Friday, April 24, 2009

P R Venkateswaran

Venkateswaran: Walking in the Theosophical Society early in the morning had many attendant benefits; apart from sylvan surrounding one also got a meet a varied crowd. Our own close-knit groups consisted of marine engineers, chartered accountants, businessmen, Air Vice Marshal, lawyer, doctors, engineers amongst others. We would assemble at a concrete cement bench overlooking the Adyar river and the sun raising behind our banks at the Bay of the Bengal to the roar of waves.
             Venkateswaran would join us and soon became a regular and well meshed into the group. He was in his mi-60s, very tall at over 6 ft, sturdy in the middle but otherwise very fit. He would sport a Bermuda shorts and a T-shirt and a small towel spread across both the shoulders as he walked in speed to a wrist watch. One of the knees would be in Craig bandage and the pony tail against a predominately black crop of hair was commented by many for it was a novelty.
He would take the towel and swish it vigorously on the concrete slab to blow out the leaves or dust before parking himself for a chat. As days passed we got to know him better. He started his career in the Indian Railways before doing a MBA in the 60s in Hawaii. From then on, it has only been an international career. He spent a decade in Africa and another decade in Europe, all his high echelons of corporate world. He is infact a British citizen and coming to Chennai was only for short time visits. He would dabble in stocks across the world and India gave him some cost savings.
            His IQ must be in the 160+ range and it shows. His command over 5 languages is extraordinary; he could read classical literature in Tamil, English, French, and Italian. He had a kind of brain that could seek the origin and then furnish his own explanation to an aural delight! Even the simple word like “jeans” or “corduroy” could be traced to its obscure origins in a French village. He knew his champagne or liquor like a connoisseur. He spoke in a soft, distinct, and measured tone and suffered no fools or any slights to his ego.
            Even at 65, he worked as a CEO representing an Italian firm here. He once invited me to his house and that was quite a spectacle. His luxuriant flat looked a page out of a filmstar’s penchant for elegance. There were original paintings and an unspeakable class all over the place. He spent his evenings on Carnatic music concerts (he could analyse the various ragas again showing the 160+ brain) or go for drinks at the Race Course Club or play golf at Cosmopolitan. If there was one huge emotional scar from the past was the untimely death of his 13 year old daughter while the elder one is married and settled in US. That really grounded him to a lingering grief.
            I always enjoyed walking with him and learning quite a bit. It is rare for an Indian to be CEOs or Chairmans of top 100 MNCs in Europe or America and I was getting a daily taste of it. Though he never got personal with anyone, he always made inquires about my jobs and health. He was all too aware of his strengths in the world and gave no quarter for others to ram in. He was such a top-notch working in Italy from Monday to Friday and residing in London in the weekends in his heydays.  He uses India as a base - either a US or UK citizen (I am not sure) - for investments in Indian bourses and cultural evenings in the form of Carnatic music, dance and dramas for which Chennai is uniquely blessed.
            He never forgot the purpose of his morning walks; the exercise was paramount and the gossip just a side dish. He was so organized and neat in everything he did: be it those concerts or those parties he invited us from time to time or his work. It really showed the measure of a classy international quality manager.

Verdict: Rajasic
Lesson to be learnt: He just minded his own business but the sheer weight of experience taught me so many things 

