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Monday, 22 July 2019

The Accident


O! God! What kind of sound is this? A thousand war planes flying together? Or continuous thunders and lightening? Or my head being crushed between two huge hammers? Why this horrible burning sensation? Why is my head paining so terribly? Why is that I can’t see anything? Why this pitch darkness? Where am I? What is happening to me? Why this pain all over my body?

The terrible and unbearable sound continues.

I shout, ‘Please stop, please stop.’

Oh, my! What happened to my voice? Why am I not able to shout?

Let me try again, ‘Please stop.’

No, no use. Why does no voice come out?

Why am I feeling sleepy again? I woke up just now only. Why do I feel so tired? Where am I?  What has happened to me? What has happened …? What has …? What …?

** ** ** ** **

Why this darkness? Is it night? Why can’t I feel my hands and legs? Why is this excruciating pain all over my body? Where am I? What happened to me?

Many questions, but no answers.

The sound which I earlier felt like a thousand war planes has now come down drastically. Oh, the sound was of two people quarrelling loudly. One man was accusing another of doing something wrong for which the former had been held responsible. Who are these people? Why can’t I see them?

‘Doctor’, that is yet another voice, and it is a female voice.

‘Yes?’, a different male voice.

‘Doctor, can I see him now? I am his wife,’ the female voice.

Oh! So this is a hospital. I am in a hospital! Then why do they not do something to reduce my pain?

I tried to call out, ‘Doctor’.

But the words dried up somewhere in my throat.

How did I end up in the hospital? What is my name? Who am I?

‘All right’, that is the voice of the doctor. ‘Only for a few seconds, okay? He has been gaining and losing consciousness off and on. So please don’t disturb him.’

‘Yes, doctor’, the female sound. This time the voice cracked, as if she was crying.

Whose wife is this lady? There may be other patients in this room. Is this a room? Or an ICU? What is going on? Why am I not able to remember anything?

Footsteps! They are coming closer. Who could it be? The lady who said she is the wife of a patient? Maybe I will ask her who I am, if the footsteps pass near me. The steps came closer and stopped near me. A few seconds must have passed. I wanted to talk to her. Suddenly I felt something on my hand. It is a hand! A hand touching my hand! Oh, God! I can feel the hand. So warm, so smooth. Whose hand is this? And why is he, or she, touching my hand? Delicately caressing? Is it the lady who said she was the patient’s wife? Is she my wife? She has to be. Otherwise I would not have felt so much love, care, affection, and warmth in the touch. Maybe she will tell me something about me. I felt a few drops of warm water falling on my hand. Warm water? Those are probably her tears. She must be crying. Yes, I can hear the sobs.

I shouted, ‘please talk to me, please say something’.

She didn’t hear my voice. She didn’t notice my tremendous effort to talk to her or to shout.

I tried to clutch her hand. But I could not move my fingers.  I tried hard to remember again. And again. No, nothing. Nothing comes to my mind. I can’t think of anything.

O! Lord! How I want to see her, to look at her face. Maybe I will be able to recognise her. Maybe I will recollect something about me. But I cannot see anything. And I am unable to speak.

I heard the doctor’s voice, ‘Mrs Verma, let him rest, please ...’

She slowly and delicately moved her hand from mine. I shouted, ‘No, no, do not go away. Please stay, please stay.’ Nobody heard me. The footsteps slowly retreated.

A few seconds later I heard the doctor again, ‘Look, Mrs Verma, you need to be brave. Very brave, indeed.’

‘Doctor’, my wife said (yes, now I can confidently say she is my wife), ‘Tell me something. His condition frightens me. You can tell me the truth. What do you ... What ....’

Her voice choked too much and she could not speak. I only heard her sighs.

‘All right, Mrs Verma. I was waiting for your son to arrive. But maybe I should tell you. You need to be calm. You understand that the accident was terrible. It is a miracle that he is still alive. All the other occupants of the car died on the spot. His condition is, however, very critical. Very very critical. Both his legs and left hand have multiple fractures. His spine has been fractured at a few places. His skull and brain have serious injuries, too. His heart and liver are in a very bad condition. If you believe in God, please pray for him.

‘Let me also tell you that even if he recovers after many surgeries and several months of hospitalisation, he may still face a number of problems. He may not be able to move, he may not be able to see, or speak, or hear, or even think. He may just be in a vegetative state. I am not trying to frighten you. I am only warning you what to expect.’

