Thursday, October 22, 2015


My Good Friend R. Srinivasan (1926 -2015)

Srinivasan (RS, for short) and I became friends in 1945, when he and I sat in the same class – he in his first year of MA Maths and myself in the 2nd year of my BA Hons at St Joseph’s Trichy.  The previous year I had already a close friend and classmate by name S.R. Venkatraman (SRV, for short). So from 1945 we three became so close to each other that we were always seen to be together, whether in the classroom – where we sat next to each other – or in the lunchtime at Peninsular hotel or in the evenings either at Venkatraman’s room in Clives Hostel or in Venkata Lodge at our evening snacks.  This went on for the next two years.  All our other friends were very envious of our friendship. Among the three of us Srinivasan was the elder statesman and so for our personal problems we used to ask him for advice and we most often got the right advice.  Many times we had visited Srinivasan’s family at Woriyur.  We were so close that we used to share intimate informations about ourselves. Srinivasan was just married before I knew him, but I was married in 1946 when they along with several other friends of mine were present at my marriage function in Mahadanapuram between Kulittalai and Karur. My wife Kamala and Srinivasan’s wife Yajnambal became also very close to each other that they never failed to share their personal information with each other.

And then we parted after we passed our examinations in June 47.  Srinivasan joined the Teacher’s college in Saidapet to study for his B.Ed. and I joined Annamalai University in Chidambaram as a staff member.  For  several years we kept a letter correspondence.  Whenever I visited Trichy I used to go to Woriyur to meet his family irrespective of whether Srinivasan was or was not there.  My wife and I attended the Shantimuhurtham of RS. and he attended my Shantimuhurtham also. SRV was in Surandai but later he settled in Palace Orchards, Bangalore.  RS. visited that place once and I also visited that place once.  But after the fifties we lost contact with SRV.  But R.S. and myself never lost contact with each other. In my family all my close relatives know R.S. and in the same way all his close relatives, -- his Athai, the elder sister of RS, Tripuram, Anna, Manni, her mother, and certainly the father for whom I was almost a pet.  I was also very close to Anna. He used to talk to me about Saundaryalahari shlokas and their meanings every time I met him; he had great affection for me, more so because even after visiting U.S and serving there for three years, according to him I was still in practical touch with our traditional literature and values.

Whenever RS and I met we had to cover the details what each of us did day by day during the gap period when we did not meet.  This usually turns out to be long long conversations, sometimes running to more than two hours.  Well, there are several several anecdotes that I can relate but that would take too much time.  Once in the fifties he and his teacher’s college friends went to Tirukkazhukundram for a two day outing and RS invited me and I joined them.  That was a memorable get-together for me and RS because he almost deserted his other friends and was always closeted with me continuing our usual updating of each other’s activities.  Later RS joined the Hindu High School, Triplicane and rose to become the Principal of that school and retired as such.  In his teaching profession he was known to be one of the best teachers that students could ever be aware of.   His students are spread all over the world.

Just one or two major events in our relationship.  Srinivasan was always very helpful to all his friends and even casual acquaintances. His compassionate affection to all his friends, relatives and to all those who worked under him is well-known to any one who came into contact with him even once.  So it is no surprise that in 1984 around September October, when I wrote to him from Pilani that I had what they call flashes in my eye, I was on medical leave, I had tried doctors in Pilani and Delhi but I am not satisfied and the doctors are saying if I go to Madras and get myself checked by Dr. Badrinath, the famous retina surgeon, that would help. And they also said that to get an appointment with Dr. Badrinath, it usually needs several days’ notice,  he immediately phoned back:  I have already a rain-check with Dr. Badrinath, I shall use it now and he immediately got my appointment for the very next day. I flew from Delhi to Madras and got myself checked and treated by Dr. Badrinath.  From that time onwards till now Dr. Badrinath has also been a very good family friend for me.

Anoher instance. It was April 22, 1998.  My grand-daughter Yamini who had just finished graduation and was going to go a medical school, in the U.S. took a year off to visit several countries of the world.  She came to Madras, watched a brain surgery by Dr. Ramamurti (also my good friend in Madras), and then I took her to Bangalore  for a visit. We engaged an autorickshaw to go to the hotel which we had already contacted, but it was already late evening and that evening there was such a heavy rain and wind that our auto driver could not go beyond a certain stage because of heavy floods on the road.  I did not know the topography of Bangalore well enough but I had the address of RS in my diary.  So I told Yamini  my friendship with him, and I decided to gatecrash at his house and stay with him for the night.  It was in Jayanagar.  But we could find our way only with great difficulty.  That night Anna, Ranga, Meena  and Yajnambal hosted us for the night.  We had great trepidations about how this traditional family would respond to young Yamini’s total ignorance about Indian habits, customs and Acharas.  Our rupee currency which I had kept in my belt purse were all drenched because of the rain. My wife had an idea to warm them up by putting them on a warmed up dosa-pan. That was a memorable night.

