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The late R. Mahadevan or ‘Devan’ in short, belongs to that select and gifted breed of writers capable of capturing the entire gamut of human vicissitudes in a manner that lends itself to reflection and reasoning. In what arguably is his tour de force, spread across two alluring volumes, Mr. Vedantham is Devan at the apex of his story telling prowess. A topsy-turvy depiction of life at its unpredictable best, and worst, Mr. Vedantham is a bouquet of curve balls, crossroads, cul-de-sacs, cruelty and compassion.
Vedantham is a happy-go-lucky youth, brimming with the exuberance of youth and blinded to the wares of deceit. Leading a carefree life as a student pursuing his Bachelor of Arts course in a college in Kumbakonam, Vedantham is for his friends, a fount that never stops giving. Spending money with frightening abandon, Vedantham is the one-stop entertainment shop for a cluster of students. This allergy to frugality is a direct outcome of Vedantham’ s upbringing. After losing his mother at an early age, Vedantham is doted upon by his father, Desikachariyar. An orphan adopted under fortuitous circumstances as the scion of a wealthy man, Desikachariyar has only one rule when it comes to spending – recklessness is uncompromising. Parasitical relatives prosper through means devious and diabolical at the cost of Desikachariyar’ s naivete.
However, when an ailment grips Desikachariyar and wrings the life out of him, Vedantham is forced to come face to face with a remorseless reality. A castle of debts leads to the loss of all physical property and monetarily, Vedantham is reduced to utter penury. To add insult to agonizing injury, a pernicious Uncle, Gopala Swamy Iyengar forces Vedantham to come to his house and randomly sign on myriad legal documents when Vedantham has just one day left to prepare for one of his B.A. Final Examination papers. The connivance of relatives and the contrivance of fate ensures that Vedantham is not merely left in the state of a pauper, but also flunks his B.A. examinations.
His only rock in terms of support, succour and salvation is the divinely balanced, Chellam, his late Uncle’s daughter and his probable consort in future. Chellam herself is forced to experience the full might of a merciless fate when she and her mother are cheated out of their last remaining property by her own Uncle.
The only hope for Vedantham to escape the vicious cycle of poverty is to scout for a job of any kind. Luck, from an unseen quarter materializes when Vedantham is appointed as a private tutor by Santhanam Iyengar, a man of plentiful means and influence. However, Vedantham realises that the cruelty of destiny has played its invisible hand in this fortuitous opportunity as well. Santhanam Iyengar takes full toll of the helplessness of Vedantham’ s situation by demanding that he teach 7 children at a measly wage of Rs. 30 per month. Two of the students, Raghavan and Seeni turn out to be utter rogues and go out of their way to humiliate Vedantham.
When all seems lost, Vedantham meets a veritable saviour in circumstances that can be mildly termed, extraordinary. Losing his wallet to a pickpocket the moment he steps out of the train in Madras (now Chennai), an incredulous Vedantham is lost for words when a burlesque gentleman races past Vedantham, thrashes who to all eyes seems to be an innocuous passenger, before wringing out from his trousers a wallet which belongs to Vedantham. Vedantham later on learns that the name of this astonishing messiah is Mr. Swamy.
Swamy meets Vedantham on many other occasions, both planned and spontaneous, lending the latter speechless every single time. Vedantham’ s life reaches its nadir of desperateness when he is forced to leave Santhanam Iyengar’s house in the direst of situations. As luck would have it, the intrepid duo of Ram & Venkat, the proprietors of a company going by the same name offer Vedantham a role as an Editor for their upcoming publication, “Kanmani.” This after reading two stories of Vedantham published by the magazines, “Kunchalam” and “Choodamani.”
However, when Ram & Venkat turn out to be absolute imposters, interested only in divesting Vedantham of his last remaining penny, Vedantham’ s world turns upside down….
Mr. Vedantham is a literal exercise in excelsis. The plot is unwaveringly tight, and the narration is just captivating. Devan marvelously juxtaposes word play with judiciously incorporated pearls of wit and wisdom. Fortitude shares space with forlornness as determination gamely tries to keep pace with desperation. Vedantham at once is an epitome of naivete as well as equanimity. Inducing pity and anger in equal measure, Vedantham is his reader’s delight as well as disappointment. He is as innocent as he is gullible and susceptible. As the covers come down on Volume 1 of the arresting tribulations and triumphs of Vedantham, one cannot wait to lap up Volume – 2!
Mr. Vedantham – R.K.Lakshman’s common man!