Muthu was the last of four children. What Muthu did not know was that no matter how hard he tried, he would always remain the last.
He had three sisters and his father appeared to favour them, or so he thought. His sisters did well at school, helped at home, and even loved him a lot. But they treated him like a child and he resented that. It was always "You are a baby now. Grow up a little and then you can..."
How was being nine-years-old a baby and how come when he got into trouble the same family found him too old? They would say, "Such a big boy and yet you do not know how to behave..."
He was born and raised in the small hill town of Yercaud (near Salem). Like every nine-year-old he knew in Yercaud, he went to the local school. He was an average student, if you went by ranks and grades, but he could not contain his curiosity which made him restless and too inquisitive at times.
This irked some of the teachers, foremost among them being Radha Miss, the strict English teacher. He vexed her with his doubts in grammarand his insatiable 'whys' never ran out.
Other teachers channelised it and introduced him to the library. He would spend hours there investigating how an aeroplane could stay up in the air and how cars worked and why it was necessary at all to punctuate sentences.
He stepped out of the library usually to address his other two passions - his friends and cricket. His friends - Bala and Jones. Bala, or Maamu as he was affectionately called, was the most studious - not just of the trio, but of their class and maybe even the school. Jones, the Joker, had recently lost his parents and was living with his ageing grandparents whose sympathy made him get away with a lot of mischief.
The trio played cricket, talked cricket, and even walked cricket as they fetched water from a distant stream for his mother. They debated whether Ganguly was better than Sachin as they ate the ubiquitous bajjis with hot chai. In the rains, the eats were replaced with fresh corn on the cob, boiled and salted, but the debate remained the same.
Muthu's father was a driver of the bus that plied back and forth between Salem and Yercaud. The journey was not very long, but it lasted a good two hours. The bus cruised through the lush tree-lined roads, passing by little hamlets once in a way, scattering a lot of monkeys en route.