Oh! God! Is the doctor talking about me? Am I in such a serious condition? Is that why I am not able to see? Is that why I can’t talk? He was talking about an accident. Did I meet with an accident?

There was continuous sound of blowing the nose.  I knew she was crying. And then there was silence. Utter silence. Has she left? Did the doctor send her away? I don’t want her to leave. ‘Please don’t leave, please, please.’ I tried to shout, tried to move, tried everything possible to attract their attention.

I don’t know if I succeeded. But I heard the doctor saying, ‘Wait, Mrs Verma, just a second.’

Again sound of footsteps approaching. The doctor’s touch, on my face, on my hand, and then the cold metal touch everywhere. Must be the stethoscope.

After a few seconds I heard his voice again, ‘Mrs Verma, he is conscious now. 

But I don’t know if he can see you, or hear you, or talk to you. If you want to spend some more time with him, you may do so, but remember, don’t tax his brain too much.’

A few seconds later, she was once again beside me taking my hand in hers. This time I could also feel her warmth on my face. She must be caressing my face. 

Or is she kissing me? So soothing, so loving.

She whispered, ‘Sushil, I don’t know if you can hear me. But please come back. Please don’t leave me alone. I won’t be able to live without you. Sushil, I love you. Please stay with me. Please don’t go away. Please, please.’

Her touch, the caressing, the love, the affection, the vibration, spread all over my body. My pain seemed to melt away. I felt weightless. I was floating like a feather. Even a light breeze could blow me away. I hoped she would stay with me forever. And ever. And ever.

I don’t know how long she stayed with me.

Why am I suddenly feeling hotter, and hotter, and hotter? Why has it become more difficult to breathe? Oh! God! What is happening to me? Am I already put on the funeral pyre? I wanted to shout, ‘I am alive’. Or am I drowning in the ocean? Why can’t I breathe? Somebody, please, please help me.

Where is my wife? Where is the doctor?

I tried to run away from the pyre, but my legs wouldn’t move. I wanted to get out of water, but I could not swim. I tried to get some air which was not coming from anywhere. I struggled as if my life depended on it. But I could not escape from the fire which wanted to consume me or the water which wanted to drown me.

I heard a feeble sound in panic, ‘Doctor, doctor.’

That must be my wife. But why is she shouting from so far away? Wasn’t she sitting near me? And why is her voice so feeble? I could still feel her hand in mine. Why is she not pulling me out of the water? Or from the pyre?

I heard some frantic movements. Maybe they are coming to help me. To take me out of the deep water so that I can breathe once again. Maybe they will take me out of the pyre, too, so I won’t burn. Suddenly the pain, that had subsided when my wife was with me, returned more and more furiously. All over the body. I frantically tried to get some air, which was not coming at all.

The pain...

The heat...

The breathlessness...

The agony...

I could sense frantic movements of several people. Why are they not doing anything? They are touching me ... my hands ... chest ... eyes ... But why are they not pulling me out of the water? Why don’t they pull me out of the pyre?

Where is my wife?

Please stay with me...

Please pull me out of the water…

Please don’t go away...

Please pull me out of the pyre…

Please don’t go...

Please don’t...

Please...

Pl…




Sunday, 21 July 2019

My first experiences


[Published in The TERI Times, October 1998]

I joined TERI on 8 March 1983. There was nothing to be ‘impressed’ about TERI when I first joined, except Dr Pachauri’s pleasing personality and Dr Dilip Ahuja’s simplicity. (Many people tried to emulate Dr Pachauri’s style of beard, thinking that his personality rested on it, like Samson, the legendary Bible character, whose strength was contained in his hair.)

The accommodation: Our office was a total of two rooms, a corridor and a TTO (toilet-turned office – something like an actor-turned politician!) at the India International Centre. There were 12 employees in all, including myself – The director, one Consultant, two Fellows, four RAs, one stenographer, a clerk, a driver, and I. The director (you know who), Dr Leena Srivastava, Dr Ranjan Bose and Prabhakar Thomas are still proud employees of TERI. While one room was used by the director as his office, the attached TTO was used by his secretary, Ms Anupam Chopra. Mr K.S. Subramanian, Consultant, and Dr Dilip Ahuja and Dr D Bhattacharya, Fellows, occupied the second room. The rest – the RAs and I – were accommodated in the corridor.

