The shiny red bus flaunting its name, Titanic, appeared as an aberrance amongst Kerala’s lush greenery. Its squeals overpowering nature’s sounds. The balding conductor scratched his armpits as he wobbled along the bus’ length.
“Chetta, you’ve got to buy a ticket for your friend,” the conductor said, unfazed, as he reached the third row of the almost empty vehicle.
“Okay.” The scruffy man, Baby, who was typing furiously on a laptop resting on his wobbly lap, looked up, and the dwarf lizard perched on his shoulder, waved its right paw and bobbed its head.
“And tie its mouth or no seat.” The conductor patted his rotund stomach, waiting.
Baby rummaged through his bag for a string. Stray papers, soiled shirts, and undies along with a bristle-less toothbrush, jostled around revealing nothing useful. He patted the chest pocket and retrieved his wallet, but the threadbare pouch contained only cash and a few coins.
A wiry man behind him tapped him on his shoulder and with a furtive look around, passed a Nirodh packet with a wink. Baby’s eyes bulged out, taking the condom. Tearing it, he looked at his pet, apology writ on his face.
The lizard watched with growing horror as its friend–former friend–sealed its jaws with a thankfully unused pan-flavoured rubber.
“I’m sorry, Tintumon,” Baby mumbled while caressing it. The conductor satisfied with the duo, moved on to other passengers.
Tintumon blinked, its beady eyes refusing to meet Baby’s, instead, it chose to look outside.
My name isn’t Tintumon! How humiliating to be muzzled! And to think I’m trying to help Baby to mate. Why couldn’t this rubber be coconut-flavoured? I love that! This spicy one burns.
Its tongue abdicated the latex, and Tintumon crept along Baby’s midriff and settled on his lap, sulking. Trying to overcome the ‘My heart will go on’ horn, bellowing every few minutes, and swaying to the rhythmic movements of the bus, coupled with the heat, Tintumon slept. Why is it that only humans have contraceptives? If only. Tintumon’s dream crept along the way and landed it in Peru.
The Peruvian summer had been hot. Zevallos’s broad, sweaty forehead had zoomed in on Amor’s vision, and it had shaken fearfully till it had felt its owner’s caress. “Choose a picture, Amor. Help the nice man here, find a wife.”
Amor cobbled on the mat, its tongue flickering. Eventually, it landed on a photograph. Its owner clapped his hands. “Excellento! Sir, here’s your bride! My Amor has done it again. Didn’t I tell you, it’s a genius when it comes to selecting brides? Its record is flawless! You can marry this girl without a doubt!”
Zevallos grunted as he eyed the picture. “She better be good, or you can kiss this lagarto goodbye.” With the warning imparted, he paraded out with his henchmen following him in a poor imitation of his strutting walk.
She had not been good. Amor had picked an undercover policewoman bride for the deadliest drug cartel leader in Peru and operating from prison, Zevallos had ordered Amor to be culled. Lizard matrimony had definitely not been on the cards for Amor!
The teenager bus helper, Unni, eel-like moustache notwithstanding, stood at the exit, and hollered, “Peroorkada! Peroorkada!” as the bus juddered to a stop. The cacophony woke Baby and Tintumon.
It was just a nightmare! I’m not in Peru anymore. I’m with Baby.
Tintumon shook its head as Baby went back to sleep. Several people boarded the bus, and a red- saree clad lady plonked next to a sleeping Baby
No! This one isn’t right for my papito. What to do? Tintumon fretted.
The lady writhed and settled in for the long haul as Tintumon’s reptilian brain devised a scheme. The woman’s bare belly protruded from the saree’s confines as she snored. Tintumon set its plan into action.
“Naayinda mone! Touching my tummy. He… he… is a lizard-carrying-pervert,” she squealed, huffing off to another seat.
A puzzled Baby mumbled, “Oh, pinne! As if!” as the women in the bus glared at him.
Amidst the confusion, Tintumon shrugged off the condom, but the incident unearthed a long-buried memory. With a swish of the rogue tail, it remembered the trauma.
Zevallos’ orders had been final: Amor’s elimination and its owner’s forcible removal from Huacachina Oasis. Amor had fled for its tail, literally, while being chased by the hoodlums and it had crept into a man’s backpack to escape death. The man was touring the desert. Hidden amongst the grimy clothes and a toothbrush-from-hell, Amor discovered its oblivious saviour was a tourist.
Oh, excusez-moi, an Indian journalist.
In Peru for a tourism blog assignment, Baby had unknowingly rescued Amor. On discovering the stowaway, he shrieked, jumping around, and uttering cuss words while an unperturbed Amor had waved, slowing Baby’s racing heart, melting it in the process.
Baby had done his darndest best to shrug off the lizard, but it had persevered, making its home amongst the backpack’s sodden garments. He had accepted it and in time, grown to love it, carrying Amor, whom he had rechristened Tintumon, everywhere with him.
Silver linings are often found amongst the darkest clouds. Even though I did an Irish Goodbye in Peru, I fondly remember my mate. The neighbourly lizard. What a night we had!
