The Book of Answers by C Y Gopinath by C Y Gopinath - Read Online

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Shortlisted for the 2012 Commonwealth Book Prize!

There’s nothing more dangerous than a book no one has read.

All that Patros Patranobis wants is to be left alone – to live his ordinary, unremarkable life with Rose, the woman he has not married, and Tippy, the son he has not fathered. But one day, he receives a mysterious, metal-bound book, a bequest from a long-dead ancestor. In its pages, he is told, are answers to all the world’s problems. There’s only one hitch: The Book of Answers is locked. Its key is hidden somewhere in Kerala.

But Patros doesn’t really want to make the world a better place. Eager to be rid of this burdensome book, he sells it to a junk shop. And that is when the madness begins. Within months, The Book of Answers reappears in the hands of a godman claiming that through it, God speaks to him. The godman is soon advising the most powerful politician in the land, the ruthless Ishwar Prasad. Citing The Book of Answers as the divine source, Ishwar Prasad unleashes a slew of Orwellian laws.

The India 50-50 Law proposes dividing the country into two, with rich states in one cluster and poor in the other.

The Happiness Tax imposes a levy on sexual intercourse, replete with amnesty schemes for voluntary disclosure, and tax havens where you can have sex for nothing.

The FYI Act legalizes cheating in examinations making it mandatory for answers to exam questions to be made available all over the campus.

Trivial Courts are set up all over the land, where anyone may accuse anyone else of anything, and be judged and sentenced by anyone with a little free time that morning. Soon the country is squabbling.

A Grey Area is set up to quarantine people who think too much.

A Ministry of Errors and Regrets is formed, to apologize in public each time the government announces yet another atrocious measure.

Pushed by his friends and Rose, Patros tries to undo the harm he has unleashed by his sale of the book but only gets embroiled deeper in intrigue and politics. In the process, he becomes a reluctant hero to an embattled and confused nation. Finally, he is left with no option but to make the journey to Kerala in search of the key. But nothing could have prepared him for what he finds there.

Published: C Y Gopinath on
ISBN: 9781466057470
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Man

The day on which a person receives a book with answers to all the world’s problems ought not to be just another day, wouldn’t you agree? It ought to carry its own markers and signals through which the sensitive might divine that something wondrous and therapeutic was being let loose in their world. There ought to be hints, signs in the sky, strange events foreshadowing the miracle about to unfold. Even the air should smell different, the way it does before the first rain of a monsoon. Or perhaps before the first gunshots of a war.

Or something like that, at any rate.

For yours truly, however, it was merely another altogether regrettable Mumbai day, where one thing leads to something worse and nothing is as it seems, a day of subversion, over-friendly strangers and unsolicited gifts. Within the span of fewer than twelve hours, I had to digest one completely absurd event and another preposterous one, both together sufficient to knock the bottom out of my otherwise placid life. None of it might have happened if that damned boy Tippy hadn’t tiptoed into my study with an inane question about some Russian art deco painter.

I hesitate to describe Tippy as my son, lest you conclude that we share some resemblance. I stand two inches below six feet, and reduce my tendency to loom by hunching. My clothes are workman like, often unpressed. Some people interpret my worried frown as a mark of concern; a cowlick flops on my forehead, where also you will find my good luck mole. My gold-rimmed glasses give me an air of false erudition and I am said to shuffle. So, not like me, and not even a little like his mother, darling Rose. Imagine a well-built praying mantis with frizzy hair, vaguely reminiscent of a shifty Will Smith. His eyes glissade off yours and he pads about the house cat-footed and bug-eyed. He wears insufferable, sack-like trousers and because I am his legal guardian, I also know that he has pierced his navel, paying for it with my money. His voice is an irritating and mature bass that does not match his gauche carriage. During a phase in his childhood when the concept of fatherhood held a certain untried seduction for me, I once tried to dredge up some feeling for him but never got beyond mild irritation.

It is his habit, at age seventeen, to see without being seen. I knew he had been lurking outside my study for several minutes that morning. Calling it a study dresses it in finery it doesn’t deserve. This is my hole away from home, best described as an afterthought in a middle-class tenement whose construction had begun and ended before the architect was signed on. In a corner, the building’s excretions pass gargling and blubbering through sky-blue plastic pipes, on their way to a great nirvana in Mahim Creek. There is dampness in the air and through the barred, high window, I can see the walls of the nearby tenement, striped underwear drying on a sill. For seven glorious minutes every morning a rebel beam of sunlight comes visiting.

