Issue No. 41                  
July - AUGUST 2006

S.VARADACHARI - 10th April 1937 to 2nd August 2006

Remembrances about Mr.S.Varadachari

Chinna Athimber (by Amritha)

On 2nd August,we (Choodakka,Pushpakka,Hema,my husband and I) were on our way from Madhu's house in a car to see Athimber. Earlier at Madhu's house Geetha and others told us that there seemed to be some improvement in Athimber's condition as he lifted the hand and also recognised his brother's wife Bhooma and her children the previous night. So we were expecting some miracle to happen.But that was not so. The cell-phone rang and my husband said "He just breathed his last".We were all shocked beyond words.

It all started 5 months ago when Athimber complained of eye problem.He was operated but still complained of double vision and numbness on one side.So the doctor who was looking after him adviced for a CT scan which threw the bombshell! Many more tests were taken to make sure whether it was T.B or Cancer.But the result showed the latter and everybody was shaken. I think we all have an instinctive fear of cancer. Madhu and Geetha surfed through the net to see which treatment would suit him and found that acupuncture cures this type of cancer and came to know about the doctor who is in Chennai.They contacted him and he asked them to bring the patient immediately. The treatment was quite encouraging and athimber responded well.Rukkakka and Athimber stayed in Choodakka's house for the first course of treatment which lasted for 15 days.There were many restrictions in his diet but he followed them meticulously.

Then they went to Pushpakka's house for the second course.Though he showed improvement,there were setbacks also.His food intake became less.He was losing weight too. Later when he was in Anna's house and then our house, we could make out the deterioration.But he could walk within the house. He used to come from the bedroom to the dining table in our house Till the day he left. Though the walk was a bit long, he was taking food at the dining table only.So we never thought that the end would come so soon. I went once with them to the hospital to see how the treatment was given.Both Akka and Athimber were happy with the treatment as he was responding and slowly the food restrictions were relaxed and Athimber was happy that he could take dry fruits and soyamilk.But since the frequency of the treatment was reduced to thrice a week,Akka felt uneasy and Madhu found out that this type of treatment can be had at Bangalore itself and the doctor there is a specialist in cancer treatment.So the decision to go back was taken immediately and they left on 25th June.

Akka was very happy with the way the lady doctor in Bangalore encouraged them and acupressure tratment was also given.The food restriction was further relaxed and he was allowed to take musambi juice ,papaya milkshake and above all coffee! So he was very happy.But suddenly the setback came when he fell down and there was some problem in his spinal cord.Madhu engaged a helper from Red-cross for 24 hours.But after a week, his condition became worse when he had respiratory problem and couldn't breathe freely.So on 29th July he was hospitalised immediately and given Oxygen.The doctor advised that the food should be fed nasally as there was congestion in the foodpath. That is how he was when we went on 31st of last month. It is always difficult to see a person on respirator and when it is someone dear to you, you can't control your tears. We were hoping and praying for a miracle to happen which unfortunately didn't happen.

Athimber was a very soft-spoken and kind person,who was always willing to help others.When my parents were in Thiruvanmiyur,he used to go there often to see whether they needed anything and often accompanied father to bank, hospital and other places.Appa had to just give a ring, and he'd be there in half an hour.Till Appa's death he only used to pay the property tax along with his own.He was more like a son to our parents than a son-in-law.So Amma is feeling so miserable that she couldn't come to terms with the fact that he is no more.

He was very pious.They stayed in Royapuram for many years,where there is one Krishnan koil.My Athimber's patti used to contribute liberally to the temple and after her death my Athimber's father and then my Athimber continued to donate to the temple.He used to go to the temple on every Tamil New Year's day to take part in the Panchangam reading, though it was an hour's journey from his house. He also used to go to Tirupathi often

That he was donating generously to different institutions was known only recently when Chooda Akka was searching for some papers.Not only that, he was bearing the education expenses of a boy also.Such an unassuming and great character was he!He was a lovely father who never raised his voice to his boys,a very good husband and above all very good human-being.Akka told me that athimber used to look after his patti in her last days when she was ailing and he was also taking full care of his mother when she was in her last days. He used to help Akka in her household work like bringing the vegetables, cleaning the greens,looking after the plants,washing the clothes in the washing-machine and filling the buckets and pots with the hand pump when there was water-scarcity. He was very fond of his daughter-in-law Geetha, whom he treated like a daughter and was very attached to Aditya,his grandson.Of course, it was very well reciprocated.Last year for their wedding anniversary Madhu and Geetha gave them a surprise by sending them to Ooty along with Adithya.They had arranged the cottage and a car for their sight-seeing for 2 days.Akka and Athimber were very much moved by this kind gesture.Geetha and Madhu did their utmost to save their dear father.

