Friday, March 9, 2018

                           (How advaita has touched my life)

How the study of advaita has touched my life
A Spiritual autobiography -- not complete
Well, this is going to be a long story of retrospection, confession and inspiration!
It all started when I must have been eight or nine.  Even before that, my father (who was around 53 then) must have taught me some elementary shlokas to repeat and some rudiments of Sabda-rupaavali pertaining to the Sanskrit language.  One thing I do remember very very  vividly. At the age of six or seven (my mother had passed away already) once I was chased by a dog to such a terrified extent that even now (at the age of 82) I remember the scene distinctly.  No damage done physically, but psychologically so much damage was done that even now I dare not enter a house which hosts a dog, even if it is chained! My father at that time taught me ten simple shlokas (five on Rama and five on Hanuman), which I was supposed to keep repeating in order to get out of the fear-complex.  Since then, these ten shlokas have been my constant companion all these seventy-five years, not only for avoiding fear of anything, but at all times and on all occasions – whether it is to write an examination, or to attend an interview, or to achieve something on a particular errand or assignment, or while travelling, in short, on all occasions and for all purposes, with no exception at all.  (Note: If any one wants to know these shlokas, let him or her write to me offline).
What has this got to do with advaita? Well, I am laying the foundation.  This is the basis of ‘faith’ which runs as an undercurrent of all my life of learning.  In short it infused an everlasting conviction in me that if God wills it anything can get done and if you sincerely pray to Him He will listen.  At nine (1936)  I was initiated into the Gayatri by my father by the usual formal Upanayanam ceremony. Then started the learning of vedic recitation. Side by side there was the performance of the religious obligations of a Brahmachari like Sandhyaavandanam and Samid-aadhaanam. In the December of 1936 I was given a double promotion in my school (St.Joseph’s Secondary School, Cuddalore), by being allowed to move to the next higher class (from I Form (i.e. 6th std.) to II Form (i.e. 7th std.) ) in the middle of the academic year itself. Among the many reasons that were talked about in the family for this academic achievement of mine was the regular performance of the obligatory ritual called Samidhaadhaanam regularly every morning and evening by me ever since my Upanayanam day (8th May 1936). This ritual is a homam consisting of offering of 13n samits (six-inch-long dry sticks of banyan tree) in the fire to the accompaniment of certain short mantras, the whole performance having a time-duration of about ten minutes or so, once in the morning and once in the evening, immediately after Sandhya-vandana-upaasanaa.  (For this purpose I had to collect the sticks from right under the banyan trees in the neighbourhood, two or three times a week, usually when I was returning from my football play every evening.)  I developed great faith in this religious ritual and it continued as a regular feature for the next three yedars or so.  According to shastras every brahmachari has to do this without fail as long as he is a brahmachari.
Well, during 1936 to 1939, (age 9 to 12) one other thing happened which laid the foundations for my spiritual uplift.  My father  was conducting vedanta classes daily for a few of his friends and neighbours, about probably ten in number at our own home in the mornings from 7 to 8-30. (He was working as a Sub-Court Sheristadar and he was due at his office only at 11 AM; probably most of his friends who were attending these classes also worked in those Govt. offices).  For a long time these classes were on the Gita and later they became Upanishad classes.  Shankara Bhashya was being meticulously followed line by line.  The classes were invariably held on all days except on six days in a month, namely, chaturdashi, Amavasya and Pournamasya, and prathama days – these being known as anadhyayana days.  It was my good fortune to sit in most of these classes, as a silent listener, though a few of the other adult listeners would raise very technical issues and questions, which would then be discussed. At that time it was all for me  only a shravana for curiosity only; but in my later days in my adult life when I started reading things for myself, I started realising the great blessing of solid spiritual education that my father had given me in my boyhood!
In addition during those three years my father would make it a point to teach me the recitation of vedic chants like the Rudram, Camakam, Purushasuktam, Taittiriya Upanishad, Aruna-prashnam, Kaatakam, Udakashanti, etc. Except on the anadhyayana days this sitting with the father was a must.  Thinking about those days now, I am surprised now how I found the time for all this, amidst my school lessons, my never-failing daily football and all the other above obligations.  But more important than this is the thought that my father could spare the time from his domestic  and professional obligations, and  his minimum of one-hour pooja every morning (no exception on any day!) – he could spare the time for teaching me day in and day out.  Particularly when I was double-promoted in the school, he took the responsibility (It was on his assurance that the Jesuit Principal of my school agreed for the double promotion proposed by my class teacher) to teach me the necessary portions of arithmetic and basic algebra that I missed in school to the extent of one full academic year!  Later in the sixties when my sons were in their teens I, as Professor of Mathematics at BITS,  could not devote any time at all to my children either towards their school lessons in Mathematics and Science or towards their spiritual education! What a father, and lo! What a son!
From age 12 to age 17 the tempo of religious and spiritual activity was lighter, because the emphasis shifted to school lessons and Mathematics and daily football play. Father retired in 1939 so we shifted to Kumbakonam, in anticipation of my future college education in Govt. College, Kumbakonam (to which my father had an affinity because in 1900 or so he had studied there for his B.A.). Since I passed the S.S.L.C. when I was not yet 14, I could not be admitted for my Intermediate, in the College (Rules required that I must be fourteen and a half at admission time). So I had to spend one year at home.  I learnt Shorthand and typewriting in that one year  and passed two examinations in Typewriting and one in Shorthand.  But this one year gave my father a bonanza of time to educate me further spiritually.  Mostly a good amount of my time was spent on learning more recitations but I had also the time to listen to a large number of my father’s public Upanyasams on various Vedanta topics. He never formally taught me Vedanta or advaita proper but he always made me learn more vedic recitations and now and then participate in his pooja rituals and worship. The afterthought now tells me that father was strictly following the advaita maxim that advaita should not be taught formally to some one who was not yet ripe through continued performance of karma and bhakti!
In 1944 (at my age 17) I joined St. Joseph’s College, Trichinopoly for my three-year Honours course in Mathematics. So we shifted our family to Trichinopoly. From that year onwards I was wedded to Mathematics for the next  44 years until I retired from BITS, Pilani.  And during the first half of that period, that is till I was forty or so, it was mostly Mathematics and Mathematics alone. I used to tell my wife (who arrived on the scene when I was 19 and was in my final year Honours course) that Mathematics was my first love, because she arrived in my life later than Mathematics!  Though it was all Mathematics, whenever I had the opportunity to listen to any public lecture by personalities like Swami Chinmayananda or Sengalipuram Anantharama Dikshidar or others of that kind, all that I had heard from my father would come back to my memory and many loose ends would start getting linked up.  Now and then, so long as my father was alive (till 1956, when I was 29), I used now and then to ask my father some very deep questions that arose from my random reading or from what I heard from others. His replies, usually, touched a more profound chord than what I heard from other public lectures and I came to consider him as my guru, greater than all the gurus of the world!
Years rolled on.  My own family multiplied.  Ups and downs in job prospects and employment. Two children died. Change of job. Other deaths in the family. Added responsibilities.  Sickness of children.  Economic needs. Financial supplement by undertaking tuitions in Mathematics.  Text-book writing.    IAS examinations. Unguided higher studies in Mathematics  in all directions on my own. Father always busy in writing his Sanskrit monographs on advaita topics. Sometimes I help him in transcribing his writings from grantha script to devanagari script.  Now and then some conversations about what his writings actually mean.  One day in the fifties he takes me to the Kanchi Shankaracharya (now known as the Kanchi Mahaswamigal), and gets for me from His Holiness the Pancayatana Puja impersonal icons and introduces me to the Pancayatana puja regimen, which he himself had been pursuing all his life.  And one day in early 1956, he passes away at the age of 74.  His passing away (which should remain as a role-model of how to pass away) has been described by me in detail on one of my web-pages, namely, in
From September 1956 for four years I live in Chidambaram as a wholetime research scholar in Mathematics in Annamalai University.  (Incidentally that was the year in which the Govt. of India,  for the first time, introduced what is called a Research Fellowship for teachers to take time off for a specific period for whole-time research. Earlier to that time there was no facility for a teacher in India  to shift to paid whole-time research. The sole exception was that of the math genius, Srinivasa Ramanujan).  It was a shift to a research job, after nine years of whole-time teaching career in which I had already established my name as a good teacher and I had already published a text book in Mathematics for the (what-was-then-known as) Intermediate (of South Indian Universities).  The research scholarship amount (Rs.200 per mensem) was just one third of my earnings as a teacher and I was not supposed to augment my earnings by any other means (like tuition) because it was a wholetime research job. My guide was a great well-known professor of international standard and he left everything to me, because according to him, pure mathematical research cannot be taught by any external agency.  He would only be a catalyst, guide and listening post.   (This method of guiding research did the greatest long-term good to me, as I was going to learn later in my life). But at that time the future  looked  very bleak, because I felt totally lost.  I used all my time for studies and more studies, broadening my known mathematical horizon, and so it went on  for a whole year.  There were tremendous bureaucratic problems because the Annamalai University would not recognise my M.A. of Madras University (because it had been obtained by efflux of time after a three-year B.A. in the manner of some British traditions of that time) and so I had to submit a thesis for M.Sc. by research in one year  and then go on for Ph.D.  for at least another two years.  Since I had only three years’ lien (in my teaching job)  from my College in Madurai I had to somehow finish both the degrees exactly on time, the first one within one year and the second one within the next two years.  It loomed large as an impossible task. My own professor was ready to suggest to me to go to other universities to try for my doctorate.  And I was also groping in the dark, in the forests of Mathematics. Though I was working all the time, there was a lingering thought whether I had taken a wrong career-decision in leaving a lucrative job of teaching and coming to research.  It was at this time my father’s writings in his multifarious notebooks helped me.  Somewhere he had written a mantra-like method for me for academic success.  (Those who want to know what this mantra is  may write to me offline). The requirement of the mantra-japa is that it should be repeated 256 times  (- it will take one hour to do this -) once in the morning and once in the evening continuously for six months.   I did it with great faith.  By the time I was halfway through it (that is, in about four months or so) I had a tremendous breakthrough in my research studies, and thereafter there was no stopping me until I finished my PhD Thesis in the two years as required by rules.  In fact the breakthrough and the ongoing research was going at such thrilling speed and excitement that I even left the course of my  japa (which therefore never got completed as per requirement!) .
