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Saturday, 29 June 2013

Padasparsham Kshamasva Me

Samudravasane devi
Parvatastana mandite
Visnupatni namastubhyam
Padasparsham kshamasva me

[O Goddess, who wears the ocean as her cloths
The mountains are whose breasts
O consort of Vishnu, I salute you
I beg for forgiveness for setting foot on your body!]

For the first 19 years of my life I never wore footwear. I went to school bare feet. I went to college walking more than five kilometres each way, without footwear. Wearing slippers or sandals was very unnatural for us. I used to wonder as to why people wear slippers. I was completely at a loss to understand the concept. I used to try imagining the feelings of people who always wore slippers. Wherever they walk, whether it is soft sand, rock, paddy field, or soft grass, their feet have the same feeling, the unnatural feeling of stepping on leather, rubber, or plastic. What kind of a life is that? Aren’t they missing out the beautiful feeling of putting their feet on the varying characteristics of Mother Earth, thus missing out the whole essence of life?

As a small child I used to see and hear muthassi (grandmother) reciting prayers both while going to bed and also while getting up. I used to fall asleep embracing her while she went on reciting the prayers in the night. (Girija, my younger sister, and I used to quarrel almost regularly for the right to sleep with muthassi, who used to solve it by letting us sleep on either side of her, both embracing her! And we used to fall asleep hearing her prayers.) But I didn’t know the prayers, nor did I care. I also used to see her touching the ground and then touching her head in the morning reciting some prayers before putting her feet on the ground. I never bothered about it then. I never wondered at nor had the mind to enquire of her the meaning of her actions. My belief was that it was for the older people to perform such rituals, not for young children like me. That was nearly five decades ago.

Then my transplantation to Delhi happened. It was entirely a different atmosphere here. People never touched Mother Earth with their feet at all. They found it uncomfortable! How can one find it difficult to touch the earth? It was puzzling for me to find that people getting into slippers from the bed itself (I also fell into this habit later on and am still following that). They removed slippers only to wear sandals or shoes. They changed back to slippers in the evening. And they removed the slippers only to get onto the bed. Why have we become so detached from Mother Earth?

Grandma, father, and mother have all left for their heavenly abode. I got married and have two grown-up sons. I also got a grown-up daughter more than a year back when my elder son got married. Life was smooth and gentle.

Then one day a few years back the whole concept of what grandma used to do came back all of a sudden and struck me like a thunderbolt!

It happened like this. I had gone to Kerala to attend the marriage of a relative. Most of the relatives come at least a day before the wedding, since that day is also very important as we have to perform certain rituals. On the day of the marriage we all got up early in the morning. And as it happened, I saw Lathika etathy (sister-in-law’s sister-in-law: wife’s elder sister’s husband’s elder brother’s wife!) getting up. She first of all touched the ground and then touched her head reciting the prayer:

Samudravasane devi|  Parvatastana mandite||
Visnupatni namastubhyam|  Padasparsham kshamasva me||

Suddenly it struck me like a lightening that this is what grandma used to do also. She had been asking forgiveness from Mother Earth for setting her feet on the Mother’s body! The memory struck me with such a force that I was totally shaken. For several minutes I could not move. I was awestruck. The memory of grandma touching the earth and the prayers, everything came back to me over and over again! Sometimes such things happen, don’t they? One sight, one word, one memory, affects one so much that it changes the whole life. It happened with me that day.

I felt guilty of not trying to understand this concept earlier. What a beautiful concept it is! We had been taught that in case we happen to cross over or touch an elder person with our foot unknowingly (we were not to do it knowingly at all), we should immediately touch his/her feet and then touch our head, as a way of asking for forgiveness for the mistake committed, the disrespect shown to him/her. This is asking for forgiveness by action, not by words. The word ‘sorry’ has lost its meaning altogether these days. Sometimes people say ‘sorry’ without actually feeling anything at all! And we all used to do this. But begging for forgiveness from Goddess Earth never occurred to us, and we never used to do it. I do not know why this has not been taught to us as children. Since the day I saw Lathika etathy doing this, I have been doing this every morning.

Thank you, Lathika etathy, for reminding me of this beautiful and benign concept, which everyone should follow!

