I met Vijay Tendulkar (Ten - as some of his young friends called him and he liked to sign-off on emails) only once. That was just a couple of years back, when I took him for an art exhibition by a group of young Bengali artists from Santiniketan – which he had agreed to inaugurate at the instance of a mutual friend.
We had arrived a little ahead of time at his tiny apartment near Sher-e-Punjab Society in Andheri East. But, there he was waiting for us – dressed in a crisp turquoise blue kurta and white churidar – a picture of calm and dignity. It was mid-monsoon and by the time we came down it was pouring. He was not keeping well even then – though I didn’t know it was myasthenia gravis. I was concerned as much for him as I was about his kurta getting wet – so offered to hold an umbrella and give him a hand for getting into the car. But, he declined both casually.
As we started in the car, he turned towards my companion and enquired - “now tell me about yourself”. Taken aback a bit – she said shyly, “I am just a house-wife”. “I wanted to know you and not what you do” – he snapped gently and I could immediately sense that a chord had been struck.
At the exhibition, he took time over every single painting – chatting up the artists. To me it was clear that he was doing it simply to encourage the young lot. By the end of it – they were so touched that one of them jumped up and plucked a painting off the wall and gifted it to him in a very spontaneous gesture.
On the way back, we talked about a lot of things. He comprehensively trashed the culturally challenged Indian media, lumped our leaders for not understanding the importance of the arts in the evolution of a nation, lamented at how the politicians have made a hash of New Bombay (he was a part of the committee alongwith Charles Correa which had originally conceived it )… but he was hopeful about the resurgence of Indian theatre and was particularly impressed by some new Marathi playwrights (one of them a young woman – whose name I forget ).
While dropping him home I wanted to present him a bottle of Single Malt and a set of Swami Ranganathananda’s Gita Commentary that I had carried. The latter (“the Gita – in the light of modern needs and modern thoughts” ) is my favourite gift for many whom I consider to be of liberal intellectual disposition. He accepted the whiskey but was livid about the books. He kept them all the same – sensitive of my sentiments. I knew he was an agnostic but didn’t think he would have a problem with the Gita. I apologized and got up to leave. He came to see me off to the door and invited me to come over and share the whiskey with him sometime. He promised to visit - health permitting -my daughter's school in the Sahyadris. But Bombay being Bombay – I couldn’t make it again. Soon he started spending more time in Pune.
The newspapers wrote, he didn’t want a fuss over his death. He had borne the untimely passing away of his daughter (Priya) and son ( Raju - an ace photographer ) a few years ago with equanimity. He told a close associate a few days back that, he was content with his “innings” coming to an end and wished a “quiet exit” for himself. His Doctor said, he tried to keep his last days at the ICU normal , listening to music and watching movies on his laptop. He had left strict instructions that the press should not be informed of his death before he was cremated. He had said "no" to condolence meetings. Amol Palekar remarked, “he wanted space for himself and we should allow him that.” Now, I understand – he didn’t need to read the Gita because he truly lived it.
(Vijay Tendulkar passed away at a Pune hospital on Monday - the 19th of May, 2008. He was 80)