“So Jayashri’s visit to Bombay is f***ed ?” He asked me, eyes twinkling.
I stared at the man open mouthed!! The versatile four letter word so blithely flowing out of the 60 year old, supposedly god fearing Tamil Brahmin’s lips stunned me. Hey, this guy is cool, I thought to myself and gave him a chummy smile, almost as if to say, “hey you old coot, did not know you were one of us”!!
Again he said “So thanks to the strike in her factory, Jayashri’s trip to Bombay seems to have gone Phut”
Ah! I realized with a tinge of disappointment that he had actually said Phut (means Kaput) and not really the word of words.
This was my first interaction with Mr. V. Ramamurti, my would be father in law. My wife and I met each other in XLRI, where she was one year junior to me. Subsequently, she also ended up at Titan watches, where we had our respective first jobs (she vehemently denies that she chased me and came to Titan – Ha). We fell in love and wanted to get married. The only catch was that she was from a Tamil Brahmin (Iyer) family and I was from a Malayali Menon family. Since Jayu’s mom had passed away when she was quite young, quite a bit of her upbringing was done by her grandmother, who also ran their household – in a very traditional manner.
So when Jayu upped and told her dad that she wanted to marry a Malayali, he even refused to acknowledge it.
It took a fair amount of work from her sister to convince her dad that I was rather higher in the evolutionary pegging order than a pathetic worm. The fact that I could down 12 pegs of rum a day without blinking an eyelid and smoke enough cigarettes to make a substantial contribution to global warming were facts that were wisely hidden from him at that time. So one fateful day, I reached Mumbai to make first contact. With a heart full of apprehension and hope I waited in Shubha’s (Jayu’s sister) house for the prospective father in law, V.Ramamurti to descend. And his first words as he descended were what I described in the beginning.
Even though it turned out that he did not use my type of words, over the next couple of days, I came to the conclusion that he was a decent sort of bloke. Quite amiable and sweet, though he did take me thru a bit of history (namely of his own childhood thru to adulthood days), by the end of two days we were on decidedly chummy terms. But my restlessness kept growing, since after 48 hours, the gentleman never once mentioned the holy alliance between his daughter and myself. I felt a bit deflated, much as how Musharaf did when after being invited by Clinton to discuss a $1Billion aid, at the end of the visit he discovered that all he and Bill had discussed were Pakistani women, Cigars, terrorists, Kababs and what not.
But I was made of strong stuff. In the last 5 minutes before I was to eject from the house, I took courage in my hands and with a prayer in my heart, I told him – “Uncle, I am sorry if I have hurt you in anyway by falling in love with your daughter.” Impressive stuff, you must admit. And it finally penetrated the armor. VR got quite emotional and I could see that I was now well on the way to winning the trophy.
And trophy I did win in Feb 1995. From the wedding onwards, our cultures were a study in contrast. The wedding was in Malayali style, in a temple. The visiting Tam Brahm clan, which had braced themselves for the usual ‘2 nights of smoke and lack of sleep, which causes headaches’ kind of wedding felt like the rug was pulled from under their feet when having been herded into the temple, after the first blink, they discovered that RamG and Jayu were now man and wife. Cheated, I say!!
Appa (from that day, that is what I called Jayu’s dad) had sent 50K to my dad to organize the wedding. He had carried another similar sum in a leather bag, clutched to his bosom for the past 48 hours. The sum, he was sure may not be enough to cover the overall cost. He could not believe his ears when my dad returned some money from the original 50K itself stating that the total expense was below 50K. All said and done, the flag of RamG was now generally flying high in Appa’s eyes.
Appa made a formal entry into our home after our first baby – Ananya – was born. It was a huge relief for us, since it meant an overall supervision of things at home. A supervisory role which Appa took to with gusto!! A bit too much of gusto at times!!
The incident, which was to be referred to ever since as the ‘Economic Times Crisis’ happened around 6 years after our marriage. We had just shifted to Coimbatore. I discovered Hindu Businessline there and wanted to order this daily, along with the Hindu and Eco Times. Appa vehemently protested. Or so I heard, since Mappilai Maryadai (the respect due to a son in law) prevented him from disagreeing with me directly and all such conversations were routed thru the medium of Jayu!! His point was that Hindu Businessline and ET covered the same stuff and so why order both. I put my foot down. I pointed out to my wife that I was the master of the house. I made sure that she personally briefed the paperwallah on our daily requirements. Matters went well for 3 days. Then I realized that the ET was missing from the daily bouquet of papers.
