A Letter to My Son, Chris

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Recently, you told me about a new lady who joined your laboratory and how, being from India, she is familiar with the works of Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913. This triggered a memory in me, a recollection in connection with my best childhood friend, Robi Paul Richard.

My mother befriended Robi’s grandparents, Fritz and Frida Richard, when they were actors performing in the play “Jedermann” by Hugo von Hofmannsthal in the annual Salzburg Festival and bought a house in the neighbourhood. It must have been after the war, probably in 1946, that I visited them with my mother, but years before, the Richards were affiliated with a theater in Berlin with the director Max Reinhardt. In the late 1920s, Reinhardt staged a production of Tagore’s “The Post Office”, in which Trude Richard, the youngest daughter, played a leading role. Tagore himself came to see his play.02

I must imagine that in the magical aura of the play itself, and with the allure of the exotic Tagore and his entourage of Indian men, Trude became enchanted and, hence, romantically involved. In 1927, she gave birth to an obviously Indian boy. One of Tagore’s traveling companions came forward to claim responsibility for siring the boy, and Tagore (then aged 65) agreed to be the boy’s godfather. As you have probably guessed, the boy was named Robi Richard.

It occurred to me only today that Tagore’s name in the Bengali pronunciation is “Robindronat”. Perhaps, as a child, he was also given the affectionate diminutive of “Robi”! Hmmm.

When Robi Richard immigrated to the USA, he changed his Hindu name to “Paul”. Nevertheless, when he arrived in the States, he was listed on the roster as “coloured”. Trude, who could not live without her son, followed him to New York within the year. Then Robi, along with an old classmate from Vienna, Ivan Illich, enticed me to come to America, as well. Because it would have meant a wait of seven years for me to obtain a US immigration visa, my friends suggested that I make the passage to Canada instead. I agreed, and after pawning his valuable microscope, Robi advanced the necessary funds for me to do so and I arrived in Montreal with you and your mother in 1953.

Years later, Robi suffered a brain tumor and passed away. His mother, Trude, had already been cremated for some time. Robi’s wife called me to come to New York to collect Trude’s ashes, (along with the ashes of her cat), saying that the alternative was for them to be flushed down the toilet. Your mother and I drove down, picked up the ashes, then years later deposited them, according to Trude’s wishes, in her parents’ grave in the cemetery in Aigen, a suburb of Salzburg. You, Chris, faced a similar task with your mother’s ashes, and will face it again when my time comes.

There are so many examples I can think of in my life that prove to me that all is a matter of destiny. Nothing happens naturally or by chance. Everything that happens, happens through some guiding, spiritual cause and effect. I would now advise anyone to become mindful of the spiritual intervention around us and treat it with reverence, as I have learned to do. Particularly, I have come to learn that women have been undervalued, have not been recognized as the most vital part of humanity, and it will only be through them that an advancement to a universal peace will be possible, an advancement which male dominance has failed to achieve since time immemorial.

Your Dad

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