Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Dilip. I knew him as well as one could know a self-effacing person who never talked of himself. Which is to say I did not know his inner self, but was well-acquainted with his principles, his good deeds, his kindness to all, and the extraordinary heroism with which he endured his blindness and the physical pain, which was his almost-constant companion.

Others have talked of his clear and intelligent mind, his excellence as a professor, his knowledge of carnatic music, his interest in cricket,and such other things. But the most important fact, the central one, is that he was a holy person. Where there is goodness of that order,there there is also sanctity in significant measure.

It is the fashion of the times to react with embarrassment to such words as holiness and saintliness, and some will say that Dilip was a rationalist and agnostic, and God did not figure in his speech. It matters not. The Presence was there, even if the mind hardly thought of it and the speech was not of it. One does not have to put on the garment of an ascetic and live apart, in meditation and prayer, to qualify as holy. Those are only unimportant externals. God IS, where extraordinary goodness dwells.

Not a day passes without him visiting the mind. The lines below formed themselves for him. Other verse too was written for him years ago, and was read to him at the time. This, I insert here, though Dilip was of a size that merited a poet, not just a stumbling versifier.

We'll never know, although on knowing bent,
So swiftly why a life so large was done;
To men of goodness, early ends if sent,
On earth can ever Virtue's wars be won?

We cannot know, but hope we surely can:
Ordained was all, towards a final good,
For which, too soon, we had to lose a man,
Who, all his days, for worth and measure stood.

But, since the life was one of suffering keen,
With tribulation too, of being blind,
How thoughtful more, if summoning had been
A fitter one, considerate and kind.

Oh son of light, now back in Primal Light,
For you, at least, departure hence, was gain:
No longer jailed are you, in sightless night,
No longer chained to unremitting pain.

Recalling all the things you did and said,
We'll strive a while to keep our living clean,
Then once again with vileness go to bed,
And end our tale as if you'd never been.

For, common folk, of height, will quickly tire,
Will always, soon, to being low, return,
Can never be, oh Dilip, lasting fire,
However much examples set, might burn.

It is taught that a man of goodness and beauty goes back into the Goodness and Beauty from which he came, and, with his death, nothing is gone but the physical lamp, in which the tongue of flame burned, during its brief existence away from the Primal Fire. There is no loss.

Nothing is lost: no beauty, no glory, that does not return to, and become once again part of the Bigger Entity, from which it separated during the brief period
of its earthly existence.

With such reflections one must still the sorrow. The rest is a matter of marshalling what courage and powers of endurance one can, and soldiering on.

M.A. Reddy

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

I was passing on the sad news to a friend when he asked "So which class did you take with him?". It was only then I realized that I had never been to any of his classes. I do not recall ever asking him to explain anything. And yet he was my teacher. Yes, I think that is it...knowing Dilip was in itself the lesson. His friendship, simplicity and unconditional giving were things I will never forget!

Manoj Gunwani
Class of 92
It was Sept ’08 when I heard Dilip was ‘not keeping well’. A few enquiries revealed my worst fears – that he was virtually immobile and cancer had eaten into his colon and intestines.

A flood of memories, pain for not having seen him in a year, reflections on his years of influence on me, guilt again at never being able to emulate even a tiny spark of his goodness, they all came back, and refused to go away ..

My story with him is not different from those of many others who knew him.

It was almost 20 years ago on the IIT campus in Chennai that I had first heard of Dilip – a professor in our humanities department, a blind man, often smiling, talking, holding on to someone’s shoulders, often around a group of students and odd-looking ‘outsiders’. You could see him on campus sometimes, usually around the tea shop or in his noisy office – his gang of followers around him, reading or debating on politics, nature, history, psychology or cricket. At first he was a curiosity, someone to spend time between classes with over a cup of tea, debating on topics of cursory interest and no consequence. Many of my friends dismissed him as an unrepentant socialist, not able to place his pre-conceived notions in a changing India.

The class he taught on the history of Indian Nationalism was a revelation for me. Not in its content as much as in the way Dilip conducted the class. History was a debate for him, a discussion, not a conclusion and a record of facts. That can be a shocker for someone who’s just come out of the Indian high school system. His socialist leanings were obvious, mostly as a backdrop to his thoughts rather than an obvious choice of philosophy. He allowed you to have your own point of view, sometimes correcting your facts, sometimes building on your ideas. There was clearly more to this man than the buzz surrounding him.

I started frequenting his office more often, sometimes borrowing his books, sometimes seeking his help or influence. Occasionally, I would accompany him on his numerous social jaunts – mostly to the teashop – sometimes to a slum or a hospital or a school where you could see him in action – educating some, helping out others. His students would generally lend a hand, the more active ones often leading the charge. He was completely selfless, never saving a rupee more than he needed. Almost all his income was distributed among the many that he felt needed it more than he did. It was always uncomfortable. “Each one needs to help himself” I’d say. “Yes, but some need a little help before they can do it themselves. It multiplies fast” he’d reply.

After graduating, I decided to go to the United States to study further and grow professionally. It was a choice he’d seen many others make. He took it in his stride. I remember him saying good-bye to me in the IIT campus. He had got me a little packet of ‘chikki’ – a sweet snack I relished. We kept in touch often over email (one of his student friends would read it out to him and type his response back) and on occasional visits to India. It was amazing that he’d keep in touch with so many of us, treating each as an individual, a dear friend, whose every personal and family detail he’d know. Of course all this was while he continued to make new friends on campus.

When I made the move back to India in ’02, it seemed Bangalore would be much closer to see Dilip more often. It was not to be. We would see each other only a couple of times before I heard of his illness.

