Feb 23rd evening in Chandler, my phone buzzed with a WhatsApp call . It was the first time ever that my father called on WhatsApp . He had only started with WhatsApp about a month ago or so and have been taking baby steps with forwards and so on . I immediately answered .
He called primarily to console me on losing our beloved Hobo a few days ago .
He insisted that I buy a new puppy quickly . I told him I needed some time to grieve but I am definitely planning to get a new pup soon . He took it literally when I said “soon” and asked if I planned to get a puppy in the two weeks before I left for India 🙂
Till I left home after college , he used to indulge me a lot when it came to my love for dogs . My grandfather bought me my first fully and acha bought me everyone who came after .
He asked about our plans for our daughter’s 15th birthday and I told him about stepping out for dinner with her in a few minutes given the next day was a school day .
And then he asked me what only he considers a perfectly normal question – “How are your cars?” !
Achan was the biggest connoisseur of cars that I ever knew . Three years ago, when we needed a second car – I chose a Toyota over a Merc . And a month or two later , my parents visited at us Chandler for a vacation . Achan and I sat in our backyard and for hours we discussed pros and cons of engine design and the future of cars . Amma took this photo from behind us and later shared with me 🙂
Achan was a genuine mechanical engineer – someone who intuitively understood how machines worked . I became a mechanical engineer – not even half as good – because I wanted to be like him ! He taught me how to drive a car when I was 14 , over a summer vacation . He would park the car uphill , switch seats with me , and as I struggled to keep the car from rolling downward – he would ask me “tell me how a rack and pinion system works in the steering” or “explain how the clutch engages”. Needless to say , a few years later when I had to study automobile engineering in college – I aced it 🙂 .
He was a passionate driver , as is his maternal uncle who is only three years older than him . Between the two of them, it was common to go on 18 hour drives with Achan doing 9 hours of driving during day time and Maman doing 9 hours after sunset .
One of my fondest memories of childhood is sitting in the backseat of his white Fiat car and asking him to overtake a random car in front of us – and he would always oblige me !
When I was a little kid , he would often take me to the local vegetarian restaurants and we would have Dosa . Those were our dad-son bonding moments . And that’s a tradition we have continued over the years – with me taking him out for Dosa when he visited me in US or I visited him in Trivandrum . I enjoy Sambar with Dosa and he enjoys chutney with Dosa . So every time we eat Dosa outside – I take his bowl of sambar and he would take my chutney bowl . And we would always order two cups of filter coffee each – one before the dosas and one to eat with the Dosa . Those are habits that have stuck with me all these years .
It turned out that my daughter and my nephew – his darling grand children – both enjoy Dosa , and I think he has trained them both on the art of eating Dosa the same way as he did with me 🙂
When I was five years old, I learned to play cards from my paternal grandparents . But it was Achan who taught my little sister and I (and some of our cousins as well) to take up playing rummy as a competitive sport 🙂 . Perhaps playing rummy was the only aspect of his life where he played to win !
He had a very special fondness for my sister Lekshmi , and her husband Ravi was like a son for him, much like my wife Dhanya was a daughter for him .
Any time I visited him and left – I knew he felt bad . But when it was she – he would be downright depressed and his eyes would well up .
She was his favorite baby girl throughout !
Achan never met a stranger in his life . With his humor and humility and sense of fair play – he put everyone at ease immediately. He was one of those very few people that had no enemies and he never thought ill of anyone – even those that didn’t do right by him . While he got along splendidly with everyone – there were two cohorts of friends that he absolutely adored . The first were his pals from the 1970 class of College Of Engineering, TRIVANDRUM . And the other was his family of colleagues from ALIND where he worked most of his career .
I believe to this day that the best thing Acha ever did was to marry amma . They were inseparable for nearly 46 years through thick and thin . They never made a lot of money but they had an incredible life together through their (often comic and some times tragic) ups and downs . They gifted us kids the wealth of a great education and taught us their values .
He was an only child and absolutely was the eye of the apple for my grand parents . We all used to tease my grand parents for rushing to grab extra towels for him when he came out after a shower even when he was in his thirties 🙂 . When they passed away, he took it really hard and used to say “Now I am an orphan”.
His dad was an award winning historian and his mom was a trained classical musician . Achan probably inherited his love for reading and Carnatic music from his parents and he dutifully passed it to me .
I introduced him to the music of Sreevalsan Menon some years ago and he became a die hard fan . As he lay unconscious in the critical care unit of SK Hospital last week for several days, I played his favorite songs for him via the pink headset that my daughter had gifted him and I hope that he enjoyed it as he always did .
As it turned out, that 8 minutes and 31 seconds WhatsApp call on Feb 23 evening was the last time I spoke with him . And the last thing I told him was that my cars are doing fine 🙂 .
Yesterday night, I held his hand while he went into his final sleep peacefully . As the flames took his earthly remains today afternoon , I couldn’t help imagining his parents were waiting with open arms – and extra towels – in heaven for their favorite son !
We will miss you for ever, Acha – but you left us with such great memories for a life time that will keep us all going . I am sure you will be driving your favorite cars in heaven , and blasting your favorite songs !
Many thanks to all our friends and family for all the kind words and prayers . A special shout out to Malu chechi and Hemachandran Chettan for going way above and beyond . And a lot of gratitude to the doctors (especially Dr Ravi , Dr Remya and Dr Renju) and nurses at SK a hospital for taking such good care of Acha and for answering all our questions honestly .