Rainy day read
Special Thanks to Smt. Namagiri Sunderam for preserving critical archives with critical inputs.
She values my classmates more than I do !
VIJAI a k a SOTTAI – THE MAN AND HIS MUSINGS
Vijai’s commandments for attending job interviews which he personally passed on to me from Mount (sic) Prabhadevi overlooking the Bandra sea face.
“First, get yourself a lot of smashing clothes.”
“Second, rid yourself of your ‘daadi’ ” (typical Vijai , No diplomacy here – cuts straight to the bone)
“Third, change your spectacles to something interesting” (ditto)
“Fourth, Make sure you know the latest topics”
“Fifth, Squeeze and ooze with confidence”
(now the punchline) “Sixth, Screw the interviewer through and through !” (????)
His post script was interesting – “I may run away with Madhuri “Toothy” Dixit or join Thackeray’s tigers.
After touring the length and breadth of India , courtesy Union Carbide’s management trainee program, he’d put on quite a bit of flesh on his previously bony frame (Sehwag’s admonition rang in my ear “Doodh Shoodh piya karo”) and he’d acquired a thick North Indian accent which usually happens in such times interspersed with multiple “matlabs” between each sentence.
I harked back to school days but my RAM didn’t contain any data of my first meeting with this scrawny youth. Like a twig, he looked as if he would break any minute. His eyes reminded me of the pistachio nuts which were hard to peel since the shell covered the inner fruit almost entirely – 2 slits as it were. He had more than his fair share of hair which made his nickname (Sottai) even more puzzling. His person looked too blanched which some mamis would describe as (“Checkachchavaynnu irukkaandi !!”) and devoid of even a single red blood corpuscle – the ghost who walks.
He seemed to have fitted in seamlessly into the jigsaw puzzle of my teen years and still keeps me wondering how the connect happened since we didn’t seem to have any common interests.
Somehow the class with its fair share of immigrants from outside VM arranged itself. Vasu was on my left and Vijai brought up the right angle of the triangle by sitting on the bench in front of the one where Vasu and I sat but he was perennially turning back since he always had something to yak about to Vasu and me.
To this day I still don’t know who sat on my right since Vijai commanded my attention.
As opposed to a touch-me-not he was a light-me-not, someone who hated the spotlight being on him except when he was celebrating the achievements of his mates – whether it was a concert, a movie release or a running event. He didn’t run from the limelight, he deftly stepped aside and never allowed it to fall on him in the first place.
There was an air about him that life held no surprises and nothing was worth going gaga over – including lady gaga. In his book obsession was anathema. I started to wonder if he was passionate about ANYTHING.
Reminded me of Lance Klusener’s reaction to losing to Australia in the World Cup. “The sky didn’t fall , did it ?”
But he never ceased to surprise.
Just when I thought if he ever moved a limb in athletic action, I was astonished to find him joining enthusiastically in the tennis ball football matches which used to take place during the lunch break.
In his attempt to tackle his quary, he kept kicking relentlessly at the guy’s feet long after the ball had been passed to someone else.
I confess that in our initial interactions, on more than one occasion I’d severely underestimated the range of his interests and knowledge.
I finally happened to see ‘The Guns of Navarone’ after its umpteenth run in Madras and was oohing and aahing about it the next day. I wondered if I was wasting my breath as on one occasion I was stumped when talking about Spielberg’s E.T, one of the members of the Vidya Mandir bus group comprising assorted classes from class 6 to class 12 in all seriousness asked if I was talking about a spear (Eettee). That episode left me suitably chastened.
Vijai was carelessly dismissive. “The book is far better by a wide margin”, he began. That stopped me in my tracks. This guy actually reads something other than the text book and Ananda Vikatan ! He continued, “There are these very interesting Greek characters in the book, Louki and Panais, especially Panais , who betrays the team. They’ve turned them into female characters in the movie. Chummaa masala for titillation da“.
