Drive Carefully – Remembering Dr. R. Anantaraman

I met him on a warm, sunny and beautiful afternoon in Summer 2012. I took an instant liking to him for three simple reasons:

  • He said he was 80+..but didn’t look it at all.
  • He seemed so full of life.
  • He said he had married his college sweetheart and enjoyed life with her in the last 5 decades.

As usual, I ran around and tried to ensure that he and his college sweetheart had enough company to mingle with at the party and were also well-fed.

Somebody had brought a couple of cakes to the party. So, I invited him to cut one of the cakes. He gladly obliged. I laughed as he beckoned to his college sweetheart to come eat the first piece. At that moment when he beckoned her, Kumar and I glanced at each other, nodded and smiled. It is one of those meaningful glances. Nobody would notice it. Except two people who are connected for eternity. The glance meant “How sweet! That is us. Is it not? In a few decades that is how we will be. Will we not?”. We clapped and cheered. Then, all of us ate the cake to celebrate “School is done! Summer is here! Let us have a blast!!”.

Soon afterwards, he and I became Facebook friends. We did the usual. Liked each others posts. Commented on each others posts. Wished each other for birthdays and other happy occasions.

He would send me the occasional “I like the way you choose to live your life” comments.

Several months later, his daughter-in-law (also my neighbor and friend) Meera called me to ask if I had a stash of Tamil novels or books to loans him and his college sweetheart.

Even though we hadn’t met each other after that summer party, I had grown to like him because of the glimpse he gave into his personality through the notes he sent me.

We all do favors for the ones that we like. Don’t we?

So, I went through all the bookshelves in the garage and made a pile of magazines (mostly Thendral monthly tamil magazines). I called Meera and she requested me to drop it off at their house.

Between errands, I swung by their place. His sweetheart answered the door with a smile. I gave her the magazines and she beamed. She urged me to come inside the house and have a drink and chat with him. I told her “I would love to. But, I am in a rush. Can you convey my regards to Uncle? I have to run.” So, I didn’t get to meet him that day.

If I had known what I know now, I would have listened to her. I would have walked inside. I would have flashed my usual grin and said hello to him. I would have asked him a whole bunch of questions about his life and life experiences. I would have gently nudged him to tell me more details about how he dated his college sweetheart in the 1950’s (when dating was taboo in India). I would have asked him about how he had proposed. I would have asked her how and why she accepted. I would asked both of them to share their “married for so many decades, raised 4 kids and still going strong” secrets. I would have asked him about the challenges that he overcame in his life. I would have clicked a few pictures of them together. I would have enjoyed the drink she would have lovingly made for me. I would have said good bye. I would have hugged both of them and sought their blessings. I would have. I would done all that and more. If only I had known what I know now.

Several months later, Meera invited me to dinner over a weekend. I couldn’t go because I was double-booked that day. I am not sure if he was with Meera that evening. I could have possibly met him and his college sweetheart.

Oct 10, 2013 was his 82nd birthday. I sent him this note:
Advanced birthday wishes Uncle. I seek your blessings. Please bless Kumar and me…so that we may live to be happy college sweethearts…just like Aunty and you.

He sent me this witty response:
Thanks for your greetings. It took me to years- 1951-1958 when my friendship with my classmate Tulasi blossomed into ‘love’ which later ‘tied’ us in wedlock. You said you and Mr Kumar are college mates. Good. Keep that relationship. But I am sure you would not have climbed the Pallavaram hills many times as Tulasi and I did, when we were in the third year medical students. Thank you once again.

Oct 10, 2014 was his 83rd birthday. I sent him this note:
Happy Birthday Uncle. May God bless you with many, many more decades of togetherness with your college sweetheart. Take care.

He sent me this quick response:
Thanks a lot. Happy you remember my college love affair ended in a solid and still loving married life. Thank you once again

On Thursday, Oct 16, my dear friend Trushna left me a voice mail. She asked me to call her back. Her voice read “worried”. So, I called her back right away. She gave me the news. My heart sank.

