Ram Ramasamy (or Ramakrishna Ramasamy) is a well known figure in academia for his contributions on nonlinear dynamics and computational biology. He is one of the first members of School of Physical Sciences in Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi. He is the former vice-chancellor of University of Hyderabad and currently the president of Indian Academy of Sciences, Bangolre. But this ccount is not about him but about his mother. Married to an army captain at the age of 16, Mrs. Malathi — mother of Ram Ramsamy, was traveled across the nation as a wife, as a mother, as a teacher, as an entrepreneur and even a tourist guide. The passing years filled her with memories and like any Indian mother/grand mother she has many interesting stories about the past to tell her grand-sons/daughters. Instead of narrating them as bed time stories, she just decided to write those memories as a book.
39,597 words long “Allathur Villa” portraits the story of a house and its occupants over a period of five decades. Even more precisely, it tells a story about a women, Seethama — mother of Malathi and grand mother of Ram Ramasamy, who lived in Allathur villa and died in the same room of the same house, where she was born.
Nathamoony Chetty is a well known person in Madras with a great wealth and with a good heart. Subramanya Iyer, an accountant of Nathamoony stayed at the backyard of the Chetty bungalow, which was called as “Allathur Villa”. Subramanya Iyer’s wife Kuppama was pregnant at the time and gave birth of a girl child in that Villa. Since, Nathamoony Chetty has no children, he intent to adopt that child. Subramanya Iyer who already struggled with five children readily accepted this offer. Nathamoony, a Vaishnavite, named the child as Seethalakshmi. It was predicted by his astrologer that the girl will bring wealth to the family. It is the time of world war I, and Nathamoony who invested in steel got heavy profit due to the war and no wonder this turns out as the luck of Seetha-‘Lakshmi’ and the girl was brought up with great love and care.
In 1925, Seetha was married to Nagarajan, who is the son of Janaki and Subba Rao and grandson of Pennathur Iyer, an another well known and wealthy family in Madras. Even after marriage, since Nagarajan was roaming behind congressman and used to get latti charges from the police, the family decided that it would be better for Naga to kept under the monitoring of Nathamoony Chetty. So, Seetha and Nagarajan back to Allathur villa and he took charge as a head master in one of the schools running under Nathamoony Chetty’s charity.
Seethama and Naga (Nayana for his daughters) had five children and all are girls. First one is Sunithi, Followed by Malathi, then the twins Agalya and Anusuya and the youngest one is Radha. The girls had a wonderful time in “Allathur Villa”. Like changing seasons, different people come and go in Allathur villa as well as in Seethama’s life. Malathi vividly portraits these changes and described their smiles, tears and angers upon these changes in a simple manner over the book. There are incidents which could bring a smile in readers face and some incidents that would melt heart.
Malathi was four years younger than Sunithi and the dearest girl to Nathamoony Thatha. When she was at her age of five, there is party hosted by Nathamoony and since they are too young, children excluding Sunithi was not allowed to enter the party zone. The plan is that the helper, Padmama, should decorate(!) the girls and at a particular time of the party they will brought them to make a presence in front of elders and after paying respects they should fall back to the house. The party is around 7 p.m. and Malathi and her friend Vedavalli were got ready even before that time. In mean while food was served and the plates were collected near to the room where girls waiting for their turn. The smell from the plates is tempting and the girls have no time to wait and started to eat the remaining in plates. It brings great angry to Padmama and after the party it was conveyed to Thatha. Since, Vedhu went to her home, Malathi is supposed to bear the responsibility of the entire sin and she was punished by forego her next day afternoon lunch.
The girls were sent to attend classes in Ewarts school, where they were taught a Lord’s prayer. This greatly inspired the girls and everyday before the dinner, Sunithi would look at her sisters and will start to chant, ‘Our father who art in the heaven…’ and this will be loudly followed by the younger ones and they finishes off with an ‘Amen’. Even though the family members was a staunch hindus, they always have a smile at this prayer and never tried to stop the prayer of children.
Another one interesting story is when Malathi was 11 years old. At that time Mahathma Gandhi visited Chennai and stayed at Dhakshin Bharath Hindi Prachar Sabha. Being the children of a well known family, Malathi and Sunithi with some other children got a chance to sing a prayer song in front of Mahathma. While singing, Mahathma turn in the direction of Malathi and smiled at her. She just melted by the smile — in a mean time, Sunithi poked on Malathi’s thigh. Later she got to know, the poke is to keep the tone of the song and it explains why Gandhiji smiled at her. In the last day of his visit, Gandhi spent some time with the children and asked some interesting questions like, how old are you, who is washing your clothes and so on. For clothes washing, the children answered, depending on their family situation, as mother, grandmother or some worker. Then Gandhi asked how many hands that your mother have. Children replied as two. He then asked how many hands that you have. Surprised children replied for this question too as two. He said, with her two hands, she washing all yours, your brothers and your family members clothes. This had a great impact on the girls and by the next day itself, they started to wash their clothes on their own.
Its a well known tradition that daughter or grand daughter would get the jewels of the mother or grandmother. Every such a jewel has an interesting story and history. Two such a stories from the book as follows: When Sunithi was a child, she had a habit of pull anything that she could grasp. Once she pulled a diamond necklace of awwa (Seethama’s mother) and that day itself the necklace become the property of Sunithi. Years later, she made that into two and gave one to her daughter and another one to her daughter-in-law! And similarly, during Sunithi’s arangetram, Nayanmoorthy asked the goldsmiths to design ruby bangles for her. Malathi too young at that time, enquired Nathamoony regarding this. He replied that since she at eleven and since she is going to dance, she should have some jewels. It would be pretty when she wear that. But this doesn’t convince Malathi and she asked, ‘you’re saying since she is at 11, she can have ruby bangles. But, just in four years I could also reach on her age and why I shouldn’t have bangles? Don’t they look pretty in my hands?’ This brought a smile in Nathamoony’s face and of course she got her bangles, which she later gave to her granddaughter Krithi (Ram Ramsamys daughter).
After the death of Nathamoony, the will by him put a condition that Seethama and family could have almost all his wealth but they should vacate the bungalow within five years of his demise and it should be used for the education purpose. Such a condition greatly affects Seethama and adding to her oppression Naga too passed away soon due to a heart attack. The family situation is very pathetic and Seethama some how managed to married off the twins with the help of Sunithi’s husband (Malathi got married few years before the Nayanamoorthy’s death). After few months of their marriage she passed away in the same house where she was born and thats where the book ends.
Malathi, at the age of 81, the book would be the last great project in her life. She seems love to record her memories with Allathur villa and during proof reading she carefully chosen many photos from the family album to include in the book. She just gone through the final copy and even suggested some minor changes. But unfortunately, prior to the arrival of printed copies she passed away. The tribute by Ram Ramasamy at the end of the book shows how enthusiastic, exuberance and optimistic is his mother. Like the Madras in her memories, she too vanished into the thin air. Yet this book will remain as an account of a glorifying era.
The book is available to read online here.