Tippy had taken several steps in uninvited and stood there, contemplating me as a water buffalo might. When I finally turned away from my reading, he said, sotto voce, Do you admire Botvinnik?

I knew I should know Botvinnik. He was either the fellow who painted Venus rising from the foam or else a dissident from the erstwhile Soviet Union. An apparatchik. Or perhaps an émigré writer in exile. It wouldn’t do to ask Tippy for clarification, of course, so I changed the subject instead.

This is your second year in year two of college, I said. It was meant to come out as a factual statement but somehow had acquired implications by the time it emerged. He began shifting from one foot to the other at once.

Your exams are coming up shortly. Can you say with any confidence that you will clear the papers this time?

The lad continued his intense inspection of his feet.

Do you have a strategy for passing? I willed him to reply.

After an interminable pause, he looked up. Zugzwang, he said, poker-faced. And if that doesn’t work, then pratfall. That’s my strategy.

He left the room, smiling as though there was something faintly funny about the whole thing.

It was only after I looked up both words the following day that I decided that all was not well with Tippy’s education. Zugzwang describes a situation in chess where a player has no choice but to make moves that worsen his plight. A pratfall is a fall on the buttocks. Botvinnik, Rose thought, might be a Russian grandmaster, but then Rose is not a chess player. Somewhere in all this, I began to think, yours truly, the one who paid the college fees, had been played for a chump. If Tippy was headed for another triumphant failure, I needed to know.

And that was why, at eight a.m. on that disturbing Monday, I was hurrying down the street in front of my house to catch the bus to Tippy’s college.

I take 523 steps to reach the bus stop from my apartment. I start counting from my first step outside the gate. I walk economically, in as straight a line as possible between ditches with exposed fibre optic cables or water pipes. A single footstep of mine, I ascertained once by measuring from heel to toes, was 38.5 centimetres. This helped me calculate the exact distance to the bus stop as 201.35 meters, or 523 footsteps. To my dismay, this total changes unpredictably in chaotic Mumbai, for example when old excavations are levelled or new ones dug or when I have to circumnavigate a parked car or taxi, or worse, when some distraction makes me forget my count. It has always upset me unaccountably that not even the number of steps between my house and the bus stop is within my control.

Today’s total was haywire. I had already completed 535 steps with the bus stop still a dozen or so yards away, when the sight of bus number 501 galvanized me. Abandoning mathematics, I sprinted directly into the crowd that was converging upon the bus’s entrance. The collision happened around this time though the details are blurred. I felt a blow to my chest and found myself on the sidewalk, a small fat fellow half sprawled across me. My ears were ringing and sparks swam before my eyes.

I am so sorry, I said to the tubby man, who was now sitting on the concrete like a Pooh Bah, groaning.

Where is my package? he said. Please find my package.

He was short and nearly bald, with the tight pot abdomen of an oriental deity. His cranium was flat and he wore his trousers high at navel level.

The package he had been carrying, wrapped in cartridge paper, was unexpectedly heavy. I hefted it back to him but he made no effort to take it from me or even rise to his feet. His eyes were half shut in pain, podgy hand massaging lower back. Is – it – damaged? he winced.

Looks okay to me. May I put it down?

No! he groaned. Just give it to me! He squinted up. Do you usually help disadvantaged people back to their feet?

Only if they have nothing to do with me, I replied.

The conversation had acquired an edge.

I am looking, the fat man said, consulting a chit of paper, for a Mr Patros Patranobis. I was told he lives around here.

They say goats instinctively sense what is imminent when the butcher herds them into the abattoir. At the moment, I knew with the unerring certainty of a goat that whoever this fat man was and whatever he was carrying for a certain Patros Patranobis, it was imperative that he return the way he came, package and all, without meeting the object of his enquiries. I could see bus number 501 approaching. I don’t think there is any such person here.

But it says here on the address very clearly—

Yes, perhaps. We had a Patranobis once but he’s not here now.

Someone must know where he is.

Very unlikely. He’s dead. Mr Patranobis passed away some months ago. It was a great loss. Wonderful man, deeply missed by all. All who knew him, that is. Which was not many, actually. Certainly not I. I have a bus to catch, excuse me, I have to go.