Such actions inculcate in us the habit of respecting others, including the soil we walk on and the nature as a whole. We feel solemn, we become humble. It reminds us how small we are in this vast and caring but imposing nature! Try it, you will feel the difference, too. But you need to do it sincerely, with the strong feeling that you are touching our Mother, who is also a Goddess, the consort of Lord Vishnu! If you don’t believe in Hindu Gods, or any God at all, still you can do this, because Earth is still your Mother on whom we all walk, sit, sleep, build our houses, and spend hundreds of generations of our life! And then, it is to this very own Earth that we return.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Brother in the Air Force

It was when I was studying in Vandematharam High School (now Vandematharam Vocational Higher Secondary School) that ēttan (elder brother – P.K. Sreedharan Namboothiry) joined the Indian Air Force (IAF). It was through the help of Rajan uncle (the headmaster in The Uniform) that he joined the IAF. Uncle knew one Mr Thomas, a retired IAF man who hailed from our village. He knew all the intricacies (and loopholes) to get one admitted into the force. He had earlier helped a few others to get enrolled in the Air Force. That is why uncle contacted him.

Mr Thomas took ettan to Madras (now Chennai) and Bangalore (now Bengaluru) for interviews. Since he was aware of the inside happenings he knew exactly how and where to strike. For example, he asked brother to consume as many bananas as possible just before appearing for the interview to make up for the shortage in the required weight!

When the discussions for brother’s joining the IAF were happening, amma (mother) was not at home. She had gone to visit some relatives for a few days. By the time she returned, everything had been decided and ettan was ready to leave. Amma was quite upset that ettan would have to stay away from home for several years now. She was also initially quite frightened (as were all of us) that he would have to go to the border to fight the enemies and face bullets. It is only after several discussions with uncle that she was somewhat convinced that brother would not have to go to the front. At last she agreed, reluctantly, to let him join.

After getting selected, ettan was to undergo a 72-week training at Tambaram (Tamil Nadu). I remember that in every letter that he wrote (which was at least once in a week, and he never defaulted), along with the place and date on the right hand top corner, he also used to write the number of completed (or was it remaining?) weeks of the training. These letters were of so much value to us that their delay by a day or two would get all of us terribly worried and anxious. It looked like those inland letter cards were our lifelines. And no week passed without receiving a letter from ettan. We didn’t bother who the letter was addressed to. If it was ettan’s letter the first one who could place his/her hand on, would open it. And we were crazy to read it first. Usually the first one who reads it does it loudly so that everybody could listen. None of us knew or understood the concept that only the addressee should open a letter. If it was ettan’s letter, it was for all of us, that is all. It was the same case with other letters also. There was nothing like ‘personal’ or ‘confidential’ among us then.

It was much later that cheriyamma (paternal uncle’s wife) told me that it is unethical to open somebody else’s letter. She said even if it was ettan’s letter, we were not supposed to open it. After that I stopped opening others’ letters, if it was addressed to amma or acchhan (father). But the newly acquired knowledge and ethics were not applied in the case of ettan’s letters, even though they were addressed to either acchhan or amma (when acchhan used to be away doing pooja [priesthood] in temples).

It was only after the completion of the training that he would be granted leave to visit home. As the time for completion of ettan’s training approached, we got more and more impatient. Towards the last few weeks, we had nothing else to talk about other than ettan’s coming home on leave. But to our utter dismay and horror his return was further delayed. After the training he, along with other batch mates, had to be posted before they could be granted leave. Brother’s first posting was at Kanpur. So, it took a few more weeks for him to come home.

And when he came, it was nothing less than a festival for us. There was no road reaching our home those days. There were huge stretches of paddy fields in front of the house and we could see up to the small stream about 300 metres away. There was no concept of receiving somebody from the railway station (which was about 55 kilometres away) those days. Brother took a bus from the railway station, got down at Puthuvely, and walked down home carrying his huge heavy suitcase. Ettan was supposed to reach only in the afternoon. But all of us, including father, stayed in the front verandah right from the morning keeping a constant watch over the tiny foot-bridge over the small stream far away which ettan would cross. And that was the farthest point our vision could travel. Beyond that there were trees, houses, and so on. The moment we noticed brother near the stream, we all jumped up in joy and expectation. Our hearts began to pound faster and harder.

