I remember him through the eye-span of a five year old so he was one of my heroes. He was around forty and single and lived in a queer little room in a chawl in Chimanbag. His room smelled of cigarettes but I never felt uneasy. He had numerous boxes of tools lying about randomly in his room. A funny little spanner, a set of shiny pliers, cute baby screw-drivers and sand papers of all kinds. Being a girl, I was never fascinated by anything as much as by the little metal stool he had that I was fond of sitting on. It was something from my world that fit into all the little things around me.
He used to baby-sit me all the time. My mom left for work on Saturdays and my dad and Viju kaka met at a restaurant near by to talk politics over around sixteen and a half cups of coffee and a few cigarettes. I sat around listening to them or running around amusing the waiters. My dad then left me with him and went out grocery shopping exactly an hour before my mom's scheduled return.
Viju kaka had this really rustic looking bike called "Bullet" and he made me sit on the petrol tank in the front. From the way it fired, we had named it "digee-digee" and I loved riding it.
Sometimes, he used to be busy fixing something in his room and I used to hang around opening boxes and being overwhelmed by the amount of disorganization that he could tolerate. Compared to our house then, which was I guess the humblest we ever lived in, his room was like being in a Wonderland. There was no kitchen, but a little gas cylinder with a burner just enough for making a cup of tea whenever he felt like. There was no bedroom, just a bed which looked like it was ever willing to sacrifice its purpose as a bed for a work bench. A lonely table fan that turned its head to a different corner and circulated the yogi air in the room. A big gramophone that played jet black discs when my dad and Viju kaka had their contemplative cups of tea. They were the ferocious men in the seventies so they usually had really (pointless) intensive discussions over politics that could be true ( or pointless) either way. However, they amused themselves with speculations. Even now, every time I see men talking about politics, I turn into the same five year old that I was back then and wander off, keeping my eyes on them and my mind elsewhere.
He had invented a fictitious character called "Sugandha" to get me to behave myself. So every time I threw a tantrum he used to tell me how Sugandha never does these kind of things because she is such a good girl. She could dance,sing ( whenever they wanted her to impress guests), tell stories and she also helped her mom in the kitchen. I used to be raging mad at this epitome of goodness in a little girl's disguise.
He used to take me around on his bike all over the city when he was running errands and baby-sitting me at the same time. So I was taken to oily and greasy service stations and made to wait for long hours till someone helped him out. He kept me entertained with his stories and I never got bored.
I don't know what happened but we lost touch with him for a long time. In the meanwhile I grew up and those childhood flashes of memory were sewn together by "facts" that my parents provided about everyone. I got to know a lot of things about all my childhood idols that I could have done without knowing. Through coffee conversations and old-friends-getting-together-after-a-long-time events, I realized that what I saw of Viju kaka was really a very tiny part of what he was known for and somehow my mind refused to see him as a complete person.
I met him again years later and he was true to his image in my mind, for he showed up with a big bar of chocolate even though he knew I was almost seventeen. He was married and lived in another town. I tried finding that "deegi-deegi" guy in him again but the effort was futile.
At such times I truly regret growing up. Somehow when you are around three feet tall, you make up for all that you cannot see by your innocence. I had filled my gaps with my own imagination and I really liked thinking about Viju kaka the way I thought of him when I was five. Back then, the stench of nicotine made me feel safe! It reminded me of the little room with a lot of tool-boxes that I was "set free" into!