Aravind Chandh and Abhinand Shankar talk to Mr. Gangadharan, the owner of insti’s cycle shop, as part of T5E’s ‘Humans of Insti’ Series of articles. Mr Gangadharan is a cog in the machine that we call IITM, and helps keep it well oiled and working (quite literally) for he is one of the reasons that make the impossible task of reaching class at 8 in the morning when we wake up at 7:50 seem so easy.
I am originally from Thrissur, Kerala. I play the flute. I also practice stick fighting and Kalaripayattu and occasionally teach them to other people as well. [Aside: Kalaripayattu, indigenous to Kerala, is said to be the mother of all martial arts.]
I am proud to say that I have grown up with the institute. I first came to the campus at the age of seven or nine – I don’t recall very clearly (roughly around the year 1964) – and started working as a server at Godavari hostel. I came here because my elder brother used to work here. One particular summer, I spent about four or five months at a stretch here and somehow, I ended up liking the place so much that I decided to stay on. Initially, I used to stay at Taramani, but then I did not feel at home anywhere but in Insti.
I started out as a table cleaner in Godavari mess. A year or so later, they thought that I would be old enough to be the common room boy. After a few years, I became a server at Godavari mess and I fondly cherish my days serving food to Dr L S Ganesh. Actually, I even spent time working as a cook at SK Mess in Himalaya!
I left Insti at the age of 18 or so and became a receptionist-cum-manager at a lodge in Ooty. Then, I wandered off to Mumbai and took up a job in a petrol research centre for 4-5 months. I was not really happy in either places and so I returned back to insti. By that time, however, my brother had gone back to Thrissur.
I used to go home once in four months to look after my parents. I also used to perform stunts with fire back at home.
After coming back, I applied to get a license for a cycle shop. Meanwhile, Professor Idichandy from the Ocean Engineering Department taught me Malayalam and English everyday. I am very thankful to him. First, I became in-charge of the cycle shop near the girls’ hostel and a few months later I took charge of the one near Jamuna hostel. Since then, there has been no looking back. I really enjoy every day at Insti.
I work the hardest just when the institute reopens and, especially, during the monsoon season. Everyday, I receive a number of complaints from students prompting me to check their cycles- about 20 cycles a day with most of them punctured. I am very fond of the students- be it those who talk to me nicely or those who complain of a delay in the repair work. After all, I am also like everyone else and I tend to procrastinate at times.
I’ve got so many memories of Insti and the people here make me strive tirelessly. I don’t hesitate to work on holidays because I live for the students. I want to make sure that I satisfy all their requests. They matter the most to me. I don’t charge too much, because I might be able to cheat you, but I can’t cheat the Almighty. I just ask the students to pay me how much ever they feel like. I don’t care if they pay me or not but I want to make sure that I give my best while serving them.
Some people here have become very special to me. I am very fond of Preema, a student who just graduated. She frequently calls me on the phone and it is always lovely to talk to her. Whenever I talk to her, I feel like talking to one of my two daughters.
At this point, I’m sure you are thinking that Mr. Gangadharan’s life has been smooth and lovely. So were we. But, we could not have been more wrong, as is evident from the incident he narrates shortly afterward.
There are some bitter experiences as well. I was jailed at Saidapet Prison for 9 days under false pretenses. That is a long story. An inspector by the name Ethiraj used to be here. One day, he hired me to help his wife out at home. At that time, I was young but I was strong and had stamina because of Kalaripayattu. One day, I saw the inspector’s wife run away with another man. The inspector came back home to see his wife gone and he thought that I knew where she was going and who she was going with. Is it my job to know about his wife’s activities? I told him that I did not know anything. Not only did he refuse to believe me, he beat me up and threw me in prison! When I was released 9 days later, I came back to Insti and the first thing I did was to tell him that what he has done was unfair. I would have beaten him up, but I did not. I am not the rowdy gangster that everybody thinks I am. I have changed a lot after coming here.
Over the years, there is one thing that has not changed about this place – the students are still using cycles in spite of all the changes in technology. Cycling is a really good way to exercise. I am glad that we don’t let the students use powered vehicles. It is sad to see the bruised knees and fractured limbs of a student who has met with an accident. If I, as a third person, am like this, then imagine how the student’s family will feel!