Story 18. Robert And Anton.

In 1961 and 1962, I was in Hyderabad living a very interesting bachelor’s life with a steady girl friend and making enough money to have a better time than most of my age group youngsters were having. One of the two favourite hanging out places for me and some of my friends was a place on Abid Road called Savoy which was a restaurant on the first floor. A very friendly Sardarji ran it and since it had a few cabins for private parties, it was a favourite place for cooing young couples to meet and have some snacks and coffee.

It was below this restaurant that I first made my acquaintance with Robert who would dust and occasionally even wash my scooter without my ever having to ask him with the expectation that I would give him a generous tip. He would do the same with the other scooters and motorcycles that used to be parked there and I suppose that he made enough to keep his body and soul together. He was a cheerful man around 45 then and so much older than I was or my friends but that did not stop him from being very friendly with all of us.

Over a period of time, I started using him to do other odd jobs for me like delivering letters and mail for which I would agree on a rate on each chore basis and he never failed me. Seeing me successfully do this, some of my other friends also did the same and he became a sort of courier operating out of that foot path. On some occasions when I had had too much of the good stuff, he would drive my scooter with me precariously perched on the pillion home and put me to bed and stay the night in my bed sitter till morning and leave after ensuring that I was operational. A kind of paternal bond that he developed with me that till date baffles me for its total unselfishness. There were many occasions when he had come to the help of me and my friends during our youthful capers and all my friends were also very fond of him.

Robert had joined the Indian Army as a young lad and had retired as a soldier after fifteen years of service. When his earning capacity became zilch and he had to depend on his meager pension, in a country with very opportunities for employment at that age for someone with hardly any skills, his wife took their children and went back to her parent’s place deserting him and leaving him to his devices. This was the reason for his enterprise that brought him into my orbit.

I moved to Chennai in December 1962 and lost touch with Robert till the middle of the following year when I went back to Hyderabad on business and met him. He requested me to find some kind of employment for him in Chennai as he was a Tamilian and wished to spend the rest of his life in Tamil Nadu. I promised him to do what I could and on return to Chennai, I did without much success.

In the meanwhile, in Chennai I had made friends with Anton, a very unusual fellow. A Franco Indian of French father and Indian mother from Karaikal. He was a Marine Surveyor for a French company and would survey ships for hull insurance claims on behalf of his employers in France. He was unusual for many reasons notably for his very flowery Tamil spoken like a trooper and English with a peculiar accent which made him stand out in a crowd. He would look like any Tamilian but wore his French ancestry like a badge of honour. He was a French citizen with Indian relatives and that was a formidable combination. He had a streak of wildness about him that was inexplicable and would take risks that normal mortals would not. He had a Ford Jeep with the steering wheel on the left side and would inevitably get into scrapes with other drivers on the road driving on the left side of the road in vehicles with the steering wheel on the right side. And when he had had a few under his belt, he would become a maniac and would drive like he was on open ground with no other traffic on the roads.

Anton was divorced from a lady who was back in France and lived alone in a middle class neighbourhood in an upstairs flat and had endless problems with his neighbours but since he paid a much higher rent than his landlord would get from an Indian, the landlord who lived downstairs would assuage hurt feelings and keep things from getting out of hand. He had trouble with his servants too and I must have seen at least half a dozen of them passing through his life in the three years that I knew him.

On one occasion when Anton was sans servant, I remembered Robert and asked him if he would consider employing him as a butler to which he readily agreed. I wrote to Robert and asked him to come down to Chennai to see if it would work out and when he did, it was obvious that these two were meant for each other. Robert moved in with Anton around the middle of 1964 when I was too busy to keep tabs as I was busy with my own life and adventures. We would occasionally meet at Anton’s and it was obvious to me that both of them were happy with the arrangement and that was enough for me.

Before I went away to Ahmedabad in 1965, Anton threw a farewell party for me completely arranged for by Robert and it was a memorable one in more ways than what I can write here.

