Wednesday, August 27, 2014

TRIBUTE TO A MAN WHO LOVED LIFE - MY COUSIN

TRIBUTE TO A MAN WHO LOVED LIFE - MY COUSIN

I do not like writing an obituary for it is a final send-off nor do I desire to write an eulogy for it is a tribute to someone who has just died and that is not acceptable because as far as I am concerned he still lives on. That is why I wanted to pay tribute to a man who still lives on in the hearts of every person he has touched because he loved people, was loved in return and above all loved life and living.

My cousin passed away in the US few days ago consumed by the ravages of cancer. It may have ultimately consumed his body but not his spirit which I know still lives on.  Though he was seventy six years old, he died young

My earliest remembrances of him date back to my childhood (he was elder to me by 12 years). He was always that mischievous young lad with eyes behind those thick lenses ever teasing, ever laughing, at the same time without malice. Even in later years he remained that lad at heart ever teasing, ever laughing at young and old alike whether they were his friends, uncles, his nieces or nephews.

Though he had migrated to the United States a long time ago 45 years to be exact, he was very much rooted to all things Indian. He used to come down nearly every year to spend a few weeks here in India mainly to meet his friends, cousins and others. He loved good natured gossip and he used to say that kept him young and energetic. He once told me “You are a bore, you can’t gossip so what’s the point meeting and talking to you”, it was his way of teasing me. But he knew what I was interested in and our conversations continued. Once he came to Ahmedabad when I was there and asked me who my favourite painter was and when I told him “Van Gogh” he went to the computer and ordered for ‘The Complete Paintings of Van Gogh’ online and said that was his present to me. Later he sent me ‘Degas’ and ‘Matisse’. These books adorn my bookshelf and when I see them I remember him. We did not gossip but we talked about art. He talked about all the art galleries he had visited and seen the original paintings of the masters. His interest in art was phenomenal for while he idolised the Italian masters he told me that as he stood gazing at Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ when in Madrid there were tears in his eyes as it portrayed the tragedies of the Spanish Civil war. He told me about his visit to Tahiti and talked about the paintings of Gauguin.

To me he was a man who had seen it all. At the last count he had visited over 105 countries in the world, you name it and he had seen them all. I once told him that as he had seen so much and experienced so much of this world he should write it down for posterity to read and cherish, he only said that he had not finished seeing things.

There was a perceptible slowing down over the last few years but he still made it back home here every year. The last time he was here we did not meet, but I understood because he was recovering from the loss of a close friend in Mumbai.

Though I knew he was not keeping well, I came to know the nature of his ailment when he visited me nearly two years ago. He had a prolonged conversation with my daughter who was doing her doctorate in Cancer Biology at the end of which he asked her whether she had read the ‘Emperor of Maladies’ a biography of cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee and when she replied in the negative he told her that it was a must read for her. He then left. The next day promptly a package arrived for her and before she opened it I said ‘That’s periappa’s gift to you – Emperor of Maladies’
I knew him that well.

But there is still one poignant moment that keeps coming back. It was after my father’s death; he came over to my mother and said ‘Don’t ever forget that I am also a son to you’. Those words my mother kept repeating often whenever she talked about him.


So what do I say about a man who was a rebel, an adventurer, an unfailing friend, a reservoir of knowledge, a lover of gossip or connoisseur of the arts. He was all that and much more – A man who loved life. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

BOOK REVIEW – SILVER HAZE by PANKAJ VARMA




BOOK REVIEW – SILVER HAZE by PANKAJ VARMA

In the foreword the author says “She always wanted to tell her story and after she realized her memory loss is irreversible she started to write it out but her attention span was never long enough to pen a coherent narrative” referring to his mother and the onset of dementia. It was therefore up to the author to complete the story for from the time of realization of her fading memory his mother would not have been able to recapture all those memories of the distant past with such precision unless of course she had over the years shared with her son and daughter all those significant happenings in her life. Pankaj Varma the author acknowledges this in the foreword when he says “When I started writing this book, I started with the family folklore and all those little things I remembered my mother telling me but soon my writer’s imagination took over. I have developed characters loosely based on her life, but the story is essentially fiction of my own creation.” And yes it is a fiction he has created and in such a wonderful manner that ultimately you end up believing that this was the real thing. One is reminded of Irving Stone’s various fictionalised biographies of eminent personalities like Van Gogh and Freud where you can never really discern the dividing line between fiction and reality. When you finish ‘Silver Haze’ you are left with the feeling that it is the author’s mother who is actually narrating the entire chain of events.

