Friday, February 13, 2015

Remembering Dr VSA

Words are not enough to explain about few things, I feel one such rare subject is to write few things about my father Dr V S Acharya, ‘appa’!
Childhood and Youth
He loved vehicles and machines. What I heard from his friends and classmates was he had a bicycle and was seen riding it all around Udupi during his school days. Later while in college he bought a scooter and made adventurous trips with his friends to Agumbe, Coorg and Mysore. Later in our early childhood he had a small car. Till recently (till he became minister) he used to drive it himself. Very recently he showed a calculation of his personal car driving statistics almost 7 – 8 lakh kilometers over the last 40 years. Not many people know he was an expert cycle and scooter mechanic. He was also fully familiar with parts and functioning of vehicle engines, electrical motors, boilers and generators. He had fabricated a working dynamo cum motor in his school days.  He had a micro power plant using water flow from ceiling in his highschool days. His passion for electricity since his early days was something unique. He explained to me once vividly how first power plant of Udupi then installed by Madras Government running on oil was working and how he had seen the motor and generator, switch, transformers and how at 8 am and 8 pm one generator unit would be switched off and other machine was switched on etc…He also mentioned in detail on how they were decommissioned and shifted to Chennai after state reorganization.
He had special attachment with one of his childhood neighbor who was deaf and dumb.  They were emotionally very close and because of this association he was conversant with sign and facial expression language and deep sympathy for challenged.
Man with a mission
I accompanied him as a small child to project site of Udupi water supply scheme both dam site and purification and pump house site periodically. During the days of main concrete work, installation of pumps and trial run of plant I spent whole days with him at the site. I distinctly remember all those visits and his explanation of the things happening. Exciting was the story he told us how his team with engineers used to explore Swarna river on each high tide / full moon day upstream in search of a suitable spot for building the dam and how they used to taste the river water for salinity and finally Baje near Hiriadka was chosen for building the dam.  His love and respect for Swarna river was unique. His confidence in Udupi water supply scheme and quality of Swarna River was evident by the fact that whenever in Udupi he always consumed tap water directly without boiling or further treatment at home till his last days.  While travelling, by taste he used to recognize Swarna water from other bottled water.

