On March 12 , Appa is 94. We celebrate his anecdotage, and cherish the gift the of humor, that he has given to all of us in generous proportions. This is our greatest asset, and a gift that goes on giving.
He got it from his mother, Venkamma. Not so much from his father, the taciturn Anglophile, Ramabrahma, once the Headmaster of Sardar’s High School Belgaum, who lived by the clock, and always noted the time he did anything.
This is a photograph of Appa, aka Sheshagiri,taken in 1941 or 1942. At the age of 18, in Solapur. It was the summer he spent a month with T.P Kailasam, the reigning Emperor of trilingual wit, and humor, and Master of Drama.
First about the picture. Sheshagiri was then a student at the DAV College, Solapur, and home was that of his Uncle, Dr Subramanyam, the Health Officer of Solapur City. The marriage of cousin Shankaran (Dr Subramayam’s son) was fixed with Gomathi . The bride-to-be wanted photographs of the cousins and relatives of her betrothed, and so it was that Sheshagiri was marched off to a studio , tweed coat on, to have this picture taken.
Dr Subramanyam (brother of our grandfather Ramabrahma) lived in a big house on Patalamma Gudi Road near Armugam Circle, and figures regularly in the diary of Ramabrahma, whom, says the diary, he visited nearly every day, at around 4 pm!Ramabrahma’s own house of course is Mahadev Vilas, on the corner of Ratna Vilasa Road and Kanakapura road, already mentioned in earlier stories.
This is the youngest photograph that we have now of our Appa. He remembers the studio was on the road where Bhagawat cinema house and another theatre whose name he’s unable to recall ( McKenzie?) were located, opposite the Solapur City Health Offices. Bhagawat cinema has now transformed into the 21st century avatar a multi-plex.
This was also the summer that the great Kailasam came visiting. And Sheshagiri practically overdosed on Kailasam It was during a random conversation with Appa a couple of years ago, I learnt of his “Kailawesome” summer, 75 years ago!
“Tell me about Grandmother Venkamma,” I said, for she had died when Big Brother Subri was barely a year old, and we have never seen her. Amma had spoken fondly of her, and yes, her sense of humor, and there were a couple of photographs.
She was a good hostess, a great cook, and had blended comfortably into life in Dharward, and later Belgaum, wherever her husband Ramabrahma’s job as an education officer in the Bombay Presidency took him. She had started to wear her sari in the Maharashtrian style which was common in Belgaum , and introduced her friends to the Tamil way of celebrating Varalakshmi pooja.
Many grey eminences , writers and citizens of Bangalore often came to Belgaum on work, and Ramabrahma, Headmaster, Sardar’s High School hosted them in his home, or in one of the hostels on the campus So it was that the great,eccentric racounteur, the soul and spirit of Kannada theatre, and humor literature aka T P.Kailasam, came to stay for a few days. He was delighted to learn that Venkamma could laugh in Kannada, Tamil and Telugu, and some English, and he set about regaling his hostess with spontaneous one-liners, and tri-lingual puns.
KAILASAM’S GIFT OF THE BOOK
He once brought presents for the boys, Sheshagiri and his older brother Pandu. Books published by Ward, Lock & Co -Robinhood for Pandu and Aesop’s Fables for Sheshagiri who was around 10 at the time.Both were inscribed with a message and signed by Kailasam. Sheshagiri was not impressed with his Aesop’s Fables, for it had no pictures in it ! He made bold enough to tell Mr Kailasam, who right away sent for a new , illustrated copy. But when the new book arrived, Kailasam had already left, so he had no inscription now.
“My favorite story was the The Donkey’s Shadow”, Appa said to me, reminiscently. The book, of course has been lost.
TOLLU GATTI PHOTO PROJECT
Meanwhile, Kailasam undertook an unusual project at the legendary Katti Studio in Belgaum. He made himself up as each of the characters of his play Tollu Gatti, and got photographs taken of each of them. He then sat with the studio owner and explained to him the technique to put them all together and voila’ ! He had a single photograph of Kailasam as entire cast of Tollu Gatti!
