The Autobiography of Anna Chandy: Part 1 (Continued)

I continued my education after High School at the Maharaja’s College. Because I had a slight partiality for the Malayalam language, I approached the Malayalam professor Sri C P Parameswaran Pillai to seek his view, hoping to opt for Malayalam as my elective subject. When I told him, he looked astonished, and said, “My kutty, don’t bother us — Mappilas (that was a common way of referring to Christians) are very poor in Malayalam. I am not sure whether you will even score pass marks. Whatever, don’t even think of taking it as your optional subject.”

But when I persisted, he remained silent, not able to stop me. Later, after the course was over and I scored distinction marks in Malayalam, he changed his views completely. “Kutty,” he said, “I take back everything I said. Not a single student from this college has scored distinction marks till now. You have held up my honour and that of our college!” I bowed low in respect, and went away with his blessings. Like I believed in prayer and vows, I also believed in the blessings of our teachers since childhood. And I have never been denied the latter. Though I had troubled our Math teacher with my cartooning skills in class, the good-hearted gentleman did bless me before I left the convent school. I plead with this generation of students who make fun of their teachers, gherao them, hit Vice-Chancellors in the head with paper-weights and so on, who may be offended by my discourse on devotion to teachers, to spare me that treatment — and with this, I exit this highly-dangerous terrain of discussion!

The only teacher who did not bless me was my Hindi teacher. Don’t you want to hear that story? When I became a lawyer and was living in Thiruvananthapuram, Mr Chandy and I developed a desire to study Hindi. We found a tuition master. We were young, of course. The study continued. After some days I thought, why not write a poem? The subject of the poem was to be none other than our Hindi teacher. He was a short, dark, rotund man. I still remember the Hindi I learned that day — along with the words I used in the poem, though not the poem itself — kaala — dark; motta — fat ; chidkku — short; pedu– potbellied. When I read it out to him and Mr Chandy, he too had joined Mr Chandy in laughing it off merrily, but I suspect a little that my inability to grasp Hindi when it came to the grammar part came out of his curse. Anyway, in eternal memory of our effort to learn Hindi, we named the house we built on our own ‘Babu Bhavan’, and taught our grandson Babu who had just begun to talk those days (he is the son of Mr Chandy’s daughter Baby) to call us Babuji and Badi-ma. Those days went past, but I really felt the lack of Hindi when I moved to Delhi in my old age. Because I did not need Hindi for my work at the Law Commission and since they had hired a peon with good knowledge of Hindi who had higher secondary qualifications, I did not have to repeat my Hindi lessons. But after we bought a TV set I do find it difficult to enjoy the Hindi movies and other programmes on it. But all three of my grandchildren are great in Hindi and so I am advancing with their support. When someone comes up to me speaking Hindi, I start off with ‘hindu maalum nahi’ and then carry on with the help of my son, daughter-in-law, and the cook who all have mastered Hindi to some extent, and also use gestures to escape; and so I manage somehow.

In the Intermediate exam in Women’s College, Saradamma came first and I came second. The first and second rank-holders were given ten and twenty rupees worth of scholarships, known as the Maharaja scholarship and the Queen Mary’s scholarship. Saradamma did not want to go to Chennai and she took the twenty-rupee Maharajah’s scholarship; I became eligible for the Queen Mary’s scholarship. From the time I entered college, I wanted badly to go outside Travancore with some friends to study. I conveyed this wish to mother, but she asked, with our little income how am I to educate you outside Travancore, how will I meet our other expenses? If you study hard and win a scholarship, I will let you go. I had studied hard with this aim in mind and won the scholarship.

It appears that she did not consider that she may have to keep the word she gave me, or that she would feel sad at parting with me. Anyway, all the preparations for my moving to Madras went on without delay. We got the clothes I needed and packed them. I got myself accommodation as a boarder in the room of my friend Susan Uthup (Mrs P I Alexander) in the Queen Mary’s Hostel. All I needed to do was to buy a railway ticket. But even as I was immersed in my dreams about travelling to Madras and living there, something that gave me unbearable pain happened. The day before I was to reserve her railway ticket, I found ammachi, who I have never seen weeping before, lying on her bed and wailing as if her heart would break. “I have no one in this world,” she cried, “And the older one is leaving me alone and going far away as soon as she’s somewhat ready to spread her wings…” And her weeping just went on and on. Not losing a moment, not thinking of any consequence, I told her that I will cancel my studies in Madras if it pained her to be far away from me. Amma got up from her bed and hugged me to her chest and kissed me like never before, and blessed me, “My child, mole, God bless you!” I write about this sacrifice in great detail — my readers will admit that given my age and circumstances, this was indeed a sacrifice — because it changed the course of my life — and to also bring it to the attention of the youngsters of today who are not willing to give up even a little happiness or comfort for the sake of their parents.

