Sunday, July 5, 2009
Oops Subbu Iyer: Oops (Object Oriented Programming) was the first company I joined after my return from Bahrain and a hopelessly compromised one. From over 50 K salary there, I worked for a fifth of it here. I only saw the job as a makeshift and never let go of any opportunity to seek fortunes elsewhere.
Subbu Iyer looked hopelessly young; though he was 30 he looked a decade younger. A tall, lanky physique, and a man who made his mark in USA. He would sport a long beard like a Swamiji and a ponytail a month and the next would be clean-shaven minus that beard and a short haircut. He looked handsome too; fair Brahmin complexion, glittering eyes and a taut face. Anything to do with a computer the man was a genius. He had a technical collaboration with IIT, Madras on video-conferencing products to operate at low speed bandwidths for multi-conferencing. He was so good in programming that he would hold a class to the technicians at IIT. That gave him a larger than life profile and an ardent fan following. He could walk into the Dean’s cabin and haul him up; such was his expertise and also forceful personality.
Subbu could be alternately friendly or too officious almost like a switch of a bulb. Though you could place your arm on his shoulder or argue on any subject under the skin, you will never know when he would turn cold and start to issue instructions. Within a month I had figured out that he was intensely distrustful fellow and his façade of friendliness were passing clouds.
My interest in Subbu was primarily because he resided in Besantnagar and I would ogle for a lift back home in his Ford Ikon. Once I asked,” Subbu, how many people stay with you in the house?” a roundabout way for querying on his marital status. Prompt came the reply,” Three. I, Me, and Myself”. He was just as lonely as me!!! His mother was dead after estrangement with the dad and brother. He never kept in contact with them holding some deep-held grouse.
Subbu had friends in various professions; on one of the popular anchor’s suggestion he even hosted a programme on Star Vijay channel. What I remember with warmth even today were our sessions on a lunch table on the terrace under an asbestos sheet for protection against the elements. Rajendran was another long time friend of Subbu and he came to work more as a friend than an employee. He worked without compensation and that meant that he could not be bossed around. Then there was Ravikant and another longtime companion. At lunch all the four of us would gather under the asbestos sheet and I had the time of my life as we bantered no-holds barred. It was during this time the “Madhulika” story erupted and what a fun we had dissecting it as the story unfolded.
Subbu’s technical expertise in the product we were developing was perhaps second to none in the world. He had that look of a master who could solve any issue with a mere tapping of computer keys. But when it came to woman he was weak. Rumour had it that he had a long affair in USA and she was married elsewhere. That passion still lingered each time she visited the country. In addition there was an attractive woman in office and he seemed to have explored her in the office. Subbu talked about scriptures and philosophies but they had not impacted him. A true genius but as a human being he still has a long way.
Lesson to be learnt: These people are extremely whimsical but they have their own utility. Be friendly but from a distance.
Adline Ravikant: I worked with Ravikant for a story time in 2002 and each of his antics is still etched on the mind. He is a walking disaster and a very definition of a jerk. Owner of a small regional agency that released dealer panel advertisements for major brands or those erratic appointment advertisements, Ravikant is rich beyond his competence. Adline Advertising is one of the oldest agencies in the city and started by his father. That could not compete with even later entrants like R K Swamy or even Fountainhead can be wholly ascribed to the sons’ ineptness.
Ravikant was stocky built, fair Brahmin complexion, standing little over 6 feet, sturdy, and a pronounced nose. His mouth was his biggest handicap; prone to shout over trivials and hyperactive as to be ridiculous. He was so distrustful of his employees that he would ask them to call from the client’s landline to verify whether they had in fact gone there. Ravikant’s failing was that he was so petty that he tried to squeeze every advantage but always losing the bigger picture.
A man obsessed with pennies can never get the pounds.
Ravikant was a practicing Brahmin and which meant that he did his monthly “tharpanams” and on those days he would be pompously late. I can recall one incident when he drove us – Peter, another executive and me- in his Esteem for a client meeting. As a time-filler, he said,” I know the Mahesh of Royapettah Chit Fund and how he swindled crores of rupees from gullible public. He declared bankruptcy and yet moves around in his Mercedes and still residing in his posh bungalow in Chamiers Road”. Peter would whisper into my ear,” He is envious and if he had a similar opportunity would even be a bigger crook. All these Brahmin bastards are such criminals”. Bang-on for the observation of Ravikant and on the community, I have not yet given up hope.
I had to accompany him on a train to Mumbai for a client meeting and I made no pretense of any servitude by seating at least 4 cabins away. On return, we were took a midnight Air India flight – those are the cheapest, by the way – and here too I sat on the other end of the craft and on disembarking ran as fast to the auto stand as possible and avoid his attention. Ravikant generates that kind of cussedness with this miserly ways. Even on the midnight haul, he ordered for a dinner when almost everyone was content with a Frooti.
His hyperactivity meant he would be running here and there for no apparent reason or fiddling the car-belt when seated or ask for some inconsequential file. The moment he comes to the cabin like a whirlwind, the very air would get animated. Ravikant to his credit slugged very hard into the nights but just did not seem to grab the business opportunities. Adline was empanelled to public sector companies – Indian Railway, or ONGC, or LIC- and those businesses came with a lot of greasing and lobby. For once he was perspicuous,” I go to an official’s home and from the look of it know whether he is corruptible or not. Even from the furniture or flooring or even curtains, the corrupt man leaves his mark”.
The unfortunate thing about this joker was that even the family too had given up on him; never took us seriously as he rattled away. His younger brother Mr.Chandramouli looked after the Mumbai branch and unlike the Chaplainesque brother was savvy in his dealings; his censures were one-liners and even Ravikant had to listen. I chanced upon him after 7 years at Thiruvanmiyur temple and we were so close that for any evasive action. I offered my hand and said,” Hello, do you remember me?” Ravikant said without warmth,” Who can forget you?” I ruminated as to what he could have become had he only been a little normal.
Lesson to be learnt: Keep peace with such characters even when there is a tendency to ridicule.
Anitha: I used to a see a tall, healthy woman walk in Theosophical Society gardens in 1998. I had a huge circle of friends and we talked in a bunch giving free reins to our mouths. I would spot this woman in tracks cross in the opposite directions; we were close to finishing our walk and this lady just about to begin hers.
I worked for a small web development company and our main client was Citibank. Being the front-end of the account, I would frequently visit the plush offices of Citi on Shakti Tower. Those buggers at the bank would make me wait for hours on appointments. Waiting interminably in the sofas were so dispiriting and I saw this ‘TS” walker running around the premis es. We possibly must have locked eyes but I have no energy for fresh people.
I was a regular to the weekend lectures of Swami Paramarthananda and I would once again run into this figure. Still no acknowledgement or introduction! The woman was tall at over 5’ 8”, fair, hair like a cascade to shoulder length, pointed nose, and an almost typical Indian look. She was more than pedestrian in looks and if you watched the same face every day – like I did in TS- then that face began to grow on you.
