A Tribute To Raja

Author: Rekha Simha

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“Live your life, so at the end, you are the one who is smiling and everyone else is crying”. I was reminded of this quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson when I saw Raja Reddy lay lifeless in the glass casket. Raja’s face was calm and smiling – the way he would make people feel after interacting with him. Hundreds of people came to bid goodbye to him - Only this time, there was no one with a smile or dry eyes.

Raja had been a positive influence and touched hundreds of lives as a Counselor. He was an Engineer by profession, but took up counselling in later part of his life. I met Raja for the first time when I was debating whether to sign-up for a counseling course, where he was one of the faculty members. There was a long wait as there was a constant stream of visitors. Finally, I had my chance to meet him: Normally I would have stormed out in frustration, but his unique smile and sense of calmness had soothing effect on me. I spoke to him briefly and eventually enrolled for the diploma. Over the course of next two years, I got to know Raja as an instructor, mentor, guide, counselor, above all as a genuine human being and an unsung hero!

He hailed from a family with agricultural background from Andhra Pradesh and did his early schooling in Telugu medium. During his early days, he was humiliated for lack of English knowledge. However, he took it up as a challenge and learnt English. He studied Engineering and later went to Netherlands and completed his Post Graduation in Engineering. After satisfying his urge and passion for the Engineering, he turned to human relationships for a more gratifying experience. He decided to become a Counselor....His decision rolled up many eyes. Here is a man wanting to do something so different coming from a community (Reddy) that is well known for real estate. Understanding emotions and concept of free certainly does not add up in a competitive real estate world. Nevertheless, Raja fought his battles to pursue his interest. He not only won a battle for himself but also helped several people win their own personal battles. Infact the counselling academy where I had enrolled for classes was an extension of his house.

Raja was not a person who would make that everlasting first impression or was a stereotype ‘hero’ personality. If anything, he was just the opposite. You would never know his existence, nor would he ever make his presence felt. The counselling academy would organize a monthly seminar that was open to all in a public auditorium. Raja would come in early, welcome people with his warm smile and sit in the last row. Once the seminar was over he would quietly walk away and let audience mingle with the speaker or amongst themselves. At times when he could not make it to these seminars, (which was quite rare) there would be a sense that something was amiss. Though an outsider would never know Raja was the soul of the Academy, his absence would certainly be felt. Like a Peepul tree, he was very pious, sturdy and well grounded. His heart was a big as the tree that over flowed with empathy.

In counseling and almost everywhere else, we come across a wide spectrum of people with several challenges- be it personal, medical, emotional or whatever it may be. It is easy for most of us to label them as “abnormal” and worst case pretend we don’t know them. Raja would do just the opposite - he would never label a person because of their situation or their condition. Instead would give more attention and ensured they felt normal and safe. He was a man of unbound compassion and the most non-judgmental person I have met in my life. It felt as though he had time and undivided attention for everyone. Anyone I came across felt Raja is easy to talk to and it seemed like their problems mitigated if they just reach out to him. He told once besides child abusers, he would sympathize with anyone liars, thieves or even people who can hurt him.

Raja would hardly talk or advice. He would listen - listen with the best interests of the person in his heart. His style was non-directive counselling. He would never come up with the solution for someone else’s problem. Instead, he would listen and empower people to come up with their own options and make a decision. This style of counselling is time consuming and challenging. But, Raja never took short cuts on anything, let alone with people’s lives and emotions.

Occasionally, I would talk to Raja on several non-counselling topics such as the quality of students, social media or a book and he was open to any discussion. He would even empower and provide support to take up an initiative. However, one thing I never did was to talk about myself - my fears, problems and pain. I wanted to....

... One day I sat down with Raja. After we exchanged pleasantries, I was quiet. He respected my silence and waited for me to speak. It was not an awkward silence, but a comforting one. Tears just rolled down my eyes. He waited for almost 10 minutes until I composed myself. Finally, I spoke - all I could tell him was “Raja you remind me so much of my grandfather with whom I had a special connection. He was a gem of a person like you and felt people’s pain and success from the bottom of his heart”. He smiled and asked, “was he bald like me?”, I nodded. We both laughed and he said “that’s the reason why you connect us”. He had a unique way of making people comfortable with him and we had a lengthy conversation. Though I never shared what I wanted, I left the place with reassurance that Raja was there for me whenever I needed (just like everyone else).

Raja was a man of commitment – practiced what he preached. As an editor of a newsletter “Live Well and Leave Well”, he would publish articles on how to live a meaningful life, to things to do while dying (financial planning etc) and after death procedures (organ and body donation). Most of us would feel elated for the ‘kind thoughts’ we had and would feel good for being ‘great citizens’. But, Raja did not stop there. As Mother Theresa said ‘Intense love does not measure, it gives’, Raja continued to give all he had...including his body. He had been talking to his family members for over 5 years to get them agreed on his wish to donate his body. Not all of them were comfortable with this idea, but he did not give up. He spent time explaining his wishes while ensuring they were comfortable.

Finally, when his heart was overwhelmed with burden of others (or putting it the other way, when Angels wanted to share their burden), he suffered a cardiac arrest. He remained as cheerful in his death as he lived his life – spreading love to his family, friends, students and just about anyone else. His family respected his wishes and donated his body to research.

Raja made a difference to world while taking care of his passion and people he loved. Infact his definition of happiness was “Peace within yourself and harmony with others “. While many of us struggle to define happiness that we all want, he was able to articulate it and live it to the fullest. Raja Reddy is not with us today, but his legend will live forever....

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