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

Thursday, January 31, 2008


Curly hair, extremely fair, smiling face, a paunch the weight of which would often slow down his walking pace, small kumkum mark on the forehead proclaiming his religious proclivities, Kumbakonam accent pervading every tip of his tongue, Sambasivam or Sambu as he is affectionately called, has a fine sense of humour and would stand singled out in any group or gathering.

One cannot write about Sambu without recalling numerous anecdotes centering around him. While introducing his friend Vishu, a devote Dinathanthi reader, Sambu would say “Visu was my elder brother’s class mate five years earlier and now my class mate”, without batting an eye lid. If Sambu was asked by his Geography teacher (who always tormented him with questions to test his knowledge), to name nine wild animals in India, he would say ‘seven tigers and two lions’ without even a semblance of smile on his face. Krishnan was a mild young man in the group who often looked upto Sambu for appreciation, though was often brushed aside with brusque remarks. If Krishnan tried to blow of his masculine bravdo, Sambo would cut him to size, stamping him as effeminate in his efforts, whatever that meant.

Sambu had his early education at Native High School in Kumbakonam. The legendary Right Honourable Sreenivasa Shastry was a former student of this School and Sambu had all the pretensions of being a progeny of this wizard of English Words. If Sreenivasa Shastri was the Silver Tongue Orator of India, Solaiappan Street Sambasivan is no less significant. The native wit of Kumbakhonam nurtured continuously by him, reverberated, whenever he spoke.

If any body put on airs and asserted his authority in front of timid employees, Sambu, would tear asunder his mask, strip him to his bones, reduce his size and talk to him on equal terms, puncturing his ego and push him perilously close to his doomsday.

Sambu had an animadversion towards studies and therefore he kept a safe distance from professional examinations and intellectual attainments. Yet, his native wit was sufficient enough to carry him to places and lend him respectability. An hour with Sambu would be an energizing exercise. Youngsters in love and the elderly with enough leisure looked upon him for inspiration. Like Dr.Johnson in the Coffee Club, an army of admirers always awaited him and noted down his words of wisdom.

Sambu’s brother occupied an enviable position in a leading Organisation, but Sambu, circumscribed by his limitations, found solace in satiety. When lost his ‘Single” status, Sambu opted for a transfer to Chennai and to his great dismay realized that there were several his look-alikes. His wild imaginations and spontaneous wit that made up for deficiency in scholarship and his ability to endear himself to onlookers, enabled him to become a professional artist particularly in giving religious discourses.

Sambu continues to stay at Chennai, regaling his friends and followers with his discourses spiced with native wits and half-hearted attempts to convert them to spirituality.

Bulging belly and a slightly bended head, Sambu would always stare at me from the distant Chennai.

Thursday, January 10, 2008


The initial spark for writing this small autobiographical piece was provided by Usha Vaidyanathan in one of her Blog post. Having recorded this much earlier, I decided to go on air ( should I use the phrase?) now.

The earliest memory of my life was when I was a little over three years. Elders in the family used to say that children in our neighborhood were inconsolably afraid of me and would keep themselves away from me, should they sighted me, as I had the ill reputation of biting unprovoked, every child I encountered, though there were no warning signs on my back, unlike David Copperfield, alerting the children around me to be beware of my bite. I was also considered to be extremely active and would not hesitate walking for long distances when escorted by elders. The urge to walk long distances remains with me even today. Many of my letters and writings were drafted mentally, during my long, lonely walks.

As our Building was in the neighbourhood of our School, I was admitted to first standard in this neighbourhood school. In those days, there were no kinder garten schools and boys and girls were admitted to first standard on attaining six years. Many younger children, who had nuisance value at home, were also admitted in the school, on exaggerated age. My first teacher was Rao Sir – an old man who would come in dothi draped in the traditional way, cotton coat and a maroon Gandhi cap. I vividly remember how he demonstrated, with the help of a foot- rule, the way Rama broke the bow to win over Seetha. The Head master of the School stayed in our building and this helped me to tell, school-boyish lies to my classmates that the headmaster was my uncle. Ramanathan, a tiny timid boy, was mortally afraid of me because of this myth. Ironically, today it is my basic philosophy that nobody should be afraid of me.

