A yogi is what he would like to be remembered as, I think. And that he was, to a great extent, as described by fellow participants in his endeavours in Science, Medicine, the study of Vedas, the scriptures, and his deep involvement in the Arts and the spiritual engagements that benefit mankind. For one person to be able to cover that breadth is next to impossible, but then, Dr. T. I. Radhakrishnan always seemed to live the impossible.
Such was the influence he had on us, members of the staff, I find myself wanting to share a bit, the tiniest, littlest bit of yet another passionate soul, for in my limited knowledge of and interaction with Dr T I, as we used to refer to him, that is all I can, but all that I must. The urge has been there, since last evening, after I returned home, having paid obeisance to the mortal remains, and prayed for the peace of his soul, earlier in the afternoon.
Dr T I Radhakrishnan passed away yesterday, 25 Februray, 2013, early in the morning. He was 74. No, I shall go into biographical details, for I know so little. What I would like to share is the reason I want to share this. Dr T I was one of those persons who made a difference. Just that. A champion of the undervalued, social worker, culture aficionado, Kathakali expert, an organizer of ‘Athiraathram’ s , an activist for a just cause, a relentless champion of Science and Spirituality, of the Vedic Heritage, and of Sanskrit, and a voracious reader. An admirer of Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam too, whom he would refer to as a ‘living rishi’. He had been part of the Bhavan’s family, as parent, initially, and later as part of the Management, an advisor, a counsellor too, for the staff. He was, also, a Doctor of Medicine.
I had been in awe of Dr T I, even before I met him, for his reputation preceded him. I’ve already described a paragon of virtue above, so you would understand how I felt. This larger than life personality was something I had no clue about, till a lot later. What I had been told was the exacting nature he possessed – perfectionist, an idealist, and a possessor of a vast vast amount of knowledge! Added to it was the information I received that he had very little patience with those who were not prepared and ready with answers, when asked questions pertaining to their own fields. And that he deservedly had an arrogance of that knowledge. I’m not sure how I could accept that – he was probably among the very few I knew who refused to be modest about what he knew! Enough to have us quaking in our shoes!! Me, certainly!
Owing to personal loss, I had a year’s service break, from school, and was assured of a job back, when I returned in exactly 360 days, having found that I was comfortable only in the environs of a school, being with the students there. My vocation rescued me. But I digress. This is about Dr T I.
I was assured of the job alright, but had to go through the entire screening process, down to the final interview and demo class; and the learned panel had his presence. Death was the topic, after I had spoken about my loss, when asked why I had the break. Morbid, this would have been, if someone else handled it. Not the good Doctor. He quoted poetry, and asked about John Donne’s poem, ‘Death, be not proud’ – gauging my response. I held up :D. I spoke of having done PGCTE, at CIEFL, now EFLU. He wanted to know more. So I told him about the methodology, the psycho-lingual aspects, the… – there he interrupted me, and wanted an an example. The only thing I could think of at that point was something about the conundrum in language. Did thought come first, or language? When one thinks, does language play a part? Thinks,as against dreams. And then the discussion went on to dreams. And he asked me a question, tongue-in-cheek, which I remember even today- “Do you dream in colour, Usha Pisharody?” I think I stammered a ‘yes’, as a reply. Why this should be a standout memory, I do not know, except that during the discussion somewhere, I recognized an exhilaration, a seriously curious mind, always absorbing like a sponge. I am certain that he did know more than he let on, but that again, at this point is conjecture. In fact, even as I type this in, I am overwhelmed by a subtle guilt, in case I have got something wrong somewhere, and a subtle anxiety too, that he might just radiate a question or clarification from the other world. 🙂
The next three years, after that point where I got back to being a teacher again, I was part of the SMC (the School Managing Committe, comprising of the Management members, the Principal, a Principal of another school, two teacher representatives, two parent representative etc), and guess who the Chairman of the SMC was! Ummm… right, it was DR T I himself. Oh dear! I never missed a single meeting, even though it would be in the evening, and lasted quite long most days. And never ever stopped feeling anxious each time I had to go for it. Dr T I was a great democrat. 😀 He would insist participation of ALL; 😀 😀 which meant that at meetings, the mike would pass around to EVERYONE who had to share something, or answer a question or give an opinion! And this was also the case for the Staff Meetings he attended. I would, most times, with the audacity of a fool 😆 who should know better, offer responses, because I would be harangued by my neighbours, that he soon learnt my name! After that, meetings became lonely, because no one would want to sit next to me, just in case the good Doctor noticed that he could get some, any, response from me, and the mike may pass to the next teacher! When I look back, I still feel the adrenalin rush. And the wonderful feeling if/when I got an answer right. It was just like being back in class and looking forward to the teacher’s words of appreciation. In fact, if one got an answer right, he would ask the name, make the teacher stand up, and come to the front 🙂
At this point in this long ramble I begin to wonder, am I romanticizing the whole thing? Am I making Dr T I out to be something he probably would blanch at? And then I pause, and I go back over each of those incidents / the interactions, and I realize, that angry as I might have been on occasion when I thought that something could have been worded differently or expressed diplomatically, by him, it could not have been otherwise. The almost-arrogance that many pointed out, in the way he shared his knowledge, or his opinion, or his perspective, and expected that others would also subscribe to it, came from a very self assured and determined and absolutely instinctive inner self. He had an answer in mind, and almost always it would be true, though there might have been other perspectives. But he was inflexible in that; however, given all that he had within, and shared with us, it is, at this point an excusable shortcoming. For what he said, stood good.
