Mahadevan's Monologues

If we had the vision and feeling of ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. – George Eliot

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


Venkataraman was universally known and accepted as Mama. A crescent-shaped sandal mark on his forehead, a protruding chin with a three or four days old beard decorating it( I often used to wonder how could he have a three or four days old beard whenever one looked at him), a loose white trouser with a bush shirt on it, an handkerchief ever casually dropped on his shoulders, but would occasionally be shifted to his neck, betel leaves stained rows of teeth, a look, at once stern, occasionally friendly and often hostile, Mama presented me a strange sight when I met him for the first time.

Mama had great precocity in using the typewriter of yore. It was a sheer delight watching him typing letters. His head would shake both ways fiercely and his typing fingers would generate a rhythm that was extremely pleasing to hear and would leave the on lookers stunned. Perhaps, an Alla Rakha or a Shivamani alone could match Mama’s rhythm. Speed, accuracy and presentable appearance were Mama’s magic words.

Though Mama’s august presence, his uncertain temper and frequent outburst, made me uncomfortable and yet, at times, has been a source of inspiration. On friendlier occasions, being younger to him by several years, he would pat me on my back and take me to the nearby Anand Bhuvan for Idli and Coffee.

Ironically, Mama’s friendly moments were also the most hostile ones. He would show his familiarity and share his joy by a forceful slap and not mere friendly pat on the back. Often I had to endure excruciating pain after Mama's affectionate carass.

Hailing from a family which had more members to feed than wherewithal could permit, Mama had to struggle to make both ends meet. Initially he would try to encash his extra ordinary typing ability, However, it was not sufficient to meet his family needs. Once Mama had hired a small one -room tenement at Ulhasnagar ( a distant Mumbai suburb) and was staying there with his younger brother. Often Mama’s brother would reach home only after midnight, after doing several part time jobs on the way. Mama’s allotted duty was to provide hot chappatis to his brother on arrival. Once Mama failed in this assignment as he felt sleepy and when his brother returned home, he had nothing to eat. Historians have recorded the fact that the fourth Panipat War was fought between Mama and his brother in an one room tenement at Ulhasnagar and it did not end in any treaty. Sheer exhaustion alone found a truce.

Mama was not a great lover of cricket. Once, in a match watched by Mama, Bishan Singh Bedi took six wickets and was the tormentor in chief. It was enough provocation for Mama and an unknown Sardarji at Church gate was patted in Mama’s inimitable style, saying “Well done Bedi”, to his consternation. While I was greatly embarrassed, Mama started looking for his next victim. Till the train reached Dadar, at least six Bedis were patted, for their feat.

Physical ailments and vigilance cases - two tormentors around retirement time, any Government or Public Sector servant should be free from, made him an unhappy man at the time of retirement and Mama left the scene under unpleasant circumstances.

When one thinks of Mama what would strike one most is Mama’s total commitment to his family. The sheer size of his family which weighed him down, his extra ordinary typing abilities, his emotional outbursts, friendly pat, which would almost kill a person, the fourth Panipat War, which he lost like the Marathas and which also brought his empire to an end, and his patting every Sardarji for Bedi’s feat.

Friday, January 19, 2007


Passerby 55 has tagged me to write ten of my traits that would reveal my style.

Method in the madness:

I am disorganized in my functioning and my forgetfulness is proverbial. And yet, I have the knack of reducing chaos to order. I can collect pieces from various sources and cogently present them, sprinkling them with a bit of reasoning. Humorous situations enhance my comfort level.

There is a Divinity that shapes our end:

I am not very religious in the traditional sense, though I pray silently and enjoy the atmosphere in some of our temples. I am particularly fond of walking in the long corridors of a Madurai or Rameswaram temple, early in the morning. I believe, many of our rituals have only social significance and therefore I would not practice them, when I am alone. I certainly find solace in reading spiritual texts. I read five stanzas of Gita with meaning and a page or two from Dr.Radhakrishnan’s “Thirteen Principal Upanishads”, daily. I believe in putting efforts to the best of my ability, leaving the results to that force which shapes our end.

