Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Sharma does Holland

On a fine morning in 1911, it can be asserted, Srinivasa Sarma (as he was then known) stepped into the world and decided this was no place to be tall. So he adamantly refused to grow beyond a modest five feet and strode the dust-paved streets of Thandarai, TN, within this small frame of his. Srinivasa Sarma's mother died young (by today's standards) and his father was left a widower. His father, Vedachalaiah, was no small man, though. A man of notorious determination, Vedachalaiah went on to break up an intended marriage and take the bride for himself after settling certain matters with the bride's father. As a result, Srinivasa Sarma was caught in an embarrassing situation where his stepmother was younger than himself. Both stepmother and stepson were cognizant of this delicate state of affairs and did not speak to each other unless absolutely necessary, for many years. Other casualties resulting from this strange predicament were the birth of Srinivasa Sarma's stepbrothers and stepsisters and the yawning chasm of an age difference between them and him.

TSS, as he was to be known, soldiered on in Thandarai. Madras was 120 km away and it was there that he made his fortune. Such fortune as a modest education and means would allow. The lands back in Thandarai did provide him some financial succour, however, and it is surmised that he purchased his house on Tilak Street, Madras, with monies sourced therefrom. And what a house it was too! Huge rooms and palatial halls filled the house. A bathroom in that mansion was to prove to be bigger than many houses in future Chennai. Unfortunate women hired to serve as domestic help would often marvel at how big the house was and how fortunate TSS and family were to live there.

TSS married, and married again. He took after his father in this respect. His first wife, Raji, passed away before they had produced little Sarmas to dot the landscape, victim to some disease which was to prove laughably curable in the future. Undaunted, and no doubt learning from his father, TSS married again, this time a robust and kind lady named Girija. As though to make up for the opportunities lost by the untimely departure of Raji, TSS and Girija produced five children, two boys, three girls and no hermaphrodites. The children grew up reasonably happily and graduated respectably, securing jobs or spouses or both. It was then that tragedy struck.

TSS Sarma invested his provident fund and gratuity money in some (as it turned out, ill-advised) venture. This was because it was run by trusted friends and relatives and he had known them for some time now. However, as history has shown repeatedly, in matters of money and the heart, trust no one. TSS Sarma, who had by now somehow become Sharma, did not seem to have heeded history's lessons and was promptly defrauded of his retirement savings by his nears and dears. The family was forced to move out of the bungalow on Tilak Street (they had to sell the house to pay off loans and credit) and move into a flat on nearby Thanikachalam road. As they left Tilak Street, Srinivasa Sarma hugged all the pillars of the house and kissed its walls, bidding his beloved home, where his children had played and grown up, goodbye.

His eldest son married in 1981 and failed to produce an heir even when the marriage was as far gone as 1984. Therefore, TSS, troubled, advised his daughter-in-law to read the Sundara Kaanda from the Ramayana because "somebody told me that helps get you a male child". This random piece of advice was adhered to by said daughter-in-law more because she was charmed by his innocence than because she believed reading helped in furthering the human race. These matters aside, in 1985, TSS, locally known as Kullaiyer on account of his imposing frame, was informed by his eldest son, Raghu, that a boy had indeed been borne by his daughter-in-law, in Bangalore. Kullaiyer was thrilled; this was the third grandchild in the family, the first born to his daughter seven years ago and the second born to another daughter five years ago, and this one would carry on the family name. The Sharmas had survived yet another generation through him, he rejoiced. This was still February; Raghu informed him he would bring the boy home in a couple of weeks, after both mother and child had recuperated a bit. In March, Srinivasa Sarma, TSS, Kullaiyer died.

