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Memoirs of Bappa

by Hiryoung Kim Kamat

First Online: July 08, 2004
Page Last Updated: January 03, 2018

Anyone who sees the Grand Canyon, immediately realizes that it's impossible to capture its magnificence in any measure. That's how I feel about Bappa, that it is not possible to describe the person in words. 

I spent very little time with Bappa -- a total of five weeks, but they were profound five weeks, where my husband and I traversed through whole of his life's collection of photographs and articles. It was the busiest five weeks of my life!

Since Bappa loved the nature, I feel at ease in describing him in terms of elements of nature.

Rain: Man who pours affection 

He started his day with giving massage to Amma to relax her arthritis. I call it "Early morning romance." That simple action, soft and gentle continuous touch is like a sweet spring shower. Then Amma gets the energy for whole day, and pours her affection on us.

One morning when I came out of the room barely opening my half-awaken eyes, Bappa asked, "Shall I make coffee for you?" I was so touched that I even forgot that he was my-father-in-law!

Till I visited India, I've never seen or tried Papaya. On the way to Bangalore from Mumbai, I tried it for the first time in the airplane, and fascinated by the exotic taste. The day that I mentioned about my liking papaya, Bappa brought it along with his daily grocery purchase. He, then, carefully (without cutting off excessively) peeled and arranged beautiful orange colored succulent pieces on a plate. All for me! Bappa was suffering from the cuts on his fingers due to extreme dryness. And some days it got much worse. Even on those days, Bappa still peeled the papayas for his daughter-in-law.

Bappa was a very simple man. Luxury is far from Bappa. While we were visiting India, Bappa had given us generous lump sum of pocket money. With it, we roamed around every nook of Bangalore in auto-rickshaw, which Bappa rarely rode. Bappa covered most of distance on foot. Maybe bus, once in a while. Bappa never questioned how we spent the money that he and Amma saved through their frugal lifestyle.

Sun: Man of discipline 

The sun never fails to rise. Bappa is the most reliable disciplined person that I know. Each night before going bed, Bappa prepared exact change for the milkman and left it right by the door. During out visit, he didn't forget to order extra milk as well as extra change.

Our family website  has been on more than seven years (started 1995). All those years, Bappa provided us the content through the weekly mails. There were times more than often that we were disappointed by the mails that did not come. But each week, when all other mails failed to come, there was the loner in our mailbox: Bappa's envelope with familiar unique looks that Bappa himself made. We almost took it for granted, but it was too precious to take it automatically. We understood all his efforts behind it.

Bappa spent a great deal of time with the tribals in Madhya Pradesh, during which he sketched hundreds of pages on them. While I was going through them, I told Bappa that some of them were not crisp enough to scan digitally since they were sketched with a pencil. Bappa said "No problem," and immediately started working on them with a pen. It required a lot of time and patience, but he knew he had to finish during our stay so that we could take them with us. He finished two days before our departure.

K.L. Kamat/Kamat's Potpourri
Kamat Fair-copying a Sketch
Kamat Fair-copying a Sketch

Clouds: Man of independence

Bappa loved to watch the clouds. He could graze them for hours together to calm himself down when he was upset or simply to entertain himself.

Bappa was a very self-sufficient man from  his kitchen, his lab, and to his work. He could make the best bitter-gourd phodis. He had all the remedies to keep the leftovers fresh, based on his knowledge of chemistry that he used in his photography lab as well (he had no refrigerator). All the Bappa's work had no or very little help from others, and yet he could accomplish so much by his resourcefulness and passion.

I once asked why he didn't travel as much. He said since the last car accident several years before, he reduced the traveling substantially. He was most afraid that he might end-up imposing on others in his late age. As he was such an independent man, I can understand that the idea of depending on others must have been most dreadful for him. He wanted to remain as a floating cloud independent of everything, and he did.

Earth: Man of down-to-earth

One day we decided to follow Bappa to observe his activities in the market. It was such an honor for me to trace the soil that Bappa walked everyday. We went through the cow gate making note of the donkeys and free-minded dogs. To the contrast of the garbage pile on the left, I admired the beautifully drawn Rangoli on the cleanly swept yard. I was like a complete child over the excitement when Bappa took us the photo shop that he frequented to develop all his photos. The familiar faces of vegetable vendors of whom Bappa took the photos pleasantly greeted me. It was unbelievable that I was there, in real place with real faces!

Kim and Kamat Walking in Malleswaram
"It was an honor for me to trace the soil that Bappa walked everyday"

Bappa was a down-to-earth man. No bullshitting! Though he gave us so much affection, it was never false or hypocritical. That's why Bappa's photos emanate such honesty and innocence. No embellishments.


Ocean: Man of depth

I never saw Bappa complain out of his frustration. No matter what the situation was, he always dealt with his calmness and control. In American expression, "He was cool."

The day we had to leave for America came quicker than anyone hoped. The arranged taxi never showed up. As the departure time was closing in, we were frustrated and angry at the unreliable service. Finally, with a neighbor's help, we got hold of another taxi. As we were in such hurry, we hardly had time to bid goodbye to Bappa. I knew Bappa was very frustrated and helpless about the situation. But he never showed or tried not to show his sadness or worries. I will never forget the image of Bappa's standing alone and fading in the distance. That was the last time I saw Bappa. He was like a big ocean that swallows everything into its big waves. Sometimes I could feel Bappa's loneliness, who had to stand as a tall tree, a giving tree without expecting anything in return..

The Rainbow

After I came back to America, I found a papaya in a store, but didn't get it. The memory of Bappa associated with papaya was so strong, I felt it might spoil the taste if I eat it in America. I will wait till my next visit to India. I will relish it in my home-in-law. The anticipation is my rainbow. Bappa is gone now, but he will be with us forever.

See Also:

 Kamat Memorial Volume
Kamat Memorial Volume

Kamat's Potpourri Remembering Kamat Memorial Volume

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