“When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground”, goes an African proverb. This describes my grandfather, Athmaraman, a power house of knowledge.

Born in 1902 during the British Raj, he learnt to survive not only on the proverbial lemonade when fate threw lemons at him, but also added the fizz of knowledge to his life. Against all odds at the age of 26, he obtained a B.A. degree and subsequently a law degree from Madras University. He felt too old to practice law and opted to be a bank manager, but the R A Raman B.A. B.L. in him dispensed free legal advice when solicited. With the march of time, he picked up skills as an entrepreneur, experimentalist, agriculturist and pharmacist.

By the time I came into his life, he had settled down in a tiny village in Tiruvarur district, Tamil Nadu. Ever self-reliant, he was running a pharmacy in the nearby town. Many of my summer holidays were spent in his beautiful village house near the Mudikondan river.

Thatha was a “hands-on” man, always fiddling with pumps, electrical motors, home-made potions and hybrid plants. He never preached to me about the importance of reading, enjoying nature or cultivating scientific temperament. In his own hands-on way, he inculcated precious values. For instance, every day when he returned from his pharmacy, he would bring that day’s Tamil newspaper and some crisps. I used to devour every news item and the crisps with equal relish for the next hour. Least did I realise that the seeds for my reading habit were sown then.

His garden with numerous trees, vegetable patch and flower beds is green in my memory. All around the beds, water channels would crisscross. Thanks to grandpa, our house had the privilege of getting water from the well with a flick of a switch. As soon as the motor was switched on, the gushing water was neatly channelised around the beds. My job was to make an opening in each of the beds to let the water in and once enough water had flown in, close the opening and work on the next bed. The water flowing thus in a maze throughout the garden was a sight to behold.

His homemade face cream from beeswax and aloe vera gel were part of our Friday ritual ‘oil-bath’. He had passed on his love for pets, books, environment, his sense of humour, the art of book-keeping and above all, optimism to his grandkids.

Even in his late sixties, he was proactive and engaged himself in setting up a biogas plant. During installation, while trying to lift a heavy cement slab, he collapsed and went into coma. After two days, he passed away without regaining consciousness.

In 1968, he had planted bamboo trees in his garden and told his neighbour that these will come in handy for his own funeral. In 1970, when he passed away, those bamboos were used to carry his body to the crematorium.