Unfortunately, RS left us all and breathed his last on the night of 4th October 2015, after a brief illness.  He will always be in my deepest memory.


FLASHES OF MY LIFE – 8: First year of Married life: 1946 -47

Where shall I begin? It has to begin right at the wedding.  Because there was nothing before that.  No dating (certainly!), no meeting, no girl-seeing ritual, no boy-seeing ceremony, no nothing.  Then how was the marriage decided? The father of the girl met the father of the boy (some time in 1945) and requested for the boy’s horoscope.  It was duly given in exchange for the girl’s horoscope (just as a courtesy), but the boy’s father clearly said that his son was studying then and so he had no intention of accepting any proposal of marriage for the son until his studies are completed.  Fair enough.  And there the matter stood for probably several months.  Then how did the marriage take place next year? For this you have to have some location details.

The girl’s sister and her husband (a Railway employee by name T S Sundararaja Iyer –shortly, TSS))  with a family of five or six children were living in a complex (then called ‘store’) of  twelve apartments in Trichy . Lo and behold! One fine morning., (May 1944) myself, my father (Sri R Visvanatha Sastri, retired Sheristadar) and my mother’s sister (widowed in her young age) moved from Kumbakonam to Trichy to live in the same complex, just in the apartment diagonally opposite to the apartment where TSS & his family were living.  The purpose of this  arrangement was to have me study in St. Joseph’s College, Trichy as a dayscholar for my B.A. Honours  course of three years..  The two families became friends in no time.  The girl used to come, now and then,  from her village with either her father or mother or both, to visit her sister’s family. The next door neighbour of this family was a great astrologer – Subrahmania Iyer, by name - and so the girl’s father Sri P Narayanaswami Iyer –shortly, PN) used to consult him for comparing and matching horoscopes. Subrahmania Iyer, the astrologer, it seems, okayed the matching of the two horoscopes so thoroughly that Sri PN was prompted by the other members of the family to meet my father and propose a marriage alliance.  But my father perhaps was not swerving from his earlier decision.  I was not aware of these goings-on because they were all happening in the mid-day time when I would be in College.  It seems Shri PN then decided  to go to Madras and explore for a different match through some  matrimonial alliance brokers. But Mr. Subrahmania Iyer it seems stood between Sri PN and his trip to Madras, because he swore that astrology says that PN’s son-in-law is going to be the student residing in the opposite house – referring to myself.  I heard all this story much later from my wife!

Well, sometime in the early months of 1946, it seems my father agreed to the proposal and the wedding was fixed for a July date to take place at Mahadanapuram, a well-known village (my f-in-law’s native place) with a railway station between Kulitalai and Karur. 

[ Digression:  I had for quite some time wondered how and why my father changed his mind from 1945 to 1946. I never asked my father this question.  But later in the years 1947 to 1950, when I was on the Mathematics staff of Annamalai University, I had a colleague in the Dept., Mr. Trivikraman by name, who was a great amateur astrologer – much more knowledgeable (probably because of his mathematical logical training), according to me, than Subrahmania Iyer of Trichy. Trivikraman and myself were both new entrants to Annamalai University staff and were living as Resident tutors in the boys’ hostel for our first two years on the University staff.  We two were close companions during our evening walks around the campus.  Amidst our many conversations he used also to acquaint me with the nuances of Hindu astrology during these daily walks.  He scrutinised my horoscope, which I knew by heart and so could tell him from memory, and during one of these conversations, I acquainted him of  this riddle  of my father not agreeing to the marriage proposal in 1945 but later in 1946 agreeing to the same proposal.  Trivikraman, exhibited a mischievous laugh at this statement of mine. And when I pursued this matter he came out with an astrological fact and guessed that could have been the reason why my father changed his mind.  The astrological fact was that my horosocope contains Rahu in Vrishabha (Taurus) Rashi, and my Lagna (Ascendent) happens to be Vrishchika (Scorpio). From Scorpio to Taurus it is seventh place.  Trivikraman said that saptama Rahu (Rahu in the seventh place) and that too in Vrishabha  in exaltation, can make the person very passionate to the extent of going astray. Trivikraman said: ‘Maybe Subramania Iyer convinced  your father that if he postpones his son’s marriage and does not accept the present opportunity of a good match, he may have to regret later when saptama Rahu might have played its mischievous role!, and more so because the ‘dashA’ that was ruling me at that time was Rahu dasha, whose period ends only in 1953 in my 25th year of age’. Knowing Trivikraman’s upright character and his straightforward ways of behaviour, I trust his words.  I am sure my father who had also great faith in astrology and himself knew a good lot of it, must have been scared by this foreboding of evil and, floored by this astrological logic, must have agreed to the marriage proposal then and there!  Digression over!]

