Remembering Ravinder Kumar
It is difficult for me to know what to say as I feel overwhelmed by the sadness of Ravinder's passing away and still shattered by the suddenness of it. He came for dinner together with some other friends the evening that he suffered a stroke. The evening began with the kind of thoughtful gesture one has always associated with him. He brought a bouquet of white gladioli - and then asked in a slightly diffident way, whether I had any objections to white flowers on social occasions. And I said the flowers were so lovely that of course they were acceptable. He smiled, and said that he was never clear about the precise meaning of rituals. When I think back on it, both his bringing flowers and asking if they were acceptable, was so much the Ravinder that one knew: he was concerned that he shouldn't transgress the sensitivities of other people.
The sadness that overwhelms me lies in the experience of seeing a friend, a good friend, just slip away. And our utter helplessness that evening in the face of this inevitability, no matter what we did to try and stem it.
We'll all remember Ravinder for many things. For me he was a person who had the ability to empathise with so many people. Each one's point of view had to be heard, perhaps accommodated and possibly refuted. But it was the hearing that was important, because in Ravinder's way of life, one did not dismiss people. Only the fraudulent were to be dismissed. I used to often marvel at his patience.
And then one remembers him as a scholar and a historian. What was so rare about him was that he combined the finest scholarship with the greatest sensitivity for other people. We all have some of this and some of that, but the combination of both in him was exceptional.
One forgets that he first took a degree in Chemistry and then
1 From the Condololence Meeting for Professor Ravinder Kumar held at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, 11 April 2001
Social Scientist, Vol. 29, Nos. 5 - 6, May-June 2001