Let me start by saying that Sathavalli Govindarajulu Gopinath, or just Gopi to his friends all over the world, counts as being one of my oldest friends. He and I have been friends for many, many years now. Over 60 years to be precise. This clarification is necessary because once when I introduced someone as being my oldest friend, the person whom he was being introduced to said, ‘ Oldest friend? But he doesn’t look that old. In fact, you look older than him.”
Gopi joined The Lawrence School, Lovedale a year before I did. When I started there in the 3rd Standard in 1959, Gopi had already been there for a year having joined in the 2nd. Since we are talking about his book on his family, the story of how his Dad left him at the Prep School is still fresh in my mind. We studied together till we left School in 1967. He did his engineering at the famous old College of Engineering, Guindy, in Madras, following the footsteps of his father who studied there from 1941 to 1945. Gopi was the University topper, in 1973. He then went to the US to complete his MS from the University of California, Berkeley.
‘Reminiscence: A Journey Through Three Generations” is the history of his family.
Often people mix up the history of the family with family history. The two are not, I believe, interchangeable. “Family history” is more from the domain of medicine. ” Did one or both of your parents have diabetes?” ” Did your grandparents die due to heart ailments? ” are questions we are frequently asked as the doctor pieces together our family history to help her make a more accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.
In India, it is not so common but in the United States many undertake, as Gopi did, to chart the history of their families and write about the larger family in the form of a book. Gopi has written a comprehensive and interesting account of his family focussing on three generations, his father’s, his, and his son’s. Gopi’s book therefore is in three sections: the first about his parents; the second about his own journey and the third and last about his children.
This book is, I understand, for a restricted audience and hence is more like a coffee table book. It has been produced quite tastefully, printed in expensive glossy paper and is replete with photographs from family albums. How Gopi found the time and energy to put them together like this is quite amazing. I would imagine that writing the history of one’s family can be most demanding, and often rather risky. The writer throws himself or herself open to criticism from uncles, aunts, cousins and other relatives, close and distant. They demand to know why you wrote something about them or why you did not write something else about them! I am sure Gopi has faced his challengers boldly with the School motto, ” Never Give In” being an inspiring force.
This history of his family starts with his grandparents and the first part is largely about his parents. His father, Mr S P Govindarajulu, worked for all his working life in the Military Engineering Service. He rose to become the Chief Engineer before he retired in 1981. This part of the book will bring back many memories for all of us, as the incidents described are evocative of one’s own childhood. In those days families were much bigger and tended to be more close knit than they are today. In any case, Gopi’s father had a larger than life personality and was universally popular. His mother was the ideal support for the family and was a big influence in Gopi’s life.
I naturally found the second part most interesting because it is about my friend and the School we went to. I feel honored that Gopi has a picture of me in his book. I think I made the cut because I edited, “Glimpses Of A Glorious Past: An Informal History of The Lawrence School, Lovedale”. The school stories brought back many memories. Gopi has been very candid and describes incidents which many would have quietly skirted away from, like how bunking from School lost him the definite probability of becoming a House Prefect in our final year. The book then covers his professional career and his growing family, and their lives in different parts of the world.
The last part is the most touching, and I think the reason why he wrote the book. It is about his son, Venkat (S G Venkatraj) whose promising career sadly came an end when he passed away while working in the United States. The book moves into a different plane in this section. One can feel the agony of Gopi and Beena, his wife, as they try to come to terms with a devastating blow to their lives. The years go past, as they will, but some memories stay forever. His daughters – Rohini and Rukmini- have contributed too by sharing events from their perspective.
I praise the book, not just because Gopi is an old friend, but because it has clearly been for him a labour of love. That is reflected in the writing, the design, and the overall get up of the book. Successive generations can read about the family legacy, and about the stalwarts who shaped their family culture and values. Indeed, it is a precious gift he has crafted for his daughters, and his grandchildren. Well done, Gopi! Take a bow!!