Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Jottings : Slice of Life - 73 ( Mahadeva Mama - a reminiscence)

Jottings : Slice of Life - 73 ( Mahadeva Mama - a reminiscence)
( PS : When I woke up today morning, Strangely, my first thoughts were about an uncle of mine for whom I have the greatest love, affection and regards. He died in the mid nineties. Coincidentally enough, my brother today posted in a private whatsup group an old photo he had dug out from his archives of my Uncle along with his wife and their four gorgeous daughters in the prime of their lives. The photo must be at least thirty years old. To me this was sign enough to write about him, and his influence in my/our life. Its a private photo, and I dont wish to reproduce it here without permission; but be assured, it is a stunning photograph of a family on whose faces confidence, joy, peace, satisfaction, beauty and prosperity are written all over. I have tagged two cousins from that group in this post….)
In every family, over and above ones parents, there is usually another mentor, a senior member who stands as a role model, a preceptor, a friend who introduces you to angles of life and living that does not come easily from a father or mother. At least, in India during my younger days, there is a certain extent to which your father and mother could handhold you. Beyond that, it is uneasily difficult. Therefore, for a young boy, standing at the threshold of adulthood, such a relationship with an elder family member can be radical and transforming. In my case that role was fulfilled by Mr Mahadevan or Mahadeva mama, as he was/is fondly known among family circles.
The name and aura of mahadeva mama was known to my Brother and me from a very young age. My Parents had great regard, respect and love for him. And in many ways, he was my father’s mentor and guru as well. He took my father into his fold when he ready to work for a living, molded him, introduced him to art of work, and more importantly inducted him into the secret of living life king size and not worry too much about anything. He thought of my father as his protege and all of us as part of his embracing circle of love and affection . The few times I had seen him as child still remains vivid in my memory. He was dark, well proportioned face, medium sized with deep baritone gruff voice which thundered equally in love and anger , immaculately groomed, meticulous and loved to wine and dine. He was always a looming presence in the background of our lives.
When we moved to Chennai in the early nineties mama was above seventy years old, and lived very close to our home. In fact, he lived stones throw away from us. He was not keeping too well physically, but mentally and intellectually he was still functioning at his peak. His joy for life and its nuances were intact. I was to come within his inner orbit very soon. I was at that curious age when inner direction was very important, not so much in the professional sense of the term but psychological. To have someone teach you that life is not as straight jacketed as it seems, and one can revel and find joy in the most ordinary and beautiful things , and yet remain focussed and successful in life. This is a lesson that not many impart - and which Mama did very well. Close proximity to Mama’s house gave me an opportunity to visit more often. He would also drive over in his trademark leaf green colored fiat to have lunch with us. The only car with such a color. His reasoning was simple : “My eye sight is bad, and In a crowd I cannot miss this color, no matter what. It may not look great, but serves the purpose.” Such was his approach to life - always practical and decided. He would call my mom with all the liberty in the world and tell her what he wants to eat, and what time he would arrive for lunch. One could rest the clock to its right time when he arrived. Punctuality was in his blood. With every mouthful he would send out whole hearted unconditional praises. One could palpably feel that deep warmth in his presence. At other times, we would go out to a movie or to his favorite south Indian restaurant in Nugambakkam road (Palm grove). He would sit at the table which had his favorite server serving, and no orders were necessary. Dishes would arrive in specific order in regular succession and intervals until we called a halt with a hot cup of filter coffee brewed to perfection. He would tip them so well saying “ good service deserves encouragement..”
I have spent many hours with him when he needed company. He would call me and order “ Sunder, come over, if you are not doing anything useful …”. I would reach there in no time and we would sit together watch movies, talk about films and music, or he would reminisce about his younger days. He was a great conversationalist. He knew how to get down to my level and talk to me in my own terms. I have seen him do that with everyone. His ability to find the right pulse of the audience he was conversing with was extraordinary. Sometimes, I would simply sit looking at him , at his joyful face and smile as he watched song clips of Sridevi dancing dripping wet in rain. He had very poor eyes, yet nothing escaped his attention. He would suddenly exclaim “ Sunder, watch her graceful steps, Wow. gorgeous ..” Life was beautiful to him all the time, and he enjoyed as much as he could of it. He would physically get tired quickly because of breathing problems, but only for brief while, before he recovered and the sparkle and smile would return to his eyes and lips once again.
He had a passion for collecting movies, and at that time , nobody else I knew had a better collection of good films. It was a monthly ritual for him to visit a nearby Video store and enquire about new arrivals. He would pick few that he liked. Not based on reviews or artistic merit, but just on instinct. If he liked something, he needed no other endorsements. He was own critic. A special glass doored rack was made in his bedroom to host all his video tapes. They were neatly arranged, catalogued and indexed. He was extremely particular about its order. In a jiffy, he would pull out a movie based on his documented list.. Nobody had permission to touch his collection, except privileged few. The accepted truth was : if mama gave you access to his video collection, then you must be in his good books.
His sense of Humor and timing was legendary. He could virtually bring out humor out of any topic. Once he recounted to me how an acquaintance had asked him the secret behind producing four beautiful daughters one after the other in succession. Mama laughed and said “ Sunder, you know what I told him. I told him it is science fiction. I dont believe it even today, yet it was somehow made possible..” He was that candid ,open to life and making fun about it.
When my Paternal grandfather died in early eighties, I couldn't accompany my parents to his funeral because of school. But I did write a short letter of condolence and sent it along with my mother. That was my first piece of public writing. Few days later, I was accompanied by a family friend to our Grandpa’s home in Chennai, and I found Mahadeva mama sitting on the front porch with another uncle of mine. As I walked in shy and unsteady, Mama called out to me and the first words he uttered were “ Sunder, what a nice letter you have written. I read it..”. These were the first words of encouragement I got for my childish, amateurish words penned on a death in the family. But to mama, it is enough that I had the courage, thought and talent to write it. Perhaps, somehow in a deep way, it helped water a creative seed in me. I dont know. But I would like to think and believe it is so.
Unlike my other essays, this one is more personal. But I think, everyone has somebody in their lives to whom we owe gratitude. Our parents and immediate family without doubt play a pivotal role. But beyond them, there are few select individuals who push us in certain direction consciously or unconsciously. This short piece is in honor of one such great man.
God bless…
yours in mortality,

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