Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Ken Kesey – One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, July 25, 2020

First edition cover Feb, 1962

Ken Kesey's story of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (OFOTCN) began when he started working in 1960 as a paid volunteer in a Stanford University program to test an experimental drug Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD) which they hoped would cure the insane. He discovered instead it could drive normal people insane! Twenty years later it became known that the funding agency was the CIA, the agency of the US Government infamous the world over for its dirty tricks.

Later he worked in a hospital’s psychiatric ward at the nearby Menlo Park Veterans' Hospital. During the night shift there he used to converse with the patients. He observed that many of them were thinking people who acted abnormally according to societal standards, but who were otherwise fine. It was the push to conform that had ejected them from the free society in which they lived.

The book depicts therapies for the insane ranging from group discussions under an iron-willed nurse, to the invasive Electro Convulsive Therapy (ECT) and surgical Lobotomy. The inventor of Lobotomy, Egas Moniz, won the Nobel Prize in 1949; but its use has been entirely discontinued after the 1950s because the results were poor. Besides, newer psychiatric drugs were coming on stream with hopes for better results. 

Ken Kesey – the Oregon Author who lived a colourful life

ECT has remained on the treatment list as a last option for maladies like depression and bipolar disorder, but with two radical changes: 
1) it is performed only under anaesthesia, and 
2) it is done with far lower currents and voltages than originally used and employs an ultra brief pulse of less than 0.5 millisec

McMurphy – locked up and alienated, he nevertheless tried to resurrect the spirits of the inmates

The novel can be read as McMurphy’s attempt to liberate the patients of the asylum from the tyranny of Nurse Ratched and the system she represented, so that they could live with dignity even within the precincts of the loony bin.

As before the readers gathered online using Zoom (courtesy of Rachel Cleetus) and were immensely comforted to listen and talk with each other in these trying times of Covid-19. Here is a group picture – only Kavita is missing:

Thursday, 2 July 2020

Poetry Session – June 26, 2020

Most of the poets read at this session were American, barring three famous Englishmen (Byron, Tennyson and Kipling), an Irishman (Gogarty), a Greek (Cavafy), and an Indian (Hoskote). The poetry was rich and varied, and gave rise to much discussion.

George Gordon Noel Byron, 6th Baron Byron by Richard Westall © National Portrait Gallery, London

The world is beset by several crises at the moment. The extreme cruelty of the deliberate slow murder by asphyxiation of George Floyd by a policeman in Minneapolis, has given rise to reactions around the globe against racism. This is partly reflected in the discussions below of two poets on opposites sides of that divide: James Baldwin and Rudyard Kipling.

James Baldwin – 1963 portrait by Richard Avedon

The Covid-19 crisis also found its way into our discussions when the role of policing in general was discussed. Too often the police is seen as an instrument for political coercion. If the government has not earned the trust of its people, by acting in the public good, in turn the public will hold back from cooperating with the policies of the government.

Rudyard Kipling

One of our readers (Geeta) raised the point about what constitutes 'literary value’ in a piece of writing, and how do you assess it. It comes into play when KRG readers select novels for the year’s reading. It was essential to the famous case of the obscenity charge against the novel Ulysses. The disposal of the case with the finding against the charge, established once and for all that a work of literary merit will not be treated by the law as an obscenity.

James Joyce

For lovers of literature the manner in which the Judge John M. Woolsey arrived at his decision in December 1933 has a certain piquancy in its phrasing:
“I am quite aware that owing to some of its scenes Ulysses is a rather strong draught to ask some sensitive, though normal, persons to take. But my considered opinion, after long reflection, is that whilst in many places the effect of Ulysses on the reader undoubtedly is somewhat emetic, nowhere does it tend to be an aphrodisiac. Ulysses may, therefore, be admitted into the United States.”

Emetic, but not aphrodisiac.