Like my father,my Athimber also had a subtle sense of humour which we used to enjoy.When my sister was telling him that Harish's would be in-laws were very simple and nice, he immediately said 'inge mattum ennavam?'.He used to admire my husband's active schedule and praise him lavishly over his writing 2 books.Seeing my husband solving cryptic crossword, he also started solving the crossword in The Hindu. Children in our family always liked him as he treated them as friends. He used to make tiffin and feed the children before Akka returned from the office. His affinity for our periya athimber should be mentioned here.He called him Dost.He moved very well With his other co-brothers-in-law.

Though they shifted to Bangalore last year, they used to come once a month at least to attend some function or the other.I felt their absence very much during Harish's engagement.They left a week before the engagement.He liked his stay in Arumbakkam with us which was his last stay in Chennai. The photograph at the top of this page which was taken on 23rd June when my brothers, sisters and mother came to see him, is perhaps his last photograph. He used to enjoy Mahesh's cooking.

I never knew that Athimber had a taste for carnatic music till two years ago when he and Akka came for a kacheri (Malladi brothers). He enjoyed it so much that they sat till the end,i.e 9-45, whereas we left by 9.Akka told me that he enjoyed listening to Shruti, the Carnatic music channel om Worldspace satellite radio. He liked many eminent musicians of the past like Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, G.N.B, M.L.V, M.S., Madurai Mani Iyer and others.

Whenever we came from Mumbai or Vadodara, we used to visit all our close relatives and stayed with them for a day or two.At that time Athimber made sure that we were comfortable and he used to bring ice-creams for us.

Why should such a good person be afflicted with such a deadly disease? That is what everyone feels. In the last five months,Akka physically and financially did whatever she could to save athimber. We all feel her efforts deserved that he should have lived for a few more years. The Almighty should give her the strength to get over his loss.

I am sure he must be enjoying the company of Sriram and Deepu! Who can forget the trademark grin of his or the wink that he used to give when he passed a comment?

August 2006

A tribute to Rukku Athai — Athimber (by Mukund)

I don’t think I ever used his name, Varadachari, when I referred to him in a conversation. I always referred to him, simply, as athimber, or, for the sake of clarity, as I have a few athimbers – Rukku athai-athimber. He was a generous, unassuming person who always carried himself like a gentleman. And there was an air of dignity about him, which endeared him to one and all. He was very affectionate towards his family; especially toward his sons. Both Madhu and Sriram talked to him like they talked to their close friends. I had never seen that kind of a relationship between a father and son, before I met athimber.

In our south Indian families, men typically stay away from household work and like their wives to take care of the chores. But athimber was quite different. He was of immense help to Rukku Athai. He watered and tended to the plants in the garden in their beautiful house in Shastri Nagar. He made tiffin and tea for his son’s friends who were having sessions of “combined study” at their place. When the washed clothes had dried on the terrace, he brought them down, folded and placed them in their proper drawers. And accordingly, both Madhu and Sriram grew up being very responsible kids. They always shared the responsibilities at home, a trait that I knew they had learned from their father.

During my summer vacation months I got to stay with Rukku athai’s family, and he would treat me like one of his own sons. He went to work very early, even before we woke up in the morning, and returned home at around 2:00 p.m. Sometimes, when he came back from work he would serve us lunch. He would make small hand rolled balls of sambar (or rasam) sadam with vegetables and place them in our hands for us to eat. Both Madhu and Sriram liked their rasam to be hot and spicy. Often they would complain that the rasam was not hot enough. Chappu-nu irruku, pa, would be their complaint. He would then go back to the kitchen and bring back a bottle of hot chilli powder (molagapoddi) and sprinkle a liberal spoonful of it on the rasam sadam to make it more to their liking. This amazed me, as I would never have the courage to ask for such things back at my place.

Once Madhu had fractured his leg and was bedridden for a long time. He could not even use the bathroom! Athimber attended to him with lot of care and affection. He would give him a sponge bath every day, feed him and clothe him. He never showed any signs of reluctance in doing this rather difficult work for his son. I was at their home during this period. Athimber liked the fact that his ailing son had some company at home, because it kept Madhu in good spirits. One afternoon, Madhu was full of mock self-pity and jokingly lamented about the fact that he was not able to get up and walk around and do the normal things. He started pointing to things around his bed and drew attention to the fact that it had been a few months since he had touched or dealt with any of them. “You see that chest of drawers and the mirror, it’s been two months since I touched it,” he said. And then he continued, “It’s been three months since I played on that carom board. And it’s been two months since I touched or took a sip of water from that water bottle on the shelf.” At this point I got up from my chair and filled up the water bottle and brought it back to Madhu and said, “here, have some water from the bottle.” Madhu started laughing.

