Short Memory of Dr. CVS Ratnam,whom I dearly refer as Ratnam Uncle
Ratnam uncle was a man who’s reputation preceded him. I have heard all the stories and legends circulating in the family about the Ratnam uncle as a kid and my first encounter with him was in 1987 @ his Malleshwaram residence in Bangalore when I had just completed Intermediate and joined the engineering college. There after I visited Ratnam uncle and Sarojini aunty in early 1990 as I was prepping for my GATE exam to secure admission to Master degree in engineering. Uncle was the catalyst who asked me to consider applying for my masters in the US where the trajectory of my life took an entirely different course.
Which, in turn, led to the trajectory of my whole family changing course also. So in a sense,we Gonuguntlas owe a lot to him. Uncle not only suggested that I go to the US, but actively took it upon himself to write to his friend- Earl Strinden, who unbeknownst to me happened to be an Ex House of Representatives of North Dakota state and the president of the Alumni Association at UND, who wielded a lot of power at the university and who was able to guide me during my tenure as a masters student. Such was the depth of uncle’s connections and friendships that a mere letter was enough to move mountains. As for uncle himself and my impressions of him, I suppose this can best be told in a story.
I will preface this with how uncle was perceived by all us youngsters - with a definite sense of fear and respect. He was larger than life, with a booming voice and an authoritarian like grip on all situations around him. And he was a man of principle and rigor and an uncompromising moral compass. It’s best to demonstrate the many traits of uncle through a story. I really feel that this demonstrates who uncle was more profoundly than any descriptions that I can provide.
It was right after I finished college and uncle and auntie invited me to come stay with them for a few days. My brother Pavan was already visiting our cousin, Subbarao who lived with uncle and auntie at that time. When I got there, Uncle and Aunty had a trip that they needed to take to Mysore. And while they were gone, the three of us decided that we were going to watch a movie. So we decided to rent a VHS tape, which is how movies were played in those days. We hooked up the VCR to the TV. Now this TV and VCR, were prized possessions. It was some thing that Uncle had acquired on one of his trips abroad, and in the 80s trips abroad were not a very common thing.
And we had a very jolly evening together. Subbarao made some really wonderful food and we enjoyed a show and went to bed now there was a 15 year old attendant call Murugan that uncle had employed in the house for minor housekeeping. Murugan also enjoyed the special evening with us. Pavan and I retired to the upstairs bedrooms to sleep and we were awoken the next morning to shrieks of horror from Subbarao. Wondering what the commotion wise Pavan and I climb down the stairs to find out that the prized VCR was gone, the TV was gone, other household appliances - all gone. And Murugan was also gone, thus becoming the prime suspect. He had cleaned us out of many valuables. All three of us ran around the house flabbergasted. We could not understand how Murugan could have executed this theft with all three of us in the house.
We reached out to our neighbors and uncle’s friends to see if they would help apprehend Murugan, but it was of no avail. The shock that we felt at being robbed, was quickly replaced by a gnawing dread of what Uncle would say when he got back. And boy did he have something to say. “Three adults in the house, and a teenage boy fooled you and robbed the house with audacity. Emi chesthnnaru ra, Andharu?” he boomed. We three stood there with our heads hung, totally embarrassed. He had a point. We should’ve done better and maybe not have slept as deep as Kumbakarna.
We had somehow managed to sleep through whatever small commotion should’ve occurred in the early hours of the morning as all of these electronics and appliances were being stolen. Uncle decided to take matters into his own hands and this is when everything becomes entertaining. He wakes up in the morning and heads out to the police station. He enters the station and sits down in the chair that is meant for people who would register a complaint. The police inspector quickly computes uncle’s presence and his retinue of people who bring him his tiffin and water etc and concludes that he is not a man to trifle with. He tries to tell uncle about the futility trying to find Murugan. He really tries to convince him to take his losses, but uncle is not one to be convinced. It was his property and he wants it back. The inspector talks about how in all probability that even if they recovered the property, it would probably be damaged, but Uncle does not care, he still insists on the police conducting a search. As a last resort, the inspector takes Uncle to a side room, where they have already recovered TVs from other thefts that have not been reunited with your owners, an asks uncle, to pick one.
Now this really sets off a storm. It was the principle of the matter for Uncle. He did not covet anybody else’s possessions. He just wanted his own back and he wanted the police to do their job and if his goods were going to be damaged- well, so be it. It was time to involve the commissioner of police- one phone call accomplished that and soon Bangalore police had launched a manhunt. It was a manhunt that led to many far districts in Tamil Nadu. Eventually ending in Murugan’s village, which was by the sea. Uncle‘s valuable VCR and TV as well as other electronics were buried under the sands on the beach. and yes, they were sadly damaged. But Uncle did not care. He saw to it that Murugan was prosecuted and sent to jail to pay for his crimes. In my opinion, Murugan paid for his crimes in more than one way. He lost an opportunity for a very bright future, because uncle and auntie were educating him and he surely would’ve gone far had he not done such a thing. Uncle did not just except that his VCR and TV would not work again. He found a repair shop that was able to successfully repair them and back it went in his living room.
This is one of my favorite stories to tell of uncle, because it demonstrates his personality, wonderfully. They don’t make people like this anymore, and I am very grateful to be given this opportunity to enshrine the story for posterity. thank you for asking me to write in this commemorative edition, celebrating Uncle‘s life. May his soul rest in peace.
I thank my wife Rohini who narrated this story on my behalf.