My inheritance:

Passion for reading I inherited from my father who also left for us a collection of few classics – Dickens, Oliver Goldsmith, Tagore, Stephen Leacock, Alexander Dumas etc. I am greatly indebted to him for this legacy. I have this habit of reading three or four books at a time. Some times I go to the last few pages first and read them. ”Good writings” is the name of a file I have opened in my computer. Marked lines from various books, magazines, newspapers and blogs find place here. My pastime is to visit this page as often as I can.

Punch lines:

I like Narayan’s simplicity and subtle humour as also the punch lines of Shobha De. Lytton Strachy’s Eminent Victorians, Macalay’s essay on William Pitt and the essays of Addison have great appeal to me. P.G.Wodehouse’s Jeeves is certainly inimitable. I try, often unsuccessfully, to imitate their style.

Pandering to the palate

Good food always appeal to me and I have this weakness for south based ones. That two Tamilian marvels – Vettakuzhambu and Vengaya Sambar always tempt me with their seductive charm and I succumb to them. Strangely, I enjoy my pieces of Pizza, though other fast food varieties, including Pav Bhaji whose aromatics assaults our nose often, are taboo with me.

Our sweetest songs are those that tell us of saddest thoughts:

I literally believe in this line of Shelley. I need a slow musical background to provide me sustenance when I read, particularly when I am alone, late in the night. I rate Airlines and Star Hotel lobbies, from the quality of piped music they provide. Classical, light filmy ( Hindi, Tamil and Malayalam) and pop music enthrall me. Two of my all time favourite instrumentals are “Wedding Bells” in Veena by Chitti Babu and the live concert given at Agra by Yanni, a few years back.

Of Human Bondage:
Though I was a little introvert earlier, as time advances, I observe that I have been longing to reach out to people, even to strangers. I enjoy train travel because it provides us an opportunity to mingle with people. Exclusiveness and tight upper lips in the aircrafts, oppress me. I am uncomfortable in the ambience of five star hotels. I am very keen in attending marriages and other ceremonies in friends circle, as I get opportunities to meet old friends and renew relationships.

Swiss Family Robinson:

I am essentially a family man. Recently I prepared our family chart (descending on the paternal side), tracing six generations, consisting of around 95 members. I strive to visit as many family members as I can, particularly those who are elder to me. Both in family and friends circle, I look for odd characters as they lend me an opportunity to draw a portrait of them.

Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder:

Biologically I am myopic, but, artistically I am not. I enjoy looking at beautiful flowers, pictures, sculptures and workmanship in general, though I am not a perfectionist. Taj Mahal, beaches in Goa, Temples at Tamil Nadu and Brindavan Gardens fascinate me. My wife used to say that in the temples, I enjoy the sculptures and don't venerate the Deities.


Of all my sense organs, the most powerful one is my nose. Jasmine flower, Agarbahatti, perfumes, pure ghee and Mysore Rasam when it boils, first rain drops on sand, all emanate a fragrance which send me into raptures.

Willow world:

And finally, I cannot imagine a world without cricket. I minutely follow the game and generally have the vital statistics on my fingertips. I believe (non-cricket enthusiasts please forgive me) bouncers are to be hooked and ducking under needs to be denounced. Hook shoots are aesthetically appealing and only the Amarnath brothers had the dare devilry to hook and though they often perished in the shots, I revere them.

Style, like apparel, often proclaimeth the man, for, style comes out of cultivation and choice. Didn't Rajiv Gandhi and Gulzar charm us with their immaculate whit kurt pyjama with narrow flares? We can dress them in Armani and Abu Jani designers only with disaster.

Sunday, January 14, 2007


“Swami and Friends” was the first fiction of R.K.Narayan I read. Being R.K.Narayan Centenary Year, I thought, perhaps a Narayan inspired piece would be more relevant.

Swami was essentially a back bencher. Being a little studious and not very tall and explicitly mischievous, I did not have the privilege of lording over the last bench. A little impetuous in raising hands to answer known questions, I didn’t know how to hide myself when I had no answer to a question or was unsure of my answers. Those were precisely the moments, when I used to count the Blessings of the back benchers.

