Among our seven magnificent Mamas, ( not to mention their seven sisters one of whom was our mother) Patta who,left us suddenly yesterday, was the one endowed with  an extra sprinkle of Mama Magic .   He was the most adored Mama of yours truly when she was a little girl about whom she had penned a corny poem called My Uncle Pat, which thankfully, is  irretrievably lost. 

     Soon after the devastating  news arrived on the morning of May 27, , Big Brother Subri and I  talked about Patta, who like most other Mamas – Kittu, Srinivas, Venkatesh, and the  late Sriram, was never addressed as  Mama.  Only the eldest Venkatakrishnan and  the second, Dasaratharam were reverentially addressed as Mama.

     Patta’s magic worked differently with each nephew or niece.  To me , he was  always my equal in age. When I was eight, Patta was eight too, totally involved in entertaining me and being my best friend. As cousin Gita said,  one could tell-him anything – secrets, gossip, or cook up an imaginary tale, and he’d listen and offer  opinion  and carry on long conversation with a niece 17 years younger . . I wonder which kind of Mama would actually let a six-year-old tag along with him to work- which was  being a lecturer of Botany in V R College Nellore,  of course the answer is the Patta variety of Mama! 

      Subri remembered the many hot summer vacations spent in Nellore. “When Bunty and I went to Nellore,    Patta and Sriram would be preparing for their exams. But  Patta would take them to. movies, grumbling mildly because it was “boring” Pandava Vanavasam,  or take them out for a round of Trunk Road, setting aside his exam tensions. 

         In the 21st Century,  we are all grown up, and he had upgraded to Tatha status, but I suspect his little grandson 6-year-old Neo, could call him Patta without adding Tatha, and he’d happily answer!  

      He was a great cook, and mightily proud about the great “Pattatos” fry that he’d roast up for everyone , never mind that the entire kitchen would be in the sink to be washed later by someone else! 

             His affection was boundless, and generously given, and if he offered to turn up at your home to make. Pattatoes Fry, you  could consider yourself greatly honoured.

           Botany, painting and Ganesha, these were his passions. He had a vast collection of Ganeshas and dabbled in painting – acrylic on canvas mostly, I he informed me. I started sharing his paintings on Facebook and he was thrilled at the attention he got and the compliments. I t all started with the 21 leaf Ganesha that he sketched. 

I wrote on FB-

Our Uncle Patta,  is a Botany expert,  and an awesome painter too, 

His other passion is Ganesha. Here he has combined all three to create a painting that I have named BELEAF IN GANESHA. . 

The 21 leaves that are offered to Ganesha are in this leafy Ganesha. It is acrylic on canvas, says the uncle. 

Now there are other uncles who also paint. I shall tell all about them in the book to be titled Uncles Who Paint.  

This meanwhile is a great way to learn botany, painting, and to know Ganesha’s Grace.

Many friends appreciated and complimented him, and it became the ritual -I  would share his work on my timeline, so more people could see it. 

In these COVID months, he became more prolific, and when he painted a portrait of Mahaperiyava,  I asked him if would make one for me.Patta said he could have this one, and what’s more when we asked him if could make a companion piece of Ramana Maharshi, he quickly produced that too! 

      What can be more sublime than to receive the most precious gift of their portraits from  our Mama Patta  aka Pattabhiram Mamidipudi, prolific painter of prodigious talent who is also the great botanist of our family  which loves, laughs, lives and argues in the Ramayana. 

      Patta had recently finished a portrait of MS,and I was to share it on FB as usual.  I’ve been dawdling over it, 

“Yedu dee Subbi !” I  thought he’d call and say, “eppo post pannarey MS portrait?  “ 

        That is not to be.  Someone up there in Mama Heaven summoned our Patta  to rustle,up that heavenly  Pattatoes fry for them 

     Farewell Patta. Wander merrily in your  foodie Swarga where they never run out of dosas, idlis,, pongal, vada, all the potatoes that you can fry.   We will  hold on to and celebrate the memories, the  fun and laughter that you always brought along ,and that extra sprinkle of. Mama Magic! 

PS: Patta’s other grandson, Vihaan has. Written to Patta a little farewell letter, addressing him as Patta! . Added below, with presumed consent from Vihaan and his mom Vinaya.

Bangalore’s Tree Man .

Intrepid wildlifer. Forest officer who put the Garden back into Garden City in the eighties. The man who made trees fashionable again in Bangalore, when it was fast losing its arboreal wealth and turning into a concrete jungle. In 1994, I was a greenhorn reporter,with The Times Of India, eager to make a mark in journalism covering the environment, wildlife, and my beloved Bangalore, the Garden City.

I couldn’t have asked for a more auspicious, greener beginning to my career – The Bangalore Urban Art Commission, then headed by another defender of nature and wildlife, M.A. Parthasarathy, brought out a coffeetable book, “Your Bangalore The Trees“. Authored by Neginhal, I was assigned to meet Mr Neginhal and review the book , for which Mr Parathasarathy had written a “Tree”velogue, inviting Bangaloreans to “walk” amidst the tree wealth of our Garden City.

What a delightful engaging and enthusiastic man Mr Neginhal turned out to be! His boundless curiousity, tremendous energy and eagerness to share the wonders of nature that he witnessed on his numerous journeys into the wilderness of KArnataka! His untramelled joy as he remembere the sighting of a rare bison in Bhadra, or bears in Nagarahole was infectious and unforgettable.

Back to the first meeting with Mr Neginhal- in the April of 1994- It had been two decades since Bangalore had started shunning its trees to become a city bursting at its seams! Yes! in the nineties, reporters covering the city beat were already writing portentuous articles about Bangalore’s vanishing tree cover!

Mr Neginhal was the best man, the right man to author the book called :Your Bangalore The Trees. Ten years ealier, in the mide eighties, when things were getting out of hand! the late R. Gundu Rao, the then Chief Minister created and exclusive Green Belt Division in the Forest Department. Its mission: To regreen Bangalore.

The Chief Minister picked a Range Forest Officer, who was taking care of wildlife in Thirthahallli (Shimoga), named S.G. Neginhal to head the new division. Neginhal was quite illiterate about trees and urban spaces at the time..

Lack of knowledge about trees and how to go about accomplishing the task he had been set, didn’t daunt him in the least. He set about building parks, nurseries and made millions of saplings of trees available to Bangaloreans to plant and grow in their compounds. A bungalow in Bangalore with a garden that goes all around the house with its own compound, is the stuff of dreams in the second decade of the 21st century. But it was something Bangaloreans too for granted four decades ago!

Mr Neginhal quickly learned his trees, treelore and tree science. In no time at all he was offering expert advice on what kind of trees are suitable for different kinds of urban spaces. he learnt to give tradition and culture their due, and understood the reverence that trees have always had in ancient Hindu culture.

I kept in touch with him over the years, and we spoke frequently on the phone (landline!) and until a few years ago, he always had tales to tell from his latest wanderings into the forests. He wrote and published three or four books on forest trees, urban tress, and a compilation of the forests and wildlife sanctuaries of Karnataka.

Mr Neginhal made my wish to be a environmet correspondent even stronger, and since this first story the writing of which brought me great joy, I have covered many stories about wildlife, environment, pollution, and law and the politics around these subjects. I met men and women who have worked to save our forests and urban green spaces and written about them. Mr Neginhal’s time was one of more innocence, and reverence for nature, when urban greed wasn’t nibbling away at rhe edge of the forests, while ridding the cities of green cover . Mr Neginhal’s life and work and the times he lived in will always be remembered for what could have been. Bangalore , one laments is already past redemption. And now its Tree Man too has left.