Sunday, November 10, 2019



They told me that he lived,
At the end of this road,
A man no more but a God.
His eyes they said,
Like fire did glow,
And that he seldom spoke.

For does not silence,
More than speech show,
The power of the divine.

My desire mounting,
I trudged along,
To seek solace and belong,
To his heavenly home.

The road so devious,
Like a serpent ran,
Over vales, hills and deserts,
Rivers, lakes and oceans,
But the end nowhere in sight.

Undaunted I pushed on and on,
I walked, I ran, I crawled, I swam.
Here a thorn did prick my feet,
There I was burned by the blistering heat.
Battered and bruised,
Yet not beaten, though tired,
I fell asleep.
And in that sleep there arose,
A wondrous scene.

I could see no road ahead of me,
I had reached the end,
For there lay instead, as I could see,
A dimensionless void.

And as I peeped, there arose,
A face that was mine.
Now I knew, that it is I,
I am the divine.

I awoke and found myself,
Staring at that scene,
Which till now, I had thought
Was the product of a dream.

Headlong I plunged,
Into the void below;
I found myself in a stateless state,
So I remain now.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

BOOK REVIEW - ROADS (A Journey with Verses) Vandana Bhasin & Smitha Vishwanath

BOOK REVIEW - ROADS (A Journey with Verses)
Vandana Bhasin & Smitha Vishwanath

Writing a review of a collection of poetry is a daunting task, for unless you try to understand the poet, a true interpretation of the poem and its imagery will not be possible. It is not a book where you can say I could finish it in two hours or a day and be done with it. It takes a long time for serious lovers of poetry to really get into the mind of the poet. I took a long time and felt guilty that I could not come out with a review fast enough, for I know that whether it is prose or poetry the author looks forward to the reader's reaction and it means a lot. And now here I was grappling with understanding the minds of two poets.

Smitha says ‘This book is serendipity’, a happy occurrence and hopes that the poems remind the reader of their own journey and inspire them to stay positive all the way. For Vandana it is ‘Like any other journey, all roads on this journey were full of exploration, learning, treasuring new relationships and rejoicing along the way’. She also says that writing helps to justify her existence and deepens her understanding of life.

Looking to the content of the book, the cover is very well-conceived and conveys the journey towards the distant horizon very much in sight but still a long way to go. The figure on the cover, that of a lady with her tresses gently blowing in the wind and walking alone on the road towards her destination (a surrealistic landscape) is both attractive and symbolic.

The structuring of the book into three broad sections – 1. Courage, Wisdom, Serenity 2. Love, Strength, Compassion 3. Joy, Hope, Gratitude, makes it easy for the reader to follow the trend of thought. If the book is a compilation written over the years by the authors separately and now arranged as per the sections indicated above, which I feel is the more obvious, taking into account that our thought processes do not occur in compartments, but are random, it is a massive effort of matching and compiling   and embarking together on this journey ‘Roads’.

A notable feature are the small passages, more in the nature of a preface at the start of each poem, help us appreciate the poet’s trend of thought conveyed in the poem.

Smitha comes out as more mellow and inclusive in expressing her feelings, Vandana is the quintessential votary of individual action. In the section on ‘Courage’-

Smitha writes in the poem ‘Hesitate and seal your fate’

‘Break the chains that hold you back
Shatter the walls that make you slack
Drop the baggage from your cart
It’s never too late to start.’

Vandana in her poem ‘I am the heroine of my life’ writes that she believes women are stronger than the dishonor meted out to them after the abuse, despite no fault of theirs –

‘Do not sympathize, for I am a phoenix
I have the prowess to recuperate from ashes
I will not relinquish, for I intend to revolutionize
I am not subservient to accede to sacrifice.’

In the section ‘Wisdom’ in the poem ‘Treasure the little pleasures’, Smitha writes –

‘Wisdom I gained, after a while
These were things that truly matter
The little joys that made me smile
All the rest, incidental clutter.’

Vandana in her poem ‘It’s all in the state of mind’

Ah! This pessimism is the toxin of my life
That has paralyzed the powers of my mind
If only I change my perspective
And just remember, ‘It’s all in the state of mind.’

