Wednesday, December 19, 2012

M.D. Narayana Iyer: Chapter 6

Widowhood in the 1930s meant living death for a woman. A widow was shunned on auspicious occasions, and even in public. She was considered a curse, and people avoided looking at hear fearing the curse would strike them as well. A widow was expected to shave her head, cover her shaven head, and wear no blouse. Her place was in the kitchen, eating food left over by others, reading holy books, and praying that in the next life at least, fate would treat her more favourably. All striking examples of man’s inhumanity to man.

For Appa, life came to standstill emotionally. Physically, life had to go on. The sun rose and set. Spring turned to summer. Monsoons turned to autumn, winter, and then back to spring again. One had to eat, bathe, dress and carry on with day-to-day activities. Ankichi’s pregnancy advanced and at the appointed time, alive, normal baby girl was born.

Slowly, Appa started thinking about his daughter’s future. He felt that even though he had fallen flat on his face, what was the necessity to remain there? The correct thing would be to get up and go on with life. He made up his mind that in no way would he let his daughter feel that her life was over. She would lead a full life and his granddaughter would not feel the absence of a father. He would be the proxy father to the child. It took tremendous inner strength to come to this decision.

He decided that Ankichi should re-join college.

Hell broke loose. A Brahmin widow from a respectable family going to college to study?! It was unheard of. It would be a slur on the entire Brahmin community. Many important people had their daughters widowed at a young age. They had all accepted their fate humbly. Nobody had attempted to fight back. Some of the most vituperative comments were from close family.

But Appa stood firm like a rock. “If the Brahmin community is going to ostracize me for this, let it”, was his comment. Several people went to him and personally asked him to reconsider his decision. But Appa was adamant. His only aim was to give his daughter a fresh lease on life. Of course, he had tremendous support as well. At this point, I have to mention one person in particular, who gave Appa and Ankichi great moral support, and that was Dr. Shankaramba, who later became a top gynaecologist in Bangalore.

M.D. Narayana Iyer: Chapter 5

Even though there were two disappointments close on each others’ heels, life resumed its normalcy. Ambi’s practice was picking up very well and there were remarks here and there that the son would one day outdo the father. A very bright future was earmarked for him - maybe a judgeship in Madras, or who knew, could one dare hope, something higher, even? Ankichi was expecting her second baby, and things started looking rosy again.

Ambi used to complain occasionally of mild stomach ache. His doctor, who ws also his best friend, put it down to indigestion, and used to prescribe purgatives. Then, one day, when Ankichi had gone on a short holiday to visit her parents in Ernakulam, Ambi’s stomach ache became very serious, and he was rushed to Madras. Appa and Ankichi also joined him there. The diagnosis was a ruptured appendix, and the chances of survival, nil. Due to the misdiagnosis by his friend, all the purgatives he was made to take brought him to this condition. Ambi died, plunging his pregnant wife into unfathomable grief. Appa felt the sun had set permanently on his life - his precious daughter was a widow at the age of twenty-one.

Monday, February 27, 2012

MD Narayana Iyer: Chapter 4

Ankichi gave birth to a stillborn baby boy (born with hydrocephalus). This was a blow to the whole household. Apparently, Dharmu used to visit the spot where the infant was buried, every morning and evening, out of a faint hope to see if the baby had come back to life. Such was the grief. But in due course, life starting coming back to normal. Ankichi and her husband were young, and they could have many more children. Appa consulted the best gynaecologist of the day to make sure there was nothing physically wrong with either of them.

In the meantime Manikutty, who left for England a few days after the birth of Ankichi's stillborn child, had started his preparations for the ICS in right earnest. He was attending classes at Cambridge and other places for his subjects.

Manikutty appeared for the ICS exams, and despite getting top marks for some of the written subjects, could not make it in the viva voce. Manikutty, who did not know what it was like to come second, had failed the ICS examination. Appa was visibly upset at the turn of events, but took it in his stride, thinking Manikutty would have another chance at the ICS examinations.

What nobody knew at that time was that politics had entered Manikutty's thoughts, and this came through in the ICS interview, resulting in his failure.

MD Narayana Iyer: Chapter 3

Things were going smoothly in Appa's life. He was advancing in his own career in the Cochin government service. He was well-respected for his integrity as well as for his ability. Manikutty continued to be an extraordinarily brilliant student. He stood first in the Presidency in his intermediate examination, and went on to do his Mathematics honours at Presidency College in Madras. "Second to none", "One who does not know what it is to be second", were some of the phrases used to describe him. When Manikutty completed his honours degree, arrangements were made for his departure to England, as the preparatory step for appearing for the ICS.

Ankichi, after a couple of years of marriage, was expecting her first child - a much-awaited grandchild! Appa's cup was full - things were going very well, when the first tragedy struck.

MD Narayana Iyer: Chapter 2

Appa's younger brother-in-law, T.A. Sesha Iyer of Kozhikode, brought a marriage proposal for Ankichi, the bridegroom being his own son, Anantanarayanan, or Ambi as he was called at home. Sesha Iyer was a legal luminary and a well-respected figure in Kozhikode. An alliance with Sesha Iyer was considered an honour. Ambi was an up-and-coming lawyer, and heir to his father's formidable legal practice. Hmmm, good enough, Appa thought. The added attraction was that Ankichi would not have to adjust to a new household because the bridegroom was his own nephew.

Ankichi's marriage was celebrated with great pomp. There was a Harikatha performance by Ennapadam Venkataraman Iyer, and Musiri Subramania Iyer gave a music concert.