Ettan was with us for two months.

He presented me with a watch. I felt like suddenly being elevated to the seventh heaven. I could never in my wildest of dreams imagine that I would one day own a wrist watch! It was way beyond our means those days. In one of his earlier letters, when he wrote about buying a watch (even small things didn't escape his [or ours, when we wrote to him] letters), he had written in very tiny letters in English, ninakku tharam (I shall give it to you). It was such a tall dream for me that I had refused to believe what I read. But now it had become true! It had an off-white dial with golden hour-indicators and golden hands. I was never tired of looking at the watch for hours together. It was fascinating to watch the second hand jumping from one second to the other with a tiny ‘tick’ sound. I don’t know how many times I must have kissed it. I used to talk to it about everything under the Sun! The watch became my best friend for the next few months and years. Every time I looked at it, I more and more realized ettan’s love and affection towards us all. It was love personified.

In our school days there was only one boy who wore a watch in the whole school. His parents owned Santhosh Sounds (a shop which lent out sound system [microphones, loud speakers, and so on] during events) at Koothattukulam. Raju (I am not very sure, but I think that was his [pet] name) used to be an object of envy in the whole school!

Ettan also gave a watch to father which he proudly wore as long as we could. After his passing away, mother gave it to me. My own watch was presented to a relative. I used father’s watch for several years till I was presented with a Seiko watch by Girija, my sister-in-law, who then used to work in Saudi Arabia. Father’s watch was very heavy. It was a Favre Leuba with silver chain, white dial and silvery, raised hour indicators. The Seiko was lighter, with a leather strap. Also, though Favre Leuba was a very well known brand then, wearing a Seiko has its special status!

When ettan returned at the end of the two months we all became quite gloomy. Now what?

Well, Wait for next year.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

A Case Study of Cases

[This is an abridged and edited version of the original note.]

One fine afternoon my phone rang. An unknown number.

“Hello, sir, I am Garima from IGS.” I did not have the faintest idea as to who or what Garima or IGS were. 

She continued. IGS was organizing a ‘writeshop’ to celebrate its silver jubilee. Case studies will be presented, edited, and typeset immediately afterwards. By the end of the writeshop, the papers will be ready to be sent for publication. Great idea. But what was my role in it?

“We request you to be part of the writeshop. You need to be in Patna for all the seven days and edit papers here.”

At the end of a few back and forth communications through phone and e-mail, I landed in Patna (my first visit to the city) on the fine chilly morning of Saturday, 21 January 2012. I reached the guest house where my accommodation had been arranged by IGS.

At around ten o’clock Sangeeta (Naik) called to find out if I had my breakfast and asked me to order whatever I needed from the guest house. Neeraj (Lal) and Hempriya (Kumari) visited in the evening, to make sure that everything was in order and that I was comfortable. Sangeeta called in the afternoon and at night to make sure that I had my lunch and dinner, respectively! I could never imagine that an organizer could be soooooo concerned about a guest (one among about 40 guests!).

Anyhow, this gave me an inkling of the treatment we would be getting during our stay in Patna. And my expectations were not belied. I even received special treatment (the Britannia Mariegold biscuits that I used to take occasionally, being diabetic, for example). Thank you, Mihir (Sahana), Sangeeta, Garima (Anand) and Hempriya!

Somnath (Ghosh), who also had checked in the previous night, and I were moved to another guest house the next day. When we reached Hempriya asked, “Have you met Sangeeta?”

I said, “No.”

She again asked, “Do you know Tabrez Sir?” to which also I answered in the negative. When we were waiting for the guest house officials to finish the formalities, Sangeeta, with whom I have had some telephonic and e-mail communications, and Tabrez (Nasar), with whom I have had nothing to do till now, met us.

 The venue of the writeshop was at a walking distance from the guest house which suited me well. I used to go for a walk back home, but I suspected that may not be possible here. So walking down to the venue would be some consolation.

Somnath and I reached the venue at around 11.30 a.m. All the participants met formally after lunch. There were a couple of presentations by Tabrez and Sachin (Mardikar). The presentations gave us an idea of what the whole thing was about and what we were supposed to do in the next seven days.

