Wednesday, April 11, 2012

That Crazy Old Man

I had a relative who was very strict and generally was known as Hitler in our family. My great grandmother used to say this about him "if he is the tree and the wind is blowing in one direction, he will not sway in the direction of the wind. He will sway in the opposite direction and will ask the wind to sway in his way". Reading this girl's post reminded me of something about him. He lived right behind Nilgiri's in Radhakrishnan Salai. Diagonally opposite to Vivekananda. His house was this massive bungalow and had a front yard with swings and stuff. It is hard to imagine that kind of a house in today's world in that location. I used to be awed every time I visited that place. And I was terrified of him.

He had a living room that was probably 3000 square feet and the ceiling was probably 20 foot tall (I was a kid so of course I exaggerate. But it was really really tall).  3 out of 4 sides of the walls were actually book shelves. These book shelves were long tall shelves and you needed big ladders to reach the top shelf - like the ones you saw in some historical libraries. The house was bursting at its seams - the walls were breaking. Yet this dude was holding on to every single book he had bought since his childhood. He had books in all genres; philosophy, science, religion, autobiographies, biographies and even cook books. Added to that he had Sports Star (all issues ever since it was launched,) all editions of Indian Cricket books, Manorama, and fat bound books in tamil. He also had random indrajal, chandamama and amar chithra katha comics. He had managed to hold on to his notebooks and textbooks from his childhood. No one else but him could touch his books. If they did he would bark at them and send them out of his house. He was very grumpy, eccentric and had idiosyncrasies that would take half those book shelf space to document. One day, while visiting his house, I pulled out a book from his shelf, he caught me, barked at me and complained to every single member of my extended family. I became branded as the "avan eppavume ippadi dhaan. Sonna kekkave maatan" boy. He was one of the reasons why I began to love reading books. He also re-enforced my dad's dislike for people  who read books other than what was required in school. My dad called such people "avan book padikaravan da. Loosu payal."  And then told me "neeyum kanda book'a padi, mental'a pogalam"

That old man was intelligent but not street smart. His idiosyncrasies made him believe that a grandfather's property belonged to his grandchildren. So sold his gigantic house, gave the money to his kids and became their dependent. His life then followed the Tuesday 7:30 PM doordarshan "amma inge ganeshu ange" type dramas.  His sons made him sell all his books because they frankly never ever read any sort of books (even their own school books), drunk their way through his money, moved into 500 Sq Ft houses, treated him like dirt and made him sleep on the floor in a verandah near the toilet. That was when he wrote his autobiography that traced back N-generations of his ancestors. No one read it. Not his sons. I don't think his wife could read. He spent his last savings printing 1000s of copies of the book and gifting it to arbitrary libraries and people. This gave many more people an opportunity to not read his book.  Until a few weeks before he died he still had the habit of folding 'The Hindu' just the way it was delivered in the morning. His wife gave him 7 tumblers of filter coffee every day and he had nasty comments about several cricket player's abilities. But he got as close to being 'the crazy old book thatha next door' as possible.

Btw  - this girl writes an awesome blog. Granted, I am a sucker for the most futile exercise of interpreting fight club movie in excruciating detail.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

very dark but funny. you have this way of presenting slightly morbid stories in a nonchalant way

Harini Kannan said...

Thanks for the plug Hawkeye sir. Although, the reference to Hitler thatha seems like a backhanded compliment, I won't read too much into it. :|

Sreekrishnan said...

Any idea on the real name and the book he wrote? Did you get a chance to read it?

Anonymous said...

Kinda surprised by your father's "avan book padikaravan da" comment. It's supposed to be other way around. My father's attitude was somewhat identical to that of hawkeye's dad, in this regard. It's merely coz of a low self-esteem that they've developed for not having acquired the habit of reading. But they do aspire to be one. Reminds me of the French and the Spaniards. The French work on their tan, aspiring to acquire the golden-tan skin tone of the spaniards: Yet the French mock the Spaniards for their relatively less white skin, and make racist comments such as "Europe ends in France; Africa starts in Spain".

sands said...

My dad did not find anything great about reading. He had nothing against it, and he used to read once in a while.

But he always said (especially when I opined that reading makes you smarter), reading does not necessarily make you smart.

And used to quote examples of well read, still impractical/not-street-smart people.

He'd have liked this example.

Anonymous said...

Good post. Felt sad for the thatha. Do you have a copy of his autobiography?

~Anu

I am a ComplexNumber said...

Nice...but sad post....evokes lots of images...balumahendra can make a fantastic movie out of it (not just because of Veedu)

btw,
Namma Generation ye....
"amma inge ganeshu ange" paathu kettu pona generation :)

Kamal saw that and handed his national award (from nayakan) to Ganesh...and his mother....

Hawk Eye said...

send me mail if you want to read the book. it seems to be available in a few libraries in US. too many people read this blog and the thatha was kinda famous as well. so ill adakki vasichfy.