“Yay, Vishnu” screamed Shyamala from the house at the back of ours in our Vatara. It was a Thursday evening, between 8:00 and 8:30 PM, time for Chitramanjari. Ours was the only house other than that of the owner’s that boasted a TV. A B/W one at that though. Quite a few neighbours used to drop in for the weekly Chitramanjari.
Me, all of 6 years old peered at the screen. Still doubtful as to who it was, I knew that that ‘Vishnu’ looked like Vishnuvardhan. I looked at my mom and asked “Isn’t that Vishnuvardhan? Why is she saying its Vishnu?”.
Growing up in the 80s and the 90s, Vishnu’s movies were a big constant. There are those that I still idolize like Bandhana, Muthinahaara(which I still consider his best ever work), Malayamaarutha, Naagara haavu, Makkala sainya etc. There were those where I walked all the way to the theatre(Nalanda) to watch him bash up villains in a badly made remake of Shahenshah. Yes, I was a big fan and still remain one. It also helped a lot that he had a singer like SPB who gave a distinct characteristic to songs sung for each actor, making a song for Shankar Nag sound consistently different from one for Vishnu.
Some of the grimmest reminders that you are growing up are people and idols from your childhood, those who were at their prime or just past, passing away and moving on. Passing away of Dr. Raj, Lokesh, Sivaji Ganesan, Nagesh were some of them. This would be added to the list of events that tell you you are not growing any younger I guess. It will be a tad weird to talk about a Vishnu movie or watch a song on the TV and suddenly realize that he is no more.
Ashwath was quite personally known. Personally known would be an overstatement, as in I did not know him personally nor did he know me by name. The 80s were a time when PSUs ruled the roost. You couldn’t walk into any shop without bumping into an employee from ITI, HAL, HMT, BHEL etc. And my mom working in ITI, and that too in the library, meant that we ran into a lot of ITI’ans at different places almost all the time. Someone from the same bus or same department etc with a smile and a “yen madam chennaagideera?”.
Ashwath being an ITI employee, attained a distinct status in my house. First time I heard his voice, my mom said “that’s Ashwath, he works in the same department as mine in ITI.” The voice being distinct helped and everytime his voice was heard whether with “Santha Shishunaala shariefa” or other songs being aired on the radio, I would immediately shout “Ashwath!” It was a big thing to recognize a singer you can’t see when you are 7 years old! The name stuck and I continued lighting up every time I saw his name on screen whether in credits for TV serials or when he came on shows. And his voice, it was just one of those that never changed since the day I heard it.
Sitting in Vidyarthi Bhavan I noticed a sheet of paper with some words written in block stuck under Ashwath’s photo. I knew he had passed away, had seen him being mentioned among those who left us in 2009 in an article in churumuri. Living in times when everything seems to be happening in a rush I guessed he passed away sometime back, that I might have forgotten that and they had kept the sheet of paper on. Only later that evening did I realise that that ‘sometime back’ was only a few hours ago and that I had passed right through NR colony and not known. Can’t imagine that happening today if I were to pass through Jayanagar. At least some families get to mourn the passing on of someone they love in peace and quiet.
Both were my brothers Alumni, having studied in the NCB and it is touching and humbling to know that I had walked the same portals as they did. All I can hope is for their souls to rest in peace, and for Vishnu’s family that they can at least mourn his death in peace without having to endure the pain Dr. Raj’s family had to go through.