A young man was seated across a beautiful lady at a tea party. In a rather ungallant move, Mr. Casanova slipped his leg under the table and tried to nudge the woman’s foot. Even after three attempts, there was no reaction. As the guests were leaving the party, the father of the damsel patted the youngster on his shoulder and quipped: “the idea is fine but the leg was mine!” This was one of the many anecdotes from Prof. D.P.Venugopalan’s repertoire that served to drive home a point in his lectures, the present one on the impulsive decision of Mohamand Bin Tuglaq to shift the capital from Delhi to Daulatabad.
Much before Navjot Sidhu descended on the scene with his smart-alec commentary, we were treated to the most engaging Venu-isms! There was no dearth of punchlines – like his labelling of Humayun as a “warrior and a worrier”. In his stentorian voice, Prof Venu set the stage ablaze and mesmerised the class with his lectures, quibbling with words and rattling off facts without even a chit in his hand. Even the least studious student would seldom ever entertain the thought of missing his classes.
When my batchmates shared the news of his passing recently, I was heart-broken. As were thousands of other mentees of his. Despite his no-nonsense approach, he was a darling of his students. Because he knew everyone of us by name, sometimes even by our nicknames. Because he never played favourites. Because everyone, whether affluent or impoverished, accomplished or mediocre, was equal in his eyes. Because he could crack the whip and also crack a joke. A confidant, an elder brother (never a big brother!) a friend and a father figure all rolled into one, Prof Venu played a key role in our transition from boys to ‘Men For Others’, in sync with the Jesuit motto.
His charisma was not limited to the History Department, where he shattered to smithereens the notion that it was a boring subject with his electrifying lectures. It was History with histrionics! Students from almost every discipline in Loyola College still exclaim “What a man!”
Politics is not uncommon in academia. The History Department in Loyola, at least during my three year stint, was no one’s personal fiefdom but quite like a peaceful family, with Prof Venu playing his part – a unifying influence.
On a personal note, Prof Venu gave me what I needed the most during my formative years – recognition. I’ll say that again, RECOGNITION. As I plunged into journalism – starting and editing a Students’ magazine – Loyola Herald and debating, finally going on to head the Loyola Debating Society, I can never forget how he always had an encouraging word, how he would share feedback on my articles in the college magazine and in the Indian Express, how he would attend some of my debates in the J.D.Hall or Bertram Hall and give me a thumbs up. And whenever I lost a competition, he would quote Nelson Mandela “You either win or you learn.”
The image of Prof. Venu sitting in the front row at my wedding reception will be my lasting and precious memory. I deeply regret not keeping in regular touch with him, over the years. Truth be told, I often thought of him while dashing past Loyola and quite inexplicably (and inexcusably) kept putting off a visit to his humble Bhajana Koil home in Choolaimedu, where he would always play the perfect host. A man of high thinking and simple living, Prof Venu did not own a vehicle and used to march to the college everyday, in military style.
At a simple but dignified online memorial service, his old students – a battery of top bureaucrats, senior journalists, businessmen and erudite academicians heaped well deserved encomiums on a man they loved and admired. For “reasonable reasons”, as he would often say.
Prof Venu has met his Maker (to borrow another of his expressions) but the legend lives on. And his light is still shining.
(Sanjay Pinto is an Advocate practising at the Madras High Court, Columnist, Author, Former Resident Editor of NDTV 24×7 and a student of Late Prof.D.P. Venugopalan at Loyola College)