In the building, Rajaram, the second son of Ramudu mama (a classmate of my father) was as close to me as Ramudu mama himself was to my father. Rajaram’s pyjamas would barely extend below his knees. His elder brother was years older to us and we would look at him with awe. His height, muscles and ready wit beckoned us to him. Even today, we cherish his way of looking at things and describing them. Ramu, another vagabond boy in the building was our hero. We would look at him with great enthusiasm as he would narrate the stories of movies he had seen (or pretended to have seen), featuring Chrlie Chaplin, Gope and Yakub, the leading comedians of the day. Ramu would say quite often that he was very good in wrestling and in the same breadth would add that my elder brother was equally good in boxing though I could hardly distinguish between the two modes of fight. Ravi, the only son of a Reserve Bank Officer, was a fine young boy, who later on went to IIT in its early batches. He is some-where at Chennai now. We had one or two other mischievous boys, whose prattles are proverbial in the neighbourhood.

In those days, for 5th standard to 8th standard, one had to go to a school a little away, as the main building of the school, could not accommodate all the students . The other school building was a long shed, consisting of a number of class rooms. If 5th and 6th standard were in one wing, 7th and 8th standard were in the other wing. I used to go to school along with Rajaram, who was two years senior to me. Joseph and Bhaskaran were the two leading sports boys of the school and both of them commanded fierce loyalty among students, as the East Bengal and Mohan Bagan foot ball teams do today. Bhaskaran being the social underdog, many of us extended our arms to Bhaskaran. Polly Umrigar, Hazare and Amarnath provided us inspiration.

When I was in my 5th standard, one day in the afternoon, my aunt’s son Padmanabhan ( we have too many Padmanabhans in our family) came to my class, spoke something to my class teacher and was immediately asked to go home along with me. On reaching home, my, aunt, who was crying, told me amidst her cry that my father had died ( ‘Onga appa chetthupoyachuda’) in Tamil. I was asked to take bath immediately, and I did not know what to do. As I was hardly 10 years old, and having been away from my parents for over six months, the impact of the news was not severe enough to shock me. Two days later, we four – myself, elder brother Padmanabhan, cousin Padmanabhan and my aunt proceeded to Trivandrum. I did’nt realize at that time that I would return back only seven and a half years later, after completing my school. I descended down at Dadar again, barefooted, with a folded dothi and half sleeved shirt seven and a half years later, to pick up the thread, I left behind.

I certainly 'look back with' amusement and not 'Anger'.

Thursday, January 03, 2008


In one of my earlier blogs on ‘Reservation’, I had mentioned that equals were not competing in the various entrance examinations, and that weightage had to be given for potentially meritorious students from not so well reputed colleges and schools.

It is now exhilarating to learn that ‘Oxford University is redefining its admissions policy in an attempt to seek out more academically bright students from poor performing schools and less affluent backgrounds. For the first time, Professors will have detailed information that allows them to compare quality of schools before candidates are offered seats. This is to help them differentiate between students who achieved top grades at strong state schools and those who reached the same level with no such advantage.’ The emphasis is more on ‘educational context rather than on the personal one’ Oxford University is ‘keen not to just look at students’ existing performance, but how they could do over three years’. It also feels that ‘a student who is in an environment with a lot of support will be well prepared’. Where a student has less support, the University wanted to factor that in.

I would place a boy or girl from a rural and less sophisticated institution who scored a high fifty in a competitive examination, above the one from acclaimed institutions like St. Stephens or Loyola, who merely scored sixty, because the former has potential and the latter a mere ‘thus far, no further', syndrome.

In an atmosphere surcharged with clamour for ‘reservation’ and ‘merit seats’, a request for factoring in ‘potential’ may sound to be a voice in the wilderness.