Sunday, February 5, 2012

Finding Ranjit - Letters from Ranjit

6 February 2012
4 February 2012

Dear Ranjit

It is really a touch from the past reading your mail, it's like a breeze that blows over your face once in while, bringing to your mind memories, names, faces and dialogues spoken by people who had lived and moved in another age and had left your life. We always enjoyed your visits to our house and our visits to yours. Your Dad's decision to leave was sudden, or so it appeared to us. We came to the harbour to send you off and did you all not sail on the SS Rajula? As the ship moved away from the shores of spore, we felt such a sense of sadness, most probably because my mother was such a dramatic soul and she could cry so easily and just as easily be smiling the next minute.

I visited Kerala with my parents in 1987 and stayed in Paravur with Aunty Savithri's sister Leela. Your parents visited and your mum told me that you were truly unhappy about the move to India. She mentioned that your younger brother led a spiritual life and if i am not mistaken she too, became quite spiritual.

I am really sad to hear of your Dad passing away. I lost my mother ten years ago and i dont think i shall ever come to terms with it. Parents are irreplaceable, more so because people like my mother who was an immigrant here, with her unique ways, her values, her views and most of all her sense of humour are hard to find. My dad has been living alone in jb with a maid. The last maid left and i brought him to my place. I live in Ipoh, a town that tin built, which is half way between Kuala Lumpur and Penang in the north. Suresh and his family came this morning from JB and i told him about how i had found you. I rang my older brother last night. He called me early this morning and i told him that i had not checked my mail. Today has been a busy day, with me taking dad to the doctor, then for lunch, then arranging Sharmilas trip to KL and going out with my son and suresh and family for dinner and finally i am here.

Sharmila's husband and mine went to the same school in Ooty. When Sharmila was visiting Kl a couple of years ago, and it was posted on the Old Georgians, I contacted her and met up with her. She contacted me again recently  to say that she would be in Ipoh this time and I brought her over to my house. She posted on FB and yesterday she asked me if i had a cousin Ranjit D and i said no. Then she said he was in spore and suddenly there was illumination. I could not believe it.

My older brother Prabha, called Valsan at home, is married to Joyce of Chinese and Sri Lankan parentage, has daughter and a son-in-law from San Salvador, and two grandchildren. He became a Christian and teaches troubled children and his wife teaches autistic children.

I am the second and my husband was a planter and is a consultant based in Phnom Penh. Currently he works for Ruchi an Indian company. I retired from govt service as the principal of the Methodist Girls School and am currently the principal of a private school.

My sister Sree or called Sheela, has settled in australia and she has four children and two grandchildren. She is currently in Italy where her husband is based for a very short period of time. Her husband is British/Australian.

Next is sobha, who lives in Kent, UK. She has one daughter whose wedding I attended last May. Her husband is English.

Next is Harish, who is married, has two children and lives in Australia. His wife is German.

Last is Suresh who is your brother's age. He is married and has an eight year old son. His wife is Malay. He is currently visiting me since my dad is with me now.

When the British left, it was difficult for us too. My dad wanted to go to UK but mum did not want to leave her family, especially her mother. Dad could not get a job because of his age and also because he was not the right race and did not have the qualifications that prospective employers were looking for. I graduated in 73, majored in English and the only job going at that time was teaching. Slowly the others completed their education and we moved on. The days of visiting relatives came to an end.

Mum sold her ancestral home and there were lots of heated arguments in our house over that. I now wish she had not sold it and that we could have built a home there on that land, which is now occupied by her first cousin.

So our grandfathers were first cousins. I must slowly work out the family tree.

I have started writing down what I remember of our lives in JB and the people in my life.

It might tell you a bit of our lives

I was in delhi for about a week at the end of 2010, if only I had known that you were there. We have relatives who live/lived in gujerat, my grandfahter's nephew and his family, are they still there?

My regards to your wife and family.

Do keep in touch.

