Brotherhood-till the last breathe
N J Ravi Chander
What is bizarre is that two of my maternal grand uncles left us within a year of each other in the same month, date and time- November 27, 4.30 pm? The deaths might be a strange coincidence or just some quirk of fate.
74-year-old RK Shamaraj (number seven) died of multi-organ failure in 2005. Freakishly, precisely a year later and on the same date and time, number four, RK Jeevarathnam (86), bid the world adieu. The timing of the curtain calls made some bemused relatives’ query, “Did the younger brother beckon his much-loved elder sibling?” Burglars ransacked our house when my younger son, J R Sunny, was born on November 27, 1993, but that is another story!
The brother duo was born into a large family in Shoolay comprising seven children – four sons and three daughters. It was not the best of times as the children lost their father, R Krishnaswamy, when still young and the mother, Thamaravalli, had her task cut out in raising the kids. Finding his mother walking a tightrope, Jeevarathnam, barely out of his teens, took on the responsibility of keeping the family hearth burning.
He chucked his academic career and performed odd jobs, such as working at the Webbs Sales and Services – a haven for cars and motorcycles on the posh Mahatma Gandhi Road in Bangalore. He soon gathered enough expertise in repairing and servicing heavy-duty vehicles, including those of the British troops stationed in the cantonment.
The experience gained at Webbs’ paid off for young Jeevarathnam as he went on to land a pensionable job at the 515 Army Base Workshop. Every paisa that came in was precious, and he entrusted the salary savings to his elder sister Logambal, who lived in the military town of Jalahalli along with her family. He would wheel down from Shoolay on payday, carrying bagfuls of goodies, entrust his savings to his sister and cycle back.
A ‘marathon biker’, he whizzed around Bengaluru on his bicycle, seldom running out of steam. His significant other and my maternal grandaunt, Devi, recalls that he sometimes wheeled down to Tumkur – a mindboggling 70 kms away- to deliver the lunch box to his pet brother, Shamaraj.
Such was his affection towards his younger sibling, who worked there for a state-run telephone company. The two siblings always cosied up to each other – a bond that endured till the end.
Having inculcated financial discipline at a young age, granduncle Jeevarathnam invested his salary savings prudently. But maintaining a large clan was no walk in the park. His three sisters accompanied their military spouses on transfer to different parts of India, leaving their offspring in the family matriarch’s care, which was an extra burden.
But the brothers, Jeevarathnam, and Shamaraj stood through thick and thin and threw their weight firmly behind the struggling family. While the former was calm and collected, the latter was dominant and persuasive, but both shared unique chemistry. The elder brother showered his love on the last born, while the junior was all reverence for his senior sibling.
During their last days, their deteriorating health prevented the brothers from seeing each other. When Shamaraj passed away the news was kept under wraps from an ailing Jeevarathnam, lest it broke his heart. The latter robbed of his vision in old age, spent his last days seemingly unaware of the tragedy, and continued to inquire about his brother’s well-being. With clockwise precision, Jeevarathnam also bid adieu to the world exactly a year later. The timing of the deaths will remain a conundrum forever!
(The author is a former banker who has taken up writing as a pastime. He writes for the Deccan Herald, The New Indian Express, The Tribune, The Hitavada, The City Tab, Bangalore Mirror, The Hans India and Kashmir Vision)