Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Portrait of my CT

My grandpa’s younger brother did not have any grandchildren of his own.  While in her late 20s, his daughter – his only child - had made the decision to stay unmarried.  She chose to lead a life that was completely dedicated to social activism and writing.  Conversations about her marriage were minimal.  After a while, they ceased to exist.  As far as typical father-daughter interactions in middle class India were concerned, this was as far from the norm as Chennai (my hometown, in India) is from Chicago.  After all, this is the land of arranged marriages.  But CT never cared much about societal norms.  CT – that was short for Chinna Thatha which, in my native language, refers to a grandfather’s younger brother.  CT is the kind of nickname that a kid will coin right before filing for creative bankruptcy.  I was that kid.  But somehow, miraculously, he found it cute and so, the name stuck. 

CT was a short man.  In small part due to genetics and in no small part due to his lovely wife’s delectable cooking, he was a tad overweight.  A lightly starched cotton shirt and a neatly ironed dhoti (a traditional Indian garment) comprised his preferred attire.  He applied coconut oil to bring some discipline to the thick shocks of hair that he was blessed with.  His ranch house in Chennai was built in the 1960s.  I especially loved the pillars near the threshold.  It was not an ostentatious home and was beautiful precisely for that reason.  The warmth and glow of the home came not just from the large open windows.  There was an inexplicable coziness in the off-white, worn-out sofa.  CT and his home were not dissimilar to one another.  Both derived their richness from their simplicity.  Both gave you the feeling that you were a welcome addition to their existence just by virtue of being in their vicinity.  Both belonged to an earlier era, yet had aged gracefully, exuding a sense of stability and unfussy perfection. 

CT was 44 years older than me.  It is a fact – not an opinion, mind you – that I was his favorite among the kids in our extended family!  Cricket - the sport, not the insect – was the durable glue that cemented our bond.  Both of us loved the game.  He got me to be not only passionate about the sport but also think about it deeply.  He would occasionally give me some nuggets of wisdom around leadership and teamwork based on his vast knowledge of the game.  But since I adored the sport and its players, it never came across as didactic.  Plus he was a fabulous raconteur, telling stories with the right mix of facts and spice.  One of his favorite stories was that of an Indian cricket team captain who refused to kowtow to the authorities and fought for his team over the miniscule salaries that were paid to the players.  The captain paid the price for his recalcitrance and lost his place in the team while the other players got a discernible hike in pay.  CT would say that the panjandrums who felt victorious destroying the captain’s career had actually lost a bigger battle.  It was years later that I could understand why this story resonated with him.  CT had quit his fledgling career as a lawyer because he could not stand the corruption and dishonesty that ran rampant in his practice.  He decided that the fight was not worth it because the system would not accommodate the values that he stood for.  He later had a fulfilling career as a marketer for an alloy manufacturer. 

Acceptance.  As I think of the one word that I would associate most with CT, it is ‘acceptance’ that scrolls across my mind in font size 72, especially as it relates to his attitude towards his daughter.  His unshakable belief was that freedom was not something that he had to give my Aunt.  Rather, within the bounds of conscientiousness, he believed that she owned her freedom of thought, choice and expression and he saw it as his duty to not impinge on that.  My Aunt’s choices, be it the decision to stay single, have communist leanings or espouse atheism were all unconventional for the mores of the society around her.  But CT respected every one of her choices wholeheartedly.  He was a deeply pious Brahmin (a subsect of Hindus) but he proudly announced to me one day that my Aunt’s latest book was her best work yet.  The book’s title – Towards a Non-Brahmin Millennium.  This, coming from a person that spent 45 minutes every morning in his prayer room, was remarkable.  The acceptance of the space that he believed was his daughter’s stemmed from a quiet assurance about his own space.  That, I believe, was empowerment of a special kind.  If I grow up to be half as thoughtful a parent to my son, then I am sure that CT will be happy with my parenting abilities. 

