Friday, January 4, 2008

Gemini Ganesh: His daughter speaks

Pages from the past

There was more to Gemini Ganesh than just being a star of the silver screen, finds his daughter JAYA SHREEDHAR.

Last of the Triumvirate: Gemini Ganesh with Vyjayantimala in a still from one of his films.

HAVING lived with my father all my life, I presumed I was privy to everything about him. Yet, there were several things I could never figure out. How had he managed to live with a breezy unorthodoxy bordering on the bohemian, yet have his feet planted firmly on the ground? Where had he learnt the Houdiniesque skill to wriggle in and out of emotionally knotty relationships, largely unscathed? Why did it seem like he was always one step ahead of retribution? How come society winked indulgently at his "excesses" while reserving stern castigation for the rest? All I can say is that he led a charmed life.


Home was a jumble of seeming contradictions. My grandmother's shaven head, brown madisar-kattu and strict ritualism flowed seamlessly with her loving acceptance of the many inter-community marriages in the family. Appa would switch effortlessly between impeccable English, Sanskrit and the pungent vocabulary of Tamil filmdom. He dashed off syrupy English poems with a gusto that made me giggle with embarrassment; yet he had a refined sense of humour that, regretfully, was never exploited by his directors. He loved my mother and quite a few "others" and yet expected us all to love each other too! He loved chatting up the glitterati; equally, he derived pleasure from teasing vegetable vendors each morning into quoting competitive rates — not movie-star prices. He was a rash driver, yet he taught me to drive for hours each day with patience, stopping the day I learned to apply the brakes. He would often watch me at the NCC rifle practice. When I told him I was going to become a journalist, he asked, perplexed: "But what will you do for a living?" Yet, he burst into tears of pride, giving me a bear hug when I showed him my article in Frontline.


Keen Interest In The World: Gemini Ganesh's diary entry and the clipping from The Hindu, August 1942 .

Once, I stumbled upon Appa's Madras Christian College calendar of 1942 and diary of 1943 with two newspaper clippings from The Hindu. From the pages spoke a young chemistry instructor of 22, who played cricket tennis, badminton and bridge, frequented the city's cinema houses and cafes and who followed politics on and off the campus. Some random excerpts from his MCC almanac:

July 22, 1942: ... in the evening C. Rajagopalachari inaugurated the College Union Society. "On how to speak." People were disappointed because he never talked `Pakistan.' Books recommended (1) John Stuart Mill `Liberty' and (2)Thirukkural.

August 12, 1942: Strike again. Most of the students didn't attend college. Played tennis in the college court. Presidencians indefinite strike. Lathi charge... police open fire everywhere. Mohan Kumaramangalam shouted down. C.R. differs from Gandhi. Cricket practice...

August 14, 1942: Went to city in the afternoon with D. Saw "A Chump at Oxford" Laurel and Hardy at Elphinstone. Had lunch at Udipi...

August 18, 1942: College as usual. Students again plan a strike. Very fickle minded fellows. No organisation. In the evening met one Mr. Mackenzie, a Scotch soldier, was talking with him along with Anantharamiah, Ali... and Samuel Raj. Very interesting communistic views.

August 23, 1942: ... Good report of the match in Sunday `Hindu'. (see clipping)

January 2, 1943: ... Went to city with Murthy and one Mr. Subramaniam of Bishop Heber. Saw "Pardon my sarong" at New Globe... Bud Abbot and Louis Costello. Nice picture. Went to Café Casino... Swell day.

February 19, 1943: Prayer day for Gandhiji's fast. Students' agitation. Mahalaxmi Bhavathi gets arrested. So is Bhopal Easo John, D.. and others. Very anxious situation...

February 21, 1943: News about Gandhiji's worse condition. Trying situation. Prayer for Gandhiji's health

March 7, 1943: Attempted some painting. Went to city in the evening... to Roxy with Gurunandan Mulki, saw the "Great Dictator". Very good picture. Liked it awfully. Went to Hotel Brindavan...

November 28 1943: Went to Golden Rock by train and played a cricket match for Ormsby Institute against R.A.F. I bowled and took three for 17. Batting ...made 26. We made it for 3...

November 29, 1943: In the evening went to Plaza to see "Dive Bomber" technicolour featuring Eroll Flynn, Quite good. Most of the test cricketers were there.


In his MCC days.

Appa was at the time a married man of two years while my mother was in Trichinopoly, a fact unbeknown to his MCC compatriots. ... until that fateful day when my mother's cousin visited him. That day's entry reads:

February 31, 1943: ... Mr. Krishnamurthy Ayyar from Trichy came unexpectedly. What a drama! I was in a dilemma...

Appa always kept some record of the day's events in the Hoe and Co. diary of the year, an annual compliment from his friend Mr. Chandrasekar of Higginbothams. The MCC diaries, however, are testimony to the memories of a carefree youth that he cherished. And the boy in him never died.

Dr. Jaya Shreedhar, the youngest daughter of Gemini Ganesh, is Health Advisor, Internews Network. Contact her at

© Copyright 2000 - 2008 The Hindu


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