With fond regards


4 February 2012

Dear Prasanna,
                          When I spotted your name on an FB posting by Sharmila I was somehow certain who she was referring to.  Oddly, I am not much on FB and rarely post anything, but passively check it every now and then to see what my friends are doing.  On the other hand I (and Sharmila) are part of a yahoo group which sees some incredibly furious discussions on every possible topic under the sun. The binding factor is that all of us went to missionary schools in a former Portuguese enclave called Tangasseri on the Kerala coast.
                          I think I have a lot of talking to do after what must be close to half a century.  Our relocation to India was not entirely happy and to this day I wonder what got into my Dad – though the sudden assertion of the Chinese community after Brits left Singapore had a lot to do with it.  Anyway we ended up smack in the middle of a large joint-family run by my maternal grandmother in Quilon district (of which Tangasseri is an enclave). For some years it was fine – sprawling house set in a two-acre compound and not a care in the world because of revenues coming in from coconuts and paddy lands.  But the day my grandmother died things fell apart. Suffice it to say we saw 20 years of litigation after that before a settlement of properties could happen.
                      Jeeva and I escaped most of it, she because she got married and settled down to a career as a college lecturer along with her husband – a chemistry lecturer, fulfilling a prophecy made in  a horoscope drawn up by your astrologer grandfather (first cousin to my grandfather).  Jeeva has a daughter who is currently doing a masters in architecture in Mangalore. I too escaped because I got admission to the Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi in 1979 and drifted into a career in writing and journalism. 
                     That left my parents and my younger brother, Rajeev, to carry on litigation to regain our share of the properties in Quilon. They first moved to Paravur (I think you and your parents visited while they were there) for a couple of years before moving on to a place called Puthur (Kottarakkara) where my mother had her ancestral home. Those were happy times, because we were once again on our own as a nuclear family and had sufficient land there to be comfortable.  I would visit them every six months or so, often with my own family in tow – yes, I got married to Naintara, my colleague at the news agency I was working for in Delhi in 1991.  That has resulted in a son, Lokesh, now in college doing BSc in Life sciences, a daughter, Vani, appearing for her school finals and, post scriptum, a son, Chintu, now in the first standard.
                    Rajeev, meanwhile, got involved in a spiritual centre called the Santhigiri Ashram (reminds me of your uncle Sivadasan in Johore Bahru)  located about 20 km north of Trivandrum. He and his wife, Archana (she is from Delhi, but met my brother on a visit to the ashram and ended up marrying him), work there.  My mother now lives with them - dad having passed away about four years ago.
                  That in gist, is what has been happening with us. I last met your parents in Delhi around 1982 where they had to flee because some people were trying to create tax problems for them (that’s Kerala for you) Never thought that would be the last time I would ever see them. They were such wonderful, kind and loving people.
                   It’s your turn now.   

