I married my cousin; it is no surprise that when my mother-in-law passed away some days ago, it was her brother, my father, who wrote a little piece in her memory. Here it is.
IN MEMORY OF MY BELOVED SISTER
MRS. FLORA JOHNSON
Her memory is worth cherishing and her life worth emulating.
Brief tit bits in the life of my sister Mrs. Flora Johnson
Prepared for the sake of her children and grand children
It is a privilege to write this write-up of a person whom I respected and loved greatly. If she had passed away earlier when I was younger, I might not have been able to do this, overwhelmed with sadness. At this age, I have not much tears left in me having experienced the demise of innumerable people very dear to me. Moreover my attitude towards life is vastly changed. I wish that all of you also develop the same although you may feel (at least some of you) that you have not yet come of age for such a mentality! The right attitude of a bird during its growth is looking forward to fly off from the mother’s protection and not to linger on in its nest. “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ…” Phil 3:20. We may all have an intellectual assent of it, but only when it sinks into the heart there is any value to it.
Flora’s children, I know are very proud of this grand old lady and they may have their own legitimate reason for it. But in addition, she is the senior most of the siblings born to our parents. On my part, she was one of the ‘we three”, meaning GCA with Flora and me. Previously, it was Gunaseeli Akka, GCA, and Flora. After Sinnakka, I was promoted to that group. The junior three consisted of Suguna, Justin and me. The three university graduates in S.G. family were Maduram Martin, GCA and I. Thus there can be various triplets. This is not to separate some others. But situations and circumstances cause this to happen at various times and various reasons. Each of you can think various triplets in your own life’s situation. It is not bad neither should it be mistaken for separation.
As an example, I can think of another triplet very dear to me. When I left Chennai for Cochin to join the FACT industry, a Govt. of India Public Sector Organization, it was a very sad moment for me to leave the Madras Christian College as the founder librarian (first professional librarian of the historical college) and the innumerable friends I had in that place, to an unknown state, “the we three” was a tower of strength to me at that time. Who were they? Kamala, baby Selvi and me. This same “we three” only landed Calcutta, West Bengal also a place more unknown to me. It was Kamala who interpreted the Hindi language to me. The little four year old Selvi was loved by everyone there, and many were kind to us because of her. Let me conclude the “we three” topic with this and proceed with the main subject.
Flora was a pretty young woman
In those days, she was exceedingly pretty without any make up. There was no means in the family for special make up neither did she need any. But she could not retain that original glamour because of her recurring discouragements and disappointments in her life. This is only my observation. On her part, she was happy and contented and never showed any discontentment, I don’t think she was insensitive but she was an embodiment of patience. She seldom expressed her disappointments but put up with them with a stoic obstinacy. She was strangely saved by child bearing in the sense her entire joy of life rested with her children. I can understand how much she would have suffered on the account of Shekar when he had to live in Yercard, Nilgris for studies. But she bore with it because his grandfather wished to impart to him very high standard of education. In that way, she emulated the example of my mother. She also had a hard life. But her joy was on her children and grandchildren.
Some interesting episodes
There was a song competition arranged by the church for children. Flora as a twelve year old girl and I an eight year old boy were two of the ten candidates for the competition. As a star singer already in the school, I completed my turn smoothly. When Flora’s turn came, she was a good singer too, but took the wrong pitch. At once, I knew she was going to be in trouble but I didn’t know what to do except helplessly watching a person in trouble! But it was our brother Asaph who boldly stood up saying “Flora stop! That is a wrong pitch – take this pitch,” so saying he indicated the correct pitch. Perhaps, it was unlawful to do so. But anyhow he came to her rescue and she managed to complete the assignment. I thought that she lost the prize. But she got the first prize and I the second prize. I felt I should have had the first prize but I didn’t mind because she was my sister! Her attractive personality also might have aided for this achievement.
She taught me to prepare a candy
It was easy and interesting. One full green chilly, a full betel nut size tamarind and one large piece of jaggery ground together as a paste, sticking it to a thick broom stick, and eating it slowly sucking it. It was so hot and sweet inexpensive and could be easily manufactured!
Her boarding school experience (English medium)
Just missed the mark: The eldest three of my sisters among the total four, had boarding school experience. They were all alumni of the Tanjore (Thanjavoore) TELC boarding school. This was famous for good education and strict discipline for girls. But the boarding school discipline could not be endured by many. Two of the girls known to us who successfully graduated from this school were Gunaseeli Akka (Sinnakka) and GCA’s wife, Ranji Attachi. Due to paucity of funds, Sinnakka could not do her college education. Retnakka (eldest sister) was another alumnus of this school but she could not manage beyond 8th standard in that school. She used to tell me “I was very poor in Mathematics and so I voluntarily withdrew from further education.”
