Saturday, August 7, 2010

Sheela Pai And The Magic Moment

My attempt at capturing the magic moment at dawn
The other day I got a call on the land line, which is an unusual occurrence since it is a silent customer. I was sitting at the computer trying to work on a idea for the Sunday column when the call came, and startled, I rushed to the phone."Is it Harimohan? I am Sheelu, Rithu's sister," said the voice on the other end of the line. It took me back all those years ago (more than a decade) when I used to visit the Pai's at their Adyar home in Chennai. And also because I had been dying to tell Sheelu something that was a huge bit of an inspiration when I wrote  'If You Love Someone...' for a while now.

Ritha Pai (or Rithu as we call her fondly) was my junior at the Osmania University Engineering College and we became good friends, helped along mainly, by the fact that my wife Shobha and she were childhood friends. In the early nineties one of my many job then, took me to Chennai frequently for one particularly long and tedious assignment, which is where Rithu's family lived in a lovely old home in Adyar. I guess I must have first visited them when Rithu was also visiting from the USA and met Sheelu, her elder sister, for the first time. Sheelu was working with the TCS then, and apart from being one of the prettiest girls I have met, also possessed some extremely likeable qualities (such as having an easy presence, a warm smile and a pleasing manner and carrying it all off very matter-of-factly). I also found that she listened well and laughed easily.

Since I was delegated to the Chennai work those days, I would always make it a point to call on the Pai's since they lived close to my uncle, Dr. Sundaram's house at Kotturpuram. Sheelu, I remember, was always good fun to talk to, used to listen to my grandiose plans of turning into a writer very seriously and listened to the same kind of music that I did those days, which was incentive enough to go the extra kilometers from my uncle's place. Aunty and Uncle welcomed me warmly, for lunches and dinners (Aunty) and drinks of gin and lime (Uncle) over discussions on politics and the state of the country to which Uncle contributed a major part and I contributed by agreeing and drinking my gin. Sheelu also remembers me giving her my first manuscript/synopsis to read once.

The Magic Moment
Once Sheelu and I walked to the Besant Nagar beach to stare at the sea which was a huge pastime for a non-beach resident like me - when this visual got stuck in my head. It was just about getting dark but the moon was out. And even as I watched I could see that the waters of the sea which were kind of tranquil that day, caught a beam of moonlight from the full moon and drew a straight line to where I was watching it from. It looked as if there was a pathway to the moon from the beach and I was wondering then, that if there was a princess sitting in a castle on the moon and there was one way to reach her for the Prince, this would be it. I must have blabbered my great discovery to Sheelu and she might have heard it and dismissed it as my regular banter. But it stuck in my mind as if it were placed there for a reason. In fact the cover of the book 'If You Love Someone...' is a picture that I tried to take of the rising sun with the rays across the waters - at Marina in Chennai, many years later - in an attempt to recreate that moment.

When I wrote 'If You Love Someone...', I used this visual when Aditya and Meghna sit out a night in the beaches of Goa because it seemed appropriate. I wanted to tell that to Sheelu through the mail after the book got published but I did not have her mail id and I was trying to find a way to contact her when this call came. I met her that very evening with Shobhs and Anjali and spent some time catching up. I gifted both my books and did try to tell Sheelu of that moment, but I am sure that Sheelu did not get what I was trying to tell her especially since it was a moment of private madness. But it is was an important flash of inspiration in my life, one that I could use in a book.

I met Prasad, her husband after they got married. Prasad I remember was an avid reader and quickly caught on to the story of 'The Misfit' when I told him the plot. I later heard from my nephew Ajay who visited them in Seattle, where they were working, that her son was also named Ajay. And I got to meet young Ajay Pai this time, a friendly, smiling, good looking, pleasant natured young lad of nine. And it was good to meet Sheelu after all these years, looking just the same with her smiling eyes, easy graceful girly ways, easy laughter and maybe just a tad older and wiser. And it felt good to flash copies of my books (made me wonder at the power of intention) and tell her of my moment. Anjali entertained her with her nursery rhymes and Shobhs chatted her up catching up from their school days in Bellampalli  where they first met.

I have really good memories of Chennai in those days. We were all young and had ideas and plans and the whole world was there for the taking. And it was much fun to be able to go to a new city and meet people you know. Thanks Rithu, Sheelu, Aunty and Uncle. And specially Sheelu for sharing her time and giving space for that magic moment to happen. Here's hoping that you, Prasad and Ajay, when he is older, enjoy reading my books. And that we all get to meet more often too.

1 comment:

Rajendra said...

Not sure if Sheela is on to the Singareni gang facebook group. You or Shobha need to tell her if she ain't on it.