Monday, December 23, 2019

Tharian Peter - My Anytime-for-a-Laugh Pal!

There's a special equation we share - Tharian and I - he will always be on the top of my lists for having a fun conversation. Quick on the uptake, sharp, yet kind and polite repartee, non-judgmental, easy to laugh with - conversations are always great fun with Tharian. It's easy to joke and laugh with him, and that's huge for me. It also helps that we vibe perfectly (something he will contest immediately surely!).
Tharian and me - Early morning post U2 - Dec 16, 2019!
Tharian and I first met when we joined as officer trainees in the Bharath Petroleum Corporation at Calcutta back in 1991 - our first job. I had almost completed my MBA from Osmania and he had given up his MBA after his Mechanical Engineering from Cochin University to join BPCL.

He arrived from Cochin, fresh off the Coromandel Express. I remember someone had flicked his brand new sports shoes at Vijayawada station on his way there. Anyway, he shook it off and walked into office next day, all ready to get on with the job. There was no hanky panky with Tharian - a rule is a rule and he would stand up for it. Not like us who would uphold the rule when the odds were in our favour - he would uphold it even when the odds were not in our favour. This made life in those parts a bit risky and I was glad he was sent back to more civilised places like Bombay while we were sent to Bihar etc where they follow their own set of rules.

We had a short orientation course at Calcutta overseen by the inimitable P.K. Ghosh - there were some 12 or 13 of us - Tharian, Raju, Ramesh, Sunil Iska, Gopikrishna, Adithi, Priya, Sridhar, Krishna Kumar, others whose names I fail to recollect. One Malayalee, one Assamese.
Tharian and Sanjana - Mangalore, 2004 
After the short orientation course groups of two were formed - so it was Gopi and me in one. The two pretty girls Adithi and Priya were attached to who else but Tharian. That gives you a sense of the chap. One look at him and you know he is a guy to trust (even with two pretty girls), someone who can be relied on to do the right thing. He is polished, polite, compassionate - all the qualities we did not have - nor did we evoke any confidence from the powers that be. And so Tharian was placed in the enviable position of being in the girl's team - or they were in his team - we didn't know. The girls were quite happy to have this cute, funny, serious, responsible, trustworthy gentleman with them.
Rahul, Marina, Sanjana, Tharian and me in Mangalore, 2004
All of us were sent off to different locations. Gopi, me, Tharian and the girls were sent to Budge Budge, a place on the outskirts of Calcutta for a month-long training on an installation. We boys got a place to rent, ate meals at Bharath Jalpan hotel (Tharian would refrain from eating too much mutton fry there also) and got through that one month. During this period we had a great time - I realised he loved a good laugh, and our frequency matched. He enjoyed reading Wodehouse. Of course he wouldn't overdo anything which I was likely to, but we were okay with that. In that whole batch, and later on in my whole life, I found few with whom I shared that frequency, that comfort. It was like god felt I needed someone to laugh with and sent Tharian along. A lot of what we share is unsaid, different blokes with different aspirations and patterns and likes, but something deeper connected us. So when he was sent to Bombay after one month, I was pretty devastated (but didn't show it). Tharian took it as he normally does, with a smile and a wisecrack and headed off to Bombay.
Shobhs and Rahul - He was comfortable with small people then (just like me)
I am pretty certain we wrote to each other then.  yes, we did. Somewhere early on I figured he was a good one to write letters to - he wrote well, had a funny bone - so his letters were always welcome to laugh aloud. I keep telling him to write even now but he doesn't take his writing seriously. Tharian has the best sense of humour I have seen and heard. That poker-faced joke type.

After Tharian left, the two pretty girls were attached to Gopi and me, and we travelled all over West Bengal, Bihar and Orissa for some four or five months. Then I quit, fully trained as an officer and headed off to work in a private firm in Hyderabad. In 1994 I got a job in IDBI Bombay and one day quite by chance I bumped into Raju, who was with us at Bharath Petroleum, of all places, in a crowded local train. Now Raju and I were to report at Raipur before I quit. Raju was now in the IT wing of BPCL at Mumbai. The first thing I asked him was about Tharian and he said he was hale and hearty and in Bombay and he gave me a number. I called that very day and we fixed up to meet that weekend. We met, a famous meeting, at the iconic Cafe Mondegar where much beer was consumed and all tales updated. We connected as simply as before - this time for good.

