My father would have turned 100 on 9th July(17th June according to his birth star) if he was alive. He might not have allowed us to celebrate it as a function with fanfare. He didn't when he turned 60 way back in 1973 though a religious function (sashtiabthapoorthi) was the norm of the day in middle class families at the time, perhaps even to date. But thanks to the initiative taken by my elder sister we all had a wonderful time in a unique way. All of us in the family(parents with all of us the children as none of us had got married then) went to Tiruchendur the shore temple. It was so rare an occasion to go on an outing with him let alone to a temple. Leaving aside the cost involved (which we knew he could not afford an outing what with his meagre income from a clerical job he hated from the day he joined the company till he retired from it), he could bring the whole world indoors with his imagination and wisdom and declare that wherever you went all you see is the sky above your head and the earth below your feet. And quote Oscar Wilde who said "why do you say The Nayagara falls is one of nature's wonders. It would have been a wonder if the water rose from below to the top. Water falling down is normal and not a wonder after all". As for visiting temples he was least interested and perhaps done twice or thrice in his whole life of eighty plus years. So it was such a rare gift he gave us all in his sixtieth birthday by accompanying us to the shore temple. But then since he hailed from Pathamadai in Tirunelveli District he had a soft corner for Tiruchendur.
That said I'm not sure how we would have celebrated his turning 100. But I think I owe at least this to him. Just a meagre attempt to thank for all the intangible assets that we have inherited from him. Yes, he was not great success in today's parlance when a man's success is inevitably linked to his financial assets. But if Thiruvalluvar's words
Thakkaar thakavilar enbadu avaravar
echaathal kaanap padum
தக்கார் தகவிலர் என்பது அவரவர்
எச்சத்தாற் காணப் படும்
(whether a man is worth his mettle or not is measured by what he leaves behind)
are anything to go by then he was a great success I can say.
We have inherited quite a lot of virtues from him.
That I am able to write these few words even if sprinkled with lots of spelling, grammar and contents mistakes (சொல் குற்றம் பொருள் குற்றம் பொருத்தருள்க ) is in itself a great asset that I have inherited from him. He was indeed a man of letters. A voracious reader in the true sense of the word. His appetite for reading never left him even after he turned 80. He loved authors like Oscar Wilde, A.J. Cronin, Somerset Maughm, Aldus Huxley and the list is long. Of course his most favourite was the inimitable George Bernard Shaw. He used to note down passages he liked from the books he read in note books like a student studying for exams and discuss with his literary friends who were of course rare. Though he tried to inculcate the habit in us we were busy with our own school books and the need to fill the space created by his inability in financial matters. We didn't realise that we were closing our eyes to such a great treasure quite close at hand. Only after securing a decent job in a bank(which i hated in the beginning as he did his, but started liking it afterwards though) I turned my eyes to the treasure of collection of books that he had. One of my all time favourites from the treasure is 'The Citadel' by A.J. Cronin. I still remember the passion with which he would quote the final speech made by the protagonist, who was a medical doctor, before the Medical Council ridiculing the foolishness of their contempt for traditional medical practitioners. Thus I developed a healthy admiration for him, but again due to my job and laziness I didn't fully utilise the opportunity to gain more from his vast wisdom. This is one of my few regrets in life. I for one take life as it comes, own up my decisions and not regret things I have missed.('What can not be cured has to be endured' my father would have quoted Shaw.) But this is something I can't help regretting. Especially after my sons started growing up and developed a taste for reading, initially with my encoragement and soon on their own and I too grew along with them. Oh dad how much I long to have you with us to discuss with you the little that we read.
Another great quality in him was that he was fit as a fiddle, rather as the strings in his badminton racket almost till the end. Yes, he was a ball badminton player and represented his company TVS in quite a few matches. That was perhaps his only pleasant memories about his company. By the way his father was a close friend of Mr.T.V.Sundaram Iyengar, the founder of the TVS groups. My father was well acquainted with the sons of the great business tycoon of south India. Any one with that sort of contacts would have tried and derived maximum personal benefits out of it. But not my father and I am proud of it.
