Wednesday, February 21, 2018
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The city of Chicago, situated in the state of Illinois, U.S.A., is known as “Windy City” and the state of Illinois is known as “The Land of Lincoln.” These names truly reflect their correct descriptions, since the city is constantly buffeted by high winds that sweep between skyscrapers, and the famous American president belonged to that state. 

I had occasion to visit Chicago a few years ago to visit my eldest brother, who was posted there as India’s Consul General. After getting over the inevitable jet lag and settling down to enjoy my two month long vacation, I realized that in the absence of a good guide, I was confined to the professionally conducted guided tours, since my brother and sister-in-law used to be at work, and my nieces were busy with their studies. That is when I met Bruce Kumar. My brother introduced me to him as a successful migrant businessman whom he considered would make an ideal companion for me, since he was about my age, was fond of music and literature, and basically a nice person. From my brother’s house in the suburb of River Forest, we drove to the neighbouring “Historic District” called Oak Park. I was informed that apart from other notables, Earnest Hemingway’s house was next to our destination. When we reached, I was awed by a noble old home made of

 fine oak, complete with a swimming pool, tennis courts and half a dozen garages which were stable to the finest cars available in the contemporary market. We met Bruce Kumar playing table tennis with a handsome, long-haired young man, whom he affectionately introduced as his friend Zakir Hussain, a tabla maestro.


Sometime in the seventies, two brothers named Sreenathan and Kumar left their native Bangalore and went to America to seek their fortune. They succeeded, and established a chain of hotels and restaurants in the land of opportunity. In true South Indian tradition, the names of many persons start with their place of birth and, before culminating in the actual name, include the names of their father and clan as well. Thus the person I am referring to was the proud possessor of the title Bangalore Ramanna Sundaram Kumar Chakravorthy. Perhaps to facilitate easy communication with the natives, the initials were considered sufficiently appropriate, and he was renamed Bruce Kumar.


After the initial introductions were over, Bruce made it a point to take time out from his own busy schedule to take me around. He patiently showed me that side of the country which is normally not included in packaged guided tours. We went to different parts of the country, from North Dakota to California, from New York to Indianapolis. I wanted to visit some old friends in Canada, and Bruce took time to accompany me there as well. The wonderful thing was that with a few exceptions, most of our journeys were done by road, in one of his many luxury cars. Bruce explained that while flying in aircraft was certainly a device to save time, but it deprived the visitor of imbibing the glorious countryside, and that the beauty of the ever changing landscape could never be appreciated from the skies.

My brother amusedly asked him once as to how he was managing to spare the time to take me all over the place, and he simply replied that he liked me, and that we had become good friends.

What impressed me most about Bruce was his simplicity. He was a wealthy man but never boasted about self achieved success. He had complete mastery over several languages including Spanish and French, and was fluent in Tamil, Telugu and Punjabi as well. He had no vices. He was a pure vegetarian and abjured the use of tobacco and alcohol.

He was fond of discussions on Philosophy, and I cherish the long and educative sessions I was treated to on the true understanding of the Vedas and other Indian texts.

Once I expressed the desire to purchase a good 35 mm. single lens reflex camera, as I had always prided myself on my prowess with photography, but had hitherto not been able to acquire something which I considered commensurate with my talents. After searching through myriad sales and visiting umpteen shops, Bruce asked me in benevolent exasperation whether there was really nothing that had taken my fancy. My truthful answer was that while I had considered owning the Asahi Pentax ME Super with great enthusiasm, the limited foreign exchange that I possessed put it beyond my reach. Not realizing the direction his thoughts would take, I was stunned, and overwhelmed, when the next day I received a parcel containing the camera in question, with a power winder, a zoom lens, and a dozen rolls of film. (This was before the advent of digital cameras). I now realize that Bruce wanted to avoid the embarrassment of my protests at this expensive gift and that is why

 he did not give it me in person. A note accompanied the package and it simply read, “Happy shooting, my friend, with best regards from Bruce.”

I still have that camera and have taken many good and satisfying photographs over the years with it.

Some years later, I was woken up early in the morning at our house in Allahabad with the message that some friend was at the door, but would not disclose his name. I opened the door to find Bruce Kumar grinning at me in that all familiar way. He said that he had come to India to visit his ailing father in Bangalore, and could not resist the temptation to surprise me. He had taken a flight to Delhi, caught a train from there to Allahabad, and taken a rickshaw to reach my place. The next few days were great fun, as I introduced him to my friends and took him around town. When he left after a week, all that he carried with him was a jar of Ganga Jal from Sangam, for his deeply religious family, and the warm affection of all those whom he had met during his stay here.

Over the years we kept in touch via telephone and e-mail, and he kept sending delightful jokes, of which he had a huge repertoire.

Some time ago, I got a message that Bruce Kumar, at the age of 54 years, was no more. He went to see off somebody at the airport, came home and while sipping a cup of tea, a blood vessel burst in his brain and he died. It takes time for such news to sink in, and perhaps with the efflux of time the deep sense of sadness I feel may lessen, but it will never go completely.

Farewell my friend. You had once said that in spite of the ubiquitous central heating, your fondness for fresh air and long walks takes you out of doors, and that, in spite of having spent so many years in Chicago, you still found the weather uncomfortably cold. Now you are beyond the reach of those chilly gusts of windy city that tormented you. More so since you are now in the warmth of the all pervading embrace of the Almighty, a place so richly deserved by people who live meaningfully in this temporal world.





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