Saturday, March 29, 2014

Tuesdays with Morrie

Hmmmm……….. On a day I wrote on my blessings, on a day I wrote about all the cheerful aspects of my life, there was a book review in the readers' circle I belong to…. the book titled  "Tuesdays with Morrie"! Even if I am not presenting review of the book,  I would have completed reading the book before the event, usually. But this time was an exception… I had too many other things to do before the review and could not / did not spend the time to pick up the book leave alone reading! Though book was lingering in my mind on Thursday night, I could not touch it because I had to prepare for a lecture in another organization on Friday. Friday evening was filled with my friend till late night - she talked about the challenges she is facing, how she wants to run rest of her life and so on. That subject was heavy in itself that I could not read after the conversation, though the thought about the book came to my mind every now and then.

I am reading the book since this morning! Or, should I say I am trying read the book since morning!?! This book is written by a student on the lessons he learnt from his dying professor; though it talks a lot about death, it is all about living - living a meaningful life. If it had been written in any other way, say, just the essence of the lessons was written instead talking about the professor, I would have continued reading nonstop probably! Most likely I would have stopped reading only to think about the lessons and assimilate the crux. But the writer talks about the warmth of his professor, what kind of relationship he shared with his professor (Interestingly, during the current period of my life, I have been thinking a lot about the student teacher relationships from a different context!). That is the part that made my thoughts wander around. At some point, I felt a compelling need to drop the book and write this before I resumed reading. I could not read a single sentence due to the strong current of thoughts streaming rather screaming into my brain. I closed the book when I was reading page 38 - when the professor asks the author to come back….

I was/am thinking of my favorite professor Mrs. Indira Bhavani. She was my Tamil lecturer in college. She was one of the people who moved me as a person. I knew that she also felt the same about me. I visited her even after I passed out of that college. We debated on a lot of things over lunch at her dining table midst of the cool breeze of Courtallam. She was a communist and I did not buy into that concept  (till today I could not!) She argued that there is no equal opportunity given to all, while I argued that opportunities are created by determined individuals for themselves not by others. She felt employers are enjoying the revenue more than the workers even if knowledge/ skill level of employees & employers  is the same. I felt though the employees' and employers' knowledge and skill level is the same, employers are ready to take risk; they are ok to fail; after all, high risk means high returns! She said, to take risk, you need a mitigation plan and contingency plan; money gave opportunity to have the plan. I counter argued, you need courage more than money though money plays a role; I showed examples of those who did business and raised in spite of not having money including my grand fathers - though not like the Tatas or Ambanis, they raised to a decent level that they could support my parents' education. She talked intensely about work to ability & compensation to need. I rejected the idea with same intensity saying she is only giving me marks for what I write in the exam; not for what I need. We never agreed with each other in this regard till the end. But we shared our thoughts, listened openly.

The relationship was so open that I could go to her house just to take bath!  To attend my convocation, I had to travel from Coimbatore to Courtallam and I did not have time to go to my home town to get ready between the tedious bus travel for 8 hours and the event. Those were the days, when AC buses were unheard of. It was hot summer. Roads were dusty and the wind was hot. Obviously, anyone would want to look their best on a convocation day that too when not every one gets to participate! (In India, in many colleges, only gold medalists get to wear the graduation robe and attend convocation in person) I went to her house, got ready, ate what she cooked and attended the event; my parents joined me in the college.

Fortunately for us, we did not or could not hide how we felt for each other - it was so obvious  that we liked each other. But, I think she expressed it more than I did. She once wrote to her teacher "என் இதய சிம்மாசனத்தில் வீற்றிருக்கும் மாணவி கோவை வருகிறாள். நன்றாகக் கவனித்துக்கொள்வீர்கள் என அறிவேன்" (A student who is like queen of my heart is coming to Coimbatore. I am sure you would take care of her).  Her teacher (not a college / school teacher, but a life teacher she met in her social network) took care of me, my parents and sister as if we were his special guests for the two whole days we were in Coimbatore for the interviews. He told her reference to us multiple times during the two days and showed her letter to us. My parents were touched.  He kept an eye on my welfare for one more year - my first year in Coimbatore for my higher studies - in other words till the time he was in Coimbatore, he visited me / called me periodically like a local guardian though I had given another uncle's name as local guardian in the college!

