Shirish was my immediate neighbour when we were staying at the Grant Road area
of Bombay. I was hardly four years old at the time and he being perhaps eight
or nine, there was no question of our being friends then. We just knew each other casually, that’s all.
Some years later, I joined the same school that he was in and there were more
opportunities to interact with each other. On one occasion, we had our school exams and we had to write our full name in English on the answer paper. Now, as I have often confessed, I absolutely hated English then, and could only write my first name;
nothing beyond that! Just then, I bumped into Shirish and asked him how to spell my surname. He must perhaps have been equally bright(!) in English because he too had no idea! But a quick-thinking guy he certainly was, for he remembered that he had a fellow classmate whose first name was the same as my surname! So, in no time, my problem was solved and from then on, I could write my full name in English without seeking any help! Quite an achievement, wouldn’t you say?!
Shirish was very popular in school because of his jovial nature and antics. Once, there was an elocution competition, in which the participants had to draw a random chit from a box on a table and speak on the subject written on it. The participant had to read out the subject he or she was about to speak on. When Shirish’s turn came, he started something like this: “ii…ii..iiif aaa… I wwwere a st st stammerer!” All the children started thumping their desks, laughing deliriously as he continued in the same vein. Needless to say, he won the competition hands down!
Some more years passed, and my sister married his uncle – with whom Shirish and his siblings used to live, so our meetings were now more frequent. By this time I had also grown up enough to be friends with him. Around that time, we both attended a summer camp at a place called Chinchan, about three hours from Bombay. We were about sixty boys lodged in a school. Chinchan had a very beautiful, virgin beach and every night, there was a campfire, which we all eagerly looked forward to because of the entertainment it provided. Everyone participated enthusiastically. On one such night, while someone was performing, Shirish suddenly seemed to have developed a fit, thrashing his hands and legs about violently. Everyone jumped up to help, some five or six boys trying to control him physically. In the absence of smelling salts, someone suggested making him smell a shoe, copiously rubbed in cow dung! The moment these words reached his ears, Shirish sat up, shouting, “No, no, I am perfectly OK!” When the perplexed onlookers asked him what this was all about, he simply smiled and said,
“Oh, this was part of my tonight’s act!”
In April 1951, I set sail for London to study Engineering. In October, I received the news that Shirish was to come to London on his way to the U.S. and would spend a couple of days with me. I received him at Tilbury Docks, and as expected, was regaled about his exploits during his journey. At Port Said, the ship was to remain at berth for a few hours, so Shirish and a few friends had ventured out to do some shopping. I remember that in those days, ‘Pyramid’ brand cottons were in great demand. Well, Shirish and Co. had gone to a shop or two and as is the vaunt with us Indians, started haggling. At the end of it all, a bargain was struck and the lot had returned to the ship, laughing triumphantly, patting their own backs thinking how smart they’d been. Their smiles soon turned into frowns as soon as they opened their packets. The shirts they had purchased either had no sleeves or the entire backs were missing! They were so beautifully packed that no one could’ve made out that something was amiss! The smart guys had been totally outsmarted!
Their next port of call was Marseilles, in France. It was evening and they had a few hours to themselves which they spent strolling around the harbour, when one of them had had an urge to empty his bladder. The pressure had soon mounted and the poor guy was desperate, but no one knew any French and so could not have asked for proper directions. A smart Alec had suggested using sign language, to which another guy had retorted, “You idiot, are you in your senses? This is France and you are in a sailor city. What if someone misunderstands you and you land up in a brothel?” God! I don’t remember how they resolved this, but Shirish had me in splits that entire night.
In America too, he must have made friends very easily because of his easy-going nature. I remember an anecdote my sister told me about many years later. There was a dramatics performance at his college, in which Shirish had played the part of a female nurse. While trying to take out the handkerchief stylishly from the ‘cleavage’,
he pulled his falsies out! Imagine the uproar this must have created in the audience!
He subsequently married an American girl and settled down in the U.S. Around October 1962, he came to India to visit the family and spend some time here. My wife wanted to learn Ball Room dancing, which I could not teach her because despite having spent over seven years in Europe, I did not know anything more than just kicking my legs about! Shirish readily obliged. Of course, he would have dinner after the lessons. We were in for a big surprise. We had not counted on his humongous appetite. You will not believe it, but the guy gobbled down an omelette of nineteen eggs! And this was followed by a large serving of mutton pulao! Ah, and he had already had some soup for starters! Surprisingly, there were no after effects. He could digest it all!
Around the same time, the festival of Diwali was being celebrated and my wife and I were at my parental home for dinner. My older brother also lived there as part of a joint family. While we were having dinner, Shirish dropped by. When asked to join us, he declined, saying he’d already had dinner. My brother then suggested that he at least partake of the sweets that had been prepared for Diwali, to which he readily agreed.
But, knowing his appetite, my brother cleverly set a condition that he (Shirish) would be blindfolded and given a knife with which he was to cut through the sweet placed in a ‘thaali’, (a sort of metal dish, more than twice the size of a regular dinner plate), and eat the portion nearer to him. Shirish agreed. My brother then tricked him into slicing the sweet in such a way that more than two-thirds of the portion was near him. But Shirish was not to be contained – he finished every thing in no time, earning the nickname ‘hog’ from us!
A year later, I visited the U.S. on business, but he had, in the meanwhile, shifted base
to Paris. Fortunately, Paris was also in my itinerary, so I could meet him there. In the short time that he had been there, he had already familiarised himself with the city
and could guide me to the best and cheapest restaurants and also get me perfumes
at bargain prices.
He came to India a few years later with his wife and two children, whence we spent some good time together in New Delhi. That was the last I saw of him. Some years later, while driving to attend some conference, in the company of his doctor friends, he suffered a massive heart attack and collapsed at the wheel. A great guy left without bidding adieu to anyone.