A Few words…
Though it is written in memory of my father, I dedicate this to all fathers who place service before self. Their utter sacrifices to their families – wife and children are the very foundation upon which we the present generation walk so cozily. In our daily life, a mother is always remembered in thousand ways, but a father’s contribution in moulding their children, shaping their character and bringing a bright future, is less projected or highlighted. My father played his part in this role in an excellent manner, but in his own humble way. I dedicate this article to all fathers who remained a silent partner.
A millionaire setting aside a bit of his fortune for the benefit of their children and a hand-to-mouth middle class father setting aside a few hundred rupees for his family makes a tremendous difference. Salute to those unsung heroes called FATHER.
Now read on…..
JOURNEY DOWN THE MEMORY LANE
This is not a biography, nor a saga of Paiyaa and Baby – Oh! no, not at all. Neither, it is chronicle of events in any chronological order. It is just my humble effort to pen down a few anecdotes, as they flashed upon my memory. A Total Recall — I just call it.
1. 10 May 2013 may not be a great day to reckon, in the Indian History – but certainly it is an important day for the family of Hexagon founded by Paiyaa and Baby, who were better known as Akka and Athimber. My father would have been a real centenarian had he lived that long upto this date. Though his mortal remains had gone back to Mother Nature, he outlived his life and continues to remain as a legend, guiding us till date from his heavenly abode. Can his life-story be complete without a mention of Akka, who was his “better half” in the real sense of the word?
2. It is a strange coincidence that whether the horoscopes of Paiyaa meaning ‘a small boy’ and Baby ‘a small girl’ matched or not, their names were a lot matching. More so, they both lost their identities in their original names of Venkatesan – Sundarambal, but were known to all alike as Akka and Athimber only, throughout their lives.
3. In the pre independent era, when even the freedom movement had not gained grounds in full vigour, a tiny tot “ Paiyaa Kutty” was born on 10 May 1913 to a humble and simple parents namely, Swaminathan and Seethalakshmi hailing from a small remote desolate village Vadugapattu, located in the erstwhile North Arcot District.. At that time, if any astrologer had cast his horoscope, even he would not have thought of the magnitude of the life and legend that lay in store for the baby. For him, as he grew, the future was bleak – why the future, the very present days were a distress. For many of his contemporarians, life was hard and he was no exception. He was passing through a very difficult period. These hardships had hardened him to be very frugal and thrifty, so much so that later in life, even in days of plenty, he continued to remain the same person – frugal and thrifty. No wonder, he was forever, mistaken to be stingy and miserly. Unmindful of that, he had instilled in us, the same calculative attitude and, for good or bad, we all the sixers have embedded in us these straits. Strange are the rules of Discipline – all those who wield it strongly and uphold such principles, are widely misunderstood rather than accepted!
4. As I dwell down, the oldest memory that strikes me, is the faint glimpses of our life at Bhuj – the same town which about half century later, was devastated by a massive earthquake, a catastrophe, never heard of ever before. Our town, no not a town, a small hamlet – Bhuj was within a fortress. Right in front of our house was a Shiva temple and I remember me offering to Nandi, a garland of, not flowers, but beads like balls made out of shiny silvery cigarette paper. Even Gods were made to inhale cigarettes. I remember going with Bharati, my elder sister, to a drawing school where she probably learnt few strokes. Quite likely that a few seedlings of being an artist, were sprinkled into her blood stream during then, which later grew into a big tree and established her as a great artist, only to win many accolades and awards, that too seven seas beyond, in a foreign country. As for my schooling, it was altogether a different story. My parents with their earnest interests, had admitted me in a school – only to find me missing from there right on day one! They frantically made searches at all places. Bhuj being a small town and that too within a fortress, they were all the more worried in not finding me. The main cause of worry was, if I had crossed the fortress and gone out, the chances of tracing me would be very remote. When they lost all hopes and decided to take the help of police, something that struck them and they returned home – only to find me hiding behind a door like wet a cat. Though I have no memories of this incident till date, it was narrated to me in full details many years later at Nagpur, at a time when I was trying to be harsh with Chandru – my nephew, who too would not like to go to school – particularly to a Hindi school at Dharampeth and to study in a language, he was not conversant with.
5. Our house in Bhuj was also very strange. I remember a ladder (attached to a slab kept open at top) would only lead us upstairs – more like an attic – but a spacious room. I have faint memories of my brother Babu who once had got hold of a Eucalyptus bottle and gulped it and also broke it. He ought to have thought it to be some medicine. Both Babu and Gita, my only younger sister then, were suffering from Rickets then and had to be taken to doctor quite often. Gita, as a very small kid, would cry a lot at the very mention of doctor. I can visualize Akka handling the two unwilling children and leading them to doctor! Must be dragging them.
