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.


Friday, September 4, 2015

FLASHES OF MY LIFE - 5 : 30 Indian Fulbright travel grantees once stranded in Milan

Thirty Fulbright travel grantees from India  stranded in Milan  - A 1962 real story!

This is  the story of how in my life I was once sucked into a certain leadership position that unexpectedly turned out to be not so enviable at the time, though at this distance in time I can talk about it with pride.

Ninety of us Indians travelled to the United States in August 1962 as Fulbright Travel Grantees. Our sponsors for the entire trip was United States Educational Foundation in India  (USEFI), Delhi. We had a four-day orientation in Mumbai (then called Bombay), at the end of which we were divided into three batches of 30 each, each batch having a different travel itinerary. However, in the first lap of our journey (August 1 to 9) by boat from Bombay to Naples we were all together. For the first four or five days many of us who were first time travellers by boat, had sea-sickness and due to the turbulent nature of the Arabian Sea  we really passed through an ordeal, added to which, the vegetarians had a testing time of finding the right type of food for them.  When our boat the ORANSAY passed the strait of Messina (between Italy and Sicily)  it was night time  and we had the exciting sight of Mt. Etna in eruption on the left and the city of Reggio on the right, beautifully lighted!. At Naples the batches separated and went their different ways. At Bombay itself at the end of the orientation, leaders of the three batches had been elected. I was elected leader of my batch. There were 25 men and five women in my batch. Most of them were headed for a graduate education in the U.S. Five of them including myself were going to take up faculty positions in different universities in the U.S.

At Bombay the USEFI gave our tickets upto Naples and further told us that at Naples a representative of the Council of Student Travel  (CST) (with HQ in Paris) would give us necessary money as well as tickets for the onward journey. Our itinerary was to alight at Naples, travel by train to Rome, and again travel by train from Rome to Rotterdam from where we would take another boat to New York.  We alighted at Naples at 7 AM 9th August. The student representative Mr. Papacio  and the taxis at his disposal were not prepared for our 90 pieces of luggage for the thirty of us. By the time we could find a bus for us to carry our luggage and reach the train station, our train had left. In fact this was a thrilling experience for me, because, 6 pieces of luggage were left behind, and so as leader of the group and with the help of Papacio, I searched for the pieces,  found them and then followed in a taxi with these six pieces, the bus carrying the others..  I had a proud feeling  then (!) –later the next day that feeling was going to change to a diametrically opposite position – that I was really managing a family of 30 members with 90 pieces of luggage! Finally we all arrived in Rome by a later train .

One Mr. Marconi, also a student, took care of us for the evening and night, gave us just one fourth of the money we expected to get, and the next morning put us in a train to Rotterdam. Only after he put us on the train we came to know that no reservation had been done for us but actually we had been shoved into a compartment which was completely reserved from Milan onwards. So all of us, thirty Indians along with 90 pieces of baggage had to alight in Milan, around 5 PM, completely stranded. When the train was departing from Rome Mr. Marconi had signalled to us that he would send a telegram to Milan station master and set matters right; but obviously this must have goofed up somewhere. We had no idea of when our boat was to depart from Rotterdam the next day. The Station Master at Milan tried to help us by suggesting that we could go by the next train, leaving around 11 PM but it would reach Rotterdam only late evening the next day and even in that train there might not be accommodation enough for so many of us!

In the meantime some in our group of 30 had several different opinions (some of them as crazy as you can imagine) as to how to meet this crisis situation. I could get constructive help and advice from four or five in our group of whom I cannot forget Dr. A.M. Vaidya, Dr. Manohar and Joseph Edwards. But it was an eye-opener to me that even in such an adult population of well-educated youths, about half a dozen or so were so upset at the turn of events as we left Rome, that we had to treat them almost as children lost in a mela. We four or five  who managed to keep our cool found it very challenging not only to control them, but we had also additional problems of fire-fighting since one of the ladies was in the habit of picking up quarrels with the men in the group. There were another two or three who were so argumentative that they almost threatened to break from the group and run away in Milan, as if they knew where to go.

