He was firmly labelled a bad influence on us younger kids. Heck, even his folks thought him to be a bad influence on his brother and sister, even though Francis was the youngest of them. He was excellent at wielding a pair of scissors, but I’d often hear him being yelled at after having applied his talents to a new pair of jeans, turning them into shorts. And in his tastefully shredded clothes, he’d listen to hardcore rock music or simply loiter around the world, seeming to be in deep thought. On occasion, he’d paint death metal graffiti on any wall he could find. Hence, he was greeted with scowls by our middleclass community.
My interest in Francis had to do with all the big bike posters on his walls (he painted bikes sometimes, too. On walls, of course) and his collection of automobile magazines. Whatever little money he had, he spent it all on auto mags and rock music cassettes. We’d talk bikes and cars all the time, though he never let me go anywhere near his magazines. He never let anyone near them, to be fair. But one day, while he was grounded, he passed me a magazine from his window and said just one word: ‘Read.’ It was an old copy of Auto India, and it was eye-opening.
I read everything that crossed my path — comics, novels, you name it (everything but school textbooks). But most of all, I read all the automobile magazines wherever I could get my hands on them. Which was mostly at libraries and secondhand book stores. Auto mags were considered a waste of money by my middle-class folks, you see. Except when I was sick, which was quite often in those days.
During one such stay at the hospital, I asked my father to get me a few auto mags so that I wouldn’t get bored. I’d only read Auto India in those days. It had Alan Cathcart’s brilliant stories in it, you see, and it always came with an awesome poster tucked into its pages. I still have all of those posters. Anyway, my father came back with the first magazine he found. It turned out to be the wrong one, called Business Standard Motoring. I was livid. I yelled and screamed until dad had to go get me another one. Stupid name, stupid magazine. I mean, who in their right minds would read something like that, right? Until, of course, I read it. Years later, I joined that very magazine with butterflies whipping up a storm in my stomach. And I’m still here. Francis moved out of my life a long time ago, and no one seems to know where his family moved to. I haven’t seen him in almost 20 years. The sequence of it all makes me wonder, and I never figured out what prompted him to hand me that magazine. Could it have happened any other way? Maybe, maybe not. But as it happened, there was this chap long ago, who passed on a habit. A habit that has seen the most wonderful things happen to me. A habit I hope he’s kept to this day. If you’re reading this, old friend, Happy New Year.
AUTO MAGS WERE CONSIDERED A WASTE OF MONEY BY MY MIDDLE-CLASS FOLKS