What has this got to do with advaita?  It was during this period of three years that I gave my first lecture in the area of Hindu religion and spirituality.  The topic of the lecture – it was in Tamil -- was ‘Rama Gita’. It is a chapter in the Ayodhya Kanda of Valmiki Ramayana where Rama advises Bharata to drop his unique request for Rama’s immediate return to Ayodhya from the forest. Rama brings in the argument of ‘Death on the Wings’ and ‘Dharma at any cost as per the path shown by the ancestors’.  This was my first lecture and it turned out to be a real good one.  In some sense that was a turning point in my life, because that was the turn in my life’s journey where I chose the road that led me in my later life to chalk out for myself a journey which enabled me to traverse some of the  spiritual footprints of my father. And that meant, a life-long advaita-sAdhanA.
But that was only the under-current. The real professional life as a Mathematician started then. For the next thirty years life’s dedication was to Mathematics, Mathematics Research and Mathematics Education & teaching. This dedication took me to the University of Illinois on a teaching assignment for three years and back again to India, this  time to Pilani in Rajasthan, India, as a Professor  and later as also a Deputy Director of the Institute (in addition to my Professorial teaching and research obligations), until I , on my own decision, retired in 1988 at the age of sixty, much to the disappointment of my bosses, colleagues and students who wanted me to continue in my professorial job.
During these thirty years what happened to my ambitions on the spiritual path?  All that has been  written above forms an introduction  and base for the experiments on the spiritual ascent that marked its childhood during those  years but continued beyond those years more intensely, and continues even now in my 83rd age.  This is where you will see how advaitic studies have touched my life.
How has advaita affected my life and daily living? That is a good question.  Advaita has affected my daily life in changing my attitudes to everything in a different way.
Earlier, that is, before I was twenty, I was affected by every happening around me.
When I saw an honest relative suffering by the evil-doings of a capricious relative, I felt very very bad because I myself could not do anything  because both were my close relatives and further, in the ancient culture of traditional India in which I lived and grew up I was not supposed to raise my voice against elders, particularly elder relatives.
When I was infuriated by certain doings of missionary christians which affected the religious sentiments of hindus, I wrote a letter of scathing criticism  to the newspapers which was, to my amazement, published with a provocative heading. I did not have the heading part in my letter but it was the editor’s making. And what happened was I was criticised for that heading by several correspondents in the newspapers and I felt really small, particularly before my student-friends. I was a college student then.
When I saw certain ancient customs of shaving the head, etc. of a woman who had just been widowed I protested to my heart’s content, spoke to the elders who were responsible for it, but finally I could not succeed.  I was totally bowled by the elders. But I could never get over that bad feeling, because it was my elder sister who was the victim!
I was reading English Fiction all my spare time and I had such a craze for them that I collected all the classic fiction books by buying them from old bookshops, and keeping them as my greatest treasure  -- in the hope that I will even pass it all as a legacy to my ‘future successors’!
Well, I have given you above, only four instances of  my youthful attitudes which I thought will be most permanent. All that was before I was 25 or 30.  But in due time over the years, some thing struck my mind so forcefully that all these attitudes became mellowed. And what is that thing which struck me?
This single idea took possession of me over the years.  By the time I was 35 or 40. I was convinced that this is the only thing which is ever permanent.  Everything comes and goes. All our attitudes are only passing attitudes.  We are right, only temporarily. In the long run, our attitudes change.  Even the details of the events and attitudes pale into insignificance, as time passes. Good and Evil exist, but both pass away. Neither is permanent.   What is permanent is only the anchor sheet on which all the events, attitudes and what not,  take place as a movie on a movie screen. 
And I was convinced that advaita is the right thing! And now I am not affected by anything seriously. Even if I am affected by something, like a physical ailment, or a mental shock, or what seems to be a personal insult or even if I am excited by some success – I tell myself “THIS TOO WILL PASS”  and the feeling tones down.
May I make some observations on Meditation? In the following I may be appearing to be reminiscing about myself. But since I think that will help others in their spiritual exercises, just as, I think, it has helped me, I am writing the following.
The subject is meditation, concentration, contemplation, one-pointedness, etc. Having been born in an orthodox south Indian brahmin family, and having been blessed to be born as the son  of an erudite scholar-cum-karmayogi-cum-devotee –cum-advaitin, I was trained properly in my boyhood itself to do the Gayatri japa and associated observances.
As I grew up I was, as many others whom I knew, consumed by the vortex of worldly pursuits. But in my case it was a most noble pursuit, the pursuit of knowledge in the field of Mathematics and the practice of teaching what I knew and learnt.  The practice of daily Gayatri japa continued, now and then with some lapses, but on the macro, well enough.
But it is the micro-aspect that is now the issue.  As maturity continued to light up the buddhi, one started analysing oneself in respect of the effectiveness of concentration and meditation that accompanied the mantra-japa.  There were three things:  counting, as part of the japa;  concentration on the words of the mantra accompanied by proper pronunciation and intonation; and meditation on the meaning of the mantra.  In course of time  (the unit of time here is ‘year’, not just days !), it became clear that not all the three in fact co-existed.  Should they co-exist or not?  That was itself a dilemma.  Should one attempt to do all three together or should one compromise by sacrificing one for the other?.  There were seasons in one’s life.  For some time, the proper pronunciation of the words of the mantra was being attempted as the only primary goal.  Sometimes the proper counting  and sometimes, when one was convinced that silent japa is better than articulated japa, the silent thinking of the mantra went on. (Don’t forget that my spread of time here is several years).
You can see I have gone through all those stages of experimentation.  Now I will take you into another aspect of the whole thing.
What are the obstacles for such  meditation? This applies to japa also. The senses are the culprits. They have to be controlled, monitored and curtailed by the mind. This curtailing has to be done on all sides. While doing this, says the Lord, (in Chapter 6 of the Gita) little by little, let him attain to stillness by the intellect held firmly by the will power.
‘shanai-shanaiH uparamet buddhyA dhRti-gRhItayA’. 
‘shanais-shanaiH’  gradually, little by little, -- this is important. It has to be a slow process but steady. Actually Krishna is putting himself in our place and warning us not to force the pace. ‘Having thus made the mind establish itself in the Self, let him not think of anything’.
‘Atma-samstham manaH kRtvA na kimcid-api cintayet’.  This is the recipe, the final recipe, the only recipe, for meditation.
The recipe has already been given by the Lord Himself. Only we have to follow it, and practise it with faith, consistently and continuously.  There is no other way. After attending all the courses on meditation and yoga across the world, we have finally to come back only to this recipe: ‘shanaIs-shanaI-ruparamet buddhyA dhRti-gRhItayA’. ‘Atma-samstham manaH kRtvA’: This should be the goal. We have to get the mind rest in the Self in peace.  Happiness will be regained automatically.
Slowly and slowly, gradually, the outer mind  has to be brought under the clutches of the intellect. And one should then, be watching the moving thoughts as if we are watching some fun in  the street.
Let that thought be anything. It may be the argument which you had with a relative four days earlier; it may be the loan amount that you have to recover from the neighbour; or it may be the gossip that came into your ears in the office  the previous day;  it may be the dilemma that your back pain has placed you in, whether you have to go to the doctor  or not; it may be the research problem that you are engaged in your profession and the latest spark of an idea that hit you last night in bed; it may be the cell phone that is ringing and you have the immediate urge to look at the id of the caller; it may be the worry caused by  the deficit in next month’s home budget. Whatever it be, just watch the thought.  (You can see that all the above is a confession of the various experiences of this writer)
Do not probe into the question how or why that thought came. Do not analyse the positives and negatives of the subject matter of the thought lest that process  generate new thoughts. Don’t get into this chain reaction of thoughts.  Don’t also try to make a mental note of  all the thoughts that pass through your mind now.  Just watch the thoughts come and go. Just be a watcher. Don’t get attached to any of the thoughts. Don’t take possession of the thoughts. That is where you fall into the prey of the ego. Don’t ever get into the content of any of the thoughts. Just keep watching.  Think not that you are watching. Just be. One by one thoughts will come and also disappear like waves which rise and then fall.  One thought after another, it will keep coming ... and going. The next thought may delay a bit to appear. Don’t expect it  when it delays. Don’t be ready to recognise it when it comes.  Automatically the thoughts will become more and more feeble. Don’t think about anything. Stop thinking.

