EJJI IN ROUND TABLE
EJJI’S LIFE & TIMES IN MMRT 42
Photos can be viewed at https://get.google.com/albumarchive/101850974532416984179
ROUND TABLE! When did I first hear this name? Hmm. Flash back to 1970. I was employed by Yashwant Veecumsee, as a “Toilet Supervisor” in their family’s prestigious building, Safire Theatre Complex, on a princely salary of Rs 300-00 a month, for an 18 hour working day, 7 days a week! He called me one day and said that he had arranged a special late night show of a movie for “his friends in Round Table” and wanted me to be extra careful about the toilets, as he said in his words, “the who’s who of Madras will be my guests”. That night I saw a group of “Tablers” for the first time in my life. I would be telling a lie if I said I was not impressed by them, their dresses and their cars. Yashwant was a tabler at that time.
How did I join MMRT 42. Cut to 1976 for the back story. I was now for the past five years running India’s first and only “Housekeeping and Building Repair Service” companies called Ejji Maintenance Contracts and Ejji Domestic Services. I had the contract for the maintenance of the Madras Race Club. I had gone to MRC one day, and there I met my old friend and schoolmate M.Sivram. (Please note that I say “schoolmate” and not “classmate” as I never entered a classroom, but sat in the school car park smoking beedies and playing cards with friends while listening to Vividh Bharati!!) He invited me for a meeting of Madras Midtown Round Table No 42 in Hotel Chola. I told him that I was already in Rotary and I may not have time or the money for RT. He said, “Ejji. Just come. You’ll never regret it.”
I attended that meeting, found it a fun group with quite a few of my old friends and soon I was a member. Life has never been the same again! Sivram and Ramesh were the founder Chairman and Secretary. R.K. Agarwal was the Vice Chairman and G.Venkateswaran the treasurer. One of the first programs was a mega event The May Queen Ball, and the amount collected (approx. 40K) was a record those days.
MMRT 42 has always been laying emphasis on “Fellowship”. It was and is still known as the “Fellowship Table”. I have played truant to most business meetings during my tabling life, but I always looked forward to the dinner meets.
MMRT 42 members were a mixed lot. But they had one thing in common. Fun and friendship. We did have quite a few who were teetotalers. We had one tabler who always accepted liquor only after ascertaining the pin code of the place where the party was taking place. He did not drink in any area falling under the pin code of Madras City!! So he would drink only outside city limits. He now is a confirmed connoisseur of “single malt whisky” anywhere and everywhere.
There were a few drinking circlers. Most had to camouflage their drinks with soft drinks. (Don’t forget that these were in 1980s, ladies not liberated as now in Madras that is Chennai today!) There was a hard drinking circler who started off with camouflage, but you could bet the camouflage would vanish within the second round and her voice would be heard well for the rest of the party. Why she always began with a camouflage always remained a mystery to me.
MMRT 42 had the honor of having one of its members on the cover of a national English magazine. James Fredrick of Coromandel Indag was featured on the cover of India Today along with Shiv Nadar of HCL and Patel of Nirma under the caption “Indian Tycoons to watch in the 20th Century”. Somewhere in the article James had mentioned the name MMRT 42. In the days before e mails, STD facility and mobile phones, I had many calls and letters from friends all over India, wanting to know more about James and MMRT42.
The saddest and most tragic but unforgettable part of MMRT42’s history, but of course with a very happy ending, was our Past Tabler Mahendra Parmar being stranded in Kuwait during the invasion by Saddam Hussain years ago. No event has generated or will ever generate as much concern not only among tablers from MMRT 42, but other tables as well. No one could ever fathom what had happened to him. Days of prayers and visits to temples by Tablers and Circlers, phone calls to known and unknown contacts, contacting VIPs of every hue and color- all to get Mahendra Parmar out of Kuwait safely. And the day Mahendra Parmar landed in Madras will always be remembered by the tablers of my age. You must listen to this “Escape from Kuwait” direct from Mahen. You will understand that what I have said is not an exaggeration. Mahen returned with a new personality and a different outlook of life. And on his return to Madras he received a war hero's welcome which prompted him to stake for the Maha Vir Chakra that year!!
