REMINISCENCES OF PAPA (1906-2001)
My elder brother, Atmaram, was born on 13th October 1931. I (Nandakumar) was born on 31st October 1940 as the second son in the family, followed by Ashok, who joined our family on 8 th September 1945. My father was keen and desiring to have a girl in the family. His wish was fulfilled when Gita was born on 7th December 1950. The nucleus of our family was obviously my Papa and Ayi , who sacrificed everything in their lives to bring us up. Ours was a middle class family with no ancestral property and no inheritance to boast of. The only heredity in the family was the strength of character, honesty, sincerity, hard working qualities, god-fearing nature and self respect. These extra-ordinary qualities were imbibed by us from our parents. Ayi was a perfect picture of composure, filled with compassion and love for her family, with a natural flair for sacrifice. I can never fathom the extent/limit to which she would stretch in making sacrifices for the family, in order to make us comfortable and happy. She was the prefect role model of a true housewife and a mother to us and translated the ideals and beliefs of Papa into action. Papa was devoted solely to the responsibilities normally shouldered by the head of the family. He discharged his duties and responsibilities to the family to perfection and to such a great extent that we were never allowed or made to feel the absence of comforts in life. Papa toiled, sweated and worked hard to give us a decent education which would stand steadfast in our future careers and lives. Education was the only inheritance left behind by Papa for his children, for he never accumulated any wealth or property in his long, hard and struggling life. His sole aim in life was to give his children a strong base and a platform to launch our individual lives and careers.
Papa was a self-made person with certain fixed notions and characteristics which were his ideals. He was very honest, sincere and hard working to the core. He was a very sensitive person and had his own ideologies primarily entrenched in his life. He was a person of few words but his actions displayed clearly his intentions. He never lost his temper and was always a cool person under any circumstance. He would never hurt anyone's feelings and would also not let any person to hurt his feelings. He had his own way of punishing people for their wrong acts. Any person who hurt his feelings or acted in any manner contrary to Papa's liking would be punished in true Gandhian style. Papa would totally ignore the person and would not even bother to look at him or his face and totally stop talking to him. Human beings being social animals were given such a treatment which would teach them a true lesson that would be remembered all through their lives. Is this not "Ahimsa" practiced by Mahatma Gandhi? This brings to memory, days of my earlier years – I must have been around 8 or 9 years of age. Once it so happened that I was teasing and picking up quarrels with Ashok, who was younger to me by 5 years. Despite persistent efforts of Ayi in trying to persuade me from doing so, I was not responding to her pleas. So when Papa returned home from office, my pranks were brought to his notice. The nature of punishment that I got was really extra-ordinary! I was asked to face the wall and stand facing it till Papa felt the punishment was over. Further, no one was to speak to me during this time and no food. Another condition of the punishment was that I should feel sorry for my mistake and repent for it and assure both Ayi and Papa that I would not repeat it. I did repent my mistake and all was well. He was a Gandhian all his life and more or less demonstrated those qualities by actions. "Ahimsa" was his second nature and "Satya" was his foundation. Papa, to a very great extent, imbibed the Gandhian culture and belief in his life. I strongly feel that Papa must have realised the full impact of the meaning of this small couplet from a song sung by Kishore Kumar in one of the Hindi films – "Dukhi Man mere, Sun Mera Khahana, Jahan nahin sahna, Wahan nahin rahna" – for he did exactly this on quite a few occasions in his life. Whenever he felt that he was uncomfortable in his job due to any wayward comment passed by his boss or by any person, he would quit the job without resorting to any personal responses. He would never even think of the family while doing so. He would never like to stay on for even a minute in any place where he was uncomfortable, not physically but mentally, and would just walk out of the place without even looking back. Perhaps, this trait of his character did not permit his conscience to stay on in any job for a long time, thus not allowing a situation of permanency in his working career, which certainly affected the economic balance of our family. Unfortunately, the brunt of his actions was squarely borne by Ayi, in her own way of accepting these situations