“na kimcid-api cintayet” says the Lord (VI-25). It means ‘Don’t think about anything’.
Well, the ideal is clear. “na kimcid-api-cintayet”.  The actual situation is also clear. It was described in one whole paragraph a little while ago.  So how does one move from the actual situation to the ideal?  This is the million-dollar question. This is what is being discussed by all the hundreds of books and speakers and writers on meditation. Each one has to find a way of his own.  I seem to have hit upon one strategy, maybe not the unique strategy, but one which seems to have the approval of many Seers  the world over.  It is the ‘mantra’:  “Live in the present”.
Let me explain. What is it that interrupts us?  Instead of repeating all the above experiences and many more, let me list some by single phrases and I am sure you will understand and extrapolate. I am listing below, each in a catchy phrase, several internal obstacles that come in the way of our “not thinking about anything”.  (Remember, at this stage, we have crossed the stage of external disturbances bothering us).  And the list itself will suggest to you the remedy.
  • Struggle to do the counting of repetitions correctly
  • Attempt at correct pronunciation
  • Thought about the rate of the japa or the intensity of meditation
  • Thought about the task awaiting the finish of the japa or meditation
  • Regret about failure to do it right
  • New resolutions about how to do it right hereafter
  • Opening of eyes and a consequent window opening to the whole world
  • Closing of eyes and an involuntary slip into drowsiness
  • All the above operations changing the whole mood
  • Resolution to give it up now in order to try later in a better mood
  • Alternatively, an elation at having done it right, for some time!
Each one above finally leads to the catastrophe of the ideal of “na kimcid-api cintayet”  not happening.
My suggestion  -- this is only a recipe for myself. May not work for everybody – is “Live in the present.  Do not think about the future or the past”.  Here the future includes even the next minute or even the next ‘kshana’.  Having done 60 repetitions, let not the thought go into the fact that this is the 61st repetition.  Having done the 60 repetitions let not the mind quickly work upon the question “How long has it taken” or “How long will it take to do the rest”.   Live in the present. You are doing the sixty-first repetition now.  And your mind should do only that – without any thought of the ‘60’ or the ‘61’. Don’t make resolutions. Don’t award self-approbations. Don’t regret. Don’t applaud.  Keep moving  with the ‘present’.  The ‘present’ moves into the next ‘present’. Act in the living present. Nothing more. “na kimcid-api cintayet”.
Lord Krishna says “Whenever and wherever the mind strays, bring it back to the Atman”.  A downright rockbottom version of the same at our level of the above discussion is: “Whenever the mind strays because of any one of the above internal distractions, tell yourself  -- that telling itself is certainly a distraction, but it is necessary here in order to do away with all other distractions – that what is to be done is not important; nor what has been done (even till the previous second); live in the present. Keep going.  Act in the present.  By the time you have acted, it is already past. Don’t think about it again. Again live in the new ‘present’.  Act in this new ‘present’.  Continue acting (and living) in the present.
This is the recipe.  This is the strategy.  This is the way.
I am not sure whether I have talked sense to you.  But I keep going! I live in the present!
PraNAms to all seekers of Truth!.