I sensed a tremor – Carl Foreman and Gregory Peck were turning in their graves. I silently applauded since I hadn’t read ANY Alistair Maclean let alone this particular book.
This was my first year in a new school and for the large part of two terms, I was tongue tied and overwhelmed by my new surroundings. But thanks to my upscale Besantnagar snobbery, I was given to bursts of pomposity and Vijai pounced on those moments by taking me down lightning fast from my perch , similar to Vitalstatistix suddenly discovering the ground had disappeared from under his feet by his unreliable shield bearers.
I guess that was his way of protecting me from becoming the object of ridicule and possibly a less flattering nickname.
My atrocious tamil resulted in umpteen howlers which to my good fortune were uttered only within his hearing but on one occasion it was even too much for him and he went into convulsions of laughter.
He didn’t stop there – he started buttonholing anyone who went past with “Dei ivan yenna sonnaan theriyumaa ? ….” and then repeated my gaffe. Everyone walked past without even acknowledging his presence or rather they walked THROUGH him just like they walked through Patrick Swayze in that lovely film with Demi Moore and the pottery scene.
I thanked my lucky stars that my initial assessment was right – GHOSTS don’t have Red Blood Corpuscles.
He has a dry, understated, cleverly concealed sense of humour and his calm demeanour and jovial description of the goings on around him used to keep us in splits.
I regret that I’m unable to remember 99.99% of his wisecracks since it was like watching an SVe Sekar drama. You laughed so much because the jokes came fast and relentless but when you came out of the theatre you didn’t recall what is it you were laughing about.
He once referred to his tormentor TT Sanjay as “our, husky blasé Denham” after the
character in the lesson from the book ‘To Sir With Love’ by E.R Braithewaite.
On another occasion, after watching a torture scene the previous night from one of those British India films, I again said something pompous like “The movie shows what trials our forefathers went through”
His reaction was swift and merciless “
“Yeah, we had many fathers….FOUR fathers”
I remember Vijai regaling us with his kadee jokes. He used to deliver atleast a few during the course of the day and gradually it reached a point where it became an obsession – something very unlike him.
The piece de resistance was when the normally unflappable Vasu begged him for a “Kadee holiday”, but Vijai actually took out a piece of paper on which he had made notes of the kadees he planned to narrate that day, in a gesture of regal dismissal waved all our objections aside and declared “Naan innikki yennoada kadee quota solliyay theeruvayn”.
Thank God Whatsapp wasn’t around then !
More on TT the tormentor. “He beat me up in my early days in VM near the Jungle Gym in the primary section” he reminisced.
“Now I dread the day TT steps into our reunion and singles me out in the Concrete Jungle Gym !”
Commenting favourably on one of my better timings in a running event, he quipped “Great going da…… The only RUN I get around to doing is TEMPLE RUN !”
More recently, after the damage wrought by the rains in Tamilnadu, he referred to Chennai as the Water Scare – City (sic).
The years after school didn’t seem to have diminished his casual air of wonderment, acceptance and humour.
Neither the tough years when the finance company he worked in was going down the tubes or his getting a rank in the CA final despite never overwhelming anyone with his intellect in school.
We kept in touch sporadically but never met again after completing the CA course until the 25th year reunion of our batch in the year 2011.
True to form, he was one of the least boisterous during the proceedings when some of us were going ballistic including yours pompous truly.
After the lunch at Savera hotel we were to go – all classmates together – to the resort at MGM to spend a night of revelry and renewal.
But I skipped the resort part.
When he got wind of this, he came around with one of those rare looks of agitation.
‘You’re not coming to the resort ? !!” he asked in a sharp, shocked whisper. Those slit eyes bored into me for an instant . The look of being hurt at my betrayal was too intense. Then after a pause which seemed like an eternity, he suddenly swiveled around without a word and stomped off.
That was the last time I ever saw him……………
(To be Concluded)