February 7, 2007

I’m a sakku-moottai, aren’t we all, at times ?

I read with a certain guilt-feeling Lakshmi Ramanan’s latest in Mangayar Malar (Tamil mag.) – Nee Oru Sakku-mootaiya? (Are you a bluff artist?). That hyphenated s-word is a Tamil term for someone adept at making excuses to cover-up a lapse or cope with an embarrassing omission. I have been guilty of resorting to it with Shyamala (which is how we call her), particularly, whenever my wife and I neglected to meet her ailing mother (she is no more) during our occasional Chennai visits.

Lakshmi Ramanan, a prolific Tamil short story and feature writer, is my wife’s cousin. Her parents – Ramasami Iyer and ‘Thirukkural’ Kalyani Mami – had been a great help when we were setting up house in New Delhi in early 70s. At a time when we had no elder relations in Delhi to look up to for advice and guidance Shyamala’s parents were there for us.

I don’t recall the specific excuses I made up, but Shyamala or her IAS husband Mr Ramanan ( who retired as Chief Secretary in Rajasthan) have been decent enough not to challenge me. If anything, they acted as if they believed my cock ‘n’ bull that I invented on the spur of the moment. The pair of them are delightful conversationalists. Shyamala speaks as breezily as she writes.

I don’t get to read much of what she writes (can’t keep pace with her turnover in varied magazines - Mangayar Malar, Kalki, Kalaimagal, Ananda Vikatan, Kumudam Bhakti Spl.). However I recall a piece she did on her grand-father, Venkatsamy Iyer of Chamarajanagar. The reputation he had with all his grandkids (including my wife) was that of a stern person who had firm beliefs about the status of women, and their place in our households. In his reckoning a woman’s place was firmly in the kitchen.

Shyamala happens to be the first female graduate in the family (she passed out from Delhi’s Indraprasth College)in her days. She couldn’t have even thought of becoming a graduate, if her grand-father had lived longer. He died before she joined college. Shyamala recalled that when she once showed him a medal she got in school her granddad asked, “what would you do with a medal?” Education was not for girls, who should focus on marriage and on their work in the kitchen.

Irony was, as Shyamla put it, “I couldn’t have got married to Mr. Ramanan, had my grandfather not died at the time he did”. Mr Ramanan wanted a graduate bride..


Guru said...

Surprising that "Venkatsamy Iyer of Chamarajanagar" who (or whose ancestors) perhaps migrated from Tamil Nadu to that part of Mysore State then held the view that the place of women was in the kitchen. This kind of view was perhaps held by the likes by my own grand parents who lived in a village near Tanjore district. Even in those days of my grand parents, the then Mysore State was far more relaxed about women's education than Tamil Nadu. My father who migrated to Mysore in 1920s did not hold this view, neither were his friends. I do not recognise this writer, but know about the 'legendary' Rajam Krishnan and enjoyed her novels which discussed similar social issues. No relation to you I suppose.

Guru said...

Talking about 'elderly Iyers' and women's education, I would say that it was Iyers like Sir P Shivaswamy Iyer (who was dirt poor, studied sitting under lamp post in Palamaneri, Trichy Dist, knew the value of education, who later established that big Secondary School before the turn of the 20th Century near his village which educated both boys and girls ), Ramaswamy Iyer (belonging to my father's village near Lalgudi) who established the Savithri string of schools and colleges for women which were inaugurated by none other than the late Sage of Kanchi in 1950s and of course Sir C.P. Ramaswamy Iyer who was known to be a fervent supporter of women's education. You could also add other Iyers like poet Subramaya Bharathiyar, Valangaiman Srinivasa Shastry (as a VC at Annamalai University he worked hard to aadmit women students), great writers like Kalki and Devan, and publishers like Anandavikatan Vasan (also of Gemini Studio fame, a relative of mine) who were strong supporters of women's education). To this list you could add ‘reformist Iyers’ like TP Kailasam, KV Iyer (‘Shantala’ novel fame) and of course the legendary DVG.

The establishment of Maharani's college in Mysore was a reflection of Wodeyars' support to women's education.

Rama said...


I am Rama Rachakonda (Maidenn name Kuchi). I am trying to locate an old school friend, Sheila, whose mom used to write short stories in Tamil magazines. I believe that Lakshmi Ramanan (your wife's cousin) is my friend's mom. I would greatly appreciate if you can give me Lakshmi Ramanan's email address or phone number or giver her my email address. If indeed Lakshmi Ramanan is my friend's mom, she would be able to place me (Sheila and I were together in DTEA school in 11th and 12th grades from 1981 to 1983).

Thank you in advance,