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.