Famous statements from years gone by still resonate when history books are read.
Like when explorer and journalist Sir Henry Morton Stanley met Dr David Livingstone in Africa, he was supposed to have said: “Dr Livingstone, I presume”. Another, was Julius Caesar, who – having the full weight of the daggers of the senate in his back – looked at his close friend and confidante Brutus, and said “Et tu, Brute?”.
With an almost similar ‘first time meeting question’, my 30-year friendship with the Mageswarans has endured the test of time.
The prodigal son, Dr M. Ramanesh, a neuro anaesthetist, was my classmate in medical school. On our first meeting, he said: “Hi, I am Ramanesh. Do you have a brother in KL?”.
Being the only son in my family, the then 20-year-old me responded: “Hi, I will have to ask my father that.”
After 30 years since the question was asked, I am still trying to locate the doppelganger. The answer remains elusive.
But the question was also the starting point of a great friendship that evolved into family – a brother from another mother.
Dr Ramanesh’s mother, S. Rukumani Thevi, who had followed him for his admission, requested another friend R. Kumar and I to take care of her son, which we took to heart, and did our best.
Returning home for the summer break, we met Dr Ramanesh’s father, K. Mageswaran, and sister Rajika, who was studying law at the time.
It was such an enjoyable time, sitting and talking about anything and everything under the sun. Dr Ramanesh was the model son, a studious lad. Uncle Mageswaran used to work for the Veterinary Department, and he regaled us of his younger years. Work took him nation-wide and he shared tales of several underrated bak kut teh stalls that offered delicious and generous servings.
He had a whole lot of interesting stories to tell, and along the way, he helped many people. I see that trait in his children.
Uncle Mageswaran was a maverick. He told me how one time, he sneaked out of the house by pushing the car out, and starting it down the road, out of earshot of his better half. That’s Uncle Mageswaran for you – happy-go-lucky, and carefree.
I, too, usually push my motorcycle ‘Christine’ out of my house porch to start her up for my “5am Dhabha Rides” – what I call my early morning weekend rides.
Aunty Rukumani was a Tamil school teacher at SJKT Vivekananda in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur. She later taught at a school in Sungai Buloh, Selangor, before retiring from a vernacular school in Kelana Jaya.
She was a strict, yet caring teacher, who was well loved by her students and peers. Many professionals today were moulded by her principles. Aunty Rukumani was also a fantastic cook, and the taste of her food still lingers on my taste buds and in my memory.
Both Uncle Mageswaran and Aunty Rukumani were gentle souls and great parents.
I got close to Aunty Rukumani and her siblings, and eventually became a fixture in almost all of the family’s social functions. I was there when Rajika got married to K. Selvan; when Dr Ramanesh tied the knot with his college sweetheart, Dr P. Anuradha; when Mageswaran and Rukumani celebrated their 60th birthdays; and the very many other gatherings.
In fact, Selvan, an oil and gas engineer, and I, developed our own kinship, and meet up once in a while.
Uncle Mageswaran and Aunty Rukumani were even there for my wedding, and blessed the birth of my eldest of three daughters. Aunty Rukumani was very close to my wife, K. Malinidevi, and they bonded well.
Aunty Rukumani was a very pious woman and was a familiar face at the Sakthi Easwari Temple in Kelana Jaya. The same piousness seeped into her children. If anyone in medical school needed help from God, they would look for Dr Ramanesh, and he would help them.
That was Dr Ramanesh’s nature – ever willing to help his friends. Qualities inherited from both his parents.
With time, health issues creeped in. Uncle Mageswaran was admitted to University Hospital in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, and the doctors struggled to stabilise him. Dr Ramanesh’s anaesthesia training came to the fore and made the difference in helping the team stabilise and save his father.
Both his parents’ sacrifices and dreams were realised that day.
On my part, I went to the Marathandavar temple in Maran, Pahang, and prayed for Uncle Mageswaran’s recovery. By God’s grace, he recovered well.
However, he eventually passed on, and his wife died a few years later. I still do feel sad.
We have not been able to meet up with the family, especially with Rajika and Dr Ramanesh over the past two years, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
So, when Rajika invited us for dinner last Saturday (April 16), I gladly accepted. I had planned for a long ride the very next day, but decided to postpone it, following the advice from my better half.
Malinidevi reminded me of the “spiritual journey” that I would embark upon with Selvan and Dr Ramanesh, and we could very well return home late at night. As usual, my wife was right.
We tucked the moon to bed, and I was spiritually enlightened when we got home.
The meetup opened the floodgates of memories. I was seated in the same chair, and in the other chair was Selvan, the man of the house, now.
I am sure Uncle Mageswaran was also holding a glass to keep company, and cheering with us.
They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and here it is, spot on. Rajika is a perfect copy of her mother in character, care, concern, and the love she showers on all. Ever the gracious hostess, the food was delicious, with varieties. I could almost feel Aunty Rukumani watching over, making sure all was in order.
Even though I was not born into this family, friendship and fate had borne me in, and these 30 years have just strengthened that bond.
I travelled the journey of the past 30 years, in my mind. It is not about a motorcycle ride into the horizon – but of the love, care, concern, and blessings of two great people, and their families.
I am fortunate to have come in touch with so many people in the course of my life thus far, and I am sure I will meet many more in the years ahead.
As American author Elizabeth Gilbert once wrote: “The reason that friendship is so piercingly beautiful is because it is so voluntary, so organic. In a way, I think friendship is the most natural expression of human love. We never make holy vows and contracts and solemn legal arrangements with our friends.”