Dear Prasanna,
                           Your letter and the blogs made great reading.  Glad you are recording all those memories   in that very readable style.  I could relate to all of that 100 percent - No 15 Jalan Dhobi was more than a home, it was an institution. I’ve heard it said that it originally belonged to a Japanese officer and was acquired by ‘Shranku’, your grandfather’s wealthy elder brother.  Shranku later settled in Nedungolam, near Paravur and whenever we passed the place my father would talk about him.  One of Shranku’s daughters was married to a Mr. Soman who went off to the UK when the Brits departed. His two sons studied in the Infant Jesus High School in Tangasseri.
                       It is interesting how important the Quilon (Kollam) bay is in our lives, because it has Tangasseri at the northern tip and Paravur (Pozhikkara) on the south end of a curve that cradles  Mayyanad and Eravipuram.  So many families in Singapore and Malaysia have connections with this magical bay that has attracted the Portuguese and Dutch sailing ships, and in earlier times,  Roman galleons, Arab dhows and Chinese junks. 
                     Our trips to Johore were always punctuated by a stop at Jalan Dobhi. I used to bury myself in the vast collection of books and encyclopedias acquired I think by  your uncle (Sivaprasad).  I am sorry to hear of his passing and I know what you mean by a final link being broken with 15, Jalan Dhobi. (He used to drop by every now and then at our house in Sembawang Hills Estate and remark on the better standards of education in Singapore.)   But best the best part of Johore was when we finally reached your place.  You all seemed so bright, cheerful and savvy.  Even wrote to the Kennedys and got black and portraits from them.  
                    Valsan and I were forever arguing about which was better – Singapore or Malaysia. I recall the  large compound with the muringa tree in one corner and curious objects like a hammock and inflatable beds (some were passed on to us and we still have them stored away). Also your collection of records. Even now when I hear ‘Sukiyaki’ I am transported back to Jalan Abdul Samad.  Wonder if Uncle Krishnan remembers how he took us for a drive  to the Johore Sultan’s palace grounds and he was stopped by a policeman for speeding and had to pay a fine.  Yes, when the S.S. Rajula pulled away from Singapore harbour I could feel a tug in my heart.  Not sure if I was puking from that or sea-sickness.  I can understand your mother's feelings, because she really did regard my dad as a brother.   Whenever dad and mom used to argue about who was the better cook,  he would brag about how he made the sambar for Prasadini's wedding and everybody praised him for it.
               I spoke with my mother on the phone this morning and told her about the reconnect – she was absolutely happy.  She is in touch with Sarojini aunty in Serangoon Garden over the phone every now and then and they have many valuable recollections of those times gone by.  We heard about Prasadini aunty's passing from Sarojini aunty. She  is somehow related to ‘Photographer’, the uncle you mention in the blog, who went away to Ceylon and vanished.  You really must continue with that blog while these people are still around. 
              Why not come over to Delhi again?  I would like to meet Chandra - Ruchi, if I am not mistaken, is headquartered in Hyderabad. Does his job require him to come to India?  Pls give my love and regards to the others – Valsan, Sheela, Shobha, Harish and Suresh.  Do tell Uncle Krishnan that there is someone in Delhi who hold him dear and remembers him as a truly kind and strong soul.
                 I will send you some pics later and you must do likewise.    We are in touch.   Ranjit

6 February
Dear Ranjit

I am writing a blog: Discovering Ranjit - Letters from Ranjit. Aren't we all pieces of the jigsaw of life, as we move on the pieces fall into place somehow and the hand that finds the pieces come into our lives in such a roundabout manner too. The hand of Sharmila!!!!! The last person I expected, to bridge us.   
I brought my dad to stay with me. Two days ago he told the doctor that he would like to go back to Johor baru. As soon as i can arrange the maid, i will send him back. I want him to be happy and not feel that he is not in control of his life and where he stays.
Please do write and do send me photographs, both old and new. Send me photographs of mayyanad. tell me about kakootimoola, kootikada.
 With warm regards to all of you

7 February 2012

Dear Prasanna,
                        Delighted and flattered to be part of this great enterprise.  Who knows? A book may eventually come out of all these outpourings.  A book that connects that bridges Malabar and Malaya (neither exists today) and tells of the travels and travails of so many interesting characters whose lives linked these two former British territories. More specifically it should deal with that beautiful bay that is Quilon,  a town linked by an ancient railway (more than century old) to the port city of Madras (now Chennai) that enabled people to embark for Malaya via the P&O liner,  S.S. Rajula.  Some boat that, converying people and hopes and disappointments.
Motorcycle incident:  Yes, that was my dad’s dear friend Botak Bhasy. Don’t know if he is still alive, but  he later married a lady from a publisher family that ran a printing press called ‘Karyalayam’ -not even sure if it exists now.  But that incident left my father with a lifelong aversion to motorcycles and he ner got on one again.  In fact, my brother and I were both banned from even riding pillion.
Uncle Soman:  He was one of those people who took advantage of the ‘UK and Colonies’ passport offered to people working for the British army. Both his sons studied in Tangasseri.  The name Romeo was an unfortunate choice because of the un-Shakespearean connotation. Uncle Soman was  a frequent visitor, mainly because he was caretaker of a house in Jalan Mengkudu, the lane next to Jalan Lanjut in Sembawang Hills Estate.
Mayyanad and Paravur: Coastal towns on either side of the Paravur kayal (backwater rather than lake) and there is a sort of healthy rivalry between these two areas. Paravur got the upper hand because it managed to get a high school (Kottapuram) established before Mayyanad.  Behind the school is the Ollal Siva temple with which the family from which our grandfathers came from is linked.  As I understand it a legal dispute over land had arisen between the two branches a long time ago, but they continued to maintain ties as befits members of a ‘koottar’.  They even  saw the need to reestablish ties by getting one of Dad’s younger brothers (he had four), Sreenivasan, to marry Savitri, a first cousin of Prasadini aunty (father’s sister’s daughter). The four children from that marriage are mostly in Dubai or Abu Dhabi, which long ago overtook Malaysia and Singapore as destinations for enterprising Malayalis.  Anyway, it is like that motorcycle crash – they seem to fight easily and make up just as easily.
I can fill in you in on bits like the above, but you must make a ‘field trip’ to Mayyanad and Paravur.
We’ll keep in touch.  Rgds, Ranjit