Sheela Bhat

Sheela Bhat; She was the prettiest teacher of my schooldays. A kannadiga, Sheela was fair and a classical Indian beauty. Then in her mid-30s, she stood at 5’ 4”, invariably saree clad, a dark jet of long hair, perfect black eyes that shone like coal, snout nose on a small face, symmetrical eyebrows nicely trimmed, and a small compact chin. She wore those dark-coloured blouses that open a large window on wheatish skin at the back; the adolescent boys ogled with relish.
Sheela taught almost every subject; English, Maths, Social Studies and even Science on occasions. Her voice was loud but sounded very feminine and cultured. Sheela without doubt was the fantasy of a boy’s school and her classes were most disciplined. Sheela would also boast of her son’s academic achievements; he won a scholarship in college which she proudly scribbled on the blackboard. He ranked 6 amongst lakhs of students in an exam and we saw so many zeroes scrawled on the board as she narrated it with gusto.   
Sheela had a very “family” outlook to students. She was quite personal and almost behaved as if a surrogate mother to us; very affectionate in her administrations and understanding to our excuses. She never came running at us with canes like the others. Despite her mediocre teaching abilities, she was by far the most popular and best loved. And best of all told us anecdotes of her car driving – women driving were a novelty then- on Hyderabad roads with excited hand gestures and hyper tone of voice.  
One of the students spotted her at the famed Sangeet cinema to watch a movie with her family. That would be school gossip by the end of the day,” God, I saw Sheela ma’am at the theatre and she was wearing jeans”. This is in the early 80s was almost scandalous.
I still recollect that we had assembled after the long summer break and the first day in our new 7th standard class, Sheela strolled in a new bob cut. Their long pleated hair was now cut to the shoulder and the entire class gasped in shock before we could sing the chorus,” Good morning, teacher”. For the next 10 minutes there was a dazed almost shocked silence at our most beautiful teacher’s latest haircut.  
I guess she knew that she was beautiful and turning the heads of little boys fast growing up. She would address as “children” when a wag said in our 10th standard,” We are now old enough to have your children!!!!”
But once you see her day in and day, we more or less reacted to her as a surrogate mother or aunty. She would organize dance rehearsals for the annual school day celebrations and she came across as very much dyed-in-the wool Indian than any firangi lifestyle. Maybe, we growing boys saw her as a Rekha or Zeenat and fueled our fantasy.
I saw her after 20 years and she had aged a lot as those spectacles covered most of her face. She was still very much in command at the school, now senior-most with over 25 years experience. I felt sad seeing this one time beauty being ravaged by time. Nothing gives more perspective to our own ageing selves than seeing those whom we grew up with after a long interval of time. Such occasions are a more a mirror of our own immortality than the daily one. 
I shall always remember her and store her in my memory as an extraordinary beautiful lady and a ton of natural grace. She was full of feminine affections and a chirpy character at the end of the day and what’s more came with no malice.

Verdict: Rajasic
Lesson to be learnt: Learn to get into their good books for society dotes on such characters. 

Krishnamoorthy Chittappa

S K Moorthy: In his late 60s, he is still robust having lost none of his verve. He still travels from one end of the city to the other on buses without the least exhaustion. He can be accused of many things by different people but none would contest that he is a colourful character.
He is still lean, the face is long and narrow, the eyes still retain that youthful sparkle, a long nose, fair Brahmin complexion, a graying mustache is the only concession to age. He sports a cap for some relief from the sun; he is too much an outdoor person and needs all the extra protection. He talks in a hustling manner racing to listener’s incomprehension while he would all guffaws at his own spiel. I have always found talking to him to be a “solo” effort; there is no understanding or connection being made at the other end. That can be very tiring and disappointing and leaving the speaker flummoxed about the vocal energy being emptied on sand. Another thing that used to annoy me was those “missed calls”. He always expected the others to talk to him and spare him the pennies.  
S K Moorthy has an individualistic streak right from the earliest memory. He insisted on being a bachelor and a devoted Sabarimalai visitor almost every year. He worked in Engine Valves as a factory man and that has hardened him to a lot of hard labour and a hopelessly repetitive mind. He has that SC/ST mind of slow comprehension and restricted to stereotypes. That he lives in some middle-class comforts can be wholly credited to his wife, Visalam. She saved the pennies, was instrumental in buying land in the outskirts of the city near the airport, and bringing their sole daughter to the shore of middle-class comforts.
He stayed with my parents for a good 5 years after marriage and those were the days when my mother tried every trick in the book to make him vacate. He was a freeloader in addition to his wife and a baby and that can pinch any other person. It was only to shake him off that my father took a transfer to Hyderabad.   
S K Moorty was estranged in the family and it was 20 years later that we caught up with him. The intervening years were good for him; his daughter was married to a high level executive, he had his own brick business that gave him ample money and a car (car is always a symbol of affluence by my family yardstick) and health-wise, still as sturdy as a buffalo. But he still retained that rustic and hurried mumbled speech.  
Two years back, he came to my house at Besantnagar and kept visiting so often that we became friends. I was hopelessly condemned to solitude and I welcome any human being with open arms. Though we suffered each other’s monologues, we found some amusement in each other’s company. I must thank him entirely for the Thiruvannamalai and Yercaud trips.   
S K Moorthy loved those blue film strips and he would demand to see them during each of this visits. I cherished this man’s visits but they strangely came to an abrupt end for no conceivable reason. It is a Bermuda mystery to me as to what caused this man to sail so apart and all of a sudden. 
Despite my unemployment, I bought him a new handset, gifted Rs.3,000 rupees for his Deepavalli celebrations. He never went without demanding an Rs.100 or Rs.200 but I was always there to oblige. For a man who would call 5 times a week to be silent for months is a mystery I cannot attempt.  