But the bus was already moving away. More persuasively, I felt the fat man’s firm grip on my upper arm.

You must think me so rude, he said, his tone genteel. This is so completely unlike me. Listen, I must buy you a cup of coffee, with or without your consent. Please. I will never forgive myself.

I looked around wildly. I — er, am not allowed to drink coffee. An eyebrow rose. My father was a homeopath.

Tea then. Have a Coke. Have nothing. Watch me drink a coffee. But don’t say no.

Well, I said, pointedly looking at my watch, I really have an urgent appointment.

There was a McDonald’s just across the street and this is where we found ourselves shortly, hot coffees in paper cups in front of us.

What sort of person were we? the man asked. Mr Patranobis, of course. When alive and all?

I did not know him, I said. At all. No one did. He was a loner. Like Howard Hughes.

Was he rich? Like Howard Hughes?

Quite the opposite. Very poor. A failure at everything, could never keep a job down. So one hears. One didn’t know him personally or anything, you understand.

So — a poor man, reclusive. Maybe lonely. Probably deeply sensitive. Lived in low-income housing. Does that sound like our Patranobis? The one you heard people talking about?

This fellow had a way with words. He had already gotten more out of me than I had intended to donate. This is intolerable, I said to him, my voice low. You crash into me at a bus stop, whoever you are, and you have the audacity to presume that by paying for a cup of coffee you can interrogate me about, about, whoever you want to interrogate me about! Goodbye!

Oh dear. I knew you would turn out to be sensitive. Knew it the moment I found you sitting on me like a deadweight. No, dear sir, I am sorry if it felt like an interrogation. It is really only a casual enquiry. An advocate has a large packet that he is legally bound to deliver to the above-mentioned Patros Patranobis. I am that advocate. The package is something from an old, long-dead man to his great-grandson. There is even a letter.

Why then are you asking so many questions about him? You have his address, you have his name, you have his package. Go and deliver.

Ah, if only it were that easy, he said. In modern Indian antiterrorism law, I would be culpable if I delivered goods that later were used to kill or harm people. One has to ask questions, you know. One needs to be sure. Is it true he has lived with a certain woman for many years without being legally married to her?

You should really ask him that. Except that he’s dead. By the way, you have not told me who you are.

Didn’t I? he said equably. Somnath Berry. Advocate in the High Court.

So. A man of law from the Punjab. Probably wealthy from decades of defending traders who were in arrears on their sales taxes, or adulterated sea salt with marble chips.

People talk, you know, Berry was babbling. Word gets around. Especially after one is dead. You hear a stray snippet from a barber. Or a doctor. Or the fellow at the Internet café. So, although Mr Patros was quiet and all — was he a do-gooder? He watched me through narrowed lids.

Absolutely not. Although — since his sad demise — there’s no chance of that anyway. He was about as wimpy as a man could be. A reed in the wind. Used to drift wherever he was pushed. Somnath Berry seemed to be sleeping lightly. I waited to see if he would awake; after a minute, eyes still closed, he said, Then?

I rose. No then. Goodbye, Mr Berry. Go home, taking this gift with you. Return to sender. Address unknown. I sprinted the few yards to bus number 501, which was drawing up across the road, nearly empty.

Wait! I heard him call out, his normal voice somehow cutting through the bustle and noise of the thoroughfare. Berry was on his feet, his heavy packet clutched to his chest. You haven’t told me your name.

Pa — Pranab, I shouted as the bus trundled away. Er, Dixit. Er, Pranab Dixit.

Chapter 2 – The Droves of Academe

Lala Gulshan Chaturvedi College of Economics and Commerce is an unimposing repurposed residential building not far from Mumbai’s Oval playground, one of the city’s longest-standing greens. Built from sandstone and four storeys tall, it has a porch with broad curving steps where dragoons of the young and the cool lounge about and flirt in the sunlight. Well, not everyone was flirting; in the shade of a giant cement vat from which bougainvillea overflowed, several young fellows seemed to be reading to each other, and from their furtive giggles, I guessed it was probably not social economics. A game of chess was in progress on the bottom steps, loudly egged on by kibitzers. A gangly boy was playing awful guitar to an admiring girl, also gangly. On the pavement, heavy-set youths in Bermudas and fashionable shades blared rap music to mark their turf.

