Remembrance – Dr KP Karunakaran

My father Dr KP Karunakaran, Professor Of Political Science, died on the 8th of Feb 2005. After the cremation at Bangalore, we were advised by many of our well meaning friends on the critical need for many copies of his death certificate. My mother, my brother, my sister and I exchanged quiet yet amused glances. Why must we have death certificates? Our friends obviously didn’t know that he left behind no pension to transfer, no deposits in bank lockers, no houses, nor property to be bequeathed.

But he left behind treasures which few mortals could. What was this fine mans legacy? We remember him as a father who rarely, if ever, sermonized, advised or berated us. His singular characteristic was that he never criticized people. He faulted bad ideas, poor execution, poor thoughts and a lack of vision but rarely discussed people except the lives of great men; Gandhiji, Martin Luther King and Bernard Shaw being particular favorites. He rarely spoke of himself, his experiences, nor ever glorified his past. For a man who was a Fulbright scholar who went to an American University in his early twenties and to London to complete his Masters in Political Science – it was unusual that we heard almost nothing of his experiences from ‘abroad.’ The only references were his amusing tales of his wife who visited Oxford and returned to India preening to everyone about when she was at Oxford!

He retained an impish sense of humor – most of his stories were a creation of his imagination – my mother could not be faulted for vanity!

He had more than his share of human failings – he was so unbelievably forgetful that fellow absentminded professors would be put to shame in comparison! He has taken University lectures with shirts worn and buttoned inside out, eaten pumpkin from the fridge thinking it was a watermelon, entered the neighbors flat and sat in the drawing room mistaking it for our house - there are so many stories! His fondness for beer didn’t quite match his bank balance; his stubbornness to have his way surely exacerbated the health of my mother’s heart. He knew nothing of our school activities; he rarely remembered the class his three children were in. (His only interjection in our formal education was to put off the lights and insist that we sleep early and not study late!) He probably knew even less about our chosen careers. In fact, once he introduced me, an Army Officer from the Infantry, as an Artillery Officer to Mr. IK Gujral, the former Prime Minister of India!

The lessons flowed from the example of his life which we were so privileged to observe – there were rarely words spoken.

We learnt the meaning of egalitarian human values, the value of reading widely, and the lofty ideals that men must hold. Integrity and professional honesty to ones chosen profession and the passion one must devote to ones work, were lessons we, his children picked from him life.

Anger was unknown to him – envy and jealousy never figured in his dictionary – material wealth he never cared for, spiritualism never meant going to temples – he never ever did. A man who seemed eternally happy without a care in the world – his secret - to be less judgmental with few expectations from others - and never to covet material possessions.

His admiration for Gandhiji was a constant source of many childhood stories. When we were very young, he recounted how Gandhiji was asked just before his meeting in England with King George, on whether he would feel inadequately dressed in his loin cloth in front of the Emperor. We squealed with laughter when he told us that Gandhiji immediately replied, “ Not really, he shall be wearing enough for both of us!”The courage and determination of Gandhi was a constant source of admiration for my father, so too his humility, his unbelievable mass communication skills in an era without Radio or television, his fine sense of humor and his zest for life. We grew up admiring Gandhi when Gandhiji had become unfashionable. Today when I look back, I realize how much we as a nation, need to rediscover Gandhi. Our politicians attend corporate events, are happy to be felicitated with inane titles like Indian of the year, or minister of the year .. My fathers often spoke with great admiration of how Gandhiji, whose life’s mission was independence of India, quietly turned back on the Independence day celebrations on the 15th of Aug 1947 at Delhi and spent the night at Naokhali in West Bengal where he felt his presence was most needed to restore communal harmony.

His favorite Gandhiji quote was, “You must Be the change you want to be in the world” Our leaders today find to difficult to leave the comforts of the big city to live amongst their people – especially in the developing conflict zones of India; Naxal affected regions, areas of communal hostility or of farmer suicides. They seem to believe that sound bites on television will solve India’s problems!

When I chose to join the National Defence Academy to pursue a career in the military, ( I told my teacher father I wanted to ‘ do’ and not ‘talk’) he didn’t discourage me – he only said ‘make your profession your joy and hobby – you will never feel you are “working” in your life.’

After traveling the world, when he returned to Kerala for his final 13 years, I queried him on whether he missed intellectual company among the villagers in a remote north Malabar hamlet. He replied with a witty anecdote about the “Moothe Ashari” (senior Carpenter) who returned to his village in his old age to remake wooden spoons after designing and making many glorious houses in the city. The younger carpenters didn’t want him to work – but he pleaded with them to allow him the joy of doing what he started with - because that is all his ageing body could now do.

