Vinay Kumar Handoo - Tributes

Vinay Kumar Handoo
by Arvind Gigoo

1968, Srinagar, Kashmir

I am at the place of my friend, Ashok Vaishnavi. A tall young man comes and starts talking about this and that.

Ashok: “……. and this is Vinay Handoo.”


“What are you reading these days?”

“The Thief’s Journal by Jean-Genet.”

“I see. And you?”

“The Ginger Man.”

I am studying in the Kashmir University. I have seen this man. Now he is a grown up man like me. He smokes cigarettes one after another. He takes cups and cups of coffee. He is strangely and threateningly a chimney.


“Come to my place. I will offer you Chivas Regal……”

Handoo doesn’t drink himself but he offers to all.


Suddenly he starts talking about the musicians of the West….Beethoven….Bach…..Mozart…..Brahams…..Wagner…..Rodrigo….Amadeus…..and the conductors…..Karajan…..Dudamel….Colin Davis. He lists them in quick succession.

“What about Zubin Mehta?”


Handoo has many CDs of classical western music. He displays them with pride. R K Aima, P L Trisal and I are in his room. Suddenly he plays one and asks me: “Can you identify.”

“This is the signature tune of Dr. Zhivago?”

“You b… do you know?”

Handoo is in the habit of putting his colleagues to test. He is an excellent talker. A splendid conversationalist! And domineering too! He is a regular buyer of books and journals. He is passionate about photography. He has a very good camera. He is full of love and affection and innocence! There is a lovely child in him. Handoo was always anti-establishment.

In Kashmir the India Coffee House was his favourite haunt. In Jammu it was the KC Residency. He used to come to my place, smoke five or six cigarettes in an hour and treat me to coffee in the KC Residency. He was not fond of eating.

He is knowledgeable and displays his knowledge. He is an egoist. One day I tell him, “Handoo, you have inflated ego.”

He laughs and says loudly: “I am the ego.”

Handoo is a very well-read man. His memory is phenomenal. He remembers the minutest details that happened during the two world wars. He details the happenings during the holocaust. He remembers the names and the personal histories of the Nazi army generals. He is very good at world history and western philosophy.

On Wednesday, the twelfth of July Prof Sohan Lal tells me on phone: “Handoo is no more…..he passed away.”

On Thursday, the thirteenth of July, faggots cover Handoo at the Shakti Nagar crematorium. And then he is the smoke and the fire and the flames. All professors are there……..sad and dejected and silent.

A close friend’s death is a shock of great magnitude.

Prof. Jayajawanti Parimu writes: “Prof. Handoo’s generosity has remained a debt with me. How shall I repay it? Only time knows. Last he sighted me on road…..stopped his car and drove me to Talab Tilloo. Great man, simple, straightforward and brilliant! I liked him like crazy……a lot. He also held me in great regard which I don’t want to boast about.”

Meem Hai Zaffar: “Handoo was a part of my being.” , Rattan Kaul: “……an enlightened intellectual…..gifted with a rare trait of goodness to the core.” Prof. Satish Raina: “A great teacher and an affectionate human being.” Prof. Surinder Tiku, and Prof. Surrinder Sapru are devastated.

“Siddhartha, Prof. Handoo is dead. He left us all yesterday.”

Daughter Henna gets a shock. Handoo was close even to her.

My son Siddhartha Gigoo and Prof. Handoo were close. They used to talk about literature, art, music and films. Siddhartha is a trained flautist. He got a shock and, after some time, wrote to me: “What a fine human being he was! He was straight out of a Dostoevsky novel. Erudite, eccentric and flippant! I remember him talking in the Coffee House in Srinagar and in the Degree College at Udhampur. His topics were varied. A mosaic every time! His knowledge of Physics was astounding. I was more interested in literature, but I knew that he made eminent sense. His death signifies the end of an era of good teaching. There was a strange mysticism in his lectures on Physics and Cosmology. Maybe, that is the purpose of teaching… discover connections among things. I will miss him.

“There is no death. There is only transition, giving up ones energy, merging into some other object, a particle, an atom, a neutron, a black hole or star dust. That energy will never die. It will give birth to new energies.

“Prof. Handoo was Zorba the Physicist.”

Zorba the Greek of Nikos Kazantzakis was one of his favourite novels. He often talked about it and quoted sentences from it. “Men like me ought to live for ten thousand years.”

“I like Degas. He painted dancers. Michelangelo…Raphael……Leonardo da Vinci…..Monet……Modigliani…..Turner…….Vincent van Gogh….Sunflowers, The Starry Sky…..”


Handoo is very ill. He tells his wife: “I want to die under the chinar tree.”

I visit him many a time. He is extremely weak. Bones. Like a skeleton. He can’t talk because his sound box has been removed. He writes on pieces of paper which read: “Say something. I have no problem in hearing.”

“Waiting for Godot for the last two months. It is a criminal act on His part.”

“If it is possible for sense to exist then by negation non-sense has a logical reason to exist.”

“Do not aspire immortality but try to exhaust the limits of the possible.”

“I am not afraid of death.”

“I was dead for a billion years before I was born.”

“The other day a strange thing happened. Out of the blue Veena and her husband Mr. Mattoo dropped in. Although they were very nice Veena wept bitterly on seeing my condition. I was moved.”

Those pieces of paper are in my possession. Relics!

I write on a sheet of paper: “We all love you. You are a fine man. Certain things lose their beauty and meaning when spoken. Silence is all.”

I am pained to see his arms and face……His wife (who was my student at the Degree College in Udhampur) is there. I ask her: “Does the doctor say anything?” She shakes her head. I see acute agony in her eyes.

Srinagar One day in the winter of 1980/81/82

“Handoo, your overcoat looks like the Great Coat of Gogol or the one worn by a German army officer.”

“Ha ha ha.”

And Handoo names the German army generals, the aides of Hitler and gives the details of the conspiracies hatched by some generals to kill Hitler.

One day.

“You constructed a very big house which has a big lawn. Why?”

“This is what a big mind makes you do.”

“You had a car. Why did you buy another?”

“Sit in this car. We will have coffee. I play chess with Zadoo and Girdhari and other friends.”

I think: “I am very good at chess but I don’t play now.”

Year (19…..?)

Door Darshan Kendra, Srinagar

Recording of a Quiz Programme. Producer: Ashok Vaishnavi

Handoo is a panelist. His performance is superb.

I am staying in the flat of my friend Ashok Vaishnavi at Ghaziabad. He is a very well-read man. He has a lot of books in his flat. I talk about Vinay Handoo. Ashok doesn’t respond. I again name Handoo. Ashok changes the topic. They were very close friends. I understand the nuance of human relationship.

Clash of the Titans!

Ashok passed away first. And now Handoo is gone.

The Titan hurried “into the world of light.”