Ramanathan Radhakrishnan, to be somewhat more precise.
Or, just Raddy to many of us.
No idea how many of those holy “us”-es exist anymore. And that includes Raddy himself.
But he did exist once upon a time. My classmate of course, a classmate who keeps floating up every now and then in my stream of memories. Among other flotsam I guess. I wonder why. He must have been special.
Radhakrishnan was a loveable chap, somewhat childish in temperament though. I mean as a student of Standard VI, if you take into account the number of times he would break into tears, literally so, when circumstances did not favour him. There were many such. And ours was a co-ed school. Raddy didn’t mind weeping in public.
One related to reading comic strips. It was a taboo in school during our time. Utpal Dutt and N. Vishwanathan were particularly strict as far as this law went. Not that it had any impact on us. We merrily read them at home and borrowed from each other. Johnny someone or the other who carried two guns, Roy Roger, Jessie James may be (I shouldn’t mention these names to you kids — highly unlikely that you’ve heard of them — I am inadvertently revealing my age to you!!). But Julius Caesar figured there too — original Shakespeare.
As I said, all this was taboo. Reading comics was a sign of mental degradation. Only Mr. Dutt didn’t know how degraded we actually were. Except of course for Raddy. Not that Raddy was stupid. Just that he was innocent and didn’t understand why reading comic strips would stand in the way of his rise to glory. So, he brought the comic books to school and read them mostly during lunch hour and sometimes while a class was in progress. I can’t exactly recall the occasions, but Mr. Dutt could have been teaching us Milton with Raddy deeply engrossed in reading his cowboy comics.
As I said, he was somewhat innocent. Which means he would get caught. And commotion followed invariably. Mr. Dutt (or was it Mr. Vishwanathan?) would walk down the aisle and catch hold of the book Raddy had fallen in love with, snatch it away from him with a warning that harsher punishments would follow if he defied the law. A sheepish, though adorable smile, was what Raddy used to respond with, knowing probably that the book would soon come back to his possession, so long as he promised not to repeat the crime again. Perhaps it did.
And then he repeated this heinous crime, again, again, again and then again and again. Till one day Mr. Utpal Dutt took hold of the book and tore it to pieces in front of the class. Now Raddy had probably borrowed it from a friend or a local library ( who knows). So destruction of the book mattered. He was liable to return the book. Tears streamed down his cheeks as on all such occasions. Not silent mind you. He wailed and accused the person engaged in the cruel act of chastisement. What sort of logic he came up with to defend his case I have no memory of alas. But that crying face continues to haunt.
The crying face of a young boy. We were all quite young of course, but he was surely the one who stood out. On one occasion Raddy loudly protested through his tears and told Mr. Vishwanathan I remember that he was Mr. Vishwanathan’s favourite victim whatever “crime” might have been committed by whoever it was that committed it! How much truth there was to this accusation I can’t tell, but Mr. Vishwanathan even tried to argue in self-defense. Recorded history, unfortunately, does not have anything to offer on the manner in which this battle ended.
Raddy, was single mindedly devoted to science. I am sure he wished to grow into a scientist. And that was fun, at least for me. He taught me how to manufacture electric bells. We would walk over to an electrical goods shop near our homes (he lived 5 minutes’ walk away from mine) and purchase the necessary raw materials and before we sat down to work on the bells, we would discuss with great interest the theory underlying the simple devices. That was enjoyable, though we quarrelled once in a while too and Raddy would storm out of my home. Accompanied by rain, that is his crying as usual. On one occasion, I remember running after him to drag him back.
Raddy was so scientifically inclined that he often mixed up his English literature work with scientific experiments in the Chemistry lab. Once he submitted a homework to Mr. Dutt which described a man quenching his thirst as he drank out of a beaker. Mr. Dutt had no idea what a beaker was doing in his literature class. He yelled at Raddy, “What’s this you have written?” Raddy replied calmly that he was speaking about a beaker. Which took us nowhere of course. I think Raddy had tried to impress the teacher by using what was classy English in his opinion. To no effect alas! Utpal Dutt wouldn’t accept a beaker to serve liquid refreshments.
It was Raddy who taught me how South Indian Brahmins wrote their names. Ramanathan was his father’s name and Radhakrishnan was his own. Much later I learnt that Ramanathan himself would be preceded by the name of the locality where the family originated and Radhakrishnan in his turn would be followed by an Iyer or an Iyengar, depending on whether one was a Shaivite or a Vaishnavite. But as I said, I learnt this much later. By then I had lost touch with Raddy. So, the prefix and suffix in his case belong to the domain of unknowables for me.
The other important lesson he taught me was that the word “Madrasi” was a Bengali invention. He explained to me carefully what he meant and I understood him quite well. But I don’t think I ever referred to him as a Tamilian. At that young age, he continued to be a Madrasi to me. Raddy was a Madrasi, just as much as Kamla Vilas was a Madrasi Guest House and Restaurant.
They lived in a cramped looking flat in an apartment building (such buildings were rare at the time). I have a vivid memory of his father’s face, but not his voice. He had never spoken to me, or else I would. As I think about the man now, he was somewhat strange. The rare occasions I came across him at their home, he would stand at a distance and simply stare at me. Expressionless. Completely so. Otherwise, I would have concluded that the face reflected a hidden sadness.
His mother was different. She was able to converse in broken Bengali and would always come out with a warm smile when I visited their home. “Won’t you wait a little, Radhakrishnan will be here soon,” she used to tell me in her version of Bengali. Very motherly, dripping with kindliness.
Many years later, when I was in charge of ISI, Delhi Centre, a cousin of mine (who had attended the same school) told me that he had news of Radhakrishnan. I followed up the link and tracked him down in US. He recognized me and replied to my email. I told him that I had fond memories of his kind mother. He informed me that she had expired under unfortunate circumstances. That’s about all that passed between us. He never responded to my mails after the first one or two.
Also, Raddy sounded different. He didn’t sound the innocent little boy I knew. He was more like a busy professional. It was clear that he didn’t shed tears anymore. His tears may have dried up. He had shed them all as an youngster.
It was my time to cry. Over my lost childhood.