A very interesting contrast comes out in the section on ‘Serenity’ 

Smitha in her poem ‘The sounds of the countryside’

‘A tranquility I feel in the countryside-
Nestled away from the chaos, the clamor of the city
In solitude, I gaze – no hurry, no rush; my time bide
A blissful serenity’

Vandana- in her poem ‘Solitude and Me’

‘In solitude, I seek my answers
When adrift in the labyrinth of life
Solitude show me light’

Both these poems captivated me since I have echoed similar thoughts in my poems ‘Tranquility’ and ‘Solitude’.

The poems are replete with each poet’s own individualistic view on the same subject matter. I would refrain from going into every poem and quoting for it would make this review too long. There is a strong connect with the father in two poems which as I age, I feel quite emotional and know that my daughters feel the same way –

Smitha in the small preface before her poem ‘Hush daddy! Don’t fear’ writes

– ‘Taking care of an ageing parent isn’t always easy. It’s a vicious cycle of guilt, duty, love and responsibility. As for the parent, there’s no refuting that ageing is an extremely difficult phase of life and a lonely journey.’

‘I watch you; a fraction of what you once used to be
Dread, loneliness and emptiness, in your eyes I see’

Vandana writes in the preface to her poem ‘A father’s shade’-

‘My father never told me how to live, but demonstrated it, by living it himself.
The pride they take in our success, is the most evident expression of selfless love’

I have read the poems and admire the sensitivity with which each poet (pardon me for not saying poetess for I do not believe in making distinctions. A poet is a poet) has penned her view of life and constant endeavor to understand and move towards the end of the ‘Road’.


I used to be amused when people asked me how come a banker has taken to writing, but I have seen a number of them doing just that. So, it was with a sense of joy to note that two young ex-bankers are poets. I am going to restrict myself to what they have to say about themselves-

Smitha Vishwanath
She understands change is the only constant in life. With a ‘Never say die’ attitude, her writing is one of hope and courage. When not writing she enjoys painting, reading and spending time with family and friends.

Vandana Bhasin
She believes in making life more meaningful and rewarding by consciously choosing happiness and optimism over monotony and pessimism. She has won numerous accolades including Shree Atal Bihari Vajpayee Award018byArpita Foundation and Women of Influence Award 2019 by Garnet and Gold.


I walked down the ‘ROADS’ with the poets and I see in the horizon a bright light, a light that would illumine in dispelling the darkness that we fear will enfold us. Thank you.

A book to open and read and reread, a possession that should find a place on your bookshelf.

Monday, November 4, 2019




This autobiography is a monumental work. To say that the book is intense will be an understatement as Raghunathan takes us through the trials and tribulations that life had chalked out for him: an extraordinary journey of courage, pathos, success and finally towards enlightenment. The book has several poignant  moments which turn out to be tipping points in the author’s view of life – from a theist to an atheist, agnostic and finally acceptance of a greater power that guides the course of an individual’s life, brings out the author’s inherent strength of character and integrity, ready to face the truth and accept change as an instrument towards understanding life in all its hues.

The essence of the book is brought out in the last few lines where the author acknowledges the role played by those people who were all along with him in this journey of life.  

“I have thus had many trysts with God, who was always leading me to where I needed to reach – Wisdom dawned on me: after all I was not the hero I believed myself to be. I was just a zero, enhanced in value by so many angels prefixed to me.”


Writing an autobiography is a very difficult proposition. Trying to recollect all that has happened in one’s life would be a gargantuan task. Yes, we do remember events that happened long ago and have been turning point in our lives, but it is very rare that we remember the minutest details; going back in time, the memories become hazy after a point. Another difficulty is that we may not remain true to the exact narration, in the process fill up fictional details. So, I was astounded by Raghunathan’s eye for details and going back in time till he was three years old. His description of his early years – born in a large lower middle-class family as one of eight children, he struggles through life through sheer grit and a belief in himself, qualities instilled in him by his father. The family bonding and the support they give each other throughout life without waning in intensity touches your heart. It is this bonding which keeps the author going in the face of adversity both in official as well as upheavals in personal life.

The one great influencer early in life his father, taught him how to look at life and these were values which he has retained throughout -

‘We fear the unknown. In darkness, since we do not know what is within, we fear darkness. But once we understand the reason for the darkness and the shadow, we do not fear them. So, son fear not the unknown; try to find out, understand and conquer fear’.