My first assignment: Typing out six copies of four reports (about 150–200 typed pages each) on a hired faulty typewriter was my first assignment! I had to struggle with the hard and unfriendly keys of the typewriter for those six copies. In the previous office, my job profile was to independently handle the subscription and distribution of two international journals, and here I was typing out reports throughout the day! I felt bad and wanted to return to my previous office.

The dream machine: One day Dr Dilip Ahuja (he is now at the GEF Secretariat, Washington, D.C.) told me that there was some kind of a machine called the Word Processor that had a keyboard and a screen and you could actually watch the alphabets as you typed. You could make corrections on the screen itself before taking the printouts and could also store the comments in the memory. Incredible, it seemed! “Is it true that there is a machine of that kind?” I asked him. “Yes, and you will get one of the same kind in the future”, he replied.

The first electric typewriter: The first electric typewriter that TERI bought was the Facit Electric Typewriter that had the facilities to use options like bold and centre and was imported from Sweden. The cost was an astonishing figure of Rs 51,000!

The first computer system: The first time I saw a computer was when TERI bought the Pragati system. With the availability of six monitors, only six people could work on it at one time.

This was after we moved from IIC to 90, Jor Bagh in August 1983. A few more people had joied TERI by then. Dr Ashok Gadgil was one of them. An expert on computers, Dr Gadgil was the one who negotiated the deal with the company, recommended the configuration, etc. And it was he who taught us how to log in, how to insert a diskette (the 8” ones), Wordstar and other applications. I still remember the day he told, “You can do anything to the computer and it will not break down. You can hit hard on the keyboard, you can give wrong commands, anything. So just don’t worry! But if you insert the diskette upside down in the drive, it may collapse.”

Confidential: Opportunity to view intimate affairs of couples visiting Lodi Gardens!

The farthest end of the IIC merged with the backside of Lodi Gardens. A secret rendezvous for couples who were unaware that their behind-the-bushes activities were no secret to us. IIC guards also had a nice time viewing the romatic scenes. One day Dr Pachauri opined, “Oh! You have got nice scenes to watch whenever you get bored!”  


A four-act play



[Published in The TERI Times, December 2001 and January 2002 in two parts]

Act one:

I was studying in 7th standard. Our drawing master wanted one of his plays to be staged during the school annual day functions. After an initial screening he selected a few students to act in the play. I was one of them. The play had six acts in all. I had two appearances, one in the first act and the other in the last. In the first act I was a student. I fail in the examinations and run away from home after being scolded by my father.  I return in the last act (supposed to be many years later). I still remember that I was wearing the same shirt that I had worn while running away from home! While delivering the dialogue, I found that all the empty places where I could look during the first act (so that I didn’t have to look at anybody’s face in the audience!) were all filled up and I got so scared!

I enquired of my sister about father, and was told that he had expired. Unable to bear the shock, I become unconscious and fall on a chair. My sister, acted by a boy of my class, immediately ran to the green room, brought a glass of water and splashed on my face. It was a cold night, and I could not bear the sudden shock (this was for real) and I giggled. During all the rehearsals (s)he was using an empty glass and this time (s)he wanted to make it real! The audience must have really enjoyed the unconscious man laughing, minutes after hearing that his father had expired! In the next school working day, I heard that our producer-director-playwright master fumed in the other section and said that he would like to kick me so hard that I would reach my home, which was in another village, flying! (A more detailed of the account can be read here)

Act two:

I was, however, not disappointed with my performance. When I reached the high school (this was another school), I was again involved with the annual day functions and another play. This time, however, nothing extraordinarily happened. The hero of the play was a 60 year old school teacher and I was the ‘leading lady’, his 55 year old wife! We were later invited to stage the same play in a nearby school. The only memorable thing at this second instant was that being a privileged lot (specially invited artistes, you see) we had free and unlimited access to hot black coffee and vadas and none of us missed the rare golden chance.

Act three:

The third time I acted in a play was after my school days. We have a small temple in our village and the managing committee decided to celebrate the temple festival for the first time in a grand way. The easiest and cheapest way was to stage a play enacted by locals. So some of us got together, selected a play and started rehearsals in the large courtyard of a nearby house. I acted (again!) as the 55 year-old mother of two grown-up boys, who quarreled regularly. This was also staged for a second time, in another nearby temple.

