Updated: Jul 4, 2021
Consonance and dissonance
Suresh Pattali, a film and theatre activist, or as Paul Zacharia, the Editor of Economic Times and his former colleague rightly stated," a film buff and libertarian"; worked as a producer in Asianet when I met him.
Suresh assisted the renowned Indian filmmaker Muzaffar Ali in making classic movies like 'Gaman' and 'Umrao Jaan' and has worked with noted singer Kishore Kumar and Popular music director Salil Choudhury. He was too humble a human being to read one's character and get close within no time.
I met him first, in 2000, at his office in the Asianet Studio complex at Puliyarakonam in Trivandrum. He was very eager to listen to my album 'Simple Truth' and knew it was in the final stage of completion. He was too busy in the studio that I waited from 4 pm to about 6 pm as he occasionally makes an appearance and apologizes for making me wait and leaves after making sure that I am comfortable. Someone would want him when he joins me, and as I was not in any hurry, I asked him to take his time. When he hastily joined me at about 6 pm, I told him that I have a rough copy of 'Simple Truth' in my car. The moment he heard that he just walked out of the studio with his hand on my shoulder. He sat beside me in the car, we closed the doors, and I played the tape.
Before the music started, he asked, "What about a ride?". I nodded, and we drove out to the nearly desolate roads in the suburbs of Trivandrum. When the music started, I noticed that he is gazing at my face. With a smile, when I turned and looked at him, he asked," You did this ?". I said "Yes", and his astonished expression is the first and best compliment I ever received. I drove aimlessly while he keenly and mutely listened to all the 12 songs in the album. Later I dropped him at his house, which is just about a kilometre away from his workplace.
The very next day, I received a call from him inviting me to his house, and I visited him sometime in the afternoon. His interest in music and his memory amazed me as he started describing how he visualized one of the songs that he heard the previous day. It was late afternoon, and he was yet to have his lunch. I understood he's drunk, but he appeared perfect and very much in his senses. I told him that I would wait until he has his lunch. Within a few minutes, he returned with an egg omelette for me. I didn't refuse as I knew he prepared it just for me. It was too salty to consume, and when I was struggling with it, he joined me munching his omelette and said, "Too much salt, right? I don't have any more eggs left, else I would have made fresh ones". After spending some time discussing the script, I left following his assurance to contact me soon. The next day he called me for further talks, and we fixed a local club for the next meeting the same evening.
He ordered a few drinks and narrated his Mumbai cinema experiences. The modesty of the Popular singer Kishore Kumar, the friendliness of the great musician Salil Chowdhury, and the simplicity of the renowned actress Smita Patil. The humbleness of Kishore Kumar during recordings and the prowess of Salil Chowdhury to compose 'boatman' songs.
He respected and appreciated me for being a teetotaller, and never did he behave drunk with me. I reminded him that it's getting too late and offered to drop him at his house. On the way back, he asked, "Anuj, which is your most favourite song? ". I replied that it's a tough question as I have so many favourites." My favourite English song is, 'Still I'm Sad' by Boney M", he said. After a pause, he continued, "Do you know 'Chingari Koi Bhadke'?". I said, "Yes, I love that song." He asked, "Can you sing it ? "and I replied, " Sorry, I have never tried it". Again after a pause, he said, "Please hum it ". I hummed the tune in its original pitch, and he started singing along in a feeble voice. I drove listening to his rendition, which was indeed beautiful. He remained quiet after that, and I dropped him home at about midnight.
Within a few days, he invited me to judge a talent search programme conducted by Asianet for college students, named 'Talent Scan 2000'. I accepted the request and appeared for the programme at Victoria Jubilee Town Hall on the stipulated date and time. He introduced me to the crew, and my role was to judge Western Music. After the programme, he thanked me and promised to be in touch.
He called me after a few days and asked me whether we shall meet sometime in the evening. I agreed, and he said he would call later to fix the venue and time. He called again in the evening to tell me that he's having one of his old friends along with him and asked whether it's fine with me. I said it's all right, and I invited him to one of the most prestigious clubs in town, where I have a membership. I booked a table on the lawn and waited for him.
He had few drinks like earlier, but his friend started gulping like a thirsty cow, loudly declared that he's a Maoist, and proudly started to swank his profanity proficiency. While Suresh commanded him to behave, in an attempt to move his chair backwards, the dhoti-clad Maoist fell aback bare, along with his chair. The waiters on duty are used to such displays, but they appeared shocked as they never expected such guests with me. I asked Suresh whether we shall leave. I have never seen him angry, and he didn't lose his cool even when his friend irritated him. He said we would move, but his friend refused to come. I thought of seeking help from the waiters and security to carry him to the car.
Finally, he agreed to move when Suresh 'promised' to take him to some distinct wine bar.
I was a bit apprehensive whether he would attempt to jump out of the moving car as we proceeded towards the hotel where he stays. Once we reached the hotel, he refused to get off the car. Suresh somehow managed to pull him out, and on the street, he loudly started to demonstrate his imprecation skills. I saw Suresh with a grim face for the first time, but still, he didn't lose his cool. Swiftly, he hopped into the car and signalled me to accelerate fast. I did that, and his friend was staggering from behind, trying to chase us as we sped away. Suresh didn't utter a word after that. I dropped him home, and though he didn't apologize, I could see that apologetic look in his weary eyes when he bid me goodbye.
I phoned him early in the morning to check whether his friend is all right. He told me that his friend was nabbed by the police the previous night, and he has to get him released.
I asked him to relax and promised to call him in the evening.
I called him in the evening, and an unfamiliar voice picked up the call.
I asked, " Suresh, Is that you? ".
The stranger from the other end replied, " Suresh passed away. He vomited blood, and we took him to the hospital but couldn't save him".
"माझी जो नाव डुबोए
उसे कौन बचाये"
("If the boatman drowns the boat, who can save it ?")