Sunday, November 28, 2010

Goodbye, our Superman!

The rituals were over this morning. With this ends a story of a self-made man. My uncle. Our Superman!

Right from my childhood, I’ve been hearing tales of his heroism — climbing the super-tall coconut palms during childhood; riding his bicycle with six more persons on it as a teenager; fighting with our grandpa and leaving the house to live on his own; writing and topping exams as child’s play; single-handedly rescuing the local cricket club in Gujarat from a shameful defeat... the list goes on!

He was never the Santa-Claus uncle who showered gifts and sweets whenever he visited us. He was the one to be admired, from a safe distance! After all, he was the one who tamed the wild Bombay Poocha (cat) and tied it up in the corner room, which we called Poocha muri! (The Bombay Poocha story was made up by our granny, to keep me away from my injured mother, who was being nursed in that room. And Bombay Poocha became another tale in the legacy of Mr CS Bhamakrishnan, our Mani Vallyachan).

A rebel by birth, he was second son, as well as the biggest nemesis, of our extra-strict, hyper-tempered, disciplinarian grandpa. He was beaten up countless times. Finally, Vallyachan broke the chain, ran away, went as far as Bombay and then to Gujarat, and built a life of his own, on his own.

He lead a free, but disciplined, lifestyle. As always, he stood bluntly adamant on his stances. Elders sure envied his freedom. Once, after a heated debate with his wife, a younger uncle said, looking and our Vallyachan sleeping peacefully, “Look at this man. Anything bothering him? Nah!”

“You are basically wrong,” once his brother-in-law told him. “Even my father used to say that,” Vallyachan retorted calmly.

He played the status of a rocking bachelor to the hilt. By the gallons he used to drink, he could be classified as the biggest alcoholic of the family. But, in all these years, we have never seen him lose his temper or cool under the influence of liquor. Another feat, possible only by our Superman.

His cousin made him say his life story in one of those ‘spirited’ evenings. As a parting question, she asked: “Mani Anna, do you regret anything when you look back?”
“Never!” came the answer.

I visited his lair last for his retirement party. He had completed a meritorious service spanning close to three decades without joining any employee union. Nobody could pursue him to do so.

I was planning to visit him this April. There were many questions to be asked, may thing to be told. And I woke up last Wednesday, hearing the worst, the unbelievable.

My mind was already troubled, but became numb once I reached Kollam. They brought him home in a coffin. I thought I would stay strong, but broke down as we held him — my arms supported his frozen head.

An atheist to the core, he neither believed nor attended in any of the rituals. We cremated him with complete rituals. But we spared him from one thing — the sandalwood paste on his forehead. It was the mark of a Malayalee Hindu, which he scoffed all his life.

Back in Bangalore, troubled by his memories and the realities here, I was restless. I typed out a mail to him, listing the many things I thought about him, asking all the questions unasked, telling all the things unsaid...

Goodbye, our Superman!

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