The Autobiography of Anna Chandy — Part 1 (Continued)

To the Law College

Those days, Sara Pothen had just completed her BA and was living with her parents. Mr Chandy met Mr Pothen and discussed the matter of sending his daughter to the Law College. He was willing; so was his daughter. I have already told you that Mr Chandy returned with the application form to Law College. I tried my last hand to escape from it, but to no avail. He completed the form himself. I signed it, with much reluctance and fear.

He then got a transfer to Thiruvananthapuram; we lived in a small property near my mother’s house in Thycaud. Those days, there were no full-time classes in the Law College. There were two hours of lectures in the morning, two in the afternoon. I could leave for college in the morning after nursing my six month old baby and come back at noon to breast feed him. No one will expect that the wife of a police inspector will have her own car to go to college. We were not rich enough to hire a car. One of Mr Chandy’s nephews used to live with us and was studying type-writing. He would accompany me to college. I would stop at Sara Pothen’s house on the way and get her too.

I have not forgotten our inaugural day, even now. All our classmates were standing on the veranda expecting us. There were some one-line mustached chaps; some mischievous ones; some staring champions. It looked like all their eyes were waiting, ready to greet us. Those days in the Law College you could enroll for BL without passing the FL. Therefore many students from Madras and Andhra, where this was not permitted, used to come here and study at the college. Contempt-filled sneers, barely audible murmuring — all this, and a veritable overflow of derision welcomed us there. But I will not conceal the truth that there were among them a few classmates who were waiting for us with genuine brotherly affection. Shri K P Ravunni Menon who was an advocate in the High Court of Kerala and later became a member of the Official Language Commission, was among them — something I learned recently, when he himself told me. But let me tell you, I am not really sure if he was actually there or if he is bluffing after all these years. But since the opinion I formed of him from my experience in Ernakulam is that he happens to be a decent person deeply interested in improving the lot of women, and a cultured gentleman, I take his words for truth. When I finished the manuscript “The Lord of My Heart Who Made Me Who Iam” a number of English words occurred in many parts of it. I did not know the exact Malayalam equivalents for most of those. I did not have an English-Malayalam dictionary then — I bought one later when I felt that I should not trouble him too much. Anyway, in the beginning I relied on the member of the Official Language Commission. He agreed to do the job happily. He took it saying that he would need two weeks but returned with a note containing the information I needed in just three days. “Why soon soon,” I asked him, and he said “when I started reading it, I could not put it down, so finished quickly.” Then he started telling me of all the negative circumstances and the troubles created by our classmates — and it was then he clarified, ” But I was not among them. I was among those who were ready to greet you with brotherly love.” But I did not take that claim at face value and continued to cross-examine him, asking, “Is that completely true?” and then he confessed that he was among the gang that had gathered there to tease these curious new objects by winking at them. Let me use this opportunity to thank him for the help he gave me with this book.

Let me return from this detour to the welcome at the inaugural day in college. Though highly reluctant, we walked right through the middle of the crowd of greeters with our heads up and serious faces with air of haughtiness, even, towards the Principal’s room. Mr E J John was the Principal. His fatherly behaviour and loving smile and reassuring words gave us courage. We went to our classroom accompanied by him and occupied the two chairs in the front row quietly and modestly. Our professors T K Velu Pillai, Padmanabha Kukiliya, Malloor Govinda Pillai and P P John, came to the class one by one. On the first day, there were merely some meaningful coughs and laughs from remote corners of the classroom. When I reached home, Mr Chandy was waiting there to hear from me the experience of the first day. I managed to give him a well-bedecked version of our hurdles in the morning and how we overcame them with self-confidence, with lots of frills sewn in.

Our studies went on well. Our classmates tried new tricks and strategies each day. They would continue until we were seated for the class. Some would be dancing; others would be mewing like cats or barking like dogs. We used to be greeted everyday with such band music. One seated in the chair, one would be subjected to such Gitopadeshas as “The mother of an infant still on the breast! Why has she embarked on this rash path? In the end there will be no children, no career in the law … just stay at home and raise your kid …” Then suddenly the cry, “Amme, amminhi!” [the nipple], would rise up from a corner of the class room. The hubbub that our friends created went on this way. Even the new crevasse that was found in the wall of the law college around that time was firmly attributed to the ‘women’s gang’ by some.

One would reach home each day exhausted and wounded by these arrows of derision. I would describe all of it my husband each day. When I would finish inevitably adding the complaint, “You can happily sit here and push me there. Only those who suffer it can know how unbearable it is,”Mr Chandy would give me smile as cool and comforting as moonlight, and would tell me, gently, “Won’t all this disappear in an instant? When you pass the exam, become a lawyer and then a judge, won’t these fellows who tease you now come before you and address you as “Your Honour”, “Your Ladyship” and fold themselves up with respect?” When he drew that colourful picture before my eyes, all my complaints would run away. And so my student days passed with the prayer — let the days of revenge arrive soon.

I also felt that the study of law was very burdensome. Law books that were too heavy to life up! Tough terminology, enough to break your teeth! A completely unfamiliar scene. The difficulty in mastering them often frustrated me. Mr Chandy who would leave giving me clear instructions to finish reading particular portions, would find this lady student of law on his return, fast asleep and snoring, lying beside the baby with the open book inverted on my chest. Seeing this he has often doubted if the tower of his desire would not be soon falling to dust.

Then he applied a trick. He kept aside the text books and gave me notes, of questions likely to be asked in the exams and their answers. He would go to work instructing me to learn five questions and their answers well each day. On his return he would find out if I had indeed learned them well. To make me interested in criminal law, he would also describe many cases that he had handled himself.

The atmosphere in college calmed down gradually. Once I started scoring good marks in the exams our friends began to realize that this woman did not come to simply toil leaving her infant at home. My progress in studies seemed unbelievable to many.

We were taught the Hindu Law by none other than the Advocate-General of Travancore, Mr Padmanabha Kukiliya, who was later the Chief Justice of Travancore. When the marks of the exam were published as a list on the notice-board, Sara Pothen and I went there to take a look. We were standing close to the board. Our friends were crowding behind us. Suddenly, we heard someone wail, ayyodda, chathicho! Al is lost!” We turned to look. We thought some great danger was at hand. “Eda, that old geezer of a brahmin has tricked us. He must have fallen for the women’s laugh!” A fellow with a thin moustache was passing that comment. We realized what the matter was only then. The first name in the list was mine — Anna Chandy. Marks: 80. If my classmate the moustachioed fellow’s comment was about someone else maybe one could grant the benefit of doubt at least. But to remark thus about this brahmin gentleman who was so virtuous and an ideal man in every way, was a terrible sin.

I realized that women who enter any field with self-confidence will have to face such experiences. If a man reached some achievement, that is attributed to his ability. What if it is a woman? Then it becomes that she got it through this kind of route or that. Who takes into account the labour, loss of sleep, and suffering that a woman foes through!

Anyway. after all that beating of the breast and wailing, there was a marked change in their behaviour. After that my classmates have never behaved towards me without love and respect.

Though I endured much because of the loss of sleep as I nursed my baby through attacks of eczema, Mr Chandy’s encouragement and tuition allowed me to pass the FL exam in the first class. When I reached that far, I became enthusiastic. I became self-confident. From then, I began to study without anyone nudging me. And finally passed the BL exam.

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