K. G. Padmanabha Rao is a retired banker, with a heart struck by wanderlust. Having given up his career for travel, he reflects on how he let his career take a back seat for his wife’s, how he is his own brand of unique, and why he doesn’t regret anything. A father of a twenty-seven-year-old daughter and a nineteen-year-old son, he goes down memory lane as he bares his heart and soul.
It was the spring of 2007 when my wife first heard that she would have to move to Sriharikota. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) had promised to promote her to the post of an Officer. Sriharikota was 350 kilometres from where we lived and it would be a huge change for our family, but I advised her to make the transfer. I had no qualms about adjusting to daily life as a solo parent. The only concern I had was whether Jyothi would be able to adjust to the scorching temperatures of Sriharikota. But she did, and when she assured me that she had been given comfortable quarters to live in, my worries were put to rest.
For the next two years, we led an unconventional, oddball life, with Jyothi shuttling down to Bangalore every weekend, and me providing for the children during the week. At the time, I worked at Canara Bank and was eligible for a promotion if I opted to move to another city. And yet, I decided against it. We had just moved into our own, brand-new house and Jyothi was already managing long-distance motherhood. I didn’t want to unsettle our family any further. The neighbourhood that we lived in was secluded and devoid of much development. Ours was one of the only independent houses there. Our children, Deepthi and Venkatesh, were young and I decided that it was safer that I stayed behind. They needed one parent there for them. So, I let go of my promotion and let my wife take hers instead.
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Our routine was rather outlandish during those two years. Jyothi would board a bus every Friday night around 10 pm from Sriharikota, arriving in Bangalore by 4 in the morning. She would call me about an hour before she was expected to reach, and I would ply the car to the bus stop to ferry her home. Regardless of how burdened she was at work, she would abandon everything as dusk fell every Friday, to come home to her family.
She would spend the weekend with us in Bangalore, preparing special delicacies that we would freeze and consume over the next two days. It was her way of leaving a little something for us to remember her by while she was away. Jyothi’s little supply of deliciousness would dwindle by Tuesday night, after which I was on my own.
Between Tuesday and Friday, it was a one-man show. I would awake at 5 am, wash up, and then coax the children out of their slumber by 6. Sometimes, because my office was close to Deepthi’s college, I would drop her. And on the way home in the evenings, I would pick up treats for the children, a big paper bag of buns or bread or puffs. I think I became a veteran at rasam, rice and potato sambar during those two years. Venkatesh would often joke that my sambar turned out so well, that we could hawk it on street corners and make a quick buck. I was quick to quell his excitement.
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Deepthi and Venkatesh were my two pillars while Jyothi was away. Deepthi would help wash the vessels after our evening meals and tuck them away into the cupboards. Venkatesh, who was only ten at the time, was responsible for locking the front door every night, and he took his role as the chief doorman very seriously.
For a long time, my colleagues became my critics, badgering me for answers as to why I forewent a promotion in favour of my wife’s. But I was firm. I didn’t want to disappoint Jyothi. She was fiercely passionate about her career, and she deserved this so much.
I’ve always been considered a different brand of unique. When my son was little and there was no school nearby, I turned a part of my home into a preschool, inviting an excellent teacher in the vicinity to head it. I took no rent from her, and in return, she took Venkatesh under her wing, teaching him to read and write beautifully. I was, and always will be, very grateful to that teacher. A few years ago, I opted for voluntary retirement, choosing to travel and visit parts of the country I’d never seen before.
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I bookmark magazines for interesting stories of unexplored places and am a keen follower of travel documentaries. I travel by foot to Tirupati, covering a distance of 250 kilometres, every year. I’m the observer, while Jyothi is the go-getter.
Today, Jyothi heads a key project at the ISRO headquarters in Bangalore. She has made significant contributions to space research in India and has achieved whatever I couldn’t.
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I am enormously proud of her.