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Ratnam Mama

Delhi mama, Bengalooru mama, Ratnam mama

A towering personality and a presence that will stay with you for a very long time was Mama. I knew him more when I went to study in B’lore for my undergraduate degree. Sarojini Atha and Ratnam Mama were my local guardians and almost every weekend I used to go to their house in Malleswaram.

He appeared commanding, authoritative and autocratic at a mere interaction and people would be intimidated by his forthrightness. What you heard was what he felt. The niceties of etiquette were perhaps lost on him. Sometimes people used to get offended or snubbed, not that would have bothered him anyways as he would hold back nothing in his heart. But if you persisted and hung around you would understand that he meant no harm and he had actually hit the nail on the head, whether you could relish it or not.

The truth of life is always harsh, I guess and Mama was no one to break it down to you gently.

He was one who would go to any length to help, especially if it was regarding education:

My parents wanted me to shift to Nagpur in the middle of my 3 year degree program and there were delays in getting some of my certificates from B’lore University. Though he did not like this move and advised us against it, mama offered to help us. Mama used to see the Registrar or Controller of Examinations on his morning walk everyday. Apparently mama bugged the life out of that guy every morning and sort of chided him for the delay. The guy got fed up and personally came and handed over my certificates to Mama!!!

(This move as cautioned by Mama later turned out to be a bad decision as both the universities worked out some formula to equalize my marks and I ended up with much lesser percentage than what I actually got)

My exposure to high society and intellectually engaging people globally had its roots with them:

Many of his colleagues would come home for lunch, dinner etc and I used to help Atha and Mama with the food, décor and hosting; Shobha vadina being away at Jamshedpur and both Bavas in the US by then. He was invited to many high profile parties of the UN in the Embassies and the Governor’s Tea Party on Independence Day and Republic Day. He was also a member of an elite Club. For a young girl from Neyveli these were thrilling. Atha used to lend me her wonderful saris, narrating an entire story about the sari as to which country she bought it, the kind of silk it was. I devoured every moment of those occasions.

Reading and analyzing in-depth had its initial steps with Mama:

He had a great collection of books. Later I got to know that he was not fond of people even touching his books. I used to pick out books from his collection and he would have a discussion about it after I read it. I used to be amazed how he would remember each fine point though he read it long ago as compared to me who had just read it. I still haven’t acquired that memory!! He used to subscribe to the TIME Magazine and for me that was off the charts!

One should remember it was not that easy talking and arguing with Mama as he was very strong and genuinely opinioned while I was a novice but in my own childish way I held my ground that he affectionately indulged.

Holding my ground reminds me of an ‘alakha’ (tantrum) I had. Diwali holidays I was to go home to Neyveli and although I wanted to go by myself to the railway station, Atha insisted she would drop me. Atha in her innocent naivety clubbed so many things enroute including receiving Mama from the airport as he was returning from Delhi. Mama literally ran along with me to the platform, but I missed the train. The next 10 days I did not speak to both of them and did not wear my new clothes for the festival. Sadly Mama did not admonish me even one time because he understood my disappointment. This is one incident I regret for having ruined their festival but then I was surprised at my own temerity that I rebelled against Mama.

They both used to call me Kumari that I hated and kept on telling them every time to call me Surya. Atha did finally but Mama always called me Kumari.

Few things only mama can do and get away with:

He humored Atha in so many ways; his love for her was very charming to see. She wanted to see a Balakrishna movie, so off we all went. It was an awful movie but Mama did not say anything at all. He was speaking to a random guy sitting beside him and asked him silly questions about who was Balakrishna, and if Krishna was Balakrishna’s son etc That guy was like, enti saar meeru!!

To all those Governor hosted events, it was strictly a 2 people only invite but Mama used to take me and just walk through nonchalantly. The ushers gaped dumbfounded!!

We were out in the city for few hours and Mama told the driver to drive in to Windsor Manor, a luxury hotel of those days. I was excited being taken to a 5 Star hotel. At the lounge, Mama started describing the hotel and pointing out the pool, the restaurant etc. and as were walking around admiring the interiors etc Mama just disappeared. After few minutes he magically reappeared and he was in a great hurry to get back. We were so disappointed at the no coffee or snacks but then we understood that he wanted to use the restroom!!!

While in B’lore, I had to look for a decent hostel accommodation, decent of those days meant no ‘working women’s hostels’ and my college had no attached hostel. So all we could find nearby was a hostel for economically backward girl students. Hesitant though we were, we found that it was quite neat and they were willing to give me admission if we made a donation to their Trust. They had an interview for that!! Mama and Atha took me there in their ‘Phoren’ car, an Isuzu that was like a Ferrari on b’lore roads!! It was hilarious to the core that a girl seeking admission into a hostel for poor children came in such a car!!!

My memories of mama in Neyveli were his loud guffaws at the English movies screened at the Club. The entire audience was quiet while only one person went HA HA HA as perhaps he was the only one who got the joke!!!!!

To end, Mama was a genuine person who was affectionate in his own way. He led a disciplined and simple life, focusing on what was important uncaring to fit into society’s tall demands of luxury. He led by example, so to say. I am thankful for the few experiences I had with him. Wish it could have been more.



Dr Suryakumari Duggirala, Edupreneur, The ALPS


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