6. The story of Bhuj cannot be complete without the entry of my youngest sister – Mallika. It is here that she was born. In those days her name was Pappi – a reknowned name in Tamilian Cinema. My grandfather had come all the way from Mittoor to see Akka and the new born baby. But in fact his trip was intended to take me to Mylapore and ensure that I was put in school and see that I really went to school to study, with no scope of running away. I did not know how I reacted to this. But I very well remember even to this day that I had to step into a Kattamaran, a swinging country boat, for crossing the Gulf of Cutch. It was worse than a nightmare to me! The very sight of waters and the waves still send tremors in me. How my grandfather managed me, only he knew!
7. Needless to say that I got on very well at Mylapore with my young cousins and to this day, I cherish those memories. During my stay there, once my father had come to Mylapore and gave me a Pilot Pen and Hamam Soap for my personal use. Using fountain pens were prestigious items at a time when using copying pencil was the order of the day. Soap was also uncommon. Only soapnut powder called punnaakku was used. For me these two items were very important, mainly because others did not have them. At another point of time Akka had come to Mylapore and she asked me “Who am I?” For fear of being teased at, I bluntly said “I don’t know”. Behind her was Bharati, at whom I simply exclaimed “Ah Bharti!” Where did my fear go – I knew not. But Akka curtly questioned me – “You do not know your mother, but at least you recognize your sister”.
8. Akka was always known for her gifted hands on Mysore Paak. Wherever she went, she had to carry a container having Mysore Paak, to be given to them. There were times, when she had bought the ingredients and made Mysore Paak then and then and given the sweet dish to her relatives. Though she was good at making very many delicious items, Mysore Paak was her speciality. That apart, she was beyond words when it came to her handicrafts – the Mylapore house could not display all her treasures – but those few exhibits available there, spoke volumes. Embroidery, woolen thread work, knitting crochets, etc., were a few to mention about. She had done a fantastic mirror work in one of my long skirts which was my pride possession in those days and I held it close to me, for years to come. She had done a similar fabulous work for two of my cousins too, namely Susheela and Ramaa.
9. Much of these traits I find now in Bharati and Mallika. In her maiden days at Bombay, Bharti had learnt, Machine embroidery, which was a boon to me and to my sisters and brothers. What all she had learnt were straight on our dresses only. First the Dress and then embroidery or it would be vise versa – either way we stood to gain. Ramesh, my youngest brother was her pet kid and many of his baba suites and bush shirts had a great look, because of her fairy touch. Can I call her as Akka’s incarnation – even when Akka was very much alive and present, but could not devote so much time for these fineries?
10. What is life if there are no turns and twists! Athimber had seen so many transfers in his careers. Even in the present days, to think of shifting with bag and baggages from one residence to another in the same locality, with all sorts of help and assistance – be it at a heavy price, then too, it is nothing less than moving a mountain. But Akka had to put up with this herculean task once in every three or four years, with no support from any professional technicians around. She was doing all errands herself. Neither man power nor money power, my parents could command. But what worried them most was break in children’s education. Even though demands of capital fees or building fund were not known to my father in those days, giving good education was always his priority. He never hesitated to put his children in convent schools, even if it was costlier. The uniforms along with shoes ties, were little too much for his budget.
11. From the coastal hamlet of Bhuj, they moved over to Jamnagar, another town in Gujarat. I neither lived with my parents, nor visited the place, during their stay there, because I had already left Bhuj for Mylapore. While it is a common practice for the sons or daughters to leave their parents for higher education, has anyone heard of a small girl leaving her parents and going to another city for primary (school)/ basic education? In ancient India, parents would leave their children with a teacher known as Guru and the teacher’s abode would be the student’s gurukulam. A similar thing happened to me – Bhuj my parental place and Mylapore my gurukulam. Needless to say, I was well groomed by my gurus – not one, but a whole lot – uncles, aunties, why even my cousins had many things to offer me for my learning.
12. While I was getting acclimatized to Mylapore surroundings, my parents and my sisters and brother were getting on well at Jamnagar. My uncle – rather my mother’s younger brother – Arunachalam (Anna) came to Bhuj, searching for his lucky stars. He had already finished his “Higher studies” and was an AMIE certificate holder. Though Lady Luck had not smiled on him in full bloom, he got an opening as a Project Engineer in Central Water and Power Commission and was with us till we moved to Jamnagar. His career started in Gujarat and later when Lady Luck smiled on him, She destined him to be in Western India and throughout his career he was in western India only, as he later took a job in Indian Railways, namely, The Western Railways. While he worked in the Central Government as PE in CWPC, Bharathi had also joined the same office as dispatch clerk on a temporary post and due to her (under)age problems, she was absorbed as daily wage earner. At a much later point of time in life, Bharathi helped Gita take up a temporary job at Nagpur in National Thermal Project Corporation. But Gita was not under age for that job.