My wedding  with Kamala  took place on 5th July 1946, when many of my friends from Trichy attended.  It was a four-day function according to vaidic traditions about which my father was very particular. I was in the final year of the Maths. honours course. All the seven brothers and the only sister of Kamala (all elder to her) attended the marriage. My two sisters (both elder to me) with their husbands and their families were also present. My brother and Manni (Lakshmi alias Laksham) came all the way from Nagpur to attend my marriage and bless me.  Within a few days she became very affectionate towards Kamala.  Anyway that was the last we saw of Laksham Manni, as you will see presently. But let me now come to the various changes that happened  in our residence during 1946-47.

In March 1946 my neice (sister’s daughter) Jaya was married at Tanjore; my father was the match-maker for this marriage arrangement and naturally he went to Tanjore to stay with my sister’s family and make all arrangements and also conduct the marriage ceremonies.  During this stay he found that his son-in-law Sri S.S.S. had financial problems with his meagre salary as a bank employee.  So, side by side with the marriage arrangement for Jaya, he convinced my sister Rukmani and her husband (Sri SSS) to consider asking for a transfer of his employment to Trichy Indian Bank and shifting the entire family (2  adults and five school-going siblings) to a residence in Trichy or nearby Srirangam, where we three (my father, myself and my aunt known as Siru-thayar) would also join them and live as a joint family.  Accordingly all of us shifted to a residence in Srirangam (ourselves, from Trichy and they, from Tanjore) on April24, 1946. And my Athimber (Sri SSS) got his transfer to Trichy Indian Bank, in accordance with the request made by my father to Sri N. Gopala Iyer (Secretary, Indian Bank, Madras) – Sri N.G. Iyer (shortly, NG) being his own brother-in-law.

Thus started our residence in Srirangam.  I was cycling a distance of around three miles to my college in Trichy from Srirangam across the famous bridge over the cauvery and this was slowly becoming very strenuous for me.  Proposals for my own  marriage took their final shape now and the girl’s party (with Sri PN as their head) visited us at Srirangam and the exchange of Thamboolam took place there.  And then of course was the marriage on 5th July. As my daily cycling to college was not very comfortable and as the home was now crowded with so many people, and as I was now in the final year of my studies, it was decided that I stay in the hostel in Trichy to concentrate only on my studies.  My friend and classmate S.R. Venkatraman who lived in Clive’s Hostel opposite Teppakkulam in Trichy offered to take me as his roommate and I started living there for my final year of studies.

My father found the joint family living at Srirangam did not come up to expectations and so he and my aunt shifted to a rented portion in Subramania Lane, West Boulevard Road, Trichy from September 1, 1946.  I continued to live in the hostel but visited my father whenever there was a need. I think during the few holidays after the first term, I went there and Kamala also had come there for the Navaratri Puja, though she had not started living in our family, since the nuptial-ritual of Shantimuhurtam had not yet taken place.  Very soon, in a month or so, my father found a better place in Takur Lane in the same area, and that was our family residence for the next eight months.