As before we are under a Covid-19 sentence of social distancing and had to congregate in a virtual manner with Zoom. Here we are:

Tuesday, 2 June 2020

Mary Shelley – Frankenstein, May 29, 2020

Frankenstein – The first edition was published anonymously in London in 1818. Shelley's name appears on the second edition published in France in 1823

Title page and frontispiece of Mary Shelley’s 1831 (third) edition of Frankenstein

It all began when four friends got together in a villa by Lake Geneva in Switzerland. On a stormy night in 1816, one of them, Lord Byron, proposed ‘We will each write a ghost story.’ The others were Percy Bysshe Shelley, the poet, his wife, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, and John Polidori, a young twenty-year-old aide to Lord Byron. 

Villa Diodati, where Percy Shelley, Mary Shelley, Lord Byron and John Polidori decided to write ghost stories in the summer of 1816

Two years later the expansion of what Mary Shelley wrote was published in London as Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus, the first ever novel in the Science Fiction genre. John Polidori’s submission to the same contest was published as The Vampyre, now viewed as the forerunner of the vampire genre of fantasy fiction. The two established poets fell short, their ghost story efforts dissipating amidst their other labours.

By 1851 when Mary Shelley died the approximate number copies sold of Frankenstein was 7,000: far more than all the volumes of Percy Shelley’s poetry combined.  A copy of  the novel, signed by the author, with an inscription which read “To Lord Byron, from the author” sold for £350,000 at auction in 2013. Not only is the novel Frankenstein in print 200 years later, selling ~50,000 copies annually, but Frankenstein's monster has appeared in almost 200 TV and film productions. 

The films featuring Frankenstein's monster have been instrumental in promoting the story, although most of them deviate from the novel in crucial elements. The most famous portrayal is by Boris Karloff in the 1931 film:

Boris Karloff in Jack Pierce's makeup as Frankenstein's monster

This was Joe’s introduction to Frankenstein at the tender age of six or seven when his godmother took him to see it in Madras at the Elphinstone cinema. Boris Karloff acted in two follow-on productions, Bride of Frankenstein, and Son of Frankenstein.

Gopa says this novel “is not just a horror story about a monster. It is a deeply thought out work of literature and science. The introduction, through a series of fictional correspondences and recordings like that of an ‘epistolary novel’, prepares the ground for multiple narratives. The first narrative introduces an allegorical story and the protagonists. With each narrative the story takes shape. Subsequent narratives highlight the mental and moral struggles of each of the characters and how they search for different remedies to overcome their sorrows.” Frankenstein has become one the most analysed and debated novels of all time.

As before the readers were forced to convene by videoconference using Zoom,  to protect each other from the novel coronavirus. We wish to acknowledge the cooperation of Joe’s daughter, Rachel. 

Here we are at the end of the animated 2-hour session:

Devika, Joe, KumKum, Geeta, Pamela, Arundhaty, Priya, Shoba, Kavita, Gopa, Zakia

Sunday, 19 April 2020

Shakespeare in the time of SARS-CoV2 Coronavirus – Apr 17, 2020

William Shakespeare – fractured cubist face on the cover of Samuel Schoenbaum's book, ‘Shakespeare’s Lives’

For the first time KRG held a session using videoconferencing software to get around the problem of meeting during the SARS-CoV2 coronavirus lockdown. We used the application called Zoom, known to have several security and privacy hazards. Since the free application allows only 40 minutes for a meeting, we had to hold three successive Zoom meetings to get though the material of fourteen readers – a full house record in recent times.

Our experience with Zoom was poor, probably on account of the weak 4G connections on the mobile phones employed by half the readers. Each screen display requires ~2Mbps of bandwidth, and the bandwidth measured with came to about 13Mbps Upload and 1Mbps download for a typical 4G connection on a mobile phone. This is quite inadequate to support the 12 screens we had; besides, 4G connections are quite unstable, varying in speed, latency, and signal strength. As a result the sound (the most important factor for intelligibility in conferences) was constantly disrupted by scratchy noises and squeaks. If we hold a Zoom conference in future we should squelch the Video except for the one person holding the floor for hiser reading, and similarly for the Audio.

