Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXIX No. 4, June 1-15, 2019
In the panchayati elections that were round the corner that summer in Poonamallee, where I grew up, the final contenders were Ganshyamdas (GD), a Rajasthani whose ancestors had settled in Madras Presidency decades back and Kalivaradan, (KV) a son of the soil, as he had proudly dubbed himself to be.
As complexions went GD, due to the contributory genome was fair, with the sheen of a slab of badam halwa, chubby cheeks and an ear-to ear-smile, framed under a milk white khadi cap, whereas KV was as shiny as polished ebony, with rows of uniform teeth, that flashed like white piano keys, whenever he smiled, which was only at the sight of money. It was a paradox that while GD could speak Tamil in a sing-song voice, faultlessly, though it was not his mother tongue, KV’s spoken Tamil, to put it succinctly, was not Tamil at all. In yet another reversal of roles, KV’s business it was to lend money, whereas the man from Marwar printed marriage invitations, exercise books, obituary notices, cinema paatu puthagams and such.
GD chose me as an aide in his electioneering, principally to distribute rose-coloured bit notices from a horse driven carriage, in which a two-piece band was in attendance. The mare that pulled the cart seemed to disapprove of the poor quality of music, but had no choice of escaping the onslaught.
The symbol allotted to GD was a gooja (pitcher or jug), and understandably, his sales pitch was, ‘friends, vote for the gooja, the cool one, that slakes your thirst.’ KV’s symbol was kettle, which had to be hot if it was to be of any use. GD seemed to have stolen a march over his opponent on symbol per se. He sent an earthenware gooja to every household gratis, whereas KV could not afford a freebie of metallic kettles.
The town was agog with excitement as polling day drew closer. The psephologists of the town, during their post-dinner analysis in street corners predicted that it would be a cakewalk for GD. His opponent seethed with anger, and was reportedly in a huddle with his poll agents discussing the ways and means of reversing the trend.
But strange things do happen during elections – rigging, booth capturing, resurrection of the dead to cast their votes (who later vanish into their graves) – but nothing to beat what happened in our town. A week before the polling date, Pandiraj, KV’s amorous son with a dashing pencil-line moustache eloped with the svelte Deepali, teenaged daughter of GD.
Though the boy’s father did a war dance in rage uttering choice expletives, GD, with admirable sangfroid called on the KVs to discuss what could be done. ‘Deepali’s happiness is paramount’, he declared. ‘I’ll withdraw my candidature, so you can win unopposed. If you will agree to this proposal, we shall publish a joint ad forgiving them, so the eloped lovers can come back for matrimony.’
The town’s wit, who quoted the Bard’s ‘All is well that ends well’ added his own: ‘If this is not a fruitful electoral alliance what else is?’
Visits to the barber’s shop for the periodic trimming of our head of hair has now become somewhat dull.
In the past the barber’s shop (it was nothing more than this!) was usually crowded and we had to sit on the bench for some time before our turn came. We whiled away the waiting time by browsing newspapers and magazines or listening to the radio blaring out film songs. After a political party distributed free TV sets to members of its vote bank, the scene changed and we saw song and dance sequences running on them. Customers would discuss politics, films and the doings of great men. The walls would be splattered with posters of film stars which were nothing like the latter-day calendar girls but nevertheless a source of some amusement.
The barber’s chairs were all made mostly of wood; they were cushioned but none-too-plush as they come nowadays. The sliding head-rest at the back was adjusted to suit the height of the customer. If a child was brought in, he was put on a plank resting on the two armrests of the chair so the barber could work conveniently.
Many of the accessories that the barber used have changed. No longer do we see those big clippers made of brass (one still remembers the clickety-clack sound it made on the head as the barber ran it). Now the trimmers are compact with different numbers for different styles of clipping. As for the noise, it’s one long buzz.
The knives used for shaving and the leather strop that was used for sharpening knives have also disappeared. Now the knives have replaceable blades – actually one half of an old razor blade split into two (the latter themselves yielding place in our homes to throw-and use or replaceable cartridge razors). In the past the used blades came in handy for sharpening pencils.
Ah, the water-sprinkler! The size and shape of the bottle have changed; the handle has changed: where is that long one with a ringed twist in the middle.
To work up lather for shaving the beard, the shop had a cup of soap and a brush, which because of overworking would have the bristles, once a tight pack of soft hairs, standing up like a bouffant.
Saloons of the past had huge mirrors on the rear wall. For one thing they made the room look bigger; for another – more important – the customer could see what was really happening at the back of his head and the nape. Now the barber opens a folded mirror and holds it in a playacting manner.
I felt a pat on my shoulder. The barber removed the cape and said, “Over.” I got down from the perch.
32, (Old 20-21), Conran Smith Road
Chennai 600 086
I was trying to postulate how you will be putting together the special issue on the colossus Muthiah who breathed Madras, instead of oxygen till his last. Your special is immersive in that it starts from the cover portrait, not in sepia, but in colour, to showcase the vibrancy he associated the multi-hued metropolis with; continuing with his well-stacked book-case that overflowed to the next page, and the glowing tributes from a cross section of his admirers, rather bhaktas. A commendable effort, a litmus test, that assures MM is in good hands and the show will go on. As long as he lived, Muthiah was observing the great city from his ringside seat and was commenting and chronicling on the emergence of the great metropolis. Now, having given up his seat, he will be watching it from his position of eminence in a top angle and so will have a wider vision, and indubitably more matter to write about, that lo and behold, cannot be transmitted to earth. The Muthiah special is a peach, the only regret being, he is not here to riffle, read, admire and pat you on the back.
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The commemorative issue was extremely well done. Put together with a lot of feeling it has emerged as a collector’s item. All the tributes were straight from the heart not unexpectedly since Mr. Muthiah touched so many lives.