For years, until T. Janakiraman moved from Madras to Delhi around 1970, I was at his place almost every day to get a story from him for a journal I was associated with. Janakiraman lived in the south-eastern part of Mylapore. I enjoyed cycling to that place. I always stopped at the bridge near Thannithurai Market where boats on the Buckingham Canal would bring hay and probably a little paddy from Andhra. You could see a whole family living in each boat and you could see the women cooking. I thought the most desirable thing in life would be living in a boat but there I was riding a bicycle to get an unwritten story from an unwilling writer. The irony is that once he went to Delhi, Janakiraman did give the journal not just stories but wrote two serial novels as well. He even figured as the editor of the journal! He had liked an English story of mine published in a national weekly but didn’t think much of my Tamil ones. I reciprocated it by my dislike for his later novels.
When you visit a house everyday for a number of years, you come to know so many things about the man and the household.
Janakiraman knew that but he had immense faith in my respect for confidentiality. A transfer took him to Delhi but could not snap his connections with Madras. There was a postcard from him almost every fortnight with some big and little task to be done and I responded promptly. He wanted to bring out a miscellany of modern Tamil writing in English translation and in record time, I got the thing ready. Unfortunately, the Delhi publisher backed out and much of the material was lost. The only piece that got into print was my translation of the play ‘Temple’ by Indira Parthasarathy.
One day in 1977, when he was on a short visit to Madras, he came to my house around 11 a.m. in a visibly worried manner. He was leaving for Delhi that evening but before that he wanted to see Chidambarasubramanian who was reported to be very ill. I had visited Chidambarasubramanian in three houses in a span of 10 years. But Janakiraman said he had the current address. It was just four streets away from my house.
We went to the house. Door No. 4, Sarojini Street. That part of T.Nagar was peopled with middle-class families. Four families lived in No.4 and Chidambarasubramanian’s was not one of them.
If the address you have in your hand is not the right one, the correct place could be anywhere.
Janakiraman said, “Shall we try the next house?” We kept knocking at almost all the houses in that street. The men had all gone to work and the few women who cared to talk to us weren’t of much help.
Janakiraman was disappointed. He was also hungry. Those were days when one had to wait for 10 or 12 years to get a telephone connection. So, the telephone was the farthest in our consciousness.
It was past 12. I took him to my house for a modest lunch. He felt better. We shared our jokes about confusion arising out of wrong addresses and attending wrong weddings. Then I saw him off at the bus stand.
Exactly a week later, “Swadesamitran” C. Srinivasan came to my house. C.S. was a great editor and a connoisseur of literary excellence. He informed me that Chidambarasubramanian had passed away. He wanted me to go with him. I told him of my futile search with Janakiraman. But Srinivasan had a different address. It was Motilal Street.
For those who knew a bit of that area, the poignancy would be evident. Motilal Sreet and Sarojini Street were adjacent to each other.