Third in the series of “The Crazy ones” — I would like to introduce a wonderful human being — Vinayak Shirodkar.
I owe my name to Vinu Mama. The story goes that my parents were not able to close on my name — my mother wanted it to be Prasad and my father had his heart set on Rajesh. Vinu Mama goes armed with these two options to get my name registered and enters “Maruti” there. He felt it most appropriate to name me after my grandfather — a much accepted practice. So that was that.
He came visiting after quite a few years now; during Diwali time. Does not move around much, had a bad fall a few months back and now has to wear a brace to support his back. I guess heroes do grow old.
Memory sharp as ever, he regaled us with his experiences of music concerts, theatre, politics in Goa from times long gone by. It was as if he was holding on to his memories by actually saying them out loud; an act of defiance against the marauding Father Time.
Let me now rewind, to a time when i was about 8 years old. That’s my earliest memory of him. He had come over to my place and gifted me “Treasure Island”. My mother would make sure that I write to him a letter every month. Generally to update him on progress in school. The letters would always end with “your loving nephew”. He would write back as well; it would exciting to receive his letters.
My father would insist on us spending all our summer vacations in Goa — so we were packed off to Vinu Mama’s place at Shiroda, for two months almost every year of school and right upto junior college.
Life in Shiroda was very peaceful; it was a sleepy little place then and my Mama seemed to be omnipresent. there was nothing he would not be involved in. His friends and he had a fishing gig — what is called a “Moos” in Kokani, he had farms that he tilled, he had started a bus service and these are just the things I remember. From when memory serves me, he would get up at some very early hour in the morning to go check on the fishing nets. I never saw him pay for anything wherever we went. It was always like nephews and nieces have come over, so drop this off or that — and it would appear.
He would make sure that we were not treated as some “Bombay se aya huva folks”, so only home made stuff with the exception of “poi” and “kakanas” — local bread. He taught us how to swim — the old fashioned way of throwing someone into a well and not allowing one to come out. He showed us how to fashion rafts made of banana stems and floats made of coconut shells — this definitely helped in the learning process. We learnt how to climb trees, knock down any kind of fruit and most importantly love the outdoors.
Fishing is something he introduced us to, taking us right through the whole learning experience. Start with the local pond -there a 3 step process, pluck a specific flower, then use the flower to lure a small frog, then use the frog as bait to catch a fish. Once he was satisfied only then were we allowed to fish in the river. It was fun i tell you, the long hours, sometimes returning empty handed sometimes having to borrow bags to gather all the fish back in.
The common pattern in all this was a great love for doing things by hand, to be self sufficient and to always find a way to make things work out. He also made us work in the fields, preparing them for tilling, stocking firewood for the monsoon. And of course like all good Goans, absolutely loved football; still does. His lessons of taking penalty kick and “chakav” the goalie would be relevant in any modern day coaching manual. Up until a few years ago, he was a regular for any match at Fatorda stadium. I remember he had taken almost every one in the village in his TATA truck, to watch “Escape To victory”.
Possesses a super green thumb, over the last few years has grown all manner of vegetables — grew brinjals in Africa as well when visiting his son who was posted there on work. Still very curious, learnt about Africa, its culture and history beyond the usual tourist brochures.
Last but not the least, possibly the most generous person you could ever meet. Stories of him giving away a new shirt just because someone liked it are legend in our family. In fact my mami would tell us in hushed tones, “Palaay navin shirt ghala, saancho parat yetna asspa na” — (see, he has worn a new shirt, most likely will return without it). He would turn up with any number of people for lunch and the kitchen would always be perennially open at his place. That by design made him a not so successful business man. What he lost in terms of commerce, he has gained by reputation.
Buffeted by advancing age, weathering the accompanying quirks of an open heart surgery intensified by the loss of a son, Vinu Mama soldiers on. And carries us along in his ever optimistic wake.
I am going to start writing him again…