Post Script (2017): This is one anecdote difficult to forget. When his grandson Jaidev won the gold belt at the university on graduation, he said: I was moved to tears.  Inside three generations we have progressed dramatically – I am no better than a shepherd, Viji was the first graduate and now my grandson wins a gold medal and makes a speech before 3000 people. Both his grandchildren are in the United States!

Verdict: Rajas
Lesson to be learnt: Keep such characters in good humour that you cannot befriend them. But always allow them to set pace and context. 

Fr. Kadavel

Fr.Kadavel : Possibly I have never encountered a person so complete and finished as Fr. Kadavel. As a Jesuit, his life was devoted to teaching and his celibacy only added to the luster.
            Dressed in a white cassock, medium build, standing at 5’ 8”, Fr. Kadavel had a magnetic presence. His long face was puffed, a grey beard neatly trimmed for an utmost picture of respectability, his large-framed spectacles added to that austere look and gravitas. He walked in slow measured steps on the playground where the little ones ran chaotically in their “chor-police” games. He would halt his stride and flash a little smile as each kid wished a “Good morning, father”. When in mood, he would ask a question and was generous in doling out Éclair chocolates. Though stern looking he had that underling of humour and when it erupted, he laughed to a chuckle.
            There was not a streak of animated or gawky thing about Fr, Kadavel and when he spoke, it was Queen’s English at its best. His accent and pronunciation was so distinct and correct that others feared to talk in front of him. Such a degree of expertise can be unnerving on others. He was born a Malayali and there was not a trace of that accent in his conversations.
            Fr. Kadavel taught us for 3 years and those were the best years of my schooling. We had a subject called “Special English” and this was a soft option for students to avoid Telugu. If I am any good in my written English, I can only thank Fr. Kadavel for inspiration. For one whole year, we did “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by Harriet Beecher Stowe and we learnt much more than what the author intended. Even after more than 25 years of passage, I can still rewind my mind to those classes. Even those O. Henry stories (even today I recollect more than half a dozen stories). In a similar manner Leo Tolstoy, R K Narayan, Tagore, Maupassant, Somerset Maugham came alive like a street play before our eyes. Each word was analyzed, each line debated, every moral issue discussed and we learnt about life itself. How a random collection of short stories can be squeezed so much as unwrap so many lessons is something I go nostalgic even today. And when the Sindhi thing came off the rails my outrage was heavily influenced from Maupassant’s tale of “The Chair Mender” – the moral dimension was very clear.
            Fr. Kadavel would stride into class with a “Good afternoon, gentleman” as the class replied in unison to a chorus,” Good afternoon, father”. His eyes would glisten with a naughty glow,” Gentleman, I have brought your masterpieces” referring to the monthly tests papers. Then he would distribute each student and read out the mark and that was a ritual in itself. Abdul 5… Ayub 2… Amit23……Balaji……42 and Ravi or Karthik would invariably top at 65. Fr. Kadavel evaluated your answer sheets to even a quarter, like 5.25 on a 20 mark question. Such exactitude!
            Fr. Kadavel never wielded the cane for his stern look more than sufficed to bring the class to order. We were too young and unruly at times but his personality was so commanding that we intuitively listened. We were too young to appreciate him but there is no doubting as to the influence he wielded.
            I went to the school after more than 20 years and heard that Fr. Kadavel was in the final stages of cancer. I am not given to emotions but the news devastated me. My mind immediately went to the image of those kids exulting on winning his Éclair chocolate and his beatific smile. When he spoke in his clipped note, he was like a singer with not a false note as the words came out so impeccable that they possibly never sounded so perfect.
            Even now I think of Fr. Kadavel with affection – still preserve some of his sayings like this one on Healing of memories  - and making our schooldays count so much. They definitely don’t make such men anymore.

