Monday, March 31, 2008
A. N. Chaturvedi was the father of my closest friend. He passed away on Saturday, after a brief struggle against cancer. It was detected too late to be treated. We knew he was sinking, but the loss is painful nevertheless.
He was the Director (Legal and Estate) of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan till recently, when his sons persuaded him to retire and spend time with his grandchildren.
Uncle, as I called him, was one of my favorite people. He was a great scholar, historian and philosopher, though you'd never suspect it. Unless someone asked him specifically to speak on history or philosophy, he would be content to listen to other people's conversations, never intervening or correcting anyone.
I would do just that. I would open a conversation, preferably something controversial, and then spar with Uncle for a while. But only for a short while because the depth of his knowledge was such that I couldn't hope to contradict him.
He had a gentle wit and could be quite humorous. His presentation of facts and events would always be in the form of a narrative or story, making it interesting. And he had quite a few unorthodox views on history. I won't get into them (they merit several posts of their own), but the common thread was the gentleness with which he argued his views.
His son and I loved dragging him into controversial territory and would try our best to get him to contradict himself. In ten years that I knew him, I never succeeded even once. He was crystal clear. And consistently good humored. I have never known him to lose his temper. Neither have his children.
He was fond of cricket too, and bet Rs. 100 on India, against his sons, every time there was a game. Whenever India lost (and we know how frequent that is) they would delight in harrying him for the hundred rupees and a great deal of fun was had by all.
I would keep presenting him books, which he would read and promptly return. "It was a gift, Uncle" I would tell him, but he believed that books were meant to be read, not stored. "Pass it along, Narendra", he would say, "I've got it stored here", tapping his temple. And it was well and truly stored. He had an amazing memory, almost photograghic.
The last thing I bought for him was a book called "A corner of a foreign field" by Ramachandra Guha, a delightful history of cricket in India. He was too unwell to read it and the book is still with me. It will remain with me for ever. Whenever I read it, I will remember you, uncle. And I will wish I could have discussed it with you. Rest in peace. You were one of a kind and it is my good fortune that I knew you.