Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Thankam's diary

I have been reading my great grandmother’s diary. What a privilege! I have decided to transcribe it on a word file so that it is preserved. The original book has survived 77 years, but it’s always better to have some back-up (a word she would never have understood, incidentally!)

Before I transcribe this diary, I would like to set down a few facts, as I recall them.

* My great grandmother Tachat Devaki Amma or Thankam as she was better known was born in July 1898 in Chittur. The Tachat family was an old and distinguished one which while no longer in its heyday, commanded enough respect for my great grandmother to contract a respectable alliance with HH Ravi Varma, Prince of Cochin. Thampuran, or T as he is referred to throughout the diary, was 21 years her senior, and it was his second marriage. His first wife was a reputed beauty who bore him at least 2 children, Leila and Murali. Leila, unfortunately also passed away before she hit her teens – when she was 12 I believe. Murali went on to become an IPS officer. He passed away in the 1970s after having lived a full life.

At the time that this diary was written, 1932, my great grandmother already had two children, Meenakshi (my grandmother) and Leila (named for her short-lived predecessor). A third daughter, Vatsala was on the way, to be born in December 1932, although there is no direct reference to her pregnancy anywhere in these diary entries. A few clues are to be found when she talks of dizziness, of doing ‘Bhajanam’ and ‘Neysevikkal’ in the 7th month as was customary and conducting a pooja towards the end of her term. In that particular entry she talks about having lost two sons (in infancy) and her hope that she may have a son, but it is couched in general terms with nothing to indicate that she is pregnant. However the diary ends on 14th November and Vatsala was born less than a month later.

A daughter, Padmaja and the much longed for son Balagopal, were born in 1935 and 1937 respectively. Thankam’s life was tragically cut short in 1939 because of a botched D & C, a mere two months after her eldest daughter, Meenakshi was married.

Thankam restricted herself to a page or less per entry, though every once in a while she would end up writing a few lines extra. Her English is simple and she is obviously completely at home in the language. Her intelligence shines through and her sense of self and strong opinions seem quite remarkable to me accustomed as I am to thinking that women of her day and age were not emancipated. How much of this can be attributed to my great-grandfather I don’t know. He was quite obviously erudite and liberal and it is possible he inculcated a love of reading in her. She speaks of her children but her whole life is not consumed solely by them. She takes a lively interest in the politics of the day and is staunchly patriotic and Gandhian.

Freed from the burdens of domestic work that consumes much of our modern life - cooking and cleaning - for which her privileged status accorded her servants aplenty, she was free to make visits, shop at the Swadeshi Stores, go to the club, the temple, palaces of various Thampurans and for music recitals. She speaks of having completed A Passage to India (I wonder if she ever read my favourite Howard’s End). The diary begins when she is in Tinnevally, a judge’s wife, and documents her shift to Thripunitura following her husband’s retirement on being refused an extension. Her personal emotions seldom come through and she seems to be a good and dutiful wife, if a little westernized in her longing for romance!

Familiar names show that nearly a century on, our family’s social circle has not changed much: a great deal of it still revolves around names like Ambat, Ambady, Kuttikat and Thottekat. When the diary ends on November 14th , it ends too soon for me. The narrative is unfinished and I wish someone would take it up and tell me what happens to all the brother and sisters she was so concerned with, what books she read, what she thought of Hitler who was yet to rise to power and a hundred other things! Of course I know I can always find out what happens to the players in her story, but I would much rather have heard it from her.

Please excuse any factual errors. All of this is hearsay or from half remembered conversations. In transcribing the diary I would dearly love to provide footnotes but do not know if I can trace all the people...

1 comment:

The Restless Quill said...

I was rivetted. I've always wanted to trace the history of my roots but have absolutely nothing to go by mostly because things like Thankam's Diary were lost in transitions from large taravads to smaller, more manageable homes about 50 years ago. You hold magic in your hands.