Act four:

The fourth time I acted was a few years later. I had already secured a job in Delhi and had once gone home on leave. The festival in the temple in which we had first staged a play was falling the next day. A couple of hours after I reached home, my old acting friends came home to invite me to watch the rehearsal of the play they were staging during the festival. I was thrilled. They had come home to personally invite me! Suddenly I was the most important person around! I was on top of the world! I proudly accompanied them.

On reaching the venue, the trap was revealed. The lady who had promised to act as Kunti (they were staging Karna), suddenly had some problem and had informed that she would not be able to do the play. Who could they think of replacing that lady with, other than me, the eternal mother! We had time only for one rehearsal before the staging of the play. They were very kind and specially rehearsed my scenes once more!

There was some commotion among the audience while I was on the stage, and (fortunately!) most of them were watching the spontaneous drama being enacted by a drunken hooligan, rather than concentrating on the arranged play on the stage. Later on, I was told that I had been lucky, because I had not only missed part of the dialogue, delivered wrong ones, but also snatched a few sentences from Karna, thus confusing him as well!

And that was the end of my glorious acting career!

Caught at the red light

[Published in The TERI Times, February 2002]

One day a few years ago, while returning home I was waiting at a red light. A lady approached me and pleaded that her daughter was about to give birth to a child and they did not have money to take her to hospital. Please, could I give them some money? Or better still, could I take her to hospital in my car? I looked at her daughter who was half-sitting and half-lying on the road divider. She had a huge belly and looked really under labour-pain.  The lady continued, ‘Please, take her to a hospital, or she will give birth to her child on the road side.’ I felt pity on the hapless ladies and gave them fifty rupees and asked her to take her daughter to a hospital immediately. She thanked me profusely and rushed to the lady. I heaved a sigh of relief. I really did a marvelous deed, indeed!

When I reached home Jayasree, my wife, ridiculed me telling that the women made me a fool. She was quite convinced that the women were bogus. I argued with her and insisted that both looked genuine. And I believed they were, until …

A couple of days later I had to travel the same way and I caught the same red light. I remembered my benevolent act only a couple of days ago and the very same spot. ‘Could she have reached the hospital safely in time to deliver the baby? Was the money I gave her enough to reach Safdarjung hospital, which was the nearest? Was she …’

‘Sir, please, look at my elder sister there. She is about to give birth to a child. And we don’t have money to take her to a hospital. Please, sir, take her to a hospital, or she will give birth here in the middle of the road.’ The pleading of the young lady woke me up from my thoughts. I looked at her. Have I seen her somewhere? She continued to implore. I looked at her elder sister who was writhing in pain on the road divider. Hey! That was the lady I gave fifty rupees to take her daughter to … Wait, wait. This lady who was praying today was her daughter a couple of days back! And she was writhing in pain that day. They have just exchanged their roles (and the belly)!

I knew I had to do something, but I didn’t know what. The light would turn green soon. I asked her, ‘Can your sister walk up to this car? I shall take her to a hospital.’ She hesitated, then said, ‘No, sir, she may not be able to walk this long (this was about 20 feet). You give us some money, we will take an auto and go.’ I said, ‘No, that is not advisable, and who knows you will get an auto now?’ Telling this, I got down from the car and told her, ‘Come on, help your sister to the car.’ The ‘sister’ looked at us as we approached. The recognition was instantaneous! She suddenly got up and started running in the opposite direction! Her belly was shaking wildly. What a sight it was! The lady with a huge belly (she would have been carrying triplets!) running like mad across the road as if to escape from a charging animal!

I was suddenly aware of the honking of vehicles since the light had turned green. I suddenly rushed to my car. While driving my thought was, ‘Should I tell this to Jayasree?’ I could see her mischievous smile in my mind!

Monday, 17 April 2017

Remembering Dr Venkataraman Jagannathan

Dr V. Jagannathan (Photo courtesy: INSA)
I scanned over every nook and corner of the newspaper which I regularly read. Then another one. Then yet another one. I searched on the Internet. No. Nowhere could I find anything related to the passing away of Dr Venkataraman Jagannathan. Not even in the obituary columns! Well, in a way, that suited his character; that was probably what he would have wanted. He never did anything for the sake of publicity while alive; then why now, when he is no more? He never enjoyed flattering. He despised such extravaganzas. Or, should I say he was above all those crazy feelings? He was not very concerned with whether he was appreciated for a particular matter or not. He would go on with his work. But he was very particular not to hurt others’ feelings in any manner. 