In this time of the SARS-CoV2 coronavirus crisis, Joe mentioned that he chose the play Coriolanus because it does have a glancing image of deaths from the plague. However, Shakespeare did not introduce an actual plague scene in any of his plays. Talitha, ex-member of KRG and Shakespeare enthusiast, was our invited guest from Thiruvananthapuram. In her commentary she gives a more complete review of plagues during Shakespeare’s working life, and the few indirect references there are to them in his plays.

One of the curses in Romeo and Juliet, uttered by Mercutio when he is stabbed fatally by Tybalt in a street fight is memorable:
A plague o' both your houses

When Romeo arrives he notices Tybalt and Mercutio are fighting, and tries to break it up; just then Tybalt delivers a fatal stab to Mercutio's chest

More powerful still is the censure Lear casts on his daughter Goneril:
thou art a boil,
A plague-sore, an embossed carbuncle,
In my corrupted blood.
(Act 2 Scene 4)

A cartoonist on Twitter, Mya Lixian Gosling, has provided amusement for readers to show how every tragedy of Shakespeare could have been averted if only people stayed at home and practiced self-isolation:

Shakespeare in a time of Coronavirus cartoon (click to enlarge)

Thursday, 2 April 2020

Remembering Thomas Duddy, poet and friend

Tom Duddy came for tea on May 26, 2012

Tom Duddy precipitates a rush of memories.  It began in 2012 when KumKum found him sitting on an upturned boat, reciting sonnets to the bystanders on Fort Kochi beach. Perhaps, he was just exercising his lungs and giving breath to the sonnets of William Shakespeare. Tom has always maintained that both the human voice and the printed word were required to impress the Sonnets emphatically on the modern world, four hundred years after they were written. To this end he had memorised as many of the 154 sonnets as he could. You can refer to his talk on the occasion of KRG’s celebration at David Hall of Shakespeare’s 450th birth anniversary in April 2014. He selected six sonnets and drew out their pith, eloquently explaining wherein lay their strong appeal to us, far removed though we are from Elizabethan England.

Tom was a relatively young man of 82 when he delivered that lecture. His customary morning regimen was to get up, make coffee, and go to work on a long poem he was writing at the time called A Wedding Song in which he hoped to fuse the wedding of his parents with subsequent events culminating with the current scene in Kerala. After spending the creative hours of the morning, ringing with the furtive cries of koels in the bush, he would step out for a walk. In times past his walk would weave along Palace Road, a crowded thoroughfare, toward Jew Town in Mattancherry and on his way back he would stop for vadas and sambar at a little restaurant. Then he would wend his way to the fruit stands opposite Koker’s on Amaravathi Road to buy apples, his favourite fruit.

Tom Duddy and Joe on Jan 14, 2020 – Michal, our daughter, took this pic at his apartment 

I used to encourage Tom to complete his poem so we could read it privately at least, even if he was not keen on publishing. His standard response was that everything was in the act of writing; that was where the pleasure and the pain lay. Next day when he would gaze at what he wrote he would be surprised and annoyed in equal parts. ‘Ah that was good! Just right and it held a surprise.’ More often he was pained that such banal stuff had issued from his pen, and that he had actually thought it good at the time … what a let down! These were Tom’s daily struggles. 

