I was back on the bus today - the Molly Bus.
Molly is a mobile library that I happened upon in a chance but delightful encounter a month or so ago. I have written about this previously in a piece called 'Hairy Maclary' - so I will not recant this convergence again.
The National Library of Singapore operates Molly and it is an Outreach service. The bus is driven around the Island to provide book lending to little children who have limitations in accessing the few public libraries that are here on the Island. The bus is stocked with more than 3000 books. It is also decked out with a reading area at the rear of the vehicle where book readings and story telling is conducted.
On Sundays a very colorful character whose name is Mitra drives the bus. He is an enormous and jovial Indian Singaporean.
The name Mitra is Hindi.
Mitra told me that the English translation of this is 'friend'.
I find this quite fitting and appropriate.
Mitra is now a friend of mine and I like him a lot. I think he may well be the friend of everyone he meets. His smile is beaming and his voice is booming and Mitra's laughter is infectious. He loves driving Molly the mobile library bus and he adores reading to the children.
I enjoy his company very much.
I have been on the bus a couple of times now with Mitra.
I have volunteered to read stories.
Where I live in Novena is generally one of Molly's last stops for the day so Mitra very kindly swings by and picks me up earlier. The bus is too big to come through the driveway and turnaround area of my apartment complex so I wait out the front for him to arrive. I await at the front of the Guard House for my condominium where the new and much improved security guards are posted.
Their names are Raj and Raj.
They are also Indian chaps.
The Security manager of my apartment building replaced the previous security guards because they slept on duty - all the time. I have also written about this before so I will not bother going through the whole saga again. Suffice to say Raj and Raj are very attentive and alert. They are Sikh gentlemen who take their duties very seriously. When Mr. Tan introduced me to the new guards last week he told them - quite incorrectly - that I was a most important tenant - just because I sit on the somewhat impotent Owners and Tenants Committee - and more so I think because we share a mutual disdain of another tenant.
Jens the lunatic Dane.
When I passed the security guard house this afternoon to wait for Mitra and Molly, Raj and Raj emerged from the hut and stood at attention and they then gave me a very formal salute. I have told them repeatedly that this is not at all necessary but they have been doing it all week - whenever I arrive or leave.
It is getting ridiculous.
"Guys you really don't have to salute me every time you see me. In fact you don't have to salute me at all. I am not worthy of it" I said once again.
"It is being our honor and our greatest privilege Mr. Peter sir" one the Raj replied.
"Well at least please just call me Peter. You can drop the Mister and the Sir". I implored
I have also told them this a number of times before.
"We will never be doing that Mr. Peter Sir" the other Raj said.
I just slumped my shoulders and sighed at this.
"Has the fat Danish crazy one been causing you any trouble?" I asked.
I was referring to the lunatic that is Jens.
"He is being calling us rude names and is being making the birding hand at us"
"The birding hand?" I enquired.
One of the Raj's coyly and I think somewhat reluctantly demonstrated the 'birding hand'.
It was actually what Americans refer to as 'The Bird".
It is conducted by showing the back of a closed fist and extending the middle finger.
I laughed out loud when he showed me this and the poor Raj blushed in embarrassment.
"The Bird" gesture is also known as "Flipping the Bird" or "Giving the Finger". Somewhat ironically it is also on occasion referred to as the "One Fingered Salute". It is considered obscene and is a symbolic hand sign that is quite rude.
It is a gesture of contempt and disrespect and it's use is universal. I have on occasion used it myself - on more than one occasion in fact and I will likely use it again.
I have also been a recipient of it.
I don't mind in the slightest.
It is just a gesture.
"The Bird" is not a modern invention. The gesture dates back thousands of years and was used by both the Ancient Greeks and the Romans. With the tragedy that is the current Greek and Italian economies I would imagine that it's use is still common in these modern societies as well. The Greeks and Italians would be quite appropriately be giving the birding hand to their governments and to the World Banks for devastating their economies and robbing them of their hard earned savings.
I give these governments and banks the birding hand myself.
I give it to them with both hands.
In Ancient Greece the extension of the middle finger represented a phallus. A dick. The closed fist was symbolic of testicles and the gesture was offered to suggest an insulting engagement in anal intercourse. The gesture was referred to as "katapugon'. This translates to "a male who submits to anal penetration".
Apparently Socrates used it a lot in the Greek Parliament.
The Latin term that the Romans used for the 'birding hand' was "digitus impudicus". This meant the "shameless, indecent or offensive finger".
It was considered to be very rude.
I told Raj and Raj not to worry about Jens and not to take him too seriously. I informed them that he gave the birding hand to everyone.
I told them that he was a mad man.
I told them this because he is.
A mad man.
"Don't salute him whatever you do" I suggested.
"We are only being saluting you Mr. Peter and Mr. Tan"
I simply sighed and shrugged again.
I have no desire to in any way insult the gentlemen that are Raj and Raj.
Mitra arrived then in Molly the bus. He parked the huge vehicle out the front of my apartment complex and he jumped out of the drivers seat. He greeted me with a crushing bear hug and a broad grin.
"Let us go and be reading to the children my Australian friend Mr. Peter" he roared at me.
"No worries Mitra let us be on our way" I replied.
As I climbed into the passenger seat I noticed that the two Raj were standing in stiff salutes and they maintained this posture until we took off. All I could do was salute back and wave goodbye.
Mitra and I chatted about books and India and cricket and children in our drive across the western district of Singapore.
We laughed a lot.
Mitra has seven children and fifteen grandchildren and two more grandchildren are on the way.
He adores them all.
We made five stops before we arrived back at Novena where I alighted the bus.
At each stop we made there was an orderly line of cute little Indian, Singaporean and Chinese children waiting for Molly. Mitra opened the big side doors of Molly and he patiently swapped books out and stamped cards.
My job was the story reading.
I am gradually working my way through the Hairy Maclary series of books. These are very funny and poetic tales about a naughty farmhouse dog and his adventures with his dog mates and his archenemy the terrifying cat Scarface Claw. I put on my dog and scary cat voices when I read and both the children and their parents seemed to enjoy the stories - almost as much as me.
On the last stop at Katong a tiny little Indian girl about 5 years old shyly asked me if I could read some of her favorite story Thumbelina and I told her that of course I could.
She sat in the big chair next to me as I read the story.
I used to read the same story to my little Charlotte when she was about the same age so it brought back beautiful memories. My little Totty is not so little anymore. She is eighteen years old but she is still my baby and my how she writes.
She wants to be a Writer and she has since she was a little girl.
Words can not adequately describe my love for her and my pride in her.
I miss her every moment of every day.
Time passed quickly on my journey with Mitra on Molly - as it always does.
I won't be able to go next week because I will be in London for work. I will be amongst the cursed English for whom I work. I explained this to Mitra as I said goodbye. He again crushed all the air out of me as he hugged me farewell. He seemed as disappointed as me that we would not see each other for a couple of weeks.
I walked home slowly feeling happy at having such a joyous afternoon. Raj and Raj were waiting dutifully at their post when I arrived at my complex and they again snapped to a stiff attention and saluted me as I walked up the driveway.
I sighed and smiled and saluted them back.