On Saturday, January 22, 2005, he stepped out of his house and suddenly collapsed, never to get up.  He had had a fatal cardiac arrest.  He was 67.  Just about the only comforting thought that I have about CT’s rather sudden death is the fact that he did not undergo any suffering.  It was an abrupt end to a meaningful chapter in my life.  But as we all know, the themes of a book often get established in important chapters.

Continue to rest in peace, CT.  Just know that I miss you.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

I have not had the privilege of knowing CT. You have done a great job explaining in great detail about him. So nice that he let your aunt be who she wanted to be. Most parents shove their dreams, belief and likes on their kids but it is very inspiring to know that your CT didn't do any of that and most importantly didn't succumb to societal pressures. We salute you CT!!!

Laura Neill said...

CT sounds like a very complex and loveable person. I like the details in capturing the character - the reader can really feel the love in this piece.

Anu Warrier said...

What a lovely piece, Ram. Your affection for your chinna thatha comes through in every word. He seems to have been an exceptional man.

You know what caught my eye, though? This paragraph:
CT and his home were not dissimilar to one another. Both derived their richness from their simplicity. Both gave you the feeling that you were a welcome addition to their existence just by virtue of being in their vicinity. Both belonged to an earlier era, yet had aged gracefully, exuding a sense of stability and unfussy perfection.

It is a very powerful description, and a very moving one.

I also loved this description, for a very different reason:

The acceptance of the space that he believed was his daughter’s stemmed from a quiet assurance about his own space. That, I believe, was empowerment of a special kind.

Ram Murali said...

Anonymous - great point there about good parenting. Yes, CT, as a Dad, was thoughtful and progressive.

Laura - thank you for reading and leaving such a kind comment. I really appreciate it.

Anu - I am humbled by your reaction. I am so glad that you liked the write-up.

kalpana solsi said...

My maternal grandma was a raconteur too.

people like Chinna Tatha seems to be an extinct species, the species which give their kids the mental space to think and follow their heart and also accept their decisions. May CT's tribe increase. He did not suffer in his old-age reflects his good karma. May his soul rest in peace.

http://ideasolsi65.blogspot.in/2017/06/of-ice-and-men.html

Ram Murali said...

Kalpana - thank you for your comment. Much appreciated.

Danielle Dayney said...

This snapshot of CT's life was a sweet read. My favorite line was this: "In small part due to genetics and in no small part due to his lovely wife’s delectable cooking, he was a tad overweight." Your sense of humor shined here.

Ram Murali said...

Danielle - thank you so much for your kind words.

unfoldingfromthefog.wordpress.com said...

There are so many wonderful details in this piece, like "He applied coconut oil to bring some discipline to the thick shocks of hair that he was blessed with." I also liked, "His unshakable belief was that freedom was not something that he had to give my Aunt."

Your uncle sounds like a special man. I'm sorry for your loss.

ravishanker sunderam said...

Hey Ram !

Its more engaging to read this tribute (what a heavy uninteresting word for an engaging piece) to one of the family's Heroes Without Cut-outs. A timely reminder that heroism and fame don't necessarily go together.

Salutes to you for training your searchlight-cum-Xray machine and coming up with what writers call 'the Power of One' when writing about your family. Yes - the article was about CT but it had that singular thread running through it - focusing on one main idea

Thats what makes it so engaging - and ofcourse the lovely descriptions of such details as the oil applied to one's hair. What a glamourization !

By the way would that Indian captain's name be K.Srikanth ? :) :) I had the same thought then. I was doing my CA at that time.


And last but not least your treat doesnt stop with publishing this article.

You owe us lunch some good place for the Vasishtar Warrier's lovely comments :):)

P.S - Great talking to your mom on the phone at Namma Memphis


Ram Murali said...

Unfoldingfromthefog - thank you so much. He truly was a special man.

Ravishanker - nandri pala * 1000. Yes, Krish Srikkanth ey thaan! It happened in 1989-90. So, your memory is perfect.

Lunch ena chai-ey panni tharen! (Trust me, you would want my chai more than my samayal!)

Yes, Amma was very happy and grateful that you had called.