It all started in April. When we were meeting in Urmila’s house, she said,’Thatha would have been 100 in 6 months. We must do something about it.’ It was from this germinal thought that the Centenary Celebrations were conceived. When we started discussing what should be done, we realised that my father was really an unsung hero, who had been a role model in all the roles he had donned in his life. He was a dutiful son, a loving brother, a caring husband, a doting father, an affectionate relative, a great teacher, vociferous reader, prolific writer and in all a great human being. As we were all reminiscing and looking back, we unanimously felt that my parents made a life statement with the way they lived their life and it was a reservoir of learning for all those who were fortunate to have been a part of their life. My father was the eldest member of the family from 1966 when his father died. This mantle of responsibility for over 30 years seemed right just on his shoulders and it seemed to make him humbler. He was a natural befriender – an active listener who never criticized, judged or interrupted but was just there and empathized. So, no wonder those relatives and others who were highly disturbed found solace in his presence and came to him.
We wanted to tell the tale of everyone who was touched by my father and mother in a special book to be brought out. We wanted to display forgotten and moth-eaten photographs. We wanted to have a get- of all relatives, family-friends and my father’s students together (with items of food that my father liked). We wanted to do much more, but reined in our enthusiasm as we were keen that the celebrations should reflect my father’s personality and should be good and appropriate rather than grandiose.
My sister, sister-in-law and brother were enthusiastic about the idea. The first hurdle was crossed when we decided the budget. Vijaya (my sister-in-law) paid her share in cash even when I protested that the money would be needed only after a few months. Vanaja (my sister), Raghu (my brother) and I quickly followed suit and the capital was ready. Urmila, Radha and the other grandchildren were upset that they were not asked to contribute money. They were pacified after I told them that their share would definitely be taken if the budget was burst (which it did).
The phone calls and emails to every potential writer followed. The response was amazing, as everyone who was contacted wanted to write about my father. Perhaps it is not so amazing considering the fact that my father truly believed that relationships matter the most to any human being. And so we had over 20 articles that included one from 87-year old Ramu anna (my father’s nephew), one from 86-year old Varahaswamy chithiya (my mother‘s sister‘s husband), one from 83-year old Ranga mama (my mother‘s brother) and many others. There were many anecdotes written by relatives. Some of them were placed at the end of each article and the rest were accommodated in a new chapter. An advertisement in Mylapore Times brought a dozen calls from former students, three of whom promptly sent their articles. One of the students, Ram Mohan also agreed to speak in the meeting. During the many meetings that the family members had, it was decided to enlarge the scope of the book. After all, it is a very rare event and it would be appropriate to include articles about all the family members who are no longer with us. So articles about my grandfather, my mother, my two brothers who passed away prematurely and about Vedachala Gardens, which as my brother-in-law Narasimhan had written was a veritable Vedanthangal for a large number of people. Thanks to the e-Newsletter that I have been publishing for the last eight years, many articles were already in the electronic format and needed just a few minutes of editing. New ones were written by Urmila and Radha on these topics also. Gradually what began as an act of head became an affair of the heart, especially for me, my wife and my nieces, Urmila and Radha. I have been fortunate to read and re-read the articles which have dredged out old memories from the innermost recesses of people associated with my parents. These articles are a kaleidoscope of incidents and events - some funny, some moving, some reflective, but all of them interesting and highly readable.
Meanwhile the hunt for the photographs was on. The idea was to collect as many photographs as possible and select a hundred out of them for display. Of course all of us had our albums. But the one place where a treasure of photographs could be found was the home of the ever-systematic Ranga mama. We got our hundred, though we would have liked to have got more photographs of my father when he was below forty.
Then the discussions started on the venue for the programme on 14th November 2008. The first choice was, of course, Dakshinamurthy Auditorium in P.S.High School, a place where my father had taught for thirty years. But since my father was born during the monsoons, we wanted a hall the approach to which would not be slushy, centrally located and of course reasonably priced. Only one hall, viz., Theagaraya Hall in T.Nagar qualified. Urmila agreed to enquire about its availability and I booked it.
Then came the discussions on the programme content. Since 14th November is a working day, the function has to be held only in the evening and therefore should end by 8.30 P.M. So we had to think of a suitable content for about two hours. As an addict of carnatic music, I wanted an hour of good music. Of course there are a large number of singers and instrumentalists, but the child prodigy Keyboard Satyanarayanan was the unanimous choice. On knowing that Urmila is a teacher in PSBB and that the occasion is the 100th Birthday of another teacher, Satyanarayanan’s father was very gracious. We are thankful to him, Satyanarayanan and his team for their fine gesture in not charging their usual fee.
Any programme has to have speeches. So we planned about 50 minutes of speeches, which meant five speakers. After discussions, it was decided that each role that my father played so well would be highlighted by a speaker. So we chose a teacher-cum-nephew (Srinivasan alias Kannan), a teacher-cum-colony resident (Ranganathan), a student (Ram Mohan), one that moved a lot with my father (it had to be my sister Vanaja or Urmila or Radha. Radha was chosen) and a son (I was the choice).
What about the great grandchildren? ‘Should they not be involved’, was Radha’s query. Of course, they should. So Pushpanjali, a Dance Tribute was to be presented by Srinidhi and Pratyaksha, great grandchildren of my father.
After deciding the feast for the eyes and ears, the discussions turned to food. Oh yes, my father was very choosy about what he ate. We had already decided that we would serve food that he liked. Another round of discussions. Should it be Tavaladai or Adai? My brother Raghu voted in Adai’s favour. Ellorai (Til rice) and Thayir Saadham were automatically selected. We wanted Thayir vadai because father liked it a lot. But Kannan of Jayam Caterers felt that Thayir vadai was not a good idea in monsoon. ‘Unga appakku keerai vadai pidikkaadhaa? (Did your father not like Keerai vadai?) was his question. Father liked almost all fried things and so it was Keerai vadai. Jangiri and Kara sev had no competitors as far as father’s fondness was concerned.
Amidst all these preparations for the Birth Centenary celebration, Amritha (my wife) and I were also preparing for her California trip on 23rd October. Yes, she would miss the event. But we had to choose between my father’s 100th birthday on 14th and our granddaughter’s first birthday on 1st (Tamil Calendar) and 12th November (English Calendar). I will be in Chennai for the 100th birthday of my father while my wife will be in California for the first birthday of our granddaughter.
When you read this, the celebration would have been completed. And all of us would have once again captured the spirit of Vedachala Gardens, P.S.High School and that of a generation that became wiser as age advanced but retained their innocence till their death. We are all having those nice feelings of nostalgia. Fortunately their tale has been captured for posterity in this book. And this tale has been told by three generations that knew my father and mother. It is also a precious family album with a dozen photographs. The cover designed by Aarthi, my daughter (who is a graphic designer by profession) is a visual treat. Whenever we think of my father, the first image that comes to our mind is that of his reclining on his favourite canvass chair and reading the Ramayana. This has been vividly brought out by Aarthi.
More than the celebration, this book is our humble tribute to a great human being. We hope that you will enjoy it as much as we enjoyed putting it all together.
with inputs from Urmila Devanathan and Radha Seshadri