The thunderbolt

It was the previous day, 2 December 2015, that my phone rang around noon when I had just finished my lunch. The caller was Hema Narayanan, Dr Jagannathan’s niece. I almost jumped in expectation of a glad news. Dr Jagannathan used to always inform me when he visits Delhi. And I would invariably go and meet him at the India International Centre (IIC), where he used to stay. He was a member of IIC. It was always such a pleasure to be in his benign presence, to listen to his soft words, to be with his rare personality. Each word he would say would be so soothing, so comforting, like that of a disciple hearing his Guru. Well, I was his disciple, and he my Guru, without doubt!

He was either already in Delhi, or was planning to make a trip to Delhi very soon. That must be the reason why Hema was calling. I picked up the phone and said, ‘Hello’.

Hema said, ‘Jayanthan, this is Hema Narayanan from Pune’.

She probably didn’t know that I have her number saved on my phone. I said, ‘Yes, Hema.’

I waited for her to break the news of their impending trip to Delhi. But instead she said, ‘Jayanthan, uncle passed away this morning.’

That was a thunderbolt! I was struck by lightening. I was dumb. And deaf. And speechless. I must have heard it wrong. Or Hema may have got it wrong. But you cannot wish away the truth. It was the truth. Dr Jagannathan had passed away that morning. For several seconds I did not know what to say or think.

Then I asked Hema, ‘What happened? Was he unwell?’

She said, ‘He had been ill for more than a year. He passed away peacefully this morning.’
She sounded to be in a hurry. Naturally so. She may have to make several calls to all those who were close to Dr Jagannathan over the years, both professional and personal. And supervise his after-death rituals.

The D-day

I first met Dr Jagannathan when he came to join the Tata Energy Research Institute (now The Energy and Resources Institute) (TERI) to set up and head the Biotechnology division. He led the Biotechnology as well as later the Plant Tissue Culture divisions in TERI. I worked with him from the day he joined the institute in 1985 till the day he left it in 1992. Mr Subramanian, who headed the administration, had told me, ‘Dr Jagannathan was Director of the National Chemical Laboratory, Pune. He is a very senior scientist. You are very lucky to work with him.’

From Mr Subramanian’s descriptions, I made a mental image of him – a very strict, matter-of-fact, never-smiling, and tall and stout person, who had the air and aura of the Director of a national institute. I was also slightly scared. As I was to learn later, he had never been officially the Director of NCL. He had politely refused to take the administrative responsibility of the Director, in which case his research activities would have suffered. And he never wanted that. But his status was equal to that of the Director.   
I met him for the first time the day he joined for duty. My surprise knew no bounds. He was exactly the opposite of what I had imagined. He was short and lean by physical standards. When weeks and months passed, I knew him a little more. He was ever smiling, talked very softly and lovingly, very simple, always listening very carefully to everything one had to say (whether it was on hard core research or a silly personal matter), finding solutions to people’s problems, and always ready to impart professional as well as personal advices.  He was, above all, an extremely loving and caring friend and guide. I was indeed very lucky to have worked with him.

The initial days

TERI had no prior experience in plant biotechnology. Everything had to start from the scratch. Each item of equipment had to be assessed, selected, quotations invited, and acquired. Dr Jagannathan used to spend a lot of time researching on the materials and instruments (including equipment to be imported). He also selected each test tube, flask, pipette, and such other small instruments. It took several months for the facility to be called a laboratory. It is true that later a few other scientists joined the division and Dr Jagannathan did distribute some of the responsibilities to them. But all final decisions was taken by him. His active involvement continued till the time a purchase team was set up exclusively to look after the purchase needs of the division.   

The little ‘big’ things!

