Among my treasured possessions are two old wall clocks. Both belonged to my paternal grandfather, a man who had an unerring eye for real estate, good furniture and books. One is an 1885 Seth Thomas Office 2 Model and the other is a Junghans of roughly the same vintage.
I am not so sure of the Junghans and where it came from, but the Seth Thomas was bought by grandfather sometime in the 1950s, at an auction in Pudukottai. V Ramachandra Iyer, the last Chief Justice of Pudukottai had died without children and his vast residence and its possessions were being sold. Grandfather, whose initials were the same (VR), liked the idea that the previous owner had etched them on all his belongings. He therefore bought a Belgian mirror, an easy chair (also known as the Bombay Fornicator because it spread out its handles inviting you to er.. spread your legs) and the Seth Thomas clock. All three are with me though now it is only the mirror that has the initials.
During grandfather’s time both clocks were very well cared for and kept time beautifully. After his passing both of them were left in the loft at our Chennai home. We never bothered about them until we saw an advertisement in The Statesman in Calcutta. An American collector staying at The Grand Hotel was wanting to buy. It was only then we realised that the clocks may be valuable. But that did not change the situation. They remained in the loft till we returned to Chennai. I spent lavishly on getting them rectified and they kept time well.
Last month both fell ill at the same time and I spent a bomb on getting them back to health. In the usual debate that ensued after they stopped, someone suggested that I strip the innards and get them replaced with digital movements. I just could not countenance the idea. So thanks to Mohan Raman who knows all about clocks in sickness and in health, they were sent to a reliable clock repair facility. They returned from treatment and are once again up on the wall. As I hung up the Seth Thomas, I was reminded of what happened in 1973.
Grandfather as I said was greatly attached to the Seth Thomas.He would wind it (and the Junghans) regularly and never allowed it to stop. In 1971 he fell ill and was bedridden. Someone else took over the running of the clocks. Then in 1973, grandfather staged a remarkable recovery. He wanted my sacred thread ceremony performed. My mother felt I was too young at 7 and made some feeble noises. But grandmother strongly supported grandfather and that was that.
Invitations were printed exactly as grandfather wished and in his name. They were sent out and relatives began assembling. The backyard transformed into a vast open kitchen where all kinds of sweets and savouries were being prepared.
Just two days before the event, old Seth Thomas parted from its nail and crashed to the ground. Perhaps the white-washing prior to the celebrations had caused the nail to work loose. The glass was smashed. The clock was immediately removed for repair. That very evening, grandfather suffered a haemorrhage. He was removed to the hospital and we were told that it was a question of time. The sacred thread ceremony went ahead nevertheless, in a rather hushed atmosphere. I went to the hospital to see grandfather but he was beyond recognising anyone. He died the next day.
The clock came back in full working condition 14 days after grandfather’s passing. Perhaps someone remembered only then that it had been given for repairs. But it timed its return to after the obsequy period. Sometimes life is strange.