An intense investigation was instituted at home. And I couldn’t believe the findings!! Appa, the god fearing Brahmin, the man who was so courteous and sweet had got up at 5AM (which anyway he does) and instructed the paperwallah to stop ET. I was speechless. This complete underhand deal left me baffled. Of course, I could not express my displeasure to him directly, except by giving him dirty looks behind his back and muttering – “where is the ET?” in a marked manner within his earshot. Jayu, of course was a chingari. She took it up very strongly with Appa and finally we restored the ET. Except on Saturdays and Sundays – where Appa still had his way. He believed that at Rs.5, this edition was a waste. So we finally entered into a truce – ET stayed, but not the weekend edition. Peace reigned throughout the household again. All was well.
Apart from these few incursions across the LOC, Appa was generally the personification of sweetness, piousness and love. I am yet to see a more wonderful human being in my life. His sweet nature also ensures that most of the young women that we knew clustered around him. (This of course was also a very positive development as far as I was concerned)
When I shifted to Coimbatore and Jayu gave up her job after Advay, our son was born, Appa was very worried if we could still afford the quality of rice we were used to. Since he ran the household, cheaper rice became the norm. It took us quite sometime and a promotion to convince him that we were not actually below the poverty line.
This is the quintessential Appa – he worries about everything. He worries that we might miss our flight every time we go on tour. He worries about our work. He worries about the kids… If he has a train to catch, he would be at the platform 2 hours early.
But the huge contradiction is the incredible courage he displayed when his wife was suffering from MND at a young age. I believe he never ever gave up hope or stopped trying. He took care of her every need, spending hours by her bedside in her last days. After she passed away, he continued displaying the same courage – bringing up two girls, trying to ensure they never felt the absence of their mother, pushing them academically, till one got into the civil services and one got into XLRI. Today, he is a proud father, happy at their achievements.
Over the last few years, he has adjusted so well to me and my Malayali ways. (He refers to all Malayalis as Malayali gentlemen, almost as if it is an oxymoron.) He does not even mind that we cook chicken at home. My son, in a mad sense of humor once went and told him – “Tata, I am a Brahmin”. Thrilled, Appa asked him why he felt that. The answer came promptly “ Because I eat chicken!”
Over time, he realized that his son in law was rather attached to the occasional binges. He however turned a blind eye. Except on one occasion, when a lot of my friends had come visiting and we were partying late into the night. Having run out of Tequila, we decided to have shots of Triplesec. In about half an hour, I was completely sozzled. The nearest bed in sight was next to Appa and I decided to sleep it off. Unfortunately, as soon as my head hit the pillow, it seemed to be caught in a tornado, and I had a terrible urge to throw up. I got out of bed, only to find out that my legs seemed to have lost all coordination. I gamely crawled on all fours to the bathroom and back. Poor Appa was awake all the while, watching the antics in horror. But his heart melted when having laid down next to him, I kept muttering, “I am sorry Appa.” “Even in his dire straits, he only thinks of me” – he proudly told my wife later.
The most touching moment in our relationship happened when I had a job in Gurgaon and we had to shift from Hyderabad to Gurgaon. Appa had many friends in Hyderabad and I knew he would miss the place terribly. I asked Appa whether he would mind moving. He looked at me and said “ When I was young, I wanted to bring my old dad from Tanjore to Mumbai. I asked him whether he would feel out of pkace in Mumbai. He turned to me and told me – where Ram is there, that is Ayodhya. Similarly, for me, where Ram is there, that is Ayodhya”. I was deeply touched.
He has become such an essential ingredient to daily life, that I miss him so much when he is away. Even his micromanaging ways- my wife jokingly asks me whether Appa has been acting too Uppity every once in a while – has now become an entertainment. When a person loves you unconditionally, how do these small things matter? Every moment he is at home, I feel enveloped in his love and tenderness.
Kudos to Ramamurti – the Tamil Brahmin who was born in an ultra orthodox family in an Agraharam in deep Tamil Nadu, who has had the courage to modify his traditional beliefs and who has been able to accept, love and wholeheartedly embrace a son in law like me.