I'd visit the BPCL quarters in Goregaon quite frequently where he shared a flat with Manoj, one of the classiest chaps I have known, for his minimalistic practices even then. His room was like a museum - few things, all in place, all classy. Tharian would cook some tomato bhartha or something which was his speciality he claimed (it was brilliant!). My speciality still remains eating. We'd drink beer. Once or twice he came to my flat in distant Nerul which was in the boondocks then. He gifted me a pen with a lovely note that I still have - "This is something to remind you of me when you write your memoirs". I kept the note. The pen I used to write my early articles for the AP Times - the first time I attempted life as a writer. I would run my articles by him. One particular article about biryani upset the Malayali in him - he did not like the tone I used when I wrote about the biryani I ate in Calicut and how I felt that only Hyderabadis knew how to make biryani. Apart from that one article, he was supportive of my writing forays. I got married during that time and invited him. He didn't come. He got married during that time too. I didn't go. Though I seriously thought of flying to Cochin. But then the thought of dealing with all the air hostesses put me off.

Tharian's cooking and our jokes on it. Hanging out at Goregaon. Him helping out with our gas connections. Our meetings at Mondegar. Him telling me how he burst out laughing while reading Wodehouse on the way to his office in Mazgoan much to the surprise of the truck drivers there (he was reading Wodehouse while walking!). Me staying with him before the final of the Times Shield which I played despite a bad injury, had a big role next day but couldn't fulfil it. I remember Tharian telling me when I told him I was sleepy before heading off for the match that he read that Napolean's armies would also say they were sleepy before war. Fear does that he told me. Me gifting two of the finest towels from Welspun to him and Manoj for putting up with me. Playing shuttle with him and realising he was not easy to beat at all despite his looks - he was very crafty with his drop shots and made me look like a fool. Lots of laughs. Some serious moments - especially before our marriages. Then I left Mumbai in 1997.
The note Tharian gave me when he gifted me THE pen!
We stayed in touch. The odd call. Maybe a letter. He sent me his wedding pics. I still have them. Then we met again after many years in 2002, the day my mom died. He was on a long drive from Bangalore or Cochin with Marina and the kids and that was the day he was in town. It was rather surreal to meet like that, but we were all rather cool about it - Mom had suffered for a while and was in a coma-like state for the past month so it was more of a release for her. And then, in 2005 or 2006 Shobha and I drove to Bangalore, Calicut, and then headed off to Mangalore where Tharian was. By now both Rahul and Sanjana were slightly older. We spent two or three days with them and headed back home.

In 2007-8 Tharian and Marina dropped in from Vijayawada where he was stationed and I cannot believe I never visited him there in all the five years he was here. I made many plans of visiting the Konaseema etc and the only time I met him in Vijayawada was when I went to promote Golconda high School and he came and met me in the middle of the movie after his work.
With Anjali - 2008
Another couple of times, once when Anjali was born, another time, when he came for some work.

And now, after a gap of ten years or so we met again thanks to U2. Tharian is now based in Nerul which is so different from what it was in 1995. U2 played in Nerul so I called him and caught up with him, Marina and Sanjana. Sanjana is now 16 and studying in her 11th and Rahul is studying Economics in Milan, Italy. When we visited them in Mangalore in 2004, Rahul asked Tharian a question before giving up his room for us - 'Are the guests big people or small people?' he asked. Tharian replied that one was big and one was small. Rahul quietly told him that he liked small people. Throughout the trip he would not talk much to me but he was quite happy with Shobhs. Rahul was a huge soccer fan when he grew up a bit and we even connected on facebook where I watched him cheering his fav teams for a while. Tharian was/is totally bowled over by Sanjana then as one can see in the pictures (and even now I suspect) and he would not let go of her even for a moment. Sanjana has now grown up into a lovely young lady and she asked me questions about my writing etc. She's training on her singing and I am sure has a whole bunch of other talents.

Marina is so well organised that there's not a speck out of place at their home. It blew my mind to see everything so well organised. And she is one of the most composed people I have met - always a pleasant demeanour, always involved in the conversation. She says just enough, just the right thing, takes life as it comes, almost meditatively. And not to forget to mention that she's a fabulous cook. I loved the appam and egg curry, the chicken biryani, the prawn curry everything

Tharian and I made plans to drive to the North East. I am serious about it and am looking forward.

Good fun as always Tharian. And dude, with this blog, you're already starring in my memoir!

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