A Supplement, added later in life! :

 If someone totally new to the field asks for a definition of Spiritual Growth, it is this. To be engrossed (thanks to my friend Benjamin for bringing in the usage of this right word in this discussion) in the sayings of great men  and spiritual masters and simultaneously ‘not-to-be-engrossed’ in mundane ephemeral materialistic matters that may matter to this life but definitely do not matter to the life beyond.

To be engaged in such discussions is the index of spiritual growth. At the same time not to be engrossed in the knitty-gritty questions of scholarship to the extent that ‘one cannot stand it’ or to the extent that a disagreement leads to displeasure, displeasure leads to irritation and irritation to anger. This is the descending chain of ‘snakes and ladders’ in the play of Spiritual Growth.

‘tat chintanam tat kathanam anyonyam tat prabodhanam’  meaning,
‘Thinking of that, talking about that, and mutually reminding one another of that’

This is the recipe for Spiritual Growth according to Laghu Vakya Vritti , also quoted as such by the author of Pancadashi. .

If one analyses the ordinary individual’s daily life, a lion’s share – something as much as 90 per cent (this itself is a liberally low estimate).—is spent   (1) in mundane discussions bearing on the daily bread and butter, or with questions of finance, individual or public, or (2) with weeping and wailing over the miseries of the past, dilemmas of the present, and hopelessness of the future or (3) with criticisms of friends and foes, relatives and non-relatives, leaders and the led.

The index of Spiritual Growth is the amount of reduction that we can bring to this 90 per cent.

FLASHES OF MY LIFE 11: A boyhood memory -- The greatness of my father!

त्यागाय सम्भृतार्थानां सत्याय मितभाषिणां।
यशसे विजिगीषूणां प्रजायै गृहमेधिनां॥  I – 7.
tyAgAya sambhRRiitArthAnAM satyAya mitabhAshhiNAM .
yashase vijigIshhUNAM prajAyai gRRihamedhinAM ..

(I, Kalidasa,  am going to tell you )About those kings who amassed  riches only for the sake of munificence; who were reticent only for the sake of veraciousness; who were ambitious to campaign only for the sake of their upper hand and who got married only for the sake of meetly progeny...

