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.

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The Autobiography of Anna Chandy — Part 1 (Continued)

Mr Chandy Enters My Life

I was a third-year student at the Arts College, Thiruvananthapuram, when Mr Chandy entered my life making me his life-partner. I was 21 then; he, 30. At that time, I was a nobody — just the daughter of the widow Sara who was a teacher at the Holy Angels’ Convent. There was nothing remarkable about me except my excellence in studies.

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T A Sarasvati Amma : Hidden Star – Janaky Sreedharan

They were three sisters and two brothers — brilliant, studious and intellectually alert. The daughters were Padmalaya K.Nair, T.A Sarasvati Amma and T.A Rajalakshmi. As daughters of T.A. Kuttimalu Amma and Marath Achyutha Menon, growing up in in the early half of the twentieth century, both Sarasvati Amma and Rajalakshmi showed a flair for literature and science alike and entered into the field of higher education in Kerala as teachers in the mid-decades of the twentieth century with great confidence and hope.

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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.”

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The Autobiography of Anna Chandy – I (Continued)

[In this part of Anna Chandy’s autobiography where she talks of her childhood, her mother’s tough love made me think. I have always thought about my life that contrary to much common sense, tough love has served me much better than the overprotectiveness that is favoured these days by parents. Tough love is an implicit acknowledgement of your potential to develop as a human being while overprotectiveness implies your permanent state of passivity. Tough love is a form of power that provokes resistance and makes you immune to it later (as is so beautifully evident in this section), while overprotectiveness just weakens the immune system altogether, making you break down at the first encounter with life out there. Also, as the difference between Anna and Sara show each one learned to absorb and resist in different ways, so tough love, however much it may try, can never succeed in producing identical subjects.]

An orderly routine

Our usual practice was to cook in the morning, pack our lunches, and leave for school. The routine at home was very structured. All of us were expected to leap out of bed as though we had springs attached to our backs when the alarm clock rang at five in the morning. If we were late even by a moment, the warning call, “edi kochanne, saramme, do I need to come there?” would sound. Our parrot, which heard it regularly, learned it by heart, and if Ammachi was delayed for some reason, it would screech the same words and wake us up.

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In the Waiting Room: K Saraswathi Amma

Translated by J Devika

Santhy was bored. Are BA students condemned forever to absorb lessons seated mechanically in attendance? The lecturer was pouring praise on the poet’s description of Aja who had woken up from sleep and arrived for the Swayamvara of Indumathi. That description, apparently, was gifted to the poet by none other than Saraswathi, the Goddess of learning. The Goddess who wrote him these verses, and the Goddess of Sleep, Nidra, who was now pulling down her eyelids, are no doubt the thickest buddies, Santhy felt certain. Her classmates – maybe because they had a nap at home during the lunch break – were engrossed in the lecture.  The lecturer, a lady, turned to Santhy, “Aja seated on green silk, Kartikeya, mounted on the peacock with plumes open … what a beautiful comparison it is. Don’t you agree, Santhy?”

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The Riches of Love: K Saraswathi Amma

Translated by J Devika

The train kept moving and stopping at clear intervals as was its wont. My mind which was journeying in the past, too, had to linger a bit at certain places. But in the end it entered a particular place and refused to budge from there. However much I tried, it would not move an inch forward. Its pig-headedness troubled me.  In this mobile world, if one single heart decided to stay immobile, would not accidents occur? I rubbed my chest with my right hand.

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The Autobiography of Anna Chandy – Part 1

Childhood and Education

Birth

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.

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The Autobiography of Anna Chandy -Statement.

[Anna Chandyude Atmakatha, Carmel Books, Thiruvananthapuram, 1975.]

Translated by J Devika

[Anna Chandy (1905-1996) was perhaps the strongest of first-generation-feminist voices in Kerala. But she was largely, until recently, nothing but a fact, or even just a factoid, for quiz competitions: the answer to the questions who was the first female Munsif, the first female judge, or the first female judge in the HC in India etc etc. Her interventions in the 1930s were largely forgotten or worse, cynically dismissed as posturing that she adopted to gain the post of the Munsif. The rejection of her work in the 1930s is not only wrong, it also implies the hostility towards a woman aspiring to be more than either a doormat or an also-ran.

This autobiography, however, may not do full justice to her life. It was obviously written as a way of healing — she had just lost her loving, amazingly supportive husband, a police officer who had not only encouraged her to study but also taught her the art of becoming a criminal law expert in court, and someone who seems to have totally delighted in his wife reaching heights he could never aspire to. This is written as a tribute to him, offering her entire biography as the fruit of his tireless effort. The historian G Arunima, reading the autobiographies of such Malayali women as B Kalyani Amma and Rosie Thomas, remarks that these are ‘biographies of marriage’ in which the authors quietly establish themselves as the very ground on which their men were able to craft their remarkable lives. This autobiography seems to reverse that almost exactly. Here, Anna Chandy quite openly and colourfully points to “Mr Chandy” as the silent support that made her own brilliant career possible.