I introduced myself the first time at Vidyamandir; the lecture had gotten over and the people rushed out of a iron gate. I almost ran to arrest her stride and made a direct plea,” I have seen you in TS and Citibank. I believe you have referral system and I would be extremely grateful if you can get the contact details of people in HR”. She was gracious while introducing herself,” I am Anitha and I am a product manager at Citi. This is my visiting card and send your resume to this mail id. I’ll see what I can do”.
After this short intro, each time we bumped into at TS, or at Citibank waiting ward or at Vidyamandir, we exchanged a brief hello or a stifled smile or just nodded to acknowledge cognition. We did not recognize each other for the first 6 months and now we spoke at every opportunity. Her mails were exhaustive and slowly she getting into my system.
Anitha was younger to me by 5 years, a BITS Pilani graduate and an MBA from IIM, Ahmedabad. She drove Esteem (in 1999!!!) and resided in palatial bungalow on Vth Avenue (I stay in VIIth!!!) and I was falling in love. She once narrated as to how she and her mother struggled – she was a lone child – after her father sudden demise. She studied on scholarships and I felt deeply affected. Now she was in a job that took her to Europe and Far East almost every month. Anitha was also a trained Hindustani singer and all these added up to an angel image in my mind. But I checked any further impulse: the gulf between us was unbridgeable. She is a high-powered executive shuffling between airports while I was a lowly job seeker.
But I was sad; she was the first person I really wished to marry, an option I denied after the heart surgery and job losses. I mourned my own incompetence and wretched fortune. Each time I looked at Anitha a wave of envy would stab me; hers was exactly the kind of career I would have wished on myself.
Anitha settled in USA and there has been no contact in years. Though they were whispers of her wild orgies at Fisherman Cove and those did not add to the “divine” image in my head. But I doubt the veracity of those; any person who heard Swamiji’s lectures, or walked in TS must be intrinsically decent.
Lesson to be learnt: If those whispers are true then I must learn not to generalize. I made a similar error with PW where Ph.D and social scientist just did not add up.
Krishna Kant: If Durai Babu was the branch manager of Hakkudu Percept, Krishna Kant was thrust on me and an unwelcome intruder. Percept won the Airtel account for pre-paid cards and the account was huge in terms of billings and a pan-Indian operations. Suddenly Percept with presence in just Delhi and Mumbai were forced to open branches in Bangalore, Madras, Bhopal, Kochi, and just about almost everywhere. I was appointed to do the Madras chores while Krishna Kant was entrusted to manage Kochi; he was working in an agency in Bangalore prior to this and maybe, this gave him an opportunity to go homeward.
Krishna Kant is tall and Dravidian in complexion, his mustache could be seen from miles so thick and so dark, the face was rather square and he had a build of a buffalo. He spoke with the speed of a sub-urban train; reaching peak very quickly and ready to apply abrupt brakes. That staccato speech can be testy to the ears. KK was born-again Mallu and he knew how to promote himself even without subtlety.
Airtel was to have opened their Kochi branch but that did not happen and by which time, Percept had gone ahead and chosen their man. This meant that there was no work for him and he was bundled to Madras to lend a helping hand to me. I was gracious to take him through all the strategy documents and taking him to client meetings never suspecting anything sinister. This man soon got up-to-speed on my activities and then completely took over. He would rush to brief creative even before I could gather my thoughts and even talk to the clients on clarifications. Even the client was genuinely perplexed as to who was the contact person.
It soon transpired that the Kochi branch was not happening for the next 12 months and two senior persons in Madras were too heavy an expense. The way KK manipulated to ensure that he stayed at my cost was politics of a kind I had never experienced; he started relay my every minor shortcoming to our boss in Mumbai even it was so frivolous. Once I had gone to a bar with a friend and I recounted the tale to the folks at office the next day,” I had a nice time at Heritage yesterday and when it wounded it was past midnight. Both of us walked kicking a plastic soda bottle for amusement.” KK twisted this prattle to the boss in Mumbai,” Sathya is dangerous anti-social breaking glasses on the road fare in midnight after a drink”. Such gross distortions and absurdities soon began to pile up and when it was decided to axe one of us, he was the one who survived. I was so flustered by his antics that I wished to engage goons and breaking a few of his bones. I have never felt an intense hatred to anyone before.
I was made an dummy and powerless “Account Planner” and KK was in-charge of the day-to-day operations of Airtel account; that way he was a lot safer from the firing squad. Unlike how generous I was prior in sharing about the daily tasks and activities, he never bothered when it was his turn at the helm as I drifted to idleness and futility. KK headed the Percept operations in Chennai for many years to affording a Maruti Vesta; there was a lot to talk as how he pocketed commissions from printers and adding more to the monthly pay-cheque.
KK to me was a typical politician; he knew how to squat in someone’s territory and grab that successfully. He spoke as like hustler but his actions were directed in enlarging his importance. I have never detested a Mallu before but after this chastened experience, I am a lot more circumspect of my Kerala neighbours.
Lesson to be learnt: With these kinds, save your ass. Don’t talk at length and keep a safe distance. Each time you shake hands with people like KK, count whether they are in place after each occasion.
Devarajan Durai Babu: Again a 2000 acquaintance as I took employment with Percept Advertising. Babu was the branch manager of Hakkudu Percept and well ensconced; he became a one-man operation for them in Madras and within a year had expanded the business and the team to over 10 people; Durai Babu had that kind of competence and way with clients!!
He was in his early 40s and just back from Tirupathi after a head tonsure; his mother was ill and on her recovery shaved off the hair in gratitude. Despite the bald plate that was just started to bristle, he looked handsome; a Dravidian complexion, tall at 6 feet, lean face but puffed up sufficiently for that look of solidity. He dresses in formal full-hand shirts and when he spoke you at once realize that he is thoroughbred in corporate. He spoke with a smooth rhythm and added more sniggles along the way and was essentially a friendly person. He was never got personal in his dealings and still adept in keeping a distance; a fine art if one has to survive in this jungle.
As a manager, he was astounding and one of the best. He was like a benevolent monitor to his boys at school; he rarely pulled them up and when he did, it was a near slaughter. So the team members joked and laughed with him and they had complete freedom; if you were in need of a calculator and found that he had on his shirt pocket, you would intuitively reach out to it. I still recollect the time when we stood under the hot Chennai sky outside a restaurant for nearly an hour as he hosted a lunch in welcome a newly joined “Creative Director” as the office-boy had not reached the venue.
At Hakkudu Percept everyone had a bike and office boys would borrow the keys from the owners and go about their office chores. Such was the comraderie! Durai Babu would collect used envelopes from the numerous junk mails he received and reuse them as an eco-friendly measure.
Durai Babu had been an advertising man throughout and he was competent to the extreme. To see him haggle rates with film producers was a treat; he could almost itemize the various components and assign a cost to them. So all the TVCs produced under his tutelage were the most cost-effective. There was a lot of savoir faire and elegance about the man; almost a languid grace as when went about the job. If you are trainee, you cannot learn better elsewhere than under him.
Durai Babu never talked much about his family or even where he resided. He had 4 children from 2 marriages. I have heard whispers that he met a Christian girl while working in MAA Bozell and the tied the knot the second time for an upheaval in the house. But things have smoothened out and he has still kept the first marriage alive and kicking.