‘So, while belief in God should be with faith, belief should not be blind to rational thinking. Moreover, there is no absolute good or absolute evil.’

The major theme of the book is the author’s many trysts with God as he would like to term it, I found the following passages take us through the various stages of his search for a meaning in life –

‘Even as a child I was looking for God in key holes of doors, in pebbles of various sizes, among ants marching silently in a disciplined line, and the like.’

‘At this point in my life, my reverse search started. I started reading literature by rationalists criticizing the institution of God’

‘We went to Somnath temple. I did not worship God because I was cross with him after the demise of my father’

‘From that moment I became an unquestioning disciple of Maha Periyava. Theist as a child, atheist as a young man, God hating agnostic thereafter and then theist, my transformation was complete’

This transformation occurs following various traumatic events in his life. I leave it to the reader to go through the book and connect with the author through his journey.

A major portion of the book covers his years in the State Bank of India and the National Bank of Oman. The narration is interesting and exhaustive. These were the years that tested his mettle as a banker who trained and educated himself to be an authority in whichever position he found himself placed. Apart from his efficiency as a banker, what stands out is his ability to not buckle under even when there was pressure from superiors or politicians if he thought that the demand was not fair or unethical. A successful banker he bade adieu to his career on his own terms.

I could connect with his stint in SBI and the anecdotal references since I also served the same organization and in the same circle. Though I never had the opportunity to work with him, I knew him and was a distant admirer especially as a greenhorn who joined the bank six years later. Whether it was Baroda Industrial Estate branch or Jamnagar branch I knew what was going on.
But it is the smaller chapters tracing his growing up years till the time he leaves his job at the Madras Telex Exchange where he was a JE to join as a PO in the largest bank in the country, which brings to fore the molding of his personality – from an inquisitive childhood to growing up as a teenager harboring rebellious inclinations against social injustice and his early fascination with Napoleon and Hitler and the formation of the ‘Troika’ with two of his like minded friends all provide for an interesting read.

For me the most impactful chapters were the last two ‘Hibernation and Renascence’ and ‘My Many Trysts with God’ rounding up what is a fascinating look in to an individual who for all the steely exterior he presented is a very compassionate human being – a devoted child, a protective sibling, a successful careerist, a doting husband and a loving father.

The book by normal standards is voluminous and some may find the font size used does strain one’s eyes when continuously read. But I can understand the dilemma faced by the author and publisher from going in for a slightly increased font size for it would have extended the book by another hundred pages at least. The cover is well-conceived and looks good. The Kindle version of the book is also available.

The author’s language is scholarly and simple. This book is not to be rushed through. It is when we go through word by word that we experience the intensity of an extraordinary life.

In concluding I would like to quote the following lines from ‘Zen and the Art of Motor Cycle Maintenance’

You look at where you're going and where you are and it never makes much sense, but then you look back at where you've been and a pattern seems to emerge. And if you project forward from that pattern, then sometimes you can come up with something.


This is the debut book of Raghunathan. He has in the past contributed short articles to some journals and some periodicals on subjects of social relevance. He is an avid reader and an intrepid traveler and trekker. A successful banker having served with the State bank of India and the National Bank of Oman, now settled in Gurgaon and has rediscovered his passion for writing.

A book highly recommended not only for reading and relishing, but as an adornment on your bookshelf.