Anna Chandy smashes all stereotypes about feminists in it: she comes across as a cheerful, active, mischievous, quick-witted, sharp-minded, articulate, happy-go-lucky woman who would have been quite content with a life of domesticity swaddled in a tender and intensely loving relationship with her man. The youthful humour that permeates her writing even when it was written, it seems, soon after her inconsolable loss and grieving, is unmissable. The ways in which she describes her man besides the common reference bharthavu (husband) are intriguing: she calls him atmanathan — the ruler of my heart — and then, atmasakhi — clearly, sakhi here could be neutral gender, it simply means ‘the companion of my soul’, or it could well be female too, and more frequently, as a person separate from her own personhood — Mr Chandy! She also reveals herself to be an intensely spiritual person, immersed in prayer and faith, and with belief in vows and observancs, someone so attached to the Mother of Christ that she left her Anglican roots for the Catholic Church later in life, in fact, without consulting her atmasakhi as she usually did. Yes, you can be a great opponent of gender injustice and still be a believer — there is a difference between faith and bigotry. Anna Chandy was a devout Christian and Catholic but she was open to all other faiths, as it is evident in this writing.

Mr Chandy as he emerges in this writing convinced me that all the talk of the New Woman of these times eclipses the New Man of the times. There was indeed, it seems, a New Man who was much more than the Reformer-Man who worked to ‘uplift’ women and turn them into obedient, if modern, efficient, domestic subjects. Here we have a man who did not simply ‘uplift’ but worked hard at opening doors and imparting skills, and relentlessly fighting all signs of doormat-mentality from surfacing in his wife. He does share much of the Reformer-Man for sure, but definitely was not threatened by his wife reaching for and actually reaching, the stars.]

I will be translating significant excerpts from this autobiography in parts and serializing it here. Enjoy!]

A Statement

That I should become a High Court Judge was the long-time dream of my Beloved, the Ruler of My Heart. In truth, he is the reason why I have a biography. From the day that dream came true, he used to urge me to write my story. But I cited such reasons like work pressures and bodily weakness, escaping it. When his insistence grew stronger I would tell him that actually, it was he who deserved to write my story than me; it was really his responsibility. He was a blessed writer himself. If he had written this, it would have been much more engaging….

After more than forty years of a fortunate conjugal life, Mr Chandy left me on 6 July 1967. This lamentable event was just three months after I retired from the position of High Court Judge. After the terrible pain of permanent parting receded a bit, I had begun to prepare to fulfil his wish of many years. It got prolonged till now because of various hurdles.

I am not past the age of 67. What if the leave period will not be extended! Who knows when the the irrevocable warrant issued by Yamadharman reaches me? Let me then finish up this job before. I think unveiling my debt to Mr Chandy before my family and people is a happy task. I write this with the prayer that this may become the eternal memorial to the foresight and love and sacrifice of a man.

The writing of the autobiography did not proceed at the speed I had imagined. Because I feared that the delay may end in my major aim in writing remaining unfulfilled, I published just the part about my unforgettable debt to the Ruler of My Heart in the Malayala Manorama (Jun-Sept 1971). My friends and relatives who read that series of articles congratulated me; but because the title that I gave them was changed to ‘The Autobiography of Anna Chandy’, they mistook it to be the completed version. “This contains only your doing as a lawyer and a judge, what about your childhood, adolescence, youth, education, family life, and above all, your conversion to another [Christian] denomination — what sort of an autobiography is this?” they pressed me, writing this to me again and again. I could have corrected it with a clarificatory note in the Malayala Manorama. Not doing it was certainly my fault. But it was to make up for it that I completed this autobiography quickly, with some difficulty. This is not written with a lot of thought or attention. I have never kept diaries or memoirs. I am just scribbling down whatever that comes up in my memory without much order or elegance of language, in very ordinary style. I have no idea of bookish language. This is my first attempt at literary writing. Therefore I beg the large-hearted readers to forgive whatever failings that may be found in the narration of the story of my life.

After I gathered together all that I had scribbled in my own hand, I took it to the Pangode Church last March (1972) , and according to my prior decision, placed it at the feet of Our Lady of Mount Carmel first, and then handed it over to the Provincial of the Malabar Province of the Carmelite First Order, Very Reverend Fr. Ephraim. …[acknowledges the help of others]….

Anna Chandy

New Delhi, 20-2-1973

Women Workers of Kerala: K O Aysha Bai and O Koran

[This is from the discussion on Resolution No. 3 moved in the Kerala State Legislative Assembly during the First Session , by P Ravindran, on 13 March, 1964 [Proceedings of the Kerala State Assembly Vol 25, pp. 2221-24]. Besides Aysha Bai’s intervention, it also gives us glimpses of the conditions under which the poorest-paid women laboured in Kerala. The text of the resolution was the following:

This House recommends to Government to appoint a committee to study the problems facing the women workers of Kerala regarding their wages, conditions of work, health and safety measures, training opportunities for higher jobs and facilities for the care and upbringing of their children.

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