Slowly as he grew in stature in the Madras advertising circles, he started to lecture at various forums. I quite admired the way he mentored raw account executives and they were quite simply the best trained in the city.
Percept, our company who he was to supervise from a distance, proved slothful. They never bothered to send our salaries or even pay for operating costs and it tested all our patience to no end. Durai Babu wrote a considered note to the CEO,” I was there to help your new recruits but I cannot allow Percept to draw more water than I can afford”. This terse note swung things into action and since then there were more receptive to our pleas. Babu’s English is extraordinary and has that class and even knew the meaning of “soliloquy”. A smart and classy man who knew the ropes of his trade and how to lay on the butter thick!!!!
Lesson to be learnt: Befriend such characters and learn from them; so miles ahead in smartness they provide an opportunity to tackle this mad society. But beware, don’t get personal!!!!
Friday, June 5, 2009
SriMurugan: Again a former boss and the period relate to 2000 where I was web-consultant and SriMurugan the man at the helm of the Chennai branch. Datamatics Staffing Services is a recruitment company headquartered in Mumbai and led by the venerable Bhatia. During the interview, Bhatia felt that I could contribute contents for their website than a recruitment consultant almost creating a position for me on first sight.
The office is on Cathedral Road opposite AVM marriage hall and Saravana Bhavan. The traffic is dense and shrill horns of passing vehicles a regular nuisance. SriMurugan managed a team of 6 people and apart from a trigger hungry, smart mouth he had little to recommend. SriMurugan was in his early 30s, his wife was in JWT and that implied a western lifestyle, and two tiny tots for a family picture.
He was tall and sturdy too, the circular face shone with the brightness of his eyes and spectacles, a rather large nose and puffed-up cheeks. He dresses in nothing less than a Louis Philippe and Colour Plus trousers; shirts in bright colours and those contrasts well on his fair complexion and the gold chain would glisten in richness. The gait is hurried as if a storm an impending storm and he talks in the manner of an excited child.
SriMurugan drove a Toyota even then and residing on Chamiers Road, one of the richest neighbourhood in Madras; surely something he cannot manage on his Datamatics salary. His father was a retired police commissioner and he must have really filled up his pockets. SriMurugan had that politician quality; ever willing to take charge, more than willing to mentor others, and assume a leadership position almost to a grabbing hurry. He is your big “anna”; you can say those ribald jokes and in trouble run to him for cover. But once you cross the man, he’ll ensure your early demise.
SriMurugan attended many of those meaningless seminars and distributed his visiting cards to every passerby so as to get theirs in return. In fact he demanded those and the acquired cards would go into those folders and come in handy during an executive search. SriMurugan had over 35 folders and he never allowed anyone in the team to come anywhere near them. There were his property and bread and butter.
Each evening he went to the washroom and spent over 30 minutes decking himself for the evening. The face would be scrubbed of any oil and grime with a Pears soap, then he would powder it to complete the chore. He is an handsome man no doubt and this daily ritual is to go to Boat’s Club direct from the office and drink to his neck with his friends.
SriMurugan also had the habit collecting paper cuttings of management articles and re-cycled them to Indian Express where his acquaintance manned the weekend desk after re-phrasing them suitably. Those articles on publication would be stuck with pins on the soft-board on the background of his desk thus creating a great impact in the visitors. SriMurugan was miles ahead in smartness.
Despite all these imperfections, he laughed to a guffaw, knew just the right word to say for the occasion, and drove his cars like crazy and a man of tremendous energy.
Lesson to be learnt: These characters are the backbone of our society and it pays to keep them in good humour. What’s more, it does not take much effort either.
Sanjay Wadhwani: I worked with him in Triton Communications, Mumbai for 3 months in 1996. So gory was the experience that I can’t still remove him entirely out of my mind.
Sanjay is a typical Punjabi, more bluster than substance and raw aggression. He was face was a tanned wheat colour complexion, a narrow face, a Hitler mustache and heavy eyebrows, and the most detestable character formiles around. He was loud and heartily laugh at his own jokes. People humoured him or kept a safe distance and there was a devilish streak about him.
Sanjay was a womanizer and his jokes to the secretaries were almost an invitation,” The client who came now for a meeting is so fat and I have also seen his wife, who is too obese for words. I wonder how they make it in the night”. The young girls would laugh and by which time his hands would be on their shoulder!!! Sanjay jokes would never rise beyond a candom or the shack.
How would you know that you have arrived or reached the top position at office? One can measure it on the size of the car or the house but my true index is that you can “shout” at office and others have no recourse but to bear it. Sanjay was the ‘General Manager” and he ruled most vociferously. Unlike Minnie whose only stock weapon at work were a few tantrums, Sanjay was more adept and cunning. He could joke, cajole, browbeat and throw the kitchen-sinker and that too with a devil’s glee.
Sanjay is a case of smart operator getting very lucky. He had no superior “ advertising” skills (I don’t think that he can prepare one strategic document) but he knew how to “present” creative to clients almost theatrically. He was just in his mid- 30s and dressed gaudily; there was almost a touch of comedy. He had just got his Maruti Esteem (in 1996!!!) and the way he flaunted by smoking inside the car as it carried an electronic lighter; he was very much the nouveau rich Punju!! His success in Mumbai can only be ascribed to “Punjabi Pluck”.
Sanjay got away even from murder as he proudly demonstrated his humour. He recounted his client meeting at Pune to those assembled,” It was late in the evening when I went to pick Dharma up. He was so dark that I couldn’t make out at a distance until he flashed those white teeth of his”. Dharma was much respected media head and this “racist” remark from a Punjabi to a Tamilian is no surprise at all.
A very attractive girl joined my team and Sanjay immediately started to sniff around. I advised her,” Each time you talk to Wadhwani fellow, mention your husband in your conversation”. She was not married but nonetheless kept referring to her non-existent husband and buy her safety.
I had quite a few well-worshippers in the agency and many would say,” In a client meeting, don’t speak much and never match up to Sanjay. He can swing the axe anytime and you won’t know what hit you”. Luckily he didn’t swing the axe but I nevertheless quit. The agency vibrated of a ruckus murder scene; and my nightmares full of Sanjay pulling the noose down. I have never seen a person so purposely and decisively evil. Sanjay is capable of murder or a rape such was his high octane levels for mischief.
Verdict: TamasLesson to be learnt: Just keep away and no benefit will accrue from such characters.
Minnie Menon: I only met her in 1994 and thankfully never since. She was my boss of three months at Artig Advertising and those memories are still fresh in the mind.
Minnie looked groomed and though in sarees, you can make out that there was a lot of fashion element and painstaking effort in her make-up. Her hair was a schoolboy cut though it bounced enough in the front as she walked. Minnie was Caucasian fair in complexion, a long face, long nose, eyes bunched close together and the cheeks compressed to resemble a horse’s head. You can spot a light layer of make-up and an international perfume around her. Minnie dressed to expose a bit of cleavage and her footwear were those fancy leather slip-ons that come with high heals.
