Grandfather’s house in Pudupet, Madras (now known as Chennai) always had interesting visitors and guests. He came from a large family, but in the thirties he was the only one of his siblings who had left the home in Mangalore and traveled to Madras, to study medicine. He settled down in Madras and was one of the leading doctors in the city, specializing in the treatment of tuberculosis. He and my grandmother welcomed sundry relatives with unfailing hospitality. His house in Pudupet was for many years a home for nephews and nieces who came to Madras to study. He and grandmother considered living in a college hostel undesirable for the young people – bad food, uncomfortable accommodations shared with other students who were undoubtedly a distraction from serious studies. I am not sure the young students agreed, but their parents expected their uncle and aunt to be their guardians, – and besides, since they were not affluent they thought home hospitality was certain preferable and less expensive.
One such nephew, Srinivas, an only child who had lost his parents at an early age, came to study in college in Madras and my grandfather took upon himself the responsibility of the college education of his sister’s son.
Srinivas, a quiet young man, appeared downstairs only at meal times, and spent most of his time in the little room upstairs which was his bedroom and study. We often went to chat with him and found him interesting but he did not encourage us to stay long and socialize because he took his books and studies very seriously. He went off alone in the evenings, perhaps to meet his friends, but rarely brought them to the house. He obviously loved the cinema, because he had pinned on his walls movie posters of Norma Shearer,and Devika Rani among other popular actors.
One day, grandfather walked into his room unexpectedly. The young man was taken aback, and stood up awkwardly, a little scared and embarrassed. Grandfather barely noticed that he had his books open in front of him. Instead he looked around at the pouting lips and smiling eyes of the movie actresses displayed on the walls and did not hesitate to indicate his disapproval. He scolded the young man for wasting time on movies. Angry, he turned and left the room only to return a short while later with a book
which he slapped on the desk in front of his nephew saying :”Here read this; read some good literature for a change and learn some values about life and education!” The book was LIFE OF SWAMI VIVEKANANDA, which he had purchased some months earlier from the Ramakrishna Mission. Srinivas came down for dinner, chastened and quiet. He continued cramming for his BA examination and we rarely saw him and did not want to disturb him.
One day, soon after the exams were over, Srinivas did not come down for dinner and grandmother sent someone to call him down. He was not found in his room. His books were neatly placed on his table. The walls were bare of pictures. His trunk and his clothes were missing. Srinivas had run away!
Grandmother was in tears. She had always given her nieces and nephews her love and caring and felt responsible for their welfare. She blamed grandfather for being so harsh on the orphaned youngster, who he should have nurtured, she said, as his own son. Grandfather was clearly upset and worried. He consulted his friends on how he should go about looking for the young man. He was reluctant to report to the police of a Missing Person. Friends and relatives scoured the town inquiring from people who Srinivas may have visited, his friends and classmates, but no one had any clue.
Three weeks had passed when a letter arrived for grandfather. It was from Swami Vimalananda, the head of the Ramakrishna Math in Mysore informing him that a young man had arrived there, purporting to be his nephew. He said he wanted to join the Ramakrishna order as a monk, but the Math did not accept any novitiates without the permission of their families. Everyone was relieved that he was safe. Grandfather was perplexed. He immediately left for Mysore and met with the Swami as well as Srinivas who greeted him with a confident smile and touched his feet. He informed the Swami that he was not sure if his nephew was sincere and committed to join the Ramakrishna order – of which grandfather himself was a follower and admirer. He left it to Swami Vimalananda to assess his abilities and decide whether the young man was suitable for this vocation. But he was surprised and pleased to see in his nephew’s expression an enthusiasm and determination he had never seen before and felt maybe Swami Vivekananda had indeed inspired him, as this legendary Swami had so many others then, and ever since.
Srinivas spent his years as a brahmachari at various branches of the Ramakrishna Math, including their publications division at Mayavati.
He received his sanyasi robes as Swami Avimuktananda and continued to keep in touch with his uncle with utmost respect and affection. While we always referred to him as Uncle Srinivas, whenever we visited him we addressed him as Swamiji. We visited him over the years in many of the cities where he continued to serve the Ramakrishna Mission in various capacities.
We met him last as head of the Ramakrishna Math in Hyderabad where he served several years before he passed away recently.