Sunday, April 12, 2009

Life before death, with my father-in-law

We do not choose our parents or our bosses. Our parents we cannot know; our bosses select us. But we may choose our friends and partners. So if I had a choice again to marry, I would choose to marry my wife Kalpana. But this time round, I would have one more reason than that I love her: I knew and loved her father too.

Prof. K.L. Joshi, my father-in-law, died yesterday, Saturday, 11 April 2009, after completing 87 years the day before, on 10 April. A gentle peaceful man, he was a wonderful human being, a political activist to the core and a world-class public intellectual.

Fond of mathematics, Prof Joshi taught science and technology at the College of Engineering, Pune (COEP) from 1955 until his retirement in 1980 as its Head of the Department of Electronics and Telecommunications.

When I first met him in 1981, as Kalpana’s father, I was surprised that he was glad I was a political activist and that too associated with the Communist Party of India (Marxist)! Himself a socialist and close to the communists, the socialists and the Gandhians, he was concerned that I did not have a full-time job.

One of his first questions to me was, “Will you take up a full-time job, after you get married?” My yes reassured him. And when I joined Maharashtra Herald on 2 May 1983 as a sub-editor, he was happy I kept my word, and was not bothered that my monthly salary of 600 rupees was less than what his daughter earned.

The multi-faceted life and work of Prof. K.L. Joshi, fondly called “K.L.” by his friends, deserves a full-length biography. Here I will describe a few reasons why I grew to love him.

He was a daring freedom-fighter, having served a prison term in Yerawada Jail, Pune, during the 1942 Quit India movement. In his room, there is a picture of the 20 year-old “K.L.” taken just after he got out of jail. He does not face the camera; I like to imagine he is looking into the distance at the India he and his comrades are fighting for.

“Anna”, as we called him in the family, touched the individual lives of many, drawing them close to him. He did this not by words of affection but by the simple example of his own life and kind deeds. Others may tell their own stories of him. I will tell you mine.

When I proposed to Kalpana, it was not easy for her “Brahmin” family to say yes. I went through an astonishing “interview” by her relatives, so that they could get to know the “Catholic” boy. I have put the words Brahmin and Christian in double inverted commas, because neither were they traditional Pune “Brahmins” nor was I the usual “Catholic” boy.

One person who accepted me without reservation was Prof. K. L. Joshi. His only questions were practical and those that any father of any eligible girl has a right to ask. For his unqualified support, I always loved him. We had our differences, especially on ideological issues, but he was most gracious and courteous when he disagreed with me. He respected differences and did not wish to offend and lose a friend.

I recall an interview of Paul Eddington, the actor who played the role of the British Prime Minister in the TV series, “Yes, Minister”. In Face to Face with Jeremy Isaacs, a week before he died of cancer, Paul says he would like to be remembered by the words, “He did very little harm.” This would be a fitting epitaph for Prof. K.L. Joshi.

In a Pune that is hide-bound with the most covert, sophisticated and brazen forms of caste and class prejudice, he was a rare example of honest humanity, refusing to submit to pressure from any quarter. For him, merit always came above all else.

His contributions on various selection panels and boards, ranging from the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) to the college or job interview panel, are outstanding and dearly remembered by thousands for their impartiality, fearlessness and respect for merit – and nothing else.

He did not believe in life after death. He practised his beliefs in his own life, by refusing to have any religious ceremonies for his sons or daughters. He professed his beliefs with his grand-children, prepared to argue, "Does God exist?” For him, there was only this one life to be lived fully on earth – before death. A Gandhian socialist, he believed all people everywhere are good and deserve to be treated so. I like to believe if heaven is real, it is because it is possible to create a heaven on earth.

When he left at eighty-seven,
Fearlessly,
No life after death.
In us, he left his heaven,
Life before death.

That’s all, this Sunday.

Your support is my strength,
- Joe.

Pune, Sunday, 12 April 2009.

11 comments:

Princess said...

My condolences Joe. May his soul rest in peace. A most befitting eulogy.Your love and respect for him comes through so clearly.

Amith Prabhu said...

It is not often that we find a tribute from a son in law to his fathe rin law. But this one is staright from the heart and it is touching.

Long live the greatness of simple men.

Ambaree said...

Beautiful post. Sounds like the son-in-law and father-in-law were more like comrades :) Loved it.

Anonymous said...

My sincere condolences Joe. I remember very well you telling me about him when we worked together. Though i never met him you kind of painted a picture of him for me, so i too feel the loss. Please pass on my condolences to Kalpana and Pallavi.
An apt tribute to your father in law, it was really touching.

Sushma

अब्द said...

Heart touching article about a great person.
Tribute to the Great HUMAN BEING.

feddabonn said...

respect.

swapna said...

very sweet post

Anonymous said...

my condolences, Sir...this was such a touching piece. i was reminded of my grandad whom i lost 4 years ago...and i know some voids are never filled. but time just teaches us to cope.

Joe Pinto said...

Princess, Amith, Sushma, abd, feddabonn, Swapna, Madhura - I thank you, on behalf of my wife Kalpana and daughter J.K. Pallavi, for your condolences.

We, each one of us, has the glorious experience of some older person like my father-in-law "to have and to hold" in our lives.

But do we write about them? Do we pay tribute to their ordinary majesty? Mine was a humble effort to put down what Prof. K.L. Joshi meant to me; gave to me; a debt I cannot repay.

Ambaree - yes, you are correct to say we were comrades, but not in a sectarian "political party" sort of way.

Many others have written directly on my personal email ID or facebook. I thank them also, on behalf of Kalpana and Pallavi, for their condolences.

Warm regards,
- Joe.

J J said...

I read this now. Very well written. I just remembered his face with a smile, nothing else ..

Joe Pinto said...

My dear J J.

From your intials and your comment, I cannot make out who U are?

Peace and love - Joe Pinto.