Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Communism, Ambition and the Poet

I hardly know anything about Communism. In fact, the only things I know about it was what was taught to me at school and college. However, that knowledge led me to observe, what I am sure many others would have done ages ago anyway: That it is tough for it to work unless the entire community embraced it. If some didn't believe in it, communism would be powerless to stop itself from being trampled by them, and that would lead to its decline. Hardly did I realize that this observation which I have had for quite some time would share a thread of analogy with my life..

I had a trait which I knew was quite striking in my life. Right from the days at school, when I would read portions not relevant on the day before the exam, to coding something for fun when an assignment loomed large at college. The overpowering nature of my instinct over reason. Of joy over purpose. Of doing something because it was beautiful rather than the mindset to achieve an end. Of driving to enjoy the sight of outdoors by the side of the road, rather than reaching a destination. A way of life which I later reasoned out as more of a poet rather than an businessman. For sure, this attitude did create difficulties, but it never discouraged me. For the difficulties were practical, but it was a win at a philosophical level.

The poet's reasoning is simple. The biggest picture of life which he possessed was made of many moments of it strung together, and he saw little reason in depriving it of too many such moments to keep reaching a goal. If he lived the moments of his life, he would have lived his life. Of course, this reasoning is flawed. You would need to sacrifice many a times to end up being happier in the future. He did acknowledge that, but it never got out of his mind that he shouldn't end up sacrificing too much of his life, to ironically, have a better life. So, he had priorities, but they were very few, and loosely defined. A poetic life is dangerous, it exposes you to risks, leading you to periods of sadness. You need to grounded by a few solid principles. I had a couple of them, optimism, and God.

However, it turns out that the world we live in is not that tolerant of this approach. This first hit my hard months after I started to work. Quite reasonable, since work life is the first time you are thrown open to this world. One thing which started becoming clear was that atleast at work, priorities were needed. Goals had to be present. Corporate world has no place for the poet. What followed was quite a bit of turmoil, and finally a state of compromise where I started having goals, but treated work as a sandbox and remained a poet outside.

Time passes, and with each passing day, the poet realizes that the workplace was just a mirror for the rest of the world around him. Much of it, on both professional and personal fronts, is based on goals, ambitions, ends to be achieved, and well defined priorities to achieve them. That is what hits his life deep at heart, just like what hit communism. In an ambitious world, the poet has to start considering priorities if everyone around does, or else the very reason for this approach, happiness in life, starts taking a hit. The poet doesn't give up though. The conflict between reason and principle continues. It might subdue, but it remains with him for life. Talk about paradoxes...

Monday, February 09, 2009


I woke up last Thursday, like always, in front of my comp to see around seven or eight instant messages waiting for me overnight. Puzzled me a bit, but a minute later, a message from Bhaand and it became a bit clearer. "Ramku, Dilip poaittaar da :((" I couldn't react. For that matter, I couldn't react for the next one hour, as I hurried through my morning chores, and started on my hour long journey to work. A few steps down the road, and reality struck. Yes, he was gone. That corner of the Humanities Sciences Block familiar to many students, friends and fans of one particular Prof. Dilip Veeraraghavan had suddenly been left a void. A big one at that.

And the floodgates opened. A collage of memories appeared before my eyes. Memories of us discussing anything from Visishtadvaitham to the latest happenings on campus. Memories of him moving along with me with his hand around my shoulder. Memories of that baritone voice recognizing me and greeting me with a "Vaa da.." the moment I entered his office and just said "Hello Sir.."

Dilip wasn't just a teacher to me. This struck me the most that fateful Thursday as perhaps for the first time (fortunately), I felt the loss of someone dear. Someone who mattered in your life as a whole. Someone who was concerned with your life right from pestering you to go have your lunch, to helping you decide what might be the right career path for you. Someone you can rely upon be it for some time to spend on a boring afternoon, or in a time of panic to help you out of a mess.

I still can't decide what was the greatest thing about the man. Perhaps it was his seemingly endless knowledge and foresight about a variety of subjects: From history, to politics, to cricket, to music. I could confidently say that quite a sizeable chunk of how Ramkumar thinks, and what his philosophical outlook is, owes its origin to him. The biggest thing Dilip taught me in his courses was perspective. The ability to look at situations and facts from various angles. The need to be broad-minded. And above all, the strength to question everything around you, and about you. He lead in this by example. It would have been hard to find a person who was such a staunch Vaishnavite and still ready to question its very basic tenets.

Perhaps it was his amazing intelligence and memory. He was a ready reference for all sorts of things, right from knowing which person was in which group for a class assignment (because we were too lazy to look up the table!), to finding a resource within the campus. I still fondly recall the day when he from his little office was giving me real-time traffic updates on when I should leave home to avoid a procession Ms. Jayalalitha was organizing.

Perhaps it was his ability to be a guide. It pays to have interacted with a person who sacrificed his career and remained an Assistant Professor because him once not having time for a student in need due to his busy schedule, left a deep impact on him. To his end, Dilip retained the priority he gave to every soul who came to him for his guidance and wisdom. We would surely find it hard to find a person who was concerned about everyone: right from all his students, nay, all students in the campus, to even about the family which brought him lunch daily.

Perhaps it was the simplicity and humaneness about him. For those of us who are cursed to live in a world in a race for survival and ambitions, he was one person who let us know what ideals like Gandhianism and Communism could mean. It was perhaps no coincidence that he had a large number of contacts amongst people from charitable organizations. Dilip exemplified the adage that the hallmark of a great man is his simplicity.

It comes as no surprise that he wasn't just one of the most popular professors in the campus, but also one of the most loved people inside IITM, who had a mind-numbing number of friends, well-wishers and admirers. He lived loved, and he passed away loved, leaving behind scores of people in tears. I look back at the past few years, and I am still as awestruck as I was after the first class I attended of his: Awestruck by a man who fought against a life not so friendly to him, by a man who gave back to thousands of people what fate had painfully and most cruelly snatched away from him, not in an instant, but over a period of a few years of his youth, bit by bit, showing mankind what sadism could possibly mean. The Indian Institute of Technology Madras, has lost a visionary. In the truest sense of the word.

Dilip.. As much ever I try, I know that it sometimes it just isn't possible for me to express what I had started off to do. Perhaps its just that the heaviness in my heart doesn't allow me to. The banter with you. The knowledge you had. That bookshelf and huge piles of books, that computer which kept having problems, that phone by your side which your effortlessly used to dial, those files and that red pen which you made sure was in the right place for you to pick up when you wanted. That lost chance to take you to Srirangam which we planned but never got around to. I will miss you.