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 26, 2006

MAIJI



Also written in 1990-92, as a continuation of Babuji, the early days

I was born on the 27th of November, 1927, as the fifth daughter and eighth child of my parents. My father was an advocate at the time of my birth. I was named Lalitha. My grandfather, like Babuji’s, was also an advocate. He too died when my father was in his early 20s. Unlike Babuji’s grandfather, my grandfather was not very successful in his profession; all he left my father was a house and his six sisters – three of them married – and two brothers, both minors.

So my father had the responsibilities of not only raising his own family but also of taking care of the education of his two brothers and the marriage and settling down of his three younger sisters. From what I have heard he carried out his responsibilities not without any trouble or difficulties, yet he did those things. He was a school teacher when his father died but he studied law in the evening college and started practising at Nagercoil; by that time he was the father of two children.

My parents got married when my father was only 14 and my mother 8. My mother (Manni) was the eldest daughter of her parents. She had two sisters and one brother. A small family by those days’ standards. Manni’s father was a schoolteacher and he was earning only Rs 10 per month as salary. But those days, the Indian rupee had more value. And can you guess? The one rupee coins were made of solid silver. One rupee was broken into 28 chakrams and one chakram was broken into 16 kasu. And mind you, one could buy so much with 8 kasu or 4 kasu. So 10 rupees was enough for a middle-class family.

Though my parents got married when they were only 14 and 8, they started living together only after 8 years. My grandmother (Thatha’s mother) did not take kindly to Manni. By the time Thatha and Manni had their fifth child – by this time they had lost their second son at the age of 2 – Thatha left Nagercoil and came back to Trivandrum to practice law. And Lady Luck started favouring him.

The first thing I remember about my parents is an event that happened when I was 3-plus. In those days every citizen, from the very old to the newborn, was supposed to have vaccination (against small pox) once every year and the municipal people used to come to every house and do it. I remember the occasion when I had my first vaccination. Thatha was by my side and Manni was somewhere inside, near the kitchen, washing dishes. I ran up to her complain and even today after 60 years I vividly remember how she consoled and comforted me.

As was the custom those days, I was taught basic arithmetic and basic reading and writing at home by a private tutor. I started going to school at the age of 7 and passed my school finals at the age of 14. Thatha, by this time, had become a High Court Judge. All my elder sisters married and also my elder brother, who had a B Sc degree from the Benares Hindu University, while my two younger brothers were in school. In school, as a student I was not very bad, just about average. I had by quota of childhood illnesses also, like chicken pox, measles and typhoid.

My first interest in nature was aroused when I was in bed with jaundice, when I was just six years old. My bed was near a window and through that I was able to get glimpses of blue sky, cottonwool clouds, and at night the very same clouds chasing the moon. After that, I used to spend as much time as possible outdoors, watching the trees, and the shadows they made, the plants, the flowers, the birds and the butterflies.

After school, I joined the Women’s College to do my pre-degree, known in those days as FA. I very much wanted to continue my studies. My innermost ambition was to become a doctor. One of my mother’s cousins was a doctor and I was terribly fascinated by her. Thatha wanted me to be a graduate. You see, my three elder sisters got married when they were 12, 13 and 14, respectively; none of them completed their school finals. Socially, times were changing, changing for the better. Girls were getting married late, they went in for higher education, and started working also.

In college, I was a good student – history was my subject – and I passed with distinction. But about doing my BA, Manni was very much against it, the reason being one had to study with boys. As it would be, only the previous year one of the girls in our neighbourhood – a student of the co-ed college – got involved in a scandal and it created so many waves and counterwaves the whole of Trivandrum city was buzzing with it for a long it. So Manni was very much put off with it and my education also came to a stop.

But instead of sitting at home and doing nothing, I started learning Hindi. You know, this was in 1943-44 and there was the Quit India movement, with the Congress party trying its best to create patriotic feelings in everyone and promoting “khadi” and Hindi. With the help of Dakshin Bharat Hindiprachar Sabha, the Congress was giving Hindi lessons to every willing learner. So I also joined the gang and within two years reached the finals, when my marriage was fixed.

