Today is a special day. I wouldn’t have remembered at all, but my grandmother reminded me. Indirectly, of course, but it was her switching on the TV and setting it to Sun TV that directed my attention to the loud advertisement for “Padaiyappa” in the first place. One of Rajni Kanth’s most famous movies to celebrate his whateverth birthday. And as I was rolling my eyes at the unreasonable love people of the South seem to have for him (let’s ignore my similarly irrational love for SRK here, shall we?), I was reminded instantly of you.
You, and your love for ‘The King’, as you called him. I remember when you went to watch the first day, first show of “Baba” when it was released, at an insane 5 or 6 in the morning. You picked us up for school that morning, so incredibly excited that you had watched your idol in action after such a long time. You wouldn’t stop making the \m/ sign for AGES. I remember rolling my eyes then, too.
I think I was too young back then to appreciate your presence in my life, but now that I’m back in the same town 6 and a half years after leaving it, I see things a lot more clearly. Back then, you were just the man who picked me (and several other girls) up for school every morning and dropped us back every evening, nothing more. Now, thinking about it, you were so much more.
You were the man who waited patiently every evening as I sat in the library after school, picking books to take back home with me. You were the man who agreed to take me on the second trip home, even though it would be out of the way then, just because I needed a little more time to finish the chapter of the Harry Potter book I had started and was too engrossed in to put down and go home. You were the man who used to entertain us with funny stories on the way to and back from school, the man whose auto was always full of laughing girls. You made sure I got my preferred seat in the auto when I reached the right age (‘seniority’, we called it), and that one day when I fell down and injured myself on the grounds after school, you took extra care to make sure I was okay and got home safe.
You even gave me a nickname that caught on so quickly, I was called nothing but that in school for the next five years. Of course, you didn’t mean for it to be a nickname, but the funny way you pronounced my name, combined with the fact that you always added “ma” to our names out of respect, even though we were less than half your age, made sure of it anyway. I bet the girls at my school remember me by that name even now, even if they don’t remember how exactly it originated.
I don’t exactly miss my school life, but I can’t deny that some of my best school years were spent here in this town. And you were a big part of them, whether or not you realized it.
I don’t know where you are now or what you’re doing. You might have won the lottery, for all I know, and gone away to live peacefully in a big mansion on the outskirts of the city. And yet, I can’t help looking out the window of the car whenever I’m passing by the school, just to check whether you’re among the many automen waiting in line to pick a new bunch of students up and drop them off home. I haven’t caught sight of you so far, but I hope that if I ever do, you’ll remember me as fondly as I remember you.
Happy birthday, Automan. I don’t know how old you turn today. For that matter, I don’t even remember your name – you will always be “Automan” to me. But wherever you are, and whatever you’re doing, I hope you’re happy. And I hope you’re still as big a fan of Rajni Kanth as you were back then.