Verdict: Sattwic
Lesson to be learnt: Before such men, shut your gob, fold your hands, and listen with reverence as if in God’s presence.

Vijay Iyengar

Vijay: He has an boiled egg-shaped face, his grizzled hair sticking out like an eagle, fair complexion, sparking eyes, and one of those characters who generate a fantastic first impression so much so that you will write a blank cheque with your eyes closed. But as you see him on a daily basis you realize that he is no longer that hot.
Vijay talks like an advertising man; long on sermons and perfect accent to carry the message. He has his habit of stooping below and shrugging shoulders the American way. His mouth curls and the two lips don’t close down upon one another; the bottom lip juts out conspicuously.  
Vijay is the CEO of Mentor with long stint in consumer non-durables P&G and Mani’s buddy.  
 He comes across as a person with a keen intellect and fantastic presentation. He has a marketing man’s penchant for problem solving. He briefed me on a couple of jobs and I was impressed. I found his ideation on the Ezines refreshing and relevant. But try hard as I could, I never succeeded in relating to Vijay at a social level. He seemed determined to keep the likes of me away.   
In the initial days, I was in a mood to please for these were my employers. I was often rankled with his frequent use of the word “claim” and he used it as a missile. His first reaction to my brochure copy of “Multiple Learning Stimulus’ was that it was more a bombastic spiel of the company and a mere “claim” not substantiated. That was fantastic insight and I worked harder and digging my mind further.  
Then during the conference at Mahabalipuram, Vijay introduced me to the Devdutt Patnaik, the mythologist, as a “self-claimed writer”. I lost all preserve and lambasted him for such a clumsy introduction notwithstanding his CEO rank. He shrugged off the outburst in a sportive manner. Then we played the pingball game in which two teams battle each other with guns and pigment shaped ball for bullets; Vijay proved the winner in almost all the games he participated and showing extraordinary patience in wearing down the opposition.  
Vijay is an effective speaker in front of the podium and he is gifted with charisma that is hard to explain. He is front face of the organization and interviewing people is his chore. He is trusted for his judgment. He is an avid blogger, self-“claimed” foodie, and sees a political role for himself in the future.  
But I never found him endearing. He never wanted to involve me socially or even work-wise. Right from my day one, he was as distant as a fly on the wall. That in an office of 10 people that requires some maneuvering!! It does not speak highly of a manager to hire someone only to warm the bench. My sole occupation at Mentor was to eat my lunch on time or smoke at the portico in frustration.  
He takes people into the organization after extensive interviews but the recruits don’t stay long enough. He is smart, personable except to me, motivated, his excel charts are the best in Asia and even Bill Gates can’t reach those levels of sophistication (Vijay holds a PhD degree levels on Excel proficiency with chart in different colours and they flash an intimation to him on deadline!), an effective manager but something got fogged in the cold November rain.

