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Biography: As I Know V.N. O'Key
by N.G. Goray
Ever shunning the lime-light of publicity, Mr. V. N. O'Key is a rare phenomenon in the world of creative art. There is no one in India who can hold the candle to him in the exquisite art of pen and ink portraits and line drawings. His portraits of national leaders and eminent men in the field of science, art, literature and social service which adorn innumerable drawing rooms, educational institutions and pages of text books are precious treasure of posterity.
O'Key was very active in both the freedom and social movements. His early association with leaders like Yusuf Meherally, Jayaprakash Narayan, Achyut Patwardhan and S. M. Joshi made his commitment to freedom and socialism firm and life-long.
O'Key is man of many parts. A photographer of rare quality, his slides and photograph bear a testimony to his cameraman's powerful eye. He is a compulsive traveler and trekker. Hardly a year passes without O'Key trekking some part of the Himalayas. Very few people know his tremendous passion for Indian classical music. His library of taped music is a veritable treasure houses of rare concerts by India's masters, both vocalist and instrumentalist.
As I know him :
When did I first meet O'Key?
To tell the truth, I cannot answer that question with certainty because of the feeling that O'Key has been with us all these years and I have been knowing him all the time. Like a benevolent fairy in the children's story book. O'Key slips in to help pull you out of a tight corner and having done his job, slips out the next moment, even before you have an opportunity to say as much as 'Thank you, O'Key!'. I cannot draw myself but I love those who draw, sketch, paint, mould and sculpt. That is what must draw me to O'Key. At first, not to the person but to those mysterious looking letters - 'O-K-E-Y'. I have never heard of or seen a man whose name was O'Key. Who is this guy? I wondered, who could with his simple hair-thin lines create live images of the great men and woman of our day, who by their words and deeds made our lives worth leaving - Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, Tilak, Phule, Bhagat Singh, Einstein, Raman : why, the entire galaxy of them. But these graphics represented only a tip of O'Key's personality. O'Key in life, I found out later, was far bigger and far more varied.
This wiry little boy from West Coasts of Karnataka who had made his way to Bombay fifty years ago, was like his native cocoanut tree -- unassuming but supple, straight and every bit which was useful in some way or the other. The coconut palm sways with every gust of wind, but rarely does get uprooted. Moreover in the case of the palm -trees, there is no season when it does not wear a green crown and does not bear some fruit. All these characteristics of the palm are present in O'Key. Though O'Key's views on life are deep rooted and he has his own philosophy, he is restless man with wander-lust in his very veins. He has traversed the whole of Indian sub-continent, and his ripe age, he continues to be the indefatigable trekker in the [Himalayan] Ranges. He cheerfully exposes himself still to the hardy annual. because he is as happy with his rucksack and his trekker-boots as with his charcoal-sticks and with his camera. Even those who know his love of music are perhaps unaware of the huge stockpile of rare recorded music, vocal as well as instrumental in his collection. 'O'Key never satisfied with being a jack of any trade. He has to be the master of every trade he knows, and by Jove-he knows many! O'Key lives alone but never lonely. He can be self- affecting without being submissive. He is always ready to give, without expecting anything in return. For warm but silent companionship, O'Key is unrivalled. His interests are so varied that if someone were to tell me that O'Key is a fine cook, I would readily believe it.
Such a person is bound to have some passion and some obsession. Has O'Key any of these? I would say -yes, he has. It is constructive work and service of humanity. I can hear him saying with the ancient sage:
"I do not seek heaven nor
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