Story 4. Panneer Selvam.

Some stories are true that never happened. -Elie Wiesel

Those are aspergils. The Indian versions are these.

The Indian version is called Panneer Selvam.  Panneer, not to be confused with Paneer which is cottage cheese, refers to rose water in Tamil.  Selvam means container. They are made of silver as well as brass.

On special occasions, like weddings, guests are welcomed by sprinkling rose water using these containers.  Panneer Selvam  is also used in local churches to sprinkle holy water during asperges. The name is given to men from both the Hindu and Tamil Christian communities to indicate that the individual is blessed and pleasant.

I chose the name Panneer Selvam to introduce my readers to the Indian version of the aspergil and the non liturgical use that it is put to.

This story is absolutely true but the names and cities/towns have been camouflaged to protect the hero’s privacy.  I have the hero’s permission to publish this story.

I do however have friends called Panneer Selvam.  All of them are grand characters and at least one of them will write to me and complain that he did not get three opportunities like the hero of this tale did.  Selvam, if you like, I shall write your story one of these days and camouflage your name and town.

My friend Panner Selvam is from the Tamil Catholic Christian community but a third generation resident of Madhya Pradesh.  His grand father, one Ebenezer went to Jabalpur to work in the government of the then Central Provinces government and put down roots there.  Like other Tamil speaking people, he and his family and descendents, kept in touch with Tamil Nadu and spoke Tamil at home.  I first met Selvam  as I shall call him henceforth, in 1970.  I had gone to meet his father Dharma Ebenezer, who was working in the Electricity Board’s Regional Office in Jabalpur.  I had been given his reference by a mutual friend in Bombay where I was posted then.  Dharma and I became good friends as I used to visit Jabalpur often as I had two major customers there.  On a few occasions, Dharma had stayed with us in Bombay and Bangalore.

Dharma and his gracious wife Ruby alas are no more, but Selvam has kept in touch with me from the days when he had just passed out of school when I first met him.  He was a strapping young lad, very handsome and his parents adored their only child. This is his story.

Ruby was a talented singer of Carnatic music and an alumnus of the Kalakshetra in Madras.  She had passed on her genes to Selvam who was, even during his school days, an accomplished Veena player.

Selvam wanted to get into a medical college but could not succeed and was heart broken.  A well wisher however advised him to collect himself and try to get into the Veterinary College and he succeeded in getting admission there.  If not a doctor for humans, he decided to become a doctor for animals and birds.

During the third year of his studies, an American Professor visited his college on a Ford Foundation program, and took to Selvam and made him his protege.  When Selvam passed out successfully, the Professor arranged for him to go to the USA for further studies.

Fast forward to the USA where our young Selvam flourished and was popular in the music lover circles where the good Professor’s daughter Mary, a flautist, had proudly involved him.  To cut a long story short, Selvam and Mary fell in love with each other and got married in the USA.

Selvam started to teach in the USA and the young couple led an idyllic life in a university atmosphere.  The marriage lasted for all of two years and broke down irreparably for reasons that are not important for this narration.  Selvam got over the debacle and stayed on in the USA to pursue his career in academics.

On one of his occasional visits to Jabalpur, he met a distant cousin Sarah from Madras also visiting Jabaplpur and the two exchanged addresses and began a long distance pen pal relationship.  It eventually blossomed into wanting to upgrade and Selvam came to India and got married to Sarah in Madras.  After completing all other formalities, Sarah moved to the USA and that marriage lasted for a little over three years.  From Selvam I gathered subsequently that Sarah simply used him as a conduit to emigrate to the USA and discarded him once she established herself there.

Selvam took to religion in a big way and had serious plans of becoming a priest and was in discussion with some church dignitaries when Dharma suddenly died in Jabalpur.  Ruby was devastated but moved to the USA to be with Selvam but could not tolerate the extreme weather conditions there.

Our hero decided to move back to India and quit his job in the USA to see if he can go into private practice in India and settle down here.  They did this in due course and the story of his struggles in India for the first few years is itself worth a novelette.  Suffice it to say that it was hard but providence came to their rescue when a builder offered to demolish their old home to build a block of flats on the land with one flat for them and a lot of cash on top.

Ruby in the meanwhile was constantly after a very reluctant Selvam to get married again and suggested that he gets married to a local Catholic girl that they both knew.  Mary was a qualified medical practitioner working in a government hospital and both families agreed for the match and they got married.  I attended this marriage and was very glad to see Ruby and Selvam again after so many years.  I teased Selvam that he will be lucky the third time around and he too agreed that he hoped so.

Six months into the marriage, Mary lost her life in an automobile accident just about a hundred meters away from their home.  Selvam went into deep depression and Ruby just could not see him like that and died soon after.

Enough for this post.  I will continue with the concluding part with a post soon.