Every clan has its own sootradhaar. In my family, it is my uncle – Ambi Mama. He is a cigar smoking young man of 90+ years. He can quote the Valmiki Ramayana forwards, backwards and diagonally! He remembers every family event of the last millennium as though it happened only yesterday. He studied in New York, where he had a brief re-union with his father (who was my grandfather) when he came there on UN duty. So here’s Ambi Mama’s re-union story.
Dr.Palamadai Swaminathan Lokanathan (Grandpa) was once a village boy who hardly had money to pay for his education. He had to walk several kilometers and occasionally ford an angry river to go to school. Undeterred, he persevered in his studies till he earned a Doctorate from the London School of Economics. His reputation spread far: soon he was heading the Economic Commission for Asia & Far East (ECAFE) of the UN, rubbing shoulders with some of the greatest brains of the world. He became highly westernized, though from a family of conservative TamBrams. (He was the only one in his generation to have cornflakes and toast for breakfast!). Yet, deep down, he was still a village lad. But, how deep?
In 1947, when Ambi Mama was studying in NY, Dr. Lokanathan (Grandpa) was called for a meeting at the UN headquarters. He stayed at the Waldorf Astoria (“or was it the Plaza?”) and invited his student son (Ambi Mama) for dinner. Ambi Mama was impoverished and hungry (like every Indian student then), so he accepted the 5-Star invitation with glee. After dinner they went for a walk on Park Avenue. It had snowed heavily; but grandpa disregarded Ambi Mama’s warnings to walk slowly. And, OOPS, he slipped and fell. He was in great pain and couldn’t move at all!
With the help of a kind cabbie they lifted him and took him to a famous hospital. He was treated by a noted Specialist who wanted him stripped naked for a full examination. The clothes came off one by one— the last garment was a mysterious strip of cloth. Naturally, the curious Specialist asked grandpa. Grandpa, still in pain, said “it is the Indian athletic supporter”. Of course, Ambi Mama knew what it was: the langgot or the Indian loin cloth! Until then, everyone knew grandpa was a village lad, deep down; only now we understood how deep! The Specialist summoned all junior doctors and exclaimed “Look at this! I always knew the Orientals were full of traditional and practical wisdom. What a simple but effective supporter this is!”
The Specialist said grandpa had to undergo traction everyday for 3 weeks. Grandpa was always a man in a determined hurry (which is why he fell in the snow, in the first place). To the amazement of the Specialist he was completely fit in 2 weeks. He was discharged and there was a party for the Specialist at the Waldorf (“or was it the Plaza?”). The Specialist could not hide his admiration: “Doc, (meaning, Dr.Lokanathan) I have never seen such a quick recovery— vegetarianism must be the most powerful diet in the world!”
P.S.: I now understand why this West-trained economist always wore Khadi shirt: deep down, he was after all a village lad!
Sootradhar = Story Teller
TamBrahm = Tamilian Brahmin — a community in Southern India
Langgot = A piece of cloth worn around the loin. It is said that the Indian cricketer Bapu Nadkarni always wore it like an athletic supporter
Khadi = Hand-spun Indian fabric, worn by villagers, made popular by Mahatma Gandhi