Shloka #s 5, 6, 7, 8 of the first canto give you an areal description of the amazing qualities of the entire line of kings of the Ikshvaku dynasty, whoe stories Kalidasa is going to take up in the rest of the epic. Though all these four verses are of the same high quality and delineate the rare  greatness of the line of Ikshvaku kings, I chose even in my boyhood, this particular shloka as my favourite because of the first line of the shloka.  What impressed me even as a growing youth was the fact that they earned riches only to give them away and they spoke less in order that they may not slip into the sin of utterance of even a harmless falsehood.
But as my age advanced into adulthood and as the fifties of the last century opened up the process of birth control (though not the occurrence of a progeny) as a personal  scientific human achievement, the last quarter of this shloka –‘prajAyai gRRihamedhinAM’ -  began to connote  a still more wonderful quality of the Ikshvaku kings than the other ones listed by Kalidasa himself in shlokas 5 to 8. At my age 10 when my father taught me this shloka he could, naturally,  only translate it for me (in Tamil, as you can see in my boyish handwriting   in the first picture below  of 1937) as, ‘those who got married only for the prospect of begetting heirs for them’ – which meaning, naturally, could not have made any great impression, as a spectacular characteristic of kings, on a boy of ten!

Incidentally, look at the second picture below of another page of the same notebook of mine as a boy, and you will see the initials of my father (RV) with a date 12/12 of 1937.  This shows that he was regularly checking whether I had learnt and recorded what he taught me. Also note that side by side he was making me learn some grammatical peculiarities, as far as what concerns the particular shloka.  All this work of his, at the time when he  himself had an office routine as a Sheristadar (Senior Court officer in charge of records and bookings of cases)  in the Sub Court for which he had to be present in the Office from 11 AM to 5 PM  and to boot, he had the practice of daily morning river bath, and then a two hour puja and to cap it all he had to be both a mother and a father for me (since he lost his wife even  when I was not yet six). And again, particularly in 1937 he had to teach me every night, the (7th class lessons of) algebra and geometry that I had missed in school because I had just then been double promoted by St Joseph’s Sec. School, Cuddalore from class 6 to class 8 (I form to III form in the terminology of those days; in other words,  I was allowed  in 1937 to skip the short term of class 6 and the long term of class7). What a great father I had!  We should all pray that we should be born to such type of a  father in our next birth !

Wednesday, May 4, 2016



This is to announce the termination of the Soundaryalahari Digest,  with just one more post   to go. By the Grace, of Mother Goddess, of the Mahaswamigal and of my Guru, the task of translating in digest form, the Tamil Discourses of the Mahaswamigal on Soundarya-lahari, has come to a successful end.  The  study of these discourses and the work of ‘digesting’ them in the English  language, has been, though challenging,  very satisfying, spiritually. In this task there are several members – scores of them -- from the advaitin group, ambaa group,  advaita-L group and  Sadhana_Shakti group who have encouraged me and helped me constructively. There are also friends and relatives outside these groups who have done so. I stand indebted to them all. The entire set of posts has also been posted by me on my website.

I have a confession-like personal statement to make. It is important to note – I am sure readers of the digest would have noted this also – that the Soundarya-lahari discourses of the Mahaswamigal contain tons of material on the conceptual nuances of advaita, and on the practical application of it,  though on the face of it this may not have been anticipated by  all. Till around June 1 of last year I had no knowledge of Soundaryalahari  except a rote memory of three shlokas (Nos.1, 27 and 57) and a vague idea of their meaning. Of course I knew that Soundaryalahari was a great work of Adi Shankara, but I had never delved into it. Around the middle of May 2003,  when I just arrived in  the U.S. for a long stay, I started reading Ra Ganapathy’s book in Tamil  giving the discourses of the Paramacharya on Soundaryalahari. It was a few weeks before that,  I had started getting by heart the particular shloka # 17. Ever since, I have been repeating it and using it as a meditational aid,  with the specific prayer to ShrI MatA that She may bless me with the proper spiritual understanding that my great father would have been ready  to give me, but for the fact that I was not probably ready to receive.  In June I wrote to Shri Ram  Chandranji, Shri Sunderji and Shri Gummuluru Murthy-ji whether anybody on the advaitin  list  had covered Soundaryalahari with the Paramacharya’s explanatory viewpoints and whether I can take up the job. They immediately encouraged me. That started my marathon venture of this ‘Digest’. As you know the first post was on August 1, 2003 and by Her Grace, the final post (DPDS-81) is going to  be tomorrow,  the 29th of April, 2004.

In the course of this one year  I have grown – I think -- not only in my understanding of advaita but also in the ‘svAnubhava’ that the practice of seeing Her everywhere can give. Though all my life I have propitiated Goddess Meenakshi with Lalita-sahasranamam and Trishati several times, the symbiosis of nirguna-brahman and saguna-brahman that the Paramacharya has built into his Soundaryalahari discourses was only an academic matter for me until I ventured into this project. My own attitudes have changed. The irritation that naturally invaded me when things did  not go my way has all but reduced now. Shloka No.27 which had just been an ordinary component in my pUjA recitation for several years, has now been blessed by Her to become more comfortable. A select 27 shlokas of Soundaryalahari  -- namely, #s 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 12, 15, 16, 17, 20, 22, 23, 27, 30, 34, 35, 36, 41, 44, 57, 60, 66, 84, 97, 98, 99 and 100 --  along with the 36 shlokas of Narayaneeiyam, about which I wrote last year, are now, word by word,  in the mental picture most of the  the time. Seeing Her and Him in everything makes sense. By Their Grace, the implied discipline in the Gita shloka (VI – 30) ‘yo mAm pashyati sarvatra ..’  and in the verse (# 6) from the Ishopanishad ‘yastu sarvANi BhUtAni ...’ seems to be not beyond  practical reach.

I am indebted to all the members of these four groups  and to several personal friendships who have made this venture of mine into this project very  productive in terms of my ‘mumukshhutvaM’.


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.