We needed all our wits to keep them in the group with the rest of us. There were a few others who cared the least, whatever might happen; and so this was the other extreme, namely, total indifference! Well, in about 24 hours I learnt a lot, by the hard way of course, about the hazards of leadership! The five of us took an unusual decision to immediately contact the US Consul in Milan (whose office we learnt was within half an hour walking distance from the Station). As our good fortune would have it, though he had left the office  he promised to come back before  we arrived at his office. He made the necessary phone calls to Paris and Rotterdam and made some arrangements the exact nature of which was not then clear to us. But he asked us to go back to the Station and be ready to board the 11 PM train. He was really glad that instead of trying to contact the Indian embassy or Consulate, we chose to contact him, the US Consul – which, according to him, saved the name of the U.S. since we were travelling under the sponsorship of USEFI.

What actually happened at 11 PM was very Indian! The train was to start from Milan so as it was backing into the platform from the yard, we noticed that thirty towels had been used to ‘reserve’ thirty seats for us in the very familiar way in which we Indians used to appropriate seats in trains in those days when every seat was free for all!. On the train that night we had some funny experience. The half a dozen persons in our group who were crestfallen while we were stranded in Milan still did not cheer up!  There were beautiful sceneries; we were crossing the Alps. They would not even open their eyes and see outside! We reached Utrecht in Holland around 2 PM the next day. We had to change trains to go to Rotterdam.  There were only 15 minutes to move on to the right platform and board our other train.  But the Consul in Milan had anticipated all this and had arranged for several porters to transfer our baggages from one train to the other train.  When we arrived in Rotterdam at 4 PM or so,  the WATERMAN, our ship for travel across the Atlantic with 800 on board, which was scheduled to depart at 2 PM was waiting for us, 30 Indians.  In no time our passports and other documents were checked by a whole team of customs officials and within half an hour all of us were on board and the boat whistled off. None of us had any time to check whether our baggages had been uploaded on the boat or not but the Captain assured us that everything had been done, thanks to the excellent logistics that must have been charted out by the Consul at Milan.

The point of this story is our  leadership part  had been  put to the severest test during the fire-fighting and trouble-shooting and I must say this much in fairness to the story – the majority was always positive and helpful. Even the simple problem of loading and unloading the 90 pieces of luggage presented challenging leadership problems of coordination and discipline. Incidentally, the luggages were really very heavy, because we were all scheduled for travel by boat and we had to tranship them six times in two days ourselves, at Naples, Rome and Milan!  When we alighted in New York (August 20) we found only one of our 90 pieces was missing – that of my friend Edwards – but in about two weeks the CST traced it and sent it back to the owner.

Well, one more interesting fact! On the WATERMAN we thirty Indians gave a public performance to the other 800 passengers on India's Independence Day August 15. Programme included a vedic prayer, a recital from Gitanjali of Tagore, sAre jahamse acchA ( a chorus song); Tamil song vaNDADuM solaithanile; a Hindi bhajan;; Bharati's song: Aduvome paLLuppADuvome; a Gujarathi folk song; an English song and an Italian song; a film song 'kAhe gabrAye'; Nadasvaram  (from a tape recorder) of the song SingAravelane;  Janagana Mana. 


FLASHES OF MY LIFE - 4 : PraNAms to My Teachers on Teachers Day

My PraNAms to all my teachers over the years
On this Teachers Day : Sep.5, 2015

I prostrate at the feet of the following all of whom have shaped me
 in the respective time-periods when I had the  good fortune to be taught and influenced by them into what I am today:

