Sunday, May 31, 2015

Prof. K. Srinivasan aka Srinivasan Maama

HAB Parpia, G T Naryana Rao, J R Lakshmana Rao, T S Satyan, K Srinivasan - activists all, Picture from Star of Mysore.

I had the good fortune of being taught by four of the finest teachers in Mysore, of their respective subjects, during my PUC days. For the uninitiated, PUC is pre university course. It was a one year course between High school and college. Later, it was a two year course. One of those teachers was Prof. K. Srinivasan and he taught me Physics. He was also my father's classmate in Intermediate and B. Sc. classes. He entered active politics and did his M. Sc. years later.

When I sit down to write about him, it feels strange realising that I know him at two completely different planes. One, as I knew him personally and the other, as I heard my father talk about him. Here are my recollections as I saw him and also from what I had heard of him.

His first class addressing the new students in Yuvaraja's college was an experience in itself. There were nearly hundred and twenty students in the main Physics lecture hall which was huge. In comes this thin man in Khadi trousers and white Khadi shirt. When he started talking, a hush descended on the class. His voice was commanding and surprisingly loud and of a timbre that reminded me of a good temple bell. His command over the language, clarity of thought and expression and confidence was nothing less than awe inspiring. He did not teach anything that day but gave the rules of the game governing the lecture classes and the practical classes. Later, when he taught in the theory classes too, the same qualities were evident in ample measure. In the practical classes, his familiarity with the instruments appeared magical to me. The flow of thought and expression were so good that I can't imagine anyone not understanding what he taught.

Maama was politically very active in his student days. He entered active politics with M. N. Roy’s Radical Democratic People's Party. So, you could say that he was a Royist or a radical humanist in those days. He was also influenced by Marxism and in later years turned a Gandhian. I have heard him being referred to as a Gandhian in his later years. I have heard my father talk of him with great admiration - that he had a brilliant mind.

Though he always treated me with great affection, I was in awe of him when I was young and perhaps was very reserved and respectful. Only after I started working did it recede a little and it was always a great pleasure talking to him. He would often talk to me about work and what I did. One thread that was quite common was economics and the management - labour relationship at my place. His insights and comments were always enlightening.

Maama was a connoisseur of Carnatic Classical music. The two families would often go to concerts together and walking back from the concerts was always a pleasure since he would discuss the concerts with my father and they would also talk of other things and what an education that was.!

Maama took a great interest in Philosophy once again and a special interest in the philosophy of science, if I remember right, so much so that he registered for a PhD after he retired from the university and worked on the subject a seriously for years. He never completed it though. Even in his later years he remained a social, political and environmental activist. He helped organise and participated in various movements.

Apart from all this, visiting his house was always a pleasure. Thanks to his wife, whom we referred to as Subbulakshmi atte or Srinivasan maami and addressed her as atte*, the house was always spotless, bright and cheerful. Maama would be ready for a good conversation fueled, at the least, bya strong, aromatic cup of coffee served with great care and affection by atte.

Both maama and atte were excellent hosts - whatever the occasion. My eldest sister's first music concert was organised at their home. This and many other things made his house a second home. I have never learnt to cook. One of the people to be "blamed" for this deficit is maama and atte. When I was alone at home with all the others away from Mysore, it would be treated as a serious and personal affront if it was even suggested that I ate elsewhere or cooked for myself. (The other party to be "blamed" is referred to here) It seems almost churlish to use the term "blame" while talking about this but they would understand. They had such a great sense of humour. It always fascinated me that these people, with such serious interests and deep knowledge had such great sense of humour and never ever took themselves seriously.

I will end this with just a couple of anecdotes about how he allowed us to pull his leg. Maama had a large imperious nose. Especially on such thin, frail looking man it really stood out. Once when he was at our home, he was given a small glass of juice. The glass was shaped like a wine barrel. Maama could not drink since the nose came in the way. He loudly complained that we had chosen such a glass just for his discomfiture. He questioned our hospitality. Whenever my mother offered him a juice or something when he visited us later, he would say, "yes, but not in that glass!" Another time, many of us were atop Chamundi hills on a very windy day. Maama was wearing a Khadi coat. Every one of us was cautioning him to keep the coat buttoned lest the wind would carry him away. We also advised him that whenever he wanted to get home, all he had to do was unbutton the coat and fly!

With those two anecdotes, I have to come to the last and sad part of this piece. Maama passed away a couple of weeks ago. When I attended the last rites, my mind kept on wandering and I recalled my association with him a great sense of loss. I have put some of those thoughts down here, with great affection and admiration, as a tribute to a very special man.

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