Periappa Remembered


A combination of busyness and inefficiency accounts for why I can say with a straight face, “Time flies.”  This piece was due about a year ago. But then, time flies. In my defense, I am glad I am not writing this piece a year from now. Even in my life, inefficiency and procrastination take a break every once in a while.

It is a year since my Ramamoorthy Periappa passed away. His was a life novels are made of if good writers become aware of the details. Even though I think I know a lot about his life I am not sure all of it is true. He didn’t formally complete a college program but was a Renaissance Man – a successful industrialist, brilliant artist and an amazing photographer, politically kind of active RSS man, all round handyman, avid card player, foodie…  Most importantly he was a good and generous man, a proxy parent for many a person.

It is that final aspect about the man that I will remember forever. His house in Madras was an open house for many a person in need. I can remember many of my friends who were beneficiaries of his and Periamma’s generosity and openness. Ajay stayed with them when he had to write some medical entrance exams. Dimpy stayed with them for an extended period of time as she was finding her feet becoming an artist – in fact I think she used their address to establish residency! Subha stayed with them when she was working at the Spastic Society and needed a place to stay. Periappa and Periamma conducted Kamala’s wedding under circumstance we no longer talk about. These are just connections personally close to me. Their generosity extended to countless others.

We had the joy of spending many vacations in Periappa/Periamma’s house in Madras – first in Tondiarpet and then in different locations in Annanagar. My fondest memory of him is when he used to take us kids for ice cream to a place whose name I cannot remember, but I am sure one of my cousins or siblings will recall. At times it was only a couple of people who could go along with him on his ‘mobike’. Ah! What a treat it was. Right up there with the ice cream treat was going with him to see Walt Disney movies. He enjoyed them far more than we kids did. And we kids enjoyed them a lot.

I also recall once when he dropped me from the frying pan into the fire. To cut a long story short, I had got myself into a situation where I needed to see the college principal with my father before I could be given a hall ticket to write the centralized university exam. My father who had asked me not to do the thing that got me into trouble, but who was asked to not interfere in a not so polite way, refused to accompany me to the principal’s office. Periappa was my proxy father. He was well coached on what the problem was and how he was only coming along as a seat warmer and should say little. At that young age I did not understand the unpredictable nature of Renaissance men. Periappa not only spoke, but agreed with the principal that my indiscretions were a part of the nature of the younger generation, and said that he was grateful I was being held to account.  I probably would have held it against him if the final outcome of a vindictive principal really harmed me. It didn’t. But I always knew I had a proxy father.

There is much more I can say about Periappa, about things he did which were ahead of his time and indicative of his courage and decency. Some of it, I will not, because it is of a personal nature unfit to blog. The trouble with the other stuff is that there are so many stories that if I carry on I can never stop. What I do know is that he has left behind a caring, loving family, all of whom miss him, and most of whom want to emulate him.  That is a good thing.

Hopefully there will be a novel in the not too distant future by someone who knew him well. I have a working title – The Man Who Would Be Good!