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Vol. XXX No. 13, November 1-15, 2020

The man who wrote his own obituary

by Mohan V. Raman

Ejji K. Umamahesh was a ray of sunshine in the world of Madras Musings. A frequent caller over the phone on matters concerning the city’s history between the 1950s and the 1980s, he would always have Mr S. Muthiah laughing with his many unprintable reminiscences of otherwise respectable pillars of society. He introduced himself to people with a visiting card that was designed like Google’s home page, with the word Ejji typed in the search box. People were then told that all they had to do was to search for his profile online and sure enough, typing Ejji retrieved his website as the first result.

He drew me into his inner circle of friends and he never missed reading his copy of Madras Musings. One of his last acts was to leave instructions that his subscription for the magazine had to be renewed no matter what happened to him. Ejji to many of us represented Madras – he knew everyone, was familiar with almost every part of the city and above all, embraced everyone with love and affection, irrespective of caste, colour, creed or gender. His facebook page had a daily update identifying one public figure or the other and lampooning them for their hidebound and reactionary attitudes. This was titled A—H – of the Day. It never failed to evoke much laughter. A few years ago, Sushila Ravindranath and I invited Ejji to speak on the history of motorsports in Chennai. It was an unforgettable event, with record crowds, some veterans from the sport coming to attend, and repeated claps and cheering. At our request, his cousin, the actor Mohan V. Raman, has penned this tribute.
– The Editor

Many of you may have seen the movie – My cousin Vinny. Joe Pesci, plays the unconventional, bold, creative and savvy cousin. I am reminded of this cousin of mine – Ejji as he was popularly known or Umamahesh as he was officially named. Many versions are there for this rather unique nickname but one that was (sort of) corroborated by his parents stems from the fact that his father Dr. Krishnan used to refer to his wife Janaki as the Mother Goose of the family and when she gave birth to Ejji, he was referred to as the “Egg” which became Ejji. As far as the “Cousin” bit goes its simple – his paternal grandfather and mine were brothers. More often than not Ejji always advised me not to advertise this fact to everyone lest they shun me thereafter. It is always amazing how such a colourful personality could only see things as Black or White. His famous phrase was – One is either pregnant or not pregnant, there is no in-between stage .

There are two major difficulties I am facing in writing this firstly I am unable to write about Ejji in the past tense and secondly how to write a sort of obituary when he wrote his own and had the same published, creating a trend in social media? I had friends of mine from Delhi and even New Zealand posting it in WhatsApp and to all of them, despite your advice, Ejji, I proudly declared – He is my Cousin.I am reproducing what he wrote as it best describes him.

Congenital Sybarite, Recycled teenager, Rat race runner (retd), Whole time house husband and home maker, Compulsive party host, Theatre and movie actor, International car rally driver and organiser, Omnitarian, Rationalist, Humanist, Atheist, Free thinker, Hasher, Past Rotarian, Past Round Tabler, 41 er, Freemason, Founder Ejji Domestic Services and Ejji Maintenance Contracts, Deputy Secretary Formula 1 Indian Grand Prix 2010 to 2013 …. (other interests, associations and occupations left out on purpose since they are never publicly disclosed)

Dear Friends, enemies and those in between

Thanks for sharing my exciting life. My party is over and I hope there is no hangover for those I leave behind.

Time is running out for everyone. Live well, enjoy your life and continue the Party. As John Lennon said “Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans”. Cheers and bye forever and please Live, don’t exist – Ejji.

This piece that he wrote has made him a famous name posthumously much like two other eccentrics Van Gogh and Bharathiyaar – I am not comparing them or in any way belittling the other two but only speaking in the context of posthumous fame. Ejji lived life precisely and exactly as he wanted, did just what he pleased and cared two hoots for what Society would say. In this he probably took after his grandfather’s youngest brother Dr A. Srinivasan. The good doctor on his demise left his entire wealth to the “Dogs of Madras”. The legal conundrum took years for my father to resolve till the amount was handed over by the Court to the Blue Cross / Veterinary College. Despite having strong opinions Ejji was always open to new ideas and never hesitated to accept that his view was wrong. After a late night party argument with my wife he went back home and wrote her a note that said that he was incorrect to assume that HIS view was the ONLY correct view and that he was sorry. Only the truly honest and brave like Ejji apologise.

Ejji had a great ability to live a dream and dream a life. His life as an entrepreneur started with the toilet cleaning and housekeeping of his friend Yeshwanth Veecumsee’s Theatres – Safire, Blue Diamond and Emerald. Soon multinationals like Metal Box and Philips sought his services – Ejji Maintenance contracts went from strength to strength. He found that homeowners in Madras were in dire need of the services of competent Electricians, Plumbers, Carpenters, Pump mechanics and others in maintaining their homes and thus was born Ejji Domestic Services. It was in many ways the forerunner of Urban Clap (now Urban), the popular app for hiring help with household maintenance. From 1971 to 1991 he ran the business and then retired though the entity continued to operate for a decade plus thereafter . He refused lucrative buyout offers from many overseas investors as he felt that his name “Ejji” may take a beating if they did not do business the way he did. A true marketer identifies a need in the market and fulfills it. Ejji was one.

Having retired, he turned to his other passions. He was involved with several stagings of the Madras Players and acted in films. He was always a lover of Motor Sports and was involved with MMSC and later the Indian Federation. He was a regular at Sholavaram and kept abreast with the Sport and the Cars. His proud possession was a 1960s Ford Mustang. He started taking part in car rallies and then became one of the organisers – plotting routes, arranging facilities etc. The Government of India turned to him when they wanted to hold events such as the ASEAN Rally. He thus was able to combine his desire to see the world with his love for cars. He organised rallies across the length and breadth of India, Europe, Russia, Middle East, Far East and even Africa.

He introduced the famous Autorickshaw Rally and it became a big hit. He was also involved with Formula racing in the country and was Deputy Secretary for F1 racing. His love for motor sports was far greater than the contempt he had for politics and so he was able to work with many Governments and Agencies.
It was during one rally covered live by national television that the world saw Ejji, the omnivore, when he ate venomoid tarantulas from Vietnam. He tried everything – spiced, liquor-soaked worms, biltongs from South Africa – dried salted meat of Ostrich, Giraffe, Wilderbeest to name a few. All perfectly legal fare. He constantly shocked people when he landed up for a party with fried, winged, white ants known in Tamil as eesal. Once he even passed them off as hors d’oeuvres to all of his nephews and nieces.
In anything, he always chose to dive in head first and swim. I remember him telling my Dad that he was taking me out to teach me to drive a car. He took me to the beach and taught me the basic clutch , gear and brake operations (a few reversing manoeuvres too). He allowed me to drive there for an hour and straight we were off to Pondy Bazaar, with me at the wheel.

Ejji and my dad had a wonderful relationship that can never be defined. I quote from his web site – “V.P. Raman, my friend, mentor, and guide, who taught me to be straight in life and actions and never bend my head to anyone. The person who introduced me to the cream of society. The person who taught me to work without compromising on principles to make a name and a living. The person who taught me that good friends stay with you, while fair-weather friends come for the whisky and bank balance. The person who made me a Freemason and who treated me as his “unborn son.” The person who taught me the nuances of good English. The person who inculcated the love for reading in me. The person whose very name opened doors for me in society and business.”

Cheers Ejji – the party will go on though we will miss one of its most colourful guests.

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