Sometime in 2014 April I had written about finding an auto, in Manipal, with a Chaplin sticker with a quote by Chaplin behind it and my search for the auto on the following days.
Seeing a photo of Chaplin behind an auto was, as I had written earlier, an “exciting, thrilling and relieving experience” because I was tired of seeing, “fascist face, from nationalist, statist and religious matters making space for themselves through images and texts.” I, as I had said, was looking for a break from such an “image-sphere,” and for a more humanitarian and more inclusive “image-sphere.”
Within a month after spotting this auto in Manipal and searching for it on the following couple of days, I left for Ranchi.
After four months stay in Ranchi I returned back to Manipal.
Sometime in the end October 2015 one evening I took my scooter and went on for a drive. That evening I took my scooter to Parkala intending to take an alternate road via Saralebettu to Manipal on my way back. In Parkala that evening I finally found the Chaplin auto!
I stopped my scooter right next to the auto and as the driver looked at me I said, “You dont know how much I had searched for you.” Listening to me the driver asked if I had forgotten something in his auto while travelling in it. “No,” I said and when explained the story of me spotting his auto and the Chaplin’s photo leaving a sweet taste behind, the driver held my hand asking, “Really?” There was twinkle in his eyes.
By then the lady who had hired the auto returned from the vegetable shop near-by and sat in the auto. Thanks to her vegetable shopping, I managed to spot the auto and have a conversation with the driver.
“I need to go now,” said the driver as soon as the lady got into the auto. “Can I click a photo of the Chaplin sticker behind your auto?” I asked him and the driver agreed saying, “Sure. But quickly.” The sun had set and the light wasnt sufficient. When I told him about it and said, “Will come tomorrow and take a photo,” he said, “Give me your phone number and I will whatsapp you some photos.”
The driver took my number and gave me a missed call. I asked him for his name while storing the number and he said his name is “Manjunath.” I saved his name as ‘Manjunath Chaplin and took his leave.
Next morning Manjunath, on whatsapp, sent me three photos of his auto where the Chaplin sticker was visible. I thanked him.
From then on every day he would send me a good morning and good night message without fail. After a few weeks when he did not message me for two-three days I got a bit worried. I sent him a message asking if he was fine and he said he hadnt gotten his phone recharged hence couldnt message. That night Manjunath sent me a message saying he had saved my name as Charlie Chaplin on his phone and apologizing for the same asked me what my “actual name” is. I laughed aloud and told him my name. After some good fifteen minutes he said something funny had happened. When I asked him what was it Manjunath said he would tell me the following day.
Next morning I went to meet Manjunath at the Parkala auto stand. There I was told by Manjunath that earlier he used to work in the same office where I worked for a brief period. “That evening in the dark I couldnt see your face properly so i couldnt recognize you. Yesterday when you told me what your name is, I searched for your profile on Facebook and there I recognized you are,” said Manujnath and added, “I had come to you with some books from the admission department and spoken to you also. May be you dont remember.” I confessed that I dont remember.
Manujanth told me that he had quit that job four months ago and was running an auto full time. “The salary wasnt sufficient and I wouldnt get leave as per need. So quit the job. I used to run the auto after office hours earlier. Now its my full time profession,” explained Manjunath.
Later when I asked him if he had seen Chaplin’s films he said, “No.” I was curious to know what prompted him to have a Chaplin photo and his quote behind his auto when almost all other autos in and around Manipal had either Mera Bharath Mahaan, Jai Karnataka, Brahma Baidarkala, Jai Shri Raam, Vartey Panjurli or some other local deities at their back. When I had first spotted his auto it was between the central elections and the announcement of results. So most of the autos had the photo of the soon to be elected PM of the country, which I felt nauseating. Which was the reason why finding a humane and secular Chaplin behind an auto was a relieving experience for me.
Manjunath told me that he had read the quote by Chaplin, ‘Mirror is my best friend because when I cry it never laugh,’ on Facebook and had liked it a lot. So much that he got it written behind his auto with a Chaplin face along with it. That is it. I realized that what Chaplin meant to me did not mean the same to Manjunath. It need not also.
But to see Chaplin was a very nice experience because it created a hole in the other-wise dominantly nationalist, religious image-sphere.
Almost three years after all these, now in 2017 just two days ago I happened to meet Manjunath again. This time in Manipal. Before I saw Manjunath I saw his auto which I recognized because of the Chaplin sticker.
But now Chaplin was not alone behind Manjunath’s auto. Next to Chaplin was Shivaji!
The history of Shivaji and Shivaji as a poster is not smooth and is complicated, agree. But what Shivaji stands for in this day and age needs no explanation. So it was painful to see Shivaji next to Chaplin behind Manjunath’s auto.
When I met and spoke to Manjunath I felt happy because of Manjnath’s unadulterated affection.
But as I took leave from Manjunath, the discomfort caused by the shrinking of the hole caused by Manjunath’s auto in the image-sphere made me recollect, the couplet by my poet friend Liaqat Jafri:
haaye afsos yeh kis tezi sey duniya badli,
yeh jo sach hai kabhi jhoot hua karta tha.