Saturday, September 3, 2011

I am My Father's Daughter and Proud to be so

On the 13th of October 1931 Kunju Krishnan, the second son of Padmanabhan and Meenakshi was born in Nyarakkal House in Mayyanad. Mayyanad is in Kollam District. Kunju Krishnan is my father.


Mayyanad Railway Station which has not changed much

"Mayyanad is a beautiful village situated in Kollam district of Kerala and is about 10 kilometers south of Kollam city. Mayyanad can be reached by frequent buses from Kollam and Kottiyam and by local train from Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram. Mayyanad is situated on the banks of the Paravur lake. Mayyanad's costal line along the Arabian sea is famous for its fishing. This village is the birth place of well known personalities like C V Kunjuraman, C Kesavan and K Sukumaran.

Mayyanad village is made up of several localities including Mayyanad, Vellamanal, Koottikkada, Kakkottumoola, Pullichara, Umayanelloor, Mukkom, Thattamala, etc. The sole spoken (and written) language is Malayalam."

The land of the coconut palms and calm waters

My paternal grandfather had his own business of which I know hardly any details. He had suffered monetary loss and went to Ceylon for a number of years. During those years, my grandmother Meenakshi and her three sons moved in with her very wealthy brother and his family. Her sister-in-law who had three sons and a young daughter, was a High School Teacher. My grandmother kept house for her brother and his family and they all lived as one family. My father from a very young age, formed a very close bond with his first cousins, and they were like brothers and sister in every way.

My father's aunt, was married off to Neelakandan, a wealthy man from Paravur, in the late thirties. Neelakandan, my maternal grandfather's older brother had made his wealth in Malaya in the 1920s and 1930s. When my father's aunt left Mayyanad for Singapore, she took along my father as a companion. My father was nine years old.

All of them settled in 15 Jalan Dhoby, Johore Bahru. My father was enrolled at the Union School, in JB. My grand-uncle and grand-aunty lived the life of the wealthy with their cars and drivers. My father did not have a happy life at all in that house without a mother or anyone who really cared for him. Years later, I heard the sorrow of his mother at having allowed her young son to leave home and go so very far away. Not too long ago, when my Dad came to stay with me, just before his 90th birthday, I asked him why his aunt had brought him to Malaya. His reply, "They wanted a servant."

I formed a very close attachment to my taciturn, hot-tempered, unfriendly and lonely father from the time I was born.  He came from a family of boys. My mother was the only girl in her family. After my older brother, when I came along, I think everyone was happy that there was a little girl around the place. I guess it was an accident of birth that brought me much joy. My father was as different from the males in my mother's family as an angsana tree would be to a raintree and yet both were big, strong, offered shade and stood in a class of their own.

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Angsana tree in bloom

Leaves and flowers of the angsana tree

A raintree

The flower and leaves (and a bee) of the rain tree

My earliest memories of my father

I remember a doll that he bought for me when I was about three years old. Everyone in the house fussed over the doll that first day, except  my dad. I was very happy to get the doll and I felt that my father was the only other person who was as happy as I was with the doll. That doll could cry. Everyone exclaimed what a clever doll she was and how lucky I was to get her. But I knew that my father created that joy for me and in my joy he found his joy and we were a part of an unsaid bond.

King Kong a Caucasian and Dara Singh from Punjab, were well known wrestlers at that time. And any time they had a match the tickets would be sold out. I knew that there was some excitement going on in that house. A sixth sense told me that I was not part of the programme and so I kept very close to my mother and my father. I remember father carrying me and telling me that I was going out with Prakash, my youngest uncle, and that we were going to be doing some really exciting things.

Down the memory lane with Dara Singh Click here to add this article to My Clips

By Screen Weekly, December 19, 2007 - 08:57 IST

"Champ on the rampage'Dara overthrew the notorious European wrestler King Kong to become the Indian champion in 1954. Post this fight, the humiliated King Kong beat a retreat to Singapore. Dara, on the other hand, was a champ on a rampage. He remained undefeated in Europe and lifted the Commonwealth title in Canada in 1959. Time was ripe for the invincible Dara now for the World title."

In the evening, my mother dressed me up and Prakash my youngest uncle took me out. He could not have been more than fourteen years old at that time. 15 Jalan Dhoby was in the middle of Johore Bahru town. We walked down Jalan Pahang and reached the sea front along Jalan Ibrahim. We walked slowly and he told me stories. There was never a quiet moment with my uncles. They constantly talked to us.  I remember asking him about my parents and where they were. I do not recall his answer. We stood by the seaside and threw stones at the water. We picked up leaves and flowers.

After what seemed to be a long time, I told him I was tired. I really wanted to go home and make sure my parents had not left me behind. He told me that he was going to take me to eat something that I had never eaten before. That it was cold, colourful, very delicious, would make my tongue and lips red and that it was not ice-cream. That was my first taste of 'ice-kachang'. It was magic.

