COLUMN: Spouse's Turn
Vimala talks about life with the noted former footballer O. Chandrasekhar
By Shevlin Sebastian
Photo by Mithun Vinod
On May 6, 1966, the day that Vimala Menon got married to O. Chandrasekhar, the noted football player, the happiest news she received was about her eldest sister Sarala, who was living in Sibu, Malaysia. “She had given birth to a baby girl named Sudha,” says Vimala. “I was happy, because, for the Nairs, the inheritance is through the women. Sarala was also deeply affectionate and would send gifts to us all the time from Sibu. So I liked and respected her a lot.”
Soon, after the marriage, the couple left for Mumbai where Chandrasekhar was working as a probationary officer in the State Bank of India (SBI). At the SBI housing colony in Andheri, Chandrasekhar’s friends gave them a grand welcome. “When I entered the house, I grew excited by its many amenities,” she says. “It was a modern apartment.”
And it was while she was in Mumbai that she saw Chandrasekhar play for the first time. The match took place at the Cooperage Stadium. It was a third division game between SBI and another team in the Harwood League. “SBI won and were promoted to the second division,” says Vimala. “I saw Chandrasekhar play but had no idea about the game and knew very little about his career.”
For the record, Chandrasekhar was a member of the Indian football team from 1956-67. He was also part of the team that took part in the 1960 Olympic Games at Rome and won the gold medal at the Jakarta Asian Games in 1962, as well as the Asian Cup tournament held at Tel Aviv in 1964. He represented Maharashtra for 10 seasons and, in 1964, as captain, he helped the state win the Santosh Trophy.
In Mumbai, after a while, Vimala got pregnant. Thereafter, she went home, to Kochi, and gave birth to Sunil, who is 47 now. The couple have two more children: Sudhir, 44, and Suma, 38.
Life was moving at a smooth pace. Chandrasekhar was moving steadily up the ladder, while Vimala was busy looking after the children.
In 1979, at age 32, Vimala was at the peak of her beauty, with her long flowing hair, fair skin, and vivacious smile. One day, she detected a lump under her breast. At that time they were staying in Thiruvananthapuram. A biopsy was done at the Medical College Hospital.
When the result confirmed breast cancer, Chandrasekhar burst into tears. “I asked him why he was crying in front of the children,” says Vimala. “At that time, my daughter was only three years old.”
Vimala had to undergo chemotherapy sessions. Soon, she lost all her hair. The prognosis was grim: she had three months to live. “My whole body was aching, and I was thinking, ‘Will I die?’” says Vimala. Nevertheless, she told Dr Krishnan Nair, “I have to look after my children. I will fight till the last minute.”
But Vimala survived, even though the treatment lasted for five years. Medicines worth lakhs of rupees had to be brought from abroad, sent by anxious relatives and friends. “We were financially stretched, but the bank paid all the bills,” says Vimala.
Looking back, she is all praise for her husband. “Chandrasekhar stood like a rock,” she says. “But he suffered a lot seeing me in this situation.”
Asked about the qualities of her husband, Vimala says, “He is very punctual He gets up at a fixed time, and goes to sleep at the same time. He has his meals on time. If he says that we will be going out at 8 a.m., everybody should be ready before that. Just the other day, my neighbor told me that when Chandrasekhar shuts the gate at 9 p.m., they correct the clock.”
As for his role as a father, Vimala says, “Chandrasekhar was not strict, but the children knew that their father was disciplined, so they followed whatever he did.”
And in the bank, where Chandrasekhar reached the position of assistant general manager and retired in 1995, he was known for his honesty and integrity. “Chandrasekhar helped a lot of people, but his initial reaction when somebody came for help would be to say no,” says Vimala. “Then he would think about the request and change his mind.”
But Chandrasekhar has his drawbacks, too. “He has a short temper,” says Vimala. “And if anybody makes a mistake, he will say it directly to that person. Not everybody likes that.”
At their home in Kochi, the couple lives alone. Sunil is in Bangalore, Sudhir lives in Tennessee, USA, while Suma is in Chennai. “By the grace of God, all my children are doing very well,” says Vimala, who has five grandchildren.
To the modern generation, Vimala has this to say. “Husband and wife should love each other and have a good understanding,” she says. “In case the marriage does not work out there is nothing wrong in going for a divorce. Earlier, most women had no income and had to remain with the man, even if they were unhappy. Now, many are working. So they have the option to move out and should take it.”
However, if there are children, they should be the topmost priority. “Nowadays, parents give so little time for their offspring,” says Vimala. “If you are not prepared to look after your children, don’t have them.”
(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)