My chagrin is that in spite of all the urging, and his promise that by May 2014 he would complete it, he didn’t. Much worse, his ancient Apple MacBook crashed, and A Wedding Song went poof! I wish I had helped him make a backup before the computer died. I pleaded he should have the disk crash analysed and the data possibly recovered, but he never agreed. He didn’t mention the disaster any further – he went on to his next long poem. But I chaffed him by writing this for his 84th birthday
Poet goes walking,
trailing Wedding Song behind — 
Poem unending …

A sidebar. Why do people write epic length poems, when we are short-lived mortals living in an era when a tweet of 140 characters (now 280) is as far as the attention span of a modern goes? Why not a sonnet? Why not several sonnets, each just 14 lines? It begins, you develop the thought, usher in the crucial volta after the octet, and if you can devise a punchy couplet at the end, you’re done. A finished poem. But that was not Tom. He loved the sonnets of WS, but his own short form was the haiku, of which he was something of a master. The most famous one I liked and quoted back to him many times was this, inspired by the china-valas of Fort Kochi. It began his intended long poem, A Wedding Song:
O fished-out fishnet 
Poetry's your only catch
And blood-red sunset 

Chinese Fishing Nets in Fort Kochi

Monday, 30 March 2020

Bernard Schlink – The Reader Mar 27, 2020

First edition of the novel in English

This novel has the distinction of being the first we have ever read under a lockdown, therefore we were forced by the threat of the novel coronavirus to share our readings and comments remotely, without coming together physically.

Geetha & Thommo at home during the corona virus lockdown

We sorely missed the warmth of being with one another, an island of literary calm and detachment amidst our quotidian lives – provoking one another to insights and sharing our enthusiasms. We had to think ahead and write out our thoughts on the characters and their predicament in the novel, as well as the issues raised by the author, and the overarching theme of the communal guilt of a nation.

The novel begins with the sexual abuse of a young 15-year old, Michael  Berg, whose overhang persists until the end.  He writes the book – hoping the telling will assuage multiple feelings of guilt: for his juvenile seduction, for his act of omission during the trial of Hanna, and for not being able to save Hanna in the end. Hanna addresses him as ‘Juengchen’ in the German text, translated as ‘kid’ by the American translator. The diminutive noun has a hint of endearment in the German; therefore it needed something more intimate than ‘kid’ to convey the sense. 

Michael Berg & Hanna

It would strike any reader of the novel that Michael is left to his own devices to a great extent, and there is hardly any interaction with his own family. Not only is  family life lacking, but there seems to be no community to notice the comings and goings of Michael Berg, and what’s happening to him.

The illiteracy of Hanna escapes notice throughout the first part; we take the oral readings as just the expression of Hanna’s eagerness to hear stories through the voice of a dear person. Gradually Michael and we realise a number of events in the narrative stem from Hanna’s inability to read or write – we are incredulous. How could there be illiterates in Germany? – Europe's most cultivated, certainly its best-educated country, with the world's finest elementary school system, the highest literacy rate, and the best universities.

Michael Berg reading to Hanna

The first part is a ritual of Reading Aloud, Showering, Making Love, and Lying Down Beside each Other. And then it ends. Hanna disappears. Michael makes remarkable progress in his profession of law, which leads to the second part where he joins an ongoing criminal prosecution in 1966 in Heidelberg as part of a university-led observer team. The female guards had put concentration camp prisoners on a forced march (to escape approaching Red Army liberators in Jan 1945). En route the prisoners were sheltering locked in a church when it was bombed. The church burst into flames but the guards did not unlock the doors, and allowed the prisoners to perish in the burning church.

This was the charge and Hanna who is one of the guards self-indicts herself by admitting to writing the report that validated the act subsequently. But she could not have written the report, for she was illiterate. Michael as a trained law-student could have intervened to prevent a miscarriage of justice, but he does not, figuring that Hanna's loss of dignity at being exposed for illiteracy outweighed in her mind the pain of the penal servitude she would undergo.

The trial brings home the guilt of the German nation and its complicity in what had been going on since the early thirties when Hitler took power. After the War, Nazis survived in Germany and other countries like Argentina, with assumed lives and identities. Generations grew up in Germany learning of things their parents preferred to forget. The author in an interview is at pains to point out that this novel is not about the Holocaust, it is about post-war Germany, and the impact of past events on 1960's Germany and on Michael’s life. It is also unique in not being about the victims, but having a perpetrator as the protagonist. In a short talk Bernard Schlink observes that even forgetting something painful, is painful. He goes on to say, “The danger of evil is that very banal, very normal, people once they make this decisive step to cross the line, they just go down, and all the rest are just numbers. That is frightening, the banality.”

