40 days are gone…
Days filled with the fragrance of exquisite memories.
Days of reverence to remembrances evergreen.
Time and space do not matter in the case of certain people. They transcend both.
When they depart, they leave
their immortal footprints on the shores of time…
A radiance that illumines everything about them and around them…
Indelible trails that do not dwindle in distance…
Now that he is gone and never will return doesn’t make us grieved because he has not left us orphaned, but fortified with the invaluable inheritance of exemplary love, faith and conviction.
His life has been a relentless quest for excellence and elegance,
An exceptional legacy of untiring pursuit of truth and beauty,
A unique tryst with purity and perfection!
My father has been my real teacher, the best teacher in life. . now beyond life..through eternity. He taught me to think differently, to speak, to write and to live differently. He was unique, always different and distinct in thought, word and deed. He lived true to himself. He stood out from the crowd with a voice, singular and loud, not allowing to lose itself in the cacophony, at the same time merging with the melodious symphonies. Never yielding to the thoughts and ways of the crowd and unmindful of what others thought.
When I read Tennyson’s ‘Ulysses’ for the first time, I identified Ulysses with him who had the ardent desire ‘to follow knowledge like a sinking star, beyond the utmost bound of human thought’. He was a voracious reader updated in history, culture and contemporary events and well versed in Classics. He had in-depth knowledge in and about English language and perfect mastery over it. He ‘’spoke the King’s English”, as he used to claim. He had learnt Latin Language and used to tell us about the etymology of each and every word borrowed from Latin. His pronunciation was superb and he was a follower of BBC. I remember his students telling me that he used to begin the class everyday differently and dramatically and will share the latest events in the news collected the previous day from BBC. He knew the seven seas and five continents by heart and would take them on a virtual de tour explaining the history, geography and culture of each country. One of his students, a post graduate in History told ” I can’t draw even the map of India, but Francis Sir could draw the map of any country in the world on the black board”.
Even before I started learning English alphabet in the fourth standard in my Malayalam medium school, I knew the famous quotes of Shakespeare and Wordsworth. My childhood memories are decked with his wonderful narration of literary classics. Holding to his fingers, I started my journey to the wonderlands of literature. He taught me the art of oratory. I still keep the speeches he had written for me while I was a child. He has told me — never begin a speech in a plain manner. Like Mark Antony’s speech, it should start in a dramatic way, never giving a chance to the listener as to what we are driving at. He used to train me how to deliver the speech with variations in tone and pitch. He moulded me into a speaker. Hearing and reading him, I started writing. But whenever I start writing, I realize that I can never reach near his excellence. Whatever he writes had a unique touch… idioms, phrases, usages which are exclusively his own.. I often use them now in my writings and they remain strikingly new…revealing the perennial quality of his language and style which never go stale with the passage of time. And he identified that I have a talent in writing, especially in writing poems. When I started writing prose -poetry, he motivated and encouraged me. Others were doubtful about prose -poetry and prompted me to write in metre. But he stood with me and said, ‘’No need to write in the conventional way. You can write as you like’’. He was a man of future always.
Though he was a wonderful writer in English and Malayalam, he never wrote anything for posterity. He was disinterested in getting them published. He preferred to remain obscure. He used to quote often one of his most favourite lines of Thomas Gray “Full many a flow’r is born to blush unseen, and waste its sweetness on the desert air”, and say, “I would always like to be such a flower”. If he had written down his thoughts, experiences and memories, that would have been a precious gift to posterity. He had given me a note book a few months ago. It contained some writings in his beautiful artistic handwriting and particularly the epitaph which he wanted for himself which he said, was the last lines written by Cervantes:
Farewell Beloved Friends
that I depart dying
to see you again soon
happy in the other life!
My house was like an athenaeum filled with all the leading periodicals in English and Malayalam. Readers Digest, The Illustrared Weekly, India Today, Frontline, Mathrubhumi, Kalakaumudy and many more. For us children, he used to subscribe Eureka, Balarama, Poombatta, Laluleela, Amar Chithrakatha and the like. He used to get for me world classics in Malayalam translation and famous works in Malayalam literarure from various libraries which I read passionately. When I grew up, I got immersed in serious journals and texts which refined my creative sensibility and critical thinking. The critical discussions he had with me on politics, history, culture, music etc. enriched and widened my perspectives. And he always treated me like a peer in intellectual discourses. He was so particular that I should never feel and come across gender disparity on my path towards success and he gave me the freedom and intellectual empowerment that couldn’t be dreamt of by a girls at that time. He allowed me to travel wherever I wanted, putting no restrictions and conditions. In those days, when there were no communication facilities, I was allowed to go to far away places and to attend literary camps, competitions, seminars, poets meet etc. He had perfect and unconditional faith in me and I could keep up and safeguard that faith.
He was a much admired and loved teacher. Till his last days, groups of students used to visit him and call him over the phone. He always focussed on unearthing ‘ the truth’ behind the forged constructs of knowledge and history. The book which ends with his epitaph starts with his reflections about his career : ” Like Galileo, I tried to speak out the truth that the earth is round. Majority didn’t acknowledge. That has been the destiny of all who spoke the undesired truth. But I went on enlightening my students”. He touched the lives of his students and remains evergreen in their minds as seen in the touching memories shared by his student, Dr. Varghese Chakkalakkal, Bishop of Calicut in the requiem mass offered for his soul. The Bishop spoke about his beautiful and superb mastery of language, the humaneness, humour sense, deep knowledge and concern for the students . He specifically spoke about his imaginative and creative charisma and his magical and dramatic method of teaching. He remembered the English classes in which his beloved teacher took the students aloft on the wings of creative imagination and awareness. In Social Studies classes, he kept them spellbound with the captivating ways of descriptions and explanations like Pearl Harbor attack and President Truman signing the order of bombing in Hiroshima and the fighter planes taking off from Tinian Island. He said, the students could visualize the fleet of ships at Pearl Harbour and the planes taking off from Tinian Island. He taught them to learn and unlearn the uncommon way, and to follow the untrodden paths and thus to create a difference in the world.
He was a poem
written in a few words
with dignity, decorum and elegance
A song soft and sweet
Not heard by many
But captivating and alluring all those who gave ears.
And lingering long even after it is finished
A blooming and fragrant memory.
He lived in grace and elegance
And he lived for truth and beauty
He taught me to live the truthful way and the unconventional way.
and to stand alone fearlessly, not to compromise with the common and the mediocre.
To think, differently, speak differently and to live differently.
Written by: Dr. Milon Franz
Associate Professor and Research Guide, Research Centre in English
St.Xavier’s College for Women, Aluva