Four generations: Three continents: Two world wars: One village
These are tales spanning four generations spread across three continents in between and after the two world wars of people who set forth under different circumstances from one small village called Agaramangudi.
The story line traverses through different time lines, locations or incidents with no particular order. The only order being the alphabetical one – A to Z meant purposefully for the A to Z challenge. These posts can be read as standalone posts, but would be best comprehended if you read them along with their prelude provided as a link.
One afternoon in the eighth month of her pregnancy, Nagammai went into labour. Normally a mid wife would have done the job. But given her fragile health and the series of miscarriages, not wanting to take chances, her brother and mother decided to take her to the nearest government hospital for the delivery.
Thenmozhi was distressed watching her mother crying in pain when her mother's contractions started getting frequent. It was not something a young girl should watch, her grandmother opined and summoned her son Palaniselvam to take her away until the baby was delivered.
It was a widely held belief that a girl who has not yet been through childbirth should never watch the process of another woman. Apparently it could develop a phobia and could affect the girl during her own labour. Nagammai’s mother suspected that her own daughter developed the phobia for childbirth in all those years when she had been watching her elder sisters, as they went about delivering their children with the help of the mid-wife at their home.
Thenmozhi left with her uncle after they admitted her mother in the government hospital in Mayavaram.
They took a bus to Nidamangalam.
It was a big day in Nidamangalam. The streets were lit and the black and red flags of Dravidar Kazhagam party was fluttering all over the place. E V Ramaswamy Naicker popularly known as Periyar was going to be there that evening. Periyar’s oratory skills and radical thinking was a great influence in Tamil Nadu.
Nagammai’s brother Palaniselvam was an ardent follower and a party worker. As an active member of the Suyamariyadai Iyakkam – self respect movement he was instrumental in getting his youngest sister married in one of those mass marriages where they shunned godly traditions and religious ceremonies and solemnized the marraige without a priest.
It was besides the point that in those days, the family could ill afford a grand wedding ceremony for Nagammai. When the proposal came from the elusive and saintly Sivachami Padayachi, a farm labourer who was hardly known amongst the clan, Nagammai’s elder brother agreed immediately.
While Palaniselvam did not have much of an objection in the matter at that time, his ideological differences with his brother-in-law grew over the years. He disapproved of his Brother-in-law’s unflinching loyalty to the upper caste Brahmins who were according to the widely held opinion in their clan were exploiting people from their caste. On those rare occasions where he could strike a conversation with his otherwise elusive and quiet brother-in-law, he would argue passionately about the rights of Dravidian Tamils and the need to cultivate self- respect among the Padayachi and other Dravidian people.
Periyar and later, the political organizations that sprung out of this Dravidian ideology would go on to command political power in the region in the future. In the early 1940’s, it was a quiet but a potent and powerful social movement that was sweeping across the south of India. It was not as highly visible as the Second World War that was going on in Europe or the much talked about Gandhian movement that was a great influence across the rest of India. But it had an impact far more radical that would, about half a century later change the economic, social and cultural fabric in the Cauvery Delta. In the fertile delta that was irrigated by the river Cauvery, Brahmin aristocracy owned vast tracts of Agricultural land and controlled most of the wealth, while the lower caste labourers toiled the rice granary of south India.
It was the year 1960. Arrangements were in full swing by the party workers of whom Palaniselvam was one. They had erected a wooden stage at the junction of the town’s main streets for E V R Periyar to address the people.
Little Thenmozhi found it all very exciting. In all these years she had hardly stepped out of the cattle shed at the rear end of the Agraharam. She was being home schooled along with Maalu in the Agraharam. While it was a privilege for a girl of her social standing to be even schooled at all, she knew she was not one among them. Maalu was the pampered one. While Maalu was the princess at Sri Lakshmi Nivas, she lived on the periphery in a mud hut with a thatched roof on the edge of the cattle shed among the cows and the chicken. This was her first wild foray into the streets and she was absorbing it all while her mother went into prolonged labour at the government hospital in Nidamangalam.
E V R Periyar arrived into the town and was welcomed by Palaniselvam and other party workers. The man with a long flowing beard and round glasses emanated compassion and radicalism all in equal measure. His Oratory skills swayed everyone who subscribed to his views. Fearing a stampede, Palaniselvam perched his niece Thenmozhi on his shoulders and stood in awe listening to the radical thoughts articulated passionately in chaste Tamil by E V R Periyar.
At the junction of what is today E V R Periyar road in Nidamangalam town, stands a statue of the man. Here was a man who though not very well documented in history had a profound and powerful influence among the non-Brahmins and lower classes in South India paralleling the powerful influence that Gandhi had in North India around the same time and for many decades after.
It was probably here, long before Periyar's statue was erected in the later years, atop her uncle’s shoulders, Thenmozhi had the best view. But more importantly she also had the most profound effect of this life changing event that would perhaps go on and shape her to play the role that she was destined to play in her life.
As Uncle and Niece stood mesmerized listening to the atheist saint, the Socrates of South India, as he began to be increasingly called, beckoning them to take charge and spearhead the Suyamariyadai Iyakkam – self –respect movement, Nagammai breathed her last unable to sustain herself through childbirth.
The still born child was cremated along with the mother at the graveyard in Mayavaram.
Thenmozhi , now rendered motherless stayed back at her maternal grandmother’s house and grew up under the care of her uncle Palaniselvam.
She would return to Agaramangudi many years later.
Follow Thenmozhi's tale in : Z – Zephyrs of change