A bowl of ice-kachang
We crossed the road from the sea-side to the shop houses and entered E H'ng cold storage which sold the best ice-kachang in JB town. My uncle ordered two bowls. I remember just looking at it and wanting to touch it with my hands. At home we ate all our food with our fingers. He told me that I had to use a spoon and a straw and not my fingers.

The shaved ice stood like an iceberg above the bowl and it was drenched in pink and red, favourite colours of young children, especially girls, some milk and a dash of cocoa. In the middle there was sweet boiled red beans (kachang). He showed me how to eat it by scooping out bits of coloured ice onto the spoon and allowing it to melt in the mouth. I  forgot my parents in the joy of eating shaved ice, sugar and colourful beans.

It was almost dark by the time we returned to my grandfather's house. My parents and my brother were not there. I decided to cry but my uncle told me that after such a day and especially after ice-kachang children were not allowed to cry.  Mum and Dad came back soon after and Dad carried me when I went up to him and raised my arms.  He asked me about my day. I did not know it was ice-kachang that I had eaten. I only knew it was ice, colourful, sweet and you use a spoon and a straw to eat it. Mum was all excited about Dara Singh from India and King Kong, so perhaps she forgot that I was the only one who had not gone to watch the match.

December 1953 my younger sister Sheela was born. My father took my brother and me together with my grandparents by taxi to the hospital. He left us in the extensive gardens outside the Johore Bahru General Hospital while he went inside to visit my mother. Even as I played with little stones, fruits from the trees that had fallen on the ground, interesting leaves and twigs, I kept a lookout for my Dad. I saw him coming with a bag in his hands. His most outstanding feature was his silent nature.

He came and held out his hand and I put out mine to hold his. My grandfather held my brother's hand. I asked him what was in the bag and he showed me my mother's sari that had been rolled into a ball. He spoke very briefly with my grandparents. My father disliked them and the feeling I believe was totally mutual and therefore there was very little conversation between them.

The Johore Bahru General Hospital

I was about four when my parents moved out of my grandparents' house and rented two rooms on the second floor of a house owned by a Chinese I had never seen. There were two Indian families living in that house. One was our family and the other the family of Kunju Kannan Master.

Quite often after work, my Dad would come and take us to the town which was not far away. Mum, Dad, my older brother, my baby sister Sheela and I would visit my grandparents. The going was fun. It was the coming back that was difficult for me and my father, I am sure. We would walk up the road in front of Cathay cinema. The roads used to be dark and there would be incessant screeching of crickets and cicadas.

On the rigth, circled is Cathay Cinema in JB in the fifties

Quiet, aloof, hot-tempered and frightening as he was, my father had a very kind and considerate heart. He was totally honest and straightforward. When he made a decision, it was always based on his beliefs and he was absolutely consistent. There was never an ocassion when something was allowed on one day and not allowed on another according to his moods.

His kindness to me I remember with gratitude.  I was ill for a long while when I was eight, and one day when my father came home after work, and found out that I was not getting any better, he realised that I had to be taken to the hospital. All along I had been going to a private clinic.

We lived in a Malay kampung area and there was no access road to the front of our house. Father carried me all the way to the main road, in the late evening and got me to the hospital. Mind you, I was eight and I must have been heavy to carry all the way. I was warded. He stayed with me till I was settled before going back home.

Every day he would visit me and bring me some fruit or sweet. Then one day he bought me my first story book. It was, "The Little Red Fire Engine'.

I held the book in my hand, I was too ill to get up or read. He looked disappointed. Then the ayamah came wheeling a trolley down the middle of the ward, ringing an ice-cream bell. On the trolley were all sorts of things for sale, from toys, to food, drinks and books. When she parked the trolley in the middle of the ward, a small crowd gathered around filling the ward with excitement as children threw tantrums to get what they wanted, parents began reprimanding children, buyers started haggling and others just commented and examined the products.   My father turned to me and asked me if I wanted anything from the trolley.

I told him that I wanted the ball of coloured plastic thread that was popular at that time for making artificial flowers and animals. My mother told me that I would not be able to do anything with it. My father walked up to the trolley and got me a ball of red string.

I was given penincillin jabs which were making my skin sore and red. The jabs were very painful. I received four jabs a day. By the second day, I would start to scream and cry when the nurse approached my bed with the syringe. Once when the nurse came my father was walking towards me, I screamed and told him to tell her to stop, my father came towards me and then made a U-turn and disappeared. Later I heard him tell my mother, that my pain was too much for him. My grand-aunt Nurse Devaki, soon stopped the jabs.

Years later my younger sister Sobha cut her foot on a toy. Father took her to the hospital and when they were stitching the cut, my dad fainted!!!  I have always felt the need to be close to him. His loneliness touched a chord in my lonely heart. I have felt that he was a very lonely man. My mum had her entire family literally eating out of her hand. She had very good family support. My dad was alone. I do not feel that he favoured me over the others. But, I do know that I always tried to avoid getting into trouble or arousing his hot temper.

