FLASHES OF MY LIFE – 8: First year of Married life: 1946 -47
Where shall I begin? It has to begin right at the wedding. Because there was nothing before that. No dating (certainly!), no meeting, no girl-seeing ritual, no boy-seeing ceremony, no nothing. Then how was the marriage decided? The father of the girl met the father of the boy (some time in 1945) and requested for the boy’s horoscope. It was duly given in exchange for the girl’s horoscope (just as a courtesy), but the boy’s father clearly said that his son was studying then and so he had no intention of accepting any proposal of marriage for the son until his studies are completed. Fair enough. And there the matter stood for probably several months. Then how did the marriage take place next year? For this you have to have some location details.
The girl’s sister and her husband (a Railway employee by name T S Sundararaja Iyer –shortly, TSS)) with a family of five or six children were living in a complex (then called ‘store’) of twelve apartments in Trichy . Lo and behold! One fine morning., (May 1944) myself, my father (Sri R Visvanatha Sastri, retired Sheristadar) and my mother’s sister (widowed in her young age) moved from Kumbakonam to Trichy to live in the same complex, just in the apartment diagonally opposite to the apartment where TSS & his family were living. The purpose of this arrangement was to have me study in St. Joseph’s College, Trichy as a dayscholar for my B.A. Honours course of three years.. The two families became friends in no time. The girl used to come, now and then, from her village with either her father or mother or both, to visit her sister’s family. The next door neighbour of this family was a great astrologer – Subrahmania Iyer, by name - and so the girl’s father Sri P Narayanaswami Iyer –shortly, PN) used to consult him for comparing and matching horoscopes. Subrahmania Iyer, the astrologer, it seems, okayed the matching of the two horoscopes so thoroughly that Sri PN was prompted by the other members of the family to meet my father and propose a marriage alliance. But my father perhaps was not swerving from his earlier decision. I was not aware of these goings-on because they were all happening in the mid-day time when I would be in College. It seems Shri PN then decided to go to Madras and explore for a different match through some matrimonial alliance brokers. But Mr. Subrahmania Iyer it seems stood between Sri PN and his trip to Madras, because he swore that astrology says that PN’s son-in-law is going to be the student residing in the opposite house – referring to myself. I heard all this story much later from my wife!
Well, sometime in the early months of 1946, it seems my father agreed to the proposal and the wedding was fixed for a July date to take place at Mahadanapuram, a well-known village (my f-in-law’s native place) with a railway station between Kulitalai and Karur.
[ Digression: I had for quite some time wondered how and why my father changed his mind from 1945 to 1946. I never asked my father this question. But later in the years 1947 to 1950, when I was on the Mathematics staff of Annamalai University, I had a colleague in the Dept., Mr. Trivikraman by name, who was a great amateur astrologer – much more knowledgeable (probably because of his mathematical logical training), according to me, than Subrahmania Iyer of Trichy. Trivikraman and myself were both new entrants to Annamalai University staff and were living as Resident tutors in the boys’ hostel for our first two years on the University staff. We two were close companions during our evening walks around the campus. Amidst our many conversations he used also to acquaint me with the nuances of Hindu astrology during these daily walks. He scrutinised my horoscope, which I knew by heart and so could tell him from memory, and during one of these conversations, I acquainted him of this riddle of my father not agreeing to the marriage proposal in 1945 but later in 1946 agreeing to the same proposal. Trivikraman, exhibited a mischievous laugh at this statement of mine. And when I pursued this matter he came out with an astrological fact and guessed that could have been the reason why my father changed his mind. The astrological fact was that my horosocope contains Rahu in Vrishabha (Taurus) Rashi, and my Lagna (Ascendent) happens to be Vrishchika (Scorpio). From Scorpio to Taurus it is seventh place. Trivikraman said that saptama Rahu (Rahu in the seventh place) and that too in Vrishabha in exaltation, can make the person very passionate to the extent of going astray. Trivikraman said: ‘Maybe Subramania Iyer convinced your father that if he postpones his son’s marriage and does not accept the present opportunity of a good match, he may have to regret later when saptama Rahu might have played its mischievous role!, and more so because the ‘dashA’ that was ruling me at that time was Rahu dasha, whose period ends only in 1953 in my 25th year of age’. Knowing Trivikraman’s upright character and his straightforward ways of behaviour, I trust his words. I am sure my father who had also great faith in astrology and himself knew a good lot of it, must have been scared by this foreboding of evil and, floored by this astrological logic, must have agreed to the marriage proposal then and there! Digression over!]