Minnie was a terror at work and her tantrums a folklore in Madras Advertising circles. Artig is a second agency of O &M and they really wanted it to be like Contract to JWT. But this agency never took root and we were saddled with very small and insignificant brands. Minnie was married to Mohan Menon, a lifelong O & M executive and he headed their Chennai operations. With that connection, for Minnie the top honchos of Ogilvy were just family friends.
The office was in Egmore and the driver came in to drop to lunch box at the madam trailed behind. Even at the sight, the office went silent not knowing when the firecrackers would burst. She shouted to hysteria for little of no reason at all. First there was not much work to do but this woman’s antics had us all on our toes. She had a penchant for western names in the office; Chandrasekar became “Clint” and “Harish” became “Harry” and that even gave the agency a lot of style!!! I had given my name as “A S Narayanan” here and even now my ears scorch with her shrill calls so much that never again did I introduce myself to that abridged name to anyone. “Sathyanarayanan” would have surely become ‘Sam” here.
Minnie was a party animal and knew how to hold her drink or dance on the floor. I still remember this 40 year old in “tights’ in body hugging clothes and dance to even nursery rhymes like a rabbit; making faces while circling the partner. Even if she was in such mood, people kept far away and guarded. She would explode anytime. (BTW, why do I get such psychos as my boss all the time?). But she was gifted with a typical Mallu gene; she knew where her anger could work or who would take it. In front of O&M honchos she would be all saccharine. Minnie knew which way the winds blew and aligned her sails to her best advantage. There was no class about her at all except thrusting herself in limelight.
These days I see her pictures in page 3 and she is a socialite almost on the scale of Pameshwar Godrej. Her daughter is Lolo, famous for Mallu gags on television. She is on board of a management school, hops of from parties to parties, has a column in Indian Express, and part of the Chennai glitterati. Not bad for a Mallu in a Tamil land. Not all those fancy dresses and foreign perfume and trinkets ever added an ounce of class and grace though.
Lesson to be learnt: Just keep away and no benefit will accrue from such a character except a headache and suffer her bloated ego.
Sonny Deenadayalan: He is a vague memory from the Rediffusion days in 2000. Sonny makes for a great first impression: he is tall and Dravidian dark, hair sticks on its end like bristles, a lean long face, dressed mostly in jeans over a half-sleeve shirt in bright checks, and a mouth that drips honey. He talks Queen’s English with perfect accent, not a foul word would escape him. And when I found that I was in his team, I was overjoyed at first.
Rediffusion was the agency for Citibank and it was a curse that never slackened every day, and every hour of my stint. It is marriage of two elephants; one a monolith and as international and a hierarchy longer than the number of carriages of a superfast train. So an advertising layout would go through each layer and each one had to offer a suggestion or critique to justify their existence. It’s that typical glib talking crowd at Citibank and it is here that Sonny found his mark.
Sonny knew more about Citibank than their staff at Madras. He knew all the international guidelines of colours to be used, logo size, and half a dozen details that are mandatory. If “Sauvé” needs a human representation, it would be Sonny. He kept everyone – the whole hierarchy of executives at the Bank, the Branch Manager at the agency, the production guys, and even the mercurial Umita in good humour; a task no less Sisyphean.
The entire office on Shakti Towers smelled like that of a Congress party; there were rumours floating everywhere, people were getting chopped and sliced that not many survived the first 3 months (I certainly didn’t!!), gossip and tantrums. Just walking into office at 10 in the morning and you could sense a war waiting to erupt and a head about to be severed; frankly I have not seen an office that bode so much ill-will even when silent. But Sonny not only survived here but thrived too. He must do well in hell too.
Sonny was my reporting boss and he was quite co-operative one initially. Payal, a junior executive was his favourite, he went out of his way to shield her. She was a bright woman herself and ensured that she was not harassed by the system. As for me, I never fitted into the mould – I neither appealed to the client nor my tummy take kindly to Umita’s outbursts- and soon drifted to such a depression that my own words started to come in sputters and sounded alien to the ears. I was crumbling and sensibly walked out of the place.
Sonny carried that elegance even in his cabin; they would be table lamp with a shade, nice choice curtains, some paintings, and even a tape recorder when the man was in a mood for music. We all worked long hours in humouring the client though the work we did was meager and mediocre. Sonny had worked in Far East and with that clipped American accent there was a feminine streak him; metrosexual. He was man who was punctilious in sending bouquets to his wife on her birthday, wedding day, and Valentines. I would often overhear him cochie-cooeing on the phone, “Nands (westernized for Nandini!!!), did you get that from the bakery?” Sonny is frightfully western to the last gene and so much so that his original name “Venkatesh Deenadayalan” had officially changed to “Sonny Deenadayalan”. And when he spoke in Tamil it sounded as if from a Yankee’s lips.
He resides in Thiruvanmiyur and I frequently see him on his Kinetic Honda (things like that add to the feminine touch!!) but I don’t stop to recognize and greet. There is a washed up feeling about the man but as a survivor he was supremely gifted. If you planning a Sahara expedition or to the Antarctic, I would heartily recommend the bloke.
Lesson to be learnt: Corporate Survival Skills.
M C Krishanan: I first met Krishnan in 1998 soon after my heart surgery when I was in a phase of regular walks for an exercise. I would trek over 10 kms a day and it soon became a ritual as I discovered the beauty and tranquility of Theosophical Society. I soon joined a regular gang and the mornings were full of banter and bawdy jokes.
Krishnan is in his early 50s with a sailing experience of over 20 years. These sailors’ make a cool Rs.20 lacs in a year working for 6 months a year and the rest in complete idleness with little to engage them. This guy was enterprising with a couple of internet cafes and a 10 acre farm for paddy cultivation to keep him occupied when on land.
He is heavily built with handsome features: the eyes in sea water blue, a huge forehead, sculpted nose, and a majestic vestige for a personality. Wont to walk furiously in Bermuda shorts and the face shone brighter due to a dabbed vibhuti on a fair skin. He really looked as majestic a character from those Cecil De’Melle characters in the film “Moses”. He would by his sheer physique draw a crowd. And when he opened his mouth, he could raise a laugh with his earthy jokes in chaste Madurai Tamil in our group. He was a fun person to be and his jokes were ribald as can be. Sample this: When I married my wife and squeezed my wife’s boobs the first time, I washed my hands afterwards. But that doesn’t deter me from washing hands everyday!!!! Or when a singer sang on a high pitch he famously commented,” Her husband must be bitten her in various places and so the voice emanates deep from the abdomen”. For his rich man, he was extremely modest and did not throw his weight around at all; in fact he made self-deprecatory jokes and kept everyone in good humour.
He really loved his life on the sea for most parts of the year. He would regale us with tales from the sea and it could get instructional at times. Once he said,” I was devoted to my wife with the chastity of Sita until the time she lost interest in sex. Only when I was 48, I discovered lust on the seas”. He would now only identify various ports with names of various women. “Oh my god, the Spanish women are the best in bed and they must all come to Madras and hold a training centre for our women”.
When I wanted to start an enterprise I turned to him. Though that venture failed miserably and there was a lot of bad blood, he is not the person you can avoid or be angry for long. Krishnan had this devastating wit about him. I was in his house when his schoolgoing daughter had an exam to crack. The father blessed her,” Sit behind the brightest of the lot and copy well”. His wife was one of the smartest I have seen and she can match wits with 10 men at one go and come out trumps.
