(A series on childhood memories)
Despite suffering from mild dyslexia, Kochuouseph Chittilappilly had an enjoyable childhood
By Shevlin Sebastian
Kochuouseph Chittilappilly was sitting on the last bench in Class three at St. John's Primary school at Parappur, near Thrissur. Behind him was a bamboo partition and on the other side sat the students of Class four.
Suddenly, he noticed a girl's long plait was trailing under the partition. As Gopalakrishnan Master droned on, Kochuouseph lifted the end of the plait and tied it around a nail on the partition.
Soon, classes ended, and when the girl tried to stand up she fell over backwards and landed on the floor. "There was a hullabaloo and I was caught," says Kochuouseph. "But what saved me from a severe punishment was that my cousin sister, Alice, was a close friend of that girl, and so, she did not create a fuss."
More than half a century later, a boyish grin breaks out on the face of the managing director of V-Guard Industries Ltd., as he recalls the incident, while sitting in his palatial house, besides National Highway 47 at Kochi.
More memories tumble out. When he was in Class two, the class teacher would take the help of children to grow vegetables in the backyard of the school.
"We would plant the seeds and water it regularly," he says. But when the vegetables were ready the teacher would take it home or give some to his colleagues. “We did the work while the teachers enjoyed the fruits," he says.
Before joining school, he was taught at home by a retired teacher called Panicker Master. Kochuouseph was a natural left-hander, but Panicker compelled him to write with the right hand.
"I found it very difficult," says Kochuouseph. "Every time I wrote with my left hand, he would force me to use the other hand. As a result, my handwriting is still poor."
This forced change might have contributed to the mild dyslexia he has suffered throughout his life. "When I write the number 92, it comes out as 29," he says. "This happens even now. So, I always have to re-check whatever I write."
Although it hampered him in school, he never failed in a subject or a class. "I would just take more time than the others to finish my exams," he says. "There would be a lot of scratches and crosses in my answer sheet."
But Kochuouseph says that despite these minor problems, he had a happy childhood. And the summer holidays was the highlight of the year. Because then, he, along with his five brothers and sisters, would be taken to his mother's house at Njarakkal in the Vypeen Islands.
"We went by train to Ernakulam and then took a boat from the high court jetty," he says. "I still remember the train journey. The noise of the steam engine and the way the levers moved was very exciting. I would look out of the window and my face would get blackened because of the coal dust."
The Njarakkal property was large and there was an army of cousins present and they would play games, like ball badminton, and go fishing in the canal which flowed at the back of the property.
"When we returned from the summer holidays, the teacher would say, ‘Has anybody traveled on a train?’" says Kochuouseph. "I would be the only one to raise my hand. Then he would ask, ‘Has anybody traveled by boat?’ and once again I would raise my hand."
It was a comfortable life for the family, because his father was a prosperous farmer. But Kochuouseph was keenly aware that the other children were not having it easy.
He remembers the time when the school planned an excursion to the Peechi dam. “The teachers said they would need at least 50 children, but even in a school of 1200, that was not possible,” he says. “Money was scarce and, at that time, parents felt that this was a luxury.” So, for many years, the trips had to be cancelled.
But Kochuouseph did not mind. He spent his spare time repairing gadgets. “I was a technically-oriented person,” he says. And he put that knowledge to good use.
During Christmas, one year, he made a crib. “I had attached a switch in such a way that when you placed your hand on the baby Jesus, a bulb would light up,” he says. “I was only 11 years old.”
However, his sister, Achamma, who is a year older, says that when Kochuouseph was not tinkering with gadgets, he was always playing some prank or the other.
“He would get a lot of beatings from my parents,” she says. “I used to feel sad about it.” But Kochuouseph looks back with affection. “Even though my parents were strict, I could sense their love for us children.”
(Copyright: The New Indian Express)