A perky young woman asked if I needed help, and pointed me down a gloomy corridor that stretched into the building. The Dean is last on the right. But you’ll have to deal with Pritchett first.

Pritchett turned out to be Pritish Chaturvedi, the Dean’s stenographer, a depressed man with whiskers. Without looking up, he motioned me to a chair. Busy busy busy, he muttered. You are late. You should have come two days ago.

I want to see — I began.

They all want to see, he said, eyes on keyboard. But we are not meeting any more candidates.

I am not a candidate, I said.

He pecked away on his keyboard, lips pursed, spit foaming at the edge of his mouth. After minutes, he looked at me, eyes bright with intelligence. If you are not a candidate, he said, why bother to come for an interview?

I just want to discuss my son with the Dean, I said. This seemed to get his attention. He swivelled his chair to face me.

You want to admit? he asked, lowering his voice. Our list is full but all the forms come to me. And all the parents finally come to me too. Pritchett is the last word in admissions. If you want admit for your son, I am the man. He typed some more, and then said, Well? What is your son’s name?

Tippy, I said. Tipperary.

He frowned. We have a boy with that name already.

It comes from a famous song, I said.

Yes, I know it, he said, unexpectedly breaking into song. It’s a long way to Tipperary, it’s a long way to go. Then, as though I had been the one singing, he shushed me fiercely. Singing is not allowed here. The Dean does not appreciate it. So you want admission for your Tippy.

There is a miscommunication, I said gently. Tippy is already a student here.

Oh? He digested this. You are our Tippy’s father? His face morphed into a look between admiration and awe.

Frankly, I have been a little worried about him.

He stood up and shook my hand. Sir, you have nothing to worry about Master Tippy. We are all very proud of him. He is the number two in the state. Number two! He wagged two fingers before my face. Next time your son will be number one.

Tippy excelling in anything stretched my credibility to its hilt. You are certain there is only one Tippy in your college?

Mr Tippy is unique, he said reverently. His phone buzzed; he murmured into it. And the Dean will see you now.

Dr Mahajan was working on a thesis. His desktop was littered with sheaves of printouts and his tongue peeped out from between his lips as he scribbled with great concentration for several minutes. He spoke without either looking up or stopping his industrious pen-holding hand.

Your son hardly attends classes, you know. His track record is not exemplary, doctor. Not a good sign.

I am equally concerned, I said.

By the way, you are a doctor, correct?

The question took me by surprise. Ah no, I didn’t study medicine.

A doctor of some other subject then?

Not exactly, I said. Actually, I decided not to go for the full doctorate.

I see. You stopped at the master’s. Many people do that. And what was your master’s thesis about?

One considered several choices, obviously, but in the end one decided to give the master’s thing a miss. Life was waiting in the wings, as it were.

My goodness, how disappointing. Neither a doctorate nor a master’s. Let me hope that at least you chose mathematics as your major subject for your bachelor’s?

Rather than limit myself to one, I picked four major subjects all at once — economics, political science, English and of course history.

The dean’s jaw fell open. No maths? That’s not an education, sir. We call that a B.A. Pass. It’s practically the same thing as total illiteracy. Did you pass your exams?

I winced as a sharp twinge shot through my thigh, where the old bone wound was.

He continued, You did write your exams, I hope?

Of course, I said, a tad too eagerly for my own liking. One gave one’s exams. This was mostly true. I had written and cleared my first- and second-year exams, which was more than could be said for Tippy. It was only in the third year that they had broken my thigh.

And one passed?

He correctly read my hesitation: One didn’t. Did you cheat? You may talk freely. Cheating is part of the great Indian tradition. I used to be an expert cheat myself.

One was not a cheat, I said. I drew myself up as well as one can when seated. I am here to discuss my son, sir. I do not see how my education comes into it.

Everything comes into it, said the Dean. As with the father, so with the son, flowing down through generations of illiteracy. Why would your son’s education not be as disastrous as yours?

I squirmed. On this subversive day of days, I had begun to feel that everything was conspiring to pin me to the wall. I was a failure, ergo Tippy was doomed. I would be paying Tippy’s fees for yet another year.

I could talk to him, I said.

You know, the Dean said pensively, after endless silence, perhaps you have come to me at a fortuitous time. Things are about to change in Indian education. A historic change. Let me put it this way — if you had been my student, sir, writing your examinations in this college this year, there is simply no question but that you would have passed with flying colours. As your son will.