I am not very sure how many times I visited my Takur Lane House while living in the hostel. Once during Navaratri certainly, and once again  for performing my mother’s Sraddh (some time in November-December) and probably a few more times. Some times Kamala also was called from Mahadanapuram; at such times she was escorted by her Athimber Sri TSS. Once or twice I made a stealthy visit to Mahadanapuram to see my beloved and on such occasions my friend R Srinivasan was of great help to ‘substantiate’ my farcical statements, when needed.  In fact, looking back I can’t explain how I found time for all this while I was studying in my final year of Honours! Once Kamala and I went to a nearby theatre to watch a movie, but this time with the permission of all elders!  We did not care what movie was running; the objective was to go out together alone! And the movie turned out to be ‘Ratan’, a Hindi movie, but that did not disturb us! Of course don’t ask me whether we understood the movie.  Neither of us knew a word of Hindi at that time!  In some sense the one year following my marriage proved to be our dating time – unlike in the west where they ‘date’ before the wedding. Most of us in India of those times ‘dated’  with their spouses only after the wedding! As you will see presently, our ‘dating’ was going to include also a Rameswara-yatra and also a visit to a marriage function of a close relative, out of town!

In March, 1947, father made a trip to Sringeri to have darshan of the 34th PITAdhipathi Sri Jagadguru Chandrasekhara Bharati Mahasannidhanam. I had just finished my University examinations and moved over to my residence, Takur Lane. On the 5th of April, we received a telegram from Nagpur that Laksham Manni had breathed her last, succumbing to the pleurisy  from which she was suffering.  In those days Streptomycin had not yet been discovered.   (Thus absence of the right medicine caused Laksham manni’s demise. Later, you are going to hear the tragic incident in our own family, wherein my sister Lakshmi’s husband Sri R. Gopalasundaram Iyer passed away in October 1951, succumbing to a growing Tuberculosis in his lungs, but this time because of  an overdose of Streptomycin, which had just then been discovered!). So my father made a trip to Nagpur, got my brother do all the first day rites for his wife, came along with him back to Madras, performed the remaining ceremonies at Sri N.G’s house and returned to Trichy by end of April.  My brother went to Trivandrum, having secured a transfer to the Trivandrum branch of Bharat Bank Ltd.

June 1947 saw us going to Rameswaram on a religious pilgrimage – the chief reason being Shri RG Iyer (my athimber) had so far only three daughters and there was no son.  But in this pilgrimage for which my father was the mentor and guide, in addition to my sister, her husband, and their three children, and also my Siruthayar (aunt), we too, namely, Kamala and myself were also taken along.  It is noteworthy that my father writes in his diary of the day, how fortunate is Kamala who is getting the benefit of a Rameswaram yatra, which was denied to his own wife (my mother) on a similar occasion when my father went on Rameswaram yatra 44 years earlier with his sisters! Well, in 1947 we enjoyed walking over the sands to Dhanushkodi – which is now submerged under the sea after the cyclone of 1964. On our return journey from the Rameswara-yatra Kamala and I parted from the rest of our company and we  went over to Mettur in Kadayam taluk of Tirunelveli District to attend the marriage of Kamala’s cousin Haran with Sarada, daughter of Sri NV (N. Venkatraman, Kamala’s eldest brother). 

On our return to Trichy, we had our Shanti MuhurtaM at Takur Lane House. It was then that I understood the meaning of the English word ‘consummation’ used in Indian English for this purpose; because those who congratulated us on this occasion invariably used this word. Sri NG came from Madras to attend the same. My Calcutta uncle NR Iyer (Port Trust, Calcutta) had a house in Adigudy village, three miles from the town of Lalgudy in Trichy District. Some years earlier he had suggested to Sri RG Iyer (my Athimber) who was then in Kulitalai Board High School as a teacher, that if he transfers to Lalgudy Board High School, he could live in the village of Adigudy, cycle his way to the school daily, and enjoy living in the village house almost at no cost, enjoy the output of coconuts in the garden and simultaneously look after Sri NR Iyer’s landed property.  So thereafter Adigudy became the residence of Sri RG Iyer.  My father chose to move  to Adigudy in view of the fact that living in an urban locality like Trichy in a rented house without any job on hand was not sound economically and  thereby living close to Lakshmi’s family he could enjoy the silent village atmosphere.  So we rented a house in Adigudy and on July 9, 1947 we (i.e., my father, my Siruthayar, Kamala and myself) shifted to Adigudy village. Now my exam results were known and I had passed in second class – a dubious distinction that was certainly a disappointment; but my professors told me that in that year by some quirk of fate the number of first classes was lowered as a policy! Anyway I was now ready to look for a job.  After a month or so I got the appointment as Asst. Lecturer in Annamalai University (Rs.80 monthly salary plus Rs.8/- dearness allowance !).  I took up the job on August 28, 1947.

