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BLOG - ER Ramachandran

Friday, April 25, 2008

The cutting remark that changed course of his life

A true story which appeared recently in Mysore mail and churumuri blog is about my friend Subbanna.


When Subbanna (name changed) came out of Victoria Terminus in Bombay, he was amazed at the tall match-box like buildings. How people managed to live in such heights, he wondered. His friend Anantha from his hometown Udipi received him at the Railway Station.
Anantha worked as a cook in the mess run by Mysore Association, Matunga. Conceived and set up as a home away from home for people from Mysore State, this place was a meeting place mainly for bachelors who gathered regularly for the indoor sports facilities there.
Subbanna got a job as a cleaner in the mess. His job was to wash plates and cups and generally keep the place tidy.
Since my brother and I needed somebody to look after our bachelor digs, Subbanna started working for us. Gradually, he became, sort of Jeeves for us.
One day, when I entered the dining hall, there was some commotion. Subbanna had started serving the diners, when Bhattaru - the chief cook, grabbed the vessel from him saying, ‘Ninna Kelasa Enjalu Ele Ethhuvudu. Mareebeda!’ (‘Don’t forget, you are here only to wash plates!’)
A hurt and visibly shaken, Subbanna dashed out. It turned out, since one of the regular servers was absent, Subbanna had taken a vessel on his own and started serving. Others chided Bhattru for raising an unnecessary ruckus.
A week later, one of the members at the cards table flourished a visiting card and told the workers; ‘instead of wasting time in the daytime, go and find out what they have for you. They want to hire some people’.
Subbanna, Anantha and Venkatesha went to the Nariman Point address given in the card. A skyscraper was coming up and the supervisor of an elevator company wanted to hire temporary hands to lift heavy machinery. After two days, Anantha and Venkatesha dropped out. Though a weakling, Subbanna persisted. He befriended the installation mechanic who showed him how the parts are assembled, wired and finally put to test.
After washing the plates he would run to Ram Mandira in Matunga, where his electrician friend from Udipi would explain the drawing and how lifts worked. The friend would use a chalk to draw the circuit diagram on the granite floor of the temple and explain the intricacies.
Subbanna‘s life became a daily mantra of: ‘Lifts- understand the mechanism and circuitry - wash plates - study line drawing on the Rama Mandira floor’.
Once, he showed me a book in which he had neatly drawn the various parts of a lift and the diagrams with short notes in Kannada and English along the margin! Gradually he became good in his work.
Soon after, I was transferred to Delhi. I heard from my friend that Subbanna was selected by Otis Company for their operations in Doha, Qatar. He was part of their installation team. I gradually lost touch with him…..
When I came back to Bombay after five years, he landed at our house one morning laden with gifts. Since I used to listen to old Hindi songs in Vividh Bharathi, he brought me some twenty cassettes of Saigal, Pankaj Mullick and Jagmohan and a musical photo album. He was now the supervisor of Otis Installation team in Doha.
In the evening he went to the Mysore Association with gifts to all his colleagues.
To Bhattru, the chief cook, he gave the best gift of all, a silk shirt and a dhothi.
He called me aside and asked if we can have coffee together outside. We went to the nearby Mysore café.
I could see he was happy and confident. He reminisced about the sheikhs in Doha who had installed lift- cages made of gold to transport eats from their kitchen to bedroom!
Then I asked him for the first time what happened when he fought with Bhattru.
Subbanna said slowly, ‘To be told I was fit for only cleaning plates (‘Enjalu Ele Etthuvava’) in front of all my colleagues was very humiliating. I never thought somebody would demean me because I washed plates. The hurt inside wouldn’t go no matter what I did. I never ate in the mess from that evening. I continued to work for I needed to send money home. The pain all over my body carrying the elevator parts, to some extent, helped me forget the inner pain and I could get some sleep. Thank god! Had I cried, Bhattru might have allowed me to serve and life would have gone on. In the state of humiliation and anger that enveloped me I stumbled upon the Otis opportunity. The work in Otis was the balm I needed’.
Subbanna returned to Bombay when the Kuwait war broke out. He set up his own company which takes Annual Maintenance Contracts (AMC) for maintenance of lifts of high raise buildings. Subbanna and Shantha have a daughter who is a B.Com and doing her C.A. Their son is studying in PUC.



  • A very inspiring story!

    By Blogger Happy Kitten, at 12:58 AM  

  • Ramachandran, just visiting your blog for the first time today. Its wonderful. A blog with a theme of inspiring stories and true from life too. Its really good to read. Keep it going please.

    By Blogger kallu, at 9:30 PM  

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