Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Perfect Gentleman

In writing The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius Ramanujan, the author Robert Kanigel (New York, Washington Square Books, 1992) notes that he faced the "barriers of two foreign cultures, a challenging discipline, and a distant time" and no expertise in either [p. 425]. This is one of my favorite biographies to read because of the way it captures some of the world of my youth and the milieu in which I was living when I read the book first ("South India," declares Kanigel, "was a world apart" "pure" and proceeds to describe it in authentic detail, later likening Madras to San Diego, where I was then living, for readers who might never have been to India much less the South (p. 32, 94)). Kanigel is clearly being modest because he has done an outstanding job in making Ramanujan real not only to me but also millions of other readers as witnessed by the fact that this book was nominated for many awards (for details please visit Goodreads, 2013). Dec. 2012 marked the 125th birth anniversary of Ramanujan (b. December 22 1887), the Tamil, Indian, mathematician who won the Nobel Prize, thanks to G.H. Hardy and Cambridge University. It was in England that Ramanujan built a theory of infinity using Zero and Infinity. For Ramanujan, mathematics unveiled the Infinite Divine or as he put it himself, "An equation for me has no meaning unless it expresses a thought of God." (p. 67).

This is the kind of biography I would like to write, with one major exception. I would not want to write of a famous person but rather of a humble, ordinary man who struggled with extraordinary character traits against worldly tensions. It would be a biography that points to God, the creator and source of love, and inspire the billions of us who live lives of great ordinariness. The world sometimes forgets that its not to achievements but rather love - sacrifices and self-giving to God and others - to which all Christians are called. It is love and endurance in Christ that prevails and selfless sacrifices that are remembered. I actually happen to have the perfect material for such a biography. It would be the biography of my father. Daddy and I shared a special bond  that was very strong despite the fact that during the last 25 years of his life, Daddy and I had been able to see each other only rarely and for less than half a dozen times. A chasm of personality, culture, belief, and lack of communication between his daughters pitted my father into an unwitting, often unspoken battle in which he became the chief pawn. Still, he and I were never emotionally apart. We kept in touch by postal mail, phone, and email, and Daddy's correspondence has left its mark on me forever. It is my most prized legacy. Using Dad's letters and the memories of those who loved him, I would like to write a biography. Like Jesus, he's the only man I know, who was perfect love; except, my Dad still had flaws and I don't mean to downplay those at all. The Man Who Knew Perfect Love: A Life of the Gentleman X would be my title for Daddy's biography. I just have to figure out how to deal with the barriers I face as writing a biography is a delicate matter. Besides the question of representative credibility that documents truth while it does no harm but only good both to the dead and the living, there are also the challenges of imprecise perceptions and sources in a distant place and time.

After Mum's death, Daddy was both mother and father to his four daughters. He continued that for 30 years, long after we were all married, had our own families, become mothers ourselves, and sadly, still continued to make unreasonable demands. Daddy, for his part, gave unceasingly, made sacrifices quietly, practice perfect love, yes, imperfectly, but always unreservedly and whole-heartedly. Daddy believed in the power of gentle, self-sacrificing, humble love to change the human heart. The last time I saw Dad was when I visited him shortly before his 70th birthday, Feb. 2003. Even then, Daddy was ready to go home to the Lord. As I looked at the green fields below from within the plane carrying me away, I remember brushing away what seemed to be a morbid and fanciful thought: I had seen my Dad alive for the last time. Rest in peace, Dad. You gave me the best foretaste possible of my Heavenly Father's love.

In memory of daddy's birthday, here's an excerpt from his letter dated 18 April 2003

Dearest Anita,
Many thanks for your birthday greetings last month, with the puzzle card photo.  I tried the maze but could not get my way through. That speaks of my IQ level. 
We all enjoyed your visit.  I was happy to find you doing very well in life.  I wish you continued success and happiness in life.  Your hard work and enterprise are praiseworthy.  In the present state of my mental and physical health (marginally better than what you saw in your visit) the only source of cheer is the wellbeing of children.  So I always look forward to news from you.  The weather in ---- is very hot. ... Love

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