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1989. After engineering and re-engineering, I decided to chase the great yem bee yae dream. Drew a blank in first half of the interview season, then suddenly three calls – IMT, BIM, and Anna U.


Osa and I flunked IMT, but the train journey was fun – highlight being the pavadakkari who fell heavily for Osa. BIM was a disaster. I told the panel that I wanted to do MBA because engineering sucks. All the panel members were, of course, engineers…


Anna interview. Stayed at Casa’s room in Sakthi Mansion, woke up to P. Orr & Sons jingle, brushed my teeth in pure salt water, took 23C to Anna…and became a Madrasi.


That day on Mount Road I saw Revathi. I figured stars on the sidewalk was an everyday thing in Madras…it would be 10 years before I saw another star in Madras, that was in Spencer’s, Revathi again.


Soon after I joined Anna U, Osa moved into Madras and Sakthi Mansion. It was just like old times, but after jamming and stuff, I had to trudge back to the hostel…I don’t remember why, perhaps Osa’s roomie hated me. Anyway, after a few months the roomie was out and Samy was in. The room had two cots, but of different heights. So whenever I slept over I ended up on the fault line between Osa and Samy. I spent so much time in the mansion that the owner threatened to send me a bill.


Around this time my senior Chacko invited his MIT-pal Puthu and his YMCA roomie Calicut Biju to join him at Anand Apartments…which would soon become the most hip joint in town…but then, that is another story.


By the end of the year, Osa was in Kolkata, Samy was in Cochin, and I started that kadavil njan maathramayi business…


Samy and Osa with Abby Paul, Dufai, 2007

First Belle
‘Sir, would you like to advertise in the yellow pages’. I was new to the job and was happy to have somebody to talk to. She would call me every day and talk about ad size, release date, file format, discounts…then finally, ‘Sir, when can we meet?’ I was like, ‘How about tomorrow?’ The next day, I reached office fully fragrant, expectant…and this huge guy dark ambled over to my seat, ‘I am from yellow pages’.
What? Something was not right, I asked him, ‘Where is Sunitha?’
‘Sunitha?’ the gentle giant knitted his brows, was trying hard to think, then, click…a smile lit up his face, ‘Saar, she is from our call centre’.

Second Belle
‘Sir, would you like to advertise in the yellow pages’. Ah! You can’t fool me twice; I asked her, ‘Are you from the call centre?’
‘Then why should I talk to you?’
‘Because I am fun’
You can’t argue with that…Sonali was her name. Vadakkan, dad was a prof in Anna U. She was cramming for CAT and yellow pages was for pocket money. One day she told me, ‘Babu, you sound exactly like my old boyfriend’. I had to match that ‘You know what, my ex’s name is Sonali’. We started burning up the telephone wires; she was so good that after her call even the guy in the next cubicle would have a cigarette. Then one day, we met…she read the disappointment on my face, and never called me again.

Third Belle
‘Sir, would you like to advertise in the yellow pages’. Jyothi was a sardarni, but I did not want to take any chances…so after a few calls I asked her how she looked. She said she was engaged…pretty soon I officially launched my bride-hunt, and Jyothi became my new best friend. In fact, when Velan got married and I had to move out of the Kalakshethra flat, it was Jyothi who got me a PG acco with her friend’s family.
(Aunty and Smitha treated me like a member of the family and I lived with them for close to a year till my sis joined me in Chennai. I had had a great time with them, and when it was time to part, Aunty was in tears, and the stoic Smitha had Don’t Leave looping on her stereo.)

Last Belle
‘Sir, would you like to advertise in the yellow pages’. A couple of months ago. By then I had taken to snapping at all unsolicited calls, but this voice was electric. Act 1 and 2, same formula. Then one day, ‘You know, my husband works in the movies and he goes on these long tours’. I wouldn’t say I wasn’t tempted…I asked her, ‘What does your hubbie do?’ Seema said, ‘She’s a stuntman’. Halo Halo kelkan mela.

If you are a movie buff and a quizzer, chances are you are familiar with ‘Six Degrees of Bacon’. The game is very simple. You select a film star, and connect him to Kevin Bacon, in six links or less. The game’s name is a pun on the concept of Six Degress of Separation (“anyone on the planet can be connected to any other person on the planet through a chain of acquaintances that has no more than five intermediaries” source).

Game Demo:
Clint Eastwood was in Space Cowboys (2000) with Marcia Harden
Marcia Harden was in Rails & Ties (2007) with Kevin Bacon
(2 links)

Mammootty was in Kandukondain Kandukondain(2000) with Aishwarya Rai
Aishwarya Rai was in Singularity (2008) with Brendan Fraser
Brendan Fraser was in The Air I Breathe (2007) with Kevin Bacon
(3 links)

Clark Gable was in The Misfits (1961) with Eli Wallach
Eli Wallach was in Mystic River (2003) with Kevin Bacon
(2 links)

(Bacon is at the Centre of the Movie Universe. Not convinced? Check out University of Virginia’s Oracle of Bacon)

The game has helped me survive many seminars and training sessions over the years. And in the good old days before Google and imdb, the pleasure of finding a link, after racking the brain for hours, can only be described using a word that my firewall wouldn’t approve.

It was a colleague of Velan who introduced me to Six Degrees.