Tintumon climbed up to Baby’s shoulder and gently licked his coconut-oiled hair as he patted it.
The bus tore down the narrow highway as if chasing its tail, screeching to a halt at designated stops abutting toddy shops with Baby noting the names of the shops carefully as he was penning an article on the South versus North highways.
Unni’s acne and voice cracked at the same time as his Adam’s apple squelched out a thirty-minute food break while he valiantly held onto his fluttering, chequered lungi. Baby retrieved a leash and clipped it onto Tintumon’s collar. In open spaces, he feared it may get lost chasing errant insects.
At the roadside eatery, Baby ordered, as Tintumon lay in the shade, away from the blistering sun. Young women with loose oiled hair adorned with sprigs of tulsi leaves and sandalwood-kumkum lines adorning their foreheads, waited for their food; their skirts billowing by the force of the passing buses. All the tables at the joint were occupied when a harassed girl entered the premises and marched up to the conductor.
“Is this bus going to Peroorkada?”
“Not now, but it will. Yes.”
“Deva! I thought I missed it.” On spotting a seat, she dragged her wheeled bag and plumped on it, startling Baby just as a waiter approached them.
“Pal!?,” she exclaimed, pointing at Tintumon.
“Okay,” said the waiter, and turned away.
She shrugged. “How cute!” she trilled while Baby politely smiled. Tintumon’s head snapped up.
Woman. Check. Young. Check. Perfect for my papito. Double check!
“From where you got that?” she asked.
“Deva! How did a large pal fit inside a small fruit like peru?” she butted in.
“… country. It’s a Bearded Dragon lizard,” continued Baby.
“Ho, I wondered…”
They were interrupted by the waiter. “Horlicks?”
“Huh?” she asked.
“With milk? You want Horlicks?” he repeated, flummoxing her further.
Baby smiled briefly. “Pal means milk. He thinks you ordered milk.”
“Shee, I don’t like milk! As if!”
The waiter disappeared with the tray with a scowl on his face, and the girl asked Baby. “What is its name?”
She said, denoting herself as the waiter reappeared. “Chaya.”
“Okay,” said the apparating-again waiter.
She gazed at the departing server. “Why he isn’t taking my order?”
“He did. You ordered chaya. Tea.”
“No! I’m Chaya.”
“But I like tea, so it’s okay. I boarded the wrong bus to Peroorkada as the signs were in Malayalam. I’ve got to visit the temple in Peroorkada.”
“Actually, guruji dreamt by offering pushpanjali there, my marriage will get fixed, so I’m meeting my mama there.”
“For a long time, Aai has been looking for alliances for me, but she is failing repeatedly. You are from Kerala, right? I am from Maharashtra. You know, Maharashtra? My Baba died of a heart attack many years ago.”
“Ho, thanks. If he was alive. I’d already be married. What’s your name?”
“Yes, I’d have two babies too.”
I like her. Tintumon nodded its head.
“No, my name is Baby.”
“Saar, here’s your food, and madam, here’s your chaya,” said the waiter.
“Baburao… no, no.” Pink coloured her cheeks. “Babyrao, can you order idli for me?”
“I’m Baby Das, not Rao. Okay, I will order idli for you.”
Baburao? What’s that?
Unni, with a lascivious look at the ladies, squeezed the horn repeatedly, and ‘My heart will…’ echoed again. Relentlessly.
Ew! Not again. This journey will go on and on. Tintumon smiled when Baby’s and Chaya’s eyes fused against the annoying song.
I like how their one-sided conversation is proceeding. Baby’s grunts are beginning to soften.
“Let us go.” Baby lifted one edge of his green zari-bordered veshti and strutted towards the bus while Chaya’s eyes popped out at his hairy thighs.
See, how Amazonian-ly hirsute is my papito. Such a fabulous quality in a mate, girlie.
Baby and Chaya sat next to each other as Unni slapped the bus once, and it sped off.
“Are you going to Peroorkada for marriage too?” asked Chaya.
“No. I’m writing an article on the South and North highway differences.”
“Are you an author?” Her eyes lit up.
“No. I’m a journalist.”
“Oh. Is it fun writing?”
Tintumon mounted Baby’s shoulder and surreptitiously licked Chaya’s ponytail.
“It’s fun.” Baby caught hold of Tintumon and placed him in a non-licking zone: his lap.
“Can I touch it?”
Shock blanched Baby’s face until realisation struck. “Yes.”
Chaya tentatively stroked Tintumon’sback, and it bobbed its head. “Oh, so cute.”
“Is Tintumon a boy or girl?”
“Boy.” Tsk, Baby. When will you learn?
Chaya is sweet and has a dazzling smile, and even though she doesn’t apply coconut oil, I like her. I know Baby’s inclined towards her because she won his heart when she complimented me. She doesn’t know it yet, but his monosyllabic answers are more than what he offers others.
