Friday, March 20, 2009

The Browns, my old pals

[Calendar of 1913, gifted by Mr.Brown]

Taking advantage of an absent lecturer in college in 1979 I went to one of the jewelry shops on Ashoka Road, in my quest for some Indian silver coins of the Victorian era. My inquiry for a certain coin at a shop drew the attention of an old Anglo-Indian gentleman who was there for a chat with the proprietor. He asked me what I collected. Soon, after an introductory conversation the old man and I both bicycled down, he on his 'Humber', I on my 'Robin Hood', to his humble “Green Pastures” a few streets away. He had readily agreed to show his coins and stamps and I had time. Common interests! I had struck another friendship with one Krishnappa the previous year, much the same way.

This was Mr. Richard Brown. After serving many years as a Guard in the Railways he had chosen Mysore to settle down for his post-retirement life since the late 60s, probably because there was a Mysore connection – his grandfather was working in the Railways at the turn of the last century! His other passion was poultry birds – a glass showcase displayed his trophies. But his top passion was reading and he followed cricket. Cable TV had made its entry into Green Pastures and so he watched some cricket too. Green Pastures was to become my favourite rendezvous for the next 9 years. Mr.Brown, a widower, lived upstairs. His kind, old widowed sister-in-law lived on the ground floor. She too was a keen stamp-collector. The ‘Browns’ and I soon developed a good rapport.

Our collection of stamps and coins were shown to each other and we even got the pleasure of exchanging our extras. Time made our friendship deeper and there came a time when not visiting the Browns was out of routine! Mr. Brown’s vivid description of fairy-tale-like-real stories were enchanting and seemed to take me back in a time machine. His memory was sharp to detail. He narrated with a twinkle in his eye the happier stories but his face turned pale when he recalled how he missed many opportunities that came his way but let them pass by. He never tired admiring Father Didier and Mrs.Webb, [a social worker in Mysore] for their meticulous stamp albums. He never missed intimating me about the annual fair at St.Bartholomew’s church for the sale of stamps. He used to avail his railway pass to visit his favourite city, Bombay [now Mumbai], where he used to meet an old lady from whom he bought stamps in front of the GPO there. On his last visit he was disappointed not to see that old lady and also his prostrate surgery thereafter prevented him from traveling.

A couple of ‘proverbs’ narrated by him stand out in my memory: “A job well begun is half complete” and “A hobby should be like a loaded cart pulled uphill, without stopping.” I later realized the truth of the latter since I stopped pulling my hobby cart! For stingy people he used to put it nicely as “he was fond of money.”

I offered my help these two old gems by way of repairing things like watches and clocks, which I knew. Mr.Brown had some old watches and clocks. In fact, all things in his simple house were old, antiques to which he used to tell stories how they came to him! Since he did not trust giving the watches outside for servicing, he gave me and was so happy to see them back in fine condition. 65-year old Mrs.Brown used to give me some odd little repair jobs. I had never seen a musical box before and it was thrill to put its simple mechanism back in action. She was delighted when she heard its melody again.

Visiting them on Saturdays had become a routine, after I joined work. The Browns used to give moral support when I lost my father and even today I remember Mrs.Brown’s advice “You are young, put your chest forward, shoulders back and be bold, face it.” During Christmas Mrs.Brown would offer me the special dishes she prepared herself. She was a hockey player in her younger days. She suffered from arthritis. She sometimes showed me those swollen fingers and told how difficult it was to do her daily cooking. She loved plants and she kept a few pots with her and was always willing to share a cutting or a bulb to me. One day, she invited me in saying, “look at the tiger” inside. I wondered what it was. It was a new LPG cylinder that had made its entry into her kitchen and she was so afraid of operating the stove. It took her quite some time to get accustomed and convinced that it was not tiger-like, after all!

At the beginning of our acquaintance she showed me her stamp collection, loosely kept in books, unlike Mr.Brown, who had meticulously stuck to his album pages – Airmail stamps were his fancy. I reckon not many collectors go away while showing their collections to visitors, but she did. When she went in to the kitchen, I pocketed three of her common extras out of sheer temptation, heartbeat crossing 100/min. Stealing was alien to me but was committed. As friendship bonded with passing of time I realized it was a great mistake – the act had been troubling me. I had to return the stolen stamps somehow. One day, I planned to do that. Again, heart pumping heavily in nervousness, I asked her for the collection on the pretext of seeing some stamp. She gave me and would never go in to the kitchen this time! I did not know what to do. After a really long while, spent discussing many things she finally went in to check something on the stove. Without wasting time, I kept them back in her album among other loose stamps. I felt so much relieved after that. I had learnt a big lesson in life.

Some years later, on one of my usual Saturday-visits, as I was climbing the stairs to meet my 78-year-old friend, Mrs.Brown with tears in her eyes, conveyed, “Don’t go, he’s not there!” It shocked me. He had died suddenly the previous Monday. Mrs.Brown was sorrowful and looked quite upset, because they lived in ‘Green Pastures’ in the company of one another for more than 20 years. My visit a couple of weeks later happened to be the last when I met her. She never seemed to have recovered from losing Mr.Brown and that old cheerfulness had gone. She told that she is now dependent on her son’s decision – most likely to be taken with him to the US. I did not know when. Again, one Saturday I went to ‘Green Pastures’ to see what had developed in the past few weeks. But Green Pastures was locked. There was the postman passing by and he told that her son had taken her to the US. He gave me some contact address in Bangalore to which I wrote. But there was no reply. Suddenly she was ‘gone’ too. I never got to know what happened later. I have no pictures of them in print, because there was no camera with me but only in my memory.

My association with these two gems had helped me gain more knowledge, wisdom, confidence in English conversation, inspiration to hobbies and reading. Mr.Brown had got a few coins of Shivaji’s time from a friend while he was serving in Poona (Pune) and he gave me two in exchange for two coins he liked from my extras. These and a calendar of 1913 [pictured above] he gifted are items to remind me of this wonderful old man. I cherish this friendship with the Browns for a long time to come. Again, age was no barrier at all!

 This is very nearly how Mr.Brown looked.  There is so much resemblance in the look of this man and Mr.Brown though Mr.Brown had a brighter and younger look at 73 even towards his end. He too used to spend his time on a reclining chair.  The above picture is of a certain Mr.Foster in the USA.  His daughter Karen and I got acquainted with each other through a garden website post 2009.  Thanks to her for allowing me to copy and use this picture here, the picture was one among the many she shared on facebook and those kept me reminding of that familiar 'Brown look'.  I add it here to remind myself of Mr.Brown.

1 comment:

GW said...

Dinu, this story of your friends touched my heart. You are like Howie and me, glad to make friends in all places. Life is enriched by our relationships and we never know when a stranger may turn out to be a lifelong friend. Many of our friends are older than us, and we are saddened to see them decline through the years.