We know that he was unique – it was a rare honor to have been born his children and to have kept his company. One has been blessed for this rare privilege.


More by :  Col. Gopal Karunakaran

Top | Memoirs

Views: 3713      Comments: 16

Comment Dear Gopal,

your father wrote an article on Martin Luther King and Civil Disobedience for the IIC Quarterly Journal in 1976. We are re-publishing this article as part of the commemorative volumes of the IIC Q, in celebration of the Centre's Diamond Jubilee 2023 in March 2023.

May I request you for a one-line bionote (or about 25 words) for Dr. Karunakaran for the Contributor's page?

I'd be very grateful for a quick response.

best wishes,
Ritu Singh

23-Feb-2023 05:38 AM

Comment Gopal,

You have written a tremendous tribute to your father. We miss him.


Rajen Harshe and Geeta

Rajen Harshe
13-Aug-2022 09:31 AM

Comment Dear Sir ,
This note is really source of inspiration to human mankind.

Naresh Gangwar
15-Apr-2021 11:49 AM

Comment Really a great source of Inspiration.

Avaneesh Mishra
08-Apr-2021 13:57 PM

Comment Respected Sir,
Your father is a great source of inspiration. We need lot to learn from such a great personality. Thank you sir for sharing your motivation with us and giving us an opportunity to learn a lot from him.

Thanks and regards,
Poornima Gupta

Poornima Gupta
10-Oct-2020 01:39 AM

Comment He was a source of inspiration indeed. A lot to learn.I really found it motivating.

Shivangi Singh

Shivangi Singh
30-Sep-2020 13:39 PM

Comment It is no doubt , unimaginable to find a person with such beautiful soul easily. Sir , you have been the luckiest to have learnt a lot of things from him. I must say , these anecdotes are worth reading and learning from. Thank-you so much sir for letting me know about such an amazing personality.

Astha Rathoad
30-Sep-2020 13:31 PM

Comment Dear Sir,
I loved reading this. It's a great source of motivation. There is a lot to learn from your father. so inspiring ..

Thanks and Regards
Aayushi Bajpai

Aayushi Bajpai
29-Sep-2020 00:51 AM

Comment Dear Sir,

So much to learn from your father sir. I could feel the text and beautiful thoughts. I loved reading this, so inspirational....

Thanks and regards
Ajendra Kumar Neeraj

Ajendra Kumar Neeraj
27-Apr-2020 03:22 AM

Comment Nice tribute Sir. Want to become a parent like him

09-May-2016 08:40 AM

Comment Dear brother,

It's indeed an apt analyses on a political scientist from a son's perspective. A period when learned citizens and thinkers like him are sidelined for more than one reasons in India and especially in Keralam, such interventions seem to be of general importance.May be this is a homely chapter at a glance and enjoyable to close nucleus members. But I like to view it as sound blower and when fathers and mothers become public assets and of social value and "RAPIDLY HAVING BEEN out of syllabus", their legal heirs(without clarification of DC/LHC) should come forward with such scripts. Prof KPK's academic contributions and products should also have found a space in this memoir. Many a times , such excellence are gradually replaced in Keralam by second/third rate products and enjoyed as first class. The so called hypocrite malayalam media has enough hand in these. No help. But these acts are closely watched , atleast, by few. That is important.
Thanks for the patch

M P Ramesh

M P Ramesh
14-Jan-2016 05:04 AM

Comment Gopal sir
This is indeed a treat.There are some similarities with my father(He died on 8th Feb 2008!),he was absent minded and NEVER raised his voice ,he never sermonized or scolded us. He was a voracious reader and kept a diary.Loved reading the blog. I will write my father's memoirs and may be get it published by 2018(his 100th BDay)
Thanks for inspiring me

02-Jun-2015 03:15 AM

Comment Hi Gopal,
Where are you these days. If still in Singapore, give me a call right away at +65-96417330 or 83075318.
SD Muni

26-Sep-2013 01:41 AM

Comment Karuna sir, impressive and humerous. Loved reading this. Wish we could all get together sometime and have a drink. Cheers. Wishing you and the family a happy and prosperous new year

Naresh Subramanian
31-Dec-2012 12:54 PM

Comment Gopalamama,

It is really wonderful to see your blog. Specially this one.

I was trying to google 'Prof. K P Karunakaran' to find is there any documentation of his writing. I couldn't find any of his work, but found your blog.

If he was alive in the current blogging era, might have become a good blogger.

By the by is there any source or book for the collection of his literature?

With luv,

Anoop K T

Anoop KT
06-Sep-2012 14:41 PM

Comment A tribute indeed!

14-Dec-2011 05:01 AM

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