One Sunday morning, my friend Damu, who had just been transferred to our city, and I got the information that one Velayudhan Nair, a retired Govt High School teacher had a house to let. If the description of the gentleman was sketchy, the address we had was more so. It was “Jagathy”, period. But being seasoned house-hunters, we decided to track down the said VN with the spirit of a real hunter.
In the late seventies, the populace of Thiruvananthapuram was as much familiar with multi-storeyed buildings as say, with the Parthenon of Athens. The city had beautiful small bungalows. Luckily, we found Mr Velayudhan Nair in the first house that we knocked at; he ushered us in. But soon, it was clear he was not the one we were looking for. He said, “Retired teacher? Then you must be looking for my brother-in-law. He too is Velayudhan Nair. His address is …”
The next VN had been a teacher all right, but not in a government school. More importantly, his only house was already too cramped and he was planning to construct another floor.
Slightly downbeat, but still persevering, we finally got Velayudhan Nair’s address at a local teashop. A senior citizen, he was tending his garden, with a Doberman in attendance. We mustered courage to open the gate, and walked in. After introducing ourselves as bank officers, we explained the purpose of our visit. The grizzled old man didn’t quite like the intrusion. He looked up from his adolescent crotons and said in a caustic voice, “You are bank officers, yet so careless! Why disturb me when you’re looking for somebody else? Which bank do you work in?”
The dog looked at us more sternly than his master. When we gave the name of our bank, he (the master, not the dog) said, “Thank God, I don’t draw my pension from your bank.”
As we silently thanked him for doing us the favour, He talked eloquently about the terrible state of public sector banks in the country. He was evidently pleased to find the two persons responsible for the mess, standing right before him, heads hung in shame. After half an hour, he decided to parole us, but not before saying, “Please give me your names, I must write to your managing director.”
Damu: “Sir, I am V Sreeram and he is Mr K C Peter” and we left quickly. The gentlemen who answered to these exalted names were the MD himself and his deputy.
We were delighted when the next Velayudhan Nair we met said that although he had never taught anywhere, he had a house at Sasthamangalam to be rented out. Prima facie, the building fitted the bill; and the rent was affordable. We were convinced that this particular Velayudhan Nair was an angel as he didn’t even quiz us on our marital status.
My friend Damu was a handsome young man then. He was, and still is, a perfect gentleman and an almost perfect Malayali. The modifier “almost” is necessary here as you can’t call a Malayali male who doesn’t sport whiskers, a perfect Malayali. (The accepted norm those days was a pencil line moustache; Mr Mohanlal was only a rising star then.) Velayudhan Nair seemed to have taken an instant liking for Damodar Menon.
At this point, a girl around twenty, tall, petite and pretty, breezed in, saying, “Achchan! …”. Seeing us, she stopped, blushed and breezed out, much to our disappointment. Her father said, “It’s more or less fixed then, let me get the car keys, I’ll show you the house straightaway.”
I thought it would be better if Nandini, Damu’s wife, saw the place, and interjected, “Sir, wouldn’t it be better if Mrs Menon also saw the house?”
“Mrs Menon,” pointing at Damu, I said, “his wife.”
I thought Velayudhan Nair had a sudden bout of colic pain. Nothing else could explain why he turned so visibly pale. At length, he turned his gaze towards Damu and asked through his suffering, “Are you married, Mr Menon?”
“Yes,” Damu said most apologetically, “last month …”
“Please leave your phone number. You needn’t call, I’ll call you.”
I felt sorry for my friend. As we came out, I told him, he seemed destined to receive the rough end of the stick both as a bachelor and as a married man. My dejected buddy replied, “Can’t agree with you more. I’ve a rotten luck. Had I been a sailor, I would have had a mother-in-law in every port.”
Incidentally, the owner of my Cotton Hill residence was a VN, and so was the stenographer of our office. Incidentally, both were straight and nice persons. Although our mission failed that morning, we discovered an important truth: Thiruvananthapuram was teeming with Velayudhan Nairs. And although Kerala was to soon reach negative population growth, the parents of Velayudhan Nairs evidently didn't think they should deny the world of more Velayudhan Nairs. May their tribe prosper.
Kolkata, 13 August 2003