Monday, October 28, 2019


No one in the family knew her date of birth, even my elder brother who was born when she was only fifteen years old. Looking for birth certificates was out of the question, for I don’t think they were issued during those times. School leaving certificate did not exist and if they did, were not insisted upon, for most women did not study beyond the fifth standard and by that time, they were of marriageable age. My mother was married when she was only thirteen and left for her in-law's place soon thereafter.
The only thing certain was the month and the star she was born under. Birthdays were not celebrated not as per the date of birth, but as per the stardate which varies from year to year and the celebration was by way of puja at the nearby temple. As the date for delivery of my elder daughter was drawing close, she would say that she expected her to be born on her star birthday. She was nearly correct except for the fact that my daughter was born one day earlier. That was how I deduced that her star centenary falls on the 29th of October this year.
I do not know how we would have celebrated it had she been alive. Maybe a grand function where all relatives and friends would be invited and a special day celebrated and at the end of the day, get back to our routine. She’s been gone for the last eighteen years and the only time we remember her is during the Shradh performed on her death anniversary, which again is as per the Thithi and not the date, every year.
My mother was the eighth child of a large family of ten children. She had three elder sisters, four elder brothers, and two younger brothers. She was born in the Tamil month of Aippasi under the star Visakha in the year 1919. Her father Subramanian, also known as Subba Iyer was an Executive Engineer which in those days was a position of eminence. I derive my name from him and that’s why the surfeit of Subramanians (with quite a few on my father’s side also) in the entire family. Her mother Subbulakshmi was a strong and authoritarian lady, which trait was an absolute necessity to run such a large family. My mother was named Lakshmi (there was also a surfeit of Lakshmis). Along with the intelligence she inherited from her family, she also imbibed traits of humor in her character and which endeared her to everyone she met. But in later years there was a tinge of sarcasm that crept into her interactions. May be the effects of aging and the need for more attention
She was small of build, fair and good looking. Though her schooling stopped when she was in her fifth standard, in her later years it was her native intelligence that carried her through the rest of her life. She was a voracious reader and that was her window to the world. Married at thirteen, became a mother at fifteen, she accompanied my father with a year-old child to far off Delhi at the age of sixteen and widowed at forty-four. I can only imagine the extent of her courage and grit, moving away from a large family to start her life in an unknown place and unfamiliar people. But whenever she talked about her earlier years, she would always remember the good times and good friends. After a couple of years, my father moved to a new job in Bombay and she was equally at ease there with the added advantage of being with close relations- her elder brother and elder sister and their families. She used to recall how they all stayed together in the same apartment in Matunga and how supportive they were of each other. After five years in Bombay my father who had completed his Cost Accountant course joined the Hindustan Shipyard in Visakhapatnam and that’s where she spent the maximum period of her life till my father passed away in 1963.
I have written about both my parents in my book ‘I am just An Ordinary Man’. I have covered a significant portion in my blog post dated 12th May 2019, ‘Mother’s Day- A Tribute to all Parents. So, I have tried to avoid repetition, but I could not avoid but repeat a paragraph in that post and which is there in my book, for that, in a nutshell, brings out the person she was –
It is always our tendency to eulogize about people who are not with us anymore. I do not intend to do that for it would instill a sense of hypocrisy in my sincere efforts to paint her as the person she really was. It is only when we accept a person with all their weaknesses apart from extolling all the good things they possess, that we really love them. My mother also had her faults and this sometimes blinded her vis-à-vis relationships. I was predominant in her affections which sometimes clouded her reasoning where others were concerned. She was very forward looking and accepted many things which her generation could not, but still there was that part of her which refused to yield to perceived threats to her authority and possessiveness where I was concerned. This is only to highlight that she was very much human. But what stood out was her strength of character and her compassion.’

There will be no celebrations on her centenary. There will only be a silence filled with her thoughts and a prayer. For me paying homage to her through this post of mine I felt would be more lasting.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019


Five years ago, I wrote a post ‘Memories were made of these’ on my blog. I talked of all the things we hold on to, all those acquisitions over the years and which over course of time become irrelevant to our present needs. But even among these irrelevant things, there are some which we can never seem to part with.

Despite the fact that I have succeeded in dumping all my music and video cassettes, and technical books and books I know I’ll never read or have never read despite buying them (in retrospect I am unable to recall why I bought them in the first place).  I have now dumped my old mobile. But I did not throw it away. It has gone into that pile of other things I have been accumulating over the years – older mobiles, old cameras, watches, spectacles, and pens. Well, they stay for now. The day for dumping them may not be far off’. And what have I achieved in the process? More space in the house, less dusting. But these irrelevant acquisitions seem to come in cycles and dumping becomes a continuous process so there really is no end. But when we dump, we do throw away some memories, of happenings, places, and people.

There were two interesting comments on that blogpost, portions of which I am reproducing below –

‘You have really touched a raw nerve in many like me who have been 'collectors" all our lives, finding it difficult to part with them, supported by sentimental reasons and other rationalizations. We know that we are not going to carry them with us.’

‘We are all great collectors of these antiquated materials which we hope to sort out someday. Sadly, that someday never arrives. I wonder if there is any remedy to declutter the house of all these unwanted things.’