Back benchers can enter and exit the class room at their will without being noticed by anybody. They would not be asked embarrassing questions and even when asked, can escape with irreverent answers. When escorted by the tall back benchers, nobody would dare tease us and the timid boys of the first bench would suddenly find a Halo around them. Generally good in sports, not necessarily in Cricket and football, but often in Kabadi, Kho kho and pole vault, the back benchers would constantly look for and win over admirable glances from the giggling girls. Endowed with ready wit as revealed in the numerous names with which they christen their class teachers, these boys are good at graffiti too and school walls would bear testimony to their skill. As they generally spend more than a year in some of the classes, the back benchers are in back slapping intimacy with their teachers and often they command as much respect as teachers and what more, are looked upon with awe. Like a kitten cherishing the desire to blossom into a panther, the front bench boys, though they abhor the antics of the back benchers, often have the lurking desire to have their macho looks and domineering traits. Back bench, certainly seems to be a prerogative of the boys and girls would readily concede this concession. Some of the world leaders like Winston Churchill, R.K.Narayan himself and Bill Gates would comfortably trace their genius to their back bench days.

If the back benchers in schools are the Monarchs of all they survey, the back benchers in our various legislatures suffer in comparison. Lacking in debating skill, asking searching questions and leadership qualities, the backbenchers in the legislatures would only lend their heads for counts. Unlike the back benchers in the classes, they cannot command and have their commands obeyed. Perhaps, a little initiation at the school back benches would provide potential leadership qualities to budding politicians. A Laloo Prasad and a Mulayam Singh certainly champion this cause.

And finally, back benchers of the world unite. You have nothing to lose and a world without front benches and teaching distractions to gain.

Thursday, January 04, 2007


Tall, extremely well built, a waist rendering belts of any size insufficient, square face, patches of gray hair on a bald head, half-sleeved bush shirt revealing trunk size arms, white cotton pants, indistinguishable from a pyjama in its flare, signaling his presence by his cacophonous voice, Subbha Rao could be seen and heard from any distance.

Shortcomings in academics if others could make up in plain common sense, Subbha Rao’s academic acrobatics were aggravated by inability to summon his Intelligence when sought after, or proved inadequate for the occasion. The greatness of Subbha Rao rested on his enormous abilities to carry on his day to day work with his limitations.

Having been endowed with an endearing quality, he could win over anybody with his harmless charm and disarm even his diehard critics. His double frame would always win empathy. Despite his age and because of his innocence, he could mingle freely even with youngsters half of his age permitting them to crack jokes and providing them material to laugh at. His burly body was often the butt end of wit. Fear to hurt any sensibility, always weighed in his mind.

‘Born with Silver spoon in mouth’, the adage goes. Subha Rao had an in built amplifier in his umblical cord, which added volumes to his decibel level. As the acoustic system had no volume control, one often would get his ear drums jarred if ventured to go near and provoke him to talk. Mellowness and mellifluous music were miles away from him and he would not even meander towards them.

As he had to buy clothes in metres multiples of ten, leftover cloths, if any, would be added to his waist and short sleeves, rendering his pants and shirts present a strange sight, deviating from the initial measures in inches and angles. The size of his foot wears being 14, even valuable shoes and sandals remained safe in temples and marriage halls, as no feet would be available to fit into them.

When retired, he became a member of the grandpa group, where they discussed about the abundance of Avakkai and Ashta Vinayak, Cardiology and Cosmology with equal ease and ignorance, as the intelligence level and available time permitted.

Subbha was greatly attached to his wife and used to constantly dote on her. When she was to be operated upon for a malignant growth on her neck, Subbha Rao was visibly shaken and she survived the operation for hardly two years. During her struggling last days, Subbha Rao was always attending to her, looking into her every need without exasperation and found solace in serving her. However, obesity and attendant ailments, failing instinct to survive following his wife’s death, lack of a well cultivated hobby with resultant boredom hastened his end, though he reached his early seventies.

Subha Rao’s imposing presence and intruding voice would often haunt me when I am in a reflective mood and like Wordsworth, I bear in my heart, the voice, that is ‘heard no more’.