Srinivasa Sarma did not set eyes on his third grandchild; his third, and subsequent, grandchildren did not see him in the flesh either. Tales recollected by parents and relatives, photographs, books collected by him, scrawlings inside those books, these remain testament to his memory. A man of great fortitude, those who knew him say, with a remarkable sense of humour. Glasses as thick as Jayaprakash Narayan's. A man who was, incredibly enough, well known to the Kanchi Swamiji of the time (since that seer wielded no political influence like that of his successor, this acquaintance would prove of no material benefit to TSS). A man who spoke as much as his eldest son, Raghu, was quiet. If he was Vito and Raghu was Michael and Michael was the eldest son instead of Sonny and the family did nothing criminal and instead lost loads of money, this would be the Corleone family.

Kullaiyer would have been happy to know that his son did well for himself, in the coming years. He would have been thrilled to know that Raghu went on to achieve, from humble beginnings, high positions in his company by dint of sheer hard work and determination. Perhaps Raghu would have switched companies and risen higher, had Kullaiyer been alive; the man perhaps would have prodded him repeatedly and said he was worth more than what this company valued him. Srinivasa Sarma would also have been thrilled when his first grandchild went to the US for studies; although he would perhaps have been less thrilled at the news that that grandchild had applied for citizenship thereof. He would no doubt have been ecstatic at the weddings of his eldest grandchildren, and the birth of his great grandchild. He would also have been a hundred years old, this year.

This year, when his eldest son visits his son in Holland. Raghunandan Sharma, son of Thandarai's Srinivasa Sharma nee Sarma, will fly abroad for his first time. Srinivasa Sarma could have waited a bit to see all this. Allow me to address my grandfather, whom I have never seen but heard so much about, as the locals probably would have: Kullaiyere, innum irunthirukkalaamillai? Pottunu poyitteengaLe, enna avvaLo urgent? Paiyyan poyi paerana paakkaraan, neengaLum paatthirukkalaam. Sari, angirunthae paarungo.

[Kullaiyer, could have stuck around, couldn't you? Just upped and left, didn't you? What was your hurry? Son's going to see your grandson, you could've gone too. Fine, see it from wherever you are.]



Sandeep said...

Belated happy birthday kanayya.

Me TSSS ge namma kade inda posthumous centenary wishes.

Chanagittu post-u.

Namma tatandu inthadde eno kathe ide, abruptly ended by Hernia though.

Bharathi said...

hey nice post, yeah, as your friend says, our(!) posthumous wishes to Kulliayar..i only know pullaiyaar from you...
make sure TSR Sharma enjoys his stay

Sandeep said...


Debbie Dallas madtaare, neen Holland madtiyeno.

Harish said...

chennaagittu postu.

Arjun Sharma said...

[Sandeep] Belated thanks, ivne. Hoon, posthumous wishes-na next seance-alli tiLstini.

Paapa, aa kaaladalli hernia, TB, ivella bandu hogbiDoru jana. Also, everyone seemed to share similar stories w.r.t mane khali maaDovaga. "PaDaiyappa"-nalli Sivaji Ganesan jai anno scene idiyalla, adrallu heege aaDtane. Nam tatandara kathe plagiarise maaDidare. Naavu Chetan Bhagat thara galaate maaDi tiny credit iskoLaNa.

[Bharathi] Heh, Kullaiyer is now presumably with Pullaiyaar. Yes please, I will try my best to stay the hell out of his way as he imposes his vision on the way things are.

[Sandeep] References-na quick aagi one day later en catch maaDidira, maaDi.

[Harish] Post biDu, aakasha esht channagide noDu, Harish. Small thingsna neenu appreciate maaDalla. Ade A Raja maaDtane, adakke avnu ashTu small things-na accumulate maaDi doDDa manushya aagirodu.

pooja said...

Aww... eshshsht channagi bardidya. Had it not been for this post, I'd probably never know. Thank you, thank you very much for writing this. Internet upyogskondu naanu nann in-laws family history tiLkoLohaage aythu. Kaligala. Haayo!

Arjun Sharma said...

[Pooja] He he, noDamma, nin future family history-na permanent aagi sigo haage bardidini. Appreciate maaDu.

pooja said...

Hoon. Bhesh!

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