7 February 2012
Dear Ranjit

I have never been known to be a great letter writer and therefore along the way have lost friends due to my inertia. But you are family and that too family we really enjoyed having as family.

Last night i spoke to my older brother. He said that Uncle Soman the electrician is your Dad's brother. Please confirm. And his wife, travelled with us to India in 1973. Where is she and the family?

I do believe that a book will emerge from this, collective recollections and there are enough skeletons in the cupboards to satisfy diverse potential readers. The skeletons are barely locked up. The people who came were brave, had hopes and dreams and many led make-believe lives - the story spun and  believed in India was not evenly remotely similar to the kind of lives they lived in malaya/spore. I remember a particular relative, he lived in shared rented rooms in singapore and when he passed away in India, his wife believed that he was the owner of a house in Singapore and that his relatives here had gotten hold of his property nefariously. They worked for meagre amounts, saved almost all, sent home the money and visited ocassionally with gifts and foreign clothes and the entire clan would come and strip him of all that he had brought and send him back to slavery for another few years.

 Motorcyle incident, yes that was uncle Bhasy and yes he was called Botak after his shiny scalp. He had a certain air about him and he too travelled with us when we went to India in 73 on board the ss rajula. His daughter and I were particularly close. I believe that you had left spore when she, Sudha fell ill and was diagnosed with liver cancer. She passed away in 75. Her mother was a very strong lady, who used to give maths tuition, dressed in white, sported a curly untidy hairstyle and was a little sarcastic at the best of times, very unlike the run of the mill malayali ladies who said the right things in front of you and what they really felt behind you. Her father went to India soon after Sudhas death and he passed away in India. Aunty stayed on in Spore with her son, who i have to say most painfully is an evil boy. He can talk and act. His story comes for another day. He was evil towards his mother, got her property, sold it all off and is somewhere in Israel now preaching. One day he shaved off his mother's hair, kept her locked in her room with minimum clothes - i told you he is evil. Finally he sent her off to India and if the local stories are to be believed, she was no longer of sound mind and passed away there - in the 90s i believe. I was fond of her and uncle too but not Sudesh Bhasy.
 Romeo - the first time he visited and my son had to entertain them, i thought that he was too quiet ( i did not meet him, only heard a lot from my very articulate son). But when he brought his parents to visit me a couple of years ago, i could not fault him in any way, the politeness, the care, the sincerity towards his parents - could not have been an act. His wife is by all accounts a very friendly lady. I have not met her. I wonder why Uncle Soman named him Romeo.
Tell me about Mamooty Palam - the bridge that my mother said was a huge one and a frightening one. I could not get any information via google. Do tell me about Vellamanal School, my mother's alma mater. Do you know her best friend, aunty Rukmini who was a teacher and a headmistress and a politician of sorts too. Came from mayyanad. I do not know Ollal Siva temple and the link to our families. Please do put into writing what you know. Which Savithri are you referring to? My grandfather's sister's daughter?? Which sister? I really have to make a trip to Mayyanad. How often do you return to Kerala? I stayed with an aunty Savithri who is related to my maternal grandmother. A very beautiful lady with a great love story.
Where do you work? What exactly do you do? Do tell me about your family, your wife, your daughter, life in Delhi and how you ended up there. Do you remember aunty subadhra and her husband uncle raghavan? they lived in serangoon road, upstairs in a shop house, they had two boys and two girls. The boys are Suni who came back to spore and Prem, who passed away in spore when he was ten. Their daughters are Chitra who is a teacher in quilon or thereabouts and Latha who is a doctor, medical lecturer in Trivandrum. Aunty subadhra passed away before i visited kerala in 97. Uncle had passed away in spore.
do you remember uncle Bhasy's younger brother, uncle kamalan, whom we referred to karutha kamalan obviously because there was another kamalan who was not so dark skinned.
I believe we can write a book that will appeal to people outside our family.
regards to all
today is Thaipusam day, a public holiday in parts of malaysia and spore.