You see, dear children, what a contrast there is in my younger years and Babuji’s. I grew up in a carefree, worry-less world, with always a retinue of servants to see to our comforts. We were driven in style to school and back, a private tutor to help us with our school homework etc. But at the same time my elder brother saw to it that I was not at all spoilt.

Thatha had no time for us. He had his own way of life. He had become a High Court judge when I was 10. His morning and the whole day were taken by his work. In the evenings, he used to go to his club for playing tennis or bridge. He was also a Freemason. And Manni was busy with kitchenwork and her own puja and things like that. So whenever I wanted anything it was to my elder brother I turned to. Even today, I have so much respect for him.

In my marriage too my elder brother had a hand. It was he who went to Trichur to get to know Babuji’s parents and invite them to our place to “see” the girl. My brother was very much impressed with Annaji and Ammaji – what he said about them created a lot of respect for them in me, even before I saw them.

So, on a pre-decided day, Annaji and his elder brother (known to the whole family as Kunjanna) came to Trivandrum. They were treated with a feast and given all that is due to the bridegroom’s people. They stayed overnight and left the next day, agreeing to the match. They were pleased with everything they saw, as also what little of me they “saw”. I was there as one in a crowd.

So the date was fixed and Babuji also got the information that his fate was sealed. Then a problem came: Thatha’s father’s “shradham” which was just two days before the fixed date. Thatha wanted the marriage to be put off by two months but Annaji was not for that. That was when Babuji got his second telegram. Annaji was really not keen to proceed with this match when the problem arose. But Thatha was equally keen not to miss the alliance. So after much head scratching, consultation with so many astrologers and others in the family, another date was fixed for the marriage, two weeks before the first date. It was not all that auspicious, but for everything there is this “prayachitam”. So, again Annaji was informed, who in turned informed Babuji, hence the third telegram. So both parties got busy, preparing for the wedding on 27th June.

So Babuji left Delhi and came to Madras and from there, as directed by Annaji, came to Trivandrum, with his cousin Madras Kunjappa, to see the girl. It was only a formality as everything was fixed -- and even if he did not like what he saw, he had no way out. Oh, how I used to tease him on this. But where I was concerned he came, I saw, he conquered. Yes, I fell for him and felt so happy. And so was everyone else for, you know, even at that age, Babuji had a knack of pleasing everyone who met and talked with him. Even my grandmother was full of praise for him.

So my home became a hive of activity with only a week for the big day. You know in those days marriages were conducted in one’s own houses. There were no kalyana mandapams. A pandal was erected on the front compound of the house – its size depended on the size of the courtyard, and the decorations and lights depended on the purse of the bride’s father. The bride’s father had to meet all the expenses of the marriage, apart from providing the bride with gold ornaments, diamond earrings and nose-rings, silver and brass vessels (those days, stainless steel was not invented), bed, furniture, in short, whatever she needed to set up a home.

The bridegroom’s people usually came a day before the marriage and stayed one or two days after the function. All their needs, whims and fancies had to be taken care of. My eldest sister’s marriage was a four-day affair, ending with a procession of newly-weds on the main roads of the city, followed by nagaswaram and gaslights. The bride and groom were on a palanquin, carried by four men. Those days there were no cars and no electricity. My other sisters’ weddings were cut short to two days, as also my brother’s. Ours was a one-day affair. The groom’s party came on the 26th and left on the 28th. Babuji stayed back in Trivandrum for a week then we both left for Trichur.

1 Comments:

  • At 6:15 AM, Anonymous Kamini said…

    Periammai,
    What a treasure trove this blog is! I was particularly moved by your piece on Babuji where you mentioned my grandparents and the relationship he had with them. You write really, really well, and bring alive the lives and times you write about. And ahem, I will try not to complain about cooking and try to remember what your mother had to go through! Keep writing, I look forward to reading something new every day.
    Lots of love,
    Kamini.

     

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