One year into an undergraduate program, in the early eighties, JK decided that he had enough of college, and, he would be better off working full time and continue education through a distant learning program. He was in Bombay spending his summer vacation when this lightening wisdom struck him. He spoke to my aunt, (The Santa Claus Chitti) who was not very keen about the idea. After all she had gone through this route due to family circumstance and wanted JK to have all the fun of ‘college life.’ She asked him to talk to Chittappa, (uncle/her husband). He just said, ‘let me see what I can do.’
He spoke to his cousin (Nathan Anna to us) who was working in a reputed engineering company – Precision Fasteners – who arranged an interview for an apprenticeship position. JK got through the interview but failed the medical. The company doctor said, his Blood Pressure was unusually high for a seventeen year old. JK came back and informed Chittappa. He immediately took him to their family doctor. The doctor checked his BP and said it was normal. JK went back for his medical next day and the company doctor said it was way high. Back to family doctor who could not find anything wrong with his BP. The next day, Chittappa took a day off, accompanied JK to the factory, kept telling him to relax and on the third attempt he passed the medical fitness test. JK spent the next year staying with Chitti and Chittappa, went to work, learnt the local languages, enrolled for a computer program course and caught up with his distant learning as well.
That, in nutshell is our Chittappa, who is turning eighty today. From the day he saw the four of us decades ago, when he got married to my aunt (mother’s younger sister), he has showered the greatest of affection on us.
I first saw him in our ancestral house in the village where our grandma was taking care of us. My aunt and uncle got married in Bombay and were travelling to his native in southern part of Tamilnadu to visit his relatives. My mom asked them to visit us on their way south.
I still remember the day he came to Kaveripakkam, the village we were growing up. JK and I were sitting in the swing, he sat in between us and told us some stories.
A couple of years later we moved to Chennai and our Chitti and Chittappa visited once in a year, mostly during school holidays. Those were some of the best days during our childhood. He did not talk much but had a unique sense of humour. He would tease my aunt, my mom and the four of us. I used to write an occasional letter but would not get any response. He would just ask my aunt to convey his best wishes. I kept pestering him and so he wrote me a letter once. It started something like this, ‘நீயோ தமிழில் புலி, நான் ஒரு எலி’ meaning ‘you are a tiger in Tamil but I am a rat’ and wrote few more words of wit.
When my sister got married in 1981, our Chitti and Chittappa (two each) were a great help. They all descended a week in advance and made the occasion a truly memorable one.
My ‘hero worship’ of my Chittappa actually developed a great deal during the start of my career in Pune. I would visit Bombay during a long weekends (if you can call it a long weekend, time gap between a first shift and night shift with a weekly off thrown in between). When we were kids we just assumed that uncles and aunts were rich. It was much later we understood that they just had little money to spare (what we call disposable income now) but they had very large hearts. Chittappa had time for everyone. Neighbours would walk in any time of the day or night for advice or counselling. During school admission season, he would be mobbed for getting someone’s daughter or son admitted in South Indian School. He would attend to all the problems in the residential society from faulty plumbing to electrical issues (he is an electrical engineer). When one of his nephews was getting married (opposition from both sides), it was Chittappa who convinced the parents (or at least tried his best) and helped them to get married.
And then he spent money as if it came out of akshaya patra (inexhaustible vessel). I never once saw him counting money before he shoved a bunch of notes into his shirt pocket. Never once used a wallet. It was from him, I learnt this habit and till the advent of credit cards, driving license and few other stuff you always had to carry, I did not use one as well. I am not sure if it was my Chittappa from whom I copied wearing the watch on right wrist. I was proud to copy anything he did. Loving all the family members without making any judgement was definitely inspired by him. I am not half as good as he. But I definitely wanted to follow his greatest trait.
He provided moral, physical and emotional support throughout our lives. Whether we bought a flat or a bike, it was our Chittappa whom we approached first for help. When my father went through a bypass surgery he came down to Chennai and spent few days with us.
Holidays spent with him is always fresh in memory. We spent some impromptu holidays with him in Murud Fort and Mahabaleshwar (a coast and an hill station). Even when he came to help us to see through father’s operation, we took off one day to our ancestral village (100 Kms south of Chennai).
For all of us, our father is our first hero. Even with father, we go through a period of conflict especially during teen years which lasts at least for a decade. Then we realize that our dads are indeed great people, and we have not realized the sacrifices they have made to make us what we are.
