This is Shanmugham, my friend from the park. He is from Tamil Nadu and wears the traditional dress of that state; white dhoti and half sleeve shirt. He speaks the same language as my mother tongue and that is the factor that brought the two of us together.
He is a retired farmer from the Kaveri delta. He comes from a village very close to my ancestral village. One of his sons now manages his agricultural interests. He has another one running a very profitable fly ash brick making industry, close to his farm lands. One of his sons is a Manager in a Five Star hotel in Quatar and another is the Executive Chef in a Five Star hotel in Pune. He has come to Pune to spend time with the last.
Where I sit in the park after my walk, to my left all my English/Hindi speaking friends sit and to my right, Shanmugham and another Tamil speaking friend Ganesan sits, and occasionally, another Tamil friend Ramanathan joins too. An important friend, Rangachari has just gone off on a three month tour of South India and the Far East Asia. All these gentlemen live with their sons as do I. The difference being that they keep visiting their many sons, while I stay put with my one and only child Ranjan. All of them keep visiting their daughters too.
Whenvever any of these friends come home, my father is over joyed as he can speak to them in Tamil and he particularly likes to chat with Shanmugham with whom he shares the agricultural background.
My English/Hindi speaking friends wonder how I can survive in the stereophonic cacaphony every evening and are convinced that I am a freak. I agree.
Shanmugham is my current link to my roots and some common sense solutions to life’s problems. He is totally guileless and entirely fits this definition of the phrase of this blog post: “Those of great worth and reliability.” All his children, the four sons and two married daughters as well as a brood of grand children adore him as I can make out from the telephone calls that he keeps getting from around the globe as well as from the way he is treated by his local family.
He neither speaks nor understands any language other than Tamil. He has studied up to the fourth standard in a Tamil medium school, and while is literate, not very well read. He is wise and his IQ must be over 140. He had to stop schooling to help his father run the farm and so lost out on formal education. For all that, he has ensured that all his children studied and the results are there for all to see.
His background, one foot in the village and the other in other towns and cities of India as well as overseas, is repeated all over India and is a factor behind some good and some bad developments. His story however is full of the good developments. With this particular story as a backdrop, this NYT article shows how complex and enigmatic India is.
I am privileged to have him as my friend and I am flattered that he considers me as a good friend too.