop-end flying towards me, yet again.
“Ayyappa” I said to myself.
When the belt was half way through, flying towards me at a supersonic speed, I pushed my dad on left and gestured at mom not to try stopping me on right, and headed straight towards the door that opened into our backyard. Dad came running after me, with long strides, holding the tip of his lungie with one hand and the buckle of the belt with the other. Mom followed him with a brisk walk, as if she was already late for an important board meeting .
After reaching the backyard, a few feet away from the wall facing the door, I cut back and stood right there. Dad has just arrived and was huffing and puffing. He stood there stooping a little, with his hands on his knees, panting, trying to catch up on his breath. Mom arrived too and settled about three feet away from him and continued giving ill-disposed stares at me.
In the backyard, I was territorially locked up - by 6-feet walls on three sides and a 5-feet 7-inch man on my opposite side. The backyard had a tungsten bulb already switched on, thereby giving adequate visibility to all the participants.
At this juncture, I've got an important revelation to make. It’s regarding the strategic objective behind heading towards the backyard. Backyard is the only strategic spot from where my screams would be somewhat audible to my neighbour, Mr. Arunachalam - a 51-year old gentleman, whom my dad has immense respect for and always puts on pedestal. Dad looks upto him not only for his age, but also for his demeanor, kindliness and mentorship. Dad has utmost regards for him and wouldn’t say a “No” to him – no matter what. (Like my friend Venky who didn't say “No” to my movie plan, thereby helping me land in hot water)
Dad stopped panting. He was now standing at ease, while stylishly wielding the belt. This time the blow successfully landed on the side of my left thigh, slightly extending to a part of the butt. Relatively, it wasn’t as painful as the first one. Yet, I exggerated the scream which was clearly louder than the first one. This is just to make sure it was audible enough for my saviour living next door – Arunachalam uncle – so that he would come running into his backyard, stand on the water tank against the wall joining our backyards, and articulate my most anticipated line “Please stop it Chandrasekharan!! Please don’t hit the poor boy! Please stop it if you really care for my words”
However, I didn’t find any signs of uncle’s appearance yet. “Is he out for doing grocery?” I asked myself. And gave a couple of quick glances at the wall on the left side, highly hoping for his appearance for once atleast.
Dad kept moving closer to me. I kept wobbling back, rubbing my thighs to soothe the burning sensation. I was hardly three feet away from the wall behind me. I could clearly see an unabated wrath on dad’s face – his shoulders rised up while he breathed in rage and his chest hair peeked out from the ‘U’ of his white VIP banian. He delivered another blow with the belt. A back-hand stroke this time. An effective blow straight onto the side of my right thigh. I screamed again. Twice this time. To the fullest capacity of my larynx. And continued throwing my glances at the wall expecting Arunachalam uncle, while rigorously rubbing down my thigh’s side.
After a couple of seconds, while my dad was visually searching for another new location on my body to deliver the fourth blow, I noticed the neighbor’s tubelight in their backyard has just flickered on. It was the light of hope. Light of redemption. I then heard the creaking sound of their backyard door open. I kept looking at the wall, hopefully, and a moment later, I saw a human head, with salt-pepper hair, slowly rising up behind the wall. Like a rising sun above the horizon. I could literally feel fireworks exploding in the background. And drumming sounds and trumpet blows in my head. Sounds of celebration. Arunachalam uncle finally showed up. I got all my confidence back. Infact, more than what I actually lost a few minutes ago. I then gave a heroic look at dad.
Uncle appeared cheerful and was wearing his bifocal glasses. Finally, he delivered the anticipated line. An obliged dad, immediately unfurled his lungie as a mark of respect, and showed his teeth sheepishly. I felt, the now unfurled and gently flying lungie was symbolic of a flag signifying my victory.
“But Arunachalam garu, you don’t know what he has done” my dad told him with a gentle voice and innocent expression, as if it was me who had been assaulting him with the belt during the past few minutes.
“NO" uncle said, sort of a military discipline showing up on his face. "No. Whatever he may have done. Please throw away that belt” he ordered.
Dad nodded his head looking at uncle. Denoting acknowledgement.
Face beaming utmost sincerety, dad handed over the belt to mom. Like a retired gladiator handing over his sword to his legal descendant. He turned towards me, and with a scornful look nodded me to go inside. I nodded back and went inside.
Mom and dad headed towards the wall to speak to him. I overheard a couple of laughs and giggles from uncle and parents. I guess they were not talking about me.