When he entered the office in the morning Naidu would greet him
“Good morning Kothandam, you seem to be in a happy frame of mind”
“Yes, why not? After a hearty heavy meal cycling all the way was tiresome but the mood is happy. Would you like to know the morning menu?” he would reply
“We are all ears” a few voices would be heard.
“It is nothing special. The usual South Indian fare. Morekuzhambu with ladies finger, beans usili, poosanikkai puli koottu, lemon rasam and thayir(curd) with mango pickles. The rasam was so delicious I had an extra helping in a cup” he would say.
This would leave all the listeners with their mouths drooling.
“Do you people make so many items daily? Looks like a kalyana (wedding) meal” Hanumantha rao would comment
“My mom is fond of making good food and my dad is a gourmet appreciating her culinary abilities”Kothandam would reply
It is a daily refrain with Kothandam detailing different menus taking care not to repeat the same item on successive days in the week. This would start the day in the office on a bright note with large smile writ on everyone’s face.
Kothandam was a good person and helping by nature. He would offer his help to his colleagues when they had heavy backlogs to clear. He was a fast worker and had time to spare. I know of many occasions when he had come to office on Sundays to help his colleagues in their work. He would be the first person to donate blood if a member of colleague’s family needed blood. He was liked by all though there were one or two who did not find his loud conversations in the morning amusing.
What was intriguing me was when everyone during lunch time opened their lunch boxes to eat, Kothandam would not eat anything. He would have a glass of cool water telling others that he was not feeling hungry. Gradually I became close to him and started playing a skittle in chess during lunch times. He never spoke much about his family or invited me to his home.
It so happened that one evening I had some work to attend to in the area where he lived. I accompanied him in my cycle on his way back. When he neared his house, he bid me good bye.
I asked him jocularly “Won’t you invite me to your house and offer me a cup of tea? I have never been to your place although we are close friends.”
The colour in his face changed abruptly. He was quiet for a few seconds and then said
“Can I take you another time?I will make my home presentable and be ready to entertain you” he replied
“Don’t be formal. A friend’s place is like my own abode. I do not mind in whatever condition it is” I said
“Okay then but you will be in for some shock. I haven’t told you about my family. You can see for yourself” he replied.
It was a two roomed side portion in a small house. It was dark and dingy with stale smell emanating. There was no furniture. Poverty was writ large on the house. The walls had never seen a colour wash for decades. In the front room lay his dad on a bench afflicted by paralytic stroke and unable to communicate. I saw his mother, who dragged her feet afflicted by arthritis as she walked, frail and emaciated with shrunken cheeks.
Kothandam said to her as if justifying my visit”He is my office friend, Partha.He expressed a desire to visit our home”
He went in and brought a glass of cool water. It was then a young girl entered the house. She was tall but looked skinny although good looking. He introduced her as his elder sister working as an assistant in a private company. It was their meager salaries that kept the hearth burning. He said his mom was suffering from asthma too and needed constant medication. His sister was to be married but they had no money or savings.
It struck me like a sledge hammer how this young man could possess such a pleasant and affable disposition despite the deadly combination of a dad struck with paralysis, a mom with frequent asthmatic bouts and an unmarried sister waiting to be married for want of money. He never allowed his private sufferings to affect his infectious spirit of warmth and helping nature. He indulged himself to the merriment of others in a fantasy world of opulence when he described the morning menu while what he actually took was a bowl of rice soaked in water and diluted butter milk. He went up in my esteem by several notches. Such men are rare indeed.