The only disability in life is bad attitude.

-Scott Hamilton (b.1958), Retired American Figure Skater and Olympic Gold Medallist

Since 1938 my father was working as Pipe-fitter with Military Engineering Services at Bangalore. Though it is a non-transferable job, in the second half of 1956 for some weird reason he was transferred to Kadakavasala, a rocky village, twelve miles away from Pune, where National Defence Academy was just then coming up. He initially went alone leaving behind his old mother, wife and five children at Bangalore, but as he found the going got very difficult, he decided to shift his family from Bangalore to Kadakavasala during the summer vacation. Thus, during May 1957 eight of us left Bangalore by train to Pune via Miraj.

After about two hours, the train stopped at a station called Tumkur for nearly fifteen minutes. At the station my maternal grand-mother – Chengamalam, my maternal aunt, Jayammal and her graduate son were there on the platform looking for us. The moment my mother saw them, she was excited and so were the relatives. My maternal grand-mother cuddled all of us with a broad smile on her face and lovingly distributed the snacks that she had brought. I observed that she could not see properly and my relatives were talking into her ears, as she was short of hearing. It was for the first time that I saw someone disabled in my relatives circle.

Chengamalam (1899-1971) was the youngest of four children (3 daughters and 1 son) born to Rangacharya (1868-1948) and Thangammal, residents of a village – Ukkalagere, situated in Tirumakudal Narasipur (known as T-Narasipur) taluk in Mysore district. The name Thirumakudal comes because three rivers meet at this place – Cauvery, Kabini and Spatika Sarovar. This is the only place in south India where three rivers meet[1].  Ukkalagere along with another village was gifted to paternal grand-father of Rangacharya – Karur Srinvasacharya, a great scholar from the neighbouring Tamilnadu, by then king of Mysore Province, Mumumdi Krishnarajendra Wodeyar, after he had won a week-long debate with another scholar from Varanasi.

Karur Srinivasacharya was born 23 generations after his famous ancestor Sudarshanacharya who had the unique opportunity to learn directly from the well-known Saint-Philosopher-Reformer of 11th – 12th Centuries, Ramanujacharya[2]. Perhaps because of the lineage Chengamalam from a very young age was a bright and responsible child. She had herself learnt many Sanskrit shlokas and Nalayira Divya Prabhandam[3] (also known as Tamil Vedas) just by listening to elders reciting at home even before she turned nine years. As was the practice of that era, when she was just eleven years, she was married to Srinivasagopala Chakravarthy of Sosale (another village just 11 Kms away from Ukkalagere in the same T- Narasipur taluk).

Srinivasagopalan who was then 20, had lost his first wife at the time of delivery of baby girl a year ago. Sometime during 1913, Chengamalam who was about 14 years old moved to Sosale with the responsibility of parenting a four year old girl child, unlike girls of that age of this era, who’d be studying in high-school dreaming of becoming a doctor or an engineer.

Apart from parenting her step daughter, Chengamalam gave birth to seven children from 1914 to 1933 – four daughters and three sons. All these years she managed the household chores which demanded more than 14 hours of work schedule every day. As cooking was done with fire-wood during that era, she suffered from constant headaches because of the emanating smoke.  Over a period of a few years, perhaps due to constant exposure to smoke and lack of medical attention, her optic and auditory nerves got damaged and by late 1930s, she almost lost 95 percent of her sight and hearing ability.

Meanwhile, as Sosale did not have education facility beyond higher primary (7th Standard of today), she had to shift to Mysore with family, while her husband stayed back to take care of the lands and the temple. Even her elder sister’s children who had joined college in Mysore also stayed in the house apart from her father and brother visiting often from Ukkalagere. Thus, the house at Mysore had become hub for the entire family of Rangacharya and Chengamalam managed it with all love and care at her disposal. By 1943 all the five daughters were married and she took care of delivery of their babies too during 1928 to 1953.

Though she had lost sight, she’d ask her grand-children to read serial stories from the weekly magazines in her ear and teach them in turn shlokas and Prabandam. As a young boy, I had visited her in Coimbatore sometime during 1962 when she was living with her youngest son who was pursuing his Chartered Accountancy and again at Tumkur in 1963. With all her constraints, she was a great host taking care of us, including cooking food!

After her husband passed away in 1955, except for a short period when she lived at Coimbatore, most of her life she lived with her second daughter Jayammal at Tumkur and later at Bangalore when Jayammal’s son who was working for Life Insurance Corporation established a house. As the house was just a couple of Kilometres away from our house, we used to visit our grand-mother often and even she’d come to our house though occasionally. I had not come across another person, who inspite of the disabilities, never ever complained about anything in life, but always had positive outlook.

My mother, now 96 years and suffering from dementia, often remembers her mother, recalling how she was worrying about her, because she was not very much conscious about the material world. Having entered into my Seventies, as I reflect, I realise that I have internalised a couple of traits of my maternal grand-mother – endurance and positive thinking, which have greatly helped me in difficult times during my family life as well as profession.

[1] https://nammamysore.com/

[2] Asthan Vidhwan Gopalacharya, 1948, ‘Karur Srinivasacharya Charithe’, Oriental Research Institute, Mysore

[3] The Nalayira Divya Prabandham is a collection of 4,000 Tamil verses composed by the 12 Alvars, and was compiled in its present form by Nathamunigal during the 9th – 10th centuries.


November 27th, 2023 | Ravi 67