BAPU SATYANARAYANA writes: He is an unknown , unsung Indian—one in a billion; just another in a billion.His name does not adorn any book of records. His face does not pop up on television. His comments do not appear in newspapers. Yet he is something to all of us: a father, a husband, a grandfather, chikkappa, doddappa, maava to those near and dear to him.
And today, March 17, he is something more to us.
My father—our father—‘Athana‘ Hassan Bapu Ramanna, is 105 years old today.
At an age when most of the people resign themselves to whatever “Fate” has in store for them, he continually teases and taunts and tantalises Fate with his extraordinary tenacity and zest for life.
Many, much younger than him, skip the good things in life; he on the other hand, craves and relishes good food. Many, much younger than him, depend on others to go about the daily parade called life; he, on the other hand, is proudly independent, moving about with the aid of a walker and shoos away anybody who tries to assist him.
He is not on any pills or medication, and his blood pressure has been steady for many decades, yes decades, at 120/80. Diabetes dare not touch him for he relishes sweets and it is only the limit that we impose upon him that stops him. He has a healthy appetite and is quick to point out if something is lacking.
He sits for hours in his usual spot on the sofa and dozes off for hours and is none the worse for this while lesser men would complain of backache. He goes to sleep at 10 every night and gets up early in the morning. After washing his face, with the customary 20 splashes to his eyes—that’s possibly what keeps his eyesight good while he lost his right eye at a young age—he goes for his morning prayer.
In his daily prayer, he asks God to keep all those close to him in good health, and then he makes a personal request to keep all his body parts in good shape naming each of them individually! Finally, he winds up saying Sarvejano Sukihino Bhavantu.
Then he is ready for the morning coffee and two biscuits.
When I give him the morning papers, he scans them and if impressed makes some cryptic remarks. He is a lover of cricket and tennis although, lately, the interest has waned. Even so, on Thursday night, after seeing Australia’s margin of victory in the World Cup, he touched his forehead and said ‘Rama Rama’.
Whenever somebody comes to call on us, he raises his hands in blessing. If they bow to him he is pleased, but even if some show reticence he remains unfazed, blessing them from a distance which makes them contrite.
His memory is still sharp and it only requires some egging on from us. All of us in the family marvel at his powers of recall. While many, much younger than him, are never tired of asking for sympathy for their lot, whenever anybody enquires about his health his answer invariably is that all vital organs are working well. That probably sums up his tenacity for living.
When I once asked him the secret of his life, he attributed it to an article entitled ‘Persistency of Youth’ which he read as a young boy. His mantra for life, he says, is contained in his three favourite beliefs—a zest for life, a rosy outlook, and will power.
It has not dimmed one bit even today at 105.
The other thing that has kept my father healthy is walking. It is the single most effective medicine that he has taken for a long time, and it is what has kept him healthy.
Somehow he never believed in trying to mix people with his own age and he would prefer the company of the young. When he was in his nineties, out of consideration that he should have company of his own, we would suggest that he should go to the nearby park where people aged in their seventies and eighties would be sitting, so that he could spend time with them. He would bristle at the suggestion and reply that he did not want to spend time with those old foggies!
The other facet of his personality is that he had an insatiable curiosity about everything. Even during his early nineties, he would scan through newspapers and underline important news whether it concerned state-of-the–art computers, surrogate motherhood, cloning, exploration of space, etc. His particular interest was news concerning health tips.
He has difficulty in hearing and complains that he cannot join in conversation when we discuss a host of topics in his presence. He wonders with such advances in science why they cannot find a remedy for his hearing. If any of our relatives was going to America, he would ask them to find a contraption that would aid his hearing; he has such belief in the scientific prowess of the West.
He has mixed with many renowned people of eminence in Kannada and was on familiar terms with them. Though he graduated as a law student and indeed practiced for a few months, he left the profession because he did not think highly of it and joined another service.
He was/is a lover of music, drama and had a facile pen both in Kannada and English. He set tune to many light songs and his favourite was English Geethegalu by B.M. Shri who was his pet teacher. His favourite raga was Athana and he was known with this prefix. Possibly we in our family we have inherited this musical tradition.
My younger sister H.R. Leelavathi is a renowned light music singer while my brother is very good at singing specially Rabindra Sangeeth. My mother was adept in playing on the harmonium and the tradition has been inherited by his grandchildren also.
He took active interest in politics, civic issues and writing to papers frequently and he had the habit of writing to all sort of high dignitaries like Prime Minister, President, Ministers and some of them used to respond to him.
Whenever he attended any meeting he would hold forth asking critical questions. In a way he emphasized that we must not feel shy and encouraged to participate.
Probably, the title of his letters to the editor, dating back to late 1950s, will give the measure of his interest: Telangana and Naxalbari, Neurosis of Power, Well done Mr Chagla, Paucity of thinking, Mysuru nagarada raste, charandigala dhusthithi, Namma prajasatthe matthu janatheya nemmadi.
The other day Abdul Rashid from All India Radio, Mysore, came to see me and said he had only a few minutes. When he saw my father and the Maharaja College group photograph containing the Who’s Who of Mysore, he promised to visit another day for a full session. He did turn up, for the temptation was too much and my father did not disappoint him.
I take this occasion to pray God for my father’s continued good health and opportunity to serve him. He may be a nobody, but for me, really, he is somebody whom I admire. And this trip down memory lane is my way of paying tribute to a life well lived.
Photo courtesy: Abdul Rashid
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