Memories and Musings

My memories which have remained with me over so many years, coloured with my thoughts, and tempered by my experiences.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

ANNAJI - Babuji's father

ANNAJI AND AMMAJI - Babuji's parents

Annaji was born in 1894 in Trichur and he grew up in a joint family along with his five brothers (he lost one brother in his teens) and three sisters. It was a close knit family.

When Annaji’s father died – the father was an advocate who started his practice with a single rupee as his fees – he left for each one of his five sons a house, and a big one at that, an agricultural plot of land and a lump sum of Rs 10,000 at the bank. And this shows how good he was in his job.

When Annaji’s father died, the elder two sons had already finished their studies, and married too, and his three sisters married off. Annaji had finished his school and just started college. As there was no whiphand and no dearth of money, he did not pay much attention to his studies. His own words to my father when they met for the first time – just before my marriage – “Oh, I have studied a lot. I have appeared for the FA (Intermediate) eight times. Even then I did not get a certificate.” My father enjoyed the joke, and the honesty behind it.

Since Annaji had not completed his education he started a cloth business and was doing very well with that. So did his younger brother. He also started a cloth shop and was prospering, like Annaji. His youngest brother finished his MBBS and settled in Madras to practice. Annaji’s older brother studied law and was practising in Trichur itself. The eldest brother moved over to Calcutta with his family and settled there in the early 40s.

For the first few years, Annaji’s business was doing very well. Then came disaster, in the form of the Mappilai Riots, between Muslims and Christians. As usual as in any riot there was arson and looting, not to mention murder. Annaji’s cloth shop, located between two Christian shops, was burnt down, along with those two shops and Annaji was not able to salvage anything.

That was the year – 1920 -- Babuji was born, the second child. The eldest was a girl, the only daughter.

Now a few words about Ammaji, Babuji’s mother. She was one of five children. Ammaji was barely four years when lost her mother. Ammaji had two brothers and two sisters. After her mother died, her grandmother, maternal, took the responsibility of bringing up Ammaji and her two sisters for a few years. Though this kind old lady had no income, she brought up the three girls with affection and love, and with the help of friendly and kind neighbours she was able to feed and clothe them.

Ammaji’s father was a schoolteacher. Ammaji and her sisters also attended school but in those days not much importance was given to the education of girls. It was considered enough if the girls could count up to 100, a little addition and subtraction and, also to read and write their mother tongue. And the girls were initiated into the art of singing – vocal – and those who could afford it, some – any – instrumental playing. This was considered a plus point in the marriage market. And the girls were married off very early. Ammaji was only 13 when she got married to Annaji, who was 19. In today’s thinking, both boys and girls of that age group are named teenagers and are considered to be too young to take on any responsibility.

Coming back to Annaji-Ammaji, their first child was born in 1918 and next came Babuji, in 1920. For the first few years of his life – till Babuji was five or six – things were not so bad for Annaji even though he lost his shop and business. He started another shop by selling off the land. When that also did not do well, he started selling his possessions one by one to make his business go forward. But nothing happened. Everything turned out to be a failure.

As a last resort, Annaji started selling Ammaji’s ornaments, all solid gold. And what a lot she had, covering her from head to toe. You name it, she had it. Only her anklets and toe-rings were made of silver, for, women belonging to royal families alone could wear gold on their feet. That was strictly followed in the olden days. Nowadays, everyone is a king of his own house and can do whatever one wants to do. In fact, if fate was not this much unkind to Annaji you – I mean his (great) grandchildren – would be having some of his ornaments.

Coming back to Annaji, it seemed as if Lady Luck had completely washed her hands of Annaji: whatever he touched (unlike King Midas) turned to dust. So, by 1930 or so, having lost everything he owned, he was a poor man, nothing to call his own other than his family – wife, a daughter and three sons. But he did not lose his sense of dignity or responsibility. He swallowed all his pride for the sake of his family and started working in a bank as a mere clerk for Rs 25 a month. With great difficulty he married off his daughter and educated his sons.

As a man Annaji had a great sense of humour. And he was not afraid of anything or anybody. It was the other way around. Not only his family but outsiders were afraid of “Kittan”, as Annaji was known to his friends. For Annaji was honest in everything he did and to everybody, and he could be very blunt in expressing his views. As a young bride, I had been at the receiving end of his jokes. Once, while he was serving food in a marriage feast, someone asked for a pappadum that was not over-fried nor over-puffed nor over-oily. Annaji asked him to wait for a second, went outside and got a raw pappadum for him.

With Ammaji also he was like this. And Ammaji, poor soul, was never able to take it in her stride and give it back to him. She was a very timid person, not able to talk back to anybody, leave alone her husband. Once when Annaji was more harsh with her than usual, she threatened him that she would jump into the well and drown herself. Annaji simply nodded his head and went on doing what he was doing. Ammaji did jump into the well but since she was a good swimmer she simply could not drown – that is why Annaji was so cool and calm -- and was inside the well till the servants helped her to climb out.

In spite of all this, they were really devoted to each other and enjoyed doing things together, like Annaji cutting vegetables and Ammaji cooking.

Annaji was also a believer in Mahatma Gandhi and the Congress party. Once when Gandhi was in Trichur collecting funds for the Congress, can you guess what he did? He gave the gold ring he had on his hand and also made Ammaji give her last pair of gold bangles. He always did what he thought was the right and correct thing to do. And he was never sorry for the life he led. He never once looked back and became morose or angry. He took life as it came and was dignified to the last


  • At 8:01 AM, Anonymous raji said…

    Maiji, you have done it again!
    Interesting reading, and insights into the characters. I always remember Annaji's Motor Car Puthisu joke

  • At 3:23 AM, Blogger Gardenia said…

    Thank you for filling in the gaps in my memory and for recording all this for your great grandchildren.
    Wonder if Annaji knew that his eldest daughter in law is a wordsmith of some standing!??

  • At 1:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    The people I am most curious about, and who I will never have the privilege of meeting, are my beloved Appa's Amma's parents - Arulappan Thatha and his wife Arulappan Patti.

    They had about 13 children in all, of whom 11 survived. Their eldest daughter was my (Mylapore) Kamala Patti - she was very fond of them; and her Appa ( Arulappan Thatha) was obviosuly very proud of, and close to, his eldest daughter. She studied very well and was my beloved, world's best, Patti.

    I really want to ask my Great-Grand Patti how it was to always be pregnant...! Whether she wanted to have so many children; was she too exhausted to really care aftee the 4th, 5th child was born, oh - SO many questions that I, a post-modern MBA puddichified ponnu want to ask her!

    I have just two pictures of her, when she was just married; apparently she was bent over in her old age from the calcium deprivation that follows so many childbirths. I want her - and my Great Grand Thatha, to know that I would never ever allow the missionaries who worked their insidious business on them ( either they, or their ancestors, were converted to Christianity, a fact that makes me hopping mad today!). I would love to know their reactions to their Great-Grand pethi ( moi!) using the Internet and ticking off the foreigners who come into India today with agendas of "we're doing charity" but actually spreading their own religious/social norms...!

    Your blog - great store of memories for your family, but also for me as I imagine my own ancestors lives :) - is such a treasure, Maiji! It should be declared a national heritage!

    Nundri, nundri, for writing it all down!


Post a Comment

<< Home