S.Rajagopalan - 17th June 1939 to 24th September 2004

Goodbye - Remembering Gopalan, my brother

My first indelible memory of Gopalan was when I was in the fourth class and Gopalan had stood first in P.S.High School in SSLC. He came home armed with a few books and a Gold Medal. I cannot forget my father's beaming face at that time as he rarely showed his emotions.

He was fond of mathematics and had a knack of teaching it. He was also a voracious reader which had rubbed off on all 0f us. But the next major memory I have is his starting a regime of body building. There were no gyms those days and even if there were we could not have afforded it. But Gopalan's successful body-building was with materials available at home. He would do about 20 pull-ups from the girder in the house. Weight training was with the pestle of the grinder and push-ups were also in the courtyard of the house. Initially all the boys and girls in the colony would gather at our house to watch Gopalan's efforts (from a distance, of course). In fact it was my job to ensure that nobody crossed the courtyard of the house when Gopalan was rolling his arms with the heavy pestle in his hand. The boys and girls lost interest when the novelty wore off. That Gopalan had the tenacity of purpose was clear when he continued his exercises till he reached the desired level. He was a good chess player and when he was in Nagpur stareted playing Contract bridge and excelled in it.

We brothers were not much of letter-writers (Vanaja would write a lot of letters). So from the time he took up a job till the death of my brother Sampath, we used to meet a few times in the year. I had visited Gopalan and Vijaya in Nagpur as well as in Bangalore. When I was in KVIC, I was visiting Bangalore every three or four months and would stay with them. On my first visit, I was nervous to get inside the house as a dog was there. Gopalan saw me hesitating and called Priya (that was the dog's name) and introduced me to her. He used to say that Priya was his third child and would be unhappy if anyone referred to her as 'dog'. He was so attached to her that he didn't want to own any pets after her death.

How many of us can sit for exams after marriage and children? Gopalan got his law degrees after 40. At 50, he, his daughter and son had all appeared together for the Intermediate examination of ICWA and all three of them cleared it.

His tenacity of purpose came to the fore after Sampath's death. His tenacity and legal skills helped my parents to live comfortably in their last years. He was also a dutiful son and became very close to our mother in the last few years of her life.

After we moved to Chennai, Gopalan became very close to us and would visit our mother every few days. He was genuinely fond of Amritha and liked her cooking, particularly Tavaladai and Tomato Chutney. He got deeply interested in Vaishnavism and could recite large portions of Divya Prabhandam. He would patiently correct my mother if she made mistakes while reciting Tiruppavai. Even when my mother was in coma in the hospital, Gopalan told her to recite Tiruppavai and I swear that she started saying the first line.

He had a sense of humour and would note down any new joke by me. He was a prominent member of the Adyar Humour Club and had taken his grandchildren to the meetings. He was also a very affectionate grandfather. He had trained in Lorraigne's method of 'Memory Skills' and used to teach them to his grandchildren.

He was short-tempered when young but had mellowed over the years. He would show his anger with humour. Recently he overheard my sister Vanaja telling me that she was afraid of Gopalan's barking. Next time when he went to Vanaja's house and she asked him what drink he would like, he replied with all innocence, " Give me milk in a wide basin." To a puzzled Vanaja, he said," According to you, I bark. So I'll drink like a dog" They both burst out with laughter.

The two things that he liked in the last one year were computer and cell-phone. He became very fond of SMS and would send and receive a number of messages on his cellphone. I am glad I persuaded him to write for the Newsletter. He was an enthusiatic contributor and woulld query me about the readers' reactions. Of course he excelled in writing as in everything that he did.

His last visit to our house was on 29th August when he came to see my mother-in-law. He wanted to know whether I knew Polonius' advice to his son as he wanted to write to Mohan on similar lines. I got it downloaded from the net and sent it to his e-mail address in his presence. I don't know whether he wrote to Mohan. His last visit to my office was on 17th September to meet a prospective buyer for Sampath's Mambalam flat. My personal staff knew Gopalan well and all of them grieved over his death.

Of all the words in the English language, the saddest are 'I should have'. I was away in Berlin for just four days when the tragedy occurred. I had talked to Amritha every day and had sent SMS to Harish and Aarthi. I cannot pardon myself for not sending SMS to Gopalan. That would have made him happy. And this is a lesson for all of us. If any of your actions, however small it may be, will make someone happy, do it immediately. Or you will regret it for the rest of your life. What makes it poignant for me was that I did send an SMS to him after his death. I got a message from my colleague asking me to ring up 24424574, which was Gopalan's number. Since the number of the person who sent the message was not displayed, I presumed it was from Gopalan and I thought he had forgotten I was away and sent a message, ' Did you want to speak to me. I am in Berlin'. A few minutes later I got the news of his death.

I wish I could send SMS to Gopalan that we all miss him.

October 2004