Krishnan has done splendidly well family-wise; his eldest daughter is in USA from her under graduation days and now on the way to completing her Ph.D. This second daughter has just joined college and she is an accomplished Bharatnatyam dancer already with a gala “arangatram” last year. His assets must gross over 10 crores easily and given Krishnan’s affable nature and a nose of business opportunity, he can only add to the pile.
Krishnan loves Tamil literature and he would be engrossed on them on his sea voyages. He had a spiritual bent of mind and he could quote his “Thirukural” as good as the best. It is a pleasure to bang into him in a temple; a vesti and those vibhuti on a forehead never looked better.
Lesson to be learnt: Krishnan conceals a fantastic brain behind an affable nature.
Umita Deora: Umita was the creative director at Rediffusion and a colleague in 2000. The Chennai branch was on the upswing with key accounts like Citibank, Taj Hotels and Thomson TV and so crème le crème of Mumbai branch came to Chennai to provide that expertise.
Umita was quite short probably just measuring a 5’ or even lower, she was lean and perfect figure, and wore those T-shirts and long shirts over body hugging trouser. Her hair was circular and perms for a Sai Baba hairdo, the Marathi face very fair and gloss, a snout nose, sharp gleaming eyes and a small chin. Umita was good looking for a 30 year old woman and invariably dressed in trousers and sporting a Nike or Reebok for footwear. She looked more a schoolgirl than a topnotch professional.
Umita was the dreaded political animal at work. She was quite a competent copywriter and ruled a team of around 10 juniors with a fist hand. She would shout hysterically, throw layouts, and she had the gift of the gab. Umita could even get angry with a power client like Citibank but she was smart: she knew to whom to get angry and how far to go. A similar situation with a powerful authority on the other side and she would more likely see humour.
Umita just about knew to what extent people would tolerate her tantrums and used that to cement her authority. People in client servicing like me or in the creative wouldn’t last 3 months under this torture and we nicknamed her “Amma” after a similar Jayalalitha. But it was only Ajit who cracked the puzzle. He sported a huge grin and not allow the words of torment to affect him. He not only survived the daily manslaughter at Rediffusion but became one of her favourite subordinates.
Umita was not all that evil and knew how to turn on the charms too. She would take her team to Landmark and gift them books of their choice and later treat them to sumptuous dinner. Umita was grossing over a lac of rupees as salary (in 2000!!) and a furnished apartment and she could afford to have her liquor in Taj Connemara in style and no need to practice parsimony. There were two or three expats from Mumbai and Umita settled in Chennai the best. She spent her weekends on violin tuitions and did not fly back to Mumbai at the first opportunity.
Umita had a huge executive room and she would often lock the door and so none knew what was cooking there; possibly even a hot intimate encounter as rumour mills would have it. Not surprising for Umita was as liberated as anyone could be!!
For a power-hungry tyrant, Umita had a pronounced stutter. Sometimes the words would get stuck and she would “try” repeating them all over again without losing her nerves. But she never flinched in embarrassment or covered it up. For a chic modern woman in lipstick and make-up, this can be a nightmare situation but she braved it out. Her modern western image – cigarettes, swearing, dressing, liqueur etc was not a put on but a genuine act.
Umita was a chain smoker despite her asthma and I had been witness to a severe attack once when the whole office felt grave that she might pass over. Umita was a tomboy; she strode down the staircase in a jaunty way. She was as moody as anyone but she could laugh the loudest too.
Last heard from Ajit when in Bahrain in 2003, the news was Umita married a Tamil Brahmin and now based somewhere in Cairo. Umita is a kind of person who can thrive in anywhere; more than decent copywriting skills, she was a hound with great political and survival skills.
Lessons to be learnt: Such people are usually the opinion makers; get on their right side!!!
John Kuruvilla: I have worked in over 20 companies but there was none who could run John even close on sheer class and managerial ability; he had the kind of personality self-help authors would approve enthusiastically. I first met him in June, 1994 while awaiting him for a job interview and he saw me an hour later. He was profusely apologetic and attributed it to a sudden client meeting.
The written test was even more foreboding but at the end, I heard John’s sonorous voice on the phone,” I am going to make you a job offer. You will start at a 4 K package and is it okay? Then come and meet us in the evening”.
John explained,” From the test you have some potential but a long way to go. You will be working with the best advertising talent in the city and not many people have survived the 6 month hurdle. So, help you God”.
The office was in Lavelle Road, that runs left of the famed Richmond circle and it is a two-storey building. All the cabins were in grey decolam sheets with a red horizontal life, the office looked a MNC. Behind the receptionist stood a tall painting of J Walter Thompson in a grey beard, sailor uniform, and a cigar. John had a separate room for himself and from where he ruled the office with an iron fist.
John was only 32 and already a Vice-President of a large advertising firm. He was nearly 6’ in height though stout for a healthy buffalo look, dark complexion, short hairs, square face, and a very prominent mustache. When he spoke, it was almost studio quality loud. I have never seen a person generate this kind of charisma before even at a glance. He looks a military commander out to inspect a parade in an office setting.
Contract was the ideal office I have worked; one cannot talk loudly on the phone and disturb others in the vicinity, a telephone etiquette I have not found elsewhere. Two, one cannot read newspapers and magazine – as an agency they get every possible trash – during office hours except the lunch hour. At the register, one has to log out the “in” and “out” time. As a client executive, you cannot brief creative unless the T-plan was approved by the reporting head; the creative team must visit retail outlets with a camera in tow once a month. Contract was so full of rules but that showed a kind of professional excellence I have not seen hence in other places.
John would come in his Gypsy (that vehicle suited his huge figure to a T) at 8’0clock to the office and be the last to go at 7 or 8 in the evening. John used me for those consumer surveys and I can claim to have walked every bye lane of commercial Bangalore. He would command,” Sathya, draft a questionnaire for a perceptual study of HMT watches”. I would report back within half-an-hour and even with brief glance at the printout, he would squeeze it to a ball and throw it into a bin. “Try again and this time more slowly,” I would retreat much chastened. I would consult other colleagues, dust off books from college days, call up friends and come up with a better effort. Then John would scrutinize,” For this objective, why this question?” You were left in doubt that you were in the midst of a master. John even explained,” I am not a singer, dancer, athlete, painter, broker anything in life. I am an advertising person and let me be the best in the city”.
This passion for excellence had rubbed to every member of the team; Saurabh was the best account executive in town, Sudhir the best account planner, Ganesh Shenoy the best media planner, Swami was making waves in direct marketing, Amit Kumar the production guy, and Nishad a good hand at copy. In my 25 years of work experience, never has a team with such skills and expertise gather in one place. You could see sparks of brilliance in the air. We could have sent a man to a moon with such attitudes and discipline.
Most of the senior executives lectured at IIMs or other management colleges as visiting faculties and it was the only time I saw “advertising” to be intellectually stimulating. I just worked there for 3 months but those were the most memorable part of my work-life.