In the meantime 15th August 1947 had arrived.  We youngsters of those times in India had been eagerly expecting this event to happen.  Even in my College days at Kumbakonam and also at St. Joseph, I had participated heavily  in student movements of processions etc. in favour of Indian independence and the release of INA leaders. Freedom and Power bring responsibility.  Those were the words from Nehru’s speech on that famous midnight of 14th August 1947 in the Constituent Assembly when the independence of India was trumpeted aloft to the whole world.  I vividly remember those words because I was listening to his speech  live from the public radio while I was waiting for my train to Madras from the railway station platform.  I was then going to Madras to meet Shri RM Alagapa chettiar on the recommendation of his close friend Sri NG, my uncle,  to seek a college lecturer’s job in his college of Arts and Science which had been started just that year. Before I left Adigudy that night on 14th August, I had bought a big Indian tricolour flag, went upstairs in our house, and climbed over the roof while my father was visibly and vocally nervous that I was too adventurous, and hoisted the national flag by tying  it to one of the windows at the highest level.   As I was waiting for my train  at Lalgudy which was scheduled to arrive at 11-55 PM, I heard the speech of Nehru for a little time since my train arrived late by a few minutes.  And as Nehru spoke the words ‘Freedom and Power bring Responsibility’, my train arrived and I missed to hear  the rest of his speech. I read that famous speech on ‘Tryst with Destiny’ the next day in the newspapers.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

My  Father and his great last moments

Shri R. Visvanatha Sastri (1882 – 1956), (my father),  worked in the judicial department of South Arcot District in the erstwhile Madras Province of British India and retired as Sub-Court Sheristadar, Cuddalore, in 1939. Even when he was in his twenties he had been, during summer vacations, studying under the feet of Shri Shri Vasudeva Brahmendra of Ganapati Agraharam, Tanjore District. He had his training in the Bhashyas of Adi Sankaracharya in the conventional manner of Guru-kula-vasam under the lotus feet of that Guru of his. Perhaps he was then also a sahapathi (student-contemporary) of the famous Shri S. Kuppusweamy Sastri of Madras. He had also been sitting as a public witness-listener to the Bhashya teachings given to Shri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati (now called Kanchi Mahaswamigal) in the second (or first?) decade of the 20th century at the Kanchi mutt, Kumbakonam. Further he used to study and write vigorously (literally till the last day of his 74-year life) all the 24 hours from any scriptural book that he can bring from the Library. By age 32 or so he had already started his Vedantic expositions. His first such exposition was on SUta-samhitA! During his lifetime he gave numerous lectures and expositions of the scriptures including several SaptAhas (seven-day expositions) of the Shrimad Bhagavatam. and navAhas (nine-day expositions) of the Valmiki Ramayana at various places in the present Tamilnadu and Kerala and also in some north Indian locations. One such event is recalled by him with pride in his autobiographical notes. In the early thirties (15th October 1934) he gave a fifteen-day exposition of the Bhagavatam at the Mani-karnika ghat in Varanasi in the beatific presence of His Holiness the Kamakoti Sankaracharya Shri Shri Chandrasekharendra Swamigal (now known as the Kanchi Maha Swamigal) who was then on his first all-India tour.

Father has left 27 original manuscripts expounding the advaita school of thinking and its symbiosis with Bhakti. The longest of them all is Gita-amrita-mahodadhi. It is a marathon treatise on advaita through the medium of the Gita and the Upanishads. It consists of 2400 Anushtup slokas divided into five chapters. He wrote the whole manuscript as was his custom always, in the Grantha script of the Sanskrit language. While transcribing the manuscript for being sent (in May - August, 1954) to the Kanchi mutt, under his dictation, it was pointed out to him by me that his shlokas need a commentary by himself since he seemed to be putting meanings and significance into them which were very profound. Fortunately for posterity, the father took this only comment of the son seriously and spent another two months or so writing a prose commentary of his own work. All this was finished by October 1954. The resulting manuscript (running up to 879 pages of notebook size writing) now contains therefore both the original shlokas of the author and his own Sanskrit commentary (vyakhyana) in prose. This original copy in grantha characters is in my possession. The copy of the original manuscript of 2400 slokas alone is with the Kanchi Mutt Library. Before his passing away I asked him: Which ones of your manuscript would you like to have published, ultimately? The answer was that Gitamritamahodadhi was his magnum opus, it contained his lifetime of studies and research and it was the one that should see the light of day, if nothing else. In order that the work may have a wider reading, the whole work has now been transcribed into Devanagari script by me. A copy of this has been deposited (Nov.1998) with the Kuppusami Sastri Research Institute, Tiru Vi Ka Salai, Mylapore, Chennai, 600004, India, so that posterity may not miss it. A scanned copy as written originally in Grantha script is available in the files section of the advaitin yahoo-group.