My wedding with Kamala took place on 5th July 1946, when many of my friends from Trichy attended. It was a four-day function according to vaidic traditions about which my father was very particular. I was in the final year of the Maths. honours course. All the seven brothers and the only sister of Kamala (all elder to her) attended the marriage. My two sisters (both elder to me) with their husbands and their families were also present. My brother and Manni (Lakshmi alias Laksham) came all the way from Nagpur to attend my marriage and bless me. Within a few days she became very affectionate towards Kamala. Anyway that was the last we saw of Laksham Manni, as you will see presently. But let me now come to the various changes that happened in our residence during 1946-47.
In March 1946 my neice (sister’s daughter) Jaya was married at Tanjore; my father was the match-maker for this marriage arrangement and naturally he went to Tanjore to stay with my sister’s family and make all arrangements and also conduct the marriage ceremonies. During this stay he found that his son-in-law Sri S.S.S. had financial problems with his meagre salary as a bank employee. So, side by side with the marriage arrangement for Jaya, he convinced my sister Rukmani and her husband (Sri SSS) to consider asking for a transfer of his employment to Trichy Indian Bank and shifting the entire family (2 adults and five school-going siblings) to a residence in Trichy or nearby Srirangam, where we three (my father, myself and my aunt known as Siru-thayar) would also join them and live as a joint family. Accordingly all of us shifted to a residence in Srirangam (ourselves, from Trichy and they, from Tanjore) on April24, 1946. And my Athimber (Sri SSS) got his transfer to Trichy Indian Bank, in accordance with the request made by my father to Sri N. Gopala Iyer (Secretary, Indian Bank, Madras) – Sri N.G. Iyer (shortly, NG) being his own brother-in-law.
Thus started our residence in Srirangam. I was cycling a distance of around three miles to my college in Trichy from Srirangam across the famous bridge over the cauvery and this was slowly becoming very strenuous for me. Proposals for my own marriage took their final shape now and the girl’s party (with Sri PN as their head) visited us at Srirangam and the exchange of Thamboolam took place there. And then of course was the marriage on 5th July. As my daily cycling to college was not very comfortable and as the home was now crowded with so many people, and as I was now in the final year of my studies, it was decided that I stay in the hostel in Trichy to concentrate only on my studies. My friend and classmate S.R. Venkatraman who lived in Clive’s Hostel opposite Teppakkulam in Trichy offered to take me as his roommate and I started living there for my final year of studies.
My father found the joint family living at Srirangam did not come up to expectations and so he and my aunt shifted to a rented portion in Subramania Lane, West Boulevard Road, Trichy from September 1, 1946. I continued to live in the hostel but visited my father whenever there was a need. I think during the few holidays after the first term, I went there and Kamala also had come there for the Navaratri Puja, though she had not started living in our family, since the nuptial-ritual of Shantimuhurtam had not yet taken place. Very soon, in a month or so, my father found a better place in Takur Lane in the same area, and that was our family residence for the next eight months.
I am not very sure how many times I visited my Takur Lane House while living in the hostel. Once during Navaratri certainly, and once again for performing my mother’s Sraddh (some time in November-December) and probably a few more times. Some times Kamala also was called from Mahadanapuram; at such times she was escorted by her Athimber Sri TSS. Once or twice I made a stealthy visit to Mahadanapuram to see my beloved and on such occasions my friend R Srinivasan was of great help to ‘substantiate’ my farcical statements, when needed. In fact, looking back I can’t explain how I found time for all this while I was studying in my final year of Honours! Once Kamala and I went to a nearby theatre to watch a movie, but this time with the permission of all elders! We did not care what movie was running; the objective was to go out together alone! And the movie turned out to be ‘Ratan’, a Hindi movie, but that did not disturb us! Of course don’t ask me whether we understood the movie. Neither of us knew a word of Hindi at that time! In some sense the one year following my marriage proved to be our dating time – unlike in the west where they ‘date’ before the wedding. Most of us in India of those times ‘dated’ with their spouses only after the wedding! As you will see presently, our ‘dating’ was going to include also a Rameswara-yatra and also a visit to a marriage function of a close relative, out of town!
