My father was my first teacher. I remember sitting with him in the evenings, chanting slokas, repeating word by word after him. He taught me the simple two line slokas on Ganesha, Subramanya, Shiva, Vishnu, Devi, Hanuman and Navagrahas. Every Sunday. he would take me to the nearby temple. He would hold my hand as we walked around the temple and at each sannidhi, I would enthusiastically chant the slokas that I had learnt.
He introduced me to the habit of reading. He narrated stories from Ramayana and Mahabharatha with so much enthusiasm that when he got me the picture books, I was so fond of seeing the pictures and reading the familiar story I had heard from him so many times.
When I grew older, he introduced me to his favourite books. One of them was “My experiments with truth” by Gandhi. He gave me an abridged version and he would ask me to read and discuss each chapter. He had read the unabridged version many times, so he would narrate the full story and share some more thoughts about the events.
I learnt Vishnu Sahasranamam from him at a very young age. I loved chanting the slokas after him and then was proud when I could chant alongwith him. He made it interesting by sharing stories – about how his uncle would make him and his brothers get up daily at 4.30 am and chant Adithya Hridayam and Vishnu Sahasranamam first thing in the morning.
When I was only 13 years old, he brought home the book “Deivathin Kural” volume 1 – the speeches and discourses of Mahaperiyava compiled by Sri. Ra. Ganapathy. This book had the greatest influence on my life and my thought process.
Both of us started reading the book and we would place our book marks at different pages. I was ahead because I had more time during the holidays so after reading each chapter, he would call me and discuss with enthusiasm ..” did you read about the story of Avvayar and vinayagar agaval?” “What an interesting story about Sanathkumarar taking birth as Subramanya Swami.” etc. We went on to read all the seven volumes but I got busier and did not have much time for discussions. Ocassionally he would quote something from one of the books and ask me to check that story.
My love for mathematics came from him. He was so passionate about maths and he enjoyed solving problems – he passed on the enthusiasm to me. How I loved solving algebra problems and finding the elusive X ! He would set more and more interesting problems for me and challenge me to solve them. Again, he would share stories of his maths classes in school and how he scored in his maths tests.
Looking back, I think it was his stories about his life that made it interesting for me to learn whatever he taught me. His love for his brothers and sisters and the stories he narrated about his family were always endearing and enchanting. He valued his friends and family and loved to stay in touch with everyone. He remembered everyone’s birthday, wedding day and would send his wishes first thing in the morning.
He was very religious and followed all the procedures and rituals. He was also very spiritual. He never uttered an unkind word and I am overwhelmed by his unconditional love for his family.
In the last few years, the roles started getting reversed. He asked me to teach him whatsapp. I did not have much time but I would try to be patient as I explained to him again and again, how to forward messages, how to download and view pictures and videos. Initially he would make all sorts of funny mistakes – sending the same message repeatedly, or forwading message to the sender himself. Slowly he learnt to type his own messages, forward to different groups.
He loved reading stories about Mahaperiyava on whatsapp and would ask me with enthusiasm “did you read this story about Kamakshi sitting on the lap of Periyava?” or “Periyava’s grace to a foreigner?” If I hadn’t read it, he would forward to me again, or make me read it on his mobile. Sometimes, I would say I would read it later. One of the messages he talked about was the story of Ashwini Devas. He had forwarded it to me on whatsapp and asked me if I had read it. I just couldnt find the time – because of the lockdown, I was bogged down by household chores. I could read it only after his death. The story is that if you pray to Ashwini Devas, they would ensure a smooth transition to heaven at the last moment. Probably he knew his end was near but I was stubborn enough to believe that nothing would happen to him and he would live a hundred years.
In the last few weeks, he started forgetting some things. He would check with me “what is the name of Lakshmana’s wife?”, Whose son was Sukar?. etc. Every night, I started the ritual of massaging his feet with coconut oil, just before bed time. One day, when I wished him good night, he asked me “can you chant the “Ramam Skandam” slokam? I have forgotten it.”
I chanted it at once. He asked me to chant it word by word and repeated after me. I cried so much that night – He who had taught me all these slokas, who had chanted Vishnu Sahasranamam for 80 years every day without fail, wants to repeat slokas after me? Did he really forget or did he just want me to chant with him again?
Two days before he died, he asked me to write down the Ramam Skandam sloka in bold letters. “I want to chant it at night if I am not able to sleep.” So I wrote it down for him. My mother said that that whole night, he wanted the lights to be on, and he was holding the note book and tracing his fingers along the lines chanting Rama Rama.
His words have been my mantra all these years. His life has been a lesson in discipline, selflessness, purity of thought, words and action, surrender to God and absolute faith in Guru Maha periyava. I have been blessed to live with him for all these years and learn so much from him.
Sometimes, I cannot believe he is not with us. He always had a few words of blessings and advice when I went to him. His words were my mantra.
I want to hold on to each memory, to connect with all the lessons that he taught me. Writing about him is my way of honouring my appa, a wonderful human being who has been my guide and source of support all my life.
My father, my first teacher – you are the best!