The fate of that photograph is not known. Neither do we know why Kailasam undertook this project. But plainly, he enormously enjoyed dabbling in “trick” photography!
THE LONG KAILASUMMER
Fast forwarding to the summer of ’42, the time Sheshagiri’s photograph was taken. One morning he was summoned from his classroom to the chamber of his English Professor Sadasiva Iyer, at DAV College . He went, wondering what lay in store, and presented himself before Mr Iyer, who said, “ Ah Sheshagiri, Mr Kailasam has just arrived from Bombay, you are to take him home to your uncle. He is to be your guest for a few days.”
Sheshagiri complied, quietly pleased at the prospect of a few evenings filled with humor, that would break the tedium of polite conversations at the dinner table. Home was the residence of his paternal uncle, Dr. M Subramanyam, the Health Officer of Solapur City, while Sheshagiri attended college. With cousin Shankaran away studying in Poona, it was quite lonely for young Sheshagiri expect when Shankaran visited for holidays.
Uncle welcomed his guest with the stoicism of a long-suffering host, remarking to Sheshagiri that the man was not likely to leave very soon, and, would doubtless cause him many a headache , throwing the household quite out of gear. But he was practically family, and a genius. One had to make allowances for his eccentricity. When Old Gally came to nestle in the comforting arms of Blandings Castle, Lord Emsworth could hardly give him the heave-ho.
SHESHAGIRI IS SHORTS-CHANGED
The entertainment began right away for Sheshagiri. Kailasam’s luggage had gone missing on the train from Bombay, and he “borrowed” a pair off the clothesline at the back of the house. It happened to be Sheshagiri’s PT shorts, but it become TP Kailasam’s and was never returned to its owner.
Kailasam settled down quickly to his erratic routine of writing, drinking, smoking at odd hours. There were plenty of evenings when he regaled the host and his nephew with his endless supply of spontaneous humor and impromptu poetry.
The 1940s Solapur , a dusty little town with many cotton textile mills, already famous for the Solapur bedsheets, was not known to be a place where the high-minded gathered and discussed literature and philosophy. An occasional cinema, and dramas on the theme of mythology were the most popular entertainment, for the large workforce employed at the mills. However, Kailasam often had visitors, the local grey eminences, so to speak, with whom he had long conversations and discussions, and he went out to meet people at the office of Prabhat Theatre, which had been provided to him by the manager.
Sheshagiri and his “chaddi dost” spent many evenings being a one-man-show for a one-man-audience. Sheshagiri learnt that during his student days, Kailasam had been a magician’s assistant to a hata yoga master who had become very popular in England. This hata yogi used to give lectures, and perform “magic” at private events and for a while Kailasam played his assistant. The magic tricks included chomping glass and sipping acid.
It was Kailasam’s job to go around the audience showing them the glass and the acid. Kailasam told Sheshagiti that a little girl in the audience once asked “why does he eat glass?”
“Because he wants to eat bread,” Kailasam had said.
An excellent football player, a fact he used as a bargaining chip to continue being a student in London, he was asked, “why don’t you go back to India?”
“Because I fear my father has reserved the fatted calf for me,” he said, meaning his father, T. Paramasiva Iyer, was waiting to deliver a kick on his backside, when he returned home.
Gandhiji’s recently acquired love for soya bean inspired the Kailasam-speak that went “ Khaya bean, soya Gandhi”,
Sheshagiri wondered if it was true Kailasam could blow smoke rings, and sign his name in it. Kailasam laughed, and said it was just a myth that wouldn’t go away!
Kailasam, described by N. Sharda Iyer as a scientist , sportsman, wit, actor, playwright and bohemian in her book, “ Musings Indian Writing In English”, then put on his scientific hat and explained to Sheshagiri the science behind smoke rings.
