Despite not being the eldest sibling in the Henry family, he was quite the big brother – ever caring, never bossy. As my beloved late mother Judith Pinto was the eldest, wittingly or unwittingly, I was catapulted to the status of a blue eyed nephew. As I look back, I cannot recall ever addressing him as ‘Uncle’. From my early childhood till date, it has been just ‘Tony.’ And that explains the mutual affection and closeness that we shared.
My childhood was plagued with a fair share of challenges. Tony was the perfect Agony ‘Uncle’, I could always bank on. Coincidentally, he was a Manager at Standard Chartered Bank, in the vicinity of the Madras High Court and never shied away from loosening his purse strings to pamper me. From that expensive North Star shoe that I would covet to trendy jackets for the monsoon, from regular treats – inimitable mango ice cream and mutton samosas at the heritage Kunhiraman’s store in Royapuram to movies and bike rides, Tony always made time to make me feel special. I think he took me to my first film in a theatre – ‘Benjy’. It was about a pet dog that would perform chores like bringing the newspaper to its master. (Perhaps, that explains my love for dogs and the news!) The intermission was another occasion for yummy snacks – cone ice cream, cherries and chocolate.
As Tony later moved on from Royapuram to his own home in Anna Nagar, my visits were not that frequent. But whenever I did go there, he would play cricket with me – always bowling and taking pride in my lofted shots as he would scurry to retrieve the ball. As a kid, I was nicknamed ‘TMN’ due to my hypersensitive nature. (Not sure if that has changed after an innings in tv journalism and now law practice!)
Close to three decades ago, Tony and the rest of my maternal side, migrated to America. It left a huge void. In a pre social media, skype era, cards and the occasional ISD call were of little consolation. Tony’s pilgrimage to Velankanni afforded those much awaited rare chances to bond again. It was not just his spontaneous concern or his generosity. A knack of picking gifts that any boy would love – video games to cricket bats to sun glasses.
Eight years ago, I managed to catch up with Tony in the United States, albeit briefly, during the course of my International Visitors Leadership Program sponsored by the United States Govetnment. Despite the biting cold and his age, he was there at the Dulles Airport, along with my charming Aunt Anne to receive me with a garland, a mobile phone and a local number and a whistle!
When the time came to bid adieu after my trip, I had a justifiable lump in my throat. When would I get to see my favourite Uncle again?
On Tony’s birthday, my mind inevitably races back to Benjy, Kunhiraman’s and those lofted on drives in that open ground in Anna Nagar.
(Sanjay Pinto is an Advocate at the Madras High Court, Columnist, Author & Former Resident Editor – NDTV 24X7)