In 2008 a film was made of the novel. Kate Winslet played Hanna; David Kross the young Michael Berg, and Ralph Fiennes, Berg when older. Winslet won the Academy Award for Best Actress.

Hanna in the bath

At a press conference with the cast of The Reader during the 2009 Berlin Film Festival, Kate Winslet commented on her acting role: 
“The illiteracy informs us as an audience about who Hanna is in every thing, and this shame, an unbelievable shame. She first learns about her own guilt during the trial, but most certainly while she is in prison.  …  I knew I had to make her a human being. I had to make her a woman who was capable of great love and affection and warmth, as well as show the vulnerability and the shame that she feels. And she also had to be a woman who had some level of courage, certainly from the moment she starts serving her prison sentence.”

Press conference with the cast of The Reader during the 2009 Berlin Film Festival

It is illuminating to hear the entire half hour interview with the cast, the director, scriptwriter, and the author at

The author Bernard Schlink was asked at one point if the book was based on personal experience. He replied: “Every book is based on personal experience, this one as well.”

Tuesday, 3 March 2020

Poetry Session – Feb 21, 2020

Readers have great expectations of the Poetry Sessions because these often reveal new poets not read before. Since we did away with paper and started circulating the poems as PDF files in advance there is an opportunity to get acquainted with the text and linger over the words.

Eleven of us gathered to read poets from all over the globe, four women poets and eight men. Rumi and Neruda were artfully translated from the original Farsi and Spanish; the others wrote in English. The texts are gathered at the end.

Priya, Joe, Thommo, Geetha, Thommo, Shoba, Pamela, Devika

Zakia was returning from the hajj and brought a packet of fine dates for us along with date cake. Some were left over when the session was done and Joe wrote that he was lucky to return home with six abandoned dates: 

Six dates in cluster

From the sands of Araby –
A toothsome muster!

The World T20 Women's Cricket Tournament had its inaugural match on the same day, and India making 132, bowled out Australia, the current holders for 119. That victory gave an air of lightness to the proceedings. India remains undefeated after the four matches in Group A, and plays the semifinals against South Africa or England on March 5 in Sydney.

India squad for ICC Women’s T20 World Cup 2020

Cricket has given rise to more poetry than any other game, perhaps because of those balletic moments at the end of a fluid stroke when the batter holds the pose frozen in time; or the grace with which a fielder running backwards grasps a ball high above, plucking it from the air with one hand! Sometimes it's the sheer pleasure of seeing a master at work, playing a practiced stroke with singular ease. Thus Harold Pinter, the playwright, who held England’s opening batsman Len Hutton in high regard, wrote once to his friend, the writer Simon Gray: 

I saw Len Hutton in his prime. 

Another time, another time.

Len Hutton in 1946, one of England's greatest opening batsmen

Gray said Pinter hadn't had time to finish the poem! Cricket has also given rise to humorous poems such as this one titled Strange Dismissal by an Australian poet, Damian Balassone:

It sounds silly

but it’s harsh
to be caught Lillee
bowled Marsh,
but that’s what happened to me
the over prior to tea.

The group were all there (except Kavita) at the end for the rounding off:

Pamela, Geetha, Devika, Shoba, KumKum, Gopa, Geeta, Priya
(seated) Thommo, Joe

Sunday, 23 February 2020

Requiem for a Reader

“Hemjit passed away just now,” his aunt Presna Anish wrote at 6-17 pm on Feb 23. Priya who introduced him to our group conveyed the news a little later to KRG readers.

