Both my parents were illiterate. All that my father ever learned was to sign his name, and he took almost five minutes over it! Each of the letters that comprise the name, G.N. Varadappa Mudaliar, cut papers, on its own. Combined, They assumed all poses of Yogasana, except perhaps the Sirasasana! If I happened to stand by, and watch him at such times, I could not suppress my laughter. I would either laugh without being noticed by him or move away to relieve my merriment out of his sight and then get back. This I did, not because he was likely to take offense, but because of my unbounded regard for him.
When I completed five, sending me to school became a topic of daily discussion for my parents. There was, one might say, even a bit less than marginal existence. Yet they were in the seventh heaven at the mere thought that they had been blessed with a boy, to be educated by them.
My Father looked forward to Vijayadasami Day of the year 1916. A friend who was an astrologer lived in the house opposite to ours. Father made him select an auspicious hour. He had bought a waist cloth, a jacket and a cap for me. How he had managed to procure this new outfit for me is something that passes my understanding. He didn’t have the means to it. But he did manage in a way known only to him and my Mother.
That was an age at which a child is completely unaware of such things as poverty and indebtedness. Is that not the only stage when a man is exempt as yet from the phantom toils of debt? The inferiority complex that comes with poverty-it would follow a bit later. All the affection a child receives from his parents constitutes his wealth at the moment. No brush with prosperity could touch this particular spring of perennial joy.
As the auspicious time came, they took me to the temple of Lord Vinayaka, the deity with elephant face. I used to circumambulate the temple each day along with my father. The memory is still sweet, of his knocking his head with his knuckles on either side, then switching hands, gripping the ears and doing bending and stretching which form Vinayaka’s favorite mode of propitiation. I also knocked the sides of my head with my knuckles, and did the bending and stretching in the prescribed mode.
But that day it was a novel experience for me when I went to that temple with brand new clothes, as a preliminary to my going to school for the very first time.
I looked at Vinayaka. In my imagination, it seemed that He was actually pleased to see me and gave me His blessings. My Father’s training had made me quite devout.
On that day, when I made my obeisance to Vinayaka before seeking admission to school, my Father performed certain special prayers offering coconuts, fruits, and sugar.
I do not know what level or quality of education he stipulated for me in his supplications then. I only know he had a few definite things to ask for as a favor on my behalf.
He had already taught me a few psalms and songs of praise. I used to recite those often, lisping, as any child does at that age. Listening to this made my parents highly elated.
Yes, when I was a child, they were filled with joy and pride listening to my recitation. But, even so late in my life, I cannot keep back the tears whenever my parents come into my mind with valid reason.
Unable to escape from the stranglehold of poverty and need they suffered to the last. And, when I finally arrived at an age and a status when I could give them relief, they were no longer alive. I was twenty-two when my Father passed away. I was thirty-five when my Mother died. Mother alone was comparatively free from financial worries towards the close of her life, for a period of some ten years, perhaps.
The school I attended was run by a Christian Mission.That building is still there, in the northeast corner of the tank at Guduvancheri. That temple of learning which taught me the three R’s is now a place of worship, a Church.
My Father used to accompany me to school every day. On some days he would also pick me up there on my return.
I liked learning my lessons. We were asked in those days to form the letters of the Tamil alphabet by arranging tamarind seeds. I took to this exercise with patience and ingenuity, and my teachers were quite pleased with me. My attitude towards them was one of respect, bordering on veneration.
I won my promotion every year.
I completed the age eight. I had passed the third standard by then.
My Father found he could not do his weaving single handed anymore. He needed help. So he kept me with him at home. My schooling, therefore, ended with Standard Three.