Remembering Ramu

THE first time I met Ramu Gandhi was at a Philosophy Society meeting held every Friday at Dr R K Gupta’s house at St Stephen’s College, Delhi. A kurta-pajama-clad man with striking looks and impeccable diction, he stood out even if he slouched in a chair.

When Prof Ramachandra Gandhi spoke in English, it bespoke his Oxford education. He spoke Sanskrit and Urdu with equal felicity. In any case, what language he spoke in did not matter, what he said did.

Ramu, as he was universally called, was a brilliant man who contributed to whatever discussion was taking
place by bringing to it his vast repertoire of wit and wisdom. His journey to philosophy had begun via physics, and it took him from St Stephen’s College to Oxford. He also taught at Princeton University and various universities in India, including Panjab University and Hyderabad University, where he founded the Philosophy Department.

Often his daughter, then a school-going child, would accompany him to the Philo-Soc meetings, where she rubbed shoulders with the likes of Jeet Oberoi, the sociologist; and faculty members Ashok Vohra and Vijay Tankha.

A slim volume on A N Whitehead was enshrined in our college library. We were told it was the best work on the
British mathematician, logician and philosopher well known for his work in mathematical logic and the philosophy of science. No one who read the book questioned this assertion. Ramachandra Gandhi was a grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and C. Rajagopalachari, but he carried his lineage lightly.

The last time I met Ramu was to interview him for his book, Munniya’s Light. The novel is a story of how a 58-year-old professor of philosophy meets Ananya, daughter of a friend, a 22-year-old Indian graduate student in America,
with whom he would be flying back to India. The girl child is the focus — she is the ‘unexcellable portrait of Atman’.

The professor loves Ananya, in not quite an avuncular way, now. However, he has also helped her evolve into a
thinking individual and thus she shows her care and affection while steering clear of his desire to possess her. “Did
Munniya not have more than a passing resemblance to a certain student of philosophy?,” I asked him. “I never thought of it, but yes, she does,” was the answer.

The interview was finished soon, but the discussion continued even as we left India International Centre, Delhi’s
intellectual watering hole, and went to the adjoining Lodhi Garden, for a photography session. He posed for me unselfconsciously, quite at ease with the camera.

He stuck a particular pose, crossing his arms, for a ‘masculine look’. The posture took me back to the college days when he had taken me aside at the end of a Philo-Soc meeting during which I had become a bit acrimonious. “You did win the point during the discussion, but by scoring the point, you lost a chance to convert him to your point of view,” he said.

Ramu, who passed away at 70 on Wednesday, had not taught me formally, but he was a guru for me as also for so
many others.


This article was published in The Tribune on Friday, June 15, 2007