January 12, 2020

The Man Who Dressed In White: A Life Worth Writing About - Part II

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Read Part I Here

The Man Who Dressed In White

“Nana, why do you always wear white clothes?” I asked with the energy and impatience of a 10-year-old in summer vacations. It amused me because, after all, white is not a color often associated with the profession of law. Dark coats with darker conscience, right?

He smiled while not breaking his stare at his files and did not answer. One or two of his clients, or fareek, as he called them, might have reacted with a muted laughter, but I was not going to pay any attention to them. His ignorance probably vexed me a little, but I let that go, for the time being.
Later that night, I asked my mother the same question and her answer surprised me more than the milky white clothes of my grandfather ever did.

Vakeel Saab, as Nana was called, both with respect and affection, by almost everyone outside of his immediate family, was born in a modest family. He was the oldest of the 4 sons and second of 6 children. His father got night blindness, when he was still in his thirties. Nana and his immediate younger brother, had to grow up before their time. Education was paramount but so was the sense of responsibility towards family. Their youth was spent juggling duties, personal ambitions and collective responsibilities. The folklore of people studying under candles and streetlights, in distant villages in the India of 1940s and ‘50s, to win over their circumstances with a smile and no complaints, was true here as well.

In all this, he could neither afford nor focus on his wardrobe choices. But it was still something to worry about, especially, because he was in a public profession. He chose white because he could repeat the same clothes without being noticed. The pretense and perception of well-being was significant, even then. In those days, my mother often recalled, my Nana probably had only 2 pairs of white clothes that he wore till he could.

The years of scarcity made way for a lifetime of prosperity for both the brothers. My Nana earned his Masters and Law degrees, and worked quite literally till he was conscious, while his brother went on to have an illustrious career in the US with a Doctorate in Chemistry and served as a professor at University of Florida. But the impact of those formative years remained, and both willingly followed a simple lifestyle.

The colors of the lives that followed, never overshadowed the White that had defined his roots. Men like him, truly deserve to be called, the Sons of Soil!

His white clothes were not only a reflection of his resolve and simplicity but also told the tales of a generation’s sacrifices and resolve in the face of adversities. It is them who built this nation. It is their values that we all take pride in calling “Indian family values”.

They sowed what we reap, and that is a lesson I never forget.


My grandfather passed away last year. Over the past year, my family and I, have talked in detail about his life and legacy. But the fundamental shortcoming of reminiscing and discussing one's legacy is that it starts from the point of them passing away. We tend to gravitate towards the world that they left behind more than the memories they created on the way!  Thus, the beautiful intricacies of their life often go unnoticed.

So, to honor his life, over the course of next few weeks, I would be posting short anecdotes signifying how I would like him to be remembered.

While these stories are personal and unique, I am sure they would resonate with a larger audience. The emotions, experiences and challenges of the Greatest Indian Generation inspire us all and we grew up listening to them. It is, therefore, my sincere hope that in the life of my grandfather, my readers would find the stories of the great patriarchs and matriarchs of their homes too.

Read Part I Here