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Vol. XXXIV No. 2, May 1-15, 2024

Remembering C. Ramakrishna

-- by Shobha Manickam,

Last evening, while taking a stroll around our apartment building garden, I saw the potted bougainvillea plant full of peach and pink blooms! I had received the plant cutting from Mr. Ramakrishna’s farmhouse on one of our visits, some years ago.

My warm association with Mr. Ramakrishna began thanks to the mangoes from his farm, which I had bought one summer in May. Amazed and thrilled with the delicious taste and variety, I thanked him and gave him my feedback. He proudly replied that his farm, full of mango-laden trees,was a sight for Gods to see and that I was welcome to visit it.

And that was the start of my innumerable weekend trips with my family, to his farms in Elleedu and Venangapettai.

Our first visit indeed left us breathless with awe. The branches laden with mangoes, of different hues, shapes and sizes, were hugging the ground below. ‘There were around 25 varieties, developed over the years.

We were fortunate to have had the chance to visit the farm on weekends. He was particular that only people who loved nature were welcome to go there. He would ensure that our stay was truly enjoyable. His wonderful aesthetic sense was evident all over the farm. The two bedroom-bath attached guest cottage, on the right of the entrance to the property, with sloping tiled roof was under a huge Ficus tree with roots hanging down and firmly rooted in the earth beneath. Just adjacent to it was a huge well which irrigated the farm and we were told that it was always full of water. We would wake up to the lively chirping of birds and the knock on the door by Ramu with hot filter coffee made with fresh cow’s milk and served in ­davaras! We would relax in the sit out, sipping it and drinking in the beautiful sight of the grand old trees that filtered the sunlight all around us. We would climb the 3 steps to the concrete Machan, next to the cottage to survey the vast green rice fields with the orange globe of the Sun God rising in the horizon. Mr. Ramakrishna’s cottage was about 100 yards away, with a little garden around it.

The kitchen was housed in another cottage next to a big well, away from the guest cottages and on the opposite side. It lay amidst a bunch of coconut trees. It was quite amazing to see a young boy sprinting up the trees in a trice to throw the coconuts down to us so that we could relish the delicious, sweet coconut water and its tender kernel. The kitchen had a nice roof-covered verandah, open all around, to enjoy our meals amidst nature. Cook Ramu and his wife Muthulakshmi would hover around us like mother hens, fetching hot food and making sure we had had our fill. Such a wonderful, heartwarming experience!

A kilometre away was a lush arboretum which was planted with the help of the Salim Ali Foundation and close friend Mr. Geethakrishnan, ex-Finance Secretary to the Government of India. It consisted of 360 species of plants and trees from all over India. With their names were neatly labelled on wooden boards. And also on the opposite side, of the land, groves of guavas, pomegranate, sapota, gooseberry and 42 varieties of bamboo!

We would relax on a stone bench in a small thatched shelter there, with a well behind and surrounded by flowering plants and shrubs, enjoying the cool breeze, laced with a delicate fragrance of flowers. A single room cottage with restroom attached adjoined it and a terrace above, which had the heavenly Sampangi flower branches overhanging it. We were told by his staff that he would spend a long time sitting on the terrace gazing fondly at the vast green expanse all around, till darkness set in.

He would always check with the staff there and later with us if we had truly appreciated and enjoyed his arboretum, all the rare species gracing the farm and growing so well out there.

Five years ago, he built a temple for Lord Ganesha on his Venangapettai farm, facing the main ECR Road. A small beautiful temple surrounded by plants and flowering trees. He invited us to visit the temple and went there ahead, to personally show us. We were touched to see him waiting for us patiently for nearly an hour because the traffic had delayed us.

The priest performed the puja. It was a truly beautiful, simple and aesthetically built temple with the surrounding lush garden.

He then took us to the ancient Shiva and Vishnu temples there of which his family were trustees. Archanas were performed. Mr. Ramakrishna, despite difficulty in walking, (for which he had to be supported by his staff) would recite the shlokas along with the priests. Thereafter doing the Pradakshina round the sanctum sanctorum, he would keenly observe and listen to the shlokas being chanted by the priests to make sure they were doing it right. Visiting the Lord Ganesha, Shiva and Vishnu temples in one evening, with him was a divine experience amidst the peaceful surroundings.

He had recently built a smart clinic for the villagers, airy and comfortable with a large lovely garden around it. It was the work of a young lady architect who had made sure it had a nice, warm ambience unlike a hospital. It was 8.30 p.m. and he was still on his feet, listening to his people, meeting them all and finally sat down to his dinner at 10 pm!

His favourite line while dealing or pulling up his staff was, “Yo, Po ya!” out of impatience, reprimand or dismissal. This mannerism of his always amused me. But the words carried affection and care. And they all had immense respect and affection for him and continue to do so now.

Intensely passionate about nature, he loved to do more and more with whatever farmland he had. Volatile too, you really didn’t know when and how he might react. Thoroughly impatient, if you hesitated or beat around the bush while talking to him, you were sure to get a mouthfull! I had experienced it and was initially taken aback; but by and by, I understood why and realized that it was a positive quality – he valued getting straight to the point without wasting time.

He had a little outlet, built just inside his property, opening on to the roadside, for selling the 25 varieties of the ‘king of fruits’ that grew on his farm. It was something we eagerly looked forward to every summer.

He was deeply interested in Sanskrit and had not only a teacher coming home for his lessons but would also attend classes in the Sanskrit school to immensely enjoy our scriptures, puranas and epics in this divine language.

I wish personalities like him, would have a long life, to make the world a beautiful, interesting place, in whatever way they can.

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