Nothing would have happened had my rich and idle aunt not come to know of the message. How did she come to know of it? It was my fault really. I shouldn't have told mother. Of all the things I don't tell mother, this should have been the first. And mother had to tell this to just the one person in our immediate circle whose secret-keeping gene is defunct. I don't blame mother. When aunt is boasting how close she is to the Income Tax Commissioner, mother couldn't help scoring a point of her own.
Addicted to all the afternoon, evening and late night television serials on all the Tamil channels, my aunt saw Charu Hasan in several of them. Depending on the serial, her attitude towards him ranged from tearful sympathy to animated death threats. That her nephew had received a message from him was a huge shock. Charu Hasan knocked the Income Tax Commissioner to the middle of next week.
“You really know Charu Hasan?” was her opening salvo the moment she caught hold of me.
“Not really. He just replied to my mail once.”
“O! You write letters to each other?” was her next amazed question, oblivious to the exaggeration she had made (perhaps out of habit).
“No.” I try to explain. “It was just once. We share a writers’ forum.”
“Anyway. It is still an achievement to be writing letters to big men. I knew you would be a big man someday.”
An absolutely undeserving compliment, but I was not going to contradict it, given that it came from an aunt whose opinion of me had been low ever since I decided not to opt for engineering or medicine.
My fame as the ‘fellow who knows a famous fellow’ quickly spread through the neighbourhood. It did me no good to live in Brindaban Society - full of retired Iyer and Iyengar couples, all of them addicted to the same serials. Evening discussions among them consisted entirely of sharing sympathy towards the beleaguered heroines and curses thrown at the vamps plotting to ruin them. And here was the latest news, that Gomathi’s nephew (i.e. I) actually knew Charu Hasan.
People began to drop into our house around dinner time, when they could be sure I was home. And then they would repeat the sequence of questions that my aunt had fired at me, to get the same rehearsed answers. That would cause them to dismiss me, and then to turn on my mother and pour out the virtues Charu represented (as seen on TV). She had to sit listening to them, signalling vainly with facial expressions that she was bored and had to see to dinner.
Finally the novelty that some boy in the neighbourhood knew a Somebody wore off and the pestilence ended. I would have gotten away with it, had it not been for Kamal Hasan. The even more famous brother of Charu Hasan had released his latest picture, and his stunts in it were a hit among the children of Brindaban. They wanted his autograph. And I was to be the means.
Meanwhile I had been in irregular correspondence with Charu Hasan, thrilled with his writings and sometimes getting his comments on mine. I am yet to see any serial in which he acted, and I absolutely refuse to see them. I have nothing against him as an actor, but I cannot bear to watch serials, all exact clones (to me) of each other.
So it was a bit of an outrage when the first autograph request came. I was not going to be a shortcut to convey an autograph request to Charu Hasan who would then convey it to Kamal Hasan. That was too much. But the requests were now coming thick and fast, and I had to evolve a strategy. I was reading Gandhi’s biography at that time, and his scheme of charging one rupee per autograph appealed to me.
I came up with a cunning scheme. Anybody could get Kamal Hasan’s autograph, if they sent an application to him directly with a self-addressed envelope and a demand draft for Rs. 300 only. But there was no guarantee when the autograph would come. They could get it immediately if they wrote to the brother, but they had to add another draft for the same amount. I explained that he was a busy man himself, and if he was going to waste his time conveying their letters to his equally busy brother, they had better make it worth his while.
I would send the request, and since they were my kith and kin, I could not charge any commission to them. But they had to give me the postage charges for speed post. This fictitious scheme put people off for sometime, shocked at the apparent rudeness of the famous personalities indicated. The famous personalities do not know any of this, though I have a feeling they might not quite disapprove of the scheme. It would either be a deterrent to pestilential autograph-seekers, or a good source of additional income.
Talk began for my marriage. I was not quite ready to sacrifice myself at the altar, yet my parents were anxious about my (and their) not getting any younger. My indifference to all the photographs thrust in front of me was now frustrating them, for they wanted me to make a choice. Finally I picked one at random, and asked them to get me hitched to the lady in it.
My logic for the choice only served to infuriate them further. Citing my eminent ‘friend’, I told them that it did not matter who or what I married. I had been given no choice in mother, father or sister; would not have any in my children, so why only my spouse? I’ll manage somehow, same as I manage the rest. So the random photograph. After all, Charu Hasan, the leading lawyer and actor could not have been wrong.
That broke the final straw. My association with the famous man now took on a dark meaning. The mamis and mamas did not take kindly to Charu Hasan’s views on marriage. Their chief occupation when not watching serials was attending their children’s and grandchildren’s marriages and passing devastating comments on the food, decorations and ornaments. That a great man of their age should not enjoy such uplifting pursuits was betrayal to them.
The favour-seeking visits summarily ceased. My parents dropped the issue of my marriage till I got ‘settled’. I suspect that attention to some serials has also waned. I might be the reason for the big man’s temporary infamy in Brindaban Society, but the inconvenience of being the ‘fellow who knows a famous fellow’ has gone away. None of this affected the big man even remotely, so on the whole I don’t think I regret the matter."