Everyone has a hero. It could be a comic character, a person, an imaginary fiction of your mind or anything intangible, or maybe even someone out of your real life.
As I grow older, and I can see better. Oops antithesis.. Why? One may ask. I think as I am aging, I am getting wiser, and everything becomes much clearer. Okay, to continue from the previous sentence, because I can see better, I understand that my heroes were all around me. So many heroes, to look up to.
I will start with my very first hero.
Mhantu née Manjunath Nayak. A name to reckon with, a name that so many people respect, of course people that knew him. Mhantu was everything to me, everything. Unfortunately he was with me only till I was sixteen. The love of books, I can proudly say I have inherited from him. He was my dad’s oldest brother, the oldest of the brood of eight. The epic forays to the Bombay book depot, with him was something I so looked forward to. Like a king gifting his subjects, he would tell me with a wave of his hand to go forth and select the books I wanted! I still remember the dark damp smell of the book store with big ceilings and books precariously piled in the aisles. To me it was a neat chaos. Books, my best friends, my non judgmental friends. To accompany him on a trip to Mumbai meant ” the ushya dabba” literally means the train compartment with soft seats/pillows aka the first class compartement.He treated me like a queen, for reasons best known to him.
Our house did not have a door bell, it was one of those old houses, which always had open doors. Yet I would know when he came, he would whistle, a particular one, which no one else has ever whistled to me, not till date. Like Santa Claus he would open one of the zillion bags and bring forth some gift, It could be anything, something as random as a bottle of perfume or a skirt and blouse or a book! But he always had something for me.
He introduced us to music, the arts. His love for Marathi literature reflects in the vast collection of thousand of books that are languishing in a room back home. He had friends who were a few of the Marathi greats, like G N Dandekar, G D Madgulkar, Bhimsen Joshi, Pula Deshapande, Kusumagraj. I have been to the houses of these people, have had the fortune to be a part of their conversations, have had the fortune to be blessed by them, by them patting my head fondly. Alas I was too little back then, and my friends at school had not even heard of them, so I could not gloat to them. But thanks to Mhantu I can cherish these memories and talk about it to people who know and who value it.
On hindsight, he was a free soul, he never did belong to anyone. Not to us, not to this earth, he was way beyond others, way beyond anyone’s thinking capabilities, for those times. Or maybe he had just adapted. To the world. There are certain incidents that become so much more clearer now. There was a time due to a family incident he walked out of the house. Just disappeared for days, I don’t remember exactly, but I think he was away for a month at least. I would cry everyday, but I was too little for any of the house hold members to answer my questions, my little meaningless questions. Any case, I remember I was in the pink bathroom(a blog for another day) taking a shower. I gauged from the sounds outside that there was definitely something going on. I rushed out, and there was Mhantu sitting on his chair, it was as if nothing was amiss, as if everything was meant to be the way it was. He cooly handed out a packet, which contained boiled eggs to me, saying how much I liked it, and that he had got it from the pantry of the Rajdhani train. I still remember bursting into tears and hugging him hard. But he provided us with no explanations. None at all.
He was an epitome of magnanimity, of goodness, of innocence. For those days, I had an outrageous amount of pocket money thanks to him. This always a bone of contention between him and my dad. My dad was stricter when it came to monetary matters, but Mhantu never relented.
So much to say, but don’t know if I should leave this blog this way,so that I can look at it in the future and feel good, or add the things that might open the dam of sadness which I have locked deep down. I go with the first option and end this here.
But I was shaken a few years ago by something his grand daughter said; which brought me and Mhantu to a full circle, to show that yes, I was made of some stuff like him. She said something that I had said to him when I was maybe five years old. Something I always felt for him. Let me explain. Mhantu loved perfumes. As did my dad. Mhantu was Jovan musk, Poison for special occasions, dad was always “one man show”. He would spray himself generously with the perfume whenever he was ready to go out. Mind you he used “old spice” as his after shave. He always carried a “Turkish towel” similar to a hand towel, this towel would be sprayed too. So whenever I hugged him, or kept my head in the crook of his head and shoulder he would always smell so good. Always, be it anytime of the day or the night.
Tanvi, my niece, his grand daughter and me have shared the same kind of bond, that I shared with him. I love her so much, it’s unnatural. She reciprocates it as well. When she about three and a half years old, on one of my visits to her place, she was hugging me. As she hugged she said, jayantipacchi, how do you smell so good, always? Whenever I hug you, you smell good. I was shaken, elated, pleased,shocked,flabbergasted. It was like I was with Mhantu, in our little space, in our pocket of happiness. I could only hug her back, I didn’t have anything to say.
Mhantu my hero. My real life Batman, my Superman, my Mandrake,my Mhantu.
I have one song for you, that comes to my mind when I think of you. Mhantu, I love you, and no I haven’t forgotten to you, you are one of my very first heroes…