Centenary Celebration

Having somewhere to go is home.

Having someone to love is family.

Having both is a blessing!

After my elder sister’s wedding in April 1971, the next major event that happened at our ancestral home was a four-in-one celebration in April 1977 – 1. My father had completed sixty years, 2. Mine and my brother’s upanayanam, 3. Completion of one hundred years of our ancestral home since the time my paternal great-grandfather Raghavachari bought it, and 4. House-warming ceremony, as the house underwent a major modification.

Within a month after joining Indian Telephone Industries Limited (ITI) during March 1974, I was posted to the Research and Development (R&D) Department and I was handed over a couple of projects. I got quite occupied getting used to the intense R&D work as well as managing my team. In August 1974, I joined a one-year Executive Post-graduate Diploma Program in Industrial Management that Bangalore University had just started. Most of 1974 and 1975 I was extremely busy.

To break the monotony of my weekly routine, I spent my weekends in DELITE Department Stores, for I was curious to understand consumer behaviour and cash-flow management. Paul Mundackkal initially told me that he was establishing the shop for his second son Sojan; but after he established the store, he shifted with his family from Madras to Bangalore.

Having started his business journey from the age of eighteen, Paul had come up the hard way. He must have been around fifty when he shifted to Bangalore. Paul had eight children – six sons and two daughters, same as my paternal aunt Kanakammal, in the exact same order! His eldest son Dr. Jose Paul, who was a year younger than me, had just completed his MBBS from Nagpur Medical College. Paul found a good alliance – one who could pay a lakh of rupees as dowry (according to Kerala Christian family practices) and got Jose married in 1975 when he was just twenty-four. Over time, Jose became a good friend of mine. In a short period of two years, I had practically become a family member of Paul as I picked up spoken Malayalam too.

In June 1976 Paul discussed with me his expansion plans as the business was growing. He wanted to convert the department stores into a wholesale cum retail shop. If I were to employ the current lingo – in addition to B2C, he wanted to serve the B2B market as well. He needed four times the current floor space for expansion. I asked him to give me some time to think  it over.

My father was retiring by the end of July 1976. My younger sister Vijayalakshmi and younger brother Raghuraman had just then completed their post-graduation. They had planned to pursue further studies. My youngest sister Latha was still in school. Considering all this, I felt that an additional rental income would help the family. Having done a few small construction projects in the past, I was better prepared mentally to manage a bigger project and estimated the expenses that I would have to incur for the modifications. It was around fifty thousand rupees – at least six times that of the previous project, which I had done in 1973.

ProposedExpansion.1976

Behind DELITE stores was a veranda and the staircase room leading to the open terrace. Apart from these two, there were two more rooms behind the staircase room that had to be included for the proposed expansion (shaded brown in the image). Hence, I decided to build a first floor with three rooms and a bathroom to make good for the rooms in the ground floor that we had to let out. This way we would not only get additional rent but also have additional rooms on the first floor. This  would enable me to shift to first floor making my living more independent!

Having decided to build the first floor, I explained to Paul that he would have to finance most of the construction cost and adjust it against the monthly rent for the next five to six years, depending on the total amount. Being the sharp businessman that Paul was, he accepted my suggestion at once. He identified one George, a structural engineer who was working in Indian Railways to design the structure, because the business had to run even during the construction. The project involved both modification and new construction, so we decided to work on the basis of a labour contract. George introduced a contractor Haunmanthappa, who he said was reliable and efficient in execution.

I became the manager of this modification project of our ancestral home: getting the building license sanctioned, managing procurement of construction materials, making weekly payments to the contractor, maintaining the expense account, etc. Paul paid for the materials and labour costs while I used my funds for obtaining the building license and paying the professional fees for design and supervision, apart from meeting a few other expenses pertaining to certain modifications in our living portion. Starting from July 1976, until the completion of the project nine months later, every month I gave Paul the statement of money invested by him and me, as well as expenses incurred under different heads.

In July 1976, my younger sister and brother moved to Delhi for their higher studies. So we were only five of us at home – my grandmother, my parents, my youngest sister, and I. My paternal aunt Kanakammal and her husband Ramasawmi lived with us for a few months during March–May 1977 participating in the April event.

In March 1977 I shifted to the newly-built first floor. Meanwhile, Dr. Jose Paul completed his Post-graduation in Paediatrics from Bombay and established his practice in the adjacent building. As my uncle Ramasawmi was a cardiac patient, he required constant medical attention during his stay with us and having a doctor next door was really helpful.

In less than a year after establishing his practice, Dr. Jose Paul received a good offer from a hospital in Oman and migrated. In August 1977, I joined an executive MBA program in Bangalore University that had just commenced. My younger sister completed her M.Phil. (1976–78) at Jawaharal Nehru University (JNU) while my brother discontinued his post-graduate diploma at Delhi because he got the job of a System Programmer at Indian Institute of Technology, Madras (IIT-M).

An interesting corollary to the four-in-one celebration at our ancestral home is the source of money that was used for the event: My father’s cousin Seshadri (son of Prof. Narayana Iyengar) who was employed with the Office of the Accountant General (AG’s Office), Bangalore visited us on a weekend in March 1977 with a cheque in his hand. It was a cheque in favour of Kaveriammal for a little over four thousand rupees. Seshadri explained that there was a recent State Government Order issued under the new pension policy that widows of those State Government employees who were not receiving pension would be paid the same with effect from 1.11.1975. Seshadri being an Accounts Officer at the AG’s Office—which was handling pensions—he immediately prepared the arrears statement based on the retirement details of my grandfather M. Srinivasachar (1880–1942) who retired as Office Superintendent at Mysore Government Insurance Department in 1935, and promptly received the cheque.

All of us felt fortunate to be a part of the centenary celebration of our ancestral home, which was not simply blessed by our grandmother Kaveriammal, but even the money spent for it was hers!

May 01, 2021 | Ravi 43