Babychayan’s 80th birthday coincided with the Euro Cup 2012 finals on Sunday. Being a popular man, about 200 people turned up for the evening do — family friends, old colleagues and leading stalwarts of the neighbourhood. They spoke of his multi-faceted personality, some about his family values, others about his farming acumen. Colleagues from quarter of century ago who travelled over 100 kms to attend the get-together were taken aback on hearing tales from his neighbours about how he religiously continues to play badminton for an hour every morning.
Among his well-wishers, a bishop, also a die-hard fan of the Spanish team, asked Babychayan if he was planning to keep awake for the midnight telecast and he gamely nodded, in assertion. The day-long exertions, however, took its toll and the newly turned octogenarian skipped the live telecast.
On Monday morning, Babychayan, once a university-level football player, sat through about 30 minutes of the repeat telecast. “We used to play more aerial balls. Now it is mostly ground balls. It is fascinatingly different,” he declared before announcing that he was changing into his shorts. Some of us who were watching the match exchanged amused smiles, thinking that he, overcome by a fit of nostalgia, was planning to play more aerial balls in the courtyard.
That was short-lived as the next announcement soon followed, “I’m going to pluck tamarind (aka kodam-puli, a vital ingredient that goes into making lip-smacking Travancore-style fish curry). Come and collect it.” Two servants were seen rushing out, with a 10-feet-tall iron ladder.
After seeing Spain score the second goal and knowing well that the other two strikes would not come till much later, a few of us decided to check out what the old man was up to. On reaching the far end of the two-acre property, where the giant tamarind tree is located, we could see the servants rushing helter-skelter as dozens of tamarinds kept raining down to the ground. Soon, one could spot the sprightly man perched precariously on one of the top-most branches of the tree that was swaying in the wind, shaking the nearby branch — a process that he repeated for the next one hour or so.
With his descent came a volley of words to the few of us who had gathered to see the spectacle, “This tree is only 80-90 feet tall. I used to scale coconut trees well over 110-120 feet in my youth.” Later, as if to reassure us, “I’ve been doing this once a year for the past 25 years. It is difficult to convince farm labourers to climb trees.”
Finally, after he touched ground and the farm help had collected about 50 kilograms of tamarind, he turned to me with a chuckle: “Son, it is one thing to give armchair theories about how Italy should’ve countered Spain. Look at you, all those extra calories...time you went in for some real exercise.”
Babychayan never stops springing surprises. There will be no surprise for the next weekend though as he has already declared his plan to clean the 30-40 feet deep family well. The reason: no one else is willing to take up the onerous task. Age, is definitely, a thing of the mind.