Thatha looked up from his newspaper and grimaced. He then started, ATP, have you noticed how the quality of writing has deteriorated lately?
I groaned inwardly and pretended to be watching with rapt attention a boxing match between an Ukranian and someone from Dominican Republic. I don’t much care for any sport and most certainly not for one that is legitamised form of violence, but I wasn’t going to be drawn into an argument with Thatha.
Why do you think the quality has dropped, Thatha perused and shoved the newspaper down my nose. Read this, he commanded.
Resigned, I pulled the offensive page and began to read. Page twenty one, a column on the left hand bottom and it went thus:
Janaki, Age 82, Railways, West Mambalam attained the Lotus feet of Lord Rama. Deeply mourned by one and all.
Shanmugham (63), father of Chakravarthy passed away on Saturday 2nd August at Thiruvamiyur. Deeply mourned by wife, two sons and Latha, CPWD.
I said a little prayer for the two souls and asked Thatha what the problem was. People died and those left behind felt a compelling need to inform about this to the world. The obituary columns did a far better job of reminding us of our mortality than bombs going off somewhere.
Don’t you see, Thatha said in that shocked tone, the obituaries are ambiguous and incomplete?
The boxing match had got over and the DD Sports anchor, wearing too much of bling appeared and launched into some incomprehensible Hindi. So, I turned my attention back to Thatha and told him that I didn’t see any problem with the obituaries.
He then began to list his exceptions:
• What was Janaki’s connection with the Railways?
• Why is Janaki mourned in a generic sort of way? Why are there no names attached to the “one and all”?
• Janaki didn’t have an initial, name of husband, name of parents, name of village, name of children, nothing. How will one identify which Janaki had died?
• If Shanmugham had two sons, why was he only the father of Chakravarthy?
• And who is Latha, CPWD?
• And is CPWD mourning his death?
Paati, who was grating coconuts, was horrified with Thatha’s analysis and doubts. She went and did three sit-ups in front of Pilayar and asked for forgiveness on his behalf.
Thatha and Paati are staying with us these days, so every morning; Thatha spends fifteen minutes going through every obituary. The scary part is that, Appa is getting involved in this game too.
Yaaradu poyitaala, he asks?
A couple of days after this, Appa was reading out aloud some of the obituaries to Thatha. And between the deaths of a lady, who had left for her heavenly abode, a young man, who had untimely passed away, was also a small almost curt piece of information about a Mr S, mere sixty two years of age and survived by a wife and a daughter.
As it was being read aloud, the name stuck me as being familiar, but I let it pass. While I was getting my dilapidated Scooty to start, Iyengaar Maami came out and almost breathlessly announced, Hindu Paatiya?
I rolled my eyes and decided to put off the ignition as this was clearly going to take long.
What is the matter, I asked her?
S Sir Poyitaarey. Paavum, she added.
Then it stuck me, the familiar name was that of S Sir, my accountancy and mathematics tutor from Classes XI to XII and perhaps the man responsible for my passing the examinations.
Meanwhile, Iyengaar Maami continued in her excited fashion and also told me that she has Skyped and informed Prahlad (or Prack-Laad as my Paati says) about the sad news. Prahlad had reassured his mother that he would wash his hair before he went to bed.
Prahlad is Iyengaar Maami’s son, my class-mate from school and the boy whose batting average was better than the marks that he scored. Which is why, Amma and Iyengaar Maami formed a strange kinship over their stupid children. It was in their efforts to constantly add value to our academic lives that, S Sir was discovered. Amma wasn’t keen to have a home tutor for me; she felt that I will lose out on the competitiveness that a larger peer group can infuse. However, when Prahlad’s Unit Tests scores showed an upward trend, S Sir’s services were employed. Also, S Sir, working as an Accounts Officer in some government department, didn’t believe in charging any fees. Teaching is only my service to society, he had said most saintly.
When S Sir came home for the first time, we were surprised. He didn’t look like a teacher or a mathematician. He was short, roundish in shape and wore his trousers around his chest and had a wide smile plastered on his face.
Kanakku Vadiyaar aa, Paati shook her head in disbelief. Weren’t they supposed to look mean, thin and wear glasses?
The classes started and S Sir would heartily launch into the intricacies of a Balance Sheet and Suspense Account.
Unlike the teachers who taught me at school or the tuition classes, S Sir didn’t talk down to me. He acknowledged that, it was very likely that my P&L accounts wouldn’t really be accurate and that my balance sheets may not balance. His mission was to reduce the number of mistakes that I was likely to make. That approach helped and my accountancy marks, inched towards some amount of respectability.
S Sir was not merely an Accountancy and Mathematics whiz; he was clearly a man of many parts. He could do some josiyam, he had a secret to making better adhirasms and he could drink kaapi from a tumbler from a height of twenty centimeters above his mouth.