I titled that post as ‘Memories were made of these’ and not ‘are’ made of these? These things have been dumped and so have your memories along with them. And then one day it shall happen – You get dumped’.

Today I found tucked in one corner of my cupboard an album of old photographs. And as I glanced from photo to photo, I relived my life from a five-year-old, a schoolboy, as a youth in college, a married man and then as a father. There were other photos of my daughters, the process of their growing up, their marriage, the grandson and lastly me and my wife – me bald and she grey-haired. These photographs carry memories of the path I have traversed and now as I sit flipping through them, I realize that it is the only thing I can do. I cannot dispute the fact that it gave me great joy and healed some of the loneliness that seemed to be creeping in. But along with it was the realization that those moments can never come back. The path is only one way, forward.

I am quoting a passage from my book which is in the process of being completed-

“I remember from one of Camus’s books where he says ‘There is no such thing as great suffering, great regret, great memory.... everything is forgotten, even a great love. That's what's sad about life, and also what's wonderful about it". The ability to forget is what’s wonderful about life, for it starts the process of healing, though it’s sad that the path you had traversed, slowly fades from your memory. Life is a process and it flows like the river, in one direction only, but it does carry remnants of all that have been dumped into it. What remnants it carries forward, are ultimately dumped on its journey to the ocean.

It was in 2014 that I wrote 'I am just An Ordinary Man' my first book. Five years have passed and when I opened the book to reread which I do sometimes I came across a passage which is as relevant today as it was then-

'As I sat in front of the computer trying to recollect and go backward in time, I found that I was enacting the role of Krapp (from the play Krapp's Last Tape. It’s a late evening in the future and its Krapps sixty-ninth birthday as he reviews the recordings, he had made on his tape recorder, thirty years ago, when he was only thirty-nine. The stage is set with Krapp sitting inside his room lit only by a light above his head with the shadows behind him. The theme moves back and forth, a review of the past and the present. For me what was an intellectual discussion four decades ago was a reality now. I had my computer where I had recorded all that I felt and all that I have been feeling right now, whereas Krapp did that on his tape recorder and stored them on spools. The world has moved on but not the reality of existence.'

In the play Krapp allows the tape to play on until the final curtain. Krapp’s spool of life is almost wound, and the silent tape is both the time it has left to run and the silence into which he must pass.

As one grows older, he seeks more and more solace from memories of a life that had been. This is inevitable as loneliness creeps in. The more he gets immersed in it, the more difficult he finds getting out. Nostalgia in the days gone by was considered a neurological disease. But views have changed. 
There was an article in the New York Times dated 8th July 2013by John Tierney where it says that Nostalgia is not such a bad thing at all it says –

“Nostalgia has been shown to counteract loneliness, boredom, and anxiety. It makes people more generous to strangers and more tolerant of outsiders. Couples feel closer and look happier when they’re sharing nostalgic memories. On cold days, or in cold rooms, people use nostalgia to literally feel warmer.

Nostalgia does have its painful side — it’s a bittersweet emotion — but the net effect is to make life seem more meaningful and death less frightening. When people speak wistfully of the past, they typically become more optimistic and inspired about the future”.

Long ago I wrote –

Something stirred,
Swept away
Three decades of dust.
Bygones had come back,
To stay.
That same stare,
Reminded me of
The roses in the garden.

Leave me, let me be,
Content in my phantasy.

No doubt life is a process but we do seek moments of happiness by reflecting on the past, but these are transient. Clinging-on makes it all the more difficult to move forward

Look around you the reality is here and not back there.

Sunday, May 12, 2019



It is very satisfying especially as you grow older to receive greetings and wishes from your children on some special days during the year – birthdays and special days (now earmarked as Father’s Day and Mother’s Day clubbed along with the many other special days). It is as if we need something to celebrate everyday and that is good, for they help us push away the looming reality of loneliness as we age, more so during this passage of evolution, where relationships lie scattered over large distances  and when closeness is not within arm’s reach and a hug is hard to come by. No one is to blame for that is what we have chosen.

