The glass is full Sir. But where are you?
The first party at your house in New Delhi. You asked me “Karthick, why is your glass empty?”
The glass is full today Sir. But where are you?
I know that you didn’t like me calling you ‘Sir’. You said that it was a legacy of colonialism. You wanted me to call you just Pandian. As a friend. As a comrade. But sorry Sir, I am just too much a product of a colonial mentality. You will always be ‘Sir’ to me.
As you will be ‘Sir’ to my good friend Kalai. I knew you as a mentor and a great teacher. He knew you as a father figure. But today, both of us are alone. Sir, Kalai called me from Cambodia where he had gone for a conference a few days back. He is doing very well. He told me how much I still had to learn from Pandian Sir. He told me to re-read your writings on Periyar and the Dravidian movement. You had so much confidence and faith in him. He was your prodigal son. He was with you in your last hours. How could you leave him? How could you leave us? Where are you?
You have inspired countless students. You have left your indelible mark in the academia. You are, without doubt, the foremost among Tamil intellectuals. You have stuck to your principles. You defended Periyar and that great old man’s principles in a context when a horde was out to unjustly defame him. You were tooth and nail opposed to all forms of casteism and exposed how it operates both at the level of the political and the personal. You have always stood by the cause of the oppressed. At a time when several Tamil intellectuals behaved in a most unprincipled manner, you said in the middle of a class in JNU that you supported the LTTE’s cause. You supported Kashmir even before it became popular in Tamil Nadu. You, the eternal iconoclast, took on several icons and brought them down. Can I talk of certain really subversive acts that you did during your tenure in JNU? Or maybe that is strictly between us? You have been a great family man to your wife and your daughter. You have been a great human being. What have we lost? What has the world of the South Asian oppressed lost? A Sartre? A Fanon? A Gramsci? I know that you would say that I am being too emotional here. Go ahead and say it Sir, with that affectionate laughter that accompanies whenever you chide me. But where are you?
You taught me to re-evaluate my political understanding. You taught me to challenge everything I thought I knew. You introduced Zizek, Schmitt, Sontag and Agamben to me. You re-introduced Periyar to me. You helped shape my PhD proposal. You gave me academic references. You gave me invaluable feedback on my chapters even though you were pressed for time. But there was so much still left for you to teach me. But where are you?
You dropped several words of wisdom to me in your lighter moments. “Karthick, cook for the one you love.” “Karthick, don’t take yourself too seriously.” “Karthick, at times, letting go can be as important as holding on.” “Karthick, there is fine difference between a pamphleteer and an academic.” “Karthick, understand the line between being and acting.” Have I grasped them all? I need you to tell me. But where are you?
I know that I could not push my intellectual horizons as much as you wished me to. I know that you were disappointed that I could never transcend the nationalist paradigm. You thought it was your failure. No Sir, it was mine. Maybe this is what I am meant to be, what I need to be. This might be our eternal disagreement. More than anything else, I would love to debate with you just to hear you prove me wrong. But where are you?
In our last conversation a few days back on gchat I told you “you were the best teacher I had. but I am still structurally unable to transcend the ‘alternative nationalism’ paradigm.”
You replied, “Get rid of the thesis. We will have a long long conversation. That is a promise. Bye, brother. :)”
I will be done with my thesis soon. I will come to Chennai soon. The glasses will be full again soon. There will be a long, long conversation soon. But where is your promise? Where are you?
Maybe you are still here. Maybe you always will be.
Friend. Comrade. Guide.