as a way of life. She carried on life as normally as she would under any given normal circumstances. I do not know whether to attribute this peculiar trait of Papa as his strength of character or his weakness. One thing was sure; Papa's working career became a rolling stone which never gathered any moss. In retrospect, I wonder why Papa had to suffer so much in life, always working abnormal hours without a thought for his health or peace of mind. I distinctly recall those early days in Bangalore – 1955 to 1958 – when Papa used to work relentlessly for the sake of his family. Those days it was very difficult for our family to meet both ends meet. Our economic situation was very bad and money was more precious to us than any other thing in the world. We were living on a shoe-string budget. Ashok, Gita and myself, were all studying in various academic stages. I remember he used to walk all the way to his office located on Mysore Road from our residence situated in front of the Malleswaram Railway Station. Those days the winter season in Bangalore was very cold, yet he used to brave the unkind weather by avoiding travel by bus to save a few rupees for the sake of his family. Atmaram had just landed on a decent job in Delhi and was contributing his mite to support the family. There were times when there was nothing at home for us to eat. I remember those days in College when I could not afford even a cup of coffee or tea during the lunch interval and had to manage with a glass of water. The morning lunch at home was the only food I remember to have had before leaving for College and had to be satisfied with dinner at night. Yet Papa never gave up his principles.
Another trait of Papa, which comes to my mind, is his strong sense of self-belief and confidence in him, which never allowed him to be dependant upon others. He always used to transmit the message that one should always be self-reliant and never be dependant upon others in life. He was very conscious and proud of it. Papa never liked to utter lies and also did not tolerate anyone lying. He believed that Truth always triumphs in life – "Satyameva Jayete" – and one should always be truthful and honest in life. He desired that his family also should fall in line with his trusted beliefs and principles. (1) Honesty and Sincerity (2) Hard work (3) Self belief and Self reliance (4) Loyalty (5) Being Trust-worthy and Truthful at all times (6) Courteous and Kind (7) Helpful (8) God-fearing and religious (9) Straight-forward. No amount of words would suffice me to thank Papa for this legacy.
One more aspect of Papa that comes to my mind is his qualities of decision-making. Papa was swift in making decisions and would never waver over the pros and cons of such decisions. This quality was very much evident when he used to resign a job for some reason or the other without giving a second thought of its impact on the lives of his family. In a way, Papa was a very determined and firm individual in his life. Poor Ayi had no say in any matters since Papa's word was final. I do not recollect any situation where Papa would have changed his decision, be it for good or worse. In a way he was quite adamant with his opinions or decisions and he would hardly think of re-considering a decision made by him on an impulse. Papa was very fond of his family and was always thinking and working towards the welfare of the members.
I recall an incident that occurred in Bombay at Atmaram's flat where Papa was staying during the latter part of his life and I had come down from Muzaffarpur (Bihar) to Bombay for a training course. He was very particular in enquiring with me whether I had sufficient money in my purse while travelling back from Bombay. Actually, I was living on a shoe-string budget and could not afford to have more than what was necessary with me. I had great difficulty in convincing him that I had enough money to take me back to Muzaffarpur. But I think he knew out of his personal experience that I was really short of money and he forcefully thrust a hundred rupee note to keep for unexpected expenses during the journey, despite my protests. I had to accept it since otherwise he would have felt bad. Mind you he had no source of personal income then, yet he was worried about the welfare of his family members. How can one erase such acts out of one's memory? Another facet of Papa's nature was his flair for writing. Papa unfortunately lost both his eyes and became totally blind. Yet, he would continue to pursue with his attempts to write. His scrawl would be deciphered and transcribed, and some of his articles were also published. I remember Papa seeking Atmaram's help in transcribing the writings made by Papa on sheets of paper and forward it to publishers of magazines. I think (I am not sure) Atmaram did manage to have one of Papa's articles published in some magazine. One can imagine Papa's joy when he was informed about this achievement.
