Cherubala Pathayapura Kumara Menon (in short, CPK Menon), I can proudly say, is my father and a great man with an incredible sense of humor and a unique capability for instant repartee. On the day of his death on December 27, 2017, relatives and friends from far and near had only one thing to say about him – “He was such a good man! So humorous and so pleasant to interact with!” He loved to talk and connect with people young and old. But there is so much more to Dad than the pleasantries that people remember him by.
No matter how successful he was, Dad remained a very humble man. Even if it was not always possible, he always tried to understand the other person’s perspective. This could be because of setbacks that he encountered in his career and life. His partial loss of hearing made him aware early on that he needed to work harder than most to be successful. He never let his ego get the better of him. And he always did his utmost to make others feel comfortable in his presence, and not intimidated.
Whether it be at the office or his personal interactions, my father was honest to the core. He never took a single rupee/dollar that did not belong to him. And he was always very particular about keeping his accounts in order. When the ancestral property had to be divided amongst the extended family members, he was tasked with the responsibility because all his cousins and his siblings trusted him to do right by them. The respect people had for his honesty and integrity was tremendous.
His Legendary Humor
Dad was famous for his one-liners and instant comebacks. He loved to read and he would take mental notes of quotes from those books. He loved to joke and make people laugh. And people, in turn, loved to spend time with him so that they could forget their own troubles momentarily. His sense of humor was so infectious that even people who had only met him once still remembered him for his sharp wit. Dad loved to pull people’s legs and nobody was spared. Yes, he did antagonize some in the process, but for the most part, people understood that this was how he was and he never meant any harm.
Dad has always tried to be helpful to people in need. There are so many people who are so grateful for my Dad’s generosity and guidance in their time of need. He was always dependable and he ensured that the person who needed his support would get all the required help. He was also somebody who could relate to people of different generations because he always tried to move with the times. Whether it was a child or an adolescent, he would try to think and interact at their level so that they would feel comfortable immediately. Post Dad’s passing away, I hear personal accounts from people who have directly or indirectly benefited from his benevolence.
His Interpersonal Skills
He always tried to keep in touch, either by letters or by email, Facebook, WhatsApp, or any other means possible. He loved to connect and chat with everybody. Before social media entered his world, he used to write many letters even if he did not get a response from some of the recipients. After his death, I hear people talking about how well he used to write, especially condolence letters that sought to provide comfort to the recipient. Even when he lost his hearing completely, he encouraged his visitors to write their answers so that he could keep the conversations going. Of course, some of his visitors did find it cumbersome to write their responses and sometimes Dad felt hesitant to ask them to write their responses. After he became tech-savvy, he became an expert at connecting with near and dear ones through social media. A couple of days before his death, he had even posted Christmas & New Year greeting cards to everybody on his address list. It was a shock for many to hear of his death because they had received his card on the same day they heard this sad news.
There are so many other facets to my Dad that would probably take multiple pages to fill, but one thing is for certain. He was a good man and he will be remembered with a lot of fondness by many.
A Chronicle of His Life
Let’s start from the beginning (based on what my Dad has told me of his childhood – so it might be a little sketchy)…
Dad was born on September 17, 1935. He was the third child of the six children born to Rarath Govindan Nair and Muthumani Amma (nee Kunjulakshmi). He lost his father at the tender age of five while his parents and five other siblings were living in Bombay (or present-day Mumbai). Having no other choice, his mother moved back to her native place, Chittur near Palakkad, Kerala in 1940. Life was tough for my grandmother and her six children because she had to depend on the generosity and whims of one of her uncles, CP Karunakara Menon (referred to as Kannammaman by Dad), who also happened to be the last Diwan of the erstwhile princely state of Cochin. My grandmother along with her children and some of her sisters lived in the ancestral property that became their home for another 20 to 25 years. In spite of her suffering and troubles, my grandmother was adored for being one of the kindest and most helpful people in Chittur – many Chitturians still speak so highly of her and remember her generosity. I think my Dad inherited this trait from her.
Dad suffered a partial hearing loss during his adolescence. However, he did not let his partial hearing deter him from making something of himself because he could not stand his mother’s suffering and helplessness and wanted to get her out of the situation that she was in. After completing his high school in the Government High School in Chittur and then his degree at Victoria College in Palakkad, he decided to pursue Chartered Accountancy on the advice of his uncle, Kannammaman. He moved to erstwhile Madras (now Chennai) to prepare for his exam. His first attempt to clear the Chartered Accountancy exam led to failure and a renewed determination to be successful. And successful he was in his second attempt. After clearing CA, Dad started working in Madras, and some of the firms he worked with were Shaw Wallace and Varma & Varma.
During an interview with one firm when he was looking out for a job in Madras, the interviewer asked on seeing Dad’s hearing aid, “Are you deaf?” Dad immediately asked the interviewer back, “Are you blind?”
Around 1963, he moved to Delhi to work with Mohinder Puri & Co, where he met his mentor and eventually, his great friend, the Late Mr. Mohinder Puri. In May 1971, he brought his mother from Chittur to live with him and his two other brothers. Unfortunately, my grandmother did not get to spend too much time with her sons because she died of fever and breathing problems on November 4, 1971. Dad was shattered by her untimely death.
