I think writing humorous stories is more difficult than writing a heart-wrenching hundred pages tome. Only few writers could do that successfully. Wodehouse could write hundreds of novels which could keep you laughing for hours but he was one of his kind.
In Tamil, Devan was very successful and his Thuppariyum Sambu (deductive Sambu was a masterpiece. Sujatha, my favourite writer penned few hilarious stories and Mama Vijayam (Uncle’s visit) will take you back to your childhood days. Translating humorous stories poses greater challenge as well to get the timing and what the writer intended to say…
Mama Vijayam (Uncle’s Visit).
Our dog’s name is Lulu. Two years old. It would not bark. To tell you the truth, it would not bark even if a thief visits home. It would not bother with anything. Used to the luxury of a King. The dog, which followed Bhagwat Gita principle of ‘Thief and the one who lets to thieve are the same’ and ‘for the curd rice you give me to eat, this is enough’ was barking loudly at 30 decibels meant only one thing; our uncle has come on a visit.
The reason for Lulu’s hatred towards my mother’s brother can be found in a flashback; in one of his earlier visits few years back, uncle started throwing jam biscuits at Lulu and it was catching them in midair happily and swallowed. After four biscuits, he threw a tamarin seed and Lulu caught that as well and swallowed it.
When it realized the betrayal it gave him a look which can’t be described in words. It emitted a moan, meaning, ‘chi! are you a human being?’ It shouted at Thina Thanthi daily headline size and ran off. It remembered the incident as vividly as the tailor who betrayed the elephant. That’s reason for Lulu’s barking that day.
Our mama’s visit was a happy occasion for all of us (except Lulu). There is nothing in the world he did not know or could not do.
As soon as he got down from the bullock-cart, he remarked, “Hey why can’t you let go off this wretched creature?” and looked at the cart driver asked, “how much?”
“We agreed for ¾ of a rupee sir.” (12 anas)
“We agreed for 6 anas; now take this 8 anas.”
“Look! I am giving 8 anas.”*
“Sir what 8 anas; do you know the price of Punnakku?” (Oil cake, a staple for the bullocks).
Uncle told him the price.
“You know the price of cotton seed?” (another food for the bullocks).
“Oh? the price of comb and my undershirt as well? Get lost!”
“I don’t want 8 anas. You keep it with you.”
“Give me 10 anas sir.”
“Now you are getting adamant. I will give only 6 anas.”
“Sir you won’t live well!”
“Don’t talk more. If it’s OK just take 8 anas and leave.”
“You are showing your character now. We agreed for ¾ Rupee.”
“Hey, you won’t change in life.”
“Hey rascal! Trifle fellow!” my uncle started in a slang and used some unparliamentary language to rhyme with what he started.
The cart driver now started using all the scolding he learnt from his childhood to his arrack shop days. He also started doubting my uncle’s birth in a good family. Lulu was barking totally in support of the cart driver. All this noise made us to wake up in the morning. To settle the dispute, our neighbour Ravi and a shopkeeper came to our place. The cart driver did not budge and only when he got his 14 anas- ¾ Rupee, the slang and scolding in chaste Tamil stopped.
Uncle came inside blaming the effect of socialist Raj; Lulu ran between his legs and came ahead which infuriated uncle even more. “Stupid bitch dog; no respect for anyone. Before leaving, I am going to give it away to the municipality.”
My sister Sasi did not like this. Mother in a welcoming tone said, “Come.”
For a moment, uncle forgot the fight with the cart drive and asked, “how are you? And where is he?”
“He is exercising in the first floor.”
“Why is he getting into all this?”
“You tell him.”
Uncle looked at me for the first time since his arrival. He comes only once in a year to solve a land dispute; he is absent minded as well.
“Hey! You are Nana correct?”
“What’s the black thing in your face? Remove it.”
“Moustache? You know what will happen if your grandfather sees this? With a moustache and spectacles, do you realise how you look?”
I didn’t want to know how did I look.
“You look like thevangu.” (Thevangu – slender Loris).
I murmured to myself, “How do you look?”
“Where is Bhavani?”
Bhavani, came; she was shy.
“Hey little one. You have grown up. Wear a half saree. Else the boy from opposite house will give you love letter.” Bhavani ran away.
“Where is the one who plays Harmonica?”
“It’s me mama – Nana.”
“Are you still playing? Don’t play today.”
I stopped mama. Dad has broken it one day.”
“Wise man! What are you learning now? KonnaKol?”**
“KonnaKol. It’s free.”
Sudha, just 15 months old, came to him blabbering something.
Mama lifted him and threw him in the air like a ball. Sudha laughed and when he came down wetted uncle’s undershirt.
“Change his name to urine king.” Commented Mama.
Coffee arrived. We all shared it, me, Ravi, Bhavani, Raju, Sudha…. (Dad has still not got a transistor).*** We were looking at uncle, who spoke about the marriages and the deaths in the family last year. Raju was looking intensely at something on the floor.
“What is it?” mama asked him.