Verdict: Rajasic
Lesson to be learnt: With such characters put on a BIG act if you wish to survive. Try all the tricks of Dale Carnegie and get on his right side. Or else you’ll you left alone writing another resignation letter. 

Saraswathi

Athai: Another of those characters who is 70 and yet to learn life’s lessons. My aunt from the paternal side, my athai has a large blooming face, sparkling eyes, fair complexion, snout nose and that gives her a gravitas in any gathering. She speaks softly and distinctly for a highly presentable impression. She is rotund and makes for a heavy figure and arthritis makes for laboured mobility.  
She got married to a Tahsildar who was worldly. He would sport different colour of angavastrams depending on which political party was in power. There were whispers of extracting his price for a signature and a philanderer – unconfirmed rumours and so let us avoid hasty judgments.
Athai is a character who goes to any extent to keep up pretenses. She puts a façade of respectability and conveniently shoves embarrassments beneath the carpet.  She is one of those characters forever persuasive and suave in social functions but there are rumours that she can be cruel and vicious. Athai never got along with her eldest daughter-in-law; again for a floating rumour that the DIL was prevented from attending her dad’s cremation.
There is a lot of floating rumours to Athai’s personality. The gossip in the family circle is one is never sure whether she is on the side of the angels or devils. Typical fate of one who crafts a social image, reduces life to a PR campaign! Again not unusual at all for women from North Arcot District; Viji, my sister, has all these Janus faced traits.
Her 4 children sided with the mother on all issues and dad largely a figurehead and sidelined. Athimber last years before his death in 2003 were full of suffering; regular dialysis, an amputation of the leg from gangrene, blood sugar reduced him to a pitiable sight. The children tended to him without grumbling about hospital bills and endless visits to the hospitals.  
Athai is blessed with a sweet mouth that you would easily mistake her to be a Vashistar in wisdom. She speaks soft and slow, measured words but the mind has little knowledge or wisdom. She is of the old block in terms of daily prayers and pujas. All the rituals would be faithfully adhered to.  
Athai was fond of me (rather gossip) and would call regularly especially when the house issue became so contentious in 2004 with my sisters. For her it was another of those TV soaps except that this one came live!!!   
Once I knew the purpose of these half-hour calls, I stopped elaborate commentary and instead assumed an abrupt tone as to terminate the call within 3 minutes. Soon she lost interest and gave up on me and the phone; much to my relief, if I may add.  
            Nature had blessed Athai with a face that earns instant respect and a mouth that is pure honey and yet there is little respect. It is this gossip lust and glib talking that makes others wary. You cannot go through life trying to please everyone; you end up pleasing none.
            She resides with her last son and looks after the grandchildren with such pomposity that it is family joke. Her grandchildren would address her as “Amma” and that is enough for her to take to the phone and spread her joy around. As one of uncles is wont to say,” She is 70 still hankers for love and affection”. The world around her has changed in the last 50 years and yet she lives by the 1960s page.
 (These are my 2009 notes):
Now for 2017 times: Athai is still around nearer 80. She stays in Mylapore with her eldest son. The worst tragedy was the untimely and sudden death of Prakash on 1st July, 2017. It still shocks me. He is the first person from this generation to expire.  These must be grieving times for Athai. My heart goes out to her; but our relations are not such that I can take a phone and converse. She finds a lot of solace conversing with Viji and so I keep a big distance.

Verdict: Rajas
Lesson to be learned: Just be formal and resist the temptation to get intimate and friendly.  

