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My Bawa

My Bawa, Dr. CVS. Ratnam, was a handsome, intelligent, a simple – hearted unassuming, and a courteous gentleman. He had grown from a simple background, into an eminent personality by his own efforts. His story is a story worthy of a movie! When Bawa came into our family, I was just a 10-year-old kid. Bawa coming to our family itself is an interesting story.

Bawa’s family lived in a small village- Cumbum, in Prakasham district of then Andhra Pradesh. My father Darsi Rangayya met him there during an event. This big event was happening at Cumbum High School. My father who was then a Munsiff for Anantapur district was invited as chief guest. My Bawa who was a student of Cumbum High School, was entrusted with the responsibility of taking care of the Chief Guest. He also was involved in the arrangements of the event. He rendered a welcome address too. My father was very impressed and had a strong feeling that this handsome young boy had a bright future. My father also felt that this boy was the perfect match for his eldest daughter and decided to ask this young man to marry my sister! But there was a considerable difference in the status between the two families. Bawa’s father was a clerk earning meagre wages and no assets. My father was a Munsiff and had all the privileges that came with the title whereas Bawa lived in Cumbum, a small village with no electricity, water connections or private toilets. So, when my mother heard about my father’s proposal, she was aghast and strongly refused insisting that her daughter would never be able to live in a village with no toilets. But my father was so impressed with the handsome boy he met at Cumbum that did not listen to my mother and she had to give in. My father along with my mother went to Cumbum to finalise the proposal for marriage. They met Bawa’s parents in their home, which had a small, thatched roof and mud floor coated with cow dung! When my parents put forth the proposal for marriage to Bawa’s parents, they could not believe what they were hearing! Venkatasubbaiah garu, my Bawa’s father said they were indeed too happy to have Sarojini as their daughter – in -law, but felt that they were too poor to accept her in marriage for his son. But my father convinced Venkatasubbaiah garu that his son had a very bright future and to trust his judgment regarding the match. Then when my parents broached the subject of marriage and the formalities that ensued, including dowry which was a common practice then, my Bawa’s family only asked that my father continue to support and guide him in education. Bawa also asked my father to support him in his education. Such was his wisdom.

Bawa started his career as a lecturer at Pitapuram Raja’s college in Kakinada. He had also submitted a research paper to Indian Institute of Sciences, Bangalore. Sir CV Raman, renowned Indian Physicist was impressed with his research paper. He called Bawa and advised him to do research and get a Doctorate Degree. Bawa earned a scholarship from the State Government of Tamil Nadu and went on to earn his Ph.D. at North Dakota university, USA. During this time my sister stayed with my parents. When he came back to India, companies including Burmah Shell offered him jobs with salaries in the range of Rs. 250/month, a very attractive salary those days. But he refused to take those offers and decided to work for the Government of Tamil Nadu as they wanted a scientist and a research scholar in fuel technology for their upcoming project at Neyveli Lignite Corporation (NLC). Mr. R. Venkatraman (who became President of India in1987) personally selected him and appointed him as Chief Chemist for NLC. My Bawa took on this job and faced many hardships working for the start-up project. At the time, the mining activities were yet to begin, and corporate living quarters were yet to be built. He had to stay at Virudhachalam which was about 20 km from Neyveli and commuted each day by bus. Bawa put his heart and soul into the development of NLC and rose to the position of Superintendent Engineer. He earned love and respect of all his colleges. He served NLC for about 19 years. Mr. R. Venkatraman also invited Bawa to be Vice-president of a prestigious Commission for Scientific Research. Hon. President R. Venkatraman was heading that Commission. Bawa later became the Adviser of Science and Technology Policy of ESCAP Regional Centre for Technology Transfer UNO.

My father’s gut feeling that my Bawa, Dr. Ratnam, the young intelligent boy would have a great future had come true!

Few fond incident I recall - One time, I went with my Bawa to Cumbum. Bawa had his camera with him. For people of Cumbum in those days, a person owning his own camera was a rare sight. Everyone in the village wanted their picture to be taken. There was a big queue forming. Bawa got petrified as he did not have enough reels! I came to his recue and said that I would handle the crowd and asked him to go into the house. I started clicking the camera without any reel as I was sure we wouldn’t be able to give them their pictures to them. When Bawa visited our home, we used to play carroms and card games. Whenever he could not pocket a coin while playing Carroms, he used to simply remove the coin from the board and put it in his pocket, and we used to tease him a lot for stealing the coin. He was a great inspiration for all of us. When Bawa was at Virudhachalam, he invited me for his son Venu’s ‘Kesa Khandana’ function (ritual of tonsuring ceremony of the baby). I developed earache. I was sent to an ENT Doctor for consultation. After listening to my ailment, to my horror, the Doctor pulled out my tooth instead of attending to my earache! Bawa was also horrified! He was very affectionate and cared about his family. One time, my brother Shyam went to Delhi with his young wife during winter. Bawa was living at Delhi at that time. Bawa came to the station to receive Shyam even though the train arrived at 5am in the morning.

Bawa encouraged my brother Chandrashekar to also work on his Ph.D. Guided by him, my brother could grow into a successful engineer and entrepreneur. Bawa helped my youngest brother Govardhan to get a good job. There is a long list of people who could peruse their higher studies and also get good jobs due to his advice and guidance.

His parents and his two brothers also depended on him for financial support. One time, his brother Subbha Rao was admitted in a hospital and Bawa requested me to look after him. When Subbha Rao passed away in the hospital itself, I along with one of our relative Mr. Tilak, completed Subbha Rao’s final rites since Bawa was out of the country at that time. Later when he returned, he hugged me and his eyes were filled with tears full of gratitude and affection for me. Such was our relationship. I remember one other incident that he had radical ideas to conventions and formalities. At his daughter Shoba’s wedding, he gave us all coupons for breakfast, lunch and dinner and instructed us to go and eat whenever we pleased! Formality was that the guests will be accompanied by the host and hostess for all the meals but my Bawa saw us all as family and encouraged us to feel at home. Another funny incident happened when Bawa was at Delhi. I used to visit him whenever I went to Delhi on case work in the High Court. On one such visits, when I was getting ready to go to Court, I could not find one of my shirts. While searching for the shirt, we found that some other things were also missing. Later as I started walking on the street to get a Taxi, I noticed that the young man who worked in Bawa’s house was standing near a tea shop wearing my shirt! Immediately I went and caught hold of him and took him along with me to Bawa. Bawa was shocked and immediately police were summoned and ultimately, we retrieved a number of stollen items from him.

Bawa’s love for my sister, his wife, was unconditional. She had developed Leucoderma, white patches all over her body. She used to feel reluctant to go out with him in her condition. But Bawa never allowed her to feel any negativity. He insisted that she accompany him wherever he went. They travelled together across India and abroad and she attended every meeting, every function together. Lesser man would have hesitated, but my Bawa was a wonderful man. When my sister started losing her eyesight with age, my Bawa found an opportunity to hold her hands more and cared for her even more. Such was their relationship.

I respected and loved my Bawa. Indeed, it is a privilege to share my thoughts about my dear Bawa. I am so glad that my niece Shoba gave me this opportunity to share my fond memories in the Centenary celebrations.


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