I remember the earliest message on Feb 5 when he wrote from Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences about his affliction: 
“Hello dear KRG members, Sorry for not being in touch. I am still at Amritha. Nothing looks positive or rosy. Feeling the full force the frustration and pain brought about by Cancer. I am undergoing blood and platelet transfusion every alternate day … one of the doctors I saw informed me that I have only six months more. But you can never say. I want to be discharged soon and go to my new home. But I need 24 hours monitoring. So I will be hiring a qualified nurse. Yet I feel I can fight back, overcome it and lead a beautiful life.”

We all encouraged him but feared for his life when he told us his platelet count kept dropping, in spite of transfusions. He was experiencing the deep pain of cancer; the solace is pain management is practiced scrupulously in Kerala without shying away from opioids. He did suffer, though, knowing his life was ending sooner than he hoped and sooner than he wanted to leave his dear wife, Sugandhi – she who loved him as no other, and now must bear the loss of her life’s companion.

Some time back Hemjit recited Veenapoovu or Fallen Flower (വീണപൂവ്‌) by Kumaran Asan which has these lines:
The lustre of your lovely limbs 
Grew faint and fled, 
And o'er your shining visage sweet 
A pallor spread; 
Life's oil dried, and fast wither'd 
Life's flame in you flicker'd and died. 

We are now the observers left to mourn the fate of our well-loved reader, sweet Hemjit, whose enthusiasm for our group abounded. He anticipated more than anyone the pleasure of coming to our readings, and if ever he missed a session it was on account of ill-health – hoping even to the last moment he would be well-enough to attend. He spent a lot of time preparing and wanted to do justice to the other readers and fully reward their attention.

He had an early association with the late Mr. Manjoo Menon, who was instrumental in setting up Raksha, the Society for the Care of Children with Special Needs, in Mattancherry. Mr Menon’s sympathy and determination to change the lives of the children and enrich them, extended to Hemjit also, who drew inspiration from this association to think of himself as capable to accomplish things. He credited Mr. Menon for changing him. As a footnote, Mr. Menon was one of those who attended early KRG readings and gave it a fillip at birth.

When Hemjit told us on Feb 5 of the blood cancer that had been diagnosed, I was reminded of a grim, but beautiful poem by Vikram Seth titled Soon, which begins:
I shall die soon, I know.
This thing is in my blood.
It will not let me go.
It saps my cells for food.

The poem ends with a cry which could be Hemjit’s:
Stay by my steel ward bed
And hold me where I lie.
Love me when I am dead
And do not let me die.

We can do this for one who bore the pain, and the state of living without the hope of living much longer. Rest in Peace, dear Hemjit.

Devika writes:
I'm so glad that I knew this amazing person, Hemjit. A rather short association of a year and a half.
There was so much one had to learn from him. His indefatigable spirit, never say die attitude, always smiling.....
And the same must be said for Sugandhi too with her charming smile, never showing outwardly her worries about her dear husband....and there must have been plenty of worries with Hemjit's health going through ups and downs.
They were so close, loved the way they used to take off on their birthdays and anniversary – the last trip to Athirapally in January was to celebrate his birthday.
He was so looking forward to living in his new apartment. Unfortunately, his life was cut short with the cancer that descended on him less than a month ago. The only relief is that he didn't suffer for too long.
Rest in peace, dear will be missed! 

I am saddened by the news of dear Hemjit passing away.

I was fortunate to have known him as an acquaintance ever since I moved to Kochi as a new bride. I always liked to read his columns in the papers and admired his journalistic skills. When he came into the KRG fold he became a dear friend too, with whom I shared my birthday month. His soft-spoken and caring nature touched the very core of my heart. He had immense courage and a terrific attitude towards life. May his soul rest in peace! My heart goes out to dear Sugandhi, and to his extended family. His end came too soon – he was a wonderful, kind, and gentle human being. I am grateful to have been touched by his life.