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

FLASHES OF MY LIFE - 6: ‘ Tapas’ of Mathematical Research: 1956-62

‘ Tapas’ of Mathematical Research: 1956-62

I joined Annamalai University as Assistant Lecturer in Mathematics in August 1947. I served there for three years.  I came into contact with original mathematicians like Dr. V. Ganapathy Iyer and  Dr. M. Venkatraman. The idea of ‘Research’ took roots in my mind.  In 1950 I moved over to Thiagarajar College, Madurai as Lecturer. As an affiliated College, with a small department of mathematics and a very commonplace library it did not provide by itself any means of advanced study.  Dr. V Seetharaman was the Head of the Department. Looking at the stature of these PhD’s that I had come across, I developed a great urge to do some advanced studies.  Just two books were located in the library of Thiagarajar College that might be useful to me for advanced study. These were: Hardy: Pure Mathematics and Cramer : Mathematical methods of Statistics. In my three attempts at IAS examinations (in 1949, 1950 and 1951) I had chosen my third optional subject (besides the two regulars, namely Pure Mathematics and Applied Mathematics) differently each time. Once it was Statistics; another time it was Sanskrit and another time it was Advanced Indian History.  Each time I succeeded in the written exams but was flunked at the interview stage by being awarded the same 75 marks (out of 300) each time. Anyway the study of Statistics for this purpose gave me an impetus to choose Cramer’s book of Mathematical Methods of Statistics  for my proposed advanced study.  But the first few chapters of that book was all high analysis and that floored me.  It was this time (summer of 1953) that I had an opportunity to go to the Indian Statistical Institute, Calcutta for a two month period during the summer of 1953, for a so-called training in Statistical Methods.  The training was nothing but some practice in the operation of hand calculators. But what I gained was some good mathematical  grounding in Real Analysis, particularly Measure Theory (of which I knew nothing till then) through the lectures of Dr. R. Vaidyanathaswamy who was also there at the Institute at that time, fortunately for me.  So, later when I came back to my college in Madurai, Cramer’s book made sense to me.  But before I could make any substantial progress in the book, so many other things happened in my personal life  and career that the so-called advanced study was still (as late as  1956) only in the future-to-be.

In the year 1954 I  authored and also published on my own a text book of Trigonometry for the Intermediate classes of South Indian Universities.  It was received well but in the year 1956 the University of Madras scrapped its Intermediate  curriculum and programme and introduced a one-year Pre-University programme followed by a three-year degree programme.  This made me rewrite my Trigonometry book, include the portions of the degree programme, cut off the portions that went into the Pre-University and thus produce a three-year degree textbook of Trigonometry – which I did by around the middle of 1956.  My father was writing his magnum opus – Gitamritamahodadhi, in Sanskrit – but it was written by him in Grantha script and so when he wanted to send it to the Kanchi mutt it had to be transcribed into devanagari.  I had the good fortune of doing that job of transcription – in the process my acquaintance with advaita philosophy started –and this was finished by the end of 1955 and the mss. was sent to the Kanchi mutt, where it is still in their library.  Children Ravi and Balaji had serious recurrent medical problems, sometimes simultaneously, – which required hospitalization, several, several visits to the doctor, and consequent money crunch and what not. My father passed away in January 1956.  All these contributed to my complete non-activity in advanced studies in mathematics.  But my father had  always been  telling me: ‘Your better times will start, perhaps, after I am gone’! 

Usha was born in April 1956. Around that time I saw an advertisement that Govt of India was offering research scholarships to teachers, particularly in affiliated colleges, to move away on leave or lien to University departments and do wholetime research for three years. I applied for the scholarship at Annamalai University to work under Dr. V. Ganapathy Iyer . And I got it. By that time I had been earning around Rs.400 or so per month at Madurai which included both my salary and income from private tuitions.  But the scholarship that was being advertised was only Rs.200 and legitimately no engagement in other tuitions etc. will be allowed.  With a family of four children it was going to be impossible to make both ends meet. For a whole month around May-June 1956, we debated intensely among ourselves, very often with Mr.Uppili, my neighbour and colleague (of the English Department) and my father-in-law, who was visiting us at the time. I consulted my St. Joseph’s College Professor T. Totadri Iyengar, who had just then joined as Principal, Madura College.  He strongly advised me to take it, for three reasons: 1. In the ensuing decades no college teacher can expect to thrive without a Ph.D. 2. Dr. V. Ganapathy Iyer was internationally famous and to work under his guidance would be a rare opportunity. 3. I was only 29 then and so my whole future can be made in these three years.

But during our discussions at home, in addition to the paucity of living means that the experiment would entail, we repeatedly hit at the problem: What if, at the end of three years I had not done enough to merit a Ph.D?  At the time I was being known as an extremely successful teacher, I was already an author of one book, and was readying to become so of a second book and the tuition-world was opening out a volley of financial better times for me.   So am I throwing away the brightful present for a doubtful  and risky future? These discussions were going on endlessly.

That is where my wife Kamala came to our rescue and decided things for me! She had heard me speak very often how great a Ph.D. degree was, how knowledgeable Dr. Seetharaman of our department was, how Dr. Ganapathy Iyer with his D.Sc. was famous in the mathematical world and how just a B.A.Hons. converted into an M.A. was nothing before such great achievements.  So she decided that she will do all in her power and even beyond her power to help me get this Ph.D. for which the opening is just this scholarship.  All other problems of shifting the family to Chidambaram, running the household with less than half the present emoluments, -- all these challenges, she said, could certainly be met and the memories of that struggle, if any, will be buried in the past once I get my Ph.D. And that was her decision.  With the support of such a brave and far-sighted lady as she was (and is !) we all accepted her decision and coupled with Prof.T.T’s advice, I cast the die!

Thiagarajar College granted me a study leave without pay for three years and a lien on my lecturer’s post. I joined the Annamalai University as a Government of India Senior Research Scholar on September 1, 1956. I met my Professor the very same day at his house (Usually he meets his research scholars at his own home in a small room where he works on his research, without paper and pencil !).  Two books were suggested to me for a beginning: Titchmarsh’s Theory of Functions and Hardy and Wright’s Theory of Numbers. He told me  Keep reading these books; when you have doubts come to me. That was all. I came home, a house that I had rented in Chidambaram town, with the two books, picked from the Library.  But the moment I reached home on that day, I was down with fever and in a day or two it was diagnosed as chicken-pox.  So challenges for Kamala started the very first day. The chicken-pox spread to the three children, Padma, Ravi and Balaji in the next few days. Only after a month the life at home came back to normal. I was able to resume my duty only by the 15th of September or so..

