Friday, May 15, 2015

My father – Random Reflections

When my father passed away in October, 1994, I was
52 years old. As the eldest son of the family I had the
privilege of spending almost 45 years with my parents, the
longest association that any member of the family had with
them. Though I have enough material to write a biography of
my father, I would restrict it to some random reflections about
a person who taught me great values, which has stood me in
good stead in my life.

My relationship with my father was never very cordial. I was
a recipient of the violent punishment he used to subject me
to when I was a kid. Though he never openly expressed his
affection for me, I would hear from his friends and relatives that
he was very proud of my progress in life and my achievements.
The only time I enjoyed my father’s company exclusively
was during a trip to Kanayakumari, when I was 14 years old.
We had gone to attend the wedding of my maternal uncle
Venkatesan in Kumbakonam. My father accepted the offer of
a car and driver to visit a few places in South from my uncle
Venkata who was the GM of T. P. Sokkalal Ramsait Beedies
Co, based in Tirunelveli. I have very pleasant memories of this
trip because I was the only child accompanying him as my
mother stayed back in Kumbakonam with her other younger
kids to spend time with her own family. During the trip he was
very generous in spending money to make me happy. I can’t
think of any other occasion when he was as nice to me as a kid.
When I was a young boy, my father was working as a
Manager in a Trading Company run by a group of ‘Rajasthani’
businessmen. Though he was called a Manager, I learnt that he
had only 3 people to manage and he was in charge of everything
that happened in the office. Because of his proficiency in
English and his ability for self-correspondence he would type
the letters himself, follow up and generally ensure that the
office functioned smoothly. It was a hundred percent desk job.
His office attire was a pair of trousers with his shirt tucked
in and an open coat without a tie. He would wear what was
known as ‘Pathan chappal’ (a slip on footwear that was neither
a ‘chappal’ nor a shoe) without socks. He would always carry
an umbrella to protect himself from sun or rain as it was quite
a walk from Bombay VT station to his office in Flora Fountain.
He would leave home at 9.30 am everyday and return only
around 8.00pm. If he got delayed for some reason, which was
very rare, I would get terribly worried. I would imagine the
worst and worry as to how I would manage myself and my
house as the eldest son in the family. He used to work six days
a week and on Sundays which was a rest day, there would be
no place for him to sleep inside the house during the day. He
would take his favourite easy-chair to the common passageway
and try to sleep crouching in that chair. It used to be a sad sight.
My father was a completely domesticated man.He would
help my mother with a few household chores. He used to
be very fond of buying and cutting vegetables. He was also a
decent cook who cooked simple meals for the family when my
mother remained out of doors every month. He had no outside
interests in life. Home and office were the only two things he
knew. Whatever he earned was spent on the family. He had only
3 or 4 sets of clothes and hardly spent any money on himself.
He was hell bent on giving a good education to his children. He
rarely went to the movies. As he grew older, he and my mother
visited a temple nearby (Bhajan Samaj) in the nights to listen to
religious discourses by scholars, who frequented Bombay those
days. Family outings were very, very rare! But every two or three
years he would take the family to Madras and other towns in
South visiting relatives.
My father had a split personality. He was bonhomie and fun
personified to friends and relatives outside the home. Popular
as ‘Ranga’ among his friends or as ‘Rangu mama’ among his
nephews and nieces he would regale them with his jokes and
repartees. Every time he visited Madras to visit his relatives he
would be seen doling out one rupee coins to all the kids. One
rupee those days went a long way, when a Masala Dosa was priced
at 4 annas (25 paise)! The kids would love him for this gesture.
However, the moment he stepped into the house he would
become a ‘Rudramoorthy’ - very angry with his wife and
children for things they have done or not done. He would be
constantly bawling at some one or the other, whenever he was
at home. Later, he would not spare even his grandchildren of
this treatment.
My image of my father is that of a strict disciplinarian who
did not believe in sparing the rod to keep his children in line.
As a young boy I was on the receiving end of his wrath on many
occasions. In fact my sister Prema and I have seen the worst side
of my father as an angry young man. However, by the time my
brother Mohan was born he had mellowed down considerably.

