Sunday, September 21, 2008

Memories of a bygone era

(A series on childhood memories)

As a child, M.K. Sanoo, writer and critic, heard the fiery speeches of political leader C. Kesavan and helped families during a famine in Kerala

By Shevlin Sebastian

“When I was studying in Class six at the Leo 13 school at Allapuzha, my father died suddenly,” says M.K. Sanoo, 80, retired professor, writer and critic. Because of the need to perform certain rituals, Sanoo was absent from school for several days.

When he rejoined, the teacher noticed that the boy had not done his homework. He beat Sanoo with a cane and made him stand on a bench for one period.

“It was a painful memory,” says Sanoo, who was a brilliant student. “I had never been punished like this before.” Everybody was terrified of the teacher, but he had hoped that one of his classmates could have told the master about his father’s death.

Sanoo was very close to his father, M.C. Kesavan, who owned a textile shop at Allapuzha town. This shop was the meeting place for all the leading politicians of the era. Sanoo remembers seeing Communist Party leaders, T.V. Thomas and R. Sugathan, and Congress leader, T.M. Varghese.

One day, in 1935, his father took him to a political meeting where C. Kesavan, state Congress leader, spoke out against the autocratic rule of Sir C.P. Ramaswamy Iyer, the Diwan of Travancore. There were lakhs of people in attendance.

“I sat on the shoulders of my father,” says Sanoo. “Kesavan delivered a fiery speech. I cannot recollect what he spoke, but he kept repeating the word, ‘swathanthryam’ (freedom),” he says.

Hearing these speeches seemed to have a positive effect on Sanoo. In Class six, he took part in a debate on the topic: ‘War is good for the people’. “I did not agree with the motion, but my teacher told me to speak for it,” he says. “So I said if a small country wanted to become a big country, war was the only way it could expand its territory.” This was the first speech in his life and his usually unruly classmates listened to him in spellbound silence.

Every night, Sanoo would wait for his father to return from work. After dinner, his father would tell him stories from the Ramayana, Puranas and foreign books.

“One of the stories he narrated to me was Leo Tolstoy’s ‘How much land does a man need?’” says Sanoo. Later, his father gave him a book, ‘Twenty-Three Tales’ by Tolstoy. “It was a much-treasured gift and I can still remember all the tales in it,” he says.

His father, a kind and generous man, always gave him gifts. Once he had gone to Mumbai to sell a consignment of tea. When he returned, he bought several toys for all the children in their joint family at Thumpolly.

Sanoo got a German-make mouth organ. “I preserved it for many years and gave it to my children,” he says. “I also received a fountain pen called Blackbird. Sadly, somebody took it away.”

It was not that his father was generous only to his family. In fact, he cared for the society at large. After the Second World War, there was a famine in Kerala. Sanoo’s father bought a huge sack of rice from a wholesale merchant at Chungam. “We went from house to house distributing rice,” says Sanoo. “The people were so grateful.”

When soldiers sent inland letters, Sanoo would read it out to relatives, who could not read, and would write replies for them also.

Sanoo inherited his father’s charitable disposition. As a result, people liked him a lot.

On Chingam 1, there was a belief that if a particular person entered the house, it would bring blessings and good luck. “I was always in demand on that day,” says a smiling Sanoo. “I would get up at 5 a.m., have a bath and be ready.”

At that time, Sanoo belonged to the leading land-owning family at Thumpolly -- Mangalath -- which owned hundreds of acres of land. Every season, the family would sell around 50,000 coconuts. So, pocket money was not a problem. He used it to see dramas and films. He remembers the first talking film he saw at the Vani Vilasam theatre at Allapuzha: ‘Shaakuntalam,’ starring M.S. Subbalakshmi.

“I can still recall the scene when a pregnant Shakuntala comes in front of King Dushyantha and he says, ‘I don’t know who you are.’ And she leaves the palace with tears in her eyes.”

But all good times come to an end. “My father’s death was the turning point in my life,” says Sanoo, teary-eyed, while sitting next to a bust of Sree Narayana Guru at his house near Monastery Road.

With his mother, he moved to another house. An only child -- two brothers and a sister died early -- mother and son endured several years of financial hardships.

“At that time I did not know what a struggle my mother went through, to earn money,” he says. “I was only able to appreciate her courage when I grew up.”

(Copyright: The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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