I was visiting my parents. It was sometime in the late 1990s. My father appeared a little pensive. I asked him what the matter was. In his usual thoughtful way, he said, “Murthy Rao asked me if I can take him to the Maharaja’s college. He is feeling nostalgic about his days there and wants to walk the corridors and see the classrooms where he studied and later taught. I was looking for someone with a car whom I could ask.”
I was amused. The solution was sitting right in front of him and talking to him and he had not recognised it. I said, “I may have a solution to the problem.” He cheered up and said, “Who?” I said, “I happen to have a car and I think I am willing to take him there”. He banged his forehead (actually acted as if he did) and looked sheepish and laughed with relief. “Look at me! It never occurred to me!”
It is another story that my car was a Premier Padmini of 1976 vintage, was in a pretty bad shape. I had paid more than it deserved and spent a mini fortune, at least by my financial status then, to make it roadworthy. You had to be a jugaad wizard to use that car but, I was not. In spite of that, I have fond memories of my first car.
Anyway, the date and time were fixed. On the appointed day, I went to my father’s place, picked him up and he directed me to Prof. A N Murthy Rao’s nephew’s place. My father then moved to the back seat so that the professor could sit more comfortably in the passenger seat. I drove very carefully because this great man looked fragile. He was in his late nineties. He was, by far, the most precious cargo this car had ever carried. I am always a careful driver trying to follow all the road rules and conventions. There was some incident that I do not remember that made my father tell the professor, “He is a very conscientious driver.” That filled me with pride, more so when the professor nodded his head in approval.
We reached the college without incident and I could relax. It was a pleasure to see this old frail gentle gentleman savour every moment with childlike enthusiasm. He walked up the steps unaided and beamed at the quadrangle. He walked the corridors. He commented on every aspect of the building. With effort bu without complaint, climbed the broad staircase to the first floor. “This is where Rollo’s (Sir J C Rollo) room was. This is the junior BA hall. This is where I gave my first lecture as a teacher…..” He shared his thoughts with us. It was such a pleasure to see the college through his eyes.
At one point, my father said, with great pride and nostalgia, “Prof. B M Srikantiah taught us Macbeth”. The hair on the nape of my neck stood up. B M Sri is such a legend and to have had the good fortune of being taught Macbeth by him! B M Sri was simultaneously the professor of English and Kannada, he was called the silver tongued orator, he taught English through Kannada and Kannada through English and many such stories give you an idea of the legend that he was. The professor turned back and said, feigning great pity, “I pity you, Lakshmana Rao, I pity you!” Now, what was happening here!? In response to my father’s unvoiced question but his whole posture a question mark, the professor said, “Rollo(*) taught us Macbeth”.
He talked about someone from the past who had done something really noble. Without thinking, I said something like, “where have all such people gone!?” He took me to task immediately but very gently. “I am surprised that you say that. Such people have always been there, they are here now and will always be there. We may not hear about them. To assume that they are an extinct species is not right. To look at the past with rose-tinted glasses is extremely dangerous”. I felt foolish but hung on the fact that he was surprised that I had said what I had. Tenuous, but I held on to it.
After he felt satisfied with the visit, we started back. My father started giving me directions again. I told my father that since we had been there earlier that day, I knew the way. I am usually very good at remembering the way to places which I have visited. (I have to admit that it seems to be waning.) My father said jocularly, “This is one area in which Anil is far superior to me.”
“Or the one you care to admit!” came the immediate reply. This man was in his late nineties. Had just completed something that must have been, at least mildly, strenuous. My father was in the back seat and the professor did not have the advantage of the visual assistance one derives from seeing people speak. Above the noise of the old car, he heard and his response was immediate, gently humorous and logical!
And in my support to boot!
Caveat: I am writing this in admiration of one of the finest people I have had the good fortune of knowing. I do not want to bask in reflected glory. I have no claims about knowing so great a man. It was purely accidental – that I am my father’s son!!
* I could not get a suitable link to J C Rollo. The picture below gives a hint of how great a teacher he was.