Athimber had observed the whole thing and thought of it as an affectionate gesture on my part, but he did not say anything to me then. The next time he met my father in Ashok Nagar, he praised me for my help and support during my stay at Shastri Nagar and narrated this incident. This simple act of his taught me an important lesson. First, always try to find the good in others deeds. And second, when praising someone’s good deeds, see if you can make two people proud rather than just one!

Another incident that comes to my mind is when I saw athimber in a rather angry mood. When he was returning from work, one of their neighbours, who was also Madhu’s school teacher, had complained about Madhu’s behaviour without properly checking into the facts. I think it had offended athimber because he could not imagine that his sons would ever misbehave with anyone. He entered the house and walked up to Madhu and slapped him on the face in front of all of us. We were shell-shocked because we had never ever imagined that he was capable of such an act. Later when athimber elaborated on the neighbour’s complaint and asked for an explanation from Madhu, it turned out that he was not at fault! Athimber had been misinformed. But athimber was too much of a gentleman to go back to the neighbour and confront him. Instead he apologized to Madhu. That night, in a sign of remorse, athimber came to the bedroom where all of us boys were sleeping and requested that he sleep next to Madhu. He hugged him and repeatedly apologized for his hasty action. That is how they made up that night, not as a father and son, but as close friends!

Ironically, the last time that I spent some time talking to him was after the sumangali prarthanai function that my mother had arranged in the house at T. Nagar. Both athai and athimber had travelled from Bangalore to attend the function. This was just a few days after we had celebrated the ayush homam function for my son, Keshav. After the prarthanai, athai and athimber spent nearly four hours that day chatting with us. He was very proud of the fact that his grandson, Aditya, was becoming an expert at karate and had the opportunity to visit Sri Lanka for the next round of championship. It seemed that he was very happy to be in Bangalore now because he was with the people that he loved the most: his wife, son, daughter-in-law, and grandson.

Before leaving that evening, they had secretly presented a gold chain for Keshav to my mother, and had requested that it be given to me only after they had left Chennai for Bangalore. They feared that I would refuse such an expensive gift for my son, whom they had seen for the first time just a few days back. I never got a chance to properly thank him for the beautiful gift, but I am glad my mother accepted it because it will always remind me of a generous, unassuming person who always carried himself like a gentleman.
August 2006

Athimber (by Rahul)

The news about Athimber was a shock to me. Of course, I was aware of his illness, but I did not expect the end so soon. The last time I saw him, at Parthasarathy Athimber's house-warming ceremony, there had been no warning of what was to come. At least he did not suffer too long - the disease that took his life can be very cruel indeed.

Just the evening before I heard the news, I'd been immersed in my memories of him. The qualities that always came to mind when I thought of him were his gentleness and dignity. He had such a calming influence, he seemed at peace with the world. Meetings with him were welcome for their uncomplicatedness - he was so warm, so generous with his smile and friendly words. I greatly enjoyed visiting Athai and Athimber on my trips back to India. Entering their home with all its memories, partaking of the meal prepared by Athai, the relaxed conversation about sports and politics and family news that followed afterward. It was an annual ritual, familiar and comforting.

Of course, to say this is to ignore the fact that things had changed in a fundamental way not long after I came to the U.S. The loss of Sriram and Deepu was felt deeply by all of us, but immeasurably more so by their parents and siblings. The change it made in Athimber was tragic to behold. He bore it bravely, was his old self on the outside, but there was such sadness within. Spiritually he had aged. Through all this, the presence of Madhu and his family was a great consolation, it was a blessing to spend time with Aditya and to watch him grow.

Naturally my contact with Athimber was sporadic at best over the past decade and more. However, there was a time when I used to see him much more frequently, a time I remember with great fondness. I was in high school then, and my parents would be away at work when I returned from school. Often I went to Thiruvanmiyur to spend my afternoons, at other times to Radhakrishna Nagar.
Athimber would be at home, and he would make me feel so welcome. I was offered "bakshanam" of various kinds, including Athai's special maida chips. But I remember most of all the mangoes. For their taste, certainly, but more importantly for the care with which Athimber would peel them and serve them along with a fork, indulging my stupid childhood prejudice against fruit peel. He was never judgmental, always kind, and he showed his kindness through modest gestures - their modestly only enhanced their value... I will miss him very much.
Rahul Santhanam
August 2006

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