His daily living as a karma-bhakti-jnAna-yogI was a role model for every one who knew him. For all this the circumstances in the family (though not the family itself) were anything but concordant. He was not a renunciate (Sannyasi) in the physical sense. He lived all his life in the midst of family and household. He had two widowed, issueless sisters (elder to him, both without financial stability). He was supporting both of them ever since his age 25 when he lost his father. One of these widowed sisters was being supported by him by allowing her to remain in her own village. The other sister and a widowed sister-in-law of his were alternately taking care of the household  (after the demise of my mother) and in their absence, with the help of hired help of maid-servant-cooks. Of the ten issues he had only two sons (I am the younger son) and two daughters who lived into adulthood. The two daughters would keep coming in alternate years for their next delivery. One of them had a husband, a non-believer in frugality, so that through him there would be always financial challenges presented to the father who was himself a meagre earner as an employee in the local Sub-court.
Amidst all the overweighing family problems, in his later years (he lost his wife when he was 50), I remember he was teaching Gita Bhashya pAtham at home to a few friends every morning – except five anadhyayana days in the month. (I was not yet ten then, but I used to sit in those classes). He was always a picture of karma-bhakti-jnAna in action. On his big table in the office, any office paper that needed his attention or signature would be disposed off then and there, leaving the table free for his vedantic books and non-stop writing. His elaborate puja never stopped even for a single day. You would be surprised to know that in one of his travels by train from Madras to Calcutta, his train stopped at a major station on the banks of the Godavari and it appears he had a quick bath in the river, came back to the platform, spread out his puja paraphernalia, finished his puja and got back into the same train in which he was travelling. His advaita knowledge and pursuit of advaita was so convincing from his behaviour as well as his reactions to events. He would take everything as God’s will -- good or bad, honour or dishonour, praise or blame, pain or pleasure, blame or insult, success or failure, small or big. I have seen it day by day, hour by hour. I have learnt most of my advaita more by observing him than from scriptures. His writings tell me now that all the time he was ‘experiencing advaita’. I cannot describe it because it was his experience. But I can ‘feel’ his experience even now, long after he left me!

His last moments were so remarkable that as one who went through the unique blessed experience of watching how a noble soul should leave the body fully resonating with the shlokas 5 to 14 of B.G. Ch.8. I cannot but record it here for the sake of posterity to understand what Lord Krishna meant by these shlokas and to know what great traditions dominated this land from time immemorial.

It was January 8, 1956. My father was living in Madurai (South India) with me, my wife and three children of ours. Generally he was in perfect health, doing his daily religious routines which start with a bath in the early morning, sometimes in the river, but mostly as his age advanced, in the home. He went through a routine of pUjA for possibly one or two hours. Then throughout the day he would keep himself busy reading and writing. He is the author of several manuscripts of advaita character. I have heard several of his religious expositions. Naturally as every Hindu expositor would do, if the context demanded, he would refer to these slokas of the gita in these expositions. And when he expounds on the name and glory of Narayana, he used to say that one should cry out ‘Narayana’ so loud, that it is heard even in distant VaikunTha, the abode of Vishnu. Whenever as a teenager I heard these statements from him, I used to treat them as just rhetoric, but I did not realise he was really serious about it, until he showed me how one must die.

