Tanuka and Rahul
A teenage attraction
That day, I did not know how to kill time. No more books to read, no money for movies. While waiting for my exam results, I was bored to death. Cycling without aim was the only option I had. So I took off, ‘Ding, ding”, cycling all over my neighbourhood, ringing the bell, hoping something exciting would happen.
As I turned off at a street corner, on my left was a modern compact home. ‘Who could be living in that small home?’ A tall, well-built woman was at its front door, smiling. I slowed down, coming to a slow stop. Close-up, she was wearing thick glasses.
“Are you Thomas ayya’s son?”
“Which school do you go to?”
“St. Benedict’s. But I did not go to school today; I am waiting for my exam results, Aunty,”; I me, with a respectful tone.
“Where are you going?” ‘Oh, this is now quiz time’.
“Nowhere; I love cycling. I am free until I pick up my brother from school.”
“Oh! What a good boy! Already responsible. You should meet my son. He goes to Carey College. He will be back from school soon. You will like him.”
As she said that, a beautiful girl peeped in, smiling. I smiled back.
“This is my daughter, Tanuka.”
“Hello”, was her answer, smiling back.
Tanuka was tall and bloody pretty. I felt thrilled meeting her. ‘Who would want to refuse the offer to revisit their house?’
“Tanuka is sick today; she did not go to school.”
“Amma, I am better now”, was Tanuka’s answer to her mother, replying with a shy smile directed at me.
‘Was she embarrassed in front of her mother?’ I wanted to stay and keep chatting was nervous and shy. I did not want to show excitement about meeting her captivating daughter in front of the mother. “Bye, bye Auntie. I will come by; another day,” was my silly response.
I continued my ride in the neighbourhood, slowing down to say hello to my friends on our street. “Ding, ding’, as I rode, I wished I had stayed at Tanuka’s home longer. ‘You idiot’ telling myself; I felt like a fool.
For the next few days, I could not take this beautiful girl out of my mind; her raw appeal, earthen looks, and beautiful complexion. She was nothing like the other girls I fancied. I could only imagine her bright rosy lips, straight nose, blue eyes, height, and long jet-black hair, beautifully parted in the middle.
Curiosity was killing me to know more about this damsel and her family. So I turned to my friends’ network in my home village to dig more.
Tanaka's family had recently moved into the neighbourhood. Every friend that I talked to was mesmerised by her. Even younger boys. She was the Cleopatra in our home street.
‘I was not the only one then’. My interest in Tanuka quadrupled with a head-on competition. Game on! I wanted to beat my rivals, imagining myself as her boyfriend.
A few days after that first encounter, I decided to explore my chances with this discovery. After school and a quick lunch at home, lying to my mother on some vague pretext, I took off. “Ding, ding”. I raced towards Tanuka’s home on my bicycle, hoping she was home. My heart was beating loudly. I feared others would hear it pounding virtually out of my chest.
Parking the bicycle in their front yard, I knocked on their door. I was bloody nervous, not knowing who’d come to the door. What if her father was home?
To my great relief, Tanuka’s mother opened their front door. She welcomed me and asked me to sit on one of the two cane chairs on their small veranda.
As I waited nervously, Tanuka peeped through the white curtain through the door, smiling with me again, looking down shyly. Confirming my first impressions, close-up now, her looks were tantalising. I started to sweat with excitement, my heart continuing to pound.
Pushing the curtain to a side, a boy, about a year younger than me, came into the veranda. He sat opposite me, smiling, “Hello, Denzil ayya”. To my surprise, I knew him, not by name but by his familiar face. That was Tanuka’s elder brother, equally good-looking as his youngster sister. He was slightly shorter than Tanuka, equally sharp-featured, with an athletic, lithe body.
‘How did he know my name?’
“What's your name?”
The small community of our neighbours greeted each other as they passed one another on the street. Everyone was an uncle, aunty or grandma, grandpa, big brother, small brother, big sister, or a small sister. Tanuka’s brother ed paths many times in that commune. Some mornings, I bumped into him at the bus stop where schoolboys and girls congregated. But that afternoon, on their veranda, was the first time we chatted as if we had known each other all our lives. He addressed me as ‘ayya’, meaning big brother, indicating respect.
