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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Adieu Venks: A requiem for my spiritual friend

Being alive is not the big issue. All of us are alive. But few of us live fully and fewer still will be remembered after we are gone!

Venks Venkatachalam
My spiritual friend, and my wife’s father, Venks, passed away this morning. He was a great father, an inspiring teacher and a wonderful human being. He lived a full Life. Most important is that he touched the lives of so many, many people in his lifetime. As the tributes pour in on his passing away, my family and I are overwhelmed. It makes me believe, yet again, that there’s great value in considering how you will be remembered for you to awaken to the opportunity to live intelligently – simply, humbly and usefully. Venks epitomized this spirit.

There were a few lessons that I learned from Venks. In celebration of his Life, let me share them here.

First and foremost was his spirit to serve without expectations, selflessly. To him being useful to others was more important than making something for himself. All his Life he never made any material wealth – no cash assets, no real estate, no jewelry, no stock market investments. But because he groomed so many fine students into good leaders and responsible citizens, his Life was always filled with grace. I never saw him wanting anything. But till the very end, till his last breath, he got all that he needed. Isn’t that a true miracle – always getting whatever you need for 84 years on the trot?

The second lesson I learnt from him was that when your children become adults, you have to let go and be non-interfering. He lived with me and my wife for the last 13 years. Of these 13, 8 were filled with the strife of a bankruptcy in our Firm and abject pennilessness on the personal front for my wife and me. Often there were bailiffs from courts and cops following up on Section (Indian Penal Code) 420 matters, against me and my wife, at our door. Sometimes, I would lose my cool and hop mad trying to take out my frustration – over our hopeless situation – and at other times, I would just want to unwind for a few drinks on my couch. On all these occasions, he would never come up and offer any counsel or state a worry. He would, at the most, ask me: “I hope you can manage all this.” And I would say, “Yes Appa.” He would smile and say in his trademark fashion: “Baba (Swami Sathya Sai) will take care”.

I also learnt from him the value of being disciplined with the palate. He never ate out of turn or more than what he needed. Thanks to him, as a family, we learnt to eat our meals on time. And that has helped us all maintain good health. I think it was Gandhi who once said that if you can conquer your palate, you can learn to overcome any temptation. Venks lived by that credo, led it with example and inspired us to practice it ourselves.

Finally the most important lesson I learned from him was that he simply accepted what came his way. He never resisted the Life that he lived at any stage. In his career as a teacher, he faced so many challenges at work. He never sulked. He never protested. On the personal front too, as a father, as a son, as a brother, he faced several problems. But he never ever became bitter with Life or with anyone. When he was diagnosed with cancer of the prostrate and we finally informed him of his condition, he never panicked. His ailment curtailed his mobility to a great extent. Again, he did not take it badly at all. He simply took it in his stride. Two months ago he went into ICU for a stroke. When he came out and made yet another valiant effort to overcome his debilitating condition, he asked my wife: “Is there something about me that you are not telling me?” His speech was slurred (affected by the stroke) but he was keen to know what it was that had happened to him. He asked so that he could perhaps take it as it came and move on with whatever it was. That was his greatest quality. He desired nothing. And he was content with everything – often with anything!

His family, friends, students – and I – will remember him as a karma yogi. Wiki has this to say of karma yoga: Of the three paths to realization, karma yoga is the process of achieving perfection in action. Karma yoga is said to be the most effective way to progress in spiritual Life. Venks lived that perfect Life of action. He lived in this world and yet he was always above it. To imbue that spirit in me, in my wife and in my children, to me, that will be a true celebration of Venks’ Life!  

1 comment:

  1. Beautifully written, Avis. It will always be trenchant, but today, even more so. RIP to a true legend: our most beloved Venks Sir.