Thursday, August 26, 2010

The long and winding road

After a successful career as an Army brigadier and as the managing trustee of the Museum of Kerala History, Brigadier R.B. Nayar, 91, looks back on his life and the difficulties of tackling old age

By Shevlin Sebastian

At 6 a.m., on February 14, 2010, Maheshwari Nayar, 90, who had been unwell for a few days, asked for a glass of water from the maid. Her husband, retired Brigadier R.B. Nayar, 91, was in the bathroom. When he returned, she had passed away. “It was a terrible feeling,” says Nayar. They had been married for 65 years. So, for Nayar, it was a body blow. “We were so close to each other,” he says. “Now I feel very lonely at home.”

His flat at Panampilly Nagar is tastefully decorated. There are numerous paintings done by the brigadier himself. There are bookcases containing encyclopaedias and books on philosophy. 'The Autobiography of a Yogi' by Paramahansa Yogananda is lying on a coffee table.

Asked about his attitude towards death, Nayar says, “It is inevitable, whether you like it or not. And you don't know when you are going to die. After my wife’s death, I have been thinking about it more often.” He pauses and adds, “It is only when you are old that you find it difficult to overcome these morbid and depressing thoughts.”

People of his generation, especially those who are living in straitened circumstances are going through a difficult time. “Most of the elderly people know that they are not wanted by their children or society,” he says. There are so many who are stricken by various diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease. Some suffer from amnesia. Nearly all are dependent on other people.

“It is a sad state of affairs,” says Nayar. “The ideal way to experience old age is to be financially self-sufficient, have reasonably good health, and enjoy companionship.”

Nayar is among the lucky few. At his advanced age, he is physically and mentally alert. It helps that he has hobbies like reading and painting.

“I began doing oil paintings in 1971,” he says. “Later, I shifted to acrylic and tend to focus on abstract subjects.” But a realistic painting of a horse peeping out of a stable door, which hangs in a bedroom, catches the eye for its keen sense for detail.

Among his many admirers is Dr. A.K. Abraham, chief cardiologist, Indira Gandhi hospital: “Nayar's paintings, in the vibrant colours and frames, reveal the artist as a soldier.”

Nayar also has a keen interest in Carnatic music. “I am a student and admirer of the music of Swati Thirunal,” he says. Thirunal (1813-1846), the former Maharaja of the State of Travancore has composed over 300 Carnatic songs. Nayar also contributes articles on Carnatic music to ‘Shruti’ magazine, and has written tillas (rhythm-based compositions), which have been aired over All India Radio.

It is clear Nayar is a multifaceted personality. He was in the first batch of 21 students at the Travancore Engineering College in 1939.

On December 7, 1941, when Nayar was having lunch with the Principal, T.H. Mathewmen, the news came that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbour. “Young chap, you must get into the act,” said the principal.

Nayar followed Mathewmen’s advice, and got admission into the Army. However, by the time his training was complete, in August, 1945, the war was over. Nayar spent the next several years, working as an engineer, and steadily rose up the ladder till he became a Brigadier. In 1969, at the age of 50, he retired.

His unmarried elder brother, Madhavan Nayar, a pioneer in the sea-food industry and a well-known personality in Kochi, needed help. So Nayar joined his brother's business and worked for 18 years in Delhi, representing the company.

Thereafter, he returned and, following the death of his brother in 1996, became the managing trustee of the Madhavan Nayar Foundation, which runs the Museum of Kerala History at Edapally. “The museum is going through a major renovation,” says Nayar. “It will be ready by mid-September.”

Even as he is busy, Nayar keeps track of social trends. He is disturbed at the increasing rate of divorce these days in Kerala. “We have to learn to adjust,” he says. “A husband and a wife cannot be moulded into one. Each person has their own individuality. So, a view of a certain event may not be the same. This will result in clashes. Don't let contrary opinions upset you. Accept each other and move on.”

Asked about what advice he would give to young people, Nayar, a father of two sons, says, “Be honest. Try and respect the feelings of others. Don't get into acrimonious arguments. Learn to give and take. Unfortunately, every Malayali has an ego. But we need to tone it down. Then only can you experience happiness.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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