CHAPTER – 10
SHIFT TO MADRAS
The teachers at the night school changed year by year. Mir fee they charged rose to a rupee and a half. I picked up English, Tamil, and Arithmetic. My teacher declared that the standard I had reached in my studies was the equivalent of form Four (Standard IX). I was now eighteen. I felt the urge to quit handloom weaving and secure some other kind of job. I spoke about this to Karpakam, my eldest sister. Her husband Shanmuga Mudaliar, was a practitioner of Siddha Medicine. They lived in Madras City. They took me with them to Madras and asked the people they knew to get me any kind of employment they could. I refer to these happenings in the following lines: Any man who pauses to reflect On joy and grief in life, and their effect, And notes two states of Being, One, as Man. The other as God will feel impelled to scan Illness and death and crying human need; From ignorance of these, I too attempted to be freed. These questions once did, day and night, Bewilder One. He, then, pursuing light Went straight to learned men. But what they said He found no help. When thus great Buddha shed His royal crown and trod the path of misery, How could such problems be solved by one like me?
A hovel was my dwelling; scanty too, my food. The thirst was there for progress and for making good. English I, therefore, chose to study. It might lead To trade or government service and fill my need. By day I worked for wages. But at night I learned two languages by oil-wick light. I did without my breakfast, whose cost was coins three. I hoarded that small amount. It became my tutor’s fee! By the time I reached eighteen, I found I could read And write both English and my mother tongue, To lead A weaver’s life was hateful, So I went To Madras. In searching for a job we spent A goodly time. And then I secured a place In postal service. Then beamed with joy my face. My tears were dried, however, had such work As promised betterment, that I never did shirk.
I stayed at my sister’s house. My brother in law tried hard to find a job for me. In those days there were clubs in all cities where they arranged to take bets on horse races. Hundreds of these were to be found in Madras alone. The job I got after about a month was at one of these, the Royal Racing Club, on Mount Road. I was paid fifty rupees a month.
There were races twice a week, on Wednesdays and Saturdays. I had to be at the Club between three and seven in the evening of the day previous to the race. On the day of the race, the hours were from eight in the morning to two in the afternoon. On the day following, I had work from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. On working days I was paid a refreshment allowance of one rupee for every half day of work, and a rupee and a half for a whole day. I thus cleared not less than Rs.75 a month.For the level of education I had, this was a piece of good luck. I gave ten rupees to my parents, subscribed ten rupees to a chit fund, and handed over the balance to my brother in law.