Papa also had a flair for writing dramas and plays during the years we spent in Bangalore. He would also direct them and have them enacted on special occasions. Music was in his blood. He was such a wonderful player of "Harmonium" and was capable of playing with both his hands on the instrument. He would personally direct the music for the dramas or plays written by him. He would also encourage young and upcoming "Kirthankars" to perform Kirtans in temples and halls. I vividly remember how he had helped the "PAI" brothers – Acchutha Pai and Keshava Pai – to perform their Kirtans in our Canara Union Hall, and Radhakrishna Temple in Malleswaram, Bangalore, in front of large audiences. At that time the "Pai" brothers were comparatively unkown. Papa did his mite in helping them to establish themselves
During the days we spent in Bangalore, Papa had developed close intimacy and friendship with Shri.Kallianpur Umesh Bhat, a neighbour. Papa used to spend most of his spare time in the company of Umesh Bhat. Strangely, Papa had no other intimate friends (as far as I know) other than Umesh Bhat, although Papa was quite friendly in nature. Perhaps he chose only Umesh Bhat as a true friend in life due to some common interests they both shared together.
Yet another aspect of Papa was his love for painting and drawing. I was informed by Ayi that during Papa's younger days, he was drawing cartoons for newspapers – I remember having seen a few such cartoons made by Papa. He was also fond of painting. During our stay at Radhakrishna Temple in Malleswaram, Bangalore, he made a painting for the back-drop in the sanctum-sanctorum of the temple, behind the idols of Lord Krishna and Radha. He put in a lot of efforts in finishing the colour painting and as per his desire, it was placed exactly where he wanted it. Even today, one can still see the painting made by Papa in the same place. He encouraged his family members also to take up this art. Deepak, my youngest son, has inherited this art from Papa. Papa was very fond of his grand children and always used to encourage them to take up fine-arts as per their choice and develop it into an extra-curricular activity.
Papa was a keen sportsman in his younger days and encouraged his children to play any sport of their choice. I remember an occasion, when Papa was staying with me in Bangalore in the late 1960s. He was very keen in playing a Cricket match organized by the Canara Union, Malleswaram, Bangalore, as part of their Annual Sports. Papa was past 60 and was not fit enough to be able to withstand the strain of a day on the cricket field. It was with great difficulty that I was able to convince him in not taking the risk of the strain. The point I am trying to make about Papa is that although his body was not very much willing, his spirit was too eager to participate. Such was the passion Papa had for sports.
Papa moved out of Bangalore to Shirali where he took up a job as Accountant at the Math which he held for seven years, until he finally retired in 1974. Papa and Ayi then shifted to Bombay for the rest of their lives. They shared their stay with Atmaram and Ashok and once in a while with Gita. We lost Ayi on 28th May 1986 when she breathed her last. This was an irreparable personal loss to Papa. He was very much attached to and dependant upon Ayi in the latter part of his life.
His loneliness was compounded by the loss of vision. But he never made his loneliness or thetroubles due to blindness evident in his attitude, which was always one of acceptance of his fate without a murmur. Apart from his blindness, he was in excellent health, considering his age.One should have seen the glow on his face when his family members celebrated his 90th birthday in Bombay, when all his children and grandchildren participated, either by being present in person, or sending him their greetings. Savitri, Atmaram's wife, used to take personal care of Papa after Ayi's demise, until she herself began to have health problems. When Savitri came to Bangalore for a change and treatment,Papa shifted from Atmaram's flat to Gila’s flat to enable him to spend the final journey of his life with his beloved daughter, Gita. Papa breathed his last on 19thJanuary 2001 in a private nursing home. Papa's tryst with destiny and life on earth ended. What remain now are only his memories, thoughts and his values to be cherished.
Papa would have loved to see all of us celebrate his 100th Birthday, but this was not to be.. May his soul rest in peace.