Tatha would have turned ninety-seven today. He was a man who did many things, all successfully, and what he achieved in one life-time would successfully fill up a few lifetimes for normal mortals.
Scientist, administrator, literary critic, music connoisseur, writer, art commentator, epicurean, communist sympathizer – Dr. K. Ganapathi was many things to many people. But to me, he was plain and simple “Tatha”
Tatha turned sixty the year I was born, which makes me the luckiest of his three grandchildren – when I was growing up, he was officially retired and so had lots of time to give me, and at the same time, he was young enough and fit enough to play badminton with me and take me on long walks.
There are pictures of him holding me as a baby, and of me sitting on his lap while he pegged away at his typewriter, but do not remember any of it.
My earliest memory of Tatha is from the summer when I was learning people and professions in school. Full of the self-assurance that only a six-year old can have, I asked him to name his profession, and then confidently told him, “If you are a scientist, you must have gone to the moon.” He didn’t smile on me indulgently like a normal grandparent would, but told me I had got my facts totally wrong and that scientists did not go to the moon. When I informed him that my teacher had told me that they did, he cross-checked with my mother before telling me that I should notify my teacher that it was astronauts who went to the moon. Days later he was still rallying against teachers who deserved to be tied to lamp-poles and shot for teaching incorrect things to innocent children.
That’s Tatha for you – a man who never compromised, however minor the issue.
I remember many summer evenings spent on the terrace of Tatha’s Besant Nagar house, sitting next to his deck chair, scratching his elbow and listening to his stories. The stories a normal grandparent would tell his grandchildren would either be mythological stories or stories of the times he had lived in, but those stories he left for my Patti to tell. The stories he told me were stories about famous scientists – their triumphs and their failures, their greatness and their petty jealousies. An eight-year old could not be expected to know who Johans Kepler was, but this eight-year old knew all about his rivalry with Tycho Brahe and of how he punched his fist into the other man’s nose, forcing him to get a golden one to restore the symmetry of his features. You can be sure they were thrilling stories, and I could never have enough of them. Conversely, some of the people became so real, that for a long time I thought C.V. Raman was in some way related to my Tatha, not just a man he admired greatly.
Probably the thing I most admire about Tatha was the fact that he was willing to treat anyone who had an opinion as an intellectual equal. A very opinionated man himself, he never forced his opinions on you, and was always ready for a heated debate. I must have been about fifteen when I discovered Impressionism, and told Tatha that it was the best thing that ever happened to Art. Himself a staunch devotee of the Renaissance Movement, he could not reconcile himself to the fact that his granddaughter had such deviant beliefs. We often argued late into the night- me with the passion of youth, he with the conviction that comes with age. Most of those discussions revolved around him saying that while the Impressionists were not bad, there was no scientific thought going into their paintings. My retort was always, “ that may be the case, but who wants Science in Art?”.
We just had different ways of looking at things - those differences could never be resolved and were never resolved. But neither of us gave up – both wanted the pleasure of being able to covert the other. In my case, the desire to convert was understandable, but why would a man like Tatha want to spend hours trying to argue with his granddaughter? Because he believed in the freedom of through and could never bring himself to force his ideas on someone who had a different opinion. He was a forceful debater, but never a dictator.
He thought I was wasting my time on science fiction when I could be reading the classics. We made a deal – I would read G.B.Shaw’s “Man and Superman”, if he read an Issac Asimov. I’m afraid, I understood very little of the play he asked me to read (even though I did like “Arms and the Man” from the same collection), but he took far more out of “Caves of Steel” than even I had (it was only in my twenties, that I finally got the message that Tatha got on his first and only read).
All his life, he sought knowledge and information, regardless of where it came from. When his son turned 32, and wrote him a letter expressing his hope that his life would take a new turn in the year where the binary number changed from being a five digit 11111 to a six digit 100000, Tatha had no clue as to what his son was saying. We had studied binary numbers that year, and Tatha became the first person I taught mathematics to. For weeks after that, Tatha told anyone who cared to listen that he was extremely impressed by an education system that allowed his pre-teen to teach him things.
I could go on and on about one of favourite persons. But the memory that keeps coming back to my mind, and bringing a little smile with it each time is of our badminton matches. Both of us were utterly pathetic at the game, but every point would be fiercely contested. By the time we were on ‘ten all’, both would have started resorting first to covert cheating and then to more open cheating. The one who cheated better on that particular day won, and the one thing that Tatha never did was to ‘allow’ me to win. That is the Tatha I adore, and the kind of person I would love to be.