“Ee (housefly) mama.”
“Catch one in the afternoon. I will kill it and give life again.”
“Can I get one now?”
“No. I have to leave now. Will come back for lunch in the afternoon.”
Dad was coming down the stairs, drenched in sweat.
“Hello brother in law How are you?” asked mama.
“Who is that? Oh Sami! Why were you were fighting with the cart driver?”
“That’s over now. Heard you are doing yoga?”
“You should be careful. One of my friends who was doing some yoga practice, dislocated his joints. He is looking like inverted No 5 now and doctors are not able to join the bones.”
“I am not doing such exercises.”
“After your visit last time our footwear got mixed up. I was not able to find my shaving brush and one of my silk dhotis is missing.”
“I buried the shaving brush.”
“My chappals?” asked dad.
“I gave someone 4 anas to take it.”
My father continued, “Heard your name has come in newspaper.”
“Don’t ask in front of children. Will tell you later.”
The conversation between uncle and dad always went like this. Each getting on other’s nerves.
Mama took bath, making colourful rainbow bubbles with soap. Enquired something with Kalyani, had one more coffee and left for work.
When he left, Raju came to me. “Help me to get a fly.”
“I am not getting you a fly or ant.”
“OK then. I will dad that you smoked in street corner petty shop.”
“You bugger!” we started looking for a fly. Looked like all of them have gone for a fly progressive association conference; we could not find one.
“Hey look here! There is one.” Raju showed me a fly sitting on chair’s handle. I made a cup in my hand and aimed at it. The fly took off, turned at 60 degree and sat on the edge of my nose.
“Hey don’t move. I will catch it.” Said Raju; before he could reach the fly took off.
We searched for it everywhere. Under the chair, on the table, on the almanac, on the telephone. No luck.
“Hey it is there!” shouted Raju.
He showed me a small dot on the wall about 8 feet high.
“Shhh… bring The Hindu.”
He brought the paper.
“Bring a chair.”
I climbed on the chair. Approached it like a James Bond and smashed the paper on it. Waste of time. What I hit was a nail in the shape of fly.
I hunted for a fly for few more minutes. Could not locate one. I picked an encyclopedia and read about fly. There was even a chapter about fly’s’ married life but not a word on how to catch one.
“Nana —- I got one. Look!” said Raju. He had a fly sitting inside an injection bottle. It was flying inside the bottle, dashing against the glass wall, falling repeatedly.
“How did you get one?”
“Kept some sugar. Five of them came. I threw the bottle at them and caught one.” Raju explained with lot of pride.
He made a small hole on the rubber cap for the fly to breathe and kept it in the cupboard.
Father while going to office, saw the bottle inside the cupboard.
“Do I see what I see?” he asked mom.
“What?” asked mom.
“Somehow a fly has gone inside a closed bottle.”
I replied, “Raju has captured it and kept it inside.”
“Yes. Raju has captured it.”
“Dad, Uncle has said he will kill the fly and bring it back to life again.”
Dad turned towards mom, “I have not seen a bigger nut than your elder brother.”
“What’s the meaning of Nut?”
“Look in the dictionary.” dad replied and asked me, “Hey your uncle does not have any brain. Where is yours? Last time he said he will turn lead into mercury and asked for a human bone. Once he said he would make tooth powder and cracked a brick. He would waste all the wax in the shop to make an ointment to cure headache…..”
“Your brother comes once in a year and makes everyone mad at home. Where is my chappal? Has he taken it?”
When uncle came back for lunch Raju told him, “mama I have caught a fly.”
“Did you kill it?”
“No mama it is alive.”
“OK I will come after lunch. You will see my magic powers.”
After lunch he told us he would sleep for half an hour; lied down on the mat and snored making sound like a coffee grinding machine. He woke up when it was time for coffee.
“Mama look here! The fly.” Raju showed the bottle.
“Get me a wide mouth bowl filled with water.”
Raju got it.
“Get some holy ash and a tulsi leaf.”
They were broght.
Mama immersed the bottle inside the water and opened the cap. The fly came out, fluttered its wings, swallowed lot of water, peddled its legs, got tired, drowned and floated upside down.
“Poor thing. It’s dead.” said Sasi.
“Death by drowning. Look Sasi! it’s upside down; there is a mantra to bring it back from death.”
He put the fly slowly on the tulsi leaf. Muttered some mantra and sprayed holy ash on top.
“Just keep looking for some time.”
A minute went.
A minute and 5 seconds passed by.
The fly came out of the ash, wondered where am I, fluttered its wings again and flew off.
“Did you see that? Mama asked.
I was not convinced. “Mama it did not die in the first place.”
“Not dead? Even a human being would be dead if he was under water for so much time. I uttered Pranava Mantra. That’s why it got its life back. I know alchemy also. Get me the north facing root of forest pepper plant (Lopez Root). I will turn that into gold.”
“Can you bring alive human beings who are dead.”
“I am not blessed with that mantra yet!”