He will? What makes you so certain, professor?

He gleamed at me significantly, as though willing me to discover some secret knowledge.

I’ll give you another clue, he said, making me wonder if he had somehow slipped me one already. He leaned forward, lowering his voice. Very soon, the Indian examination system will be improved. We are about to enter an era when failure will become a thing of the past. There will only be toppers. Everyone will be a topper.

I stared at him, wondering if he was crackers.

Do you see these papers? Glancing left and right, he whispered, This is the final draft of the Mahajan Commission Report.

He looked at me meaningfully, as though this ought to be enough for an intelligent man. I am Mahajan. He waited for the significance of this to sink in.

And I personally will hand deliver this report to Shri Ishwar Prasad. You know him.

Everyone knew Ishwar Prasad. The Convener.

The most enlightened leader this country has ever had, said Mahajan. The report was his brainwave. And once it becomes law, everything will change. You understand now?

I shook my head, understanding nothing.

Then it is futile, he said. I have practically spelt it out for you. If you still haven’t got it — he threw up his hands in a gesture of grand surrender — then there’s nothing further anyone can do. Your case is hopeless.

He rose. The interview was over.

I was smarting from my interview with the Dean and the embarrassing old memories it had stirred. On my way out, passing a canteen in the central court of the college building, I decided to calm down with a half-cup of tea. From my lone perch at the lightweight plastic table, I could see clusters of lounging students, hear their idle chatter. I know college canteens. They are rough and sinister places where the weak meet the strong, where debates and fair maidens are won and lost, where the meaning of life is unravelled. At the far end from where I sat, a hushed crowd was watching some sort of event — chessboards were arranged on three tables, surrounded by rapt audiences. At each table, a single player was figuring out his next move, head in hands, frowning intensely.

A lanky youth with a head of frizzy hair who had been sitting at the tea stall ambled towards the chess tables, a half-cup of tea in his hands. Girls clustered behind him like groupies. At each table, he studied the arrangement of the pieces and then made a move. The grandmaster, I thought.

It was only when he turned that I recognized the wastrel face of Tippy. For a moment or so, all thought deserted me but then I recovered my wits. Before he spotted me, I began hurrying away, head down. But it was too late. Abandoning his several chess games presumably in mid zugzwang, my son joined me joyously, slapping me on the back to let his classmates know that he treated his father like a pal and saying to me, And to what do I owe this honour, baba?

I knew trouble was brewing even before we entered the house. A black Lexus was parked directly outside my gates like a hearse, windows opaque and flanks gleaming. The idea of going for a stroll and returning later flashed through my head. This was a day when small deviations from the norm were to be taken seriously as harbingers of deeper trouble. On the other hand, my paranoia might just be a jerk of the knee. Rose often reminds me that no one could be seriously interested in a person who grows exotic ginger with little success on some forlorn acre.

A noisy brass key lets me into my house. The teeth never lock at first probe but require some jiggling before they stumble through a particular gap that finally lodges them in the far end of the keyhole. As a result of this clatter, the two people in the living room were already looking towards us as we entered: Rose, with a besotted look on her face, and her guest, whom I recognized instantly. It was the fat man I had bumped into earlier at the bus stop. And who now regarded me as a father would a prize-winning son.

Mr Dixit! he cried. Mr Pranab Dixit! What a brilliant name to create on the fly! Or should I say the late Patros Patranobis. I was so hoping you would be back soon. I believe you are possibly the new owner of this immense book.

My eyes went to the fat, canvas-covered block about five inches thick on the coffee table.

Chapter 3 – Home Delivery

Several options proposed themselves in the next few moments, and their main theme was deniability. It seemed crucial that the advocate Somnath Berry leave the way he had come, his suspect gift undelivered.

Option one – I could pretend to be one of my late father’s ex-patients come seeking a refund for kidney stones that had not been exorcised by homeopathy. It was a thin disguise but with a little indignation might pass muster.

Option two – I could go on being the fictitious Pranab Dixit, re-inventing myself as an old family friend. Since Patros’s untimely death, a certain closeness had developed between myself and this family.

While I pondered a third option, what emerged was the fourth and it came from Rose’s mouth. Isn’t it marvellous? she gushed. He says it’s a book with answers.

Someone sent baba a quiz book? Tippy had draped himself over a cane chair and was chewing gum menacingly.