Flora was the third case. She endured the tough discipline with praise-worthy fortitude because of her natural ability for it. She passed her 8th standard and promoted to the 9th standard. Her class teacher was one Miss Saguna, a former classmate and intimate friend of Gunaseeli Akka. So far so good. But when she wrote the final 9th grade examination, she failed to be promoted to the 10th grade. Flora felt very disappointed and she was reluctant to go to the school to pursue the studies. Instead she preferred to go in for Higher Grade Teacher’s Training School. But the decision was unfortunate. This could be understood from the gist of the under noted conversation between Gunaseeli Akka and her friend Saguna (Flora’s class teacher).
Saguna: Gunaseeli, what happened to your sister Flora? I was expecting her to see but she didn’t turn up.
Gunaseeli: What are you talking Saguna? You were her class teacher; you know she was not promoted. So she discontinued her studies. What to do?
Saguna: Gunaseeli, you are making me feel very guilty. Of course, I was responsible for detaining her. But I did it only in the interest of her. She was a little weak in English even though she had done well in other subjects. I thought that this one year detention will do good to her giving her a good foundation for future education. If this would be the result, then I could as well have promoted her. You should have persuaded her to continue the studies. What a pity it is! I am very sorry about it.
Gunaseeli: Saguna, I feel you should have helped her to pass the 9th grade exam. That might have encouraged her better.
Saguna: Gunaseeli. I am very sad about the whole thing. I never imagined it would end up in this way. I did it with a real good intention. I am very sorry – What a pity it is!
/End of conversation/
The next best thing for father to do was to send her for Higher Grade Teacher’s Training to become an elementary school teacher and in that capacity; she worked successfully for a number of years.
We three travelled to Chennai
Another episode: When G.C.A. decided to join the World War II, he honoured her and me by taking us both to Chennai for a small trip. That was the first time we travelled to a place that far and saw the capital city of Tamil Nadu. She was made to stay in the house of Divyanatha Pillai, father’s brother-in-law and his daughters Nallu and Jayseeli. I stayed in a hostel called ICC. Lodge where G.C.A. stayed all through his M.B.B.S. study. That was a great time for us in those days.
Flora had an aptitude for violin playing
Flora learnt violin from a very qualified violin teacher. This is an interesting experience in her life and for us also. The teacher was one Mr. Asirvatham Solomon (Father of Sara Navoroji, the famous and well-known female Evangelist). This Asirvatham Solomon was a faithful disciple of father. He was in his younger days admitted in a hostel (boys boarding school) under the management of father. He was it seems an unruly ruffian. This man told us one of his old experiences with my father. As the hostel warden, he gave him blows right and left when the first complaint was brought against him. But eventually this boy was captivated by my father’s affection for him and my father became his father figure and he turned out to be a very disciplined boy. Later on, his musical talents were found out. To cut the story short, he passed the then highest exam in violin, a diploma course in Carnatic music in the Madras University. Unfortunately, he was not well utilized by the church. But that is a different story. When he was a school teacher in the C.S.M. High School, Pudukottai, he offered to coach Flora violin. We all welcomed the idea. At that time, father’s violin was in Mathurannan’s house. Father arranged to get it and gave it to Flora. Amazingly, Flora did very well. At the end of the first month, Flora offered a sum of money as a fee. Asirvatham Solomon was very offended. He said “Gnanamanickam Ayyah is my Guru. It will be monstrous to receive a wage from him. If you won’t take back, I won’t teach you.” That was his categorical statement so she took back the money. In consultation with my mother and father, she decided to keep a sum of money from her salary month after month separately in her bank. At that time, she was a teacher in a school and earned a salary.
We were amazed to hear her playing “சேனைகளின் கர்த்தரே” in ‘Pilagiri’ tune the entire lyric composed by Rev. .N. Samuel. In those days, there was no electronic recording system to record her beautiful playing. It boosted her morale a great deal. The only source to hear this complicated lyric today is my vocal solo in an old audio cassette! We were so joyful that she had this musical aptitude. Asirvatham Solomon said that he could train her to pass an exam in violin. By this time, Flora kept ready a sum of money every month for him though we had not decided how to make this money reach his hands!
