Sunday, August 3, 2014

M.D. Narayana Iyer, Chapter 11

Appa was a civil engineer. For a technical person, his knowledge of English literature, history, etc., was awesome.  He had made in in-depth study of practically all of Shakespeare's plays. Among others, he had read the romantic poets, Dickens and George Bernard Shaw.  His advice to the younger generation was "read Jane Austen to develop a good style of writing." Sometime into his career, he started learning Sanskrit and became very proficient in the language.  He had read Valmiki's Ramayanam, several of Kalidasa's plays and other Sanskrit works.  After retirement, he spent two hours every day reading Sanskrit literature, and two hours reading English literature.

He was punctual to a fault.  His meals were eaten exactly on time and his various activities also followed a strict time schedule.

Appa had great aesthetic sense.  After retirement, he built a beautiful home in nearly an acre of land in Thrissur.  Here he planted various fruit trees and other plants, including several varieties of mango trees, coconut trees, etc.  Rare plants bloomed and flourished in his flower garden.

Lovely rosewood furniture, rare paintings and other beautiful objects adorned his home. He had an excellent library also.

He was a very generous person. He financially helped a number of poor students who did not have the means to continue their education. He was very fond of his younger brother Rasu, and after the latter's death, took a paternal interest in his children.

Appa was a very frugal person.  It was his frugality which enabled him to educate his three children very well, sending Manikutty abroad (he offered to send Dharmu abroad also, but he declined the offer) and ensuring financial stability for all of them.  But sometimes this frugality brought about some amusing moments. Appa felt that Brinda (then a teenager) was wasting toothpaste and so decided he would ration out her toothpaste.  So, whenever Brinda wanted to brush her teeth, Appa squeezed out just enough toothpaste for her.  Once, Appa developed a severe chest infection and very high fever (even the doctors were very worried about him). Even on that day, Brinda, on waking up, found to her astonishment that the toothbrush was ready on the wash basin, with the toothpaste already squeezed out onto it. Despite a temperature of 104, Appa (in his 80s then) found the strength to get up and do it. Really remarkable, indeed!

There were some hilarious moments also with Appa.  He did not particularly care for movies (actually, the only movie I remember him seeing was David Copperfield). One day, my cousin, Indi and I decided to go for a movie. There was a long discussion about who would escord us back home from the theatre, when the movie ended at 9 pm.  Indi was around 8 or 9 and I was 14 or 15. We argued that we were capable of coming home on our own and my mother said that we were too young to come back home by ourselves so late in the evening. Suddenly, Appa volunteered to come to the theatre to escort us back. Indi and I were stunned into silence - Appa coming to the theatre was so out of character. Then he dropped the punch line - we had to get out of the theatre at 7.30! We wanted us to see onl half the movie. Luckily, the problem was solved for us.  The theatre introduced an afternoon show, so we could return home alone.

Appa was fond of music, especially Carnatic music.  He had a good collection of 78 RPM records. But the main source of music was the radio. Here Appa had some stron likes and dislikes, Madurai Mani Iyer being one of his dislikes, strange to say!

In APpa's household, everybody had a say in all matters.  It was a truly democratic setup.  Even the youngest child must be listened to, if what it says makes sense, was his view.

Appa did not believe in ritualistic religion.  But he did not impose his views on others.

Here are a few of the sayings Appa was fond of quoting:

"Sathyam bhruyath (tell the truth)

Priyam bhruyath (tell what is pleasing)

Na Bhruyath sathyam apriyam (do not say the truth which is not pleasing)

Priyam asathyam bhi na bhruyath "(do not indulge in insincere flattery).

"In words, wisdom, in deeds, courage, and in life, service".

Saturday, August 2, 2014

M.D. Narayana Iyer, Chapter 10

In this narrative, I have not written much about Appa's third child, Dharmu. This is not because he was in any way inferior to his siblings, but the special qualities of Appa, which this narrative is about, did not have much chance to play in Dharmu's life.  Dharmu stood first in the presidency for his B.Sc. as well as B.E. (hons.) from Guindy and cleared the All India competitive exam for engineers.  He married Janaki, daughter of C.V. Venkateswaran.  Dharmu retired as Chief Engineer of CPWD. Inshort, Dharmu lead a "regular" life, and Appa was proud of him.

Appa was very fond of Dharmu's three children, Brinda, Ramesh and Hema, Brinda being his favourite.

M.D. Narayana Iyer, Chapter 9

During his stay in England, Manikutty had met Parvathi Kumaramangalam, and in his own words, it was love at first sight. Parvathi was the daughter of Dr. P. Subbarayan, a very well-known public figure, and Radhabai Subbarayan, a social activist.  Parvathi also returned to India around the same time as Manikutty. They continued to see other and the mutual attraction, aided by common interests and political views. The relationship grew from strength to strength, until they finally arrived at the natural conclusion - marriage.

