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My Grandfather and I

There is excitement in the house, the reason- Thatha is visiting. This is my earliest memory of my Grandfather. With Thatha would come gifts and chocolates and his imposing presence, his loud voice, hearty laugh and the strong fragrance of his hair oil. As I grew older I looked forward to a lot more, just being with him and his wisdom.

He would always be reading. He would always have a magazine open. Time, Fortune, India Today, Reader's Digest, think he was subscribing to at least 7 magazines and 3 daily newspapers. My own habit of reading a lot, I got from him. Later when I could visit Bangalore more often, when I was in IIT- Madras, I would bring back a ton of magazines. He would look at what I was taking back to make sure he had already read them. Those days without the internet, those magazines opened my mind to so much more. One particular magazine The Dialogue and The Reader's Digest were inspirations for the magazine I started, Businessgyan.

While reading, especially after lunch or dinner he would munch a light snack, by default it would be dal used for chutney and jaggery. He had a sweet tooth, always ending a meal with a desert. His favourite chocolate was Almond Joy, which is kept safe in his bedroom cupboard which we kids would sneak up and take. He was an imposing and powerful personality but indulged his grandkids.

Amma made it a point when we were young that our summers would be at Nellore (Paternal Grandparents) or at Bangalore with Amamma and Thatha (her parents). A morning walk visiting various temples in Malleswaram was his habit, he would never insist, but I would tag along often. He was heading the Regional Centre for Technology Transfer then, which had a heritage palatial building as their office. (Interestingly we live on the same road now, the Palace Road, and that building today is the National Gallery of Modern Art.) a truly imposing but beautiful building. Just imagine having a building like that as your office. That was our Thatha’s office. He was certainly a very successful person but to me he was my Thatha.

When I was in IIT, Thatha visited me a few times and stayed in the Taramani Guest House. I enjoyed the walks we had, and we would talk about different things. Conversations with him were not very long but to me it was always insightful. One such was my career choice, I was in a dilemma at IIM, I had taken courses in finance and marketing and was wondering whether I should get a finance related job or marketing. He said that whatever job I took, I should make sure that I was creating some tangible value, that would be more satisfying, don't take a job just for the sake of money.

in Bangalore. When he was among people you could notice the reverence and respect he received.

People often visited him seeking help, and he did help a lot of people. Am sure in their sharing a lot of family members would share how he helped them in their careers.

He always encouraged people to do well and bring their talents to light. The closest of course was my Grandmas gift of writing bhajans to Lord Rama. Encouraging her to do so, getting them published by Tirupati Devasthanams, getting them sung by noted artists and getting them made into cassettes, Thatha was very dogged in making all this happen.

It's interesting, I have seen him give career advice to others but he never once told me to study well or work hard or anything like that, even when I was very young and struggling with my studies. He was just there for me with no expectations. But for two instances when he did get involved.

Thatha had a big role to play in my joining the Unilever group rather Thatha was a chemical engineer by qualification and his life journey is an inspiration in itself. It's interesting that he never himself told me about his journey. I heard it from my parents and Ammamma. Thatha grew up in such a poor family that he could not even afford a pen. He assembled an ink pen from thrown away pens. With no electricity at home, he studied under a street lamp. From there to getting a scholarship in Indian Institute of Science and later University of North Dakota, coming back to India and being in the core team to set up the Neyveli Lignite Corporation and then joining RCTT (a UN organisation) is; wow what a career. In his career, Thatha, Dr.C.V.S Ratnam, did create a lot of tangible value.

When I got into IIM Bangalore, I think he was the most delighted. I too preferred Bangalore to Calcutta, the city was a big draw but more so because I could visit Thatha and Amamma more often. And I did, possibly 2 weekends a month. I would get pampered by Amamma and go on those walks with Thatha. He always carried a walking stick with him, and had a large collection from around the world (now with Chinni Mama). The home was full of stuff, artefacts and souvenirs from across the globe. Wonder if there was any country he had not visited.

Even in his retirement, Thatha was a very busy man, he was the first president of the RMV club, did the work to get all the permissions to get it started and also the community welfare association. He was also the president of the Institution of Engineers than the Tata Administrative Services. I had actually given my resignation to the Unilever group and was all ready to join the Tatas, but he convinced me to change my mind. He believed that a multinational company exposure would be better. Well that exposure was not for very long, since I very soon became an entrepreneur. Possibly not his intended trajectory for me, but certainly a pivotal moment in my life.

When I was working in Madurai, Thatha called me and demanded that I visit Bangalore that weekend to celebrate his Birthday. I was confused because I did not think that weekend was his Birthday. He was so firm that I did go to Bangalore. One could rarely say no to him. Then he says that a girl and her family are visiting to check me out for marriage. Well I had no intention of getting married at that time, I had just started my career, but I could not cancel the arrangements they had already made. So I decided to just play along, since I can always say, “no'' after the meeting. But then Arathi happened. Thatha told the two of us to get to know each other and sit outside in the large swing in the varanda. We ended up talking for more than 2 hours, just did not know how time went. Finally Thatha reminded us that I had a train to catch. I had made up my mind that Arathi was it. Thanks to Amamma and Thatha I have Arathi in my life, my soulmate.

After marriage Arathi and I were in Madhuri, when I got a call from Thatha that he was not feeling well and was getting admitted to the hospital and that we needed to immediately come back to Bangalore. We rushed, but by the time we reached Bangalore he was no more. A pillar in our lives, an inspiring presence and influence taken away from us.


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