Amid the outpouring of grief at the sudden demise of actor Vivek, almost every condolence message speaks of his sapling-planting drives. So far, Vivek has helped plant more than three million saplings across the state, all because former President, the late APJ Abdul Kalam had inspired him to. And that is what he would like to be remembered for most too. Sometime in 2011, Siruthuli, the greening non-profit based out of Coimbatore, was working to plant 80,000 saplings to commemorate Kalam’s 80th birthday. Kalam was enthusiastic about Pasumpulari, as the drive was called and mentioned it to Vivek, who, by then, was on track to plant a million saplings, following a request from Kalam. Vivek, who died early this morning following a cardiac arrest, came down on the appointed day and attended back-to-back events to promote the cause. He broke for lunch, which he ate with students at Chinmaya Vidyalaya, and went back, work done. Since then, if he knew you were from Coimbatore, he would make it a point to tell you about the appreciable greening efforts there. He loved the city’s Tamil dialect too. Some years later, as citizens of the textile city undertook a large-scale weekend shramdaan to desilt the Ukkadam Periyakulam, Vivek stood with us citizens, shoulder to shoulder, happily carrying buckets of red earth, even when the cameras were not around. Actually, especially when the cameras were not around. Today, Periyakulam is a sight to behold! Most recently, he came to Coimbatore during the pandemic, when a grove was being planted in late singer SP Balasubrahmanyam’s memory. And so, while people will miss him, the saplings his group Green Kalam planted will continue to spread joy. Through the years, Vivek would definitely be one of those called to share his thoughts on World Humour Day. Another person would be Crazy Mohan. Today, Tamil cinema is poorer without the two of them. Vivek would speak of what humour has meant to him and why he chose a certain brand of humour — invariably linked to prevailing social ills. His humour sketches in films are a historical and geographical indicator of time — dug-up roads, ‘take diversion’ sign boards, power cuts, anchors who massacred Tamizh — and all of these were made possible, because till the very end, he did remain one among the millions he entertained. He was the ‘friend’ and vital ‘gang’ member of every filmi college gang, across generations of actors. He was the understanding cousin, the self-deprecating employee, and he was also the person who gave new meaning to the name ‘Thanga Pushpam’. Mention awareness videos and Vivek would be a part of it. He considered it a social duty, till the very end. The last recording in public memory of Vivek would be his asking people to shed vaccine hesitancy and get jabbed to keep the pandemic at bay. Vivek engaged with journalists and those in public service off the record too. He would seek opinions about something he wrote, he would be willing to actively engage with people who dissed him on social media — I was one of them too, for a tweet he wrote once about the holidays that I felt was stereotyping genders. When he saw why his tweet enraged many, he said it was a lesson learnt. He course corrected. Till the very end, Vivek was a learner. And, the passion to perform on screen never left him. Three years ago, he spoke about his fervent desire to play an antagonist. Recently, he was part of an innovative photo shoot. How will he react to all the stories being shared about him today? Of all the memories? Of all the ‘top 10’ Vivek sketches? Must go back to one of his popular dialogues from his guru K Balachander’s Pudhu Pudhu Arthangal: Inniku Setha, Naaliku Paal (Die today and the obsequies will be performed tomorrow). Vivek’s loss is huge for the industry — he was junior Kalaivaanar, after all — but a bigger one for the audience. Who will they go to if they want a humorous sketch that will use their miseries to make them forget about their miseries? Farewell, Sir. Your trees, the breeze and shade they provide, and your roles and the laughter they triggered will keep you alive forever.