Memory had just begun then. Today it seems far more than memory and is more like a treasure to me. I was only 6 years old then traveling with my family to a place near Ratnagiri. From what I remember there were cozy red bricked villas amidst tranquility and fresh air. Rain had just made its first appearance and the smell of the wet soil in that part of Maharashtra still tickles my senses.
I was an absolute entertainer then. I would mimic people of all age and character. I could tell series of jokes in one go and I could make people laugh till they would have tears in their eyes. I would tell jokes that wouldn’t suit my age, I did not know the meaning of those jokes but what I knew was, people would laugh anyway. I remember it all. Clear and fresh.
It was a week-long trip and it was a perfect place and time to unwind and relax. Chat and make merry. One morning as we sat for breakfast I saw another family sitting next to us. It was a big group just like ours. I overheard my mother’s conversation with her sister and my family about this person with a white beard sitting in that group. He was someone, that’s what I heard but I was least bothered. I was more bothered about finishing the paratha lying untouched in my plate.
That night after dinner I again encountered the same man with people coming and talking to him and my family talking to him. He was a simple man maybe in his sixties. Not very tall and he often walked around with his glasses. My mother introduced me to him that night and I spoke to him just the way I would talk to my grandfather or someone slightly younger to him.
He was none other than the giant writer and prolific playwright, Vijay Tendulkar. When I first heard his name I thought he was related to Sachin Tendulkar. This could probably be the only assumption someone could make at that age. I started seeing him more often sometimes in the mornings, sometimes post dinner and I began talking to him. The first joke I told him was of the elephant and the ant, one which I was obsessed with at that time. The joke goes this way, once an ant walks up to an elephants ear and whispers something in his ear. He dies after listening to her. Why? Because the ant whispers, “ Mein tumhare bacche ki maa banane wali hoon.” And every time I would tell this joke to Vijayji, he would burst into laughter. He would ask me if I knew the meaning of this joke and I would confidently say No. He was staying in the villa right next to ours and he would often call me post dinner to talk to him and tell him all what I had to offer as far as my jokes were concerned. I have memories of sitting on his lap staring at his white, perfectly trimmed beard. His eyes were deep and he had the most modest smile I had ever seen.
Once while I was talking to him, one of his family members asked me,” Do you know who this uncle is?” I spontaneously nodded my head. “He is a writer and he has a beautiful handwriting,” said one of his nieces. “We will ask him to write a book on your jokes.” Vijayji simply smiled at my confused expressions. I asked him, “What do you do?” he said, “I am a writer.” I asked him yet again, “But what do you do?” He figured out that I was too small to understand what a writer is so he asked me in his soft and expressive voice, “What does your father do?” “He is an engineer!” I said instantly. “Similarly, I am a writer.” So much of modesty would only come from a legend.
I was lucky. Or probably nobody would ever dare to tell such a joke to Mr. Tendulkar or sit on his lap and ask him what he did. I was a child and children are meant to be pure and intuitive. They know no big or small. They are frank and honest. But what gives me goose bumps even when I write this today is the warm side of Vijay Tendulkar who did not spoil the child in me. He exactly knew the way a child thinks and for whatever time I spent with him, he became a child too. He was a celebrity and hugely acclaimed master but in front of me he portrayed himself just like any ordinary man of his age.
Recently when I had a course in script writing and screenplay writing, all these golden memories flew to my mind. I went through some of his work and it left me speechless like the way it left a million others.
Some people are simply legends. Some make it obvious. Some only enjoy the stardom and then there are some like Vijay Tendulkar who redefine the word, Legend.