‘Haze’ is an indicator of diminished visibility, brought on by dust, smoke or a mist. When one talks about being hazy it would refer to a vague or confused state of mind. May be ‘Silver’ is indicative of the mist. The ‘Prologue sets the tone for the narrative that is to follow and perhaps one of the most moving paragraphs in the entire book is – “I realized that I would have to live the rest of my life in some kind of a haze. I would gradually find it difficult to look back at my own past. I would lose my short term memory first and then my long term memory. Life would be like a swirling mist and I would have moments of recall. I would be able to recall clearly some past events but this would again be lost in oblivion as the fog moved in again. I wouldn’t be able to peer into the future without the benefit of being able to recall my past.” This sums up the condition of dementia. We are left asking the question as to what if it happens to us. The author has not only observed such a patient at such close quarters but has also tried going into her mind to understand what it really feels like.

The storyline or rather the narration spawns across three generations and covers all the significant events that occur in the life of a woman belonging to a middle class Punjabi family, uprooted during partition and beginning life afresh across the border in India. Educated but at the same time subjected to the prevailing societal norms regarding love, marriage and a patriarchal outlook, ultimately settling down to the joys of parenthood, a family and grandchildren thereafter to the sorrow of separation and increasing feelings of isolation and then to a slow deterioration of mental recall, all are there in the book. The events are so well stitched together through seamless narration that one cannot but laud the author’s felicity with the language and his minute attention to detail. The narration is sensitive and touching.

There is one very poignant sentence on page 74 where the narrator while on a train journey to Agra says “I also avoided looking at the countryside – after the partition village after village looked ravaged and plundered. The monsoon was still away and even Nature wore a dirty brown colour. It was much better to be lost in the make believe world of the books than to face the sordid devastation out of the window.”

I found this lyrically disturbing and a window to what partition was. There are similar expressions scattered across the book.

The Epilogue is crafted beautifully and in a very sensitive manner with the narration by the son as the mother by now has been totally lost to Alzheimer’s disease. As the disease is incurable and degenerative the affected person relies increasingly on others for assistance placing a great amount of burden on the people taking care of them. It is while reading the epilogue that we start to understand the deep love that the author has for his mother, for only that can sustain and nurture a parent who has now become a child.

“My mother is there with me but I cannot share my life with her. I can hug her and kiss her but I feel sad that I cannot tell her how much I love her. But I am happy that she is happy.”

In all, this is a great book that highlights a condition that anyone of us would be susceptible to. Recommended as a must read.


Saturday, August 9, 2014

BOOK REVIEW- B.I.T – Bit by Bit by Triloki Nagpal



BOOK REVIEW-     B.I.T – Bit by Bit  by Triloki Nagpal

What astounds me is that Triloki Nagpal has bit by bit reconstructed all the details of those wonderful formative years he spent at BIT Mesra without missing any of those various escapades which went a long way towards making the man he is today. He acknowledges that in the first few lines of the first chapter when he says “I am writing this not as an autobiography, but as a tribute to the Institute that transformed me from a spoilt brat into a new, changed and responsible person in the five years that I spent there.”

Anyone who has had the opportunity to spend those five years in a college hostel will be able to connect with all that Triloki has narrated. I did and in the process of reading the book I was able to start recollecting and reconnecting with my own experiences during that phase of my life. From my own experience I can say that these are the years that make you or break you. That is when you discover, experiment and reinvent yourself.

The author bio says that ‘He was brought up in a conservative and God fearing Hindu family that valued traditions but also believed in modern upbringing. Being a rationalist Triloki rebelled against traditions by marrying the girl of his choice from a different community and caste. Being a rationalist and a self-made atheist, he does not subscribe to superstition and blind faith.” One can understand that spending those five years away from the sometimes overpowering influence of the family helps to develop your own way of looking at things.

I particularly liked the chapters on ’Ragging’, ‘Contractor’s Mess’, ‘Planchette’ and the chapter on ‘Backward Prof’ especially when he talks about dozing off during class sessions. It was as if I was reading my own account of my experiences. When he talks about his weekend getaways to Calcutta, I was reminded of my own trips to Calcutta at least twice a month and by the way my return trips to Kharagpur were always by the Ranchi Express as it was one of the last trains to leave Howrah, uncanny but I also used to travel sitting near the footboard. How come we did not meet, or did we?

But it is in chapter 2 ‘The Beginning’ that he introduces us to those pair of eyes peering at him from what was supposed to be the luggage rack. That perhaps, when you reach the end of the book you realize, was a defining point in his life. What a pity he keeps the reader yearning to read more about those eyes till the very end. But I guess ultimately they reside safely in his heart.

What I liked about the book is that it is written in a simple and honest manner without any pretensions and without resorting to sensationalism. But like I said in the very beginning, it is the attention to detail that is truly remarkable. Considering that this book has been written nearly forty five years after the author had passed out of the Institute, I wonder whether he had the habit of maintaining a diary.


This book is recommended as an excellent read for all of us who aspire to relive our own passage through those formative years. The book also serves as a window to those of the present generation to have a peek into the student life as it was during the sixties. For me it was ‘Nostalgia’