In 1966, I received a letter from Robert announcing that Anton had died in an automobile accident and that he was moving back to Hyderabad. I received a couple of letters from him from Hyderabad advising me that he was unhappy there and whether I would be able to help secure him some employment in Ahmedabad. I was lucky in doing so with the help of a very dear friend who arranged to take him into his company as a watchman. Robert moved to Ahmedabad and stayed on in Ahmedabad even after his retirement after getting himself a local lady for a wife, till I lost touch with him after I moved to Pune in 1990. In between, every time I went to Ahmedabad, I would meet him and we would spend some time reminiscing about old times.

This is one story that I do not know the ending of. I do not know if Robert is alive or what happened to his wife and children if any as many changes have taken place in Ahmedabad since that time. The company that he worked for closed down and the land was converted to residential plots and the total landscape of the city has changed. I doubt very much that I would be able to go there now and find him. A strange ending for a man who wanted to spend his life in his beloved Tamil Nadu who landed up in Gujarat and just disappeared from my life.

But at an impressionable time in my life he played a valuable role as well as in the life of another amazing character. He is certainly one of my Unforgettable Characters as was Anton whose wild ways finally got his life as payment.

Modern Telephony.

I hope that you enjoy reading this post on the weekly Friday Loose Bloggers Consortium where eight of us write on the same topic. Today’s topic has been chosen by your truly. The seven other bloggers who write regularly are, in alphabetical order, Delirious, gaelikaa, Grannymar, Maxi, Paul, Shackman, The Old Fossil. Do drop in on their blogs and see what their take is on this week’s topic. Since some of them may post late, do give some allowance for that too!


Shackman commented on my last week’s LBC post on My Greatest Fear as : “Sounds like a real fear to me – but the good old cellphone would sure be handy.” Yes indeed and when I see big signs on the Expressway between Pune and New Bombay giving the emergency phone number to call at need, I am reassured that I can get someone to come and repair / change a tyre for me. On the other roads, particularly the country ones, one can call someone or the other to locate someone or the other to come to my rescue and that has indeed acted as a great booster to my confidence. The good old cell phone has come to my rescue many times in other ways like just the other day when I had gone out forgetting my keys to the house and it took just a phone call to my son to ensure that when I returned home I would not be locked out. The small business that I run is entirely dependent on modern telephony between my clients, me and my principals.

By now my readers would have understood that I am not a Luddite when it comes to modern telephony. I enjoy my very modern smart phone and am convinced that it has indeed made me smarter than when I did not have it. My problem is not with the convenience but what it does to society.

During the same occasion when I had forgotten to take my keys, I saw three motocyclists using the phone while riding their bikes, and one of them with the instrument tucked between his ear and the top of his shoulder with the head tilted to one side. None of the three had a helmet on and that was the limit of carelessness. I can’t but fret that one of these morons could just possibly fall beneath my wheels and while I would not mourn his passing away, I would certainly mind the inconvenience that it would cause me.

Fast forward nearer home and I was stuck in a traffic jam with vehicles moving at snails pace. The driver of a car ahead of me was texting or reading incoming mail on his hand held device and ran into a truck moving slowly ahead of him. You can imagine the problems that the small incident caused in an already tense situation. It took another fifteen minutes before a settlement could be reached between that moron and the owner of the truck who insisted on taking his pound of flesh and when it was pointed out to the driver of the car that he was texting by another sufferer, a fisticuffs resulted and there was total chaos.

I have also written elsewhere that it is impossible not to observe and wonder at the present family communications in public places like restaurants. It is very common to see all of them eating their food while either texting or playing games or talking on their devices! What is the point of such togetherness?

On another occasion, I saw a couple walking together but both talking on cell phones. I stopped them and asked if they were talking to each other! Okay, they saw the humour of it and since my tone was quite amused, they said no and moved on.

I also observe in cinema theaters and other gatherings of people like our Senior Citizens Group, that people simply keep disturbing others with incoming calls.

