I woke up my eyes still heavy with sleep each morning to my Dachshund Prince‘s relentless barking and tugging at my blanket and my Grandfather’s voice ringing out loud and clear in the silence, “Wake up Lazybones!”.  We set out before the break of dawn walking all the way to the end of the Tank bund of the beautiful Hussainsagar Lake from our house on Rashtrapathi Road in Secunderabad (formerly known as Kingsway) breathing in the fresh morning air until the point where it’s twin city, Hyderabad began. This routine continued for many years. Apart from the many interesting people we met and the political discussions in the middle of Tank Bund that innately influenced my decision to become a journalist, the ‘long walks’ gave me fascinating glimpses into the life of a man who had not merely succeeded in making a success of it but helped several others achieve their dreams. “Your Grandpa was not just a self-made man but a generous soul who helped at least 400 families in the city” I recall Shankar Melkote, a friend of the family, comedian and supporting actor who was with the Eenadu group where I began my career, telling me. Life was not easy for him. Growing up as the youngest son of a Vedic Scholar associated with a temple in Pithapuram, Gadepalli Jagannadham lost his father when he was very young, living with his brothers until he could make a living on his own. “I was given rice that had red ants in them. I carefully cleared the rice of the ants and ate with gratitude thankful that my brothers who had their own families to look after didn’t abandon me” he once told me during our walks. When he found monetary success and became part of the city’s elite, he showed his gratitude by taking care of all his relatives (both from his side and my grandmother’s) until he was betrayed by the very people he helped. Although most people who partook of his benevolence were the very ones who accused him of wrongdoing and character assassinated him, he held no bitterness against them. He had cycled and walked, slogging until the wee hours, working his way up to the top, in the Andhra Insurance company. His wealth and position earned him false friends and true enemies as in the case of every success story. He was also the city’s Deputy Mayor and helped several people in this capacity.

I can still recall his voice saying “Apavitra pavitro vasa” as he diligently recited his morning prayers. “Dam ta Dam… Dam ta Dam” he would hum as he laughingly entered the room where we grandchildren were seated with the tune very much becoming an announcement of his arrival. We four sisters sat on a mat on the floor and repeated shlokas from the Bhagavad Gita after him on most weekdays being let off only when we had unit tests and other exams. Not just the shlokas, we had to watch our words when we were around him. Whenever any of us used words perceived as hurtful or abusive, we were asked to gargle our mouths. Since this was too cumbersome, we automatically held back any hate words and Thathagaru as we and all our friends called him was a man known for his love, compassion and forgiving spirit. A nationalist to the core and idealist he had participated in the freedom struggle and belonged to the generation valued freedom. Receiving the freedom fighter’s pension from the government for him was the ultimate acknowledgement of his service to the nation.

We always saw him in spotless white khadi kurtas and dhotis. Once a year when he went to vote at the Secunderabad club, he sported a suit and tie. He had married my grandmother who was a child -widow inspired by the social reformer Kandukuri Veereshalingam’ who advocated widow re-marriage which was a revolutionary idea in the 1930s. Apparently, my grandmother had been married off at the tender age of 6 and became a widow two years later when she had not even left her parental home. She was at Veereshalingam’s Hitakarini Samajam where my grandfather saw and liked her. He and my grandmother were never invited to the “Kameshwari Pooja” that an orthodox section of his family conducted but he was never bothered by it. My grandmother was in frail health and had passed away when we were very young. Thathagaru had given up eating grapes for the rest of his life because she had craved to eat them before her death.

I remember the book “Life with Grandfather” that he gifted us mostly for the title and recently rediscovered the beautifully illustrated book with the little boy holding a crocodile on the cover with nostalgia. Children from different orphanages received monetary help from him and he addressed their concerns, cheered them and encouraged them to receive a proper education. We grandchildren also accompanied him by turns to “Aramghar” an old age home in Shivarampally where he was part of the management. He was greeted joyously by the inmates with whom he would spend considerable time.

Guided by Cheiro’s books on Palmistry coupled with intuitive powers he would often read palms accurately and many people visited our home to get their palms read. He read people’s palms out of interest always giving them hope and courage when they were distraught. Very often we sisters and our friends would stretch out our palms to him and he would say things that were reassuring and made us instantly feel better. Many people visited our home to meet and spend time with him always deriving strength and positivity in his company. The immense wealth he made and lost, the loved ones who left him, and the many beneficiaries who betrayed him, never embittered him. He saw life as a game where you win some and lose some. Playing fair and encouraging others to be the best version of themselves were cherished thoughts that mattered. Decades after losing him I still remember with gratitude the love, laughter and wisdom he brought into our lives and scores of others. October 14th his birthday, is indeed a day to remember that he lives on.