Early days in Politics
Most of my childhood memory with appa was extensive travel to various places both nearby and far off places either as part of his social or political activities. He also used to take us to political protests. First one I remember distinctly is “Akki gate” and “Jail Bharo” against price hike movement. Most traumatic and depressive period for whole family was when I was in fifth standard while protesting against draconian law “Maintenance of Internal Security Act” (MISA) and he was arrested and sent to Mangalore, Bellary and later Bangalore Jail. That was most insecure period of our life. This taught us importance of Democracy, freedom of expression and evils of autocracy first hand and let us totally shattered over two years. Silent weeping of mother when alone, words of consolation and frequent visit of my maternal grandfather (dada), periodic visit to Jail to meet appa, meeting with Advani and Rama Jois at Bangalore jail, appa’s political activists visiting our place in all sorts of fancy dress at odd hours to evade police arrest, failing health of grandmother, totally clueless younger brothers Kiran and Ganesh and their innocent questions about where abouts of appa on those days are all memories which can never be forgotten.
Then came the release of appa from the jail and further expansion of his political activity to whole district as party district president. From then on his public life became more hectic and his networking expanded.  
Appa and religion
Appa’s was very religious at home and privately. He used to do Pooja for “Saligrama” daily whenever in town, taught me basics of sandyavandhana and Pooja procedure after my Upanayanam. All his initiatives, challenges would start and end with special seva at Udupi Sri Krishna and Mukhyaprana. He took keen interest in development of Kadiyali temple and recently supported renovation of our Kula devatha temple at Karambally. He took keen interest when “Naga Bana” (snake habitat / snake worship place) of our locality was renovated with least damage to greenery and insisted on maintaining as much greenery around the renovated place.  He did an in depth study of Udupi and had his own vision of “Vastu” design for Udupi region. To complete the original religious Vastu of Udupi city a missing temple of Lord Subramanya was explored and built as per traditional design. It may not be a coincidence that his last payment from personal account was on 13th February 2012, his seva amount paid to Karambally temple for annual festival scheduled a fortnight later (29th Feb 2012).
Appa as a doctor and Humanitarian
As a busy medical practitioner he had numerous stories some told by him, many told by relatives or patient themselves later when they met us. He never practiced medicine for money. He had an inherent drive to serve the needy and poor. He never maintained a record of money payable by patients if they ask for credit. He had immense faith in goodness of human beings. His favorite guiding principle initially in profession, later in public life was when one has the capability to help others especially for those who are in need and going through crisis. Satisfying feeling will be your source of energy and enhance your performance all round!
Appa and Media
Appa followed mainstream newspapers both national and regional very meticulously. His day would not start without spending at least 1-2 hours glancing, then reading news and other articles. When we were young he used to tell us newspapers are like window to the world. He was very much conscious of image of the party as projected by media. Any clarifications, rebuttal or views on the media reports he would plan and execute promptly within few hours and would ensure it appears in appropriate newspaper next day. He strongly believed in free and fair media. He was very sensitive regarding role of media on public perception of issues or personalities. Of late he was not very happy with quality/taste of some news appearing in newspapers. He would be very critical if there were factual errors or blunders in news items or columns. He loved explaining policy issues or complicated administrative matters in simple terms to others including interested journalists.
He used to masterly ignore most of the tabloids, evening papers and sensationalized breaking news in TV channels. Hardly ever he reacted to such media reports. Over last few years when paid news, totally baseless allegations and obviously biased one sided news items gained headlines with clear not so straight motives he did extensive review of privileges and responsibilities of media in other countries both developed and developing countries. In that context when during one of the purely media created crisis he did raise a discussion on need for media ombudsman, self restraint by media and self declared code of conduct. I am sure way media that is also part of society showing declining standards and total lack of concern for ethics of publication and scant regard for expected good practice will soon come under some system of monitoring and audit of accountability for a healthy democracy.        
Appa as a Family Head
Due to his hectic professional life and later public life he hardly had time to spend with family. However when he was at home he would make it a point to talk with all of us, ask about our studies later our job and health. He was very much concerned about his grandchildren. In spite of hectic schedule over the last six years as minister he would keep track of progress and all round growth of his three grandchildren.
Appa as a politician
We found a totally different behavior in appa compared to other politicians whom we had met or knew. He was not a ‘typical politician’. He would never promise things, which he cannot deliver. If he believed in a cause he went ahead with full steam till he achieved, at times single handedly. He never ever had double speak just to please somebody. Public causes or issues, developmental issues and morally right issues were on top his agenda both out of power and while in power.
Appa as a Minister
Sadly we spent less and less time during last six years after he became minister. By choice all of us (all the family members) decided not to get involved in administrative matters. He was so busy with all the administrative and political responsibilities we used to consciously avoid discussion on political and official topic at home during his visits. He used to share important or interesting achievements. Except while on the stage or official meetings he used to attend his phone calls personally, during any time of the day. He used to tell us “Government never sleeps”. I feel he had taken the responsibilities as Minister with full seriousness. He had extreme liking for public finance, budget, power, civic administration and administrative reforms.  However he handled medical education, animal husbandry, Home, higher education, Muzarai, IT and BT over the last six years. He studied meticulously details of each of the departments and even other departments in details and had full knowledge. He had a clear road map for each of the department headed and tried his best to impart good governance and impart policy changes. He never ever shared state secrets, political gossips or confidential information with any of us or even with his close aides. I learnt first hand what was the meaning of “oath of office of secrecy” and how to practice it in real life!
Appa as a simple human being and philosopher
Appa wanted things to be neat and perfect. He would personally ensure all the gadgets and cars at home are in perfect working condition till his end. He had a neat handwriting both in Kannada and English. He used to prepare meticulously for any meeting, discussion or public speech. If he were not familiar with subject he would collect all the relevant materials well in advance, study them discuss with experts and formulate his stand or speech. He used to respect others time. He took extreme care to report on time for all the meetings, bus or flights. He had great liking for Sanskrit versus, slokas from Bhagavad Geetha, Vachanas of sarvajna, Keerthanas of Purandara dasa and Kanaka dasa. He would cite them and explain them aptly for the context in his speeches.
His food habits were very simple. He used to eat small quantity of food but would appreciate quality of the food both at home and outside. At domestic functions he would personally ensure quality of food served is of best quality and prepared using best possible ingredients.
Because he used to read a lot and write a lot he had preference for good looking and quality spectacles and smooth writing pens. He had a small but tasteful collection of gold-strapped wristwatches, finger rings and beaded chains.
He walked his talk through out. Never compromised on values and ethics he believed. Put public and party’s interest supreme till the end. Personal integrity, not to hurt others by words or deeds, help others in need in whatever way possible, console who are in grief, ongoing strive for perfection in whatever we do, equanimity and well synchronized personal thoughts – words – deed are the qualities which we imbibed from our appa.

Raviraja V Acharya
excerpts from the book Dr V S Acharya

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