Though I had met Tabrez and Sangeeta that morning in the guest house, I had not known what role Tabrez was going to play. Well, I have the answer now. He is going to coordinate the whole exercise. He has organized some 20 writeshops around the world so far! He is going to be our headmaster for the next seven days! And he sounded (and looked too!) like a tough task master!  

The process that would be followed during the next week was explained. Some 41 case studies will be presented by the case authors. It will be commented upon, edited, drawings made, photographs inserted, layouts done, typeset, and made ready for print by the end of the writeshop. This is going to be a new, exciting and challenging experience. I looked forward to it.

One case was presented that day and commented upon. We four editors (Kaushiki (Rao), Neeraj, Somnath, and I) sat together, discussed the comments, and made a style sheet to be followed.

The discussions went on and on well into the night. I realized that we would be leaving only after dinner. That became our practice. We used to arrive at the venue before breakfast and leave after dinner. This meant that all of us would be together for nearly 14 hours every day for all the seven days!

Comments on the papers were systematic, critical, pointed, and sharp. Sachin and Kaushiki had prepared a very detailed format which had to be followed while writing the cases. But unfortunately, several authors had not done this. But no one complained. Everybody understood that squeezing every case into a fixed format is not easy. And then, the case authors were not writers, but practitioners. Some of them were writing a case study for the first time!

Our actual task began the next day when the writeshop began in full earnest. With a prepared list of papers to be presented, and editors assigned to each paper, it was all set to vroom! My problem was that I am not a technical editor, but a language editor. A few other editors, such as Bubu (Barna Baibhaba Panda, who joined us later), Kaushiki or Neeraj, were different, because they were involved with similar projects. I had to make up for my handicap.

The cases were related to almost all areas of rural development and people’s livelihood including, but not limited to, agriculture, dairy, fishery, resettlement, tourism, and so on.

The procedure was as follows. The author read out the paper in full (in 30 minutes) which was projected on to a screen. Each participant was given a copy of the paper. Major comments were raised in the forum and discussed (in 15 minutes). Minor ones were marked on the copy of the paper and passed on to the author/editor.

The author and concerned editor then revised the paper based on the comments. The author was to finish the discussions in about half an hour when he/she was supposed to provide every support needed for revising the paper. But it usually happened that they had to phone up somebody back home to get the required data. And since some of the works had been carried out several years ago, the records were not readily available. (Who in the world would have thought that one would need to dig out years-old data in 30 minutes flat, that too, sitting at another corner of the country!). The half-an-hour deadline was stretched on to two days or more in some cases!

Once the paper was revised it was presented again. The second draft included photographs, graphs, and drawings. Further comments were raised and the papers again revised. The papers were then supposed to have reached the final stage.

But often there is huge gap between theory and practice. This was quite evident in the whole exercise. Revising the papers took a lot more time than expected. Typesetting took even more time. After struggling with the situation for a day or two, it was decided that layout and designing could wait. It was decided that the contents would be finalised first.

The papers then moved faster through different stages. By the last day of the writeshop, all the papers were presented at least once and commented upon. Several cases were presented the second time, and commented on, too. Many papers had reached the final stage.

Overall it was a tremendous achievement. In normal course, it would have taken several months to finalize the papers. And here, about 75 per cent of the work had been done in seven days flat (day, of course, meant 14, not 8, hours!)

On the first day, after we had the first presentation, we were all sitting together and discussing the comments offered by participants. Neerad, the cartoonist, was also present. The author explained to him the drawings she needed for the paper. In 15 minutes he had the drawing ready, which really gave us a shock!

One point I would specially like to mention here is that no one, I mean NO ONE, seemed to be under tension, even though there was tremendous pressure upon almost everybody. If one wanted a help, it looked like the organizers, be it Mihir, Tabrez, Sangeeta, Garima, Hempriya, Kunal (Ranjan), or anybody else for that matter, had all the time in the world!

The Republic Day celebrations this time was different. This was the first time I was away from home on that day. Moreover, I hoisted the National Flag! Wow! I do not know if I was the senior-most (age-wise, that is), but I was one of them. Thank you Mihir and IGS, for giving me this honour!

