Sunday, August 24, 2008


Babuji with Chief Commissioner L. R. S. Singh

This was how we came to Pondicherry, and a different kind of life.

When we arrived in the city the French culture was very much in evidence. It was soon after the de facto period. The de jure period was five years later, by which time Pondicherry came fully under the Indian Government. The transition was very slow, but steady, bringing the Indian influence by introducing Indian art and culture and tradition, and finally the election to the newly created Pondicherry Legislative assembly. And the politicians taking the reins in their hands. The first elected members were French oriented and gladly welcomed by the public. M. Goubert was elected the Chief Minister.
Babuji with M. Goubert (wearing cap) at a meeting.

He was a very favourite person, and was very friendly and understanding. Till the election the government was run by the Chief Commissioner, and the heads of the three departments – General Administration, Development and Finance. And once the politicians took over the government, the Chief Commissioner was chief only in name.

We were there during this transition period and were able to enjoy many music and dance performances. Concerts by great musicians like Madurai Mani Iyer, Alathur Brothers, Ariyakkudi Ramanujam Iyengar, Madurai Somasundaram and flute maestro T. R. Mahalingam, and dancers like Lalitha, Padmini, Ragini and Kamala Lakshman were too great for words. Above all we were lucky to watch the abhinayam of the great doyen of Bharata Natyam, Bala Saraswathi sitting on the stage. It was great and unbelievable that one can bring to life the pranks of Sri Krishna by just movements of the hands, eyes and facial expressions. It was an unforgettable experience.
With Babuji in the audience at a dance perfomance. Viji (in frock) is in front.

Recently a few months back, my son took me to a Bharata natyam performance by this great artiste’s grandson Aniruddh, at the India International Centre. I t was a very good show, which we enjoyed very much. I was also able to catch glimpses of the great Bala in the grandson. Maybe I am the only person in the family who has witnessed both the grandmother and the grandson on stage.

The music concerts were held on very informal platforms, with both the musicians and the audience, sitting on the floor on a school verandah, or a big classroom. It was more like the chamber music of today, with no mike or loudspeakers, and the audience numbering only forty or fifty in a very friendly atmosphere. I remember a couple of incidents.

Once Mali was playing an alapana in the raagam Thodi, in a very detailed manner. Suddenly a procession led by a nagaswaram playing very much out of tune passed by on the road. Mali stopped what he was playing, and started accompanying the off-key notes of the nagaswaram until the procession moved out of hearing. He then coolly continued with the Thodi raagam.

Another time, a member of our group had to attend a function in Annamalai University, Chidambaram, when there was a concert by the Alathur Brothers in Pondicherry. The senior brother noticed the absence of Mr. S. in our midst and asked about him. He was told he had gone to Chidambaram on work. While the concert was going on, Mr. S. came in and took his seat with us. Seeing him, the musicians’ next song was ‘Chidambaram Pogamal iruppeno?’
We all enjoyed this song as well as the humour that went along with it.

Mr. and Mrs. Datta

In the de facto - de jure period, Pondicherry had seen three Chief Commissioners. After Mr. Kripalani came Mr. L. R. S. Singh, another ICS officer, who was little less stuffy. His beautiful daughter, whenever she was in town, was very friendly with us. A few years later we attended her wedding in New Delhi. After L. R. S. Singh came Mr. Datta, who was really down to earth, and very friendly and sociable, and easy to move with. Mrs. Datta was a very fine person, and we had some good times together.

Once the election was over and the politicians took over the government of the state, Babuji started feeling that he would be called back to Delhi any day. He did not want Raji’s and Bala’s studies to be interrupted. So it was decided to send Raji to Trivandrum to my parents’ place to do her P. U. C., and Bala to stay with his uncles in Delhi for his high school studies. Though we were prepared to leave Pondicherry any time, it took nearly 18 to 20 months to get the signal from Delhi.

In the meantime there was an addition to the family, a most welcome one, our own bundle of happiness, our little baby Gowri. A very lucky one with not only her parents to shower love and affection on her, but also loving brothers and sisters, who simply adored her.

Our plan was to go to Trivandrum to my parents’ place to spend the four months leave period that was due to Pondicherry, and then proceed to Delhi. Babuji was to join duty at Delhi in February. So we left Pondicherry by road via Mysore, Bangalore and Ooty for a little sightseeing for four or five days, and proceeded to Trichur. In Trichur we had a surprise. A telegram to Babuji from the Home Ministry asking him to join duty in a fortnight.

So the Chinese aggression of 1962 was having an impact on our lives too. Babuji before his sojourn to the South was working in the Home Ministry, dealing with foreigners and internment camps. So when the Chinese attack came, he was ordered to come back at the earliest, as he was needed in the Home Ministry.

After settling us down in Trivandrum, Babuji left for Delhi, and stayed with Bala separately for about six to eight weeks. We joined them once Babuji was allotted a quarters in West Kidwai Nagar. There we continued to live for about 16 to 17 years, till Babuji retired.

The quarters at West Kidwai Nagar was single storied at that time. The upstairs flats were built a year or two later.

Our stay in Pondicherry was the best part of our lives. We were exposed to different types of people, language, tradition and customs – different lifestyles, to put it shortly. And we became richer by this exposure. Our horizon, wider, our outlook brighter and our level of tolerance and powers of appreciation of various facts of lifestyle on the increase. I feel that the Pondicherry life opened up new vistas in the children’s minds also.

All said and done, this was the golden period of our life. - Babuji's 'ezharai sani' period.

Minister Venkatasubba Reddiar bidding us farewell.


Kamini said...

Very enjoyable, Maiji, particularly since it covers the birth of one of my favourite people! When we were in Pondicherry a few months back, my father pointed out the hospital where Gowri was born, and the area you lived in then.
I have to share the honour with you of having watched both grandmother and grandson - I have watched the great Bala in Madras, and her grandson Aniruddha Knight in New York.

Viji Venkatesh said...

Oh and that is Suryaprabha my best friend sitting next to me ....

Rinkly Rimes said...

I love your photographs, particularly the one of the two little girls. Children are children the whole world over and I've seen those same expressions on the faces of children of my own race many times. said...

Wow, there's so much worthwhile information here!