The Autobiography of Anna Chandy — Part II — Becoming a Lawyer and an Official

My first case

It was around this time (1929) when Mr Chandy was transferred to Kottayam as a Prosecuting Inspector. There was a rule that one had to practice in a district court for a year before enrolling at the High Court. So I who had moved to Kottayam with my husband, I enrolled in the district court of Kottayam and entered the field as a lawyer. I began my career as a junior to a leading Kottayam lawyer, Mr John Nidhiry. I was enrolled by the District and Sessions Judge, Sri Seetharama Iyer.

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The Autobiography of Anna Chandy — Part 1 (Continued)


So I decided to write up all the sorrows I had suffered as the first woman lawyer in Thiruvitamkoor at the Law College and after and relate how I faced all of it with real tantedam, courage, and claim a Veerachakra for it after I left the field, and searched my files, to find an amusing article written by Sri A G Ganguli in the Sunday Statesman of 27 January 1970 titled ‘Portias in Search of Recognition’. It was then I found out about the strange experiences that my forerunner who applied to practice in court after getting her law degree. Reading it, I, who had been granted permission the moment I applied, found my pride waning somewhat. I am going to add some parts of that article here so that my lawyer brethren who followed me and women officers in the department of law and justice at least who are interested may know.

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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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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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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 Brainy New Woman: Madhavikkutty on Devaki Amma and Janaki Amma

[From early on, the late 19th century, the brainy new woman well-versed in English, interested in public life and an intellectual life, was viewed by Malayali compatriots with mixed emotions. She aroused fear, resentment, and suspicion, but also a grudging admiration. Perhaps that is why she happens to be the most-caricatured of all female types imagined in the discourse of gender in early twentieth century — from the Parangodikkutty of Kizhakkeppattu Ramankutty Menon’s novel Parangodi Parinayam (1892), a parody of Indulekha, or the pen-caricatures by Sanjayan, E V Krishna Pillai, and A R Rajaraja Varma, in the 1930s and 40s. Parangodikutty, one might say, is ‘fully-English-type’ — she must read the London Times, lie on an English-style couch, and indeed converse mainly in English, besides of course, nurse a certain contempt for the ways of less-educated, non-anglicised Malayali women. There can be little doubt that this mode of dismissing the intellectual woman is alive and well in present-day Kerala, as the lives of thousands of young women who aspire to a life of the mind testify.

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Religion and Politics, Taboo for Women? The Life of Muthukulam Parvathy Amma

[A much-respected poet, scholar, teacher, translator, and social reformer of her time, Muthukulam Parvathy Amma’s (1904- 1977) work has not received the attention it richly deserves. Her life is perhaps the best illustration of what it meant to be an educated woman empowered by the access to the world outside the home and a role to play in the shaping of the modernised caste-communities of the twentieth century — both the strengths and the limitations. Born in an Ezhava family in Travancore, she grew up in the radiance of the Great Opening of society made possible by Sree Narayana Guru. She aspired to spiritual excellence, but was not able to take such a life; she apparently made up for this by leading a single life devoted to society. Also, the ways in which women who entered social life through social reform initiatives tried to enter modern politics but were rebuffed have not yet been traced much: instead, we are simply told that few women aspired to politics. Indeed, the earliest women’s magazine in Malayalam, the Keraleeya Suguna Bodhini, had already delineated what women needed to know: it announced that it would carry nothing on ‘religion and politics’. The consequences of these run deep in Malayali public life today.

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Half- Chaste: K Saraswathi Amma

Translated by J Devika


Like every day, she had been walking alone down the Lovers’ Lane in the Museum Gardens at Thiruvananthapuram. She flinched when she saw the person walking towards her smile. Was it a post-meeting ritual, or a pre-meeting overture, she could not make out. She felt that it was best to walk past him with a puzzled look in her eyes as if trying to recall. He made out that trick. With the happiness of someone who had stumbled upon what he had been looking for, he asked, “Don’t you remember me? Did you forget – you sang at a meeting at the Vijaya Tutorial College some days back?”

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