Let us call her Diya. When I called up Velan’s office one day, I happened to speak to her – she had this lovely voice, with a hint of mischief. She was a great conversationalist, and I had time to kill. Soon Diya became a daily habit, I was spending hours on the phone, and dying to meet her. Finally, D-day, her birthday. She said she would wait for me in front of Adyar Bakery. I rode my KB to the Bakery, I saw her standing there, took a U-turn and disappeared…well, almost. To cut a long story short, we became friends, very good friends.

Around that time, a girl working with Diya and her college sweet-heart decided to get married, against the wishes of both their families. Typical Hindi padam: Rich boy – poor girl, Vadakkan boy – TamBram girl, Anupam Kher – Amrish Puri. The boy was going abroad for his MS and wanted to tie the knot before he left. The kids were broke and their friends were scared to support them because of Amrish Puri. Diya decided to sponsor the wedding but asked me to front the operation.

After a week of hectic preparations…Inside Kapaleeshwar Temple. Almost muhurtham. Friends and colleagues hanging around. The lovely couple, he in a sherwani, she in kancheevaram, before getting on the stage, they dive for my feet, and I flee.

PS, posted a day later: I now realize that the last line was a subconscious tribute to one of my favourite books, Catch 22, which ends with “The knife came down, missing him by inches, and he took off“. Six Degrees of Separation again?

RAMS Era. Biju, Chittapps, Paramu and I. Jamming in The Right Place, Residency’s coffee shop…“highly vocal drunkenness” to quote Four Weddings and a Funeral, and the three guys on the next table were getting very annoyed.

After a few rounds, when I went to take a leak, the trio followed me; Chittapps sensed something wasn’t right and came over to the loo. The guys had assumed we were making fun of them and were spoiling for a fight. Chittapps was trying very hard to save the situation – using a combination of physical intimidation and smooth sales talk – but the threat of violence was very much in the air.

Then Biju and Paramu joined us. With the shift in the balance of power, the mood changed…and the guys were suddenly like ‘Some night, Macha!’. We exchanged cards. They were into some computer-related business. They took one look at our cards and froze. ‘Macha’ became ‘Saar’, they bought us a round, wanted us to join them for desserts, were all of a sudden very nice, and promised to keep in touch…

Peace. Harmony. Happiness.

Vaal Kashnam – The visiting card that one of my friends handed over was that of a customer he had met that day…some bigshot in a hotshot company, a company with which the trio had some business links…

One day when I entered ICH, there was this guy regaling the Sangham with some tall story. I asked Jose, sotto voce, who’s this tamashakkaran? Osa replied ‘He is Tamashakkaran’.


It was the post-engineering era, and TK was part of the Trichur Invasion that swamped Jose Jn. After that season of fun, we all drifted off in different directions, and a few years later, TK moved into Chennai.


I remember the fun times in his pads at Mahalingapuram and Nungambakkam, the amazing jam sessions (No jam was complete without TK’s rendition of Nakshathra Deepangal Thilangi), and the times Tamash stood by me…


Again, when I got thrown out of the Perambur flat it was TK who gave me asylum at RAMS. Though I soon joined Chittappan, when Raghu left for Kerala, I formally moved back.


TK and Paramu were the two pillars of RAMS. Velan and I were the caterpillars who crawled in and crawled out. Perhaps because TK and Paramu worried so much about shopping, cooking, cleaning, etc. Velan and I could concentrate on having fun – and what fun we had.


In those days, the 24-hour coffee shop at Residency (The Right Place, when they still had those beautiful sepia prints of teapots on the walls) was our regular after-party haunt. Once we scandalised the hep crowd there by landing up in lungis. And once, after midnight, unable to find an auto to get back, we hitched a ride on fish-cart and dozed off in the cart with our legs dangling behind (It took us two days to wash off that matsyagandam).


Pretty soon Velan left for US, TK got busy with his MBA and then his fiancée, Paramu left for Dubai, and…kadavil njan mathram aayi.


During that time a shippie friend of mine stayed with me for a while. Every evening, we would set out on our valakkal mission, and return back without success. And every evening he would tell me…“Ente bharyede odukkathe prarthana…”.


I am sure Sangham will agree with me, it works, even today…

Manoj, who today stirs his cuppa with an aircraft model, (see ET article) used to work with us, many years ago. He was a major fan of Bruce Lee jokes (you know, Bruce Lee likes Id-Lee, loves Sona-Lee, is a Malaya-Lee…) and has compiled the ultimate Bruce Lee collection, with a little help from yours tru-Lee.

Check it out.

In ’94, i got kicked out of the flat i was sharing with some guys and moved in with a friend’s uncle. Let us call him Chittappan.

He was a renaissance man, well read and worldly-wise, but a sentimentalist at the core. Loved mankind, but hated most men. Had a passion for drinking, driving and often drinking and driving. He had strong views on everything and articulated them for maximum bang.

He loved reading and books (there is a difference) and we had some great bashes discussing…books. I introduced him to Vonnegut (he never returned my copy of Vonnegut’s Fates Worse than Death), he guided me to Nabokov, Prisig and Prather.

Birdwatching was another shared interest of ours. I would literally swoon at every passing doe-eyed beaut and pant to Chittaps, “what eyes, man’ till the day he made that immortal pronouncement, “Babu, oru kannu kondu cheyyavunna valare korachu karyangale ollu” (rough translation: freak! watcha gonna do with e-y-e-s)

He was, to use the terminology of the era, belligerently Pro-Mandir & Anti-Mandal, but a closet secular and quite a big fan of integration.

I lived with him for only a few months and i count those days among my favourites in Chennai. Thanx Chittaps!

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June 2020