And this wonderful man! Rose overflowed. Doctor Berry —

Just a mister, the advocate demurred.

— who has been waiting for you. This is Patros, Mr Berry.

Oh, we have already met, said Berry, smiling affectionately at me. Down at the bus stop. Do sit down. As though I were guest and he host. Oh, how he tried to wriggle away, did our Mr Patros. Though there was no fooling an old rat like me.

He extended the limpest of handshakes, which I ignored.

I would probably have done the same myself, he said, sobering up. A total stranger asking nosey questions about you, what is one to think? In these times. Never mind. You are here, I am here — and the book is here.

What is this — book? Eh? I asked, with an unplanned laugh.

A gift from your past, said Berry. From an earlier generation, a different geography, a different history. But now yours. Mr Patranobis, it is my distinct privilege to hand over this gift from your great-grandfather, of the proud south Indian state of Kerala. I understand the mother’s half of your bloodline is from there.

I have no clue who or where my mother was, and I have never been to Kerala. I looked again at the heavily wrapped parcel on the coffee table. A length of white woven hemp went around the canvas several times lengthwise and breadthwise and was marked at its intersections by a red lacquer seal bearing the insignia of two elephants standing on their hind legs. It was impressive, standing over 5 inches high and 15 inches square.

Mr Berry, would you turn the package around and let me see its various sides? I said. He did. There was nothing written anywhere, no sender or receiver, no forwarding address.

Thank you. We can end this joke now. Rose, call the police. As at any modern airport, we do not accept packages from strangers in this house. You have brought a parcel large and heavy enough to contain a suitcase bomb or RDX. It has no name. How do you conclude that it was intended for me?

But Berry was laughing silently, his pot belly shaking.

I knew it, he said, shaking his head. I just knew this would be your first question. He composed himself, proffering his card. That’s me, sir, my credentials. Senior advocate and partner in the firm of Mathaikal & Bahri, established, oh, established quite long ago.

He reached into his coat’s inner pocket and withdrew a musty envelope of thick brown paper. And here are instructions to the said firm of Mathaikal & Bahri regarding the disposal of this package, including the signs that will identify the recipient. Please read. You will see that you are in the family line, you fit the description, you have the temperament — Berry rubbed his fat palms. Oh, you are such a groom for this bride. You were made for each other.

Berry was holding out the envelope.

If I touched the book, I knew, I was probably done for. It would be legally deemed to have been accepted by recipient. Even if I touched the envelope, I would probably be judged to have taken possession of a part of the book, and therefore in some way all of it. I kept my hands under my thighs to avoid error.

This vacillation is perhaps why Rose took the envelope from Berry’s hands, withdrew the handwritten sheets within and began reading. Her hands were shaking.

TO WHOMSOEVER IT MAY CONCERN —

With this letter, I set forth the circumstances and conditions under which The Book of Answers came into being, as well as my role in it. It is my intention before I die, to assure myself that the vision of Pichamma of Kottayam and my own endless hours of transcribing will not have been in vain. My detailed instructions as to the care and eventual disposition of this book will ensure that at a future time when this planet is besieged by seemingly insoluble predicaments, someone will be able to light the way towards a better world.

My name is Kitapa. I am 88 as I write this, and blind. I was not born blind, but by the time I was six, thanks to a deficient diet, I could see only blobs of light. But nature has a way of giving back with one hand what it has taken away with the other. As I grew into manhood, I realized that my unusually vivid dreams, which I could recall in their entirety afterwards, were the mark of an emerging prescience. I have, I now understand, the ability to look ahead in time to see events that others cannot. I have guarded this ability well, fully aware how easily such a talent could overwhelm a simple blind fellow.

The only one in my family of six siblings and parents who suspected my gift was my father. As an unsuccessful farmer, he was too poor to afford the price of school for me, though Kottayam is famous for its clever people. Even if he had found the means, there is a limit to how much a blind boy may be expected to learn from printed books. However, being well read and erudite himself, he undertook the task of my education. His deep and sonorous voice has recited for me the verses of the Vedas, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Holy Bible, the Qur’an, and the Thirukkural. More than that, he has read me the works of Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Shakespeare, the poems of Virgil, and the Nibelüngenlied. Guided by his hand, my mind acquired breadth and depth while my hands acquired craft and steadiness. I developed into a calligrapher, albeit one who would