Thereafter the routine was the same on almost all the days. I cycled to the Campus and spent most of the day at the Department or the Library, reading almost everything in Mathematics that I can lay my hands on.  It was like a poor man enjoying all the riches he could never have dreamt of.   Of course periodically, probably once in three or four days I go the Professor and ask doubts.  But I may go with a score of doubts, thinking that this might take probably a whole day.  But he would clear them in just ten minutes.  But what is more, any mathematics book that I may take to him, any doubt that I may ask, he will not only clear it but he would start telling me how that subject matter of the book develops, what its connection is with the rest of Mathematics, where it is applied and used and what problems are usually trending in that area. That area itself may be far removed from his specialization – Analysis – but that would not deter him.  In fact by such memorable interactions with him, in about six months, I became familiar with quite a lot of branches of mathematics, having read at least the first chapters of the main books in that branch of mathematics.  I would not know at that time how much good this was going to be in my future as a mathematician.

Well, in spite of all that excitement, I did not make any progress with respect to any problem of research.  Wherever I could lay my hands, whether it was Function theory or any other topic , whenever I suggested a problem and took what seems to be the direction of proceeding with the problem, in my discussion with him it turned out to be either fruitless or one which demanded far more techniques and understanding that I still had to acquire. At home I would spend as much time as possible to mathematics; in fact I would keep studying mathematics books and articles even while I had to be engaged in rocking my little child Usha in a cloth hammock when her mother was busy otherwise. Kamala was working very hard to see that the household runs within the means that the scholarship was giving me.  She did not even emgage a maid servant to help her wash dishes or sweep and clean the house, even when the maid servant was only asking a monthly salary of Two Rupees!  This is one remarkable instance of how she was meeting the ‘challenges’  that she knew she would face and have to meet!

A greater challenge was erupting for me! The Annamalai University would not recognise my Madras University M.A. (of 1947) as equivalent to the M.Sc that all Universities had just introduced in 1956; because it was said that the M.A. that I had got after a three-year honours was only by efflux of time and not by a course taken in a university or by an examination! – though all along since the twenties the Universities had been approving it as equivalent to a post-graduate degree. The system was introduced by Dr. A L Mudaliar,  following some British Universities of that time.  Anyway the bottom line was, the Annamalai University told me that I have to do an MSc by research and submit a thesis for M.Sc not earlier than one year from the time of my registration.  Since my registration for research was in September 1956, I was expected to submit an M.Sc. Thesis  by September 1957 and then work, in residence at the University, for at least two years to submit  my Ph.D. Thesis.  All this meant I had to quickly get some results of research done to merit an M.Sc. Thesis.  But so far, even as late as April 1957, I had no success.

In the meantime I had picked up enough French and German  at least to the extent I could read written Mathematics matter in these languages, though I would not pronounce or read them in French or German.  What I learnt to do, was to read them in English, by mentally translating the matter and this I could do so fast that somebody looking at me reading a paper in French or German would think I had the English translation right before me!  I picked up this competence in about six months and this helped me enormously. I began reading Bourbaki’s books (all in French) and also read almost the full book (in German)  of Uniformisierung by Nevanlinna and actually did my own translation of the book of 200 pages by the end of 1958. While all this was a great achievement, what the MSc requirement wanted was one or two research papers containing original results.

Well, matters were really discouraging.  My father had left in his many handwritten notes certain mantra tips for various kinds of redresses and benefits.  One of them was a pair of shlokas from the Valmiki Ramayana Balakanda very first sarga. The prescription says: If you repeat these two shlokas 256 times everyday morning facing east for six months you will become master of all learning.  I embarked on this project around January 57, but by the time I reached April  57 my tempo of studies  became so intense and time-consuming that I had no more any time for this ritual of mantra repetition.  Thus the six-month japa stopped almost midway.  I was able to submit a paper in the area of Entire Functions to the Proceedings of the American Mathematical Society. It got published in April 58. And this became my first of two papers constituting my MSc thesis, submitted to the University in September 1957 exactly one year after registration.

But now appeared the second challenge.  The result of the MSc thesis (sent  for evaluation to three Professors, Dr. Shah  in Aligarh, Dr. R.P.Boas  in Northwestern University, USA and to Dr. V. G. Iyer) took its own usual time and was made available only in June 58. Now the University stipulated that residence for my PhD work will be counted  only from this date and so I should put in two years of residence from this date.  But this would require me to stay in Annamalai University beyond the termination of three-year leave period from my College.  Thus started my second obstacle to my path to PhD.
In January 1958 the Indian Science Congress had its annual session  in Madras (now-Chennai) and Dr. V. G. was invited by Prof. A M Shah of Aligarh to take the leading part in a symposium on Riemann Surfaces at the Conference.  Professor conveyed his inability to attend the Congress because of health reasons; but he recommended me to Prof. Shah saying that ‘V.K. is competent to talk on Uniformisation of Riemann Surfaces since he has recently been reading Nevanlinna’s Uniformisierung, the only book available  on the subject and that too being in German’.  This resulted in my speaking at the Indian Science Congress session for one hour on a topic with which even the professors were only vaguely familiar and coming with the blessings of Dr.V.G., I had a great approbation at the symposium.

Throughout 1958 and early 1959 I had been studying among many other things, the new subject of Linear Topological Spaces from the only book  then on the subject by Bourbaki  and this one was in French. It turned out that this study prompted me and finally enabled me to generalise the several papers on Spaces of Entire Functions by Dr. V.G over the years 1950 to 59.  I was also able to generalise some results of Taylor and Halberg on state diagrams of linear operators on normed linear spaces to Linear Topological Spaces.  All this constituted three papers from me one in Mathematische Annalen (Germany), one in Journal of the National Institute of Sciences of India and one in the Journal of the Australian Math Society. And thus was I ready to write my PhD thesis incorporating these three papers.  But the beauracratic hurdles created history.

First I will not be allowed to submit my thesis until I had put in two years of residence after getting my MSc. So I will have to wait till June 1960.  But my three year leave from Thiagarajar College will require me to be back there by September 1959.  In the meantime the College had created a post of Additional professor of Mathematics, which would naturally go to the second in command in the Department. I would have got it if I had been there and I would get it now if I go there now. So a big dilemma bothered me as well as all my well-wishers, particularly my family. 1. If I continue to stay at the Annamalai University beyond the three years, what would be my subsistence? Who will pay me? My scholarship was only for three years. 2. If I do not go back now to my College, the new post of Additional professorship would go to somebody else. 3. But if I go back now, I cannot submit my PhD. Thesis and the very purpose for which I had been struggling for three years would be lost. And 4. If I do not go back now the lien on the existing post of my lecturership would itself  evaporate and I would be nowhere at the end of the fourth year unless of course the College extends my leave and lien. But will they?