As for me I was a wild rough diamond that John and his team polished me for life. The three months stint in Contract, Bangalore got me so drilled in the “Thompson way and the T-plan” that you wake me up in midnight and I’ll hold a seminar on Single-minded proposition, target audience, brand image and brand positioning and all that crap.
Post Script (2017): John did correspond to my blogs and I even mailed across my “Darling India”. I follow him on Facebook and he still has that magnetic presence about him. On the career front, he ventured into new territories like startups. As a marketing man, there was simply no one quite like him. He steels himself to a goal and spares no effort in accomplishing them and what’s more he usually succeeds.
Verdict: SattvicLessons to be learnt: One in a million professional; make for good friends and learning
Bimal Nair: I have never encountered a man with a better gift of the gab. It was 2003 when I first chanced across him in an interview situation. Bimal was the Vice-President, Contract Advertising and I was the perennial job seeker. The interview went over 2 hours and at the end of it he was addressing me with a “Bahenchod” which meant that I was his yari dost and in his circle now. He made a job offer which I greedily accepted.
Bimal was short at 5’6” but a white complexion made his features stand out; a long face, flat nose, eyes pressed together, eyebrows that ran across the temple and getting weaker at the centre. His fat face and quick mouth made him look like a gang leader.
When Bimal spoke it was like a mellifluous song. He really had the gift of narration; you can pay to listen to his tales of his NCC training or going to Canada on a government grant or his disappointment of not making it to the Air Force due to short stature. He has got that raconteur’s skill to tell a story with passion and histrionics. Later I found that he had a stock of half-a-dozen stories in which he would dish it out to anyone in the circle and each time the rendition would be just as fresh. Maybe, he used them as icebreakers.
At work, he was the monarch of all that he surveyed. There are few people in India who can match his expertise in “Direct Marketing”. Despite being a Vice-President and heading a branch, he had the friendliest of contour; he would constantly use “Bachenchod” – more a sign of being friendly than use it as an abuse. To be fair even when others returned the compliment, he did not push rank.
There was always something of an explosive about to burst with him around. He was agitated more than his share for such a top executive. He came to Madras for his first independent charge and messed it up big time; he sacked over a dozen people inside of two months and after the bloodbath there was no peace of security for the rest. Like, he hired me for an “Account Planner” position and less than a month served me the pink slip. It was this whimsical behaviour that scared the wits out of others.
Bimal had a kind of mouth that will serve him and others even in a hijack situation. He had the brain of a suave jackal – you can assign him to negotiate with terrorist in a hijack situation. But on the surface, he plays the clown: you will see him an excited teenager kicking imaginary footballs in the office corridors or pumping his fists on winning a new account. But be wary, one never knows when he decides to press the trigger for those bombs under the hood (the Airforce blues might still be bugging him) to explode.
I recollect a meeting when we were on the back-foot with a client and Bimal spoke over 2 hours non-stop and he got what he wanted after that marathon effort. Bimal is a kind of fellow who will lunch at the Oberoi’s and put his arm around the valet. He had an adventurous streak about him and coochie-cooed most of time with his wife in the privacy of his large executive room. He worked long hours and had an instinct to mentor someone; except he never found the right bloke.
He is one of those visiting faculties at IIMs on advertising and direct marketing and you can be sure that he would be the most popular of the faculty or be on email basis with the new crowd. He can dazzle someone out of their wits in the initial days!!! His computer screen would have his family album; his wife and daughter images flying across the screen or his various medals and prizes he had won including one at Cannes.
To my mind, Bimal will always be the quintessential Mallu; he was way too smart that it scared the wits of those around. More than a consummate survivor, he was a cunning jackal. It's this Bimal Nair to whom the two monkeys approached to sit in judgment on the share of the catch.
Lessons to be learnt: Such people are socially very popular and play to game smart. Which means rein in your mouth.
K Srinivasan: He got married to Viji 25 years ago in 1983 and even today I don’t claim to know where I stand with him or figured his personality. Sometimes he is too morose for speech and at times so loquacious that it does not add up. I guess such randomness runs in his family; all the 3 sons kept away from the father not out of fear or respect but a defect in the gene. The brothers themselves are not known to talk amongst themselves nor with the 2 sisters. But they ceremoniously get together for weddings, festivals, and even minor functions. Again something I can’t put a finger to except that side of the family is ritualistic to a sickening degree.
Srinivasan was a clerk in United Bank of India, a nationalized bank headquartered in Calcutta at the time of marriage in 1983. Almost predictably, Viji delivered a child inside the first year of marriage. Srinivasan is short at 5’6”, a small face with hair turned upwards for a bit of rock look, a long nose, fair “Brahmin” complexion, and conspicuous black rimmed spectacles. The jaws almost make a triangle for a distinct mould. Srinivasan can be full of gaiety and dry humour or switch to the morose look and crib about life in general.
He is another of those unfortunate men who signed off his freedom to his obese wife. He goes to the bank and works a full day quota, gets the pay packet, and surrenders it to his wife. He is no patience for planning expenses and what does the stupid wife do? Impute a miser reputation to him!i Maybe it’s got something to do with him switching off the room AC on waking up or changing TV channels when watching in a group.
He is quite adaptable for a simple, Brahmin boy who grew up in Madras. He endeared himself on a long stint at Kendrapara in Orissa that lasted 6 years before metro postings in Bangalore, Mumbai and now in hometown Chennai. Srinivasan is in his early 50s and yet he looks a schoolboy. He is as spry as a squirrel and can’t remain still; on Sundays he would clean the house or arrange old cupboards or nothing else dissemble the motorcycle and then learn to put it back. At Mumbai, he made it a habit of visiting Prabhadevi temple taking a bus from Santa Cruz almost every Sunday. That way, he is very religious and god-fearing.
There is a lot of feminine streak in him once he begins to complain. He is man of regular habits, and out of his comfort zone hopelessly lost. Even a small ripple can rattle him; at Mumbai one of his colleagues cheated the bank of over 25 lacs and there were thorough investigations. Srinivasan though his hands were squeaky clean lost sleep and peace so much so that this had become his obsession. He would ask in the manner of a child,” How can anyone not trust a colleague?” He was lost without his wife and only when she took up residence in Mumbai a year later after settling the children’s education that he breathed a sigh of relief. He believes her implicitly,” Had she been around, she would have spelt a rat from far”. He was proud of Viji’s sharp brain and her selfish self-possessive streak.
Srinivasan can be very witty at times. The way he analyzed Mumbai as a city or how the girls there dressed or how snotty women in ponytails running to climb a moving train can be hilarious. He is die-hard tamilian; he will only see those Crazy Mohan serials or anything dished in Sun TV. He is sleeps on the sofa and early to rise. He is the one to go out to procure the milk sachets or buy the day’s vegetables or the newspapers. The rest of the chores – children’s education, investing, major purchases are leased to his fat wife. Both the sons adore their mother more than the father since she relates better. This is one typical Tamil Brahmin family in which the lady dominates a very decent but docile man.