One month before his demise, he fell ill for a few days, even lost consciousness, but recovered very soon. Thereafter he even exhibited signs of double vigour. He resumed his river bath, and visits to the temple for darSan and so on. One day he called the pundits, (it was an eclipse on that day, perhaps solar), performed some rituals (which later I understood was a prAyaScitta ritual), performed an actual godAn (gift of a cow), and so on. Since he was generally religious and of a most saintly type, we took these things for granted and did not realise that he was gradually preparing for his final exit from this world. December-January corresponds to the Tamil month of Margazhi (Recall: mAsAnAm mArgasIrsho’ham – B.G. 10 -35) which corresponds in the divine reckoning, to their early morning time: 4 to 6. During this month throughout the Hindu world, morning pujas will be performed certainly in all temples, but also in most families of the traditional kind. My father used to do this early morning puja (which would be in addition to the daily puja which came later in the morning at the usual time of 8 or 9). His routine for the early mornings during December-January was to get up at four, heat water for his bath and have his bath. The previous night itself my wife would have kept ready the firewood and the pot of water that was necessary. He would himself light the firewood and heat the water. After bath he would sit for the puja. Simultaneously, he would also light the small charcoal oven (known as kumutti in Tamil) and put on it a small vessel containing water and moong dhal and rice with a few spices, for making Pongal, for the naivedya to the Lord after Puja. The necessary materials would all have been kept ready for him by my wife the previous night itself. He would finish the Puja about 5-45 or so, and just before the Arti time the rest of the family (myself, my wife and children) would wake up and have darSan of the Arti.

This routine was going on every day. But on the 8th January, early morning, around 4-15 or so, he called me aloud and woke me up. I got up and noted that something was strange that morning. He said that he had just taken a quick bath, and was about to begin the puja, but he felt not quite well. ‘Go brush your teeth and come quickly’ he said. My wife also got up and both of us were ready for him in a few minutes. He asked me to bring a shawl and cover him up. I saw he was shivering. He sat opposite the puja altar where all the puja materials had already been arranged as usual the previous night itself. He asked me to open the vessel containing Ganges water (which had earlier been opened on the day of the eclipse a few days earlier) and give a few drops to him. He took up the rudraksha mAla from the puja materials and wore it. Also he wore the vibhuti as well as the usual Urdhva-pundram on his forehead. He spoke only a few words to get the things done as he wanted. My min d began to find meanings for the instruction he had given me a few days earlier that I should read aloud the Gajendra Moksham chapter from the Bha. daily while he would be doing the early morning Puja – which I had been following.

This day he made me sit near him and asked me to go get the book and read ‘ambhasya pAre’. This refers to the first chapter of the M.N.U. which follows the three chapters of the T.U. in the taittirIya brAhmana of the yajurveda. It is a long paragraph going over to four pages. I have heard him say on many occasions that this particular anuvAka (paragraph) contains all the great mantras. I picked up the book from his bookshelf and started reading it. By that time I realised the gravity of the situation because when I noted that he was not starting his puja, but just asked me to sit and read this portion from the veda, and remembering the instruction about the Gajendra Moksham regimen of the past few days,  I knew he was preparing himself for the final journey. Naturally I faltered in my reading, both because of the excitement and also because I had not been keeping myself in touch with the reading of these passages due to my worldly activities and professional obligations. When I faltered, he told me, ‘See, you have not been reciting it regularly and now you are faltering’. And then he started shouting the name ‘Narayana’, ‘Narayana’. His crying out the name of ‘Narayana’ repeatedly became so loud in the next few minutes, that later in the day my friends who lived a furlong away from me were going to report to me that they heard the shouts of ‘Narayana’ in the early morning several times. He must have cried aloud the name ‘Narayana, probably more than a hundred times that morning. I became fully aware of what was going on, from his point of view; so, I did not disturb him. But he signalled to me and put his head on my right lap while all the time crying out ‘Narayana’. The recitation of the Narayana name did not stop at all.

My wife in her anxiety called a neighbor, who called another neighbor who was a doctor. The doctor came, examined, gave a coromin injection and went away. But all the while my father, though fully conscious, did not respond to any of the mundane conversation that either the doctor or my wife generated. The children (ages 8, 5 and 3) came and watched the drama that the grandfather seemed to be enacting. He just signalled to them to sit. My wife offered some black coffee (there was no milk in the house at that time) which he did not refuse. He allowed it to go through his throat. He was lying on my lap and the nArAyana mantra was going on still aloud. It was clear that he had already bid good-bye to this body and its mundane associations.

I had now finished reading ambhasya pAre, and not knowing what to do further and not getting any further instruction from him, (because he was now not allowing himself to be distracted even a little from his loud nArAyaNa recitation) I started reciting the purusha sUkta which I happened to know by heart. As soon as I started it, he signalled to me that that was OK. The decibel level of the narAyana recitation was going down now. My wife got panicky and went out to call the same doctor once again. She returned in just a few minutes with the doctor. By this time he had stopped reciting Narayana and appeared to be sleeping, still on my lap. The time was 5-40 AM. The doctor came and pronounced him dead.