Goodbye My Friend, RIP!
As India observes the 68th death anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi today, I recall a personal loss.
One of my best friends, Venkatraman Prabhakar (V R Prabhakar or Jilla, as his close friends and relatives know him as), passed away peacefully on December 11, 2015.
Cancer claimed him young; he was only 55 when he embraced death painlessly at his home in California.
It came as devastating news for me when I was recently in San Francisco. His wife Padmavathy passed me the information through an email.
She was deep in mourning when I spoke to her but she felt it was a blessing the end came without any physical pain or much suffering. He was down with cancer for about a year and appeared to be responding well to treatment, which included chemotherapy.
Padma said he was talking well with her and their son on December 11 last, the day they lost him suddenly. He took some water and a glass of Bournvita that he liked.
Moments later he was gone.
MCC, Chess Bond: We were both students of the Madras Christian College but in different streams – he during 1977-83 and I entering graduation a year later in 1978. He was there doing his BSc and then MSc (Statistics) while I was pursuing English Literature.
I knew Prabhakar even earlier as we were both chess players and lived in the same area – Egmore. But it was MCC that made our friendship stronger.
I visited his home often and shared a close rapport with his parents – he was their only son. His mother was a fantastic cook and used to make “adai” (some kind of a crispy pancake, a Dosai variation) especially for me.
Coaching Centre: While we were doing our Master’s he started a coaching unit at his home for students doing degree courses. Another close friend, Venkataramanan (Ramanan), and I also tutored students there.
Sadly, Ramanan, a cousin of Prabhakar, fell to cancer in 1994 when he was in his early 30s. That came about soon after I moved to Singapore.
I had then naively thought that had Ramanan been moved to the U.S., where his sister was living, he could have been saved. When I met his father later he told me that his oral (or throat) cancer was so bad and painful that Ramanan had wished his end came soon.
Prabhakar, who had been living in the U.S. since 1999 and in clinical practice as a business analytics SME till his death, could not be saved by all the medical attention he received there.
It only goes to show life and death are not in our hands!
Anything for Friends: Both Prabhakar and Ramanan are the kind of guys who will do anything for friends. Once at a chess tournament while at the MCC, Prabhakar was in a winning position against me and offered me a draw. He was simply not prepared to see me lose even if it was to him.
On another occasion, he was firmly with me when I was under pressure to surrender a game while holding the upper hand against a player in desperation. It was in the final round and I had already won the tournament with a game to spare. If I lose my opponent will also make it to the Madras Division team. I resisted initially, taking the game to adjournment, but gave up eventually, a decision I regret to date.
MCC Union Council Chairman Poll: Prabhakar once even contested the MCC Union Council chairman elections just for fun. He was so casual about it that he had not even prepared a speech he had to deliver prior to voting.
We wrote it when we were travelling by train from Egmore to Tambaram. Both of us used to travel by First Class then, so that helped us complete the speech without being troubled by any crowd.
He was a calm guy who could never be rattled by anything. Always ready to help others, he was one who lived by values close to his heart.
Classmates in love: Prabhakar and Padma were classmates in love at MCC. He was an outgoing, gregarious guy and she was reticent and shy, keeping to herself almost always. He was steadfast in his love and settled down in life with her.
He was a lecturer for a couple of years at the Loyola College and moved to ICRISAT in Hyderabad later as a Statistician. I was also living in Hyderabad then, so our two families were in regular contact.
Not Ambitious: He was not very ambitious and hardly had the U.S. in his mind. He made it there in 1999 and we were out of touch for long. We re-established contact in 2006 and were in touch via email.
We spoke during one of my visits to California when he was living in Indianapolis. He had moved to California later but visits there were not as frequent as they used to be for me. I have to blame myself for not going the extra mile to meet him or keep in touch.
The last time we met was perhaps about two decades ago. How sad there can never be one again!
We may not have been in regular touch, but his death is a huge personal loss to me and he will be missed for ever. RIP, my friend!
G Joslin Vethakumar