December 8 was Grandfather Ramabrahma’s 132nd birthday. From his diary entries, we know he enjoyed birthdays, his own , or that of his children and grandchildren. He noted in his diary the gifts he gave, and received, and the visits of his daughters and son, with their families, to mark anyone’s birthday. I serendipitously chanced upon two of his diaries among Big Brother Bunty’s things a couple of years ago.
That’s why I’m pretty sure he’d have enjoyed knowing how his 132nd birthday turned out, and that stiff upper lip ( it’s a prominent feature of my picture of him, for he died when I was four, and I remember nothing of him ) would’ve uncurled the teensiest bit to smile, and Vasanthi’s name would have entered his diary entry for December 8, 2015.
I woke up to a Facebook message from Vasanthi, who is a busy, busy, busy journalist, anchor and friend . She had sent me three photos, and I was to guess what they were. I failed, and the suspense was killing me. “Your Tatha’s school, Belgaum,” Vasanthi shot back, and I kicked myself for being such a forgetful chump.
Forgetful, but a thilled chump, I happily told her it happened to be said Tatha’s birthday, and she said, it’s serendipity! There it was again, that happy-making word. The pictures were of Sardar High School, where Ramabrahma was Head Master, in the 1930s, and his two sons, Pandurang and Sheshagiri ( the Dad of us) were students.
Vasanthi had been in Belgaum a few months back, on work, and I’d suggested she swing by Sardar High School.I forgot all about it, but she apparently, had not. When she was next in Belgaum again, she swung by Sardar High SChool and took pictures for me. Which she has sent me three months later, to arrive exactly , serendipitously, on the Grandfather’s birthday.
I called Appa, and sent him the pictures to see, and he went back 80 years to the time he was 12, playing rough and getting dirty with his brother, and friends at Sardar High School, where the burden of being the Headmaster’s sons weighed down their young shoulders, not that they were aware of it. He said it had changed a great deal, though he recognized the steps to a stone building at the far left corner.
But yes, that was the flag pole around which they had run, and played, and done stuff that boys do. Like win a prize for general proficiency, a book in Kannada titled “Nanna Himalaya Yatre” and the certificate is signed by the Headmaster, who is also the Father.
Ramabrahma’s diary entry for Dec 7, 1964, the eve of his 81st birthday, reveals his eager anticipation of the celebrations, and the plans he made, which was mostly to fall in with my mother, Thulasi’s plans.
“As decided yesterday night, I went to the Gandhi Bazar and placed an order for plum cake at Harsha Stores and khara mixture at the Sweet Shop,” Tatha writes. As I read it I remember Harsha Store, and the treats we used to get – cake with yellow and pink icing, fruit cake, and badam milk, and this man with peaches-and-cream complexion, with ruby studs glinting in his ears, who served, with a smile. Harsha Stores has been history for three years, or more.
I see, too . where Amma’s love for plum cake came from – we always had it from Christmas to January 9, her birthday, and in my day it came from Nilgiris. Not Harsha Stores.
Ramabrama notes that Thulasi has invited all his daughters (Kutti, Mangala, and Vimala ) who are here, and Pandu and family , to tea after 4 pm tomorrow.(Pramila, his youngest daughter, lived in Ahmedabad).
In the evening, he went back to Gandhi Bazar, to pick up the cake and the savories .
He received two invitations, one for the wedding of R . Ananthasubramanyam’s grandson , and another for tea at Woodlands on the 11th, with S.S Kumar.
Who are these people who the social diary of Rambrahma in the Bangalore of the sixites?
The following day, Ramabrahma enjoyed his 81st birthday. My Birthday, he underlines, adding I completed 81 years of my life. “My neighbour K.S.Ramaswamy was the first to offer me birthday greetings, ” . Him, I know, Ganga’s Tatha, who, I beleived then was mine too. He was a journalist, and known as Hindu Ramaswamy. Though I too became a journalist, and was with The Hindu for 13 years, no one called me Hindu Jayasri !! But I feel blessed, because long after Tatha died, he was the grandfatherly presence in my childhood, when a grandfather is most needed.
I digress. Ramabrahma , says his diary, then met Lakshmi, and her children, who also greeted him . Lakshmi Maami, I know now, used to come in every day and read to Tatha from the Upanishads or other texts .
He went to Canara Bank, and withdrew Rs. 115, and noted that his pension for November had come in. He received greetings , by post, at 4.15 pm, from Bharathi and Bala from Sweden ( Bharathi is the daughter of his second daughter Mangala. Who brought me the gift of Githa Papa, my little shut-eye doll, a couple of years later)
He then had tea with all those who came home at 4 pm,- how he loves to note the time that anything was done!- Mangala and Nanjundaiah, Kutti, Vimala and Bobby, and Pandu came at 8 pm, had (dinner? .. one day I will figure what these scrawls mean) All his sons and daughters gave him useful smoething, while Vimala gave cash.
Two years later, in 1966, he is still counting his birthdays, with underlining. His 84th year begins , and he was wished by the children ( that’s us) and Thulasi when he came for his morning coffee. We were given Parry’s toffee, he says. At 8.15 am TVS Iyer came home and wished him. He gave my dad a cheque for Rs. 140, of which Rs. 100 was for household expenses, and Rs. 40 forhis needs. Kutti came at 11.30 bearing a gifit of one (umbrella?) and two packets of biscuits. Nanjundaiah, Mangala, Bharathi and children came and offered birthday wishes. Oh. and he ate food at 10.45. No cake and tea this time.
I wonder if, up there, he’s noting in his diary that Vasanthi sent pictures of Sardar High School, and his 132nd birthday was celebrated with much nostalgia by all of us.
Some day, serendipity will let us know.