We had a mix of members and surely not all were “born in the purple”, but it must be conceded that most of our tablers were born not with just a silver spoon in their mouth, but a golden spoon indeed! But there was nary a time when such things mattered in the friendship among us. Everyone was equal. We never much knew about their personal lives, or vocations. We were not even bothered. All we cared for was the person and the fellowship. In those times there was no “networking”, the buzzword for upward mobility you see these days.
Members went head over heels to host dinner parties and there was a lively smorgasbord of cuisines and cultures to be experienced. Not all parties were “wet”. There were “dry” ones too. But it made no difference. We enjoyed and looked forward to the fellowship and bonhomie. Home hosting of parties was in vogue and it was few and far between that we met in a club or a hotel.
The home hosted parties most looked forward to were those in Ramu’s house. The food was carefully selected, more often than not home made, the menu incorporating some of the rare and traditional cuisines of southern India. The whole extended family was there to help and join in the fun. Time was no restraint. Dinner was still being served some times, merging into a group having an early breakfast!!! Ramu has always been a host who included a number of tablers from other tables and friends of his into the guest list, making it a heady cocktail (pun intended!). And of course there were occasions when “The Grand Man” his dad, did make an appearance and mingled with all.
The mother of all Ramu’s parties was the one he threw the night before his wedding in Connemara when he was to lose his…………….. (no, no, no- not what you are thinking!), lose his title “Madras’ most eligible bachelor boy”. It remains unforgettable years later even now. You can catch up on these details personally from Ramu or me when we meet! Some anecdotes are better heard than read!
I must confess that I joined RT (and other social organizations and clubs) on a set of rules. a) I do not hold any office or vote in elections. b) I do not sell tickets for events c) I do not go around collecting donations and advertisements. I have maintained and followed these rules till today.
To off set this strange set of self-inflicted and unpopular rules, I made it a point as long as I was a member of MMRT 42 (and other organizations too even now), to host a dinner meeting once every year for the entire group. But my RT annual dinners were very special. I used to invite every past and present tabler from all Round Table Clubs of Madras. In short if you were or are a tabler from Madras and alive, you were positively invited. So we had past tablers, some in their 60s plus joining us youngsters and making it a merry mix once a year. Soon it came to pass that the Chairmen of the other Tables in Chennai would plan their meetings for a particular month after I first confirmed my dinner date! There was even an instance when a table postponed their AGM as it clashed with my dinner date. There was still another instance when my friends in RT asked me to change the dinner date as it was the day of the Wimbledon finals. There have been instances of Madras tablers who had shifted out, coming back to Madras just to attend that one night’s party.
Here are details of some of the interesting parties we have had.
An unforgettable dinner I hosted in 1982 was in the Madras Yacht Club, which then was in its historic heritage location inside the Madras Harbor. It was meant to be a picture perfect party, and party theme was “Somemore of 42”, a take on the movie “Summer of 42”. I had hired a launch and we had music, a dance floor and a bar on board. Strict rules of the harbor do not permit you to do these things even on a stationary launch, but we had the launch go into the outer harbor and on to the Bay of Bengal. The music was on full blast, tablers and circlers were dancing, and the bar was in full use. Suddenly, Padma (Mohan Raman’s wife) shouted that she could see someone who had fallen into the sea. The launch was turned and the launch members rescued the drowning person. It was Tabler Rajan, who was I think in table 39. Rajan’s daughter Kavitha is now a circler, married to Vijay Sriram of Madras RT 1. But for that split second sighting of a drowning Rajan by Paddu, the story would have had a gory ending!
The other interesting party was the one I hosted in Muttukadu in 1984. Muttukadu those days was not what it is now with the ECR. The invitations were designed like a typical south Indian Wedding Invitation, the ones that come in pink and yellow, in English and Tamil. The wordings were similar to the traditional wedding invites, but the words were different. This invitation became such a hit, that I was asked to print some extra copies after the party was over for friends of tablers who wanted it as a collectable!