I got to know Hemjit through the KRG, but it was a common friend Manoj Kumar Menon, who had studied with him in Chennai, who brought us closer. Also his uncle Anish and his mentor Manjoo Menon were among the first friends we made when we moved to Cochin in 1981.
Geetha and I travelled with Hemjit and Sugandhi to Kavita's estate and will not forget the time we spent together that day in Jan 2019.
Hemjit was the most ardent member of KRG and fought his disability and pain with a cheerfulness that amazed all of us at the KRG, and I am sure everyone else who knew him. Except for the slight grimace every time he started to stand up after a KRG session, I have never seen him without a smile on his face. It is a great pity that the cancer, which he in his indefatigable style was all prepared to fight, has taken him away from us.
We will miss him a great deal and can only take comfort in Kahlil Gibran's words: For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.

Dear Hemjit, you were so cheerful and courageous. Such an inspiration for me. Will always miss you. 

We are going to miss you Hemjit. Your gentle ways have formed a space in each one’s heart. It was much more of an effort for you to attend our sessions, but except when illness forced you to stay home, you were sure to be there, always early. It was a privilege to have known you. You taught us to endure infirmity with calmness, gentleness and good cheer.

Until we meet again, good friend!

Hemjit left us on the 23rd of February. A week has passed since then. The tragedy is still fresh in our minds, and we are just learning to accept the permanence of his absence. 

I was very fond of him because he was devoted to KRG’s passion: to read. Although he had to overcome many hurdles to attend our monthly sessions, he felt at ease when he was participating. He was caring and appreciative, and a very happy person. He was as fond of us as we were of him.

Living with many disabilities, he learned to accept them with composure. His wife, Sugandhi, his wonderful family, friends, and his trusted driver, all lent their helping hands to this amazing man during his journey through life. His disabilities did not interfere with his enjoyment of life. He was a positive thinker, and always hoped for more out of life.

When he told us about his blood cancer, he was very hopeful of conquering it, just as he did so many other setbacks in his life. He kept his hopes up until the end, coming away from the grim surroundings of a hospital to his beautiful, new, apartment. His family boosted his spirits, and welcomed Hemjit to his new apartment, all done up by the contributions of members of his loving family. He spent the last few days of his life in these peaceful surroundings, while the insidious cancer was tightening its grip on his mortal life. 

Thank God, Hemjit did not have to live through the pain of a long-drawn fight. May God bless his soul. 

We will always cherish the memory of our beloved friend and fellow reader, Hemjit. He taught us how to be happy and cheerful when things around you are far from ideal. And, to enjoy life to one’s best with whatever is given.

I salute you, dear friend!

I don’t recall how or where I met Hemjit. Was it when he lived in Fort Cochin and had the cute Village Shop at the corner of Parade Ground? Or was it at Raksha School for children with special needs; or even before that when he worked with Tata Tetley? Suffice it to say that I grew richer after meeting him. His death has been a great loss. 

Hemjit was very generous with his words, making me feel exceptional; as if I had done something extraordinary by introducing him to KRG. When I saw how he blossomed in the group I realised that this is what he was seeking — a warm circle of friends who shared common interests.

Initially when he joined he was unsure, a bit nervous about his physical disability and speech impairment; he often asked if he was doing okay. He adjusted remarkably well and KRG took him in.

From then on he sailed along with us through so many authors and books, enjoying the debates and discussions. I noticed he loved reading poetic or romantic passages. I would tease him when he chose “moralistic or didactic passages” and he would retort that his naughty side would be too much for the group.

There are two incidents that stand out. Hemjit had started contributing as a freelance writer to The Hindu in 2012. Once I could not attend a lunch at his place on account of work, but his lovely wife Sugandhi sent a tiffin carrier full of food to the office through him. He was thoughtful, caring and extremely kind, qualities he shared with his wife.

On another occasion after completing an interview for a story I had commissioned, he called excitedly, “Priya, you wont believe this. Here I was talking with this decorated soldier about his bravery in battle and at the end of the interview, he stood up and saluted me. He said I was braver than him as I battled life on a daily basis and came up trumps."

Yes, dear Hemjit, you shone, and always had a smile. You will remain forever my cherished good friend, a good human being and as the officer said, a model of bravery.