13. The cute little bundled up baby of Bhuj called as Pappi then, was soon to be elevated to a higher status – called elder sister. Yes, my mother Akka was pregnant again. While Bharati and Akka were laden with domestic chores, Athimber was laden with family burden and was trying his best to make the ends meet comfortably. Sometimes concern and comfort coming from unknown quarters descend on the person in a drastic manner. Exactly that is what had happened! In Jamnagar camel carts were very common and were used for carrying loads from one place to another. After all, they are the beasts of burden! One such camel, laden with heavy loads, going on its errands, saw Athimber and took pity on him and rightly took him as another fellow-beast of burden and tried to comfort him.
In trying to caress and comfort him, the camel lost its balance and the entire load of burden weighing heavily on its back, including the last straw, fell on Athimber and instead of breaking the back, broke his legs. Akka was already in hospital for both natal and maternal care. So, on hearing the news of accident, both Bharati and Arunachala Anna who had come to see Akka and the infant boy, rushed to the hospital where Athimber was admitted. While attending on Athimber, the doctos and nurses had really a terrible time, because there were,– not one, but three patients, on whom they had to attend to simultaneously. Both Arunachalam Anna and Bharathi, on seeing Athimber in blood stained bandages and sharp needled injections being administered on him, had swooned and fell flat instantly. They both came to take care of a patient – my father, but instead they themselves became patients who also needed to be taken care of immediately. Akka had already delivered a baby boy. Thank God! The baby was a boy or else, anybody would have cursed the new born baby for having brought such a doom on all members of the family. Such was the arrival of the baby with a great thud and he was none other than Ramesh, the youngest of our Hexagon. He is crossing sixty in his father’s centenarian year.
14. Just like the rising sun drives away the morning misty clouds and the sky gets cleared up, along with Ramesh’s growth and developments, problems in the family too got cleared up. Soon the family moved to Bombay. It was not seen as “Oh! Yet another transfer!” But it was seen as moving to a greener pasture. Children could get education, Bharati could take up some pursuits etc., Arunachalam Anna chose to be with Railways and that too Western Railways –which in his opinion would give him better chances to prosper as compared to Central or Southern Railways where competitions were stiff. Already Akka’s elder brother Mani Anna was in Railways – Southern Railways and now one more brother to join the band “wagon”. In India, Railways are the biggest employers just next to Defence Services. Military engineer Services (MES) excluded.
15. We were given office quarters at Ghatkopar – Rifle range. Here also, there was a Shiva Temple in the vicinity and life in general, was beautiful. I missed those days as I was not in their midst. But after a few years I joined my parents. In between once, when Arunachala Anna had come to Mylapore and was returning to Bombay, I came with him to Bombay. But my own brothers and sisters particularly Babu and Gita, did not accept me and did not like my sharing their parents. They strongly proclaimed that my parents were at Mylapore and I should go back to them. This led me to run after Arunachala Anna when he was going back to join duties at some place – Bhavnagar or Rajkot I do not remember. I went crying down the lanes – far upto huge pipe lines going to Rajawadi. Akka knew that I had no course than to come back. So she left me free to go and I came back crying. “Nothing for the little girl crying down the lane”
16. After my holidays, I was sent back to Madras along with a neighbour – Ramiaah, who after handing me over to my uncle Dorai Anna, went off on his own and got mixed in the crowd without realizing that he took away my rail ticket also with him. For fear of being caught as a ticketless traveler, Anna went out, came back with a platform ticket to ensure my safe exit from Railway Station. I was back into my gurkulam.
17. Back at Bombay– as with their innate nature, both Akka and Bharathi were good at making friends with neighbours sooner they came in contact with them. They had turned our neighbours into close relatives and they were no more mere neighbours – Many were addressed as mummy, Aji etc. May be it is here that she got the name AKKA or was it at Nellore where her brothers would call her Akka and the small girl Bharathi too echoed it on her mother? I have no idea. In Bombay, it was a mixed group comprising of malayalees, tamilians, maharashtriyans, kannadigas, teluguites, goanese etc. Bharathi had her own set of Gujarati friends from outside our colony. Among her many friends, three were very close – Kalaben Jasuben and SarlaBen and in them SarlaBen was closest. Similarly Akka too had her set of friends, though she could not devote much time for them.
18. There used to be a fig tree in our colony and one day a discussion was going on among ladies about why not try a recipe out of raw figs. I do not know about others’ trials. But akka had made a Koottu out of it and I have a vague memory of its taste. Yes of course it was nice.
19. I remember very well those days when Akka used to engage a tailor for 2 or 3 days who would sit in our house from morning 9 am to evening 5 pm and keep stitching clothes – frocks shimmies, petticoats, blouses and a few boy’s wears – that is to say, all of our requirement of dresses for the whole year would be got ready in this manner. Later, first Bharathi learnt machine embroidery and then shortly Akka too joined her – but it was for a tailoring course. Very soon Akka became the guide for others in the colony.
20. During our stay (sans me of course) Mani Anna, who was an auditor in Southern Railways came to Bombay on transfer or deputation or so. He being a very pious man was very popular and an instant hit in the colony. He was a much sought after personality during Ganpathy Bappa Festival when he would organize the localites and perform an elaborate pooja every day.
To Continue Click on Page Below…