When I purchased my first motorised two-wheeler (a Vijay Super Mark II scooter) (I used to ride a bicycle earlier) Dr Jagannathan gave me two advices. One, I should never overtake a vehicle on the left side, which is very common in Delhi. And two, the pillion rider, even if it was my wife, should always wear a helmet. I could never obey the second advice, since my wife would not wear a helmet. Also, it was not mandatory under the traffic rules then. And the first one, well, I obeyed it almost always. But as for the fast vehicles, the rule does not actually mean much. In a three-lane road a vehicle on the left side might speed past a vehicle on the right side. Does it amount to overtaking? Of course, my vehicle was never the fastest. It was never even fast. It used to be faster than only bicycles, cycle rickshaws and occasionally autorickshaws! Dr Deepak Pental, then Fellow in the Division (who later went on to become Delhi University’s Vice Chancellor) advised me, ‘Just think you are riding a slightly faster bicycle. Do not think you are driving a car!’

Finding a solution where there is none!

Dr Jagannathan was a founding member of the Plant Tissue Culture Association of India. The Association conducts meetings every year at various organizations in different parts of the country. Once the meeting was organised by Dr Jagannathan in Delhi while he was in TERI. As his secretary, I had the chance to do all the correspondence, and also made several other arrangements for the event. It was a huge meeting with several hundred participants, conducted at a five star hotel. I also handled the expenses related to the meeting. Dr Jagannathan was religiously strict regarding expenses, whether personal or public. After the conclusion of the meeting, he asked me to prepare a complete statement of accounts. While preparing it, I realised that an amount of Rs. 937 was short from the imprest money that I kept for purposes of immediate cash transactions. I checked all the bills and receipts and other documents to find out the whereabouts of the missing amount. I had absolutely no idea where and how the money had vanished. Did I forget to get a receipt from someone? Did I forget to note it down in the notebook which I kept for the purpose? I didn’t remember anything. At last I went and apprised Dr Jagannathan about the missing money and offered to refurbish it from my pocket. He asked me to recheck all the documents and gave me more time. After two days I told him that the money remained untraceable. He then asked me to prepare a receipt in my name for Rs 1000 against clerical expenses for the meeting. Thus the expenses were tallied. He was confident that I did not spend the money on anything other than that related to the meeting. He trusted me completely. So, instead of punishing me for my carelessness, he rewarded me for my efforts! I do not remember whether my eyes were wet, but I was certainly overwhelmed. 

The happy hour

The seed of the practice, which later became almost our habit, of ‘Happy Hour’ was actually sowed by Dr Dilip Ahuja. He transplanted the idea from the US, where he worked for several years before joining TERI, as a small plantlet. But it grew to become a huge fruit-bearing tree under Dr Jagannathan. On every Friday evening all of us in 90 Jor Bagh, from where TERI’s Biotechnology Department functioned (about 25 to 30 people), used to assemble and chit chat (but no gossips or discussions on politics) in Dr Jagannathan’s room over a cup of tea and snacks. Everybody actively took part in the event right from Dr Jagannathan to peons and security guards. The event was sponsored by us in rotation.

It started with meeting over a cup of tea, which was available free in the office. It slowly grew when one colleague or the other started sponsoring snacks. Slowly the number and types of snacks increased, and sweets were added, too. Though it was called happy hour, it was actually for 30 minutes, though sometimes it spilled over to some extra minutes. As told earlier, our office was located in 90 Jor Bagh while the main TERI office was located in 7 Jor Bagh. Technically this was supposed to be an event confined to 90 Jor Bagh. But I remember several people from 7 Jor Bagh used to attend the function regularly. Some of them sometimes even sponsored a particular happy hour. Even Dr Pachauri, then Director, had attended the function several times. Had Dr Jagannathan not taken a keen interest and encouraged it whole-heartedly, the event could have died a premature death after Dr Dilip Ahuja and his division shifted to another building. The ‘habit’ spread like wildfire to other buildings of TERI, and they started to have their own happy hours. It continued even after all the staff members shifted to the huge single office complex in India Habitat Centre. Much later it had to be abandoned due to the unwelcome attack of ants and mice who were very happy to enjoy the little pieces of left-over snacks and sweets.

The OP Bhasin Award

In 1988 Dr Jagannathan received the Om Prakash Bhasin award for his contributions in the field of Biotechnology. I do not even know how many people came to know about that. As I said earlier, he never wanted to make a hue and cry of his achievements. He never blew his own trumpet. But I am sure several people within TERI knew about it. I also remember some colleagues congratulating him in person and several others over the phone. That is all. And then everybody forgot about that. But next year when another senior colleague, a distinguished fellow in TERI, won the same award in the field of agriculture, an official function was organised by TERI to felicitate him. I remember Prof. M.G.K. Menon, the then Minister of State for Science and Technology, attended the function as the chief guest. A question arose in my mind that day and kept on troubling me for several more weeks, ‘Why only felicitate this scientist? Why not Dr Jagannathan?’ Maybe, a distant MAYBE, Dr Jagannathan did not want such an event. Or, maybe nobody thought about it. Or maybe, felicitating Dr Jagannathan would not have brought accolades to TERI and therefore, useless, him being a silent scientist.

