Memories are funny things, some ever elusive like the artful dodger, whereas others are always at hand, etched in stone and indelible in their clarity. For most of us, it’s the ones from our childhood that we hold closest to our hearts, the years when our worlds are small and the days stretch out forever without any clear purpose. The earliest memories I have of the big man are both hazy and brief. A pair of Ray-Bans, Woodland shoes, Charagh din shirts, faded jeans, the Brut cologne and the chugging sound of a Bullet bike. In retrospect, it feels strange that all I remember of the big man from those days are things mostly external. Nothing of the person he was inside whatsoever. I was very timid as a little boy and there was scant interaction between us at the time. Could be why I have little recollection of his character or deportment. He was an intimidating figure, tall, broad shouldered, rugged and vigorous. I am sure I must have been quite scared of him.
Even to this day, I vividly remember standing behind mum at the door trying to get a peek at him kick-starting the bike every morning, when he left home for work. It was a test of strength for the bullet never started without making a fuss. The big man always won in the end though. We heard him returning from work from almost a mile away, for in those days there were hardly any vehicles in our little town and the bullet’s thunder made its presence felt without fail. Virajpet was a quiet place and the locality in which we lived, even more so. He worked in a bank and knew almost everyone in town. A stroll around town in his company would mean saying hello to a lot of people. In fact it still is, even to this day!
There were times when he brought his Kodava friends home. They came on their Yezdis, mostly people from the bank and all of them used to sit in the hall, sipping beer and whisky. At the time I didn’t understand Kodava thak and it was up to my imagination to give interpretation to the topics of these discussions. My mom was equally lost during these times, being from Ooty herself. Those were difficult years, both of us strangers in a land of people we could neither understand nor acquaint ourselves with easily. The only thing I truly looked forward to at the time was term-end vacation, when I was packed off to my grandparents’ place. The big man used to drop us off at the KSRTC bus stand. He knew a guy there who would find seats for us and help us with our luggage. I remember sitting in the bus, watching him straddle his bike and zoom away. During these moments, he seemed straight out of a movie set, so much larger than life.
Many years have passed, and now when I stand shoulder to shoulder with him, I feel so much has changed. Yet, sometimes when I look at him, I fondly recall those years when the big man was more hero than human and for an instant, I am transformed into the little boy sitting on the Bullet in front of my father, having not a care in the world!