I could not have been much older than eight. We had hitherto been living in houses without electricity or water taps inside the house.
I had gone to the home of my brother-in-law Rajamanickam Athan and my eldest sister Ratnakka in Tirupattur during the annual vacation. The drinking water in Tirupattur was a problem since it tasted very salty. In order to help me to drink the water, Akka had a bottle of sherbet, a sweet syrup with fruity flavor.
Akka was worried that I would leave her home earlier than planned on account of the water problem. In order to attract me to stay for a longer time, poor Akka would entice me with all kinds of attractions. For instance, she engaged a boy there to teach me to ride a bicycle. She also arranged for someone to take me to the coffee place to treat me with coffee, vadai and a sweet.
I had been sent to Tirupattur immediately after the final school term concluded. Any day now, the results of the final examinations would be announced, and I was eager to know if I had been promoted to the next class. So I was waiting for a letter from home. I watched the postman come by every day, but there was no letter for me for many days.
Meanwhile, the drinking water was becoming a major thorn in my flesh, compensated to some degree by the fact that my hosts loved me so much. Every evening, as soon as Rajamanickam Athan returned from work, he loved to take me with him for a walk to the shops.
One fine day, the much awaited letter arrived. With great excitement and trepidation, I opened and read the contents. It said something along these lines: “My dear Wilson: Your school results have been announced. Anbannan (Referring to my elder brother Anbu) went to the school and brought the news. You have passed the exam creditably. We have now moved to new parsonage with electric lights in the house. A new Bible has been purchased for you. There is another attractive gift awaiting you; Dr. D. Dasan has sent a beautiful fountain pen for you in appreciation of the song you sang during the inter-church annual Christmas dinner held in Dr. Madhuram Guru Medical Hall. We are keeping these things carefully for you. But you need not leave in a hurry. Stay there as long as Akka wants you to.”
On reading this letter, I felt faint; I felt dazed. I wanted to get home instantaneously—not in a bus or train—not even in an aeroplane—I would have gladly used a rocket to take me home in five minutes, because I did not think I could even bear the travel time.
Poor Akka did not know the contents of the letter, neither did she evince any curiosity to know what it was; to her it was just a routine letter addressed to me. Instead, she proceeded to discuss her plan for the next two or three days. It was a poignant situation, because I knew it would break her heart (both their hearts) if I broke the news to them and revealed to them that I was anxious to return home. But on the other hand, my own heart was breaking at the prospect of having to remain in Tiruppatur, when so many exciting changes were happening at home, not to mention the gifts awaiting me. And the prospect of being in a home with electric lights.
My heart was breaking with every passing hour after that. But I tried to act as if nothing was amiss. Finally, I mustered enough resolve to say something. As calmly as I could, I went to Akka and said, “Akka, since I am promoted to a new class, I have to buy new books and notebooks; otherwise the teachers will be very angry with me; not that I don’t want to stay here, but the situation is such that I have to get back—if I don’t leave immediately, things will be very difficult for me.” Ratnakka was horrified to hear me speak of leaving, but she managed to hold herself together and said, “Wait till your Athan returns home from office; let us see what he says.”
Another wait . . . and that moment also arrived—Athan came home and Ratnakka took him aside to tell him what I had said. I could hear some of the hot discussion between them in the other room. I could hear Athan chide Akka, saying things like:
“I already warned you that he cannot manage our drinking water. The sherbat does not interest him. We should have bought something else.”
“You should have sent him to the coffee place daily.”
“You should not have allowed matters to have reached this pitch.”
A moment later, pretending as if nothing had happened, Athan took me with him for his usual walk to the shops. My heart was not in it, and I felt like flying off from him like a bird—but his and Akka’s affection for me tormented me at the same time. After that, Rajamanickam Athan did all kinds of things to make me happy. It was one of the most trying times in my life, and I remember it vividly to this day.
Then I wrote a letter to my mother. “Please come to my rescue. It looks as if they will not allow me to leave for another couple of weeks. That will be terrible, because I want to come home. I don’t know how you will convince them, but please write to them and see that they allow me to leave.” My dear mother did write, although I don’t remember what was in her letter.
To cut the story short, at last, Akka and Athan reluctantly allowed me to leave!
I arrived at the new home, and everyone was eager for my arrival. Since the lighting of the kerosene lamps in the previous house had been one of my routine chores, I waited eagerly for nightfall that first day. When the time came, I started switching on the various electric lights in the upstair rooms, in the bathrooms, in the backyard and in various places. My elder brother Anbannan was amused to see me do this. He called me and tenderly explained to me that this was not done in homes with electric lights, as it would consume a lot of power. Only when it was needed, the lights were to be turned on. So on that day, for the first time, I learnt that electric lights were used differently from kerosene lamps. Although it meant that my days as the ‘evening lamp lighter’ were over, I was not discouraged, as I had many many other exciting things to do and experience.
The new parsonage was an upstairs house, and the staircase was inside the home. I went up and down the stairs many times, which amused my sister Sinnakka greatly. The gift of the fountain pen very exciting. It was the first time I possessed a fountain pen—hitherto I had been using a dip-and-write pen with a separate ink bottle. I even remember the brand name of this pen, which I received about 74 years ago! Its name was “TAMCO.”
The family prayer was made more interesting by Anbannan. He introduced the practice of getting every one to read one verse of the Bible passage in turn, in a circle, until the entire passage was read. This made us look forward to the prayer time. Moreover, each of us had our own Bibles now.
This brief history of a tiny part of my life stood as a precursor of much greater blessings that were to follow me, and I believe as stated in James 1:17 “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” Far surpassing any earthly blessing, I have received the greatest blessing that one can ever hope to get— spiritual regeneration followed by the sacred progressive sanctification on a day-to-day basis. So with great exhilaration, I can praise Him saying: “HOW GREAT THOU ART!”