I finally made it to Chennai in Dec ’08. Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw. Dilip was in bed, small and frail, unable to speak, unable to bear the pain that came with the tumor in his body. It was difficult to see the person who never once complained in the 18 years I knew him, being unable to talk without pain.

A few weeks later, I heard he passed away. His thoughts and words echo in my mind. His short life remains an example of how one man with so little at his disposal can do so much good in so little time.

Dilip, you will never be forgotten, your thoughts and actions forever an influence on many young minds that had the good fortune to know you,

Ajit Rao,
Class of ’92, IIT Madras
Bangalore, India
I came to know Dilip as an impressionable 10 yr old lad through my brother Manoj. I've always been amazed by Dilip's commitment to his ideals. He has always consistently practiced what he preached, from taking public transport to work, to even refusing sophisticated medical treatment on account that the average Joe wouldn't be able to acquire let alone afford such care and wondering what made him o special to get it.

I am even more impressed by the fact that he has quietly accomplished so much without any fuss from TNSF, etc to quietly influencing the scores of iit janta that have had the privilege of coming into contact with him. We often speak of how humble people can be. He was the very embodiment of humility and selflessness.

I hope that everyone he has influenced in his life, try and cultivate some of his virtues of simplicity and selflessness in our own lives and I hope that TNSF and other social justice movements he was active in continue to flourish for decades to come.

vinod saranathan
Dear Dilip,

I am sorry to miss you, but feel that are at peace wherever you
are. Your memory is a great inspiration, and I will do my bit to
bear in mind and act upon the compassion that you embodied. My best
wishes for peace to return as soon as possible to your family and
friends. I am so happy to have known you. I will honor your memory.

With love,

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A Rare Human Being

Sangeetha and I lost a very close friend Dilip (Prof Dilip Veeraraghavan IIT Madras) last week. Dilip knew me from the time that I was just a young listener of music. We were more than friends; we were family and took all the liberty that one does with their own siblings. I will deeply miss all the wonderful conversations, fights, arguments and chatter that we shared especially about music, cricket, politics etc over the last almost twenty years. Dikshitar and Brindamma were probably the most discussed topics between us. Our mutual madness for both generally drove conversations.

The fact that he was visually impaired did not in anyway affect the principles of his life. There were countless times we would tell him to stop taking the bus to IIT everyday and make life easier for himself and all he will say is “ you know my socialistic leanings”. His deep care for others and their well-being was so rare.

We did go and see him in late November and I in fact told him that he should come to my concert at the Academy as he had done over the last two decades (I don’t think he missed even one) and of course the post concert next day discussion etc. Unfortunately that was not to be.

Just before leaving his home he asked us to sing Mamava Pattabhirama. I remember him waiting for me to sing the Brindamma sangathis for the pallavi as we ended the Krithi.

There are so many lovely memories of Dilip that it’s difficult to put in writing and I think they are better as a memories.

We miss you


TM Krishna

Friday, February 13, 2009

I met Dilip aka Dr.Veeraraghavan about 7 odd years ago, when I was still in school. He passed away this morning. He was a friend of dad's. Dad apparently used to read to him from libraries and home in Delhi during his PhD, almost everyday. They lost touch after dad went abroad for a few years. One day, I tagged along with dad to IITM, utilizing his invite to the book launch of Nature's Spokesman: M. Krishnan and Wildlife organized by the Bombay Natural History Society (dad's a life member of BNHS) and Prakriti (IITM's nature club). One of the organizers was standing outside the CLT complex. Dad walked upto him and touched his hand, and he immediately said "Thyagu, eppadi da irrukae?" (translated from tamil - Thyagu, how are you?) - they were meeting after almost a decade. In such a span, faces are generally forgotten - Dilip otoh recognized dad from one touch! To the uninitiated, Dilip had lost vision in both eyes as a youngster. After reestablishing contact, dad used to visit or call him when possible. I too visited him a few times after that, while visiting IITM. I don't know if he could remember me offhand, but in any case I always used to introduce myself as "Thyagu's daughter" and talk for a while, generally acting messenger between dad and him, transfering books. I always used to nag dad into taking me along whenever he went visiting on Dilip. And I will always regret that I could have spoken more with him.

This year my visits to IITM increased, due to various reasons. On one such occasion, dad asked me to try meeting Dilip or at least meet Murali (Dr.Muraleedharan) and enquire about him. Dad had tried reaching Dilip at his office a number of times, of no avail. One of their mutual friends had told dad that Dilip has been "unwell" for a while. On this visit, one of the students mentioned the same thing. I got his contact number from the department office. I met Prof. Murali who was mighty busy that day and chased me out of his office. Dad promptly made a few calls and I came to know only that day, Dilip hadn't been in office for a while now and had another ailment to cope with - cancer. The last time I had met him was in Shaastra 2008 - he was out on a jaunt checking Shaastra out, with Murali explaining the going-ons. I ran over, introduced myself yet again and had a short yack before getting back to my events. I wish I'd had longer, deeper conversations with him. I wish I could have heard atleast one of his talks. And I wish I had found the time to visit him atleast once in his last months.

Dad is out of town and will be returning in a coupla days and he was upset he could not come down before noon today, to see him one last time. Dilip is one of the few people I held/hold in awe, who inspire, who defined to me the meaning of the word "awe-inspiring"- for no matter what his pains, no matter what his problems, I have never seen him without a smile playing on his lips or without atleast a few students or professors around him, deep in discussion...

I feel guilty, staying in bed for a viral infection.

Kadambari Devarajan