Mohan Ram, my friend, co-conspirator in adventures in school Eye Witness – Movie with Mohan Ram and a colleague now, is convinced that yours truly is the sole reason for all the heatwave and water shortage in Chennai.
Residents of most of the big cities in India count the days once the summer starts. People, for e.g. living in Mumbai or Hyderabad or Kolkata count the days to the D-day – say – 8th to 10th of June when the monsoon arrives to wet the parched earth and brings down the temperature by about ten degrees but not Chennai. The water starved and rain cursed city skips the southwest monsoon altogether and gets rain during northeast monsoon. While Mumbai gets almost incessant rains for three months from June, Chennai gets rains for three days, that is, in a good year. And Mohan Ram thinks I have shuttered down even that small rain window when I bought a raincoat.
Sometime in November last year the first rains of Chennai arrived with all the gusto. Heavy winds accompanied by thunder and lightning. I was caught in it and to save myself and my iPhone (while other phones can tolerate a little bit of water, iPhone gives up the ghost even if a drop of spit falls on it), I bought a raincoat. And that was the last rain in Chennai. Towards the end of the monsoon season (without rains) Mohan Ram commented, “You should not have bought the raincoat. It did not rain after you bought the rain gear.” He was making the comments because there were some decent rains in the previous couple of years one leading to the biggest flooding the city has seen.”
Knowing Chennai’s fortunes with rains I let the comment pass. Then summer arrived. The ten million inhabitants of the city were expecting one shower during the heatwave to provide some temporary relief. But that did not come and Mohan Ram repeated the comment. I was feeling little guilty but blamed it on unusual weather patterns and global warming etc.
Came June and monsoon though bit late, arrived in other parts of the country at least on the southern and western states but Chennai was still reeling under immense heat and two days back the city recorded one of the highest temperatures of June and Mohan was at it again blaming me and my raincoat. This time I took it little seriously and started wondering did I really get the sorcerer’s power with the raincoat?
I immediately remembered three comic book characters I read as a kid and wondered if I have suddenly gained powers like them. But if I have, it should be for making rains and not for stopping it, at least not in Chennai. I tried to remember the names of the three people with those magic powers or the name of the story or the author who wrote the story. I could not.
Without keywords, searching the net to get the details proved impossible. All I remembered was one guy was very tall, one was short but he could drink all the water in the sea and the last one could burn everything in sight. I shot off a message to JK asking him if he could recall the any of the details. He could not. Renuka suggested to post the message in school group and Venkat my classmate, posted the message in his college groups and when I woke up I had couple of words to search for.
The comic story Three Sorcerers (மூன்று மந்திரவாதிகள்) written by Vaandu Mama (வாண்டு மாமா) appeared in Gokulam, a children’s magazine in the early seventies. The story is easily told. Three princes help three damsels in distress (two of them princesses and one a sorcerer’s daughter). One of the prince is helped by the three characters I mentioned earlier. A tall guy, a shorty and a blind man. (நெட்டையன், குட்டையன், பொட்டையன்). The tall guy can grow really tall when needed (taller than the tallest tree in the forest) and can go from Chennai to Tiruchi or Bombay to Pune or Delhi to Meerut, or for that matter, New York to Boston in just a couple of steps. The shorty can create a storm just by blowing his breath and the blind man (who is not actually blind) but covers his eyes with a shade, can burn things at sight and if they can’t be burnt, can blow them to pieces by just looking at the objects intensely.
Once I got the names of the characters, I found out the name of the story and fortunately could buy it online. There were some struggles in opening the document but that, in itself, is another story. I remembered two just two pictures vividly and could see them just as I remembered them. One the shorty drinking all the water in the sea to find the squid which has a pearl in its stomach. Well, the pearl is actually the princess and the second one I remembered was, the beanstalk turning into a stone when he steps into the sorcerer’s circle.
The Shorty drinking Sea water (L) and the beanstalk turning into a stone (R).
JK and I used to fight who would read the magazine first (no prizes for guessing who got to read first). Later we would sit in the pial (திண்ணை) and discuss for hours what would we do if we get those magic powers. We would of course become very rich (without knowing what is being rich). We liked the beanstalk character more and wished we became someone like him. One advantage we would have, we could catch anything hit by a batsman. We would just grow tall and run across the boundary and catch any delivery that was hit for a six. We continued talking about these magical powers for couple of more years till we migrated to Chennai. Why the mind retains couple of images amongst the millions they see after so many years?
Vaandu Mama is perhaps the best children story writer in Tamil. He wrote short stories and comics, produced non fiction literature about animal kingdom (Elephants) and science (the story of metal). He was just amazing. I am sure his comics are as entertaining as Harry Potter. While JK Rowling, who was struggling to buy a single cup of chai, went on to become richer than the Queen of England after Harry Potter stories got published, Vandu Mama lived a simple life and not much is known about his wealth (in all probability, the entire wealth he accumulated was, the selling price of couple of Harry Potter books).
Comics help children to imagine widely and plays an important role in their development. It should be made part of school curriculum. The National Book Trust of India can play a role.
Coming back to my magical powers, it still is a dream. I hope the rains come to Chennai and Mohan Ram stops calling me ‘Sorcerer who stopped Chennai Rains.’ At the moment I can only request the departed soul of Vaandu Mama to send the Shorty to Chennai and fill all the parched lakes by blowing water into them (at least whatever lakes are still left).
Pictures Courtesy: Bharat Publishers and the comic book Mundru Manthiravathigal.