Today, my maternal side of the family, is getting together to celebrate the life of our beloved grandfather centenary day. Even though, he is not with us physically, his spirit is guiding us through this maze of life. He lived a good 92 years and his life is akin to a large banyan tree. Under his benevolent canopy, his parents, siblings, wife, children, nieces, nephews, business associates and friends thrived.
Sivaramakrishnan Thatha was the first son with 9 siblings, born in a village Kallikaikuruchi, in Trinelveli district. He spent his early childhood with his parents and siblings and enjoyed life swimming in theTambiraparani river, worshipping the LakshmiVaraha Swami, studying in local school, enjoying simple delicious meals cooked by his mother and building a large network of friends.
At the age of 15, after giving his Matric exam, he caught a train to Madras. He landed at his uncle’s home to start work at a fledging business. He remained loyal to his uncle and learnt the cycle business from scratch. He steadily grew along with booming business and expanded it to other cities. His uncle recognized his potential and gave him larger roles. His next two brothers joined him soon in Madras.
The family grew with marriage and children coming along. The brothers lived in a joint family in a sprawling bungalow called “Sri Prahalad”. The brothers also married off the sisters and moved the parents to Madras. Sri Prahalad was buzzing with celebrations of one or the other. Music, food, good coffee, children, visitors and grand festivals were ever present in this household.
Thatha did well financially; he worked hard and considered a pioneer in cycle business in Madras. His daughters, sons, nieces and nephews were given equal opportunities. Children travel led, listen to great music, went to good movies, met interesting personalities and grew to be confident adults. He took great care of his parents and prided to be a good son and brother.
My memory of Thatha was from late 1970s. Iam his eldest grandchild and enjoyed singular attention for 10 months. My cousin, Anand, soon followed and the third generation arrived in regular frequency. Every vacation was spent with them. For the first 10 years, we continued to live in Sri Prahlad. Thatha would organize parties for us in the “Seetha Cottage” at the terrace. He would bring special sweets and savories every night on his way back from work. We loved the rides in his motorcycle with side car.
He had a heightened sense of aesthetics. Even simple activities will have his touch. He was particular we wake up early, clean up, change to decent clothes, comb our hair, pray for a minute , apply the customary vibhooti and wish everyone in the family before we run for our morning coffee. All meals /snack to be eaten in a charming way. I would join him in the Oonjal ( swing) in the morning with our coffee. There will be a small plate of bakshnam ( snacks) to go with the coffee. To this day, we cousins have this habit and our spouses sneer at us!!!
His speech was very clear and he would be very attentive to our answers. He regaled us with the small tricks to be done in business to get customers. My first lessons on customer service were from him. Even today, when I have to tackle a tough customer, I ask myself “what would Thatha do at this juncture?”. He was an expert in networking and maintained cordial relation with business partners and associates. He helped scores of families by providing work to deserving people. I have never seen/heard him raise his voice but he could be firm . My grandmother will be the only one to bear the brunt of his stubbornness.
He had great interest in food and every meal is a celebration. Consumption of food was an art form for him. He would specify special combinations of side dishes and teach us to relish simple food. My most memorable meal has been the shared dinners of the humble curd rice with keerai kuzhambu , eaten out of a beautiful glass bowl, late at night, after he returns from work. Even a banana will be sliced and served in a small cup with a fruit fork.
He had picked up antique furniture, picture frames, and artifacts over the years. Each piece had a story and a special feature and he would elaborate it to us in detail. He was a great lover of music, dance and theatre. He ensured his next generation got exposed to best elements of art. He also created opportunities for engaging with the stalwarts and enriching his life with these encounters.
He was a great storyteller. I fondly remember sitting with him on the wide swing and listening to his childhood tales. It felt as if we were watching a movie as he brought the words to picture. He also instructed us on life principles and how we should conduct ourselves in our adult lives. He took care of his appearance and dressed with elegance. He was always neat and ensured he was presentable to any guest. He was never flashy and ensured we learned this from him.
He was not religious but highly spiritual. He did not subscribe to any rituals or edicts. He placed humanness above all attributes and lived his entire life by this principle. But he loved festivals and saw it as an opportunity to bring the extended family together. Food, fun and healthy banter were the key to all festivals.
He loved his grandkids a lot. Our greatest pride has been the cycle models named after us. We would look at the posters with the models and have endless discussions on this regard. Infact, his last business venture was named after one of us (Sundar Traders)
His life was full of ups and downs. Much later in life, he lost almost everything he built over 40 years. Financially constrained and tested from all directions, he held his balance. He never bad mouthed even an evident traitor. He continued to work till his mid 70s and contribute to family upkeep. He took the slide down with great grace and dignity. He took pride in his children’s achievement and submitted to their choices. He moved to new city to live with his sons and accepted it with positivity. He never ever grudged his change of fortune. He lived in the “present” and made full use of the goodness of the moment.
As we all grew up and got busy with our own lives, we tried to get him to come to our homes. When I had just delivered my child, Thatha came along with me to Nellikuppam. For the next 30 days, he told charge of rocking the cradle of this colicky child. Neyyathankarai Vasudevan and Maharajpuram Santhanam was playing on constant loop. I can, even now, picture him sitting by the side of the cradle and rocking the cradle ,non-stop for hours. He would simultaneously enjoy the music and smile at every nuances the artist threw at him.
He got afflicted with Alzheimer’s in his 90s and could not place most of us but remembered his childhood, parents and siblings with great clarity. If I were to rank his life roles in order of his preference it would be as follows –Brother, Son, Business man, Grandfather, Friend, Father and Husband.
When my uncle called me to announce the planned celebration, I thought of all the times I had spent with him and the experiences that has stayed with me! There emerged a question in my mind. Can I say that my Thatha was a successful person? I read and researched a bit on the universal definitions of Success in humans. I stumbled upon these words of my favorite poet “Ralph Waldo Emerson”. It goes as follows:-
“to laugh often and much, to win respect of intelligent people and affection of children, appreciation of honest critics, endure the betrayal of false friends, to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others, to leave the world a bit better, to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived –this is to have succeeded”. By this definition, Thatha has succeeded and succeeded with great style.
I am so proud to be his grandchild and hope to remember and follow his life edicts!!!