Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Mme. IN PONDICHERRY
In spite of my heavy responsibilities at home taking care of my husband’s and children’s needs, and also those of Babuji’s parents, who were living with us, I really enjoyed my life in Pondicherry. I too played an active part, though small, in many events there. I was asked to judge baby shows, flower shows and beauty contests. Once I was asked to open a tailoring class, which I agreed to gladly; only I did not know that I had to make a speech, and that too in Tamil. I agree, yes, that my mother tongue is Tamil, but it is the Tamil spoken at home with many Malayalam words, and a very Malayalam accent. Since most Pondicherrians could not understand English at that period, I had to speak in my Manipravalam Tamil. I am sure it was not appreciated greatly, because I was never asked to make a speech again! Thank God.
The last time I was at Gowri’s place I was asked to make a speech at the school where Gowri was doing an honorary job helping senior children with their English. It was no problem for me as I had to speak in English
Annual Sports meets were held in the Cluny Convent, in the Medical College, and in the Police Department. They were really big events to which all the top brass was invited. JIPMER was just coming up at that time. The foundation stone had been laid. The Medical College at that time was not a big one, and it was run in two or there buildings.
Babuji receives the prize at a Police Sports meet from Tara Cherian, then Mayor of Madras
In all these sports events there was one item for the guests as in all sports meets of schools and colleges today. We were all expected to take part and we did. Invariably in all these meets, Babuji and I used to win, Babuji in the men’s events, and me in the women’s events. And if it was a common event, it was Maiji who won. It happened almost in every meet all the time.
As usual there was a Medical College sports meet in late 1961. We both were there among the spectators. At the end of all the main events, the guest event was announced. The Master of Ceremonies was calling out all the ladies by name, asking them to come forward. He was saying, “Where is Mrs. Ramakrishna, the lucky winner of all events? Come on, please.” So I slowly got up from my seat and took a step. Dr. Mrs, Abraham, the gynaecologist, who was sitting a couple of seats away from me shouted, “No, Mrs. Ramakrishna, you are not to run in your condition, so please sit down.” There was a sudden hush in our area of the spectators, and all heads turned towards me. That was how the imminent arrival of Gowri (our youngest) was announced to the Pondy public.
Talking of doctors, reminds me of one occasion when I was suffering from severe stomach pain. Dr. Souccu’s name was recommended, and Babuji requested him to come home.
I was really apprehensive thinking he would be French, and not be able to understand English. He came home, and when he learnt we were from Kerala he started talking to us in Malayalam. He explained that he also was from Kerala and that his name was Sukumaran, and that he was named Souccu by the French. Anyway we were really intrigued by his treatment. He told me he would give me a powder for ‘naalu kaasu’ (less than 25 paise today), and when I became all right, he would give me a costly tonic. Believe it or not, I was cured by the ‘naalu kaasu’ powder. The 'naalu kaasu' powder, he told us later, was actually charcoal powder!
We liked him so much and respected his judgement, and treatment whenever needed. Here I must mention that he was completely bowled over by Raja, just three years old then. Raja was suffering from some pains in and around the neck, and he himself explained to the Doctor all his symptoms. The Doctor quietly brushed me aside, and listened to Raja.
The day I first went shopping I was advised by my peers that I just could not walk into any shop. But I had to sit in the car and ask for things I needed, and they would be brought to me in the car for approval and selection. I did not like that kind of shopping. In spite of all the advice I just walked into the shops and bought what I needed. How could anyone sit in the car and buy shoes for the children – that was what rattled me. So I made a change in the way officers’ wives shopped. Wives of officers who came after us to Pondicherry (all officers were sent on deputation from Delhi) also followed my example. We also went vegetable shopping.
I also tried my hand at social work, but I did not take a fancy to it. The kind of social work we did was to go to one of the cheris, bathe the children, sweep the street and so on. I felt that I would rather remain at home, bathe my children and keep my house clean.
We made some good friends there - the Krishnaswamys,(seen with Maiji here) the Subramaniams, the Mamaks and the Singhs. The Krishnaswamys and the Subramaniams were very special – we referred to the Krishnaswamys as Uncle and Aunty, and they in turn called us Niece and Nephew. Their only son practically grew up in our place. After Pondicherry, whenever they came to Delhi, they always spent time with us. When Aunty passed away in 1981, Uncle personally called us and gave us the sad news. As I was recovering from a surgery at that time, Uncle came to our place to share his grief with us. That was how strong our friendship was. He was one of our Pondy friends who also attended Gowri’s wedding in 1986.
The Subramniams, MS to us, was another special couple. We spent many evenings together, playing chess. After leaving Pondicherry, we went and spent some days with them in Bangalore. They were in New Delhi for a few years after that, and we used to meet them often, which strengthened our friendship. Even today if I were to lift the receiver I can carry on a conversation with either of them, as if I had parted from them only last week.
The way Ajayab Singh and I met was very funny. It was one mid morning when he walked into our drawing room and asked me where his table was and what was his working time was. I could not make head or tail of what he was saying. So he introduced himself as the new Statistics Officer who had come to join duty. I had to make him understand that this was not an office, but a residence. He looked very sheepish as he left! This meeting left a kind of bond between us – a secret shared by just the two of us. I saw them last in 1998.
I haven’t seen many of these friends for a long time, and don’t know where many of them are, but I cherish their memories.