This was my first experience of a writeshop, and for several others, as was disclosed in the final meeting on the last day. But it was an extremely pleasant, hectic, and rewarding experience. I am sure I took more than I could contribute. I met, interacted with, and became friends with several nice people. 

Saturday, 8 June 2013

High Court Expresses Similar Views as Mine

On 18 January 2013, a month after the infamous Delhi gang rape of 16 December 2012, I posted a note in these columns titled ‘Is Our CriminalLaw Faulty?’. The note was written based on the fact that one of the criminals involved in the case was a ‘juvenile’. Incidentally, it was reported that it was this minor who perpetrated the maximum cruelty on the woman.

I had put forward my arguments as to why it is time for the juvenile law to be suitably amended. I had ended the note thus:

The immediate practical solution would be to consider the intensity and nature of the crime committed by juveniles using the same yardstick as that of adults – the state and growth of mind of the offender rather than physical age. Laws need to be amended and drastically changed immediately considering the increase in the number of crimes and their manner and intensity. This will also help to do away with discrimination of the basis of consideration between adults and juveniles.

We need to do this immediately.”

The High Court of Punjab and Haryana, in its judgement on the bail application of a juvenile rapist, has expressed similar opinion. The juvenile had reportedly abducted two girls, locked them up and raped them for over ten days before they escaped.

Justice Mahesh Grover, in his order No. Crl.Rev.No.717 of 2013(O&M) dated 19 March 2013 on the bail application of the above juvenile, observed that benefits of being juveniles should not be accorded to minors involved in heinous crimes keeping only their biological age in mind. In the order he observed,

Before parting with the order, this Court directs that the petitioner be got examined from a competent psychiatrist/psychologist who will evaluate the conduct of the petitioner. It is imperative that the Juvenile Justice Board should not only look at the age of the accused [emphasis added] (juvenile) when determining the issue of release of such a juvenile on bail but should also evaluate the mental condition and capabilities of such a juvenile which factors predominantly help to fathom the gravity of the offence and the capability and propensity of the perpetrator [emphasis added] which in turn becomes relevant at the time of sentencing.

This is precisely what I had argued exactly two months before this judgement.

The judge further observed, “It is now imperative to understand how a person in conflict with law can be determined to be a juvenile ...”

By this observation, the judge emphasizes that biological age should not be considered as the only criterion to decide the status of a juvenile.

The Judge further observes,

The vexed questions before this Court thus are (i) as to whether the enquiry to ascertain the juvenility of an accused should be centered only on biological aspect as determinative of age ? and (ii) what sort of enquiry is the [Juvenile Justice] Board required to make and what are the factors to be considered to determine the age of a juvenile ?

The judge also makes specific observations on those who are between seventeen and eighteen years.

Would this mean that a person who is on this side of midnight which is to usher in his eighteenth birthday, would be in a cocooned protection of law but with one chime of the clock, when he crosses over to the other side of midnight, he is rendered without a protective sheath of law, simply because on being eighteen the socio-political benefits flow to him and he is regarded as an adult with sullied innocence ? In fact it is the cases of these persons who are in the twilight zone of adulthood, that arouses the concerns of the Court more, particularly when such persons are involved in commission of aggravated offences. Grave implications are manifest in this situation where a person derives immense benefit on account of immunity on his being a juvenile a day or hours before his attaining the age of 18 years, when accused of a dastardly act but looses them within a few hours on attaining this magical age. [emphasis added]

Further, the court also makes a very strong statement when it exclaims that,

If this [as in the above para] would be the intention of the Legislature, then the application of such a law in its unadulterated form would make the law look preposterous.

By delving into the aims and objectives of the Juvenile Act, the honourable judge makes it clear that it is necessary to distinguish between juveniles who are in need of care and protection and those who are in conflict with law.

A review of the working of the Juvenile Act, 1986 (53 of 1986) would indicate that much greater attention is required to be given to children in conflict with law or those in need of care and protection.

The Court further makes the following proposals:

(i) to lay down the basic principles for administering justice to a juvenile or the child in the Bill ;

(ii) to make the juvenile system meant for a juvenile or the child more appreciative of the developmental needs in comparison to criminal justice system as applicable to adults ;
(ix) to minimize the stigma and in keeping with the developmental needs of the juvenile or the child, to separate the Bill into two parts – one for juveniles in conflict with law and the other for the juvenile or the child in need of care and protection.