A recent survey in India found that the average cell phone user checks it every six and a half minutes! New diseases are cropping up like Text Neck, Chronic Dry Eye Syndrome and Twitter Fingers!

I would not be surprised if families bury the handsets along with relatives and hope that the corpse will either use the phone if it resurrects or that the family will be able to communicate with it in the hereafter.

Story 17. The Gentle Man Who Vanished.

I would have been around ten or eleven years old when I first met one of the gentlest older persons for me then. He was already well into his middle age being much older than my father was. It is usual for us to call distant relatives and friends of our parents as Mama, the word denoting maternal uncle and pronounced as Maamaa to differntiate from Mamaa for mother. For the purpose of this story I shall call him Mama and one of his two younger brothers who will also feature in this story as Mama 2. Mama 2 played a much larger role in our lives but the one who left a deep impression on me was Mama.

Mama came from a very well know landlord family of Tamil Nadu and as it was quite common those days, Mama 2 was the public face of the family with a high profile presence in the district’s politics and governance. Mama 2 and Mama 3 would stay in the village and look after the agricultural and other interests of the family while Mama stayed in a town 25 Kms away and provided the moral support to the family’s children who stayed and went to school in that town. For me and my siblings going to the village while being quite exciting, going to the town was more so because we could then see a movie and have ice cream and other goodies in a very famous restaurant there.

Mama’s two sons and a daughter were much older to us and till much later in life, were rather imposing figures for me. But Mama always had time for me and would treat me like an adult and spend time asking about my school and other activities and in turn would tell me anything that I had doubts on about life in the mofussil.

Mama was a gracious host and had many friends who would visit him and stay on to play Rummy throughout the day. Two of them would play Bridge in the evenings at the local club and one of them was my first teacher of that wonderful game. Mama and his friends, without exception were all very fond of the four of us and we used to enjoy their visits to our home in the city too. After I became an adult, there were many occasions when I visited their homes in the district while on my regular visits and they were as delighted to see me as they were when I was a wee lad.

Something totally out of character happened when I was in Madras in the early sixties of the last century. I got a message from my father who was then in Bombay to receive Mama 2 at the railway station and to put him on board a flight to Bombay. I duly did this and that adventure is another story by itself and I may just attempt that in another post. During the transit, I learnt from Mama 2 that Mama had gone off to Bombay to be with my father for some time and he was going to fetch him to attend an important family wedding. Not being clued in, I took that story on its face value and saw him off to Bombay. I was then summoned again to do the reverse to receive him at the airport and put him on a train to the village and this time, I found that both the brothers were on their way back home. I was told by my mother later that Mama had gone off to Bombay to see if he could live away from his family and comfort zone and chose my father’s home to experiment.

I moved on and lost touch with all my Tamil Nadu contacts for a few years till I met all of them at my sister’s wedding in Madras in 1971. I then learnt that Mama had taken to the life of a mendicant and no one knew quite where he was. I was requested by Mama 2 to keep an eye out for him in places of pilgrimage on my tours and I did that without any success whatsoever.

It was in the eighties when I was stationed in Delhi that I once again heard about Mama who had been sighted in Haridwar and whether I could try and locate him. I rushed off to Haridwar and Rishikesh and spent a few futile days looking for him. It was then that I learnt about so many people who had left homes and were mendicants. None of them would be forthcoming about any one else when someone went looking for one as all of them were on the same quest or were running away from some thing or the other. I returned to Delhi and informed the family that I was unsuccessful.

I returned to Bombay for another stint there in 1983 and learnt that Mama 2 had received a steel trunk through a lorry transport company, with some money and all clothes that Mama had taken with him. No one knows what happened to him and the family speculates that he took sannyasa and simply vanished into the Himalayas. I have tried to find out what prompted him to take this step without any success whatsoever. One of the closely held secrets within the older generation of my family and friends.

This is one of the probable routes that I often contemplate taking to reach my own salvation. Who knows? I may yet do that. All my readers can then ponder on what would have motivated me to do something like that.