Memories of death

Memories of death


My grandfather, Munshi Kunhan Varier, had often figured in some passing conversations but never as fully or in as much of detail as elaborated upon by my nonagenarian father a few days ago. The late Kunhan Varier hailed from the village of Mezhathur located in the present Thrithala block of Palakkad District of Kerala. He was known to be an engaging conversationalist.

Born in 1872, he had won the admiration and respect of the then ruling elite of the princely state of Cochin for his dual skills in Sanskrit and Ayurveda. He is believed to have been conferred by the Ruler of Cochin with the titles of ‘Sahitya Nipunan’ (skilful in literature) and ‘Vaidya Vichakshanan’ (expert in the field of medicine).

He had impressed the rulers of Cochin to the extent that the book authored by him, Sree Rama Varma Vijaya, was prescribed as the standard book in all the then schools of the erstwhile state of Cochin.

One abiding memory that my father has of his father is the background to his poetic composition ‘Ende maranavum punarjanmavum’ which literally means memories of his death and rebirth.

The background of this composition was a train journey undertaken by my grandfather to Calicut way back in 1940. The day he embarked on the journey it was Dvadashi of the full moon fortnight, an auspicious day. My grandfather, by habit, had opened out
to his fellow passengers in no time.

He had revealed his identity, his destination, and the objective of his visit, ie, to have lunch with his eldest son, P V Rama Variar, the then chief physician of Arya Vaidya Sala in Calicut, who later became the founder of the Arya Vaidya Pharmacy in Coimbatore. He remembered the train steaming into Tirur station after which he had a blackout.

The next memory he had was of his coming around several hours later in the comforting presence of his eldest son. The entire poetic composition is of his professed images and memories of the interregnum between his blackout and his becoming aware of the events and happenings around him — much like Coleridge’s poem Kubla Khan.

While my grandfather states in the poem that he has already lived a full life enjoying the benefits of a fulsome pension of Rs 16 per month, he laments with caustic humour that to ‘depart’ on that auspicious day was not given to him and instead he was brought back to life, thereby missing out on dying on an ‘athi shubham’ (very auspicious) day.

However, he did die, and quite suddenly too, two years after this episode thus bringing down the curtains on the life of a man who was known to be extremely social, affable, erudite, resourceful and blessed with wonderful creativity and knowledge of Ayurveda.

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