My Experience With My Father KoChe

Prabhudev Konana

I returned to India on February 21, 2019, from the U.S. and rushed to the hospital to see my father. He saw me with his tired eyes but didn’t say much. I held my father’s hand gently, but he held my hand with his usual firm grip. That grip alone said everything about the bond we have, and what he thought, without any need for words. He closed his eyes only to let two small tears slip through from the side of his eyes. I had no idea what was going through his mind.

I know the ultimate truth of life, and I was prepared for the outcome. The day of reckoning came in the summer of 2018 when I watched him sign his name with so much difficulty on a few documents transferring his property. I watched with tears that hands usually so strong, so strong enough to write hundreds of books and articles, had difficulty signing a few dotted lines. But, he did it despite those trembling hands. I just thought in my mind that he transferred his strength to us to weaken his own. Those trembling hands are just a reminder to us that we inherited his strength and values and hopefully, we will transfer those gracefully to others one day. Life is short, but it’s strength and values are immortal.

The next 48 hours were watching and waiting. My mind became numb and vacuous. So many counterfactual thoughts ran through my mind. I wish I had never left the shores and took care of him and my mother. Can he get one more chance to live up to that magic hundred years?

I watched my father slowly shrinking each year, yet he showed extraordinary strength and a fiercely independent daily life. He never missed his morning meditation, prayers, walking, and regimented diet. Until the end, that discipline was genuinely extraordinary, and my mind just couldn’t accept his current state. I also know he wouldn’t seek death or extend life and would say it is Mother’s desire or Divine’s intentions (Maatha or Daiva Icche) and whatever happens will happen.

Myself and others involuntarily and helplessly looked at the beeping device measuring my father’s fluctuating oxygen saturation and pulse rate. Spiritual songs occasionally played in the background. The oxygen saturation seems to drop and stabilize to lower numbers every few hours. Suddenly a person walks into the room and says, “oxygen saturation is in the 70s so be prepared that it can be anytime.”

I wanted to ask my father lots of questions about God, spirituality, consciousness, and life – things that he spoke to me in the past, but I had little interest to pursue the discussion. Now I have an interest, but it appeared just too late.

February 23 morning around 6:45am, my oldest sister calls us from the hospital, “Prabhu come fast, he is in the ICU.” I rushed to the hospital with my second sister. We were late.

It is hard to describe the emotions – a sense of darkness and resignation despite knowing that it was the expected outcome sooner or later.

It was time for reflection and rationalization.

We lost his physical presence but not his strength, morals, and values. Those are eternal. People expressed their condolences to me saying, “he had a good life.” I reminded them that, “he had a purposeful life.” His life was rich and meaningful to society, and his efforts touched hundreds of thousands of people. His literary work will inform many generations to come. Numerous adjectives would not make justice to his work, but people who knew him would say that he lived a great spiritual life and called him “sharanaru” or “sharana jeevi.”

His physical absence from this world is an even bigger loss to society than to our family. He challenged social evils of corruption, discrimination, and superstition. I firmly believe that his impact, influence, and relevance, particularly in the current environment of intolerance, are far more important. We need more people like him who dreamt and fought for India where every citizen – irrespective of religion, language, or region – lived in harmony. He dreamt of a peaceful world and rich in spirituality, and he fought to provide that experience for everyone.

People know my father as a writer, thinker, freedom fighter, judge, advocate, social activist, and social reformer. The ease with which he could have conversations from Vedas, Upanishads, the U.S. Constitution to futuristic writers such as Alvin Toffler was just amazing. But he was much more than knowing many different areas. He had great integrity, honesty, courage, and persistence. He manifested secularism and freedom for all. And, his love for India, Karnataka, and Kannada was unmatched.

He believed in certain principles and lived true to those principles. As a judge, he lived with integrity to his profession and yet lived with the greatest compassion. He showed judgments that respected the laws yet took into consideration human challenges and background. He stood up for what is right irrespective of how inconvenient the truth is even to his closest associates or family members. He had enormous courage to live a life of integrity. For most people, integrity remains a good thought and many do not have the guts to live through the difficult choices they make. We see those who criticize corruption, yet engage in it when it profits them or makes them look better. I do recollect my father receiving threats on several occasions sticking to his principles, but he persisted in going through his plans despite many suggestions advocating otherwise. He once told me, “we didn’t fear the bullets of Britishers, and we won’t fear stones thrown at us.” Such public courage and integrity are becoming increasingly rare.

He was extraordinarily persistent. He showed his grit as a young boy and left home at the age of eight to study against the wishes of his father. My grandfather wanted him to take care of his petty shop rather than pursue studies. His journey from one village to another and finally to Ananthpur Law College is truly inspirational. He took two decades to translate Aurobindo’s Life Divine and Savitri. He had to learn Sanskrit and some Bengali too. Fast forward into his 90s, he published three books despite his trembling hands making it extremely difficult for him to write. In fact, as he aged, he became a far more productive writer! When my mother passed away, he released a short collection of articles “Akkare Ammayya” (i.e., beloved mother) in less than a week!

