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Friday, July 05, 2013

A GRANDPA OF MY MEMORIES

We would hardly hear anyone complain about their grandparents, even if they do so about their parents. I am no exception!

Every memory of a grandparent is always grand and apparent. Especially if it is about someone who is the source of a family's connection to divinity. A grandfather who is God's prophet, an honest and upright lawyer (I do know that is an oxymoron), lover of English literature with phenomenal memory for recitation, indulgent and clowning with his grandchildren. Every letter written to me by Sri. K. Srinivasaraghavan B.A.B.L., my maternal grandpa, would begin with Love, Light, Liberation. It's a blessing that I am able to offer my humble tributes to this towering personality who left us on July 5, 1987.

At 16, he was a muscular and sporty teenager devoid of any signs of a spiritual gift. He was any average iyengar boy just initiated into bachelorhood after his Upanayanam. But amidst all his rambunctious teenage adventures in Pudukkottai Raaja KuLam (tank) with ghosts and fiery deities like the notorious Porpanaiyaan, he was struck with delirium one fateful day when Lord Venkateshwara entered his being and changed his life forever. Since that day, he was God's spoken word for everyone around him who cared to pay heed. The session would start with a divine intuition, after which he would bathe and get ready in front of the hallowed family shrine. Golden letters would be written on his left palm using the right, from which prophecies and solutions to common family problems would flow. Many times his gift was challenged by unbelievers (a Siddha mystic included), only to be rebuked by God during these sessions. I still maintain the notes I took during some of these direct revelations from God, one especially about Markata (Monkey) versus Maarjaara (Cat) Nyaaya (the types of relationship between a devotee and God) and other startling philosophical insights like the creation of the Universe. This divine gift remained with my grandpa until his late 80s. My mom received a similar call in 1971, but implored God to exempt her until later.

He was unsuccessful as a lawyer simply because he was way too honest and cared enough about people to build his fortunes over their misfortunes. But I have been fortunate enough to hear him recite extempore speeches from the works of William Shakespeare and poetry from the likes of John Keats and William Wordsworth. He was yet another motivation (my father being the other) for my love of the English literature. His daily routine of Sri Vaishnava mantras and Azhwar paasurams became a source of inspiration in my effort to learn them. Seated in his chair near the apartment window with a tumbler of water and ThirumaN box, he would elegantly mix the paste and sport a huge naamam on his broad forehead. Then would begin his daily Sandhyaavandanam. It would be treat to watch him hide his hand inside his favorite towel to recite silently the Gayathri Mantra. Finally, he would finish his Nithyanusandhaanam (daily prayers) starting with the recitation of Asmad Gurubhyo Namaha, Asmad Parama Gurubhyo Namaha, Asmad Sarva Gurubhyo Namaha, Srimathe Sri Aathi VaN Sadagopa Yatheendra Mahadesikaaya Namaha.

As a clowning and indulgent grandpa he would narrate the most ridiculous stories, and provide us valuable insights about Carnatic music doyens and great Indians of his times as well. Some of his ridiculous rhymes were:
  • Acchaana Bahuta Aravinda Lahuta Eko Piyaa Mama Te, Ho Ho Mama Te Eko Piya Mama Te
  • Are Chum Chum Chum Pari, Kucha Nacha Nacha Pari, Hara Pari Hara Pari Ha Ha Ha...Ayi Killaayayi (Adi Killathedi)
Whenever my brother and I bothered him, he would retort with a "Pongadaa! Poi pesaama kalyaanam pannindu avaLai konjungo", spitting from his toothless mouth in an attempt to control his mirth. Other times he would narrate a raunchy tale of a local Pudukkottai drama troupe where a clueless singer would start on the wrong note with the audience by singing "Kanaga Rattiname, Unnai Izhutthu Kutthiname", and how the audience pelted stones on that idiot. I didn't care if it was somewhat mature for us at that time. It provided me an affectionate access to my grandpa and took me on a guided tour through the typical South Indian life experiences of his times.

His favorite drink was Complan - "Amma Janakam, Konjam Complan Kudukkariyaa?" he would ask his wife lovingly. Unlike the drink, his life was not completely planned. And of course his immaculate instructions to anyone wanting to visit him in Chennai, would start with the customary "Nera Judge Jambulinga Mudali Street Poi...". All through his life he provided us that steady direction towards divinity but silently, while struggling his 87 years with a leg afflicted by Elephantiasis, caused by a mosquito bite. His was not a charmed life, unlike his more successful peers. But he was a patriot who associated with the great Rajaji (CR), was a gifted spiritual giant and the root of a blessed matriarchal line. And a man who loved his frail, dark skinned, not so good looking wife of 60 golden years so much that he had 8 children through her, out of whom only my mom and her three brothers survived. Incidentally, my grandma is a close childhood friend of the legendary Srimathi M.S. Subbalakshmi.

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