I’ve had occasion to meet several celebrities – big and small in the course of my work and personal life. My impressions about them have been mixed – some have been lovely to be with, some have exasperated and yet others have left me ambiguous. This post is not meant to either judge or denigrate/venerate them. Like us, they’re just humans at the end of the day – we live in our worlds which are possibly simpler to live in, and they live in their somewhat more complex worlds and yet, some of them are so real. This post is to simply share with the reader, little known sides to them.
The Common Man
Who else but Late R K Laxman – the creator of the iconic Common Man? There was nothing common about him though; rather he was special – humble to a fault, somewhat brusque in his approach and I suspect completely intolerant with artifice or airs of any sort. I was fortunate to meet him and his gracious wife Late Kamala Laxman (a writer herself) in Bangalore in the early 2000s. He was in Bangalore to attend an exhibition of his cartoons. Despite his packed schedule, he had agreed to spend a short while with me. As it turned out, we spent over an hour together, during which he discovered our common Mysore origins and the fact that my grandfather Late Dr M V Gopalaswamy had taught him in college. Mrs Laxman won my heart with her gentle grace. Before I left, I asked Mr Laxman for his autograph and he grimaced, but in a good humoured way. Soon it became evident why. He didn’t just sign his name, he drew the Common Man and put his name below it. Obviously, it took an additional 10 minutes. But he smiled at the end of it and gave me what is still a treasured possession. Before I left, he invited me, more than once, to his event in the evening. I went, to respect his
invitation, only to be sized up by the hostess, who (all but) screwed up her nose in distaste and asked me what on earth I was doing there, and who had invited me (I stuck out like a sore thumb among the other invitees, who were all acknowledged ‘high-society’ names of Bangalore). I mumbled that Mr Laxman had invited me. She let me in with ill-concealed disgust. My presence there was vindicated when both Mr and Mrs Laxman saw me from the dais where they were sitting and waved at me in recognition. That was the cue for me to leave, spurning the offer of drinks and little nothings to eat that were being circulated. I pointedly said bye to Miss Snooty the hostess and left, leaving her looking puzzled at me.
I still remember the sunny day when I set off to meet the legends Late M Balamuralikrishna and L Subramaniam. I had been promised an interview with them, again, and had been cautioned to keep it short. I was confident that wouldn’t be a problem because being a music lover with no knowledge whatsoever on the intricacies of classical music, I knew I would run out of things to say in under five minutes. What happened was quite the opposite. Both the maestros were in an expansive mood and actually led the conversation sharing nuggets of priceless anecdotes from their professional lives with me. Balamuralikrishna spoke about the time he sang tillanas in Europe and the audience danced in joy. L Subramaniam spoke about how he was making music relevant for GenX. Before I knew it, I was armed with an interview rich with information, and I had hardly spoken! It was time to leave I knew, and with my heart in my mouth, I asked Balamuralikrishna if he would sing Pibare Ramarasam for me – and I waited for him to erupt in anger! Erupt he did, and how! Melodious notes gushed out of him and he sang the entire composition for me. I listened transported, scarcely realising that my eyes were moist. Kavita Krishnamurthy, wife of L Subramaniam and a renowned singer in her own right, pointed it out to my great embarrassment, and I quickly wiped my eyes and looked away. I came away feeling I had feasted on a ten-course wedding meal (moduve oota in Kannada).
Shankar Mahadevan – the happy man I call him! He is a person who doesn’t know how to frown, even if he is at the end of a 48-hour day. I was approaching him to explore whether he would agree to be the Goodwill Ambassador for The Akshaya Patra Foundation, an organisation that I was working with. When my mail reached him he was thousands of
miles away from India, on a hectic singing tour and yet, found time to pen a one-line reply saying Yes, I will! After that I had occasion to meet him several times – and each time I came away marveling at his ability to be child-like enthusiastic about everything he did. He felt so keenly for the cause of addressing hunger among children that his constant refrain would be – “Use me, I want to help.” He is also the ultimate romantic and his lovely relationship with wife Sangeeta constantly amazed me. She accompanies him everywhere and sits where he can see her while singing and it is always to her that he directs his music. I moved on, and haven’t met or spoken to him in a while, but Shankar, your generosity and simplicity will always inspire me!
CGK Reddy – my mentor, guide and role-model. But also a revolutionary, prime opposer of the Emergency in India, and very vocal defender of human rights. My short, very short time with him showed me that one doesn’t need a lifetime to be influenced by a person. I met him just four or five times before his unfortunate passing away, but in that short while, he made a huge difference to my life – he showed me the way to a brand new career as a writer. I will never forget his mantra – write 500 words as a discipline every day if you want to be a writer was his advice to me. The most endearing quality about him was his ability to reach out easily – as he had reached out to me, a total stranger who had written a letter to him in appreciation of his piece in the Deccan Herald. He invited me home to meet him and before I knew it, we were chatting like old friends. I never saw the other, fiery rebel side of him; I only read about his daring fight against the Emergency, and often wondered whether the genial man I knew was the same steely fighter. The cups of coffee (made to perfection by his wife Vimala) we shared, his ability to inject life and humour into conversations and his zest for life are fond memories even today. Every time I write something and cross the 500th word, I look up and remember him. There, I say, I’ve gone beyond your target CGK! As I have today!
There are so many others I must write about, but then, this piece will become very long, and go into many 500s. So I must stop here and go into another installment, another day! Granddad and Dad must wait, or I’ll be accused of nepotism!