Thursday, February 9, 2017


The pillar where my father breathed his last


It has taken me fifty four long years to revisit and recapture what I had left behind. I left as a thirteen year old, leaving behind a childhood and a father whose ashes I had gathered and immersed in the Bay of Bengal. The 28th of March 1963 is forever etched in my memory, when I was rudely awakened from what now appears as a dream. This trip was in the nature of a pilgrimage primarily, something I planned two years ago when I was in Hyderabad, but was prevented from doing so as Visakhapatnam was felled by a severe cyclonic storm then. This time around it was Chennai that bore the brunt of a cyclone. 

As I alighted and stood on the railway platform, I looked around for familiar sights – the bookstall (if I remember right it was Higginbothams) from where I had procured my huge collection of Illustrated Classics books, my father making sure to get me two or three books every time we visited the station and that was pretty frequent, what with a host of relatives travelling between Madras and Calcutta. Vizag was midway and as the train from Madras would arrive around lunch time (similar being the case with the train going to Madras) it was taken for granted that home-made meals would be made available to them. My parents never failed to fulfill their expectations. I remember standing on the platform watching as the train chugged in. The steam engine has never failed to fascinate me. It looked so alive huffing and puffing as it pulled the coaches behind it and then letting of a sigh as the steam was released. Well I couldn’t find the bookstall.
The Street where we lived
The old city Main Road

I was caught in a time warp. I was still a thirteen year old who had pressed the button on the time machine taking me fifty four years into the future. Vizag was now a big city with broad roads and bustling crowds. The guest house where I stayed was in a sprawling residential colony which once upon a time was a picnic spot. I would not have been able to navigate myself to the old part of the city where we had resided if not for the landmark of the temple of what was once a village deity, now grown big, blocking the entire road where it was situated. 
The Kanak Mahalakshmi Temple

The Kanaka Mahalakshmi temple was my first destination from where I traced my way to the street where I had grown up as a small boy. The street appeared to have grown narrower with the old buildings having been replaced with two or three storied dwellings which seemed to have encroached on to portions in front of them. Anyway I was not sure for may be the street had appeared wider and now when I saw it with eyes that had grown five decades older it seemed narrow. Well there was no one who could help me trace out the inhabitants or rather the landlord’s family of my old dwelling, though I ultimately did succeed by tracing the shop on the Main Road of the old city, thanks to the alertness of my wife who had spotted it while we were driving down. The name was same though the location had changed. What now followed was an emotional reunion after fifty four years. The landlord’s son was eighty four years old now and he had last seen me as a lad of thirteen years.

The Seetha Ramaswamy Temple

For me my pilgrimage was completed when I visited the Seetha Ramaswamy Temple situated just behind the street we had stayed. This was where my father had breathed his last. As I stood in front of the pillar against which my father had sat leaning while listening to the discourse on the Ramayana the images came back vividly. I am quoting from my book ‘I am just An Ordinary Man’ –

My childhood is filled with the memories of a father, a father who fills the major portion of this period. His death at the age of fifty three due to a heart attack was the first transforming moment.

I have suppressed these memories as it brings back the last moment of my father’s life. I was sitting in the temple where a discourse on the Ramayana was in progress. I was sitting on the other side directly facing my father when it happened. It was all over in an instant. A brief contortion of the face and then he slumped down onto the floor. He was not sick and he did not suffer in death. However for us, it was so sudden. Later, others would console us saying that he was blessed as he died in a temple while listening to the holy book of God. Well how did it matter, to us he was dead and lost forever. I remember running to our family doctor’s place, all the while praying that my father was still alive. I returned as the doctor was away, but they had already shifted my father to the hospital where he was pronounced dead.

That day as I stood near the funeral pyre, a boy of thirteen, to perform the last rites, since my brother elder to me by sixteen years could not reach in time, something happened. My tears dried up and as I lit the pyre the finality of it all hit me. I grew up that day. I understood what death was all about.

I stood there for some time allowing all those memories to sink in and in a manner allowed their exorcism. Later my wife told me that I appeared upset, may be yes.

St. Aloysius High School

The next stop was my school St. Aloysius High School where I had studied from the Nursery class till the first term of Ninth standard – my entire childhood. The school was as it was structurally, a magnificent medieval monument, but I was saddened by the fact that the entire sea front at the back of the school was now lost to the ore handling terminal which had also brought with it ecological inconveniences to the school. The big Banyan tree behind the sports ground, on whose branches we had spent many a time was now no more, having given way to the ore conveyor belt (though fortunately enclosed). We had time to go through the school accompanied by one of the teachers, peeping into my old classrooms and the Chapel. I met the present Principal and Rector and introduced myself as one of the favorite students of the first Indian Rector and Principal of the school – Father Cherian. It was his recommendation that got me admitted to St. Patricks High School in Madras in the middle of a term, when we shifted there after my father’s death. I was informed that the Government wanted the school to shift and declare the present building as a Heritage site. It was the concerted action taken by all the teachers and the school administration which ensured that the school remained where it was.

Though we stayed for three days covering the city’s various beaches hills and temples, the first day completed and fulfilled what I had been aching to do for many years –a trip down memory lane and a childhood recaptured.