I remember that I never wished my mother a ‘Happy Mother’s Day’ when she was alive as I don’t remember such a day being celebrated two decades ago. Maybe I was not aware and it never entered my mind that any day other than her birthday is to be celebrated (we do it for everyone in the family). But looking back I now realize that there was no need for that as she stayed with me till she passed away. As such every day was Mother’s Day. For her everyday must have been a celebration, for what could be better than having your close ones physically close also.

Every year on this day I am reminded, though it does not mean I do not remember. And this year especially so when I realize that it is the centenary of her birth. She did live a long life and passed away at the age of eighty-two soon after the earthquake hit Gujarat in January 2001. She passed away in the May of that year after suffering a stroke and being bedridden for two months. She did not suffer much and we are thankful for that.

It is always our tendency to eulogize about people who are not with us anymore. I do not intend to do that for it would instill a sense of hypocrisy in my sincere efforts to paint her as the person she really was. It is only when we accept a person with all their weaknesses apart from extolling all the good things they possess, that we really love them. My mother also had her faults and this sometimes blinded her vis-à-vis relationships. I was predominant in her affections which sometimes clouded her reasoning where others were concerned. She was very forward looking and accepted many things which her generation could not, but still there was that part of her which refused to yield to perceived threats to her authority and possessiveness where I was concerned. This is only to highlight that she was very much human. But what stood out was her strength of character and her compassion.

In my first book ‘I am just An Ordinary Man’ there is a passage that highlights what she meant to me. I thought it fit to reproduce it here –

My father was with me for the first thirteen years of my life, my mother stayed for thirty-eight years more, till she passed away at the age of eighty-one. My two daughters literally grew up on her lap. As I said earlier, my brother and sister were much older and she felt more comfortable staying with me and see my children grow.
When my father died, she was left with the responsibility of bringing me up and looking after my grandmother. I remember that day when he died, she held me close to her as if to say I am there to take care of you. And she did, selflessly. Though she did not have much of an education, she was very intelligent and a strong-willed woman. Even that day in the midst of all her sorrow, she was clear as to what she wanted to do. She decided that she would move to Madras and set up house so that I may complete my schooling there.

Not that my mother was without her faults; she was very possessive. I guess this happens when all the attention is focused on one child. Even though that was not the case, still I was the one she concentrated on, as both my brother and my sister were married of early. She always wanted to have the primacy in the house; after all it was her son’s place. My wife being a very quiet and a well-mannered person there was not much of a problem. But my mother would withdraw into herself sometimes and made sure that we knew she was feeling hurt and ignored. Despite these minor frictions she did love my wife and never failed to praise her in front of others’.

Few years ago, I read a book ‘Being Mortal’ by Atul Gawande, a review of which I have posted on my blog post dated 15th June 2015. This book disturbs you. It lays bare the reality of aging and increasing dependence. In the chapter ‘Dependence’ Gawande says “It is not death that the very old tell me they fear. It is what happens short of death – losing their hearing, their memory, their best friends, their way of life.” He says we do not think about the eventuality that most of us will spend significant periods of our lives too reduced and debilitated to live independently. As a result, most of us are unprepared for it. With the changes in the family structure gravitating towards splinter groups the isolation and dependence of the aged have become acute. 

You may wonder what this has to do with my celebrating ‘Mother’s Day’ and why I should write all this. How does one wish a mother who is no longer with us on the physical plane? I remember her and have internalized her memory and I am happy I could be there when she left. In this context I reproduce another passage from my review of the book ‘Being Mortal’ –

In the beginning of the book he talks about his grandfather who lived till the age of a hundred and ten years and ultimately passed away surrounded by a large family in the midst of the people he loved and in his home. He says “My father’s father had the kind of traditional old age that from a Western perspective, seems idyllic” He continues 

“But in my grandfather’s world, how he wanted to live was his choice, and the family’s role was to make it possible”.

Yes, now as we look around us, this seems idyllic even in the Indian context. A visit to an old age home will only open our eyes to the many parents who have in the twilight of their lives are in a home away from Home. Despite all the facilities available now (not all are fortunate to end up in such facilities) there is still that tinge of sadness and loneliness which they carry with them till the end.

This post of mine is not only a celebration of a special day for parents who are long gone and those still there but a long way from their near and dear ones, but a way of reaching out to those who at some time will have to wake up to the reality of becoming an island as they age.

Can we do something about this?