VISITOR TO AKKALKOT PRINCIPALITY
A few weeks later, Mr Kailasam had a visitor. Mr M.S.Sardar, aka Barrister Sardar who was also part time judge in the Akkalkot Samsthana , who took him away , to be the guest of Akkalkot royalty. Akkalkot, now a municipality of Solapur, was ruled by the Bhonsle family, which had been installed as rulers by Chatrapati Shahuji in 1712. Going by history, Kailasam’s host was Vijayaraje Bhonsle, who ruled from 1936 to 1952.
He was gone about 10 ten days. When he returned, he brought with him a neatly typed and bound copy of his latest work, which, plainly, he had been putting the finishing touches to in the preceding weeks at Solapur.
Sheshagiri soon learnt that Kailasam’s latest work was the play, “The Brahmin’s Curse”, about the tragic prince Karna and his guru Parashurama, from the Mahabharata. A reading was arranged at Prabhat Theatre, and Sheshagiri was part of an audience of about 50 Solapurians, making him one of the first to hear the play read by the great man hinself. He never forgot the last lines of the poem “Karna”-
“Availed thee naught ‘gainst unjust death! Alas,
Be fooled babe ‘gainst fate’s bewild’ring odds!
bauble of the jeering gods.
Seventy-five summers later, Sheshagiri, our Appa, recited these lines to me from memory. I took notes. Appa asked, “ do people know Kailasam these days? Who reads him? Who’d be interested in my Kailasam story?
Let’s find out on SweetKharaCoffee, I said.
Who wouldn’t want to hear from a boy who was present at the first reading of The Brahmin’s Curse, by the great Kailasam himself?
Mam another interesting information is that T p kailasams daughter is married to a famous geographer from poona
Not Kamala Subramaniam, I think, but the other daughter? Manjunath Kiran. Perhaps you have a little more information? I’m curious.
Yes, the other daughter. But I thought she was married to a Professor of English. BTW, I am the Great Grand son of T Paramasiva Iyer and named after him. Kamala was married to her cousin, the famous ENT surgeon of those days.
I was wondering about the Paramasivan in your name! Thanks! Your grandparent was a sibling of Kailasam ! Which one? Will pass this on to the Dad. He will reveal all about Easwari Prasad and Rao. 😊
Any connection to VT Srinivasans? Where Kailasam spent his final years ?
My grand mother was the sibling to TPK. Interestingly, my Grandfather R S Sankara Iyer and my grand mother were cousins. V T Srinivasan was my Grand father’s sister’s son. I always used to go by Avanti when I stayed in Jaya Nagar in 75-76. In fact I met a whole tot of his clan last year when Mallika Chellappa celebrated her mother’s birthday. I think Kailasam spent his last years somewhere in Malleswaram and was taken care of by Rao. Eager to hear about Rao and Prasad. How are you related to this group of Brahmin Rasams ( not soup !)
We’re not related at all. But my grandfather’s (Ramabrahma mentioned in the article) house was Mahadev Vilas, on Ratnavilasa Road.-Kanakapura road corner. Next to it was Hindu Ramaswamy’s house, and then Hari Hara Iyer . Round the corner, at Armugam Circle on Patalamma Gudi road, is Ramabrahma’s brother, Dr Subramanyam’s house,(mentioned in the article.) which is still there…The corner house next Avanti (which is now Apartments) is Sheshagiri Rao’s house. My Appa, Sheshagiri, not this one) says Kailasam died in Avanti, of course, you being family, may know better. Now , are you and Mallika Chellappa related? The Iyer Rasam gets slurpier, does it not?
If you were in Jayanagar I block, near Madhavan Park, you might have heard of Dr Kokila Ramabrahma, My father’s sister. .
Any way I wouldn’t be surprised if we were related, for my parents are cousins too, and there are too many Subramanyams in this story. !!!
I was in Jayanagar III block near the post office just for a few months. There was a lending library opposite to the house. t was way back in 1976 .
True. The other daughter Lakshmi. Kamala, known as Bapsi, since her mother was also Kamala,
was married to VS Subramanyam of Chennai (also known as ENT Mani, he was a doctor..)