He had an obsession for cleanliness – he would wash his
hands, his dinner plate and the stainless steel tumbler which
were exclusively reserved for him several times (nobody dare
touch it even by mistake) even though they might have been
already cleaned by my mother. He preferred to eat alone and at
fixed times of the day. He had no patience to wait for everyone
to assemble at the dining table. I have probably inherited this
trait from him.
Even by mistake if someone used his things he would scream
at them. He believed in washing his own clothes every day
which habit he continued until illness overtook him.
He also found a great companion in himself! Whenever
alone, whether at home or on a walk; you would find him
talking loudly to himself. The moment he became conscious of
somebody approaching him, he would stop talking.
An incident that happened immediately after my marriage
helped me see the softer side of my father. Within two days after
my marriage in Chennai on 26th January,1972, the family left
for Bombay where a grand reception had been planned at the
auditorium of R.A. Podar College, Matunga, my alma mater.
It was my dream to have my wedding at this hall, but instead
I had my wedding reception which was attended by almost all
my friends and my father’s friends. The reception surely must
have cost my father a ‘Bomb’ ! But he did not seem to mind it,
as he had taken a voluntary retirement from work and had got
a good settlement. For the first time in his life, he had cash in
his bank account! That evening he was surely a proud father,
walking across the hall, attired in a steel grey suit, greeting
friends and colleagues and enjoying the encomiums he was
receiving from every one.
Three days after my wedding reception, Prabha and I left
for Delhi. I vividly remember the scene at the Bombay Central
station, where my whole family and some friends had come to
see us off. My father, who had never expressed his affection for
me openly, became emotional that evening! He held my hands
tightly and said, “Son, I am sorry that I have not done much for
you. But with God’s grace you have done well. I am proud of
you and God Bless you with a happy life!” While saying these
words he broke down! I was moved and that incident marked
the beginning of a new relationship with my father whom I
always considered to be a tyrant!
In life he was an extremely cautions man not willing to take
any risks. When he faced any problems, he would imagine the
worst case scenario first before he moved forward to find a
solution to the problem. The Tamil phrase ‘Munn Jakiridhai
Mutthanna’ aptly fitted him. My brother Mohan has inherited
this trait from him. With ‘Courage as my Companion’ my
tendency to take risks in life often conflicted with his views
on many matters leading to some tension in our relationship.
Within three years of starting my advertising career when I
decided to move to an independent flat, he refused to move the
family with me saying that as against the rent of Rs.20/- he was
paying for the chawl accommodation, the rent of Rs 400/- I
was paying for the flat was way too high. According to him, if
I lost my job for any reason the whole family would be on the
streets. But to his credit I must admit that he never prevented
me from taking whatever decisions I took in my life.
Among his four children, he was very fond of his only
daughter Prema. She was his confidante. Very often he could be
seen pouring his heart out to her. I remember on the last day of
his life he made my sister sit next to him and complained about
my mother. Poor soul, in spite of her trying to be a pious and
loyal wife he never seemed to appreciate my mother as much as
she deserved. But interestingly when they had to live separately
on occasions they would miss each other badly.
The shouting matches between them continued even after the
grand children arrived. Provoking my artist daughter Kavitha,
presenting them with a special Greeting Card on their Fiftieth
Wedding Anniversary: It showed a Boxing ring in which the
caricatures of her Thatha and Patti were facing each other with
their boxing gloves on- the line at the bottom of the illustration
reading, ‘ After 50 years we still don’t know who the winner
Though we had never seen him being openly affectionate
towards his children, he was a different man when it came to
his grandchildren. Since he had already retired by the time his
first grandchild arrived, he had all the time in the world to
indulge them . He thoroughly enjoyed his grand parenthood.
My father was very helpful by nature. When both he and his
elder brother Venkatraman were staying at their elder brother
Gopalan’s house in Madras looking for a job, they were most
of the time penniless. Yet, whenever my father got some money
from his godmother ( Chengamma) living nearby, he would
give it to his brother Venkata so that he could buy some essential
things for himself. “This generosity shown to me by my youngest
brother in his equally placed distressed position can never be
forgotten’, wrote my uncle Venkata in his autobiography. Being
generous beyond his means in helping others is a trait my father
