There was a framed slightly moth eaten, faded, black and white picture in the loft back in my mother’s house. The picture was the record of the day someday in the 1930s.The scene shot was the Petta railway station platform, in the outskirts of Thpuram. There are a group of men and women, clad in khadi and sporting caps of the Congress party, all standing and in two rows. A “half naked Indian fakir”, standing along them! He has a staff in hand, slightly bent frame and skinny native pallor. Standing in the group is also a man in his late thirties, my maternal grandfather.
The day marked Mahatma Gandhi’s arrival in Thpuram. I was fascinated by that photograph. It is fascinating and awe to encounter Supermen! I envied the old man, my grandfather.
It was in 1978, and an evening in Thpuram. The then beautiful stadium in the heart of the city, “Chandrasekarn Nair Police stadium” was packed with men, women and children. Many had come from far and away. It was little after 5 pm and the crowd was frothing with excitement and impatience. it was a tidal wave that wanted to break on to the shore. There was, I remember vividly not many police men around, and that was strange for the occasion. The fact was the State was then ruled by the Marxist led Government and they perhaps in their convoluted ideology and thought- what they would call wisdom decided that she did not need any protection of the state police. They wanted her to fend for herself. A repartee in silence for the almost two years of dictatorship she inflicted on them.
She came in a white Contessa car. Like a girl in her youth she sprinted the few yards to the platform and troded up the flight of stairs on to the platform. The crowd roared a mixture of applause, and booing. She was clad in white sari and long sleeved blouse. She waved at the crowd. And soon began her speech. I was standing quite near the platform. I had once seen her some fifteen odd years back, while she went past in an open jeep through the main through fare in Thpuram in a motorcade and with grandeur, waving at the frantic, yelling crowd that thronged the sides. Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s first visit to Thpuram as the Prime minister of India!
Back now at the stadium fifteen years later she was looking old and the travails of her life of the past showed. She has been out of power, in jail and now on campaign trail .She paused for a while in silence, when the namaz call blared through the loudspeaker in the adjacent Masjid. I felt that was a well thought ploy to appease the Muslims by conveying her sense of respect.
By the time she finished her speech a section of the crowd was surging infuriated, shouting expletives at her. She was soon whisked into the car and it sped out. The crowd surged behind. I took the short route to the road and reached her car. She was seated in front alongside the driver. It was apparent that the antagonistic crowd was blocking the car and threatening, her. I saw Mrs. Gandhi at arm’s length! And I noticed fear, and uncertainty in that face that displayed, power, regality and guts. The personality that told the most powerful man in the world Richard Nixon the President of the USA to “fuck off “and not get involved in the subcontinent .The pictures that were displayed much in the newspapers were a distant faint reality and memory. I saw her cornered like doe amidst a pride of hungry carnivores. Somehow the car managed to speed away. I saw fear and plain fear in her eyes and I could almost touch her.
It was the Maurya Sheraton in New Delhi and was some time in 1983. After a Company conference, I was there for the dinner and fun. I and couple of colleagues were standing out in the porch and enjoying cigarettes in the cold winter in December. An Ambassador car came by and braked with arrogance. Out jumped a man and like a lightning walked into the lobby. He moved with the swagger and confidence, as someone said of a majestic Alsatian. It was Field Marshall, Sam Manekshaw. We had too short a notice to react and he was gone.
I saw him since that day twice and was fortunate to speak to. Once in the early 2000, I met him at the Coimbatore airport. He lived in Coonoor and was travelling out of Coimbatore often on his honorary capacity as member of the board of some thirty odd corporates. He then had lost the sprint, but still the pride and regal was live. His shoulders were slightly bent. I approached him and wished him. I said, “Sir Can I have your autograph?” The Field Marshall said,”Son why me from an old man?” I told him, it is old men such as he who makes us proud.
A few years after that I met him at his residence in Connoor. My friend who is now the Brigadier took me there on a visit. He was seated in the sofa, quite frail but the exuberance and brightness in the eyes were vivid. We shook hands after my friend introduced me. I reminded him with respectful awe that he autographed for me once. He chatted briefly with me and we bid goodbye.
Sometime in the 1980’s, I met an old man in Mumbai airport. He was seated in the passenger area a few seats from me. He looked familiar and I was not keen to break my brains to think who he would be. Sometime soon he stood up and walked with a back- pack on him towards the check in area. It was then the guy next to me said that was J.R.D.Tata. I cursed myself for my silliness and I rued what I missed.
I was on my way back from a business journey. And was at the Mumbai airport. It was in the days before the air traffic boom and there was just one flight out of Mumbai to Coimbatore. Having spent the sleepless night at the airport, I was thrown wide awake from the hung-over, when I saw this short guy walk briskly in with a bag in hand and sporting a bowler hat. I ran to him and took the book I was reading with me. I said,” Mr. Gavaskar, good morning. It is nice to see you again. I saw you in Thpuram when you were there to play the one day match against Australia”. He said, “Well that was long ago, yes.” I asked him for the autograph and while he autographed, I enquired." Whatever did you feel when those West Indian giants hurled that hard cherry at you at 150 kmph?" He smiled and wrote, “with best wishes Sunny Gavaskar”.