Narasimhan

V K Narasimhan: He is old but still retains the zest of a 20 year old. There is nothing subtle about him for he is the loudest in a group; his laughter the loudest and his jokes the earthiest. His 65+ years notwithstanding, he is the fittest too.
VKN towers over 6 ft; a balding plate that only leaves grey sideburns, an eagle like nose in length though it does not end in a peak, a long face, fair complexion, and the mouth curled in perpetual smile. He is a throaty character and his guffaws fill the entire room. He is a master salesman, long spiel with this ready rapport, all a “salesman” affliction. He stills cracks those teenagers’  kadi jokes and his punch lines still dramatic.
I first met in at the office; he was the GM then and I was the latest recruit. I was waiting in the reception when his booming voice wafted to where I was sitting after traveling quite a distance. He stuck me as one of those enthusiastic men ever willing to please; please the CEO and please the boss. He would bring in those orders with a stiff deadline; he would conspire with the factory in this smoothest note and ask them to work double shifts. There was something “theatrical” and “showmanship” about him. It looked as if he was playing to a hidden camera in his mind!
Next time, I had a longer view of VKN at a Mumbai conference. He is the livewire of the team and the first to adorn the office T-shirt or the first to sample the chocolates kept at the counter. Age had given him like statesman like gravity. He had worked for Cavinkare before and that had taken him to most parts of Far East Asia. VKN may not be elegant or correct in his form or even the knowledge of the product but he knows how to connect with customers and people around.  A quality for someone shy and reserved like me to be awestruck.    
We were put in a hotel in Chembur for Pop Asia, 2005. I still recollect VKN taking his morning walks just adjacent to our hotel at a nearby park with his monkey cap and a small handheld radio belting out old Hindi songs. VKN would be the harbinger of noise; either his motor mouth or the annoying radio.  
He was a devoted family man; cared his wife and was heartbroken when she died a couple of years later. His children had excellent education and worked in reputed MNCs in far corners of the globe. That gave him a lot of satisfaction and pride; besides an opportunity to talk about their feats to those around.  
The last time I saw him was at the office; he genuinely enquired about my welfare. He strongly felt that I was too independent by nature for a 9 to 5 office slavery and too lousy for a marketing profile. He opined that I would do much better in a writing capacity. “Sathya, the problem with you is there are too many films running simultaneously in your mind”. I can’t summon such perspicuity for myself!
He had just broken his bone in the shin and was recuperating in Kerala on Ayurvedic potions and massages. I walked him down the staircase more in honour of a man; he really had no malice for others and a well-wisher in his own garrulous ways. It did sadden me to see him hobbling around.
VKN made the worst possible first impression but then he was quite a man. My heart only feels good wishes for the man.  

Verdict: Rajas
Lesson to be learned: Learn to observe beyond the obvious and you just might see some character.