He had great respect for people who worked for him. My father would say, “to know the quality of a person, is to see how he or she treats the people below you [economically or socially].” While people respect power and money, he never forgot those who helped him and served him honestly. He always helped people during their tough times without any expectations. That explains why many employees who worked for him four decades ago attended with their children to pay respect and to seek his blessings. In an increasingly materialistic world, loyalty and honesty are becoming rare.

He was a great patriot and stayed faithful to the Indian Constitution. We know he was a freedom fighter and was arrested and imprisoned for a hundred days during the Quit India movement. He truly dreamt of an India where everyone – irrespective of religion and caste – prospered and lived with freedom without fear. It pained him how political parties exploited division and hate to further their positions. He wrote about and championed secularism deeply engraved in the Indian Constitution. Today, sadly, on social networks well-educated people are critical of the secular mindset, and it has become a dirty word. He received criticism and threats for his views from extremists, but he was undeterred. He was a true patriot of India and to the Constitution.

He and I had huge disagreements during a movement to bring anti-corruption regulations. He was a firm believer that only the Parliament can pass the laws and not unelected people holding the government hostage. While I argued that when – according to every major survey – a significant fraction of the Parliament and elected members are corrupt, it is impossible to change laws that go after the folks who are expected to change the laws. His answer was then to suspend or amend the Constitution. He also disliked judicial activism since he believed personal biases will then creep into judicial rulings. While I disagreed with him, he would firmly believe in the roles of various branches of the government and the Constitution. That speaks a lot more about his principles than mine that was rooted in short-term gains to change things. I am still split on these issues, but one can never disagree with his steadfast principles rooted in far more powerful concepts. Frankly, I don’t know if my father changed his views as he observed increasingly worsening corruption, pollution, and loss of freedoms.

His spirituality guided him to live a life of contentment. I don’t recollect he ever said not to seek materialistic comfort but fought those who sought gains through corruption or unethical means. He never succumbed to corruption and would never bribe or bow down to power. Further, he fiercely condemned violence and discrimination in the name of religion and caste.

While I wouldn’t directly admit it to my father in a typical father-son relationship, but I was his student. Like all students that I expect in my own teaching career, I expect to be inquisitive, critical, or even outright disbelievers. Progress comes from understanding and challenging conventional thoughts, and that’s what I did with my father who was my hidden teacher.

Further, I am lucky to be his son; I am also the greatest beneficiary of his extraordinary work of translating Live Devine into Kannada. The royalty he received for his book helped pay back my student loans I incurred while pursuing higher studies in the U.S. So, any success in my professional career is the fruit of his labor. In fact, in 2003, I was very fortunate to dedicate one of the highest teaching awards that I received – induction into the Academy of Distinguished Teachers at the University of Texas at Austin, USA – in my parents’ presence and I was glad to dedicate this award to my father. It is deeply etched in my mind that my parents stood up to acknowledge my dedication to them and my esteemed colleagues cheered them for their son’s success. There is no greater joy for me to recollect this event of what it means to be a son of a great soul.

Below I describe my interactions over the years. I confess I did not agree with him on many issues. Often, I would get upset, raise my voice, and dismissive. But, I never saw him becoming agitated or upset with my views. He would always encourage and support me – he was truly a great inspiring mentor.

Growing up I couldn’t escape a few wooden plaques that my father had placed on the walls of our house – “Work is Worship,” “Remember and Offer, and “Him that Cometh unto me I will no Wise Cast out.” Most days I would involuntarily look at them with a puzzled look, but lazy to ask what they meant. Even today I cannot claim to have fully understood the deeper meaning, but their messages have subconsciously impacted me incrementally to be a better person.

I had a many questions about God, temples, and worship for my deeply spiritual father. Inspired by “Work is Worship” and “Kayakave Kailasa,” I asked him if working honestly, ethically, and morally to serve others is not enough to serve and worship God? My father reinforced my belief that If I work with integrity and serve others diligently, that would be the greatest form of worship.

Using the above arguments, I would challenge my father why he visited any temples or mutts and what does it mean to worship God. Is it essential to pray in temples when Basava argued that God is within you and your house itself can be a temple? I wholeheartedly followed what my father said, “if you are a true believer in the higher force and you live the life as a believer, you do not have to do any of those.” His discussions with me have shaped my beliefs and I have practiced those beliefs to the most part even today.

While my father was deeply spiritual, I can’t say the same about myself. In fact, I was incapable of understanding the deeper meaning of spirituality, consciousness, and impact on one’s daily life. I discussed – rather argued – with him tens of times that one’s rich understanding of spirituality isn’t helping society to evolve into a better place.