The court further observes thus:

The Act thus makes no distinction between a juvenile in serious conflict with law and a destitute child who needs care and protection. Rights of both under the statute would be circumscribed by the limit of 18 years ....

To the mind of this Court, over emphasis on the question of age in the cases of those above seventeen years of age but less than eighteen years as significant and determinative would be a fallacy fraught with dangers of absurdity causing acute damage and injustice to the victim in particular and society at large.

On depending on the school leaving certificate for deciding on age, the judge observes,

Declaration of the age of the child who is in conflict with law by mere reliance upon a School Leaving Certificate or even a positive proof of the certificate of registration of birth ipso facto should not be the foundational basis to declare a person juvenile more particularly, when such a juvenile is accused of having committed a heinous offence particularly when days or few months separated him from adulthood.

Reasserting his observations made earlier in the order, the judge once again emphasizes,

But in the cases of aggravated offences, what is of importance to establish whether a person is a child or not, is his ability to comprehend what is right and what is wrong, what is lawful and what is unlawful and whether he understands the consequences of his actions. It is the advancement of his mental faculty that would suggest whether he is an adult or a juvenile and for this purpose, there has to be a specialized examination of the child at the hands of experts who can evaluate the ability of such a child to segregate good and bad, the lawful and unlawful and the consequences ensuing therefrom and this would show his maturity or immaturity to answer for his deeds.

It is the factors related to growth and maturity psychologically and socially, but not entirely biologically, which would give an insight as to whether a person is a child or an adult and merely because the age of 18 years would confer a lot of social and political privileges in a civil society, would not certainly mean that a person before attainment of such an age continues to remain a child and eluding adulthood, while he in his conduct otherwise demonstrates the capability of correct comprehension.

It is, therefore, the competence of a juvenile which has to be established before the Board and the Board and the courts ought not to automatically assume that the statutory definition would confer the halo of a juvenile and give him an undeserving protection and benefits.

Apart from determining such abilities, an enquiry should also establish the social factors surrounding such a person in conflict with law, as they also possibly may reveal the cause of a distorted or a perverted mind set, which may eventually lead to an appreciation of the ability of correct comprehension.

The judge concludes his order by saying that

All these aspects are extremely significant for they would reflect and play upon the mind of the Court, when it considers the question of sentence to be visited upon a juvenile in conflict with law.

One looks forward to the day when the Supreme Court makes a similar observation and recommends suitable amendments in the Juvenile Justice Act. 

Saturday, 1 June 2013

My Father’s Last Days – III

Related earlier posts:

Brother could not obtain tickets for all of us in the same train. So he did the next best thing. Two tickets were booked for mother and him in the train which left first. For father and I, tickets in a train which followed half an hour later were booked. As soon as we reached station we arranged for a stretcher to carry father to the train. We also arranged for two people to carry father into the bogey on the arrival of the train. I was worried. How will I manage it alone? Getting father into the bogey and making him comfortable? Looking after him the whole night?

Brother said that once they reached Alwaye (now Aluva), he would arrange for a stretcher before our train reached the station. He also asked me to throw our luggage out as soon as the train stopped at the station. This would give him an indication of the bogey which we were in. Since ours were current bookings, one did not know the bogey number in advance. And the train would halt at Alwaye for only three minutes.

Mother kept silent. It was obvious that she was worried. She was worried about our getting into the train once they left by the earlier train. She was worried if I would be able to look after father for the whole night. She was worried if I would fall asleep and miss the station. She was worried about so many other things. But, of course, her worry about father’s condition topped all.

Fortunately nothing unfortunate happened and everything went on as we had planned. Our berths were in the first class compartment. There were only about half a dozen passengers in the bogey, which could accommodate 72 passengers. Even before reaching the station, I was ready with the luggage. As soon as the train stopped, I threw the luggage out and ran back to help father get up and walk slowly to the door. Remember, the train halted there only for three minutes. By the time I managed to get father up slowly, brother was near us with two other people to help us. They carried father out of the train and seated him on a wheel chair kept ready at the door. There was no provision for a stretcher in the station those days. Brother had also arranged a taxi which had been waiting right at the exit gate of the station.

