Two-thousand five hundred feet above sea level, a mountainous region covered with wild forests and acres of spice plantation, with valleys over flowing with three rivers; Idukki district in kerela offers an immersive landscape ideal to simmer down. Time spent here would surely lead to scenic memories that one can evoke nostalgia. Thus it can be difficult to fathom how this innocent landscape can also bring back memories of desolation and unease. "I lived with my father for eight years in Idukki, far from cities and towns. Here, the houses are miles apart. This is because each family owns 4-5 acres of plantation land - mostly coffee, elaichi, vanilla and tea leaves. Everything is homemade and farm grown, making life monotonous. And it's a hilly terrain, so driving vehicles can be risky; you have to walk it up. If you need anything at all, you need to walk for 45 minutes to get anywhere," says Sandeesh 'Baijju' Subramaniyan.
Baijju is my tennis coach from Mhatre Tennis Academy in Juhu. We decide to meet at one of the food stalls at the 'main' beach after class is over. I suspected he would be late, and sure enough he comes half an hour late, panting his checkered blue shirt drenched in sweat. "I came walking from home near Chandan cinema," was his justification.
"I was born in Mumbai," he narrates, "My mother and father had a fight after which I alone went with my father to Kerala, leaving behind my two brothers and a sister. I felt terribly lonely. The lifestyle there was very different. We woke up at 5 o'clock. Breakfast was at sharp 7 am. And it was heavy fried food. At noon sharp we would be served lunch, then at four would be coffee with some more fried food made of rice. Then dinner would be at eight and everyone slept by nine. It was quite claustrophobic actually. I studied there till the tenth grade in Malayalam after which I came running back to Mumbai," he says with distaste.
A national level body building champion for a brother, a tennis coach for an elder brother, a masseuse for a sister and the founder of a tennis academy for an uncle; building a career in sports became the most obvious choice for Baijju once he was freely back in Mumbai. "I think I was seventeen years old then," says Baijju about his journey in the world of tennis, "When I got back from Kerala, I was very close to my elder brother. So under his guidance I started with the gym and spending time on the tennis court. When you start, you need to work as a ball boy for five to six years and after that you can become a coach. I'd started teaching well and may be because Babu Sir was my gharwalla or I don't know why but he made me a coach much sooner."
As a student who admires him for his on-court expertise, I was a little surprised when he said that he is now waiting eagerly to leave tennis and move onto other things. Leading a predominantly circumstantial life, Baiju has started experiencing the monotony, the hollow existence and the lack of satisfaction from just acting without a personal goal. "At the moment, I'm not happy with tennis, I enjoy going to the gym more. It's a local gym, next to ISCON temple. It's only for body builders without too many cardio equipments. This place is not for loosing fat or getting fit for modeling. Lots of body builders have trained here and gone onto become national level players. My coach at the gym went to Brazil last year to compete. It's a big thing for an Indian to reach that level," he says with awe and admiration. "I feel very good listening to these success stories and feel like giving it a shot myself. Also gym training will give me more money than being a tennis coach," he states as a matter of fact.
While Baijju narrated his story to me without any inhibitions, choppers from the Pawan Hans Aerodrome from just across the road, flew by every four minutes, muting a few words every time one flew by. Hearing his story of simplicity amidst the chaos of Mumbai in many ways is a metaphor for his character in the city. For a megalopolis that offers adventure at every corner, I was stumped when he told me that he hadn't yet explored the city. "I don't roam around much. I am not yet well acquainted with the Mumbai local and haven't yet experienced the metro, which I can easy walk to." He even takes the same route to the gym every day, extending his streak of anomalous behavior!
In a place where networking is the way to survive, this kind of socialising often leads to forming superficial relations. In contrast to that Baijju is happy to have a small support system. "My main thing is that I have only one friend in Mumbai because I'm happy with that friend. He accompanies me in the gym also, he does not have any bad habits, does not smoke or drink. I like that about him. Every night we meet and I discuss my plans with him- what I intend to do at the gym and also what to do in life," he says with a content smiles.
Baijju's life to me is an antithesis to what we see around us in Mumbai. In a city where people are constantly fluttering about, negating providence and developing their own path to 'achieving' their dreams, there are those like Baijju who live a life of minimalism. They are driven by circumstances and within the network of those circumstances, slowly and over time, they find their purpose in life and the means to fulfill it.