I recorded a video in December 2018, where he explains to my son, Shreyas, about Sri Aurobindo’s Life Devine, “the next goal in human progress, in this current world full of misery and sorrow, is it to eliminate those miseries from the face of this earth. That can be done only by [the] transformation of human consciousness that will lead to an internal change and change of heart. In that state of mind, you love the whole world and you don’t find any enemies.”

I argued with him for many years that abstract concepts of understanding human consciousness and transformation are for few people, but too detached from the real world; in reality, the masses increasingly desire comfort, from material wealth and superiority over others, that pulls people farther and farther apart. The question of harmony with others and nature is increasingly becoming an idealistic adventure and not a practical solution. Such desires and pursuit of superiority (e.g., “I(we) am(are) better than others”) are tearing people apart across religions, nations, communities and even families. But, my father would disagree gently that understanding consciousness and harmony are even more important than ever. I would walk away many times disagreeing. But I have come to realize he was correct; there is no other way we can find peace and harmony without such human transformation, and that’s why my father said, “it is the next goal in human progress.” He was an idealist who thought normatively, and that is why he is considered deeply intellectual, spiritual, and a “sharana jeevi.”

I asked him if he would do anything different knowing the situation now. He said, “Nothing different. I don’t think I have lived a wasteful life. My faith in the divine was really a good choice and especially Basava, Ramakrishna, Vivekananda, Aurobindo and Mother and the ideals he followed.” He continued, “Consciously I have not done mistakes, but inadvertently I may have made. By and large literary career I have taken were really noble.”

Somethings we love, like, dislike or hate. On many societal things, we may disagree where others agree. But my beliefs about the caste system driven by Chaturvarna was entirely attributable to my father, and we both disliked it. I have friends who argue for the benefits or reasoning of classifying people this way. Needless to say, there is nothing good when discrimination is legitimized, and the so-called theory is used to discriminate against people by virtue of their birth. Those who argue for such classification ignore the fact that the varnas were not meant to be by birth. My father even in his last few months said, “it [classification based on profession] is the worst system introduced that legitimized discrimination of the people and society leading to the systematic denial of rights to masses.”

He strongly believed that ancient people were noble but that noble life was contaminated and the country was literally pushed into ignorance based on such classification almost designed to control people. He believed deliberate attempts of so-called elites to deny education to ordinary people using this classification and perpetuating superstition became the worst enemy of the people. India’s spiritual history lead by great intellectual luminaries, from time to time such as Buddha, Basava and more recently Ramakrishna Paramahansa, Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, to lead our people to liberation couldn’t overcome the discrimination and ruthless denial of fundamental rights.

Those were powerful statements from him. In fact, I asked him what he thought, on hindsight, the greatest benefits of India’s independence and the greatest regrets. His comments to me were profound and should be part of mainstream discourse today.

He strongly believed that had it not been for freedom, our people would not have become enlightened. Schools were open to masses who were denied education based on the virtue of their birth and location. The independence democratized education to the masses which was otherwise a privilege of the few. But, he regrets that soon after the independence those noble people who sacrificed their lives for the upliftment of the people became corrupt and it is getting worse each day. That was the misfortune of India. Increasingly dishonest and corrupt people have taken the gullible people and deliberately mislead them. That has held back India from progress. My many articles on corruption in India is just a reflection of my father’s message and how he leads his life.

He defied authoritarianism and cherished freedom over just materialistic prosperity. I asked him some 15 years ago, “What would Mahatma Gandhi do if he was alive and saw the country, politics, and corruption now?” His response was classic – “nobody had to assassinate him, he would have taken his own life seeing the state.” That was powerful and reflected his disappointment in the current state of politics and corruption. In fact, some of our conversations made me write about corruption and why it is time to clean the cesspool of corruption and support demonetization.

I asked him what three things that my son Shreyas or other young people should do. True to his appetite to read, he suggested to read the biographies of great leaders in the world including those of Mahatma Gandhi and American Presidents like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Roosevelt and try to follow one of the principles they lived for. He suggested reading Nehru’s Discovery of India. He suggested reading the history of world religions to discover the good from each religion, so you better understand and appreciate others. And, if you have the aptitude, he suggested reading Einstein’s discoveries, which he believes everyone should experience.

The house my father built and lived in, “Auro House,” is a microcosm of Anubhava Mantapa in the true spirit. It was a place where thousands of discourses and conversations have happened on how to live a better life, how to promote values and human rights, what is Life Divine, and how to make a better community. I do not know how this Auro House will evolve, but hopefully, it will remain a place for enriching individuals and future generations of families and societies by promoting values and human rights. We as family members are just custodians of our father’s extraordinary contribution to the world.