The journey from the railway station to home would take about an hour and a half. On our way we stopped at Muvattupuzha. That was where two of our uncles, father’s elder and younger brothers lived and worked. While kunjaphan (younger uncle) had an office, the elder uncle didn’t. He used to look after the accounts of several establishments on a freelance basis. It was early morning and kunjaphan hadn’t reached his office yet. So we wrote a small note and inserted it into the handle of the door.

The note simply said, “We are taking father home. Please come.”

It was elder uncle (valiaphan) who saw the note first. He used to come early and when he saw the note he immediately telephoned kunjaphan and they both came home. Telephone facilities were available within cities and towns those days, though long distance calls were still a dream.

The car could go only up to a distance of about half a kilometre from home. There was no road beyond that. We arranged for a chair from a relative’s house, which was nearby. Within a few minutes the news of father’s arrival from the hospital spread like wildfire and a lot of people gathered around us. Several people volunteered to help us. They carried father on the chair up to home. 

By the time we reached home, a lot more people, mainly relatives and neighbours, had gathered there. Some of them thought he had recovered and was discharged from the hospital. But this feeling soon gave way to the realization that he had been discharged not because he had recovered, but because he was beyond any kind of recovery.

Father had terrible pain all over the body. In the initial few days the pain killers given from the hospital gave him some comfort. But in a few days, even this became ineffective. Every second he was suffering. He was still very conscious and knew what was going on around him. He recognised those who visited him. He talked to them. His mind was as healthy and as alert as ever.

He was secretary of the Thamarakkatu branch of Kerala Yogakshema Sabha, a community organisation. When people from the organisation came to visit him he became very talkative. He talked about their future programmes. He asked when the next meeting was to be held. When they said it was after a fortnight, he asked them to have the meeting right in the room where he was lying. He could, thus, attend the proceedings! It looked like it was only while he talked of matters interesting to him that he forgot about the constant pain. 

We used to have regular visitors and all the time home was brimming with people.  When one day I accidentally, or should I say carelessly, put on the radio in the next room, mother told me, “Switch it off, father will be disturbed.”

Father heard this from his room and said, “Well, I shall tell you when the sound becomes unbearable to me.”

It looked like he knew exactly how his condition was going to deteriorate at each stage! Right from the very beginning, when he was diagnosed as suffering from cancer, he had foreseen something like this. He knew in his heart of hearts that his fate had been sealed. But he very much wanted to fight. He was not one to surrender meekly, even if it was the deadly cancer on the opposite side.  

He knew his end was near. He was not worried about mother. He knew she would be all right, she was a brave woman. He had full confidence in his children and knew that we would take care of her. He was not worried about his eldest son; he had a job and was married and settled. He was not worried about his elder daughter. She was married and settled, too. He was not worried about me either. I was already employed. But he was worried about Girija, his youngest daughter, who was nearing marriageable age. He probably thought this was a great responsibility for us. I heard him talking about her marriage to close relatives who visited him. He had this worry as long as his mind was alert.

The pain was not letting him have peace or comfort even for a second. Every moment he lamented about the unbearable pain all over his body. Grandma used to visit us every day and used to spend a lot of time with father. She was a great believer in God and used to constantly chant prayers. And she used to chant them a little louder so that father could hear it and have a little comfort. One day grandma was sitting on his bed slowly massaging his chest. 

Father then told her, “Mother, the pain is excruciating. I can’t bear it any more. Please tell me, Mother, what should I do?”

What could grandma say? She said, “Chant the names of God, Son. You will feel better.”

Father then began to chant the different names of Lord Vishnu, “Achutananda Govinda,  Achutananda Govinda, Achutananda Govinda ...”

Then he suddenly shifted to, “Narayana, Narayana, Narayana, Narayana.”

And again to, “Rama, Rama, Rama, Rama.”

And then he told grandmother, “O, Mother, all the names are so long, I can’t chant them.”

Grandma immediately got up and ran to the next room. She cried uncontrollably for a long time. How can a mother bear the sight of such condition of her son?

