Summer time was vacation time, and for us children, this meant a compulsory trip to the southern most tip of India, to the tiny village of Anadikrihtapuram. Our grandparents lived there, and relations from across the country would gather there for the two month vacation period. During these two month we caught up on family gossip, forget work related pressures and made new friends,depending on your age and gender.
It was during one such vacation that I met, Murali. He was older than me by two years, I was nine then. His father taught physics at the local college and his mother was a school teacher. His parent’s had stuffed their home with book’s and young Murali had been brought up on a rich diet of Jules Verne, H.G.Wells and Arthur Conan Doyle, names I hardly knew at that time. Their home was a five-minute walk from ours.
Murali, considered himself as an Indian version of Indiana Jones and was always planning adventures in which I was an eager though skeptic assistant. We would roam the village, explore the river, wade through muddy paddy fields and of-course spend long hours in the local library. Our favorite spot though was below a huge mango tree, that sprawled across our compound and it was under its green canopy that he told me of his plans to build a submarine.
The idea was a masterpiece of ingenuity, we would build a boat from one of the boxes which were in abundance on the top floor of the house and cover it on all sides. Once in the water we had to let it float to the middle of the river and then open up a small panel on the side which would let the water in. Once the water filled the compartment, the submarine would sink. To help us breathe, there would be two pipes, the other end of which would float to the top of the water. Navigational issues were to be addressed by wooden planks which we would use to guide the boat. The design was of-course Murali’s, all my questions on the safety aspect of this contraption were met with a casual smile and an expression on his face which showed his amazement at my inability to understand mechanical intricacies. Anadiyar, our local river at its deepest point had water only up to our necks, so there being no danger of us drowning, I agreed to join in.
A few rough holes carved into the sides of the box, a part of the garden hose chopped of neatly coiled, a couple of wooden planks thrown in and our submarine or Nautilus II as Murali had named it,was ready for its maiden launch. He even wrote the name down in capitals with a crayon on the side. That was required so that there would be no doubt in anyone mind when we would surface in far of lands according to him.
Fortunately or unfortunately for us, the box was of made of cardboard and five seconds on the water it simply melted away. We had hardly reached the banks, when Murali had
already started drawing up his next great plan. This time it was to be a journey to the center of the earth. He told me how we could have to tolerate a little bit of heat and discomfort, but the eventual promise of finding diamonds , was to compensate for all that. Here he even clenched up his fist to give me an indication of the size of the stones which he was sure were to be found once we reached our destination.
The question as to how we were going to reach the center was quickly resolved. There was an old mine shaft near the edge of the village which was abandoned. Some essential snacks, a few bottles of water, two shovels, a torch and off we set of on the expedition. The mine was old, smelly, abandoned and eerie. A few minutes into our expedition we found the torch beam was hardly visible a few feet away. The walls were wet and water was dripping on to us from the ceiling. It was then that the bats came at us. The mine shaft was apparently their living quarters, and they lived there in the hundreds. It was never timed but the speed with which Murali and I ran out,would have put professional athletes to shame. It took a few days to calm our nerves, but as they say you cannot keep a great soul or a fool down for long.
H.G Wells was responsible for getting Murali hooked on to the concept of a time machine. It looked pretty simple from the illustrations on the cover. There were a couple of wheels behind and a few in front, and there was a seat in the middle.
An old partially broken chair from the kitchen, was the first addition to our time machine. For the wheels we had scourged the garage and found a couple of bicycle wheel rims. On a rusted water pipe we fixed the wheels and were still trying to figure out how to make them move independently when the vacations came to an end. I broke my heart to leave the project half way, Murali assured me that he would continue his work and also informed me that he had plans to make slight modifications so that he could travel in a different dimension. This was completely beyond my imagination and I suspected even Murali was not sure what that meant. Next year when I returned, Murali had moved away, not to another dimension but to another district, his father had got transferred to a college there.
Years later, while visiting APuram ran into Murali again. Now a science lecturer at a junior college, he came over along with his wife and son, they stayed over for lunch. Later looking out of the window saw the two boys, Murali’s and mine sit under the same mango tree , with small wands in their hands drawing circles in the air. A copy of Harry Potter, it pages fluttering in the breeze lay besides them on the ground.