COLUMN: Spouse's Turn
Mercy talks about life with the noted cartoonist CJ Yesudasan
Photo by Mithun Vinod
By Shevlin Sebastian
Mercy says that she saw CJ Yesudasan when she was two years old, while he was four. Their mothers had brought the children at the same time to the Mavelikara Government Hospital. “But I don't remember it at all,” she says, with a laugh. “My mother told me this.”
Years later, in February, 1966, there was a marriage proposal from the Yesudasan family. By then, Mercy was in Mumbai working as a clerk in the accounts section of the Railways. Yesudasan, on the other hand, was a staff cartoonist for ‘Shankar's Weekly’.
He travelled from New Delhi to Mumbai to see Mercy. But she did not know that it was a meeting for a marriage. “My sister, Aleyamma, with whom I was staying, said that Yesudasan was just coming on a visit,” says Mercy.
She had been aware of him because she regularly read Yesudasan’s cartoon strip in ‘Shankar’s Weekly’. “I liked it,” says Mercy. During that visit, Mercy remembers what Yesudasan wore: a pink shirt and white trousers. Later, when her mother, a widow, and brothers told her that Yesudasan came from a good family, she agreed to the marriage.
It took place on September 5 at the St. Stephen's Orthodox church at Kattanam. Thereafter, the couple embarked to Delhi. They had a small honeymoon phase, because, within two months, Mercy got pregnant. Meanwhile, they were learning to adjust to each other.
One evening, Yesudasan went to a party at cartoonist Shankar's house and promised to come back home in time to have a bowl of drumstick soup. But he came late. “I got angry and did not give him the soup,” she says. “I also vowed that I would not serve soup for a year.” Mercy kept her word. But Yesudasan remained serene.
“Calmness is one of his strong points,” says Mercy. “He rarely loses his cool. Even with our three sons -- Sanu, Sethu and Suku -- he has always remained calm.”
Other qualities include a high degree of cleanliness. “Yesudasan washes his hands and face several times a day,” says Mercy. “He will have a bath twice a day. When he returns from visits, he will immediately change his clothes. I am also happy that he does not drink or smoke and cares for the family.”
When Sanu was three months old, he was afflicted with meningitis. Consequently, he was rushed to the Safdarjung hospital. For two weeks, injections had to be given at two-hour intervals. “I went through a lot of tension at that time,” says Mercy. “But Yesudasan was beside me throughout. I will never forget his support.”
And Yesudasan will not forget home-maker Mercy’s support which allowed him to concentrate on his career. “Cartooning is his passion,” she says. “I don't have any problems that this is his priority. I want him to continue doing it as much as possible, because it brings joy and satisfaction to him.”
Interestingly, every day when Mercy sees the cartoons, it is nearer to lunch-time, when after finishing the cooking and other jobs, she relaxes by reading the newspapers. “Sometimes I feel a pain when Yesudasan makes fun of somebody,” says Mercy. “I ask him why he has to attack people. He smiles and says, 'I don't think they mind it. It is, after all, a cartoon.' When I see a good cartoon I feel happy and tell him so. I am so proud of my husband. He has done a lot of good work.”
Astonishingly, Yesudasan is in his 59th year of cartooning. This is thanks to a highly disciplined life. He gets up at 6 a.m. Then Yesudasan, 76, reads the Bible. He does a bit of walking inside the house. Then, from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., he reads a mix of Malayalam and English newspapers, about 14 of them.
After his breakfast, he goes into an Ayurveda massage and oil bath. Yesudasan enters his study at Changampuzha Nagar, Kochi, at 11.30 a.m. It is an ideal location for creativity: the loudest noise is the twitter of birds.
Following lunch, at 2 p.m., he will take a nap. At 3.30 p.m., Yesudasan will go back to the office. And will work till 8 p.m. He sends his cartoons by e-mail to a couple of Malayalam newspapers. It would seem like a perfect life.
However, Yesudasan's one drawback, as a person, is that he is unable to show affection, especially to toddlers. “He was not physically affectionate to our children when they were young, because, by nature, he is an introvert,” says Mercy. “But Yesudasan has love in his heart and gave them whatever they wanted.”
At their home, the sons, Sethu and Suku look happy, and so does Mercy. When asked for tips for a successful marriage, Mercy says, “It is important for the woman to adjust to the husband. When there is a clash, the woman should compromise first. If the husband has a talent for something, the wife should offer support and encouragement. My husband is my No. 1 priority. I have set aside my interests so that I can serve him. I have been doing this, with pride, for the past 48 years.”
(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)