The bus and their conversation picked up the pace, and before they knew it, their conversation experienced an almost-active participation from Baby. Baby and his shadow, lost in their talk, failed to notice Unni, who stood at the steps and croaked out a shuddering, “Brake!”
Chaya’s nose rammed into the bus seat handle, erupting into a vermillion shower. She cried out in pain, and Baby, moving faster than light, tore a strip off from his veshti and pushed her head back while simultaneously wiping the blood splatter off. Tintumon swallowed rising nausea at the sight of the blood, its hormones acting up.
“Is it still paining?” Baby whispered.
“It’s okay.” Her voice was muffled.
Chaya shook her head at Baby who glared at a puzzled Unni. “It’s okay, Babyrao. Don’t bother. ”
A rose-bud-like smile blossomed on her lips below the rosy-coloured, swollen but not-bleeding-anymore nose, Baby lowered his eyes as he nodded.
The verdant greenery flashing outside planted identical seeds of hope within their hearts. Under suitable conditions, they would yield a harvest. Baby and a blocked-nose Chaya kept chatting, their conversations not braking at all. Baritone and now-nasal sounds sprinkled over a napping Tintumon.
“I also love fish curry!” Chaya gripped and immediately released Baby’s palm. They both coloured simultaneously.
As the bus steadily lapped up the kilometres, Tintumon settled on both their laps. Its head resting on Chaya’s blood-splattered kurta and its twitching tail on Baby’s lap. Chaya’s head finally found its resting place against Baby’s shoulder as her lashes kissed her cheeks.
Her trip is a success without the pushpanjali.
Baby stole a quick glance at her sleeping visage, and with a soft smile, he too slept. Tintumon snuggled against Chaya’s lap, awake, and it knew that time was rushing at it from all directions.
What a ride! Peru to India. Certain death to peerless love. My quest to find a probable mate for my Baby, before I got occupied with my life, is fulfilled. In Chaya, Baby will find relief from the oppressive sun, which is his life.
Soon, it’ll be time to start my family. And I know just the perfect place to lay the eggs. Finally, my papito will realize his folly. A few weeks more. Just a few weeks more.
With a satisfied dekko at the couple. Score one for me! Lizard matrimony definitely was on the cards for me! I am Amor.
A month later.
Baby on a WhatsApp video call with Chaya, ferreted through his unused backpack. It had been lying neglected in a corner of his almirah. He was looking for some notes he had scribbled on the Peroorkada trip.
“Ya, I miss you. Tintumon too!” He said, distracted.
His hand brushed against rubbery balls. As he peered through the dark, musty bag, his eyes fell upon clutches of eggs.
“Tintumon!” He yelled into the phone, startling Chaya.
“What happened, Babyrao?”
“Aiyo! It’s not Tintumon but Tintumol!”
“He’s a girl. I mean she’s a girl. No, it’s a girl. It laid eggs. Tintumon! Tintumol!”
Safe under the bed, Tintumol bobbed her head.
Name: news reporter.
Place: Huacachina Desert, Peru
Thing: blood splatter.
- Chetta: Brother in Malayalam.
- Mon: Term of endearment for boys in Malayalam.
- Mol: Term of endearment for girls in Malayalam.
- Excusez-moi: Excuse-me in French.
- Naayinda mone: Son of a bitch in Malayalam.
- Oh, pinne: As if, in Malayalam.
- Tulsi: Holy Basil.
- Kumkum: Vermillion powder.
- Shee: Ugh.
- Peru: Guava in Marathi
- Pal: Lizard in Marathi/Milk in Malayalam.
- Chaya. Shade in Hindi/Marathi/Tea in Malayalam.
- Veshti: Dhoti/lungi in Malayalam.
- Deva: Oh, God in Marathi.
- Aai: Mother in Marathi.
- Baba: Father in Marathi.
- Zari: Gold-thread border.
- Rao: A term of addressing men in some parts of Maharashtra.
- Lagarto: Lizard in Spanish.
- Amor: Love in Spanish. A Roman God of love.
- Papito: Little daddy. Usually from daughters to their fathers.
- Baburao: Figure it out J Hint: Hera Pheri: the movie.
- Get tailed: Google is your best friend. Really, it is.
Using lizards for astrology, Gowli Sastra, is popular in Kerala. I expanded the idea into lizards choosing brides for matrimony (like Paul the octopus predicting the winning football team). It is wholly fictional, I at least, hope it is.
Bearded Dragon lizards are usually kept as pets–even acting as therapy animals (reptiles) in some cases. Yeah.
Lizards lay their eggs in warm, moist, and dark places. https://www.newsweek.com/woman-finds-reptile-eggs-internet-hails-mother-dragons-1704676
The first Nirodh factory came up in Peroorkada. In many ways, Peroorkada gave birth to the condom industry. Yup, pun intended.
All reptiles and events depicted in this story are fictional. Any resemblance to a reptile living or dead is purely coincidental.
Tintumon is a joke character, the Malayali equivalent of Little Johnny. It enjoys immense popularity and is a viral meme in God’s own country.