Parashu, a people’s person

Parashu, a people’s person

One evening in July 2006—my second year of college—after attending the junior batch’s ‘fresher’s party’, some of us learnt that the party was going to continue at a senior’s house. That senior was the drummer of my college band (the guitarist of which had expressed interest in roping me in).

This invitation to the after-party was open to everyone. I was 19 and it was going to be my first ever house party. A friend and I were excited to go but were hesitant. After much back and forth, we decided to go.

Upon reaching the drummer’s house, I regretted the decision immediately. To my utter shock, his parents welcomed us at the door. I thought, “Damn, this dude’s parents are home?! What kind of a party is this going to be?”

Everybody trickled in and the house was teeming with enthusiastic barely-twenty-somethings. My friend and I sat in the corner of a room, mumbling under our breaths, how terrible this ‘party’ was going to turn out.

A senior lit up a cigarette in the room. I thought he was out of his mind. Just then, uncle walked in. I froze in horror. Uncle stood there chatting with us all. He greeted my friend and me, two newbies in his house. He then borrowed a drag of the cigarette from my senior and went about greeting others.

This was my first introduction to Parashu uncle.

Parashuram (or ‘Parashu’ to the world and ‘uncle’ to us) was an amiable and gregarious man. He laughed from his gut—nose wrinkled, eyes closed—and with his entire being. You knew he found it really funny when he laughed like that.

Even though my nineteen year old gawky self was in shock that he treated people in their twenties like adults—a rare occurrence in my experience—I would go on to discover that there was a lot more to him and his home than that initial shock.

Uncle was a musician, a graphic designer and above all, a lover of hosting people at his home. Musicians and creative people frequented his house.

He played rhythm guitar in a band when he was younger. He had a collection of a few guitars that he owned. Uncle had a routine. Whenever someone visited his house for the first time, he pulled up an old semi-solid guitar and got Notty—his dalmatian and the apple of his eye—to paw at it and do a few tricks. This would leave the guests charmed and disarmed. People dropped all false airs and immediately got laughing and talking to one another.

That night he got Notty to do the trick for us newbies.

And thus began my association with Parashu uncle, Sudha aunty and the most welcoming home I’ve ever walked into.

As the night got going, everyone made themselves comfortable in the humble living room, no bigger than 140-150 sq ft. It housed seventeen of us high-octane youngsters.

My guitarist was the leader of our tribe (the band and our friends) for as long as the tribe existed. He set the mood for the evening, with uncle’s kind permission. Everyone got their drinks, sat around in one big circle and my guitarist pulled up a guitar and started to sing. The drummer, uncle’s son, and the singer joined him. And soon uncle joined them with a guitar. The party came to life.

I watched and learnt. It was a lesson in ‘how to house party’.

I can’t tell if I am recollecting that particular night or every other night at the Parashu house when we partied. The events unfolded in a similar way. It was a mini concert. Always.

That night my guitarist asked me to sing a few songs. I hesitantly did. Uncle was impressed with my harmonies. I didn’t know it was worthy of notice till I watched him react like that; he walked across the room, stood next to me, bent over and listened intently. He was so happy that he hugged me, ruffled my hair and declared to everyone that I was good. That is how he was, effusive in his praises and his welcome.

That was very encouraging at 19.

He then handed me a five rupee coin as a token of appreciation; he had an old-world charm. I cherished that coin for years.

That night placed me firmly in the band and started friendships that lasted for over a decade.

Bands usually jam in the drummer’s house because it is tedious to move the drum kit around. Given that and how welcoming the Parashu household was, it became our permanent jam room. And also our party house and a second home to us conflict-ridden young adults.

Aunty prepared freshly cooked meals for us, every time we jammed there. Sometimes we jammed all day, so she made three meals. Sometimes we jammed two days in a row, sometimes three. We spent three days a week there for at least four years, if not more. She cooked every single time, all the while working from home. She never complained ever or never subtly suggested even, that we should eat out; the opposite if anything. She was a mother to the friend group.

Uncle had a keen ear and had seen us go up and down in our musical journey. He would walk into the room once in a while and tell us that we weren’t sounding our best. Or that we weren’t tight. Or that we sounded great. He would pull up a song and tell us about it. He would recount anecdotes from his performances. He would introduce his fellow musicians or other younger musicians to us. He absolutely loved getting people together. He was a fatherly presence in our lives.

Uncle and aunty watched us make friends, get into relationships and bring over our girlfriends/boyfriends to their home; they watched us break up, break down, fall in love again; they saw band members fight and leave; they saw new ones join. They were a constant through everything.

They never judged us, never interfered more than necessary. Their welcome was not conditional. Their door was open to any friend we cared to bring along.

Uncle and aunty showed by example that the size of your home had nothing to do with how welcoming you make it. That all the fancy-shmancy in the world cannot bring genuine love and warmth into your home and your life. That a home is an extension of the host.

Uncle was a meat-eater and aunty a vegetarian, they both had different mother tongues and communicated with each other in English; I especially felt a connect with this because I came from a similar background and grew up with the same value system.

I also connected with uncle over old Hindi film songs. He was a lover of Kishore Kumar, so was my father and every man I knew from their generation. I had grown up listening to those songs. But I had a soft corner for Rafi, so he would ask me to sing those songs and he would strum along.

Occasionally uncle made a chatni. We loved it. And it would be a mini celebration every time he made it. He never understood why we loved it so much: “just simple garlic and chilly dude, no big deal” he would insist every time. Some nights we would end up chatting till the wee hours and uncle would ask me to make lemon tea. It was such a ritual. He thoroughly enjoyed it. We all would reminisce about the experience while still undergoing it. Uncle’s enthusiasm was contagious.

As college got over and everyone visited less frequently, uncle would sometimes pick our call when we called his son and he would ask half-annoyed, “yellro ideera?!” (where the hell are you guys?!) We would laugh and reply, “ah… been a bit busy uncle, planning to come soon.” The running joke at one point was us asking our drummer friend, “dude, we’re going to uncle’s house, you wanna join?”

We loved uncle and his home, even if we never expressed it to him or aunty in so many words. And they knew it.

In May 2011, uncle’s health started to sharply decline. He got hospitalised for a severe bout of pneumonia. The disease turned fatal despite all his attempts to fight back.

On 13 May 2011 uncle breathed his last. He was only 55.

It was a massive shock to all of us, especially aunty and my friend who was only 25. His passing made us all age by a few years and left a huge void.

We called all friends that had parted ways, put our differences aside and paid a tribute to him, just as he would have liked it—“drop the fights dude, forget it” he would always try to tell us.

A lot of people lay claim to being friendly with the younger generation. The truth is, they simply fail. Uncle did it with ease. It came naturally to him. If I ever want to connect to a generation younger than mine, I know whom to look up to.

Uncle would have turned 65 on March 1st this year.

I am grateful that I got to meet uncle. I think of him and the time we all spent in his presence, often.

Sometimes you feel like you know some people all your life, even if you've known them for less than five years.

Uncle was one such person.

I only hope he is having a good birthday up there, with his regular tipple–Old Monk, listening to Kishore Kumar on the radio and with Notty by his side.