Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Delhi Thaatha - A Great Grand Story - Chitra Viraraghavan

Great writing to me is when a lot is told in so little. Chitra does that effortlessly in her book 'Delhi Thaatha, A Great Grand Story' - a story told about her great-grandfather Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, seen through her seven-year-old eyes. Chitra is a far more accomplished writer than many of us who masquerade as such. There is something in her understanding of the language, structure, grammar and mechanics that puts her in the next league. No wonder, her debut book 'The Americans' was published by Harper Collins in its literary imprint. Her choice of words even when she speaks and her understanding of the world reveal the same clarity, sharpness and seeing things for what they are. Not a word more, not a word less. And allows us readers to fill in the blanks using our own imagination. For all the books and stories I have read about Dr. Radhakrishnan, I have no doubt that this book will easily remain in my mind forever primarily because of the point of view she chose.

'Delhi Thaatha' gives us the essence of the person behind the persona of Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan. A quick look at his biography made me wonder how one can do justice to the man and his achievements without losing a big part of him.

That's where knowing your craft comes in and Chitra brings alive a whole new dimension of her great-grandfather in a few well-chosen incidents and recollections, just enough to give us a start, so we can complete the story. We can picture a small boy who grew up in a tiny village, with an innate curiosity and mischief, always thinking of something, absenting himself from school. So often would he be absent from school that his parents moved him to another school in a bigger town. Studying at Madras Christian College, making the most of his scarce resources, the scholar emerges, and then the teacher.

There's this delightful story of how when he was going to the station in a horse-drawn carriage a group of his students stops the horse carriage, removes the horse, and draw the carriage themselves. What a story! Reminded me of another teacher recently in Tamil Nadu whose transfer made the students cry and protest. One wonders how deeply such teachers must have touched their students to make them do things like that.

There are many more interesting incidents in his life we have not heard of - and we hold seven-year-old Chitra's hand and she takes us along - to the Rashtrapati Bhavan, to his house in Madras. Just as Dr. Radhakrishnan explains difficult concepts very simply to the child, Chitra does the same in writing this book. The book always stays between the affectionate great-grandfather and the seven-year-old Chitra. And we, the readers, remain at the seven-year old's side, comfortable with her granddad.

Great presentation, layout, rare pictures, lovely graphic design by Sunandini Banerjee and P. Balasubramanian's sketches. It is my early gift to Anjali who read it with great interest. 'I am amazed that Chitra aunty is related to such a great and noble man,' she said after reading the book.  It might just prod Anjali to explore some more about Delhi Thaatha and understand the quality of people we had in public life then. Chitra's depiction of her Delhi Thaatha is one that all readers will relate to, as a wise, gentle and kind man. We badly need to be reminded that such people existed.   

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