When their mother returned to the veranda, I noticed she had squinted eyes. That was obscured by her thick glasses that looked like a bottom of a Coke bottle.
Rahul was hurrying, preparing for soccer at the local sports ground. He was running late for his game. Being courteous, I offered to help, to drop him on my bicycle at the sports ground near the church. I cut my visit short and left their home with him. I cycled, him sitting on the middle saddle of my sports bike. After dropping him off, I cycled back to their home at double speed.
On my return visit, their mum took me inside their home. In their small living room was a pile of Filmfare magazines. The whole family were fans of Bollywood movies and movie stars. I figured out why my new friends were given Indian names. The collection was a prized possession in their family.
With my fascination with Indian movies and stars, I could not resist going through the pile of Filmfare magazines. Tanuka and I collectively turned a leaf over a leaf in those colourful magazines, marvelling at Indian movie idols. I borrowed a few, promising to return them soon, seeing the chance of more repeat visits to return and borrow more. Protective of her magazine collection, Tanuka’s mother said, “You are the only one allowed to borrow them; we have not lent them to anyone”.
I was the only privileged borrower of Tanuka’s mother’s prized collection.
My trick worked; Tanuka’s mum asked me to revisit them. Thus started my frequent visits to their home. Both Tanuka and Rahul became my good friends. Their mother encouraged my regular visits. Instead of cycling, I began walking to their what her son was up to in the neighbourhood. That was a period when open liaisons between boys and girls were frowned upon.
Now, my friends who fantasised about Tanuka were jealous of me. I had come from nowhere and had overtaken them in the race to curry favour with the most beautiful girl in our neighbourhood.
My interest in Tanuka became a mini passion within a short time, as every teenager knows.
We travelled in public buses, purposely missing our school buses. Tanuka and I were so close during our bus rides, sitting and standing together, our bodies touching each other on those sweat-filled journeys. I loved being thrown around during the rides, thanks to the erratic bus drivers braking willy-nilly. They provided beautiful moments of unplanned human touch for two curious teenagers.
Rahul became a regular visitor to my home after school. Rahul was my art model when I participated in a poster competition for Tourism Sri Lanka before digital, when everything was hand drawn on huge sheets and thick paint. Becoming 4th in that competition, my entry did not win any prize money. But Rahul was a patient live art model who willingly stood, semi-naked in his swimmers for hours until I finished my drawing.
On one of the visits to my new friend’s home, I had my first-ever kiss with a girl. It is a moment that has permanently edged in my mind, remembered vividly.
I kissed Tanuka on the cheek and then on her neck. It startled her, but she did seem to mind, smiling. We stood there for a while, frozen, not saying anything. Perhaps she was not surprised to let me kiss her again on the very spot. Then facing me, she met my lips and kissed me. I felt the magic of that kiss on my hands and knees. I could have fainted. Tanuka took my hand into her hands and stoked my fingers. Our hands were moist with the sweat caused by the excitement of that first experience with a girl. I had crushes on two boys and kissed them before, but this was different.
I did not wash that night, wanting to retain her sweet smell and salty taste within me as far as I could. During the night, I pinched myself to believe it was what had happened that day. I have never washed my mouth reluctantly as I washed the next morning at our water well. I was not the same boy after that day.
A few weeks later, I went to the movies with Tanuka, my first movie with a girl. “Rampur Ka Lakshman” starred Indian starlets Randhir Kapoor and Rekha. It was a clandestine outing, meeting in a bus stand, Tanuka after school and me after college. The “Samantha cinema” in the city became the venue for two love-struck confused teenagers to discover the world, where my hand became a snake.
Like everything in life, I moved on at an age full of discovery and experiences. My destiny dragged me to bigger things in life.
But Tanuka will always have a special place in my heart. Nobody forgets the first kiss and touch that transforms a youth.
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Images and artwork belong to Denzil Jayasinghe.