My father is like clockwork. There was such order in our house as we were growing up. Getting up late was unheard of. Everyone got up early when father was at home. Mum was more flexible. She would have a lie-in after father left for work and we would all lie around and read or just doze off.

When we were not at school, in the morning, we had to all go into the kitchen and help my mum. The jobs included, scraping coconut, grinding some stuff using the grinding stone, peeling onions, potatoes, garlic, ginger, slicing, washing and wiping. Mum would do the cooking. We had to lay the table, clear the table, wash our own plates and put them away, although there was a maid in the house.

In the evening, everyone had to have a bath before 4.30. The house had to be swept and the beds made and we had to be out in the garden. Father would come home between 5.00 and 5.10, never earlier and never later in all the years that he went to work. He entered a neat house, with clean children. He would hand over the newspapers and either my brother or I would get to read it first.

Then we would water the plants and play with the skipping rope or sit on the stone seats near the gate and chat with our neighbourhood friends. When the call came for Azan at half past six, we would go in, wash our feet, light the lamp at the altar and say our prayers. Then all of us would take out books and sit round the dining table and do our homework, or study. This was our daily routine, except on Saturdays.

Dinner was served quite late by Chinese standards. After dinner we would walk around outside for a while and then it was back to the table. Bed time was between nine thirty and ten.

Hard times and books. By the time I was in Form Six, times were difficult. Many of the Indians who were attached to the British Army, like my Dad, had opted to go to UK. My mother did not want to go because of her parents, especially my grandmother. Dad always gave in to my mother's wishes at the end of the day. I believe he had to take pay cuts, the British Army was pulling out and my Form Six books were expensive.

My father rarely went out to have a good time with his friends, he rarely bought things for himself, he never asked for any special food. He just set impossibly high standards.

Most of the time, I did not ask him for books. I managed to borrow most of my books. Then one day, I had to buy the history book - History of Western Europe, 16th century. I came home and told my mother, who told my father, who told me to write the name of the book for him.

He told us that he would be home by 6.30. He used to car pool with Mr Titus who lived a few doors away from our house. He took a bus from his work place to Bras Basah Road, got my book for $36 and reached home by 6.30. That book is still with me, the book he bought for me in 1969.

The Form Six Entrance Examination Results are out. There was only one school in the whole state of Johore that offered Form 6 and only 44 places are offered to Arts Stream students. Some forty four thousand students vied for a place in that school. I wanted to go to that school from the time I was five when my uncle took me there for a concert. From the time I was in Standard 4 I was determined to go to that school. Every year a few girls from the Convent would be admitted and they would come back to visit the Convent in their new uniform. This was a motivating ritual for me.

The Entrance Examination was held in May. The results were out in October. It was the May O Level Examination run by Cambridge. I studied really hard for the examination and prayed equally hard. Sister Helen, our Scripture teacher gave us a picture of St Jude with a prayer at the back. All of us memorised the prayer and prayed hard to him as well as to all the Gods we were familiar with.

I left school by 2 0'clock and the results were not out. I came home, had my lunch and lay on my bed reading a book. My parents did not put much pressure on me about that examination and they were not expecting anything since everyone acknowledged it to be a tough examination. My younger sister Sheela came home at about half past three, all excited and smiling. She told me that the results had been posted on the notice board and she had checked, my name was there. I asked her so many times if she was sure. We had no telephone in our house and I could not check with anyone. She told me that Saroja Meyappan had also passed.

I told my mother and waited for my father to come home. He walked in and mother told him that I had passed. He hardly smiled those days and he looked happy I thought.  I knew he was happy when he told me that I needed to get my new uniform ready. Most of us were poor those days. I made contact with my Chinese friends and found that those who had passed were going to sew their own skirts, and one of them had got the paper pattern. She gave me a copy. My father took me to Golden City and we bought the dark, jungle green material for me to make two skirts. My mother helped me to cut the material and I sewed two skirts and waited for the new year to arrive.

The Senior Cambridge Examination results are out in March.  I was in Form Six and if I did not do well in the Senior Cambridge Examination, I would have to leave Form Six. Once again, I was home when Haridas came to tell me that the results are out and that I had got a Grade 1 with a number of distinctions. It was almost five and mother told me to wait for father. Father walked in and mother told him in all seriousness, "Baby failed her exam."

"She failed!" he said and looked dead as he walked into his room. Mother ran after him and laughingly told him that I got a Grade 1. He wanted to see the results but they were still in school. He drove me to school and when I entered the car he asked to see the results. I gave it to him and he had such a happy look that it was worth all the hours I had put in.

The next day he came home with a form and told me that his boss had given it to him, when he told him that I had done well in the examination. It was a form for a scholarship. I dutifully filled up the form and within a few months I was the recipient of "Her Britanic Majesty's Ministry of Defence Scholarship" which had a monetary value of a certain amount to cover my Form Six studies. I realised then that it was my Dad who made it possible for me to reach for the stars - it was his character, his steadfastness, his absolute reliability, his devotion to his family and the strict rules that he put in place. He set parameters for us.

to be continued

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