7 Feb 2012
Dear Prasanna,
                            The electrician Uncle Soman that Valsan is referring to is my Dad’s cousin – his father’s sister’s son.  Passed away many years ago. His wife Padmavati lived with her two daughters very near to my grandfather’s home in the Koonayil area of Paravur. The elder girl, Bindu, is married to a lawyer.  
                           Botak Bhasy used to live smack in the middle of Chinatown. I remember that Sudha used to speak fluent Chinese and was otherwise brilliant.  Sad to hear about his wife and the younger son. It really is unusual for anyone in our crowd to be ‘evil’ in this way.  Jealously, dissimulation, backbiting and all of the human frailities – but they were incapable of being evil.  
                          Savithri is the daughter of Sharada, one of the three sisters of your grandfather (and Shranku and Photographer – they were six in all).  She would have been a cross-cousin (murapennu) to my uncle Srinivasan and therefore eligible.  Such alliances were common in the past and designed to keep families together as they naturally diverge down generations.  In this case there was also a legal dispute over land (close to the Paravur railway station.)  
                         I do remember Uncle Raghavan and Aunty Subhadra in that shop house on Serangoon road -  and the children.  Lost touch with them. Certainly know Uncle Kamalan, a frequent visitor to the house in Geylang where we used to live with Saroja (now settled in Sydney, Australia) before shifting to Sembawang Hills Estate in 1960.   The Geylang house had a large basement with a stairway leading up to the main part. Jeeva, and I used to slide down the banister either taking turns or together.   One day, when Uncle Kamalan was visiting, we picked up so much momentum that both of us sailed into some rose bushes and Jeeva had to be rushed to hospital (by Uncle Kamalan) to take stitches on her forehead.
                       I  will skip Mamooty Palam (the narrow railway bridge connecting Mayyanad and Paravur) and Ollal temple till I know more. I too am an expatriate of sorts – in many ways Delhi is like another country - and then my wife Naintara is not a Malayali.  
                       I left Kerala in 1978, after getting admission in the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. I have tried to visit Kerala at least once a year, but got into journalism which is a demanding profession in India.  Over the last 12 years I have been working for the Inter Press Service an international news agency which specialises in development reporting. 
                     For years I steered clear of matchmakers, because I’d become wary of Malayalis. I was just settling into life as a confirmed bachelor when I met Naintara.  She was a trainee at the United News of India news agency (a lot like Bernama) where I worked as staff correspondent.  We had completely different backgrounds and yet  we could laugh and joke together. Before we knew it things got pretty serious – like in the script of some Hindi movie. Realising that the course of true love never did run smooth we decided to present her Kashmiri Brahmin parents with a fait accompli. So one fine morning, with support from our closest friends,  we went to an Arya Samaj temple and went through the ceremony. Fortunately, her parents took  a very enlightened way.  Her father, then a top executive with a public sector engineering firm, made just one request – that he be allowed to have a proper and formal ceremony conducted with all his colleagues and clans people present.  I readily agreed. My parents, thanks to those years in Singapore, took a broadminded view as well.
More in the next instalment,  Rgds, Ranjit