Since, he wasn’t accepting any fee from us; Amma decided that we should feed him everyday. Given that Amma had a repertoire of a mere four dishes, the food was outsourced. So some special murukkus were procured from Gomathi Shankar. While, I was dying to polish off a few murukkus, and wistfully stared at them while doing the Suspense Account, S Sir continued to ignore it. When he was leaving, Amma asked him, why he had not tried the murukku? He told Amma that it looked too oily.
The next day, Amma produced some more murukkus, this time from Suswaad, with their special technology of soaking out all the oil and ruining the taste beyond all imagination. Same story, as I ate the soggy remains of it after S Sir left.
Rhomba aacharam aa irukkum, paati said. So, it was decided that something ought to be made at home.
Freshly fried ribbon pakodams were served hot, after Amma dabbed away the excess oil with a tissue.
That was left too.
May be, he wont eat at our house, I suggested. But as always, when presented with an uncomfortable point of view, everyone dismissed and denied.
The next day, I asked S Sir, why don’t you eat the food we give? My Amma is heart-broken.
S Sir looked embarrassed and told me, I don’t like noisy food.
It seems, S sir was a bit of an Englishman. His father had lived in England for a while, and on returning to India, he had been horrified with the noisy eating patterns of Tamizh Brahmin men. Korka burka, karu muru and slurp, is this any way for civilized people to eat, he had asked of them? Not to mention the long burp that is left at the end of the meal to express the Brahmincal satisfaction with the food.
Over the next few days, observing Appa, Periappa, Thatha, etc, I had to agree with S Sir’s point of view.
How can anybody eat food without making noise, I asked him during my next lesson on Realisation Account. Don’t people in England eat potato wafers, I asked.
Of course not, the English have healthy food habits. My Appa had only porridge every single day that he was there, S Sir informed me.
Surely that must be like thayir saadam, and slurpy noises must be generated, I wondered.
No, you see, they close their mouths and eat. The air doesn’t escape and sound cannot be generated in vacuum, he informed.
Needless to say, I was grossed out by S Sir and thought of him as an anti-national person.
Thankfully, school got over and one veshti and half sleeves shirt later, I didn’t see him.
And now, he is dead.
His house is in Mambalam, Iyengaar Maami told me impatiently. I will come with you, she announced. I figured that doing a Mambalam detour with Maami riding pillion wasn’t a pleasant option. Worse was the coming home to take hair bath. I will go on Sunday, I told her.
Not having the option of a free ride made Maami also drop out.
Sunday almost went by and I forgot. That afternoon, when I met Amma on Skype and having exhausted every possible topic of conversation, I suddenly remembered about S Sir. I told her that he had passed away. We discussed his noiseless food eating patterns for a bit and then Amma asked how was his wife doing.
I told her that I had no clue.
As always, Amma got hyper and insisted that I make a visit to offer my condolences rightaway. After all, because of him you got eighty four in accounts, she said. Given that, the eighty four (which is useless of course) was the high point of my academic life and given that I was a girl who made the balance sheet first and then do a P&L statement, that was HUGE. And in my effort to save a few liters of fuel and an extra sachet of shampoo, I had avoided the visit.
I asked Iyengaar Maami if she wanted to come, she said that Prahlad had sent a long condolence letter and that would suffice. Relieved, I left for S Sir’s house. It was rainy and the weather was lovely in Madras. Even going through Doraiswamy Bridge and dodging the shoppers was pleasant. But, I was going for a condolence, I kept reminding myself.
When I reached the building where he lived, and climbed up the three flights of stairs (why does everyone I know stay on the third floor?), I saw an elaborate and fresh kolam outside. I also heard the TV on. The door opened finally and I stood facing S Sir.
His round face lit up with a big smile and he invited me in.
This cant be for real, I thought.
S Sir seemed genuinely happy to see me as we discussed all maters of national importance and otherwise. His wife offered me some mixture and sweet Maida chips. I refused and drank the synthetic orange juice instead.
S Sir asked me about T Anna and Prahlad. I reassured him that both were fine. I contemplated telling him about Prahlad’s letter, but decided against it. How do you tell a man that, I heard you were dead?
When I walked down, I peeped into the letter box of Flat No. C32, there were a few envelopes, but I couldn’t be sure if any of them had a foreign stamp. Meanwhile the watchman was looking at me suspiciously so I beat a hasty retreat.
I went straight to Paati and told her everything that had happened. Paati said that, it was actually a good omen. S Sir will live for very long, she said.
I repeated the tale to the men folk who were having dinner. It was dinner at Periamma’s house. Thatha jumped on me and said; didn’t I tell you that the quality of obituary writing is not the same any more? I nodded and watched with fascination, how in an almost synchronized fashion, Appa, Thatha, Periappa, Chitappa and S Anna artistically gathered the the mor saadam in their palms and noisily gulped it down.
If ever there is a Tamil Olympics, this ought to be an event.