I gathered up my pep-talk strength and called Meera. I told her to stay strong. I told her that it is going to be alright. I told her to put up a fight for him and for his college sweetheart. I told her not to give up.

I went through my old stash of pictures of him. I realized then that I didn’t have even one picture of us (him, his college sweetheart and me). I told myself that he is going to come out of this. I told myself that my birthday wishes (“many, many more decades of togetherness with your college sweetheart”) has to hold. It has to. No questions about it.

As I went to sleep, I prayed for him and her. My horrifying experience from several years ago played itself out in slow motion in my dreams.

That fateful night, Kumar and I had dropped of a friend in the airport. Kumar was driving. I was in the passenger seat. We were driving back home. We turned right from the Decoto Road intersection to Mission Blvd in Union City, CA.

2 raccoons had decided to cross the street. In a split second, Kumar, (bless his gentle heart!), swerved to save their lives. Thump. Hit. One of the raccoon was hit. The other one was saved.

I woke up in a sweat. I went to get some water and prayed that he and his college sweetheart should be saved.

As an aside, I grew up in a Hindu household. I was taught that hurting any form of life (even it is insignificant in the food chain) in considered a sin.

Whenever I see a raccoon, my mind races to that fateful night. I wonder whether the two raccoons were mom & son, or mom & daughter, or dad & son, or dad & daughter or just 2 lovers strolling on the street in the middle of the night. There is nothing we could have done to save that raccoon. I know. But, forever, I will live in regret of that fateful night. Of separating 2 loved raccoon.

I didn’t have the heart to call Meera. I knew she would be flooded with calls and messages. So, I waited and prayed. I believed.

Meera called me on Sunday, Oct 19 afternoon. I was in the pasta aisle at Randalls. She delivered the news to me. I felt like my knees couldn’t hold me up anymore. Adi saw my face and rushed to my side. He put his arms around me. She hung up. I just stood there for a few minutes. I gathered up all the strength I had and walked the boys to the checkout stand. I drove back home and went through the summer party pictures again.

I worried. I worried how Meera and her family were going to deliver the news to his college sweetheart. I worried how his college sweetheart was going to live without him.

I told the news to Kumar that night. He was shocked and saddened.

Those people we see on the streets and crosswalk. They have a life. They have kids. They have grand kids. They have a future. They have a heart. That heart loves their loved ones. They are loved. They are adored. Very much.

Put down the cell phone when you are driving. Don’t multitask. Don’t answer calls. Don’t make calls. Don’t speed. Focus on the road. At all times.

Because, even if you are being extra cautious, the sun might blind you as you drive that bend and accidentally hit that elderly college sweethearts taking a stroll. Then, there is no going back. There is no way to hit rewind. Be cautious. Be careful. Pay attention.

Because, that person walking down the crosswalk might be somebody that you or I adore. That person might be somebody that you or I wish to spend more time with. That person might cook one of yours or my favorite dishes. That person might rule a certain portion of your heart or my heart. That person might be somebody you met a summer party. That person might be Dr. R. Anantaraman.

Please join me in praying for Meera’s family as they grieve the loss of Dr. R. Anantaraman, Retd. Professor of Anatomy at Madras Medical College.

Dr. R. Anantaraman is survived by his college sweetheart Tulasi, 4 children (and their spouses) Prem and Chitra, Neela and Baskar, Anoo and Parthi, Kumaran and Meera, many grand kids and a random girl that he met at a summer party.

Post notes from a student who knew Dr. RAR:

He came to the Anatomy department because he felt he could share his love for surgery by teaching surgical anatomy to young doctors (like me) who might live out his dream of becoming surgeons (like I did!)

I was his student. I benefited from his experience and knowledge. The last time I recall meeting him was when we left medical school, and had a farewell party to which all professors and teachers were invited. Since then, I lost touch with him.

– Student of Dr. RAR and Heart Surgeon

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