You should write your memoirs. Detailed. Don’t delay the writing. Will contact.”
Prof. Omchery N. N. Pillai received this letter from S. Jayachandran Nair, Editor of Samakalika Malayalam, around 20 years ago. He had wanted him to pen down his memoirs as he felt his life and its varied experiences would serve as a lamp-post to many others.
The exhortation to write the memoirs came to fruition only in 2018 when Prof. Omchery’s Aakasmikam (Coincidence) in Malayalam was released through the gentle persuasion and support of his friend and “soul-mate” Dr V. P. Joy, IAS, who is also a poet and writer.
Now, the same memoirs have been translated into English and published under the title ‘It So Happened’ (Media House, Pages 372, Rs 595). The translator is senior journalist A. J. Philip, whom Prof. Omchery describes as a “’Savyasaachi’ whose “dexterity in handling both the languages with equal ease is amazing and has immensely benefited the Memoirs”.
Prof. Omchery would need no introduction to the Malayali community. However, even they would not know everything that he is. It is because his life spans decades, places, jobs and varied experiences. That life put in words makes a fascinating story. It is also awe-inspiring and motivating.
When you read the book, you learn how to lead a materially successful, emotionally satisfying and spiritually enriched life.
Names of some of the top-notch universities of the world like Michigan University, Pennsylvania University, Chicago University, Oxford University, Stanford University, where the Professor either learnt or taught or visited, roll off the pages like Montessori schools of an urban locality.
Yet, his early education was done with scholarship money at a small government school in a remote village in Kerala. The concept of
‘earning while learning’ was not prevalent at that time, but, it was his zealous determination to pursue higher education which his father could not afford, that he worked as a journalist to fund his higher education.
How many of us would have liked to attend religious discourses of Swamis when we were school-going children? He would attend religious discourses of Swami Aagamananda, MA, while he was still in Form IV! Why? Because, one, he was awed by Swamijis like Swami Vivekananda and Sri Ramakrishna, and two, because Swami Aagamananda’s name was followed by the two letters – M.A.
The Swamiji called him and spoke to him when he noticed him attending his discourse for the third year in a row. A child amongst lawyers and the like! That meeting set the course of his life.
Many readers must have heard of the playwright Vasanthalathika, B.A. It was Prof. Omchery’s pseudonym when he started writing plays. He used it to hide his identity as many of his plays were Communist in tone. “This Light is for You”, “Notice Needed”, were some very popular plays he wrote His oeuvre consists of nine full-length plays and more than 40 one-act plays spread over a period of six decades and different jobs while in Delhi alone. Two new plays are already being rehearsed in his mind, he writes.
After college, he passed the Union Public Service Commission examination and served the Government of India in various capacities. As he writes, he was always “called” for a job. He never had to sit and compete for it. What an achievement! On his part, he gave his best to the job to try not to disappoint the person who had reposed his confidence in him.
The leaning towards spirituality was natural for him. He has a life-long association with the Ramakrishna Ashram. The Swamijis and the Ashrams have come to his rescue at crucial times in his life.
An incident stands out. Prof. Omchery was in love with Leela Omchery, daughter of a wealthy man. Her family was against the alliance. He lost all hope and went to Sabarimala with his boss in a state of melancholy. Here, Providence played its role. At the same time, Leela’s horoscope had been sent to the priest of the temple for a reading.
The priest had become friendly with the melancholic Omchery. He came to know of their love-story and their despair. He studied her horoscope and his birth star, and declared that “this marriage alone will happen”. Recently, they celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary!
Prof. Omchery is a communication expert. His “Garibi Hatao” national campaign contributed to Smt. Indira Gandhi's return to power in 1971. He held several top-level posts in the government. His career-graph seems to have gone only vertically forward.
It is but once that he faced a hurdle when he came into conflict with the Government at the time of Emergency while serving as Deputy Chief Censor. He had to vacate the position. However, it did not hamper his career trajectory. He used his experience to write the highly-successful play Ulakuda Perumal.
Presently, in his nineties, he is at his office in Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan as its Principal from 11 am to 6 pm. He is also involved in the activities of the Kerala Club as its president. He is a Guru figure to the entire Malayali community.
The book is littered with references to several illustrious people. He formed associations with people such as Kerala’s present Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, MA Baby, O.N.V. Kurup, A. K. Gopalan, and many others.
Prof. Omchery has formed strong bonds not only with the high and mighty but also with people he met in daily life. It is evident in the many friendships that he fostered and maintained over decades.
Only someone like him can live with his family together with another friend and his family under the same roof for 25 years as a Joint Family! He helped varied people and turned around their fortunes. Yes, life has a way of returning to you what you give to it. For every Carl Safo or a Sreeja he helped, there was a Sadhu or a Swami Aagamananda who enriched his life.
A humanist, his contribution to society by introducing the concept of ‘Manav Seva Madhav Seva’ that encouraged people to donate money not only for the betterment of the Malayali temples in Delhi, but also for the welfare of the underprivileged for their educational and medical needs is exemplary.
Prof. Omchery gives credit to his life events, achievements, the innumerable Awards and recognition he has received mostly to Providence. This is because he is a truly humble person who does not know of his own genius.
Edison had said, “Genius is 1 per cent inspiration and 99 per cent perspiration.” Prof. Omchery possesses that 1 per cent. Many people expend their 99 per cent and more of perspiration. Yet, they do not progress. That inspiration was a mix of his formidable innate intelligence, his essential goodness and his spiritual compass. Together, this genius has been the quiet, invisible guiding light inside his own self that has illuminated his path ahead.
This English translation brings Prof. Omchery to the non-Malayali people too. The cover design is very sober. He may have “only a very small distance to travel” in his sunset years, but, he retains his “youthfulness” even now. Perhaps, a touch of colour in the background would have done more justice to the writer’s character.
A book’s cover should make a person want to pick up the book and flip through it. For people who are not familiar with the venerable writer as yet, the cover could have included some details/blurbs/campaigns like “Garibi Hatao”, to establish a connect and create curiosity to see what lies inside.
The book is printed in a large font which makes it easy to read. The language is simple and unobtrusive. It feels as if the essence of the book is transferred directly from the page to the reader without the word-carrier. The book deserves national readership because Prof. Omchery belongs not just to the Malayali community, but to the country.
(Archna Jain is an Information Analyst and writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Published on 8th April 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 15)