There was no magic or mantra in that. The fly got fainted when it got drowned. When the ash sucked the moisture from its body, it regained consciousness and flew away. I learnt this later.
Mama played with the child. Had one more coffee. Asked Raju to get a match box, stem from palm tree, wax paper and a pair of scissors and said he would make a tram which would run on its own. It moved but only backwards. He went out again; when he came by it was half past five. He had an aluminum bowl in his hands and draped a huge headgear made out of towel.
Mom asked, “Why you are carrying a bowl?”
“Oh that! The bus conductor said he did not have change for five rupees. So, bought this in a steel shop to get change. When I was standing in the bus stand I saw Kamaraj*1 passing by. He knows me and if he sees me he won’t let me go. So I draped this towel to hide my face. Son in law has not come back from office yet?”
“He will be back only at 8. Why?” replied mom.
“Tell him. I have to leave now and catch the bus at 7.30. Could not complete my work. The ‘deed’ could not be registered. Waste of time. I will be back next week. Make dinner; I will eat and leave for bus stand.”
We were all sad. We told him.
“Hey I will be back next week.”
When he was having his dinner, Kandasamy our servant, came. He said to him, “take my bags and go to the bus stand. I will come once I finish my dinner.” Kandasamy took his bag and left for the bus stand.
What happened afterwards could be engraved in gold letters in our family history. There were two routes to bus stand and it was dark. Five minutes after uncle left, Kandasamy came with uncle’s bag.
“Hey what happened?”
“I waited for a long time. Sir did not come. Did he not leave?”
“He left few minutes back. Did you not see him? Run now.”
After three minutes uncle came back. “Where is that trifle fellow? I could not see him. Did he come back here? Stupid!”
“He just came back looking for you mama and left. You can catch him.”
Mama ran to catch him.
Two and half minutes later, Kandasamy came back.
“I could not see him.”
We all jumped on him and asked him to wait, “what is this” a rat race? You stay put. He will come back. The bus would have long gone. Let him at least catch the next bus.” We waited for uncle.
Five minutes passed.
Half an hour went by.
One and half hours went by waiting for mama.
Mama did not come. Kandasamy said, “looks like he took the bus without the bag. Should I go and check in the bus stand?”
“No! You wait here.” I took my bicycle and went to bus stand. Uncle was waiting in the bus stand. He said in a pitiful tone, “I thought he would go home and come back.” I rushed home took his bag from Kandasamy and went back to bus stand. Uncle could catch only the ten ‘o’ clock bus.
A one day visit which struck as a storm. He made us to catch a fly, get wax paper, stem of palm plant, wax paper and root of country pepper plant. We all were waiting eagerly for his visit the following week. But he died before that leaving us only with happy memories.
* Anas – Six paise. 16 anas made one Rupee. 3/4 of rupee meant 12 anas and 8 anas meant half rupee.
*** Radio and it’s sibling transistor was the medium for advertisement and used extensively for Government propaganda. In those years Government was promoting ‘family planning’ through Radio.
*1 Kamarjar was the chief minister of Tamil Nadu State and a very popular leader.
Sujatha (3 May 1935 – 27 February 2008) was the pseudonym of the Tamil author S. Rangarajan, author of over 100 novels, 250 short stories, ten books on science, ten stage plays, and a slim volume of poems. He was one of the most popular authors in Tamil literature, and a regular contributor to topical columns in Tamil periodicals such as Ananda Vikatan, Kumudam and Kalki. He had a wide readership, and served for a brief period as the editor of Kumudam, and has also composed screenplays and dialogues for several Tamil movies.
Penning with his wife’s name, Sujatha’s Tamil literary career spanned more than four decades. An engineer by profession, he was proficient in the language of technology. Widely read and knowledgeable, he presented his knowledge in simple Tamil.
His works stood out during a time when Tamil composing was dominated by social/family dramas and historical novels. His identification with the masses, and his uncanny adoption of their way of talking, behavior, mindset and slang, helped make him popular across multiple demographic segments.
His popularization of technology was one of his greatest contributions – starting with his Silicon Chip composing in Dinamani Kadhir and Yen, Yedharku, Eppadi in Junior Vikatan. At one point, his composing was appearing in numerous Tamil weeklies and journals simultaneously, including Ananda Vikatan, Kumudam, Kungumam, Kalki and Dhinamani Kadhir. Later he contributed as script/screenplay author for several Tamil movies. His notable movies included Vikram,Thiruda Thiruda, Boys and Sivaji. Most of his early novels/stories were made as movies, including Priya, Gaytri, Karaiyellam Senbagapoo and Anandha Thandavam, among others.
In his later days he restricted his composing to essays such as Katradhum-Petradhum. He began to spend more time reading, especially old rare Tamil composings and composings on the latest developments in information technology and computing.
As an engineer, he supervised the design and production of the electronic voting machine (EVM) during his tenure at Bharat Electronics Limited, a machine which is currently used in elections throughout India. As an author he inspired many authors, including Balakumaran, Madhan, Charu Nivedita. – Wikipedia