Clockwise: My grandmother, Dad holding me, Dad as a tourist in Delhi, Photos of Mom and Dad after their wedding
On September 6, 1972, my Dad married my Mom, TG Rajalakshmi, and I was born on August 12, 1973. Soon after I was born (in October 1973), my Dad got an opportunity to work in Liberia (a former US colony in Africa) through a job opening (with a company called Fairco) that had come through with the recommendation of the Late Mr. Mohinder Puri.
While working in Mohinder Puri & Co, Dad encountered an issue with a stinking restroom in office because nobody bothered to keep it clean after using it. Dad decided to put up a sign on the wall behind the toilet – “Our aim is to keep the toilet clean; your ‘aim’ would help too.”
When I was six months old, my Mom took me along and moved to Liberia. My Dad’s move to Liberia was a turning point in his career because he became quite successful and a highly-respected chartered accountant in those times. So much so, that a particular minister (Minister Neil) of the Government of Liberia heard of my Dad and offered him a position as the Comptroller of Accounts with the Water & Sewer Corporation of Liberia. Dad took up the government job and continued until the coup d’etat that started on April 12, 1980.
My memories of life after the coup are quite vivid. There was a dusk-to-dawn curfew those days. I remember Dad getting a visit one evening from some soldiers of the new regime because he was the Comptroller of Accounts of a government-run organization. They made him accompany them to his office and questioned him about the office keys. I remember them coming back and taking away my Dad’s official car. Those were dark days. Live images of firing squads (even Minister Neil was killed by the firing squad) and the uncertainty of what would follow next caused all of us to worry, even though I was only seven years old. Because of the high levels of stress, my Mom fell ill and had to be hospitalized. I remember Dad making food for my Mom every day and we would walk to the hospital so that he could drop me to be with my Mom at the hospital while he went to work. In the evening, he would again bring my Mom food and then take me back home. It wasn’t that the hospital did not provide food, but my Mom found it difficult to eat the hospital food.
When my Mom’s illness did not get cured, my Dad took a decision to move us back to Kerala. On the day of our departure, while we were at the airport, the public announcement system called out his name and he was informed by some security officers that he was not allowed to leave because he was a government employee. My Dad explained the urgency of the situation and promised to return after dropping my Mom and me in Kerala. For some reason, the soldiers were convinced with my Dad’s assurance and allowed my Dad to take my Mom and me back to Kerala. And true to his word, Dad returned to Liberia after settling us down at his sister’s house.
Then started one of the most traumatic events in my Dad’s life. After he returned to Liberia, he was put under house arrest because he was an expatriate working for the government. Of course, my Dad was very sure that he had not done anything wrong and he endured those tension-ridden days for a while. After an official investigation, they realized that my Dad was innocent and he was freed. However the experiences in Liberia prompted him to look for work in some other country, and that’s how he ended up in Zaire (currently the Democratic Republic of Congo) in 1981.
After Dad moved to Zaire to work in a company called Sozaplast, he got Mom and me to join him there. From this point, I have clear memories of the times we had spent. As always, Dad was very well-respected by all in the office, including his boss. All was good until one of the chartered accountants that he had helped recruit from India backstabbed him while my Dad was away on vacation. Things were so bad that somebody from office had canceled our return tickets back to Zaire. My dad, the unsuspecting and innocent person that he was, returned to Zaire to find out that he had unceremoniously lost his job without any explanation. This happened in August 1988. I still remember how sad Dad was about the betrayal of trust and I am not sure if he completely recovered from the shock of it.
Photos taken during different vacations
This was again a very traumatic period for all of us. Luckily for Dad, because of the goodness of his heart and his skills as a chartered accountant, he was able to find a job with another company and he continued there for a year until my 10th grade was complete. We moved to my school campus (I was studying in The American School of Kinshasa) because Dad no longer had a car and it would have been tough to commute from home to school. Our accommodation in the school campus was small, but we really had some fun times living there. During this time, the boss of Dad’s previous company realized his mistake in trusting the wrong person and tried to apologize for his actions. But Dad had been hurt so badly by these events that he refused to go back and work for him. After my 10th grade was complete, we all moved back to settle down in our own house in Thrissur, Kerala.
Photos of time spent with cousins, aunts, uncles, and grand aunts
Dad decided that he did not want to work anymore and hence started his retired life. His life in Kerala was relatively uneventful. He connected with his old friends from Chittur, some of whom lived in Thrissur. He continued to write letters and visit Chittur once in a while to revive old memories. He used to walk a lot to keep himself active and healthy (he was diabetic from the age of 40). Life was good for a long time until he became 100% deaf and he started having eyesight issues. After he lost his hearing completely, he stopped going for walks and slowly his health started to fail. He became frailer. And he started becoming depressed with life because he was no longer able to hear what people were saying in a gathering or when they visited him. Again, there was a turning point in his life when he was presented with a tab so that he could start chatting, emailing, and messaging friends and relatives. He learned and adapted to social media so quickly and so effectively that he managed to connect with a whole new set of people who were living around the world. He still continued to write letters to those who were ignorant of social media. And this he did until the day prior to his death.
One of his favorite quotes – “Fat men can’t stoop too low.” (He used to say this whenever he saw me!)
Even on the previous night before his sudden death, he had been chatting on Facebook messenger with some of my cousins and other people. And he was mentally alert until the last moment. He died peacefully surrounded by people he knew and knowing that he was being cared for. I don’t think he could have asked for a better way to go. He was 82 years old.
Dad, you will be missed sorely but your legacy, humor, and wise words will live on forever in the minds of those who loved you. Hopefully, we will meet again someday.
Love you and miss you…Lakshmy