Sunday, December 6, 2009

The wisdom of life - From the Wisest Man I Knew -Narayan Devidas

Narayan Devidas. Father of my good friend and staunch ally Shankar Devidas. Born 30 July, 1924. Cannanore, Kerala. English teacher at CIEFL, author of books - a text book for the fifth class students published by Orient Longman and another on grammar. A third, much awaited one on Spoken English by Orient Longman is due.
I met Aunty yesterday, Radha Devidas, sweet as only she can be, warm, giving, full of life, easy to talk to and also now carrying a tint of sadness I feel, at having to plod on alone after so many years of journeying with her soulmate. Again, as with people of the highest quality, both aunty and uncle always spoke to me like an equal, treated me like an intelligent, mature, considerate and loving human and that is what our relationship was like. I think that is the key to all relationships - what you look for you find. Actually, it applies to life itself.
I went to spend some time with her and maybe eat a couple of the most lovely dosas she makes. They are the best I have ever eaten. 'I am getting your granddaughter over,' I declared. 'Oh, come, come,' she said breathlessly and away we went. Aunty always makes you feel that you are the most important person in this world.
I wanted to write about uncle's philosophy so I thought its a good time to know more about a man who to me ranks amongst the wisest souls I met on this earth, one of the most erudite and one who probably had an understanding of several secrets of the universe we did not know or did not understand when he spoke about them.
Last January he moved on from this world leaving me one mentor short. I remember clenching my jaw, when I heard - wish I had spent more time with him was the first thought. We cannot stop his going. I enjoyed talking to him on several issues and I loved his casual yet insightful commentary on life. Having lost my father early on in life I do miss my mentors, and among them uncle is someone who left a huge void.
Sunnie came down for his funeral. Sometime after that he told me a story about his father which to me is the philosophy of life to carry.
As a child Narayan Devidas was born with infantile cataract, the eldest son in a family of three brothers, in a farmers house in Pappinaserry 15 kms from Cannanore. Severely disabled with his eyesight, Narayan had to wait for his younger brother Kunhikrishnan, to start going to a government school so he could get some assistance. Somebody had to read for him and he'd write down from memory in "bad handwriting". It must have been dark and difficult especially for a fragile soul like uncle's, but it must have toughened his as well.
Then when he was 13, there was an eye operation and one eye got better. 6 operations followed in the next six years and one eye became normal, again miraculously and he got a lifeline.
He went to Tellicherry for his Intermediate with his old ally and brother Kunhikrishnan; young Haridas who would later become a famous painter was the third and much younger sibling, and then to St. Aloysius, Mangalore for his Bachelor in Arts degree. Kunhikrishnan chose science and they stayed at the hostel.
But here is where the story gets the twist. Uncle had a dear friend in his cousin Radhakrishnan, someone who understood him and someone he could talk to. They were the same age and grew up together, spending time in vacations. Radhakrishnan appears to be a high spirited chap who seemed to have identified a buccaneering spirit within Uncle somewhere and they got along like a house on fire. Aunty says they had big plans of getting arrested or at least getting beaten up in the freedom struggle- forever joining morchas, rallies and plotting and planning revolution in their youthful minds. It might be fair to assume that Radhakrishnan fuelled revolution and uncle loved the romance of being a freedom fighter but unfortunately for all their plans and hardwork, not one beating, not one arrest! However having done their bit, having excited and exhausted their young minds they grew up to be 20 when tragedy struck. Radhakrishnan died of sarcoma of the toe and left a just recovering revolutionary in the dark with no one to fuel big dreams, lofty escapes.
Uncle's world closed down in that one moment.

He confessed to Sunnie, 'I wanted to commit suicide that night. My world, it seemed had ended.'
(And then,the philosophy that can save us all.)
'As I thought about it that night, almost a moment from deciding to end my life, I suddenly got one thought. Let us see what is in store for me. Let us see. That curiosity of wanting to know what life had in store for me kept me going from that moment and then on, one day to another,' he said.

How wonderfully liberating. How exhilarating to carry one thought like that. Let us see what is in store tomorrow.
I wake up. What has life got for me today? Maybe one door has shut forever. But now other doors are open. I AM FREE AGAIN!

For the record Uncle went on to complete his B.Ed,M.A. and taught in several schools, worked with the Madras English Teaching Campaign (MELT) for 4 years when he had the opportunity to meet a demure, polio-affected English teacher as his student, a young bright eyed girl who would later become Mrs. Narayan Devidas. He joined CIEFL, Hyderabad in 1963, noticed and answered a newspaper ad in the Hindu that fit the description of that girl he had met and married her. 'I told my brother who wrote the content for that marriage advertisement that he must mention my disability,' said Aunty severely, suspecting that some well-meaning soul would have masked it. 'When Uncle read it, he could identify me because of the disability and my address and that is how he reached us.' Integrity begets love.
Two children, Omana and Sunnie, an idyllic life on campus, a stint with the BBC, a life well-lived among intellectuals and students and people who loved him, admired him and dipped into his ocean of knowledge. Apart from his all encompassing knowledge of everything under the sun and above, he had a special liking for philosophy, astrology, history, science, religion (that I know of) and probably all the other subjects that are there in the library. He could speak and read maybe French, Russian, Italian, German, English, Malayalam, Tamil, Kannada, Coorgi and Hindi. And somewhere Aunty says, he compared in some of his works, the minds of Edward de Bono and Jiddu Krishnamurthy! Now that would require someone with an extraordinary mind and I rest my case there.
But thanks a lot uncle for all that you taught me and for encouraging me when I showed you my first manuscript of 'The Misfit' (my first novel and one I say is my masterpiece yet) and I remember you saying 'you can write' which I have now grown to recognise as the most wonderful compliment any writer can get from someone who knows the craft. I will miss you and your advise though. However until we meet again I am telling all the people I know, especially youngsters, that this is the philosophy if life we must follow!
'Let us see what life has in store for me tomorrow!'


Unknown said...

Brilliant! Unfortunate that he is not around to read it.

Unknown said...

Beautifuly written and very touching.A fitting tribute to a great soul and a wonderful teacher/mentor.
unni, Bangalore