His condition worsened sooner than expected. He soon began to hate all kinds of sounds, even subdued human voice. All kinds of light disturbed him so much that we had to keep the doors and windows of his room closed always. No light was put on in his room even during nights. Even a zero-watt bulb disturbed him. We had to use a small kerosene lamp which was kept in a corner of the room for us to move around with the light to his bed side blocked. The agony took him over completely. He could not sleep for days together. He continuously used to mumble in pain. He almost constantly kept his eyes closed. But he was not sleeping, the pain did not allow him to have even a moment’s sleep.

The disease had now spread all over his body. The small swellings which had started appearing several weeks ago had now spread to almost everywhere in his body. The painkillers had become totally ineffective, too. He had difficulty in breathing. His breathing could be heard (or should I say felt?) beyond even two rooms. While during day time, there used to be several of us near father, throughout the night one of us used to be with him constantly. We took turns for a few hours to stay with father. We used to gently massage his body, the only comfort we could give him. I don’t know if he experienced any comfort from the massaging. Maybe he didn’t feel anything at all. The unbearable pain had completely taken over his body and mind.

It was the middle of October 1979. Two weeks had passed since father had been discharged from the hospital. Half the time the doctor had given him was over. It was Saturday the 13th. I was sitting on the bed and gently massaging father’s body. It was several hours into the night. The activity had become so routine and everybody was so accustomed to the sound of his breathing that I didn’t even realize that father had stopped breathing. I continued to massage his chest without realizing that something was amiss.

But the sudden silence didn’t escape mother’s attention who was resting in the third room. She was not sleeping, either. It had been several days since she had any sleep at all. Suddenly mother called up, “Jayanthan, are you awake?”

I said, “Yes, mother.”

She was silent for another moment. Then she came running in panic and looked at father.

She gently placed her hand on his chest and suddenly burst out, “Oh! God! Transfer father on to the ground. I don’t know what to do. Call uncles immediately. Oh! God! Oh! God!”

As per our custom, the first thing we do after one’s death is to shift the body to the ground, in the lap of mother earth. A lighted lamp would then be kept near the head and a few other things such as a coconut, near the feet. 

It took a few seconds for me to realise the impact and meaning of mother’s words. It is then that I noticed that the constant sound of his breathing had stopped.

Due to the passing away of elder uncle a week ago (see anecdote ‘one’ below) and due to father’s precarious condition, most of our close relatives were staying in relatives’ houses nearby. (Our house was small and couldn’t accommodate them all.) Within the next few minutes, everybody had assembled at home and started discussing further course of action.

Father, who was only 49 years, went down fighting the deadly cancer. He was cremated the next morning.

It took us several weeks to reconcile to the fact that our dear father was no more with us and will never be in future. We were worried about mother. But she proved stronger than we had anticipated. She recovered faster than we expected, too.



It was a week after we had arrived home from the hospital with father. Our elder uncle, who was a freelance accountant, was working at one of his clients’ place. He could not even for a moment get the condition of father out of his mind. He used to come home every day in the evening and visit father.

That day he told a friend, “I don’t know how we will face mother if Kesavan (father) passes away. How will mother endure that? What will we do to console her? I don’t think we will ever be able to do that.” 

There was silence for a moment. Suddenly he tightly clutched his chest and leaned forward on to the table in front of him in terrible pain. People around immediately rushed him to the hospital. But before reaching hospital, he had breathed his last. It was a massive cardiac arrest. This was a week before father passed away.

So, instead of one, grandmother had to endure the untimely loss of two of her sons in quick succession within a week!


A few years after father passed away, once I went to visit Rajan ammavan (uncle) during my holidays. He told me of an incident that happened in one of the initial days after father had been diagnosed as suffering from cancer. Once before going to Vellore on a routine visit, father told him,

“One of these days if you see a small news item in the newspaper that somebody like me is found dead on the railway tracks, don’t worry and don’t be surprised either.”

It took a long time for uncle to convince father that he should not even think of any such foolish thing. Father knew his was a journey of no return. He was fully aware of the seriousness of the situation. He basically didn’t want us to spend (‘waste’, in his words) a lot of money on a ‘lost case’! He was only trying to speed up things which would eventually happen sooner rather than later.

His was a wait with total realization that the end was nearer. And he was fully prepared for that.