With Thanu Sankara Narayanan or Mani Chittappa as he is called fondly in the family, there was never a period of doubt. For almost five decades, he is an hero to me and will always remain one.
Mani Chittappa with Yours Truly Over the Years.
Happy Birthday Mani Chittappa! Have a blast.
RAMESH; you only can write such a master piece, straight from heart and gut. Absolutely emotional I got reading this as the incidence you have got happened 38 years back to this day. I wonder Any one of us with all that we can afford now, be it space or money will still show such largesse as chitti and Chittappa. We will never get to see another selfless human as our dear C&C are. Countless occasions that we can fondly recall. A blog is not enough. For us besides being a hero, he continues to be a mentor , a guide and more. Happy birthday Chittappa. We would have definitely been in Mumbai but for the lock down. We must thank our dear 4 cousins who let us become a part of them and showered all the affection. Good day to all
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Exemplary nostalgic compilation, Ramesh. As JK mentioned you only can write such things. Do convey my wishes to your Chittappa 🌷
How can there be so many master pieces Ramesh. This is a different class as there is so much nostalgia and emotion to it.
Yes one blog is not enough for all affection they showered on us. I was lucky I spent a year in their house
Many many things I can recall
Unbelievable energy to do double shifts
Ability to sleep in living room, when that is the only sleep for the 24 hours
Uncountable trips to Annapoorna
Fresh snacks from office after first shift
Importantly, giving us hope and optimism which brought us where we are today
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ஆயிரம் பிறை கண்ட மணி சித்தப்பாவுக்கு எனது பிறந்தநாள் வாழ்த்துகளையும் தெரிவித்து விடு ரமேஷ்.
உன் மணி சித்தப்பா மாதிரி நட்பானவர்கள் அதிகம் பிறந்ததினால் ஜுலை 30 ம் தேதியை “ஐநா”, நண்பர்கள் தினமாக 2011 முதல் கொண்டாட துவங்கியதோ 🤔
அப்பாவின் தம்பியாகி சித்தப்பா ஆகுபவர்களின் மேல் இயற்கையாகவே ஒர் பாசம் நமக்கு வருவது உண்டு,அது தான் ஆடாவிட்டாலும் தசையாடும் ரத்தபந்தம்,ஆனால் சித்தியின் கணவராக சித்தப்பா ஆனாவர் மேல் நீங்கள் அனைவரும் இவ்வளவு நெருக்கமாக இருக்கிறீர்கள் என்றால் அவர் இயல்பாகவே மிகுந்த இனிமையானவராக தான் இருக்கனும்.
உங்களின் நெருக்கடியான நேரங்களில் சாய்வதற்கு தோள் கொடுப்பவராக இருந்து இருக்கிறார் அதனால் தான் உங்களுக்கு அவர் மேல் இவ்வளவு ஈர்ப்பு.
நம் இளமைக்காலங்களில் பெரியவர்கள் அனைவரும் காசு விஷயத்தில் கஞ்சமாக இருந்தார்கள் என்கிற மனவருத்தம் நாம் எல்லோருக்கும் அப்போது உண்டு,இவரிடம் காசு இருந்ததோ இல்லையோ உங்களுக்கு செலவழிக்க மனசு இருந்துள்ளது, அதுவே அவரை மற்றவர்களிடம் இருந்து வேறுபடுத்தி காட்டுகிறது,இந்த மனசு பொதுவாக எல்லோரிடமும் இருப்பதில்லை.
அவர் மேலும் பல ஆண்டுகள் ஆரோக்கியத்துடன் உங்கள் அனைவருக்கும் தோள் கொடுப்பவராக இருக்க இ றைவனை வேண்டிக் கொள்கிறேன்.
உனது சிறந்த எழுத்துகளில் ஒன்றை உனது மணி சித்தப்பாவுக்கு அர்ப்பணித்து உள்ளாய் ரமேஷ்,பாராட்டுகள்
In every story we know or read about, we try to find ourselves or a character that we can associate with the most. In this piece, more than relating to Chittappa, all you can wish for is ‘Oh, what a wonderful thing it would be to know him!’ Appa, you have the talent to capture everyone and also all our emotions! What an absolutely beautiful piece for such an extraordinary man!
Happy Birthday Chittappa Thatha, thank you for giving us so much to look up to and aspire to be and for your big heart!