In March, 1947, father made a trip to Sringeri to have darshan of the 34th PITAdhipathi Sri Jagadguru Chandrasekhara Bharati Mahasannidhanam. I had just finished my University examinations and moved over to my residence, Takur Lane. On the 5th of April, we received a telegram from Nagpur that Laksham Manni had breathed her last, succumbing to the pleurisy from which she was suffering. In those days Streptomycin had not yet been discovered. (Thus absence of the right medicine caused Laksham manni’s demise. Later, you are going to hear the tragic incident in our own family, wherein my sister Lakshmi’s husband Sri R. Gopalasundaram Iyer passed away in October 1951, succumbing to a growing Tuberculosis in his lungs, but this time because of an overdose of Streptomycin, which had just then been discovered!). So my father made a trip to Nagpur, got my brother do all the first day rites for his wife, came along with him back to Madras, performed the remaining ceremonies at Sri N.G’s house and returned to Trichy by end of April. My brother went to Trivandrum, having secured a transfer to the Trivandrum branch of Bharat Bank Ltd.
June 1947 saw us going to Rameswaram on a religious pilgrimage – the chief reason being Shri RG Iyer (my athimber) had so far only three daughters and there was no son. But in this pilgrimage for which my father was the mentor and guide, in addition to my sister, her husband, and their three children, and also my Siruthayar (aunt), we too, namely, Kamala and myself were also taken along. It is noteworthy that my father writes in his diary of the day, how fortunate is Kamala who is getting the benefit of a Rameswaram yatra, which was denied to his own wife (my mother) on a similar occasion when my father went on Rameswaram yatra 44 years earlier with his sisters! Well, in 1947 we enjoyed walking over the sands to Dhanushkodi – which is now submerged under the sea after the cyclone of 1964. On our return journey from the Rameswara-yatra Kamala and I parted from the rest of our company and we went over to Mettur in Kadayam taluk of Tirunelveli District to attend the marriage of Kamala’s cousin Haran with Sarada, daughter of Sri NV (N. Venkatraman, Kamala’s eldest brother).
On our return to Trichy, we had our Shanti MuhurtaM at Takur Lane House. It was then that I understood the meaning of the English word ‘consummation’ used in Indian English for this purpose; because those who congratulated us on this occasion invariably used this word. Sri NG came from Madras to attend the same. My Calcutta uncle NR Iyer (Port Trust, Calcutta) had a house in Adigudy village, three miles from the town of Lalgudy in Trichy District. Some years earlier he had suggested to Sri RG Iyer (my Athimber) who was then in Kulitalai Board High School as a teacher, that if he transfers to Lalgudy Board High School, he could live in the village of Adigudy, cycle his way to the school daily, and enjoy living in the village house almost at no cost, enjoy the output of coconuts in the garden and simultaneously look after Sri NR Iyer’s landed property. So thereafter Adigudy became the residence of Sri RG Iyer. My father chose to move to Adigudy in view of the fact that living in an urban locality like Trichy in a rented house without any job on hand was not sound economically and thereby living close to Lakshmi’s family he could enjoy the silent village atmosphere. So we rented a house in Adigudy and on July 9, 1947 we (i.e., my father, my Siruthayar, Kamala and myself) shifted to Adigudy village. Now my exam results were known and I had passed in second class – a dubious distinction that was certainly a disappointment; but my professors told me that in that year by some quirk of fate the number of first classes was lowered as a policy! Anyway I was now ready to look for a job. After a month or so I got the appointment as Asst. Lecturer in Annamalai University (Rs.80 monthly salary plus Rs.8/- dearness allowance !). I took up the job on August 28, 1947.
In the meantime 15th August 1947 had arrived. We youngsters of those times in India had been eagerly expecting this event to happen. Even in my College days at Kumbakonam and also at St. Joseph, I had participated heavily in student movements of processions etc. in favour of Indian independence and the release of INA leaders. Freedom and Power bring responsibility. Those were the words from Nehru’s speech on that famous midnight of 14th August 1947 in the Constituent Assembly when the independence of India was trumpeted aloft to the whole world. I vividly remember those words because I was listening to his speech live from the public radio while I was waiting for my train to Madras from the railway station platform. I was then going to Madras to meet Shri RM Alagapa chettiar on the recommendation of his close friend Sri NG, my uncle, to seek a college lecturer’s job in his college of Arts and Science which had been started just that year. Before I left Adigudy that night on 14th August, I had bought a big Indian tricolour flag, went upstairs in our house, and climbed over the roof while my father was visibly and vocally nervous that I was too adventurous, and hoisted the national flag by tying it to one of the windows at the highest level. As I was waiting for my train at Lalgudy which was scheduled to arrive at 11-55 PM, I heard the speech of Nehru for a little time since my train arrived late by a few minutes. And as Nehru spoke the words ‘Freedom and Power bring Responsibility’, my train arrived and I missed to hear the rest of his speech. I read that famous speech on ‘Tryst with Destiny’ the next day in the newspapers.