Jayasri, can you throw light on two people called Sachchu (Saraswati?) and Gani (Ganapathy or Ganesan?)
who lived on Kanakanahalli road near the Ratna Vilasa road crossing, in the
nineteen-fifties? They would have been born around 1944, give or take two years.
Indeed, our families grew up together, we had a gate between our compounds! Gani passed away at least ten years back. Sachchu who was a great friend of my mom, whose name is Thulasi, btw, died may be a couple of years back. Their brother Natarajan ( Nattu Mama) live in Bangalore as do nieces and nephews. Did you live on/ near Ratnavilasa Road?
Woh! Great to know prof ghananathans wife name is sarswathi I think network is getting closed particularly ‘geography circle ‘.
I am a granddaughter of VT Sreenivasan. Yes indeed the Iyer soup thickens! Met TP for the first time at my
mother’s 90th birthday bash. We should meet and exchange notes! Yes, TPK died in Avanti, and for
years we would read about it as my grandfather had framed the press cutting with the headline
“Kailasam Passes Away” with his photograph and hung it on the wall in the verandah..
My mother was back at her father’s place for her first delivery, and TPK was delivered to Avanti in poor health when she was out for a walk in the compound – she found him in a jhatka at the gate and – and he was still alive when my brother was born. The next two children in the family were girls (my aunt and my sister) and the next was finally a boy, to be named Kailash, born Nov 1947.
You’ve probably seen Simha’s Typical TPK? Some of the later shows – post 1992 – had a prop which was a favourite of TPK’s, a divan/couch.. from Avanti..
This is great. I wonder where that framed obit is now? Thanks for clarifying about TPK DYING AT Avanti. You must have all had a great time at your mothers 90th birthday. Does she live in Bangalore? And how about you? Please ask her if she remembers Shankaran and Gomathi of Swastikalaya, Patalammagudi road. That would my Dad’s cousin and wife.i shall send you an email in a couple of days. And we can talk more there!
If I remember correct, they were also Cousins – Bapsi & Mani .
Looks like w”re all floating about in an Iyer soup, isn’t it, Paramasivan Thyagarajan?
Gani Sachchu and Natarajan are all siblings Manjunathkiran!
Mam sarswathi Mam is In good health?
I for one have thoroughly enjoyed, and continue to be awed, by Kailasam’s writing…though I must confess that trilingual I might be, yet I have read only his English writings; ‘Keechaka’ comes to mind, as does that powerful and deeply moving take on Ekalavya, ‘Fulfilment’.
Oh…my paternal grandmother Thankam was Kailasam’s brother 🙂
Wonderful to read of the great man…I do wish your father good health and equanimity
Thanks for sharing this. Have you met him? Do you have any memories of him? I would love to know a bit more about his daughters. My Father will be very happy to read this. Jayasri
None of us had met him as he had passed away in 1946. Have heard so many stories from his sister – my grand Mother. Of course , heard so many anecdotes from one Dr . Easwari Prasad when I was in Tanzania. He used to talk about one Rao. He also told me that one of his cousins was named KARNA after the story on Karna by T P Kailasam . Any Kannadiga, I meet, I bring in the name of TPK !!!
Alas, I did not have the privilege of meeting Kailasam…he passed on in 1946, a decade before I was born! But I heard much about his legendary wit from my father (R S Paramasivan) – and of course Dad’s brothers (my Periappas) and from Patti herself. And I have very hazy memories of Kailasam daughter Kamala (what a wonderful writer! have you read her Mahabharata, Bhagavatam and Ramayana?)…I was barely four years old when I met with her, and also had the privilege of having my tonsils removed by her husband Dr V S Subramaniam :)).
Among the cherished memorablia at home are a copy of Kailasam’s Keechaka (gifted by him to his sister Thankam, my Patti), and the nib (!) of a pen he used. How he would have laughed at that.
I take the liberty of sending you a link to a piece I wrote long ago on ‘Fulfilment’, for the Indian Express. I do hope you find it of interest.
Best wishes, be well, be merry