Today is my 72nd birthday – I gingerly enter my 73rd year. November 20 is also the 50th death anniversary of my father. Years roll on…
Bhai, as I used to address him, was a mix of personalities. A serious student of Chemistry, he used to read the latest books on Chemistry, lying in bed late into the night. The American books that he bought were expensive, but Chemistry was his passion and he read them as if they were thrilling spy stories.
Reading the Chemistry books then turned into experimentation at home to test the newest theories. Baa, who used to get irritated at all the mess that the experiments created in the kitchen, had no choice but to clean up after him.
Out of all such relentless experiments arose novel projects and products: school slates made out of cardboard; watercolors that could have, would have, been on par with the Windsor & Newton, the best in the market back in those days; poster colours used to make Bollywood cinema posters; and ‘Mango Delights’, which looked like shavings of aam papad and were made by warming up mango pulp along with tiny round marbles (lakhoti) in a pan, to name just a few.
Some of Bhai’s industrialist friends enticed him to part with his latest know-how and got rich in the process. Bhai was booted out as soon as their interests were served. Poor Bhai, the simpleton, never figured out how to strike a good deal and make some use of his talents.
I partly owe my love for Chemical Engineering to Bhai’s impressive big books arranged on the shelves of the living room. Though my mastery of chemistry was nowhere near his, people do say that I have inherited a sense of humour from him!
His one vice was inhaling tobacco snuff, for which he blamed a student leader in Wilson College, the esteemed Mumbai institution he attended and where he received his Bachelors and Masters degrees. I used to get particularly annoyed at the way the stuff made a mess in the old-fashioned bathroom as Bhai would try to clear his nose and would not care to wash it off the floor into the drain!
A lover of good literature as well, he collected quite a few good English novels and read them with interest. This trait too found its way into the lives of my big sister and me, and perhaps my children and grandchildren.
If Chemistry was his love, taking care of his health, exercise was certainly not. You see these are never mentioned in any Chemistry books. Love of food was an extension of Chemistry for him. He savoured good calorie-rich food at home as well as at the local Udupi joints. His favorite South Indian Udupi Café Mysore at Kings’ Circle remains my personal favourite too. Like father, like son!
Perhaps his unfettered love for food turned out to be his undoing in the end, at the age of 60.
Last night he appeared in my dream, smiled and repeated the arithmetic riddle that he had posed many years ago: “Pandar baavis shoon ne saat, ena karo ne ekdaa aath” (“Convert the figure of 152207 to 11111111”), recited as a verse, in Gujarati.
Epiphany! As I enter the 73rd year of my life, I found the answer. Multiply 152207 by 73!
Does 11111111 mean anything? For me, it revives the memory of Bhai.
Goodbye, Bhai, for the fiftieth time, on your fiftieth death anniversary.