An ode to snowflakes

Every city in India has distinct characteristics, and New Delhi is said to be a city where only power and status count. It is where the heat of summer and the chill of winter dominate all conversations and events. It is a happening city – always in the news for the right and wrong reasons.  People are constantly on the move, travelling by metro, air-conditioned cars or the rash city buses. Amidst all this din there was a posthumous book launch done with quiet dignity.  From Bangalore, members of the author’s family flew to Delhi with mixed feelings. 

This was an event that the author had been waiting for, but the book’s release was delayed due to various reasons.  Battling ill health, the author breathed his last. But even two days before his demise the book’s launch was uppermost in his mind. He gazed blankly at his daughter and requested her to write his welcome speech and her thank you speech to the guests. 

Post-retirement, when most people get grouchy and restless, it was the most productive phase of his life. He wrote five books pertaining to the oil industry and published many white papers. However, his autobiography remains incomplete. If someone were to write about his life and times it could be neatly divided into four parts: his growing up years in Vizag; university years in France; long association with the oil industry; and his remarkable sense of humour. Out of these, the years in France which he referred to as his fatherland, were the most inspiring and interesting to listen to.  When he was leaving for France his mother told him not to eat beef and he replied, “But those are French cows!”

Two incidents stand out. One night he stood transfixed watching snowflakes float down from the sky. A passerby warned him about an approaching snowstorm, but he didn’t seem to hear him. Later, the passerby made him get into his car and took him home. The stranger was the dean of Nancy University.  Four years later when he defended his thesis in fluent French, the jury was so impressed that they gave him a standing ovation.

The clock moved on and he returned to India. Later his children would ask him why he returned when he had such a good life in France. He’d reply that if he hadn’t, he would have never known them!  The last few years of his life were painful ones – both physically and emotionally.  Still he would say that he was thankful that the suffering was only towards the end.  Even when in hospital his wit was razor sharp.  Referring to the nurses as vampires he would say that they have come to draw blood.  Once he told his daughters that they must become famous and their names must spread far and wide; one of them jokingly said that she was already famous.  He looked up and said, “Did I miss something?”

And as I stood up to make the thank you speech at my father’s book launch, my eyes welled with tears when I read out the title of his last book – Summons to Greatness.

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