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Click to enlarge; PHOTO: T.P. Seetharam

December 1996: With my grandfather at his weeklong Sathabishekam celebrations at his home in Kayamkulam, Kerala. The Sathabishekam celebrates a man's 84th birthday and shows he is truly wise, as he has seen a 1,000 full moons (approx. 12 moons a year x 84 years = 1,008). His family gathered from around India and overseas to celebrate.

My paternal grandfather, K.P. Pillai, passed away after a few weeks of being ill on April 20, 1998, in Pune (he had been there visiting the third of his four sons, Col. T.P. Madhusudanan -- a doctor in the Indian Army -- and his third of four daughters-in-law, Jayashree). That April 7, my father was going to India to visit my gradfather as he lay terminally ill. On the way to JFK, I handwrote the following note in the car (and photocopied it at the airport).

Not being able to visit "Appuppan" at that time remains the biggest regret of my life.

Two other items below: a 1999 e-mail message I wrote to my family's mailing list a year after my he died; an e-mail I sent in 1998, announcing his death.

o o o o o

New York City
April 7, 1998
4 p.m.

My Dear Appuppa:

I am praying with all my heart that you get well enough to read this note. I wish I were in Pune, reading this to you directly. Then I would be able to tell you how much I love you and how much you mean to me.

Some of my friends have remarked in the past that our family was surprisingly close, considering how far apart we are physically... But to me, this is not at all surprising. The love and care with which you brought up four unruly boys has percolated through all branches of the strong family tree you and Ammumma nurtured. Your firm yet loving hand has made all the difference.

I also know that the relatively short amounts of time we have spent together have made a world of difference to me. Your influence has been felt in many ways. One obvious way is the fact that I can read any Malayalam at all (I know you and Ammumma will chastize me for not perfecting it).

You managed to influence me in other ways: My love of teaching, for instance. Some colleagues have observed that I seem to have "teaching in my blood" or that I am a "born teacher." It's surely the result of your passing on your teaching genes to me. Few people can boast of a grandfather and grandmother who have been teachers. I can and I do. This year in May, I will have completed five full years of teaching and if I have had any success with those hundreds of students, you should take the credit.

I know that in some ways I have not lived up to all the dreams you had for the first-born son of your sons. Surely, if I had become an IAS or IFS officer, you would have been more pleased than with my becoming a journalist. But I also know in recent years you came to accept my career choice. The fact that you did not hold it against me was important to me.

To have your approval and blessing has been important, too. In fact, all the effort I put into my work even today in order to make a good career is, in part, to earn your validation. You should know that my choices were never made in order to hurt you, but were the result of the same expanded horizons and new opportunities you gave your sons.

I know that I have much to thank you for, so I'll end this letter with some thank yous.

* Thank you for the "Valliyil kadi."

* Thank you for your tireless energy and devotion to God.

* Thank you for pushing my father when he was young.

* Thank you for giving him and the rest of the family our moral compass.

* Thank you for, of course, for giving us all the "Valliyil look," complete with the "Valliyil teeth."

* Thank you for caring about the Big Picture.

* Thank you for caring about the little things, such as the importance of good handwriting. Though you wouldn't know it from this poor scrawl written in a car headed to the airport.

* Thank you for being so forward-thinking.

* Thank you for your insatiable curiosity-- something I know I possess because of you.

* Thank you for your love of all things technological, which I share.

* Thank you for coming back from Sri Lanka (you know what I mean).

* Thank you for settling, never making do, never giving up.

* Thank you for the Sathabishekam and being so active in it.

* Thank you for being Ammumma's friend and partner.

And, finally, thank you for treating me to your fount of wisdom, while allowing me to call you "saar."

I know I will see you again, no matter what.

Your loving grandson,
Kikumon

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Date: Tue, 20 Apr 1999 17:35:13 -0400 (EDT)

Hello, everyone.

A year ago (April 20, 1998), Valliyil Appuppan, Shri K.P. Pillai, passed away.

As you know, we are marking the anniversary according to the Malayalam calendar on May 7 in Trivandrum at the Tiruvallam Temple (the only Parashurama temple in Kerala, I believe). But today was the day he died according to the Western calendar.

I hope you will take a moment to remember him today, and will pray for his soul. Please keep Valliyil Ammumma in mind as well, as she continues to adjust to life without our Appuppan.

FYI, Amma held a bhajan for her mother, Vanaja Ammumma, on Friday. It was a wonderful way to mark her memory. Please remember Vanaja Ammumma and Ramankutty Nair Appuppan (who passed away in 1987) also.

To mark the anniversary of Appuppa's passing, I thought I would share with all of you a letter I wrote to him last year on April 7. That day, Acha was heading to Pune from NY, and I hastily scratched out a letter as I was riding a car out to meet Acha.

Appuppan was seriously ill, but managed to hold on for another two weeks, having met all four sons again.

In the letter, I said I hoped to meet Appuppan again soon. Unfortunately, I was not lucky enough to do so. But I know I will see him one day again. Meanwhile, pictures of his boundless energy at the Sathabishekam ceremony fill my mind.

That letter is here (if you don't get some of the esoteric references, not to worry; I will explain them when I see you next).

Lots of love, everyone, and keep in touch.
Kiku

- - - - - - -

Date: Fri, 24 Apr 1998 01:37:02 -0400 (EDT)

From: Sreenath Sreenivasan <ss221@columbia.edu>

Subject: [VALLIYIL] Appuppan passes away

I was away in San Francisco, hence the delay in this message. Am sure most of you have already heard... Appuppan passed away in Pune, on Monday, April 20, and the last rites have already been administered.

I spoke to Ammumma today, who is being quite brave and inspirational, as always. She will be staying on with Madhu Chits, Kunjamma and Ashwin for now, and will visit Valliyil only in the summer.

I am at a loss for words (a rare thing for me)... I am sure you will continue to pray for his soul. May he rest in peace. And may God give Ammumma and the rest of our family the strength to carry on.

Please continue to keep in touch, just as Appuppan taught us to (in fact, I got a letter from him as recently as April 6!).

Lots of love, Kiku

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