I always thought TK would live to be 90 or more. He had the resolve, the will, the plans, the motivation and the enthusiasm.
I wish TK had indeed lived to be 90. He was a very good man, and he still had a lot to offer the world around him. TK offered erudition, decency, deep analytical thinking, and a cheerful and optimistic gaze at everything around him.
His interests were varied and sincere. He also had critical insight, having looked at the world for 80 years without bias, and with impeccable honesty.
Honesty was paramount, and TK never strayed from this chosen path of truthfulness. As a direct consequence, dishonesty was abhorrent. Almost always, TK seemed to be locked in a battle with someone who had sold him something defective or had failed to keep a promise. As he’d shoot off angry – but never discourteous or disrespectful – mails month after month, we’d gently tell him that these mails would get him nowhere. “I know”, he’d respond, “but that doesn’t mean I should give up my campaign to fight for what’s right!”
It was, in every way, a wonderful life’s campaign, and, better still, a noble one. TK was selfless in his mission to spread the good word or the good idea. He was the quintessential teacher. He was born to teach, and he would do so without any expectation of reward or gratitude.
Like every good teacher, TK loved a good student. An attentive student, who asked good questions, and submitted every assignment with painstaking rigor and vigour, pleased TK enormously. That’s what made his life truly worth living.
Of course, there were other joys. TK savoured delicious food, enjoyed exquisite music and cherished great battles on the sporting fields. He was the ultimate bon vivant.
Till his grave illness dampened his step – but not his zeal or energy – TK seemed closer to immortality than almost anyone else I’ve known. He’d be up at 5 am, get dressed – the proper dress for every event or occasion was important – and head off to the gym. The treadmill was a particular favourite; the rhythmic sound of pounding steps, the careful acceleration, and that eventual success as he reached the day’s target of n km/h gave him immense joy. Such was his resolve that his dear friend (Alladi) Sitaram often worried that TK would drop dead one day on the treadmill. “That would be a wonderful way to go”, TK would cheerfully tell him.
It didn’t quite end that way, but TK was unbelievably brave as he endured the agonizing pain. In his last days he was still worrying about who he should gift his beloved musical collection to “so that the music stays for others to enjoy even after I’m gone”. He was that sort of a man: giving, caring, committed and affectionate.
When I invited TK to attend my daughter’s wedding – it meant a trip from Chennai to Bangalore – he agreed immediately and arrived exactly when I expected him to: five minutes before the scheduled time. Attending Prateek Karandikar’s reception last August at Indore would’ve been harder – because TK was, by now, being treated for his illness – but it would’ve been completely unlike TK to avoid some personal inconvenience to grace a happy event. Friendship and kindness meant the world to him.
Often TK flew to the other end of his world to meet or console a friend. I recall how distraught he was after seeing his dear friend Ashok Maitra so unwell in the US. “I’m glad I went. I’m sure Ashok was delighted to see me”, he told me even as he himself appeared shaken and overcome.
I had the privilege of giving a talk in TK’s honour when we assembled at Chennai Mathematical Institute in February this year. He was seated in the first row, next to B V Rao, attentive and thoughtful. Towards the end of the talk I recalled the times we spent together on the balcony of his Bangalore apartment: a glass of the finest red in our hands, a gentle breeze wafting in, and Parveen Sultana attaining a musical crescendo on his excellent music system.
TK closed his eyes hard in reflection and responded: “Those were good times, Srinivas”.
They were indeed, and thankfully there were so many of them. The best adventure often started with an innocuous “shall we?” invitation. And it could end at Hotel Ajantha, off Bangalore’s M G Road, with a crisp masala dosa and hot filter coffee; at an IPL match in the Chinnaswamy Stadium, with Sanath Jayasuriya making batting look ridiculously simple; or sparring across a TT table with not an inch asked or given.
TK wasn’t a great TT player, even by his own estimation. He didn’t have a killer smash, or a Zu Shaofa serve, but he had phenomenal grit and gumption. He often won because he so desperately wanted to win. As a cricketer – TK played a competitive cricket match at the age of 70! – he lacked the style of someone like Ram Mohan Menon … but succeeded by being wily and clever. I remember a beaming TK returning in his cream flannels after taking four wickets in a crucial game. “How did you manage this miracle?”, I asked him. “Oh, I bowled slow … really slow! … but always at the stumps. The batsmen got impatient, swung their bat at a ball that refused to reach the other end, and got bowled!”
I will miss TK. There was so much to learn for him. Meticulous planning, resolve for rigor, immense discipline, stamina for hard and sustained work, excellent writing skill, an insatiable quest for knowledge and truth, and the willingness to go many extra miles in search of perfection.
Last August TK remarked how wonderful it would be if all his dear friends wrote a page about their time together with him: “Just anecdotes, reminiscences, and stories that bring back smiles”, he told me, “not theorems, proofs or lemmas!”. I made a mental note that I’d do this for him but feel so terrible that I didn’t.
But TK would’ve generously forgiven me. “Srinivas was always five minutes late for everything, so this isn’t such a surprise”, he’d have quipped, and then concluded with impeccable logic: “besides I don’t think it is humanly possible for anyone to read his own obituary!” Alas, not even for a human as humane as you, TK.