Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91

Vol. XXIX No. 4, June 1-15, 2019

Memories of a Grandparent

Vignesh Panchanatham is a student at Princeton University, a wannabe Chef and a fledgling sports journalist

For as long as I can remember, my grandfather called me Little Man. Muthu Aiyah took pride in all of my accomplishments, but particularly in chess. Every time I performed well in a tournament, he would always send me an email congratulating me and encouraging me to push for even higher titles. He was one of the most excited people when I became an International Master and the most disappointed when I decided that I wasn’t going to chase the Grandmaster title.

Aiyah always encouraged me to pursue the things I was passionate about and as my interests shifted to writing, I connected with him even more. Over the nineteen years of my life, he taught me many things, but his passion for writing and telling stories always resonated with me more than anything else. Through observing Aiyah writing, I gained my initial interest in journalism. As his oldest grandchild, I like to think that I have inherited a portion of his talent with the written word.

When I visited India at a younger age, I became absolutely fascinated with Aiyah’s handwriting. The notes that he took in the margins of the paper that he was editing were written in flowing blue ink. I couldn’t understand what was on the paper, but I was intrigued by the squiggles created by Aiyah’s fountain pen. That Christmas, wanting to emulate the author in the family, I asked for a full set of different colored fountain pens. Many stained fingers later, I gave up on them and took to other tools. But I learnt the value of carefully selecting and respecting the tools that I use.

Muthu Aiyah also always emphasized clarity and simplicity. Any time my brother or I would talk to him, he would tell us to enunciate our words and stop mumbling. He could never understand our “American accents” unless we articulated every syllable of the words that we were saying, so we had to repeat ourselves until our pronunciation met his satisfaction.

That carried over into writing as well. Whenever my mom would send Aiyah my articles, he would respond with a variant of praise, followed by some well-earned criticism. For one article, Aiyah complimented me, saying that I seemed to have inherited some of his sports writing genes, and then added “Try introducing a little color in your reports.” Some articles would garner harsher criticism then others, but Muthu Aiyah always advised clarity over all else. I was fortunate enough to gain his approval of the final article I wrote before he passed away.

“You are writing very competently in a straightforward fashion without being flashy,” Aiyah praised. “You tell a story well and that is all that matters. Don’t chase after brilliant writing. Writing is just a means of communication to get your picture of an event to another and needs to be simple and straightforward.”

Every time I am out reporting in the field or writing up an article on my computer, I will remember the man that first inspired me. I am honored that I was able to connect with my grandfather as both his grandchild and a fellow writer. I never would have become interested in being a journalist without Muthu Aiyah and for that I will always be grateful. I hope that one day I might be able to tell a story as well as he did.

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