He would have celebrated his 95th birthday this year had he been alive today. Fourteen years have elapsed since he passed away — and gosh, this is the first time I am sitting down to write about him! Why didn't I do so all these years? I am not very sure of the reasons – did I think he was not ‘celebrity' enough to write about? Or wasn't there much to write about him?
I don't think so — more likely that I wasn't able to accept the fact of his death for several years (I still momentarily pause before prefixing ‘late' to his name while filling up an application.) and I have yet to understand him fully myself.
He was unique in his own way — a man of amazing grit and determination, who knew how to face adversity and come out successfully, never frustrated by challenges, a man who personified the simple yet eternal values of integrity, honesty and nationalism.
His memories still seem fresh — taking us for college admissions, trudging alone to cast his vote, admonishing my mother when she made ‘popu' and the spicy fumes made him cough, cajoling us into a game of ‘puli-meka' or scrabble while we would want to go out to meet our friends, and hoisting national tricolour with autowallahs on January 26 and August 15 every year.
I guess we took him for granted while he was alive. And, maybe, didn't expect him to die when he did. I can recollect now, with a tinge of guilt, the missed opportunities to share his stories of the large joint family he grew up with, his childhood in Rajahmundry, his travails as an employee in Pune, his struggle to run the family, the many English poems he still remembered and the anecdotes he would recount.
Strongly influenced by Mahatma Gandhi, whom he had the fortune of seeing and listening to, most of my father's views and principles were worth emulating and fortunately were entrenched into us five siblings. His emphasis on good education was the foundation on which we grew up to be what we are today. He wouldn't mind spending any amount of money for our studies and my mother would always recall, with horror, how he got the first daughter admitted to a ‘posh nursery school' in Pune, paying a fee of Rs.15 a month when his salary was just Rs.45! (wow, 1/3 of the salary!).
Not to say he was a spendthrift. Our textbooks were always from the elder sib or the second-hand shop; for notebooks, my father would carefully cut out all unused pages from the old notebooks, cut them to equal size and stitch them together. Even one-side papers were used at home for rough work! Brown packaging paper would be reversed to cover the books! We didn't cringe or complain — a wee bit embarrassed maybe, but much later (actually years later) we learnt to be proud of those books.
Mom would always tell us how, during their many rail journeys between Pune and Eluru, my father would borrow hot water from the engine driver (trains ran on steam engines those days) to make milk from milk powder for the tiny tots. Only he could have thought of that!
This ability to make things with little cost was something to be marvelled at. Reusing and recycling were his mantra much before they became an environmental fad. I remember several of his nephews and nieces who would exclaim — ‘Oh, this is Babu mamaya's work for sure' even as they saw an old bucket handle fixed as a towel stand in the bathroom, a cycle part as a grill for the ventilator or a neatly woven mesh with bits of wires and strings for the jasmine creeper. I remember how, one day, at a shop dealing in iron scrap near the old Poorna Market, my father bought bits and pieces, and even as the shocked owner, Mr. Suleiman, watched in amazement, got a big gate assembled for our house (it's still there!). Anything he made, he ensured that it would last for a long long time. And, after so many years, it's nice to see now and then a knot he has tied in some old bag to pluck mangoes or a wire tightly looped around the electric pole or a well-fixed door latch.
Never spending on himself (he revelled in wearing old clothes, khakis, boots, etc., some of which were left over by my brothers because they didn't want to use them anymore!), my father never cringed at spending for our food or education. Of course, for clothes, we often had to wear the elder sib's clothes, often re-sized! Ramana, the tailor near I Town Police Station, would be dismayed as dad bargained and cajoled him into a veritable deal!
We ate all sorts of food and fruits of all seasons, be they mangoes or palm fruits, corncobs or custard apples and what not. A favourite of his was crushing papaya fruit pulp with ice he brought from a nearby shop, and served as ‘ice cream.' He really enjoyed his food, but, sadly in later years, diabetes with mild kidney failure and (now it seems unnecessarily) a strict doctor son overlooking his diet, forced him to restrict himself to bland food.
We miss you, father, and sorry for all the trouble we gave you. But we are grateful for what you gave us and what you made us into. May there be more fathers like you, moulding their children into good and useful citizens. Jai C.S. Murthy.
(The writer's email is: ravichitrapu@rediffmail. com)
Keywords: Father's Day