Desikamani

Desikamani looks a typical son-of-the-earth kinds; tall at over 6 feet, strong like the Ambassador car, an aquiline nose, animated movements (one feels like he has those skating shoes). There is nothing filmstar-ish about him though the hair at the top is beginning to grey from approaching 40, his dark face sports an impish grin. But once he begins to talk, then there is no stopping. He is in that sort a professor who will analyze elaborately all the pros and cons, weigh both sides and come to a decision. Mani talks infinitum even on how to brush the teeth or something so mundane that others in the vicinity would swoon. 
            Talking to excess is a drawback but the man has some sterling qualities too; he is wonderful family man, dotes on his two daughters and has a passion for work that I have rarely chanced across. No man would have invested so much time, passion, and energy on “learning process” as Mani. My nickname for him was “Gagne Iyengar”. He knows every goddamn theory on learning process on his fingertips.  
I never liked or thought much of him when I worked in Mentor. I still don’t understand as to why they hired me and allowed me to rot. I found it impossible to relate to two fat petticoats in the office and it is here that Mani failed me. He took their sides despite my higher competence and maturity. The days dragged on and when I quit there was no love lost on either side. Despite this, Mani does generate that friendly feeling so much so that I sought his assistance in a job search as months piled up and I was getting nowhere.
At the office he had the penchant of dragging subordinates to the conference and give presentations using colour markers against used printouts nicely gummed for usage on the blank backside. Mani’s English is first-rate but he talks like a bureaucrat on ND TV; select with words with care but dilute it so much for accuracy as to not mean much. Nothing ever comes out of his mouth that is short, crisp, and direct. One of those characters who would probably feel insecure when they are quiet.  
As a manager, he is completely non-interfering to the extent that others take him for a ride. Mentor is a very high paying company and yet they produce lousy work. Mani is an evangelist for “multiple stimuli” model and not a day would pass without a 30 minutes passionate lecture on the subject. He is not blessed with a managerial ability to build the right team or the energy to actualize the idea. That “professor” image holds; knows all the answers and not translate them to reality.  He is one of the rare people who can stomach criticisms for subordinates.   
There is that “earthy” simplicity about the man and that is reflected in his house. This leather sofa set has become rugged and worn away and yet the man has not changed it. Somehow it even defines that “Brahmin” nonchalance for material things in complete contrast to the “Punjabi”. At the house, he is the king as his two young daughters keep running to him. There is positive air of culture as the 8 year old elder daughter in a “pavadai” and his wife preparing coffee for the guests. It looked the innocence of the throwback Hyderabad days of my growing years.  
            But the brightest thing about Mani is he is compassionate and an ear for the underdog. He is rich but he has not forgotten his roots or days of struggle. He will not steal, cheat, or do anything underhand. His rich, throaty laughter makes for amiability despite the other imperfections.

Verdict: Sattvic (if you forget the two petticoats’ incident)
Lesson to be learned: Don’t talk so long and don’t explain until asked or required.

Venkatakrishnan Mama

Venkatakrishnan Mama: A trip to the neighbourhood “Ratnagiriswarar” temple soothes the nerves; there is a tranquil air to the place. It is largely due in large measure to a group of a dozen men chanting slokas in unison. All bare-chested with the angavastram tied on the waist over a 9 yard vesti, foreheads smeared with vibhuti in three horizontal lines, a touch of sandal paste underneath the vermillion dot combine to evoke piety and faith. They are all retired men – ex-bureaucrats, bankers, lawyers, accountants and retired at the top of their profession- and now spending their evening years in devotion and temple service.    
            The leader of the group is the 84 year old and most venerable Mr. Venkatakrishnan mama. Everyday they assemble at 7 in the morning at the temple and it is to their chanting the idols are washed for the first puja of the day. 
He is very fit for his age, stands tall at over 6 feet, lean and flat stomach, walks with a spring on his heels, and sports a 9 yard vesti and face beaming with a cheer. You can’t catch him wearing a shirt or his forehead without the vibhuti and vermillion. He retired from RBI eons ago and fills his time teaching others in the neighbourhood on chanting “Rudram” and “Chamakkam” as entry levels before proceeding to difficult texts like Mahanyasam. There are at least over 20 people who have mastered chanting; live an austere life of devotion and visit pilgrim centres. What a wonderful way to spend for last years!!!
The first time I came across the man, I was enchanted by his sonorous voice and the clear diction in chanting. I was regular to the temples those days; he once accosted me about enrolling to his chanting course. For the next 30 days, a small group of 10 people gathered between 7 and 8 in the evening and what an experience it proved. The group was an assorted mix and ages ranging from 10 to almost 70 and we repeated after him. Sitting cross-legged on the floor, poring through Sanskrit texts on Rudram as the master put us through the grind. He would chant one line, “Namasthe Astu Bhagawan Vishweshwaraya” and we would repeat after him. This way we prodded through Rudram and Chamakkam for a month and now experts ourselves.  
            There is something about tradition whose beauty resonate the heart. His family of 17 members includes married sons and even grandchildren. They have possessions of two flats on the second floor and the family is a model one in the neighbourhood.  Not a whiff of discord noise emanates from the homes. Even the sons and grandsons were trained to chanting sacred texts and it is due to this family that “Ratnagiriswarar” temple owes much of its piety. The ‘Pradosam” here attracts hordes even from far off places.
            Venkatakrishnan mama would exhort us;” Chanting Rudra is no use if you do not do Sandhyavandanam. The darkness of Kaliyuga is due to Brahmins abandoning their nitya karma”. That injunction was sufficient for me to return to the Sandhis. When a person leads such a religious life, people fall at his feet for blessings. One look at that family and you would understand what a blessing it is be born in a cultured and traditional family; one is a swim down the current while I had to struggle against an upward one all my life.   
At the end of the course, he presented me with an angevastram. I still treasure it as a trophy even after so many years. My mind reminisces those cool, breezy evenings under a groove of coconut trees trying to master chanting. Any time, he meets me on the streets or at the temple; he would smile benignly and enquire about my present lot. I would invariable bow down to touch his feet. There is magnetism about the man that my mind intuitively reveres. If only I wish my next birth is on similar lines……