The Subbarayans were definitely not Palghat Brahmins. Manikutty wanted to marry Parvathi with his parents' blessings. With great trepidation, Manikutty told his father about his interest in Parvathi, and sought his approval for the union. However, there was absolutely no hesitation on his parents' part. Appa had only one reservation, which he conveyed to his son. "We are middle-class people, and they are zamindars.  She should not feel that she has married beneath her." A very relevant concern from a fond father.  Manikutty convinced his father that financial status did not come into the picture at all and that they were planning to live in a commune.

Even in today's time and world, parents frown upon an Iyer marrying an Iyengar, or a Trichy Brahmin marrying a Tanjore Brahmin, and even disown their children for marrying out of caste. What Appa, a person brought up in a small village in Kerala, did in the 1940's, is truly remarkable.

Parvathi was welcomed with open arms into the family. Caste was never an issue.  Every year, Appa used to spend a few enjoyable weeks with Manikutty and Parvathi. Their daughter, Indi, had a close relationship with her paternal grandparents.

Monday, August 26, 2013

M.D. Narayana Iyer, Chapter 8

Manikutty had been in England for about three years. He had had a lot of time for introspection. He had been exposed to a lot of new ideas. He had met a number of intellectual giants. He came to the conclusion that a career in the Indian Civil Service was not for him. Politics had entered his being and he decided to join the Communist Party of India as an active member.

But he was in an emotional turmoil. He had to find the mental strength to tell his father about his decisions. His parents had already been shattered by his sister's tragedy. But the truth had to come out and the soon, the better.

Once again, Appa was devastated when he heard about his son's decision. He felt the carpet had been jerked out from under his feet. All these years, he had been consumed by one ambition, and that was that his son would one day become an ICS Officer. He had spent a minor fortune to realize this ambition, and now all his hopes and dreams had come to nothing.

Anybody else in his position would have ranted and raved, and would have threatened to disown his son. But, as I have said earlier, Appa was not anybody else. Once the initial shock wore off, he thought about the situation in a calm and dispassionate manner. "I have taught my children to think for themselves, and now my son is thinking for himself. So why should I object? It took all of Appa's inner strength to accept the situation.

He told Manikutty that as a father, he would support him fully in whatever decision he made. The extent of Appa's support is evident from the following incident. After returning to India, Manikutty plunged into active politics. He was arrested and incarcerated in Nasik jail for anti-British activities. The cells in Nasik jail were damp and caold and Manikutty cold frequent colds because of lack of warm clothing. Appa with to Nasik with blankets and sweaters for his son!

Over the years Appa followed his son's political career with great pride, even though it was a far cry from the plans he had envisaged for him.

M.D. Naryana Iyer: Chapter 7

(Most of the material for this chapter is taken from Manikutty's book, A Testament of Faith, by N.K. Krishnan).

Sesha Iyer had predeceased his son by a year, leaving a large estate. He had four married daughters and two sons, one of which was Ambi. When Ambi died, his brother refused to give his widow (Ankichi) her rightful share of the ancestral property. Ambi's earnings had also been added to the family coffers. His brother offered a pittance for this sister-in-law and her daughter. "Go to court", was the general voice of friends and well-wishers. "No - not against my sister's son", was Appa's response. "If my nephew is mean enough to deny a widow and her child their rightful share, I will match his meanness with my magnanimity. Obviously, he does not have enough faith in his ability to earn a livelihood, which is why he is clinging to his father's money. My daughter is made of different material. She is capable of earning a livelihood for herself." To a Christian friend, who urged him to sue his nephew, his reply was, "Forgive him, Father, for he knows not what he does". It is a tribute to Appa's magnanimity that he maintained good relations with his nephew until his death. "If the great God forgave sinners, then what right have I to withhold forgiveness?" was his refrain. So Appa, in addition to having to cope with the emotional turmoil caused by his son-in-law's death, had to worry about his daughter's financial future also, despite getting her married into a very rich family.

Ankichi, who rejoined college after ten tumultuous years, passed her intermediate examination with flying colours, standing first in her college, getting a university rank, and winning a gold medal - a fantastic performance by any standard. She passed her M.Sc. with first class and joined Maharaja's College, Ernakulam, as a lecturer. She eventually rose up to the position of principal of a college. SOme of the very same people who criticized Appa for sending his daughter to college later approached him for Ankichi's help with their children' college admissions.

Appa's unshakeable faith in himself and his daughter had been fully justified and his stand, vindicated.

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.