Sunday, July 06, 2008

'I remember I played Arjuna once'

(A series on childhood memories)

Kamakshi Balakrishna, the director of Chinmaya Vidyapeet, talks about a childhood which abounded in cultural activities

By Shevlin Sebastian

"My father owned a green Buick," says Kamakshi Balakrishna, the director of the Chinmaya Vidyapeet. "He bought it from the then Archbishop of Verapoly. This was one of the few cars in Ernakulam at that time."

The roads, she says, were not congested. There were plenty of buffalo carts, hand-pulled rickshaws, cycles and a few cars. "Some roads were tarred but, mostly, the roads were made of red soil," says Kamakshi. "It was very easy to travel on and the distances were not much. Even when we traveled to Thrissur, it was a comfortable journey."

Kamakshi's late father, Mannathazathu Appukuttan Menon, was a well-known lawyer and lived in a large house on Diwan's Road at Kochi.

"My father had a keen sense of discipline," she says. One example of her father's strictness was that all the children had to come back home by 6 p.m. every day and wait in front of the puja room. "Usually, the girls would be on time," Kamakshi says. "The boys would sometimes be late. Then they would have to wait outside."

After the prayers, the children – five sisters and two brothers -- would have to study. At that time, there was no electricity. So, they would sit near kerosene lamps and learn silently.

"My father would walk up and down and keep an eye on us," she says. Her father also insisted on the children going to the Ernakulam Siva temple every morning at 6 a.m. "We would come back, study for a while and go to school," she says.

Kamakshi studied at St. Teresa's school. "Both Mother Mary, who was the headmistress and Sr Lucina were very good teachers," she says. "I was an average student, but very hard-working and I enjoyed studying there."

Eventually, Kamakshi grew up to enjoy a stellar career at the Chinmaya Mission educational institutions. But she bemoans the lack of discipline today in most children.

"I don't suggest the use of the cane," she says. "Parents must discipline children with affection. You have to explain to them the pros and cons of every action that they do." She suggests that parents should praise their children as often as they can. "You must make them feel wanted," she says.

Like her mother, Parukutty Amma, who would make every member of the family feel important. "She was a very affectionate person and sacrificed a lot for the family," says Kamakshi. "Sometimes, my father would say suddenly, 'Four people will be coming for lunch' and my mother would never complain."

Kamakshi also has fond memories of her grandmother. "She would tell us a lot of stories from the Puranas," she says. "I felt very sad when she passed away. There was a void in our lives."

This close-knit family still lives together on Diwan's Road. "All the brothers and sisters have houses there," she says. Kamakshi was married to the late Brigadier V.K. Balakrishna and has two daughters, Maya and Rema.

When Kamakshi was young, the children were interested in the fine arts. A Young Folks Club was set up. The club would organise plays from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata in the house and the parents and elders would watch.

"I remember I played Arjuna once," she says. "I wore a white dhoti and carried a bow and arrow. It was a powerful role."

Apart from plays, Kamakshi would watch a lot of films with her sisters at the Menaka hall. "We would buy a book of tickets at the beginning of the month," she says. "Then whenever we wanted to see a film, we could tear off a ticket and go for the show. At that time, watching films was the only source of entertainment."

When she grew older, she enjoyed the films of Prem Nazir and Satyen. "Satyen had a personality and a dignity in his acting," she says. However, her hero in real life was her late elder brother Devidas. She says he was a disciplined and gentlemanly person who never used foul language. He was also very witty.

It was a house where prominent cultural figures would come for an evening get-together. The legendary poet, Vallathol, a friend of Kamakshi's father, was a regular visitor.

"Vallathol was a humble person," she says. "Whenever he was writing a poem, he would consult my father about its merits and demerits. We children would listen in another room."

As the conversation comes to an end, Kamakshi takes a while to return to the present. Then she says, with a smile, "I was lucky to have had such a wonderful childhood."

(Copyright: The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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