Well, back to the secrets of his health. He used to walk at least five kilometres every morning till the end. Most of the days more. And that too a brisk walk. Everyone in the extended family knew this and appreciated it. As in reading I can claim to follow him in this good habit also, if not to match his standards, at least to some extent. Due to these two healthy habits of walking and playing he lead almost a disease free life. Yes, almost, except for a chronic stomach pain self diagnosed as peptic ulcer. He suffered from gastric trouble because of that and had a perennial fear of death. I remember him waking up every one at midnight due to his nagging pain and because his gastric problem would give him discomfort to his heart and breathing, he would declare that he was going to die immediately. We children would be scared and speechless. But my mother, cool as she was would give him some water and butter milk with asafoetida and vendayam added and he would be back to normal soon. He rarely went to a doctor because 'doctors would experiment on our bodies like we were their guinea pigs'. That said he had very great respect for doctors and the medical profession for the great strides made in anatomy.
He was a great lover of carnatic music. Though he didn't attempt to sing, he could easily identify ragas. And he had learnt it simply by listening to the great musicians either in person or from the radio. He hated film songs. But was a great fan of M.K.Thaiagaraja Bhagavathar, the film actor and a singer. I naturally preferred the next generation film singer TMS. My father would generously appreciate carnatic based film songs wonderfully rendered by TMS, like Madavipponmayilal, ennamellam oar idathaiye naaduthe, Radhe unakku kopam agadhadi(M.K.T has also sung a song with similar pallavi in the same raga, my vote was for TMS's and appa's for MKT) Naan paadidum kalaigalin sandam and the list of songs is long too. And I remember one incident. Once Karpagavalli nin porpathangal, the undisputed master piece by TMS was played in the radio followed by a great song by a greater female musician. To my untrained ears the TMS song was more appealing and I expressed it to my father expecting a refute from him. To my utter surprise he agreed. This is one of the greatest memories I cherish and treasure. An ear for good music is all I have inherited from him. Here also I could have done much more.
As I mentioned earlier he was least interested in religious rituals. I think I follow suit, though I do participate in and sometimes perform rituals just to respect the feelings of those around and also it gives a platform for a social get together given the nature of our society. If he was asked to participate in rituals and to follow certain rules attached to it he would immediately quote Jesus Christ, “Sabbath is made for Man; Man is not made for Sabbath.” One just can't disagree. He would quote an example from his childhood experience. His maternal grand mother was living with him and his parents. He was more attached to her than to his own mother and named his eldest daughter(my sister) after her. Once grandma went to have a darshan of a great religious leader. And was denied entry to the place simply because she was a widow. My father was very much upset by the incident and would often ask us, “The plight of widows in those days was even otherwise pathetic. Should not a holy man have enough grace to fulfill her little wish of having his darshan?” His narrations have had a lot of impact on me I think. Any little empathy I have for the less privileged and any repulsion I have always had against high handedness of the more powerful perhaps has an origin in this narration of his I think.
I know this would be incomplete without a mention about my mother. But it is difficult to write about her for more than one reason. For one, even after 18 years I feel like being lost in the desert without having her around. My heart is filled with pain and eyes with tears. No amount of words would suffice to thank her for what she did. She stood like a pillar and bore the family on her shoulders. Given the nature of my father, she had to take care of all our worldly needs and she did it wonderfully well. One could imagine what Chellammal would have gone through with a husband like Bharathiar. We were witness to something similar to that. With very little formal education, unlike my father, my mother excellently complimented the gap created by his lack of worldly wisdom. Yes, they complimented each other in many ways to make us what we are in their own beautiful way. This complimenting each other lasted till the end. Amma suffered one of the worst diseases for more than three years and appa was there by her side, giving her a silent support and died within days of her death. Perhaps she was waiting there above to receive him and relieve him of his fear of death.
To my dear brothers and sisters, I have said these few words from my experience and perception(யானையைப் பார்த்த குருடன் கதையாக). You might have different and more interesting stories to tell. And how much I long my dear Babu Chittappa was there to share this and comment on it.
Dear dad and mom, continue to lead us from the heaven above.