I’m overwhelmed with a truly warm feeling just thinking of one of my favourite uncles, Gopal Mama. An enduring image from my very young days is of his broad smile. Gopu Mama, lanky and wiry, bald with black framed glasses and long long fingers. As a child, those fingers held a special fascination for me – whether he was clicking away on his camera (Gopu Mama was an accomplished photographer), spinning the ball when he played cricket with us, or packing little samples of ores and minerals into neatly labeled packets (“fool’s gold”, “quartz”,…) which was our initiation into his world of geology. And, of course, the image of him, wiggling his long fingers, teasing us that he’d tickle us with them. “T-o-r-m-e-n-t-o-r”, he’d laugh and get us all squirmy without even actually tickling us.
Gopal Mama was special to us. He was especially close to Shouri, since they –- technically an older nephew and a younger uncle -- were very close in age, practically siblings and childhood playmates. And, in all of Shouri’s family, he was the closest to my mother. How we looked forward to his visiting Delhi and staying with us, joking with us and keeping us regaled with stories! And to visiting Madras and staying with him. The memories of us jumping into the car with Suku, Sridhar and Shobha, going to the Snake Park and having boas round our necks are still so vivid. On a later trip, Gopal Mama took us all to Kanchipuram and also to Mammalapuram, telling us not only about the monuments and temples there but also about their construction, the stone used, and a wealth of other information. How lucky we were to have Nature’s mysteries opened to us – one uncle introducing us to plants and trees, another to rocks and stones, and a friend of my father’s to the world of wildlife.
Another indelible memory is from a visit in June 1983 to his home in Nungambakkam. The cricket World Cup final was on, and the whole family (Veena’s family was over too), was gathered around the TV, watching that tense gripping match. India had not put up much of a score, 183, and there was a doleful air amongst all of us. But Sandhu (I remember Jayant gently correcting his father, who had mistaken him for Bedi) gave all of India a moment of sheer joy by pegging Greenidge’s stumps back. And then Kapil Dev took that magical catch, and then the wickets began falling. Hope once more, and bated breaths. Amidst all the tension Gopu Mama went to the toilet, and while he was away, a couple of wickets fell. Then there was a bit of a stand. We started joking with him that another trip there would yield a wicket, and he winkingly obliged us by downing a glass of buttermilk and pretending to head out of the room again. A few more quick wickets, this time of tail-enders, and India was on the threshold of victory. Gopu Mama had worked his magic again! He was our man of the match.