Childhood and Education
Yours truly was born on 5 April 1905, in the asterism of Aswathy. There has been no dispute about the date of birth, but I cannot say that there were no disagreements at all. Long after the time of disagreement had vanished, the article on the women of Kerala which appeared in the Femina magazine of 12 November 1971 referred to the first woman Judge in the Commonwealth as “the 68-year-old luminary.” Now, if this case were before retirement, I would have filed an affidavit, argued, and got it dismissed with costs. Because it surfaced now, so I’ll let it go.
There was a serious dispute about the time of my birth, though. Mr Chandy, who believed in astrology, asked my mother for my birth-time when I became a lawyer so that he could get my horoscope written. Before midnight, Amma said first, and then when he asked for the exact hour she — throwing a cockroach into the meagre gruel left — said that it was early at dawn, after many hours of pain during the night. Since the culprit gave different testimonies about the time of the deed, and no other witnesses were available, though Mr Chandy, eager to know of my future, was somewhat disappointed, the astrologer finished the adding up and the drawing of the chart, and pronounced the judgment that a female infant could possibly be born only under the asterism of Aswathy. The horoscope was written on that basis. Most of the predictions came true.
According to the horoscope, some more high places in the world remain ahead. And after that, a life of sanyasa. As someone who is exhausted from her labours and is troubled by the ailments of her age, I have not much faith or hope about the first part of this prediction. But I do have strong faith and hope about the second part of it. I have been fortunate to become a member of the Carmelite Third Order and that is a fitting end to life for sure. I also do not conceal the truth that I am now looking for a place that will suit that end.
My parents are Dr M J Jacob (Kunhoonjhu Apothecary) and Sara Jacob (Thankamma). I hail from Alappuzha. When she was pregnant with me, amma, who was fair-skinned and somewhat beautiful, asked my dark-skinned father, “Kunhoonjhe, what if our child is born dark-skinned like you?” In reply, Appachan, after trying to advance the argument about black being seven-times-splendoured and failing in it, apparently replies, “If the baby is a girl, she will be fair like you, Thankamme, and if it is a boy, it is alright even if he’s dark-skinned, since he can find a fair-skinned girl like you, so not to worry.” Whatever, I ended up somewhere midway between ammachi’s fair-skin and appachan’s dark-skin as a brown-skinned woman. Maybe my father’s prediction was not fulfilled completely because though female, I was fated to enter a profession that was supposedly the monopoly of men. And besides, that lacuna was filled by my very handsome, fair-skinned jeevitha sakhi [sic]– my life-partner.
My Father’s Demise and Our Move to Thiruvananthapuram
When I was five, and my only sister Sarah (Mrs Sarah Varkey) was just one, our loving father passed away at the age of 35. Not long after, the house and the coconut garden we owned at Alappuzha were sold and we moved to Thiruvananthapuram. My mother took that decision sensing that Thiruvananthapuram would be much better than Alappuzha for our health, the progress of our studies, and prosperous future. Our later experiences proved her completely right. For some time, we lived in Kunnukuzhi along with our grandmother and my mother’s siblings in valyammachi’s [grandmother’s] house. After that my ammachi [mother] bought an acre of land behind the Government Women’s College at Thycaud which had a large building with a thatched roof from her mother and siblings. We moved there, and staying there, ammachi got a good tiled building, and two smaller thatched buildings built there. After living there for some time, we moved into one of the smaller thatched buildings and offered the other buildings to tenants. Our expenses were met from the rent from these buildings and the meagre salary our mother earned as a primary school teacher.
My mind turns by itself towards some of the amusing memories of living in the big house with the thatched roof. When we bought the house and the yard, it had been rented to the Freemasons. Later, they occupied one half of the house including the middle room, and we, the other half, including the kitchen. The condition was that we would leave the entire premises for the whole day when they held their monthly meeting. Initially we kept that agreement quite well, but later, during the monsoon, it was quite difficult to leave the house and go off to valyammachi’s at Kunnukuzhy. Therefore we would hide in the kitchen which was separate from the house. In order to conceal this breach of contract we would have to keep stay in custody in the kitchen, without lighting a lamp or even breathing loudly, for nearly three hours on most occasions.
Saramma and I went to the Maharaja’s Girls’ High School till the fourth form and then shifted to the Holy Angels’ Convent for the fifth and sixth forms. When we were students at the convent, our ammachi was a teacher in the fourth class. Our domestic matters were handled by our father’s cousin’s daughter, Chinnamma. She was also being trained in sewing. She now lived with her husband Phineas, who has retired from service as a Postmaster. Chinnamma and I were around the same age and great friends. Therefore I am delighted to say a word about her marriage
Chinnamma’s [future] husband used to come to our house to give Saramma and me music lessons. We called him Asan [teacher]. Though he was much older than Chinnamma, he fell in love with her. And Chinnamma did reciprocate it somewhat. I used to ask her if it was Asan’s style of singing sa sa sa ri ri ri ga ga ga, playing the fiddle and shaking his head with the veins on his neck swelling, that did the trick. When she learned of their liking for each other, Ammachi ignored the age gap and taking into account only his economic situation, employment, and good character and fixed their wedding. Before fixing it, she wrote to Chinnamma’s parents, who were in Alappuzha, for their permission. They were quite backward in finances and so were very happy with this. But the fault-finders went around saying, “Thankamma is marrying the girl to an oldster to get her off her neck. He will leave the world without a single progeny and the girl will be on the road.” The wedding went off beautifully with the blessings of the bride’s parents. Chinnamma settled down with Asan in their own home at Ulloor. And instead of one, they had two bonny babies, twin boys. They both studied up to BA or MA, got married to degree-holders and hold good jobs. I had the chance to visit them a year back and get a glimpse of their contented life together. When we shared the sweet memories of the past, I was able to savour Asan’s mischievous smile, and Chinnamma’s coy looks. Now, let me return to the story.
[To be continued]