(2 Sep 2018) My memories of my grandfather

I have recently been requested to write up my memories of my grandfather, Mr B Venkatachalam Pillai of Ariyalur for a book being written on him. (More info on Mr BV Pillai is available at http://premnath.org/bvpillai/ ) Here are some thoughts and memories.

My personal memories and impressions of my grandfather come from two sources — my father (late Mr V Venugopalan) and my own interaction with my grandfather.

From the many things my father told me about my grandfather, I have gathered that Mr BV Pillai was special and different from his contemporaries in the towns and villages where he grew up. He was clearly an independent thinker who could step outside and beyond the thinking of the people around him and his times (He was a lawyer, freedom fighter, administrator and politician while most of his family during those times must have been agriculturists). He valued education. He thought about the social issues of his times and felt deeply about the people and their sufferings. He followed the speeches and writings of the leaders of his times including Gandhiji. He had the courage to not flow with the crowd. He joined the freedom struggle and social upliftment movements of his times. He did not hesitate taking up public positions (for ex, in the Madras State government) to shape the future. He joined many other leaders in willingly making sacrifices during the freedom struggle. And once, India attained independence he promptly stepped away from politics and turned his attention to taking care of his family responsibilities.

My grandfather was my father’s role model. If there was any one person whose approval my father sought, it was that of my grandfather. My father held my grandfather in great respect.  My grandfather was somebody who supported my father’s pursuits on both the professional and personal fronts. He was always willing to look at my father’s pursuits with consideration and wisdom. He encouraged my father to work hard, to achieve, to be ambitious and to think longer term. He understood that it was important to allow my father enough space to grow and achieve fulfilment. My father always felt that my grandfather “understood” him. My father consulted my grandfather at key junctures in his career and personal life, and invariably my grandfather provided advise and support with always the longer term happiness and success of my father in his mind. My father always knew that the person who was proudest and genuinely happy of his achievements was his father; so when my grandfather passed away, my father lost his greatest champion. My father shared these warm memories of his father with me till his very last days.

I also think my grandfather was very important in seeding and nurturing some key value systems in our family. Key amongst these were the importance of education, the importance of serving your nation, finding joy and satisfaction in empowering people especially the underprivileged, the emphasis on drive and efficiency (everything had to be done quickly without wasting any time!), the Gandhian tradition of saving all resources (my grandfather used to use all empty spaces in every piece of paper before disposing it) etc.  I also think my father’s interest in public works, sanitation and water supply must have come from my grand father’s experiences and interest in public works activities during his stint in Trichy and Madras.

My own memories of my grand father are those of a respected family figure who was always nice to me (all though he was known to be a disciplinarian). As a child I would run into his home office and he would try to keep me busy by asking me to write something. He was always keen to know how me and my brother were doing. In the days well before good and convenient phone communication, my father would record my messages to my grandfather in a tape recorderr and then play it out to my grand father. My grandfather would respond with a similar recording always encouraging us to do our best and assuring us of the support and  love of the family.  Around 1980, when I was in boarding school, I would write inland letters to my grandfather reporting on all that I was doing in the school. My grandfather took great pride in the fact that I could live alone in a hostel and write letters in English to him. Such simple and genuine exchanges are what give many shades of colour to one’s life.  While I could not spend a lot of time with my grandfather, his influence in my life has been very large and his “value systems” have guided me at critical points in my life especially my decision to return back to India after my PhD and to join a National lab and later in stepping away from the crowd and doing what I thought had greater social impact.

My grandfather lived a life of honour and larger purpose. He did his best for his country, his state and his region on one side and for his extended family on the other side. More importantly, he left behind a legacy and value system for his future generations. What more can one ask for in a life?

Premnath Venugopalan, PhD
Son of Mr V Venugopalan
Grand son of Mr B Venkatachalam Pillai of Ariyalur