Post Script (2017): For a long time he used to say: Sathi, when are you going to win the Pulitzer award? He had a high regard for me before I lost it in the 2015-16 depression years. Now retired he still goes to a 9 to 5 job working for an auditor at one-fifth his bank salary. He is an active man; can’t sit idle for gossip or television soaps. Both my brother-in-laws are weak men; they don’t spare a word on my suffering. Of course they have seen depression from close quarters; Srinivasan dad suffered for a decade but yet those lessons have not been learnt. Both Srinivsan and Basker turn a blind eye to anything discomfiting; the pains of others don’t stick to them.
Lessons to be learnt: A regular Johnny and no real passions or hobbies. Unlike Ramani, Srinivasan would not even make a good neighbour or colleague.
Ramani,: My dad’s 3rd brother and my most favourite chittappa. His first job was in Bangalore in the last sixties and ever since, he has made the city his own while the other brothers were in one way or the other are tied to Madras.
Ramani is short at 5’5” – Gavaskar height- a long and puffed up face, fair “Brahmin” complexion, bushel of a mustache but neatly trimmed, dark eyes, and he was always groomed. He would shop at Ulsoor market in the mornings for the day’s vegetables in his white vesti and a full-sleeve shirt nicely rolled up to the elbows in the mid-70s. There is always a sartorial elegance about the man.
He was writing accounts in a petrol bunk; so low was his start in B’lore and he has worked his way inch by inch. First he commuted on a bicycle to work, 5 years later came the luna, then another decent interval for a Bajaj scooter in my growing years from 1975 to 1983 before finally accomplishing the car.
Ramani is a sunshine personality, talk elaborately to make his point and test the listener’s patience. But the smile and affability more than compensated. He was the brightest spark of my growing years. I would be taken to Bangalore for the annual two months vacations and he was always gracious enough to take us – his eldest brother’s offsprings- either to a hotel or a movie. It was during the one such vacation he got married to Sundari in 1975 and his affections transferred now to this wife.
Looking back, he had a room for himself that hung a huge portrait of Ganesha on wall and he was finicky laying out the cotton beds in tender care for the night especially after his wedding. We would love to lie down there but he would have none of it; he was newly married.
Ramani worked for Aviation Travels and he was making a pile handling accounts of Singapore Airlines and Lufthansa. He has purchased a lot of plots in Bangalore and his wife had a suspicious streak about her; they never shared any such news with other members of the family for fear of envy and “evil eye”. They did not have any issue till the 7th year of marriage and by which time both the couple had exhausted the gods and astrologers.
I loved him heart and soul as only a little boy of seven would. My father had no time or energy for me while Ramani looked a debonair and savvy uncle. His wife also went to work and she would give me written assignments from my school textbooks and be thrilled on finding that I had indeed completed all of them. She looked a doll and maybe, I was half in love with her too.
First my grandmother died followed by grandfather a year later. 5 years on and my father passed over. A relation in which my father spoke to him almost on a weekly basis even in those days of stiff STD rates, it surprised me that he made no effort to maintain relations with the family. I was appalled to see him placid when informed that dad had cancer and had only a few months to survive. Slowly we drifted to such an extent that I stopped bothering to call or visit them even on chance Bangalore visits.
He is too busy with his two kids and he is another of those typical North Arcot men who can’t see beyond his family.
Post Script (2017): Everyone going to Bangalore just stopped halting at his residence even if they had to engage a hotel for an overnight stay. The couple had earned a bad reputation for hospitality. He met with an accident in 1993 when he fell off a scooter trying to avoid a stray dog-maybe the mind got affected and his speeches longer!
He has grown richer over the years, both his son and daughter married and in the USA. Chittappa and Chitti visited me last month at Besant Nagar and at once my heart was filled with warmth. He observed tragically: Earlier Bangalore was the corporate office and now it is not even a branch office.
Lessons to be learnt: A regular Johnny and no real passions or hobbies. Ramani can be a reliable neighbour and a colleague.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Badrinarayanan: I was hopelessly jobless and nothing in sight in the post Bahrain years of 2004. Even the wine business on Sriperumbudur, despite astrological predictions, came a cropper.
My neighbor, Murali at M90/6, took pity and circulated my resume to his company owner. That’s how I met Badri in an interview. His office was on Old Mahabalipuram near Halda. The roads were mud ones and hopelessly bumpy, a stagnating pool of water where buffaloes strayed, and Sinex factory was a one-storied bungalow and built to save costs. The walls were like starch paper and there was a fragileness about them; you felt a heavy shower could flatten the whole edifice down.
At the factory, a new world opened to me. People hammering rods or electric sparks flying out as they made “indoor creative display systems”. These are devices kept typically in a consumer good dealer to bombard brand messages to the customer; from a simple banner stand, a backdrop with life-images, or those flow images or even kiosk stands. Sinex was in the forehead in this business and this Perungudi was a SME unit.
There was always a lot of elegance about Badri. He is a handsome man, prominent mustache, long nose and a wheat complexion. His crop of hair was still healthy and full for a 50 year old man. He is a first-time entrepreneur and an awesome reputation in the trade. Badri was one of those super cool persons who don’t react to violent stimulus; instead seek solutions more prosaic but tranquil. I goofed up once big time; I was on work for a fortnight and my compensation was not fixed. Our work in preparation for Pop Asia 2005 put us very much together and we became chummy. I politely reminded him the issue a couple of times but no answer was forthcoming. Once he said,” Rs.17,500” as the figure, I gave him half-an-hour lecture on “aspiration salary”, “competence salary” etc. Any other man would have fired me on the spot and Badri almost did but destiny was on my side. My cell was switched off otherwise my trip to Mumbai the next day would have been cancelled.
After this incident, I moved to the Marketing office in Nandanam and having to report to SDP. Badri never quite forgave that “lecture” incident and maintained a safe distance in his interactions with me. Badri would come in a chauffeured Qualis and engage in long discussions with SDP on the progress. At work, Badri held all the answers; he decided the pricing, he knew the material costs and labour and there was not one among the 120 odd employees with that kind of expertise. He frequented China a lot and signed up some truly innovative products; the digital scroller for one. Badri never got into ticklish situations or out-shouted someone or played dirty in his interactions. He was the boss, the supreme owner and he comported himself like royalty; a nod and a smile from far before reaching his car. The word is “savoir faire” from French and “sangfroid” from German; one meaning “act appropriately” and another “calmness or composure under trying situation” that defines Badri in two words.
Badri stays in Besantnagar and I get a see quite a lot of him in the morning walks at Eliot’s. He would be walking in a frenetic pace with 4 other friends in tow. Badri was once afflicted with an exhaustive syndrome that inflicted one with tiredness right from waking up. A state where no amount of sleeping or lying in bed sufficed! He found a lot of relief from “Art of Living” breathing schedules and now a daily practitioner.
Badri is a rich man. He is a passionate member of Rotary club, the famed “3230” district. They are in the forefront of organizing Chennai runs or bring musicians from Pakistan or take up rural villages projects. Badri does not smoke but enjoys his drink. He is a regular family man devoted to his wife and two sons.
I worked for him for over a year and a half in 2005-06, and he always spelt class to me.
Post Script (2017): Occasionally I go for Swamiji’s weekend lectures at Vidyamandir and my eyes spots Badri in the audience. We share a smile and at the end of the class, he’s one of the volunteers to roll the straw mattresses. That grace, slow and deliberate movement and speech and little wonder, he is a flourishing businessman. He is the kind of person I would like to be in my next birth if the Lord were to assign me for drawing my own chart.