I had decided to study Malayalam as my optional subject then. If I had gone to Madras with that decision in mind, I would have become a Malayalam professor or a college principal and become a pensioner by now. But it turned out that I joined the History (Hons) course here, and Mr Chandy approached me with a marriage proposal at the right time, and in the end I became the country’s first High Court Judge and I am writing this autobiography now.

I did the History (Hons) course in the Arts College. Besides Smt Saradamma, my classmates were Sri Chattanatha Karayalar, Ganapathy Aiyer, and P C Chacko. Among them, Saradamma, who was the younger sister of the wife of the Travancore Chief Secretary Sri Kunhan Pillai, ended her worldly life and career and entered the Kulathur ashram. I heard that P C Chacko dies an untimely death, and I wept. About the others, I have no information. I remember Sri Chacko because he was an extremely modest and retiring person and these unusual qualities made our college principal and history professor Sri K V Rangaswami Ayengar who was a humorous person told him, “Chacko, if you do not get over this shyness, I will present you with a sari and rowka which you will have to put on in class.” When I burst out laughing seeing Chacko turn even more bashful at this comment, he turned to me and said, “And you, Anna, will exchange your chatta and kavani for his mundu and coat,” thus giving me too a share of that humour.

We shared some classes with the MA students. Smt Anna John of Kollankeril, Aimanam, Kottayam was an MA student. When we two Annas were together, to make sure that there was no confusion. Sri Rangaswami Ayengar called me “Big Anna” in recognition of my girth and my height, while referring to Anna John as “Small Anna”, since she was neither tall nor fat and actually, a ‘little human’. That did not trouble me but the way he pronounced my name ‘Anna’ as “Aana” or ‘elephant’ just for the fun of it, because a source of mirth for our friends. The more mischievous among them made some variations and called me “Ponnni Aana” or fat elephant, and Anna John was called ‘Kutty aana” or baby elephant. They also gave her a more suitable nickname – Pocket edition. It was really true that she could be perhaps fitted into a big-enough pocket. A few month’s back, at my grandchild Mahesh’s wedding I met her again in Thiruvananthapuram, and called her that old nickname of kutty aana, and she hugged me with great delight at hearing that old name, and took revenge, calling me Ponny aane instead.

It is not hard to bear names like “Ponny aana” or “Big aana”. The strange transformations of my name after I came to Delhi is, however, truly unbearable. Some of the Hindi people who were unfamiliar with the name Chaandy called me ‘Aana Chandni’ and others referred to me as ‘Aana Chanddy’ (which would mean Elephant Waste) and yet others preferred ‘Aana Chanthy (Elephant buttocks). I must say that I do protest at the last nickname. But when it is offered to my face, my usual practice is to teach them to pronounce my name properly without clarifying the reasons for my protest. When we moved to Green Park after my retirement, a postman arrived with a letter asking me for Aana Chanthy! Anyway, I intend to return this national award conferred to me at the capital city of India before I come back.

We were taught English by Sri Chandrasekharan. He used to joke a lot in class to relieve the monotony. After he finished teaching us Shakespeare’s Othello he asked the male students, “what is the moral you have learned from this story?” and seeing that there was no response from there, he turned to the corner where the women students were sitting, and advised us, “Ladies, don’t lose your handkerchiefs!” Since even without that advice I knew well that the consequences of losing a handkerchief and going back home could be quite serious even if it weren’t as catastrophic as it were for Desdemona, I was always careful! But later in life, after I started taking evening walks, when I would regularly return losing one kerchief a day, I would remember this advice.

Being this History Hons donnish student, do you have nothing to tell us about the education of those days, you may ask. Well, the education happened in course. And I passed quite credibly too. But if I describe all that here who wants to hear all that bland vedanta? That’s why I have nothing to say about the professors V N Narayana Pillai, Sri Krishnamachari, and Narasimha Ayengar who had no knack for humour and taught their lessons seriously. But I moved forward in my studies and my life with their blessings as well, and completed the course well.

3 thoughts on “The Autobiography of Anna Chandy: Part 1 (Continued)”

    1. Actually she published an earlier version in the മലയാള മനോരമ sunday edition of 1971 . I read that version first. Later she expanded it and Carmel books, a catholic publication house, published it. But now it is out of print and her heirs are outside Kerala, I think, so it is difficult to contact them. Anna Chandy’s niece is the well known writer Sara Thomas.

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