The Vipassana meditation

It was while working in TERI that once he went to attend the Vipassana meditation course at Igatpuri, Maharashtra. The initial course was of ten days. On his return, he explained what the whole course is all about and how it is sure to change one’s outlook towards the whole concept of life. The course teaches you to feel and follow your breath, he said. It is nothing but to feel and experience everything that you do. He even advised me that I too should attend the course once. Though I wanted to do it, I couldn’t till now, for various reasons (excuses?!) However, I plan to do it now. At least as a tribute to Dr Jagannathan, I have to do it.

I also remember once he talked a lot about the Alexander technique. I don’t know if he practised it, or attended a course, but he was certainly very much interested in the technique. The Alexander technique, Dr Jagannathan said, is based on the theory that most of our physical disabilities and deformities are caused by our incorrect postures and the incorrect ways in which we moved our legs. A deformity of the neck could be cured by proper massage of the feet!

Nothing official about it!

Dr Jagannathan was very particular that no official resources are to be used for personal benefits. He used his own car to commute to and from office. If the car was not available due to whatever reasons, he would hire a taxi, but never asked to be picked up or dropped by the office car. He could very well have done that, and no questions would have been asked, but he never did it. When he took over as the head of the plant tissue culture facilities at Gwal Pahari (Gurgaon), on many occasions he had to travel to the facility, located about 25 km from TERI. The understanding was that he would be given an official vehicle to make these trips. Later, however, he was requested to use his personal car for the purpose. He was, however, provided with a driver. I do not know if the fuel was paid for, too by TERI. He did not, however, make a big hue and cry about the arrangements.

Several people used to use the office stationery, while sending a personal communication by post. The postage stamps were, however, paid for on many occasions.  But not so with Dr Jagannathan. He would invariably purchase an envelope from the post office, and never use the office stationery. He also used to pay for his personal calls from the official telephone. This was when nobody would have asked him to do so. I do not think any other senior staff member did this. 

Dr Jagannathan used to have a set of stationery for personal use, such as a pair of scissors, a stapler with staples, pens, pencils, gum, etc. While leaving Delhi, he gave me the pair of high quality scissors. I treasured it till one day I inadvertently took it in my hand baggage along with my toiletries on a flight. I was promptly asked to remove it at the airport. Even to this day I regret having done such a foolish thing that day.

As a parting gift Dr Jagannathan also presented me with a copy of the Bhagavadgita with Dr S Radhakrishnan’s critique.

He was, without doubt, a gem of a person, and a very rare one at that.

The meetings that never were!

Dr Jagannathan never wanted to annoy anybody, even strangers. Sometimes people came to meet him, and he would not be interested to spend a lot of time with them. He would, however, not refuse to meet them. He would let them in. He would tell me when to go and interrupt the meeting. After about five or ten minutes, I would knock at the door and tell him that the Director wanted to meet him urgently, or some other such excuse so that the visitor ends the meeting and departs.  This happened not many times, but on a few occasions, during the seven years I worked with him.

The shock of the life!

The year was 1992. It was the first day in office after I had returned from a long leave from Kerala. Dr Jagannathan called me to his room first thing in the morning. He said he has resigned from TERI. And he was smiling! He could have been saying that that day’s breakfast was nice! Or that he met an old friend on the way to office! I was so shocked that I looked at him confused! This was totally unexpected. As far as I knew he was doing extremely well as the Head of the Biotechnology and Plant Tissue Culture units. Nobody had anything bad to say against him. And everybody respected him for his intelligence, politeness, down-to-earth manners, and helping mentality. Anybody could go to him any time and discuss even personal matters. He would listen to it as if the existence of the world depended on it. He would always give good practical advices. I had absolutely no idea of what must have prompted Dr Jagannathan to take such a drastic step. Despite my repeated queries, he did not elaborate the reason for his action. As was his practice, he just smiled my questions away. As he said later, he did not want his action to affect his subordinates adversely. That was probably why he did not tell me the reason for his resignation. Not then, not at any time later. He thought the less I knew the better it was for me. And he made absolutely sure that none of his junior colleagues were adversely affected due to his departure from TERI. He did not want them to suffer from witch hunting.