Lesson to be learnt: That patience and calm exterior is exemplary. Badri is one of the finest example of how a “calm” mind is superior to an “impressionable” one.
Lucas D’Silva: He was the most flamboyant of our school years. He was in his mid- 30s with a walrus mustache, square-faced, and a short man. He taught Hindi to a convent school crowd that had a phobia for any language other than English and god, he was superb!! Even South Indian Tamilians like me owe our better accents to him.
It is strange as to how a pious Catholic would take up Hindi. That language was a bugbear for this English speaking man and he determined himself to teach that very subject. He reasoned: it is the language of the land and his Jesuit upbringing might have always aspired for teaching.
Since we were weak in the language, Lucas used to write tons and tons of sentences filling up blackboards after another in his neat handwriting and exhausting chalk pieces and creating clouds of white smoke as he rubbed the board to make space for further hard labour. These typical questions at the back of the lesson and we were daft on pen these on our own. Not for Lucas was this easy route of bracketing sentences from the text and present it as an answer. He demanded more creativity there. I distinctively remember sitting on the floor (those days A section boys would go to B section for the Hindi class and a few of us would squat on the floor as all the desks would be occupied) and racing to keep up with him as he wrote on the board. We learnt of all the intricacies with masterful annotates of Tulsidas, Rahim, Kabirdas, and Surdas. Then Hindi grammar – the sandhis, and samas, then explored the stories of Premchand and other literary giants of Hindi.
He was truly a prim donna; nobody ever crossed him without getting hurt as the cane used to furiously come down. Always impeccably dressed in full hand sleeves and preferring those boots that came halfway up to the knees and he was not averse to boot errant boys. Despite the violence, he would put his hands around the shoulders and become unusual friendly after the class. He was undoubtedly the hero of our growing years. He was a kind of a man you saw in movies much like Clint Easthood in his westerns; rugged, placid exterior, spoke little, and guns boomed more (in this case “canes” and “boots”).
For the Annual function, he would pen a drama alongwith Raghupathy, who was the Telugu teacher. Raghupathy used to sing the Patrick’s Anthem and “Maa Telugu thali ki” on Monday Assembly. Raghupathy was also a much loved teacher; he tragically died in a road accident in the 90s and after that Lucas stopped writing plays altogether in memory of his friend and colleague.
A devout Christian, Lucas went to Sabarimala undergoing all the rituals prior to the trip. Not for him are the narrow self-imposed constraints of religion but a big heart to learn and explore. At school none of our Jesuit teachers ever poked fun on Hinduism rather they quoted Bhagwat Gita liberally and always in reverence.
He was very active writing plays for the annual functions. He was married to an Anglo-Indian who was teaching in the primary classes in the same school. His son is married and settled in Britain while the daughter on a software assignment. I met him after 20 years and age had not withered the lion in any manner. He still joked heartily, smoked incessantly, and showed his family album. He is now the senior-most teacher on roll as he said,” I joined here when I was 32 and now close to retirement. I am the only one allowed to use a cane at school”. When queried whether he had any goals, he quietly said,” I always wanted a basketball court for my kids and a tennis court. Those dreams have come true and now all I want is a swimming pool.” This is a kind of commitment in these Jesuits.
We were too young to appreciate the class and stature of Lucas and Fr. Kadavel. It is only when we grew up and got our tails burned in this rough world that we realized the worth of these individuals. Hats off, Lucas…may you and your family be always happy.
Lesson to be learnt: An extraordinaire teacher who commanded tremendous respect and left indelible imprints on young minds. It is possible to be idealistic even in this crazy world.
Rajamani Chittappa: He is father’s 4th brother and the most problematic. Rajamani cannot open his mouth without a “lie”: he would lie on just about everything like a curse (or was it thrill)? If he calls to inform that he is visiting you in the next 30 minutes, you can safely lock the house on the fib! He wouldn’t come till the next week or even next month or year. Anything he says you can safely write on water with a 100% certainty.
Rajamani now in his early 60s has a bald plate (he calls its acres of fallow land) has an egg face. Though short at 5’4”, his face was rather huge; bright dark eyes, long nose, and a loud booming mouth. What really sagged Rajamani down is his stubborn refusal to learn from mistakes?
He started his career in the freight business and lorries are in his bloodline to an obsession. He would work for 6 months and with whatever little savings “buy” a decrepit lorry and spend on it to a running condition. You can be sure that within the next 6 months either the lorry would meet an accident or the driver abscond with money or the cleaner caught by the cops for a huge damage. He must have purchased a lorry every year for the last 25 years and has never shown a profit to even sustain.
Rajamani would frequently run out of money and had no qualms borrowing money from relations or friends or colleagues or just about anyone on the road. He was a glib talker and his powers of persuasion would get him off the noose. He never bothered to return money and it took a loaner 3 or 4 incidents to become chagrined and cut further losses.
Rajamani lived on the edge; always optimistic despite the near penurious condition of the family. His wife did not interfere in his errant ways once she realized that none can impact him even a degree. Rajamani has seen many hungry days; depending on temple’s prasads to feed the family; or visit his in-laws during meal times. But such desperate situations don’t last and within 6 months he would be running a new lorry and once again be chirpy and a new optimism. But I do recollect one horrible summer when he was on the edge and had even procured poison for the entire family.
I always felt that of Paati’s 6 sons, he was the smartest. He had that adventurous streak that is alien to Brahmin community. He had a gift for languages – Hindi, English, Tamil, Telugu – and blessed with a skill to impress. When he smeared his forehead with vibhuti in thick 3 horizontal lines and a vermillion at the centre, he looked radiant. In his funny moments, he is a good mimic, brilliant in singing Bhajan songs, or frantic in pujas for divine aid in moments of adversity. Despite his fluctuating fortunes, relations welcomed him with open arms. He knew how to connect to people at a base level though we all saw him as a family “Narada”.
I would often joke about his “lying” mouth and he would recoil in hurt pride. But he was not the kind to carry bad blood to the next day. If Rajamani were to ever pen his life, it will make for great reading. No life has seen such despair or humiliation; children pulled out of school and relatives shutting doors on sight fearful of another loan request.
Now his son is married and makes an agreeable living in a call Centre in Mumbai. Both the sons revere him despite his constant gambles. He is mellowed a lot after the sons have started going to work and his lorry dreams are finally buried. Instead he thinks that there is a market for catering “dabba meals”! The dark days are at last over and that has given him a new swagger and a more pompous mouth.
Post Script (2017): He died in August, 2010. He was the guarantor to my State Bank of Mysore loan when I ventured into wine business in 2004. Each time I remember Rajamani Chittapa, the mind goes to this image in 1989 – he dropped me off at Central Station as I took a train to Hyderabad after performing my father’s obsequies. As the Chennai-Hyderabad glided off the platform, tears trickle down in both our faces as we waved hands. That was one moment of bondage and a true human connection. He had a tender heart, he cared for others; nothing else matters.
Lesson to be learnt: Be friendly from far but don’t ever get intimate.