The party was held like a traditional South Indian Wedding. Nadaswaram, welcome showers with flowers, vermillion and sandal paste- the exact works. The bar was a thatched hut erected for the purpose. The band/instruments (“Saavu melam” in Tamil) and music genre (“Dhappaan kuthu” in Tamil) similar to the ones you see along with funeral processions here in Tamilnadu. Entertainment included traditional folk style from Tamilnadu like “thee attam” (fire dance), “Kambattam” (dancing with sticks and mock fighting), “kan katti vettattam” (dancing blind folded and even cutting a banana placed on a person’s body, “you know where”, and cutting it blind folded with a long sword, all the while dancing to rustic music. Missing the banana can surely end in castration!) The bar had all types of booze from “Pats” (pattai sarayam or country liquor) to the best of other alcoholic beverages. The main entertainment was by a group of eunuchs I had hired. It was a riot with eunuchs drunk on country liquor, dancing with tablers and circlers to the music from the “Saavu Melam”. The sit down dinner was “Ilai Potta Sappadu” (traditional south Indian dinner served on a banana leaf). The eats included “eesal” (flying ants or termites), udumbu (Monitor lizard or iguana), ullan (snipes, a type of small bird), quails eggs, aattu kan kurma (or goat’s eye- balls kurma) etc. The take away gift included a bag with Aspro Tablets and a packet of Nirodh (a la “thenga pai” the take away gift at all weddings, the coconut bag with a fruit!)
At a party I hosted once, it was mandatory to be in a fancy dress to qualify for attendance. We had 100% attendance from MMRT 42, everyone in a fancy dress. But Bharat Raman took the cake. He came dressed as an Arab with two wives in purdah. One was his real life wife Padmini and the other was tabler Ganesh Ram. The entertainment was a cabaret by an athletic “stud” and a buxom well endowed “stripper” whom I hired from one of the sleazy hotels, when we had public cabarets and floor shows in Madras those days. They even performed a limbo with the poles on fire! I must confess that the floor show left quite a few red faced circlers, while the tablers wanted the phone number of the “stripper”. Added to this was the presence of my young school going daughters at the party! How children can see such things was upper most on some minds!
Well, there was an instance when Round Table Clubs of Madras hosted a dinner for me in 1980. Reason? There was a pseudo-gandhian with misplaced priorities as Governor in Madras called Prabhudas Patwari. He declared one day that prohibition was being introduced in the state of Madras, and that all wine shops would be closed immediately. Naturally this is bad news for all tablers, more so for tablers from “The Fellowship Table”. I filed a writ petition the same day against the decision. The case was heard, and a favorable order was given allowing liquor permits to be issued to anyone and everyone who gets a medical certificate and pays the required fee, I think Rs. 25/-, at the nearest Tahsildar office. Years later, the files of the case were found missing. The writ was just forgotten by the government. Prohibition was scrapped as a result. And we have the fgreedom to drink today!
And lastly, would you believe that MMRT 42 has had the privilege of hosting some members of the Indian and Pakistani cricket teams at a private party? This was at a time when prohibition was in full force in Tamilnadu. A group of tablers from Madras wanted me to host the party. Due to security and prohibition problems, the venue was the lawns of Shyamala’s house in Mylapore. A few Indian players turned up, and one of them, a retired player, was so drunk that he probably was unaware how he got back to his room! Only one Pakistani player Wasim Raja turned up, and he gave me the reason why the others did not come. Religious reasons! Some things never change as the reason he gave holds good even in today! Mohan gave a pendant and a locket to Kapil Dev, which he proudly wore when going on to the field the next day and showed it to us when he walked on to the field at MCC from the pavillon next morning. His hand candy at my party was an unkown Hindi starlet who became a top Tamil hero's first wife and mother of their children later on.
I am today “20 years young with an added 45 years of experience”. And the best of those 65 calendar years were spent in the company of the members of MMRT42. No two ways about it! Cheers!
Ejji K. Umamahesh