I, however, had an inkling that everything was not very well between him and the Director. I recollected having typed a note for him some time back, addressed to the Director, regarding the peer review of some project. The tone was quite sharp and I remember he had also given a deadline to the Director for taking (or reversing? I don’t remember which) a particular decision. I was awed that somebody could write such a note to the Director. Well, Dr Jagannathan could, and he did. That same evening, he went out telling me that he was going to the market to have a haircut. Did he expect something to happen while he was out of the office? I don’t know, but if he did, he was right. After some time I received a call from Director’s office that he wanted to meet Dr Jagannathan before he left for the day. I rushed to the market. I found him on the chair in the saloon and the barber doing his work. The moment I went in, probably due to my panting, the barber stopped his work and looked at me. Dr Jagannathan, too, turned his head towards me, as if he had been expecting me. I told him that the Director wanted to see him urgently. He smiled (or did he laugh?) and said, ‘all right’.

I marvelled then and I marvelled all the time that I worked with him, and I wonder even now, on his ability to keep his emotions completely under wrap. He never showed any emotions at all. He wrapped every emotion under his ever-present and winning smile. A few days after this event, I had proceeded to Kerala on a long leave. And by the time I returned, he had resigned!

Post TERI

I remember the very few meetings I had with him after he left TERI. He had returned to Pune where his heart was even during all those years he worked in Delhi. He had actually advanced the date of his resignation by a few days so that he would be able to attend the famous Ganesh festival of Maharashtra which he would have missed if he had stuck to the original date! Whenever he used to visit Delhi, he used to inform me and I would go and meet him at the IIC. Once he invited me for breakfast where a few other former colleagues were also present.

I also met Dr Jagannathan once in Pune. I had gone to Pune to be with our son, for a few days. I telephoned Dr Jagannathan. He invited us to his home for lunch. We could not have lunch with him, because we had lunch with our soon-to-be daughter(-in-law). But the snacks he and his niece Hema treated us with were no less than a stupendous lunch; all home-made delicacies. When we were leaving, Hema took us to the most famous shop in Pune (I forgot the name) from where we purchased bakarwadi, the very special Pune snack and some sweets.

The unpardonable crime

My regret, for which I shall never forgive myself, is that I had been to Pune twice during the few months before his passing away and I did not even telephone him. If I knew he was unwell (as Hema told me), then I would have made it a point to go and see him. It is when this thought came to me that I realized that it was nearly three years, since I have had any communication with him. It has certainly been very ungrateful of me. Well, I could plead that my son was busy and couldnot spare the time, or my daughter was busy, too; or that I was new to Pune and didn’t know the way, and can spread several other excuses. But I will not be pardoned. And I should not be. I could have taken a taxi and visited him, couldn’t I? What excuse did I have for not even telephoning him? None. The loss has entirely been mine. A loss that can never be fulfilled; a gap that will never be closed. And I hold me entirely responsible for that.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Nobody’s Protest

I am Nobody

But I protest

I have no award
To return in protest
I have no fellowship
Or membership
Or great position
To resign from, in protest

But I protest

I am no writer, but
I protest the murder of writers
I am not one of them, but
I protest the murder of social activists
I am no artist, but
I protest the humiliation of artists
I am no journalist, but
I protest attacks on journalists
I do not eat meat, but
I protest murders in the name of beef
I am no politician, but
I protest political intolerance
I am religious, but
I protest religious intolerance

I protest against
Polarisation of the society
And creation of unrest
In human minds
In the name of religion
And politics
And caste
And food!

I protest
I protest
I protest
I protest

And I am sad

Is this the Independence
That we fought for?
I was born into free India
Is this democracy?
Autocracy rules the day
Is this secularism?
Now a meaningless word

Is this the land of Mahabharata?
Where are the Yudhishtiras?
Shakunis are abundant
Is this the land of enlightened Rishis?
Is this the land of the Vedas?
Is this the land of Ramayana
Is this the land of Dharma?
Is this the land of Buddha?

I am sad
Very sad, indeed