Post Script: He used to read my Tattvaloka articles and take pride in me. I once overhead him saying to his friend: Sathya is one of those true genius always humble and modest about his writing skills. That remark in the middle of 2011 is still savoured.

Verdict: Sattvic
Lesson to be learned: Tradition and culture can never go out of fashion. 

Sinex Srini

Sinex Srinivasan: Srini is a boulder hurtling down. An unstoppable manic let loose on the society! Everything about him is excess energy. He has such a loud mouth that even a co-traveler would find their temper raise. In his mid-40s, a MBA from a good institute, he lectures in quite a few colleges, a Mumbai resident and you would think that such a city-bred would store some grace. But in reality, he is man of chaos and can manufacture a storm a second. It is rare that you would come across a more boorish person.
He is slightly obese and the face is stuffed with flesh for a round look; he is quite fat and healthy. The hair is still dark and long having lost none of its luster to age. He is bespectacled, a long nose for a North Arcot stamp, broad forehead, and a Dravidian complexion. He wears the trouser so low that one can glimpse the parting of the bum. Srini sports a French beard and resembles the cricketer Srikanth both facially and in his monkey tricks. They look so similar that you can safely send Srini’s photograph to the Sunday magazine and feature in a “lost at birth” column.  
He is a quick talker and blessed with enormous guile for self-preservation. After the first year of operation in Mumbai which only showed losses and losses, he still had the gumption to be the loudest party reveler.  
Srini is articulate and has excellent instincts but his combativeness nullifies everything. He will pick up fights even with a cab driver and may even bark at the stray dog for not showing enough deference. He will pick up fights with the clients and ensure that they don’t buy from him even in an emergency. He will treat his peons and sales boys so cavalierly that they abstain frequently and don’t even feel the need to inform him on farewell. He uses them shamelessly even on his personal errands.   
Srini is an expert when it comes to generating bills for claiming on company accounts. He can hold tutorial classes for the rest of us as to the kind of bills company accountants will clear without a sweat.  
In a zoo of men, this one is hard to put a name to. Extremely selfish propagandist like a crow that never stops its squeals or is he a rat forever busy in hoarding his next meal. His language skills in English, Hindi, Tamil and Marathi are wonderful but a monkey software mind grinds them all to dust.
Srini can generate such cussedness in people that they shrink from his presence or quietly go the other way even if it means to cross the road. He will go in to a restaurant and start to bark orders at the bearers and spoil the entire environment with a devil’s glee. I have sneaky suspicion that the first thing he would on rising would be to resolve that he would pick up at least 10 quarrels with strangers in the day.  
I genuinely pity his wife and his son who appear normal. In this company there is an eerie feeling that something about to happen that will either land me in a hospital or a mortuary and an impending disaster round the corner.

Verdict: TAMAS
Lesson to be learnt: Run away for he only means trouble and disaster.