1936-39 At St. Joseph’s Secondary School, Cuddalore: (I, II, III & IV forms)
·       My teachers of English, and Mathematics (Unfortunately I have forgotten their names.  Maybe I did not know their names even at that time of my studentship under them, my age at that time being 9, 10 and 11). The English and Mathematics teacher who was my class teacher in the I Form (equivalent to modern 6th std.) recommended to the Headmaster (a Jesuit Father) a double promotion for me at the end of the long term in the I Form.  On the Headmaster’s suggestion, my father (who was himself a B.A. Maths of around 1900) accepted to cover for me, at home, the portions of Maths, in particular, that I would thereby miss, -- for the remaining short term of the I Form and the long term of the II form  -- and accordingly I was promoted to sit in the II form for the remaining academic year.  So not only to those teachers of those times, but to my father also - who sat with me every night to teach me elementary algebra and practical geometry  that would have been covered  in the terms I skipped, because of this arrangement, which thus ended up by my clearing four school  levels in three academic years – I owe my PraNAms.
·       My Sanskrit teacher: I forget the name. The one thing his students may not forget may be the fact that his wife moved over to the movie-world (a rare event in those times and therefore talked about in hush-hush silence even by us, then not yet teen-agers) and acted in the film ‘Balayogini’ and probably other films.  But we, his students (in those days most of the class opted to sit in the Sanskrit class rather than in the Tamil class)  were captivated by his impeccable teaching Beginning Sanskrit and in fact every year his Sanskrit section became larger and larger than the corresponding Tamil sections. I doubly owe my PraNAms to him because the tree of Sanskrit knowledge that he planted in  me  is still flowering!
1939-41 At Town High School, Kumbakonam: (V and VI forms)
·       Sri S.R. Venkatrama Iyer, my mathematics teacher, who was the first to instil in me the rigorous logic of Euclidean geometry.  His teaching was so excellent, though he had certain mannerisms which we students used to mimick and have fun, that I can remember his characteristic teaching techniques even now.
·       Sri R. Satagopachariar, the Headmaster as also my English teacher. I remember learning the nuances of English grammar under him.  In the VI form, my benchmate in the two-seater bench in the first row was Sri M.V. Santhanam ( who later became one of the most famous performers of Carnatic music and got several awards including the Sangita Kalanidhi of Madras Music Academy)
·       My Sanskrit teacher  (again I forget the name!);
1941-42 At the Shorthand-Typewriting Institue, Kumbakonam
·       My teacher for Shorthand & Typewriting. This is the year when I had graduated from high school but not yet entered College, because of age restrictions. I can’t remember this teacher’s name but I remember his face vividly even now. He had a fascinating method of encouraging me to write accurate shorthand (Pitman’s), the faster and faster way.  His dictations for my training not only made me read more and more English writing.  By this time I had become a regular reader of almost every page of the Hindu and my getting habituated to reading English novels improved my English, which, in turn helped in the longhand reproduction of written shorthand. My teacher and his methods of training were a great inspiration! This shorthand learning was going to help me take down notes verbatim of all lectures of the faculty of English in the ensuing college days.
1942-44 At Government College, Kumbakonam
·       P.A. Sitarama Iyer, who taught me English Poetry. He was past the middle age.  But his enchanting way of teaching the love-poem – Isabella – of Keats is unforgettable. ‘Heard melodies are sweet; those unheard are sweeter!’ .  He used to say this very often.  And the melodious way he pronounced the last word ‘sweeter’ would carry us youngsters to the seventh heaven.  His questions in the examinations were very unusual;  but since I would have taken his lectures in shorthand, I would write answers to his questions using his own words uttered by him in the classroom and I used to get high approbation from him!
·       A.G. Narasimha Iyer , who taught me Physics.  A meticulous teacher with a mathematical precision!
·       The Physical Director (at that time) who taught us Trigonometry. Again I can’t recall the name. But even though he was only a B.A. in Maths. his clarity in teaching us from the book of Loney was perfect!
·       Professor Panduranga Ramachandra Rao who taught me Sanskrit. He taught us Malavikagnimitram. I learnt quite a lot of Sanskrit from his teachings. I also remember one day I got a scolding from him because during the class I was talking to my friend sitting next to me; he found that and ‘announced’ to the class that ‘Krishnamurthy will become an additional professor, because he is talking there when I am professing here’.  Great minds, when they make a statement, it will come to be true!   “RRishhINAM punarAdyAnaM vAcamarthonudhAvati”. Long after, in the year 1960,  affiliated colleges were permitted by the UGC to have, if they like, one more professor in their departments to be designated as  ‘Additional Professor’.  You will not believe it, as I returned in 1960 back to my Thiagarajar College, Madurai (where I had been lecturer for six years) in 1960, after being on study lien and leave  for four years, I had just finished my PhD in Annamalai University,  my College made me ‘Additional Professor of Mathematics’  in conformity with UGC regulations!