At the last staff meeting I attended, on Teachers’ Day, 5th of September, when the Managing Committee wanted to spend time with us, Dr T I was there, with all the mischief and determination of wanting to set the cat among the pigeons :D. It was, of course, a namesake’s birthday being observed as Teachers’ Day – Dr. S. Radhakrishnan’s,- and therefore, he had a whole load of questions to ply on us, as we valiantly braved the onslaught of the rapid fire round 🙂 We even had a Dr. S. Radhakrishanan in our midst 🙂 A young Master from our sister school, run by the same Kendra, who held a Sanskrit doctorate 🙂 After the usual ribbing, about his name, Dr T I got to the nitty gritty, asking for names of books that he had written, wanting specific answers, ALL the time. Radhakrishnan Master (I keep wanting to call him Dr. S Radhakrishnan, but owing to the confusion it will create – as if to say I have not already, in this long long ramble- when lay persons confuse the great soul, and the happening soul :D, I shall not!) was called upon to stand in front, once he had given a correct answer, and asked other answers; the questions were then passed ‘democratically’ to us, in the main audience :P! Thanks to a thoughtful first born, I had a Blackberry, with a data plan, and the speed was fairly good 🙂 So, at the next question, regarding a great historical figure he had written about (Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, ie), I googled, got the answer, and said it aloud. Not loud enough. But Dr. T.I. got wind of it… 🙂 He was certainly appreciative, and I felt very guilty, for it was not my knowledge, but google’s vast compendium that helped! I had been wanting to tell him about it, and now I cannot. I do hope he understands! What is the saving grace is that I did learn, and so did many others, and that, finally, is the lesson. Google if you can, ask, if you cannot. Share your knowledge!
At one of the many nail-biting staff meetings, he told us of the five “I”‘s we need to sustain: I’ve even written this down in my little notepad, from years and years ago. :
Intellect, Interest, Information, Intuition and Imagination!
Other gems he oft quoted, were from Charaka :
“What is known is infinitely smaller that what is unknown…”
“We must learn from the sages and the shepherds…”
And his favourite had to be from the introduction to Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam’s “Wings of Fire”, about the divine fire which is there within all of us. And how teachers played the most important of roles in shaping an individual.
He was involved with the Arts, the Cultural Scenario, especially Kathakali, and other forms of art, and of course, with the Literary World. I am an ignoramus, when it comes to the wealth of literature in my mother tongue; Dr T I was a close associate of many of the contemporary and great writers of the time. In fact, when we went to pay our respects, on the afternoon of 25th Feb., the great Malayalam poet, Akkitham, was just leaving after having condoled his passing. But, perhaps a passion with Dr T I, was the Vedas, and the Athiraathram. One of my previous posts, from about two years ago gives a brief understanding of this vedic yagna. Dr T I was the President of the Organizing Committee of the Athiraathram that took place in his native village, in Kundoor, in 1990. He writes about his interaction with a yogi that touched him in this article. It was a success, as was the Vedic Exhibition he organized a few years earlier, in Thrissur District.
A question on the Vedas would always be directed at the Science teachers; for they were the favourite targets. A Spiritual Scientist, is what he was. Right from the aerodynamic principle to the evolution of species, to the IVF processes we have nowadays, he would say that all of these were in our scriptures those thousands of years ago! We just did not capitalize on it. Therein lay his desire for us to go back and learn, and re invent, and instill that drive and curiosity in the young minds today.
But most of all, the staff at our school share a deep and personal loss in his passing. He was ever the advocate and counsellor and a strong support in our skirmishes and ‘discussions’ with the management on almost all the issues. His guidance and his moral support were invaluable. In a condolence meeting today, at school, it was still difficult for us to come to terms with the fact that we could never again go to Dr. T. I. to air and seek guidance on the problems we had- be it personal, or official. A void. That is all that is left in that space he occupied. My deep condolences to his family, his wife, Dr Nalini, and his three beautiful daughters, the younger two having been former students of our school, all of whom are married now.
And yes. He was doctor. An honest to goodness doctor who treated patients in the most cost effective and generous way possible. Any and every poor man or woman and their family was sure to be treated, and that is something he did almost to the very end. At least till the early part of January, when I visited him to invite him for my younger son’s wedding, and he was in the middle of ‘seeing’ patients. He had a mischievous question – “Is it Kuwait ‘premam’?” I replied no, not at all… very much naadan premam! (premam – love; naadan – a native, countryside, very much here type)
“To live in hearts we leave behind
Is not to die.”
~Thomas Campbell, “Hallowed Ground”
And so it is with Dr. T. I. Each meeting we shall have he will still participate; each doubt that surfaces in our minds, we shall still go to his memory and excavate; and with each obstacle we face, we shall remember the determination and integrity he stood for, and soldier on.
Rest in peace, Dr. T. I. Radhakrishnan.
26 February, 2013
A mention in the Kochi Edition of The Hindu, page 3