inherited from his father Rama Iyengar which was also the reason
why like his father he was perpetually in debt throughout his
entire working career. Unlike my grandfather who could never
return the loans he took which led to the creditors attaching his
family property, my father was very particular in returning loans
he took on promised dates. The sympathetic accountant in his
office would help him with advances against future salaries. I
always felt that he was forever angry and tense at home because
of the constant financial pressure he faced in life.
He was a voracious reader. Not of books but newspapers
and magazines. As an advertising man I used to get dozens of
newspapers and magazines as free voucher copies. He would
stack them date wise and read every paper and magazine from
beginning to end religiously, sitting on his favourite easy chair.
At the end of the day he would declare proudly, ‘I have finished
reading all the papers today’.
He was very meticulous and systematic in whatever task he
undertook. A stickler for time management he would be seen
constantly chasing his children or his wife reminding them
about their assigned tasks.
His penchant for anticipating problems in advance and
taking action to face a difficult future situation was evident
when he decided to install a bore pump in our house just a
couple of weeks before he passed away. We were facing an
acute water crisis in the house with the well- the only source
of water supply threatening to go dry. Inspite of his illness
he kept chasing me to install the bore well. Since he found
me procrastinating in the matter, he called the plumber and
got the job done, ensuring that we had an assured source of
alternative water supply. The importance of his action hit me
on the tenth day after his death, when we were getting ready
to perform the tenth day rituals. We had nearly hundred guests
that morning including representatives from all his brothers’
families-Dayadhis from different parts of the country. They had
come specially to be with the family to perform the rituals and
pay respects to my ever popular father’s departed soul. All of
them had to take a bath during the rituals and thanks to my
father’s foresight even on his death bed, there was enough and
more of the water flowing in all the bathrooms and the extra
taps I had installed around the house. Even today I shudder to
think of the predicament I would have faced if the bore well
was not there.
My father had his surgery in December,1993 at the
Tamilnadu hospital. After a traumatic experience in the hospital
where he stayed for 15 days he returned home to recoup and
recover from the dreaded cancer. While in the hospital, he was
touched by the fact that over 70 relatives and friends had visited
him, reflecting his popularity among them. Though initially he
showed signs of some recovery, soon his health started going
downhill and he probably had a premonition that he would
not live long. He insisted that we perform a Homam on his 79th
star Birthday which happened in April that year to which he
wanted all his family members to be invited. He was particular
about the family photograph taken after the rituals, which has
every one of his children and grandchildren, except Prema’s
son Kumar who was in USA. It was probably the last family
photograph in which he is appearing.
2nd October,1994-The last day of his life is still vivid in my
memory. Though my sister Prema, who was based in Bombay
then, had booked her train tickets to visit my ailing father only
the following week, a premonition made her decide to take a
flight to be with him on the day he died. He made her sit next
to his bed and kept talking to her the whole day, reminiscing
and recalling the incidents in the life gone by.
Around 9 p.m. he began to feel restles. He asked me to call
for an ambulance and get him admitted to a hospital, as he
anticipated problems which may need emergency treatment.
The whole family gathered around him. Prabha was chanting
some slokas. I returned to be with him after making the call to
the Hospital for an ambulance. He continued trying to talk to
Prema, who was sitting near his head.
At one point we realized that he had stopped talking and
his open eyes had frozen looking at Prema. We tried to shake
him up without any response. Though I called for the doctor
living near our home to confirm his death, I realised that my
father’s soul had departed from his body through his eyes and
he was no more. A noble soul had joined Guruvayurappan, his
favourite deity in heaven!

All his children claim to have learnt good values from him.
I would like to list the following values I learnt from my father’s
Being honest & straightforward: Unshakeable faith in God;
Constantly seeking the Divine Grace (Kadvaul Anugraham)
and Elders’ Blessings (Periava Aashirvadam); Being helpful to
others in need; Valuing relationships.
As a person who is already on the last lap of his life journey,
I hope I have lived upto my father’s values.
I believe that is the best tribute that I could pay him.
R.V. Rajan @ Varada

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