When the musical lesson was reaching a crucial stage, her marriage proposal came from Dr. David Pillai of Tuticorin, and we all felt that his alliance should not be neglected carelessly but be considered seriously. Flora was not averse to this proposal since it had the approval of the father and G.C.A. The only disappointment was to discontinue the music lesson since the alliance was in Tuticorin and we were in Pudukottai! There was no other way than to sacrifice the violin class. There is an interesting anecdote about the money that Flora kept carefully for the tuition. We had a ready plan. Accordingly, Asirvatham Solomon was invited to the house. Father was present. Flora kept the money in her hands. Father said ‘we want to disclose a happy news – Flora is engaged to be married; the alliance is in Tuticorin. In her joy, she wants to give Asirvatham Solomon a small gift in appreciation of his excellent training.” Asirvatham Solomon was about to leave the house in protest. Father said, “Asirvatham Solomon, I command you to sit down.” Like a little boy, he came inside and took his seat bowing his head. Flora kept the cash in an envelope, brought it to her teacher. Father said “Asirvatham Solomon, this is a gift of my daughter to you. Not a fee. So you must accept it. He felt flabbergasted and timidly received and thanked her profusely. It was a substantial amount and he was a poorly paid teacher. The situation matched well. He left the place with deep gratitude and Flora was happy that she rewarded him for his excellent work.
Proposal for the marriage
When Capt. Dr. David Pillai, M.B.B.S. approached father to consider Flora for a matrimonial alliance for his son, Mr. Johnson Thangaraj, father brought the matter to the attention of the family. Of course, G.C.A. was very much in the picture. There was spontaneous approval for the proposal. Father sent his consent in a letter to Dr. Capt. David Pillai, 15, Telegraph Office Road, Tuticorin, 628001.
Marriage function (a novel proposal)
G.C.A. proposed a novel plan of celebrating this marriage in a village. It sounded to us more novel than strange. G.C.A. had a friend in Tiruppuvanam, a village seventy miles from Madurai. I was a member of the household of GCA’s family. My eldest brother Muthurannan and I were used by G.C.A. to go over to Tiruppuvanam to do certain preliminary arrangement. It was an enjoyable trip to do this task. There was nothing much to do because that friend of G.C.A. in Tiruppuvanam completed all the arrangements.
It was a very memorable occasion for the entire families of Gnanamanickam and Dr. David Pillai. The entire respective families and friends considered it as an adventure and novel idea in celebrating a marriage in a village like this.
G.C.A, Mr. Rajamanickam Annan, Mathurannan, and I were waiting at the Tiruppuvanam Railway Station to receive the bridegroom and his party. We were very anxious if the bridegroom’s father would like the arrangements we had made.
The train arrived in time and groom’s party got out of the train. I saw the bridegroom for the first time. He looked very handsome. Dr. David Pillai introduced the groom to us and G.C.A. introduced the Bride’s relatives. Dr. David Pillai was found to be an excellent and fine personality. He broke the tension and anxiety in us by encouraging us all and appreciating greatly all the arrangements we had made.
At the wedding service, we sent Flora and Thayagaraj to spend sometime at the upstairs open terrace of the large house in which we were staying. There was no other place, other than this for them to talk. All I remember is that Flora came down with a smiling face. I heard her saying to someone, may be to my mother, “I was very afraid if he would be rough and tough with me. He was very kind and I am greatly encouraged after this meeting with him.” On my part, I was overjoyed to hear it.
All her children and grandchildren are well off and in a good position. She became one of the most respected ladies among the families of both Pastor S. Gnanamanickam and Capt. Dr. David Pillai. Her suffering during her last four years was a sad ray in her spectrum of life. But to compensate it, her grand entry into the heavenly kingdom will be a consolation to all of us.
“For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in heavens.” 2 Cor 5:1
Like Retnakka (my eldest sister), Flora was a godly person. Gunaseeli Akka, another sister who has gone to glory, became godly under the influence of her husband, A.G. Barnes, who in turn was converted after hearing the visiting famous evangelist Dr. Stanley Jones from the USA.
Flora had a tough life at Tuticorin at the beginning. But very soon she became very popular on account of her natural gift of patience, endurance and hard work. Above all, her godliness enabled her to face some of the toughest moments in her life.
In her last days, she became a shining example in the Evangelical Bible Assembly I had planted while she was living in Madurai with the family of her son Paul Surendar, well taken care of by Surendar and Vinodha.
Next to God, her greatest joy in this world was her children and grandchildren. In this, she was like my mother whose joy also was in her children and grandchildren. I can’t help adding a personal note that she had a special corner in her heart for me and my wife, Kamala.
Her grandchildren and great grandchildren can be legitimately proud of her for her model life which would serve as a grand example for others especially in godliness and endurance. -GB-
I never knew she could play a Violin. After reading this I realized there was a lot I didn’t know about her. She has been through so much and I am happy that she is truly joyful and at peace now…but I still miss her.
Very Touching & interesting. My Great Grandfather’s name is also Dr David Pillai from Tanjore – Mission Street (He had 10 children – 5 boys & 5 girls).