Obituary – Bal Mundkur: Slogans, spice and a bite of ‘song’

09 Jan,2012

By Vidya Heble

 

“Bal Mundkur has passed away.” It seemed an impossible thing to believe, but the fell hand had indeed taken him, on the morning of January 7, 2012.

 

It was on a winter day many years ago when I first met Bal Mundkur at his home, Surya, on the banks of the river Mandovi in Goa. He was, of course, a legend and I trembled inwardly at actually meeting him, albeit in a personal capacity.

 

His career as a naval officer and aviator had been followed by an illustrious innings in advertising, which he had famously given up to retire in Goa. ‘Retire’ was only figurative, because he proceeded to put his unrelenting energy into designing and building his house, and then lending his prodigious talent to projects which he felt would benefit society, including restoration of a fort and setting up of a museum. He even found his way into an offbeat little film (http://wn.com/rare_indie_goa,_ma_cherie_part_1) which is quintessentially ‘Bal’.

 

“For the Royal Society for Asian Affairs, where he contributed an article on ‘Incredible India: The Inconvenient Truth’, he described himself “as neither an activist nor a frustrated journalist but as a dispassionate commentator”.

 

People in Goa looked on him with awe, and he was known as a man of exacting standards and uncompromising expectations. Even my “Hello”, I felt, would be subjected to scrutiny. But he was delighted to meet a fellow Konkani, and dwelt pleasurably on the joys of Konkani food, much of which he was not allowed to eat by then. Pickle, chutney and spicy food was out of bounds, but Uncle Bal, as I called him, managed to sneak teekha stuff onto his plate now and then. When he discovered that I can cook, he extracted from me a solemn promise to make him some standard Konkani dishes, among them potato ‘song’ – a simple dish of cubed potatoes cooked in well-sauteed onions, tamarind and a lot of chilli. I made a mental note to tone down the chilli for Uncle Bal, who of course read my mind and said, “Don’t forget, lots of chilli!”

 

But Uncle Bal had so much else on his plate that he never did find the time to come over for a Konkani meal. With time and circumstances, I didn’t meet him again for some years. But being in the business of media news meant, inevitably, that our paths would cross professionally. When I rang him up after a long interval, to ask for an interview on Ulka’s anniversary, he remembered the long-promised ‘song’, and once again we assured each other that I would cook and he would eat, one day.

 

As always, however, Uncle Bal had too much going on in his life. One never knew where he would be next – dashing between Goa and Mumbai, scooting off to Europe or South-East Asia or somewhere else – or what project he would take up. Perhaps fittingly, his last offering was the history of Indian advertising, Ad Katha, which was released at Ad Asia 2011 in New Delhi.

 

But those who know him, know that he would not have rested after this. That fertile brain would have been working on something else, and he would have been ringing people up with exhortations to participate, to donate, to sponsor. His zeal was unwavering and his passion, perpetual. Somewhere he might even have found time to stop for a bite of ‘song’.

 

We will all remember Bal Mundkur in different ways. I’ll recollect him with a dash of spice.

 

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