Tribute to Hanumantha Rao

With one look at the jacket, I am sure it will pull Singapore Ramesh Narasimhan (my distant relative) back by 18 years: January 5, 2004. That day, I presume NR presented this volume of double books of John Grisham to the late Ch. Hanumantha Rao, who departed for his heavenly abode a week before the Festival of Lights (Deepavali) this year.

In my short acquaintance with him since 2012, Sri Rao never ended conversations over the phone or in person without talking about NR and his sweet children, whom he met and spent time with during his Singapore visits. He was so attached to them.

I met him at two weddings of my nephews: Cousin Geetha-Srikanth’s eldest son Vijay in Chennai and again at another cousin Lalita-Balaji’s eldest son Sri Ram in Kurnool. We hit it off well like a Deepawali flowerpot. Or like rum and coke. Both of us were connoisseurs of books and booze. Nothing to shy about.

Most of our conversations always centered around English fiction — pulp and serious authors. He bought me a Kindle soon after the second meeting, loaded with his favorite English authors and mine, and ensured I paid him for the Kindle! Well, that was not the end. He sent the rarest edition of an Indian author — the book titled “From Volga to the Ganges” by Rahul Sankrutyayan in pdf format — sensing my love for highways and my authorship of books on Indian highways since 2011.

He paid the biggest compliment when he WhatsApped thus on my birthday in 2019: “…You are one of the best contemporary travel writers.”

Another trait we shared was our nomadic lifestyle. Most of the time, we travel. Rao was on lecture-cum-demo tour to groom an electric transmission cadre to power the nation. I was on the truck driver chase. I jovially told him once that every single pylon tower on the sides of India’s highways reminded me of him. His response: a hearty laugh.

My latest book, DRIVERNAMA, was published on September 17, 2022. I wrote to him four days later: “My fourth book is just out. Share your postal address with the pin code to send a physical copy. Regards.”

There was no response. None told me of Rao’s long hospitalization in Hyderabad for various health issues. Nonetheless, Sankari, Rao’s spouse and related to me on my maternal side, confessed that he did talk about the book release and regretted that he could not respond.

On the recent visit to Rao’s Secunderabad residence to convey my condolence, Sankari escorts me to his chamber on the first floor. Yes, books decorate one side — wall to wall. On the ground floor, too, there are books that received the warmth of Rao, who is no more. A bibliophile, indeed, he was.

Sankari adds that Rao’s bonhomie with me and Srikanth (the late Geeta’s husband) was on an intellectual level. We three hit it off well, thanks to our book-loving NDA.

“I don’t know what I am going to do with these books. Take whatever you want,” persuades the retired school teacher before I bid goodbye. I would have hired a truck to cart them to my home in Greater Noida. Decency prevents such gluttony. I pick one thick volume of John Grisham’s containing The Pelican Brief and Time To Kill. I had read both in 1992, soon after landing in Delhi after an 11-year Mumbai stint. For a couple o weeks, I ran Grisham Book Club due to my huge collection of his works then. I was a crazy Grisham Fan.

Sankari is flummoxed. Just one book? Are you sure? She is asking. I nod and ask her to autograph the book. She does. That’s when I noticed Ramesh Narasimhan gifted this book to his uncle with a scrawl.

From one Ramesh in Singapore to another Ramesh in Greater Noida via one Rao!

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