Again I went back to my father’s notes and found a mine of a help. For consecutive nine days one is supposed to read the two chapters numbered 104, 105 of Ayodhya Kanda of Valmiki Ramayana (where Rama advises Bharata in a famous speech called ‘Rama-Gita’ not to insist on his request that Rama should immediately return to Ayodhya) three times each day at the end of one’s  daily puja and then each day feed four Pundits who know the vedas. This I did from April 9 to April 17 (1959), finishing on the Sri Rama Navami day. The effect of this ritual has been declared in my father’s notes as ‘sarva-kArya-siddhi’ (= Success of all Tasks). In this project full credit has to go to Kamala my wife who gladly took the trouble of feeding four Pundits with a specialised menu for nine days continuously and simultaneously manage  a family of five children plus her own father who was visiting us at the time!

Did a miracle happen? Yes, it did.  There was a Fellowship announced by the National Institute of Sciences of India (NISI) of Rs.400 per mensem for postdoctoral work for two years at any University in India.  I applied for it and I got it by about June 1958. But now the new dilemma was: Is a Fellowship for one or two years better than a sure professorship that was readily waiting for you now, or was the Professorship the better option? There were many elderly friends who recommended the latter option. I made a frantic trip to Madurai, met my Principal, the Correspondent of the College and over and above him the Founder-President, Sri Karumuthu Thiagaraja Chettiar.  After these interactions I had two assurances from them. They will extend my leave and lien by one year and the additional professorship will wait for me to take it up the next year!  Thus I continued in Chidambaram for one more year, but now as NISI Fellowship-holder. and in this fourth year I was a Mathematics free-lancer, in the sense,  I studied as many advanced books in varied sub branches of Mathematics as possible and gave myself a thorough base in the wide Mathematics Ocean! This foundation proved to be a valuable asset in my future career as a Professor of Mathematics. Of course I submitted my PhD Thesis around July 1960 and got the degree in due time.  I was pleasantly surprised and happy to know later that one of the three evaluators of the thesis was Prof. Dr. G. Koethe (Germany) himself, an international authority on the subject and the author of a seminal voluminous book in German on Linear Topological Spaces. This is the book which happened to be my bible for my later work on the subject.  My paper in my PhD thesis was quoted by him  in his second edition of the book, now available in English since 1964.

Just one more story and this will complete the tapas!  I was in Thiagarajar College, as Additional Professor in 1960 -62.  The ‘God’ of this story is Prof. Marshall H. Stone of the Chicago University, at that time. Prof. Stone needs no introduction to mathematicians, but here I have to say that Stone was one of the major ace-setters and founders of 20th century Mathematics.  He was also a connoisieur of Carnatic music and so he used to visit Madras, particularly, in the music season, almost every year. Every time he visited India he usually paid a visit to Chidambaram to pay his respects to Prof. V. G. Iyer, whom he considered as a mathematics ‘sage’. In 1962 March, he visited Madras University and the Dept. of Maths. under the headship of Dr. V. S. Krishnan, presented to him a five-day programme of mathematical presentations by research scholars and faculty of the Department. Dr. V. G. Iyer wrote to me to go to Madras and be present at these presentations and also meet Prof. Stone.  Accordingly I was there in Madras University for all the five days.  I could not get any chance to present my researches to Prof Stone, because of two reasons: I did not belong to the University dept. and secondly when I asked Dr. VSK to give me a chance he showed to me his schedule and pleaded there was no vacant slot for me.  On the third day or so Dr. Krishnan threw a grand party to Prof. Stone, in the lawns of the University.  During the party when I had the opportunity to talk to Prof. Stone, he enquired very caringly about Prof. V.G.’s health and asked me about what work I had done under him.  I mentioned just the word ‘Locally convex spaces’.  He immediately said : Why don’t you also present your work like these people are doing?  I told him there was no vacant slot for me according to Dr. VSK.  He immediately walked over to where VSK was standing and told him, Give Krishnamurthy the slot that you have fixed for me (Stone) tomorrow afternoon.  And that was done. The consequence was I had the opportunity to present my PhD work particularly that portion connected with locally convex spaces the next day. And to my pleasant surprise, it so happened that professors and other mathematicians from the city colleges were also present for the lecture, because it had been announced earlier in all the colleges of the city that Professor Stone was going to address the meeting that afternoon!  Well, at the end of my lecture, Prof. Stone who was sitting in the last bench stood up and gave me a standing ovation! It was due to his recommendation that year that I was able to go to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for a three-year assignment as a  faculty member.   The coming to Chidambaram from Madurai to do research was one turning point for the good in my life.  The next turning point was this my visit to the University of Illinois, followed by the visit of Kamala, with Ravi, Balaji and Usha in the next year to stay with me in 1963-65.  These two major events in my life not only shaped my life but rewarded the rest of the family with the exposure to the world outside of Tamilnadu and outside India and also accelerated the shape of things to come in their own lives.

Later, during the first week of 1989, Prof. Stone visited Madras (for the music season) and was staying in Woodlands Hotel. I was then settled in Madras after my retirement in 1988. I visited him at the hotel on the 7th January  and he asked me about my forthcoming book: Culture, Excitement and Relevance of Mathematics.  The original motivation for this book must be traced back to my fourth year of my research period in Chidambaram which broadened my acquaintance with Mathematics in no small measure. It was also sharpened by the Mathematics 'Cocktail' lectures by Professors organized by Maths students of BITS Pilani in the seventies. I described to him the book chapter by chapter and he listened with warmth and gave me a few suggestions.  My wife invited him for a lunch on the 10th at our home and he agreed.  But unfortunately on the 9th he breathed his last while at the hotel.  I dedicated my book to his great name. The book was published in 1990.