Though not as frequently as I would want to, I was in touch with her till her death rather a month before her death. We talked about the book she wanted to write based on her conversations with her teacher . She wanted to know if I can help her with this project; the reasons she gave were: I knew her very well, I can write in a decent way, I would represent her thoughts neutrally without loading my ideas on it. I told her that I will do my best while I was wondering if she is thinking too much of me - after all  காக்கைக்கும் தன் குஞ்சு பொன் குஞ்சு (all mothers think too high of their children). When I was about to leave her place, she gave me a few letters to read and said we would continue to discuss when we met the next time and…. that next time never came.

When Suresh - her step son -  called to tell me the news, I was in office attending a critical meeting for huge deal. After hearing the news, as a heartless woman, I continued and finished the meeting for next 30 mins! When I called back, uncle (I called her husband uncle) took the call and said the final rituals are about to start, he would inform that I called and then he broke asking who would he  inform about my call. I stood silent, frozen in memory without the ability to cry! I still have the three letters she gave me. What do I do with them? The letters are from her teacher; I do not have the letters she wrote to her teacher. She was to tell me and left without telling me. Had I known that she would live for just one more month from our last meeting, I would have taken a month's leave to finish the project she wanted to finish. Would I have named the book as "A month with Ivara"(she signed as Indira Varada Rajan - Ivara sometimes and Indhu Varadan sometimes ) or would it be "My conversations with my teacher - by Ivara as narrated to Geetha"? Now, all I have is her memories and the three letters. Of course I have other books that she wrote but I don’t know which of those lessons she learnt from this particular teacher. How will I deliver what I promised to?

Mitch talks about very similar incidents - he was talking to his program producer while his dying professor  waiting  for him. I was wondering, if it really happened to him or he imagined such an incident just to increase the emotion of the readers or did he know what happened in my life! He talks about eating together, sharing ideas, thoughts etc. etc.. Like Morrie, my teacher too refused self-pity.

Mitch writes about his own inability to cry.  He talks about the American culture that prevents men from crying. I am questioning myself, was it my Indian culture that prevented me from crying? I do not think so. In India, people are encouraged to cry when someone dies - the environment is created to share the hurt. In fact everyone who attends the funeral cries. I used to wonder if they are crying for the person whose funeral they are attending or for their loved ones who passed away sometime. They gather together to cry their heart out, not only during the funeral but on the third day, 5th day, 10th day, 16th day, 30th day 40th day and a year later. They also eat good food from 16th day onwards - after all, you need to slowly get out of grief - good food is a good way to divert a grieving mind. In spite of belonging to a culture that understands the nuances of grief and getting out of grief, I did not cry for my favorite professor, one of my role models. I could not cry though I was sobbing mentally. I felt like kneeling down next to her with my head on her lap, her hands on my head while I am weeping for her death. But I never expressed these feelings. I did not tell this to anyone so far. I had a wall around me that sealed any signs of weakness! I never told her that I liked her a lot openly though I expressed it through my visits / calls. But you know, my visits were not very frequent. I was busy. I filled my days and weeks with some task or the other that I missed to visit the most respected and loved people. 

But more than being busy, it was ego that stopped me from a lot of things I feel. Even when I visited her, we discussed more general / world matters than personal matters. She and I had many pains in common - the biggest was, both of us could not have children though we wanted to. We discussed it only once. I knew, she wanted to tell me how she managed her pain; but she dreaded hurting my feelings as it is a touchy topic. I was reluctant to open up. I was hesitant to ask for help. I did not want her to look at her old buried pain. I showed no regrets or pain of not having a child to her, for that matter to anyone. After a period, I did not feel any pain; I am not sure if the pain is buried too deep within & come out in a nasty way or I really removed the pain from my heart; I hope it is the latter. But the point is, I could have discussed this more with her; she was a strong woman too; she refused to have any self pity whatsoever. That means, her lessons would have focused more on strengthening me! That would have been more valuable and reduced my pain quicker than solving it alone!

Several years after she left me, I feel I am still doing the same with my other teachers, close friends, close relatives! I am not expressive enough to whoever I can learn from and to whoever I should return the care!!! I am thinking of being more expressive! Let me ask for help dropping my big fat ego!

Thank you Mitch! Now, I will go back and continue from 39th page!

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