Another interesting quirk of good fate: Professor PR Rao’s  great-grand-daughter  and my grandson are now tied in wedlock  and it was almost by accident we discovered this student-teacher bond between me and the Professor  only just before the wedding in 2010!
1944-47: At St. Joseph’s College, Trichinopoly
·       T. Totadri Iyengar
·       S. Suryanarayanan
·       V. Ranganathan
·       G.V. Ramachandran
·       S. Srinivasan
All these taught me Mathematics in such a way that I became wedded to Maths. for the rest of my life. TT’s meticulous precision and clarity; Suryanarayanan’s obvious bubbling enthusiasm and pride for Mathematics; Ranganathan’s incisive teaching making even the dullest head comprehend; GVR’s impatient anxiety when he noted that somebody’s face in his class did not brighten up; and Srinivasan’s threadbare analysis of even the process of thinking – all these never forgettable characteristics of this excellent team of teachers did more service to the cause of Mathematics than even some routine research institutes in Mathematics had ever planned to do.
·       Dandapani: He taught us English in the first year of our three-year Honours. Particularly I remember his lectures on our non-detailed text: John Galsworthy’s Man of Property.  His lectures were spotless and proved to be an academic ‘treat’ for all of the 100 or so students in his class.
1956-60 At Annamalai University, Annamalainagar
·       Professor Dr. V. Ganapathy Iyer
My mentor, My Guide, My Guru, My role model of a mathematician-cum-human being. It was my good fortune to work under him.  Routine research guides (who are dime a dozen all over the world, particularly in India) keep half a dozen problems up their sleeve and make their student work on one or two of these problems for which they already know some directions for the solution and finally produce a Phd who turns out to be a ‘specialist’ in that little corner of the subject but cannot even venture to understand the ever-widening  nature of the vast area of knowledge outside his specialisation. Dr. V. G. Iyer was far far above this run-of-the-mill research guides. He made every student of his aware of a wide area of mathematics and made him wade through a lot of literature to concoct his own problem, be it within the area of specialization of Dr. V. G. or not, and then ‘guide’ him, and in this process of ‘guiding’, Dr. V.G’s own grasp of the student’s selected topic – which may even be totally foreign to Dr. V.G.’s acquaintance – would be so fast and accurate that even the specialists in that topic would be amazed! It was under such a Professor, by God’s Grace, I worked.  AUm shri gurubhyo namaH !
1927-56: All the time, ever with me:
·       Brahma Sri R. Visvanatha Sastrigal.
My father, whom I consider to be my guru for everything that may be good in me. From my childhood he educated me.  Even as a boy I walked along with him in the early mornings to the river for a bath followed by Sandhyavandanam and the like. And during the walk either we recited Vishnu Sahasranamam along with his contemporaries who walked along with us or he was teaching me how to read the stars and use some Sanskrit formulae for telling the time even at night by just a look at the stars. At home I had accompanied him on his daily Puja and followed his instructions.  On all possible days when he and I were at home, he had taught me vedic recitations by the strict traditional process. I have observed him how he reacts to various problems of family and secular life and the lessons and morals that I have learnt cannot be numbered. Many times I have sat in his Vedanta lectures.  These lectures of his, according to me, outshone any of the lectures of the great expositors, because in his case it was a hundred percent. original ‘juice’; no compromise, no mixture, it was a totally pure extract of the scriptures. Certain times I have helped him transcribe some of his original writings. Every time it was a process of education for me into the unknown world of spiritual knowledge, culture and heritage. … Well, I cannot list them all.  I have to bow and prostrate to him hundred times on this Teacher’s Day and thank God that He gave me such a Father!

yoginaM vishvanAthAkhyaM asmat-tAta-svarUpiNaM /
Atma-lAbhAt paraM laabhaM vaktAraM na kadAcana //
GItArtha-grantha-kartAraM shrIguruM praNamAmyahaM /
Yo.antaH pravishya me vAcaM dhRRitiM buddhiM pracodayAt //

Meaning: I bow to that great Guru of mine, who took the form of my father, by the name Vishvanatha. He was a Yogi, who never spoke of anything except the gaining of the Glory of the Atman. He composed the work interpreting the Gita.  May he be present in  my mind and prompt my intellect, fortitude and speech.