Ancestry is a fascinating subject, which very few of us really know about. While Alex Haley traced his African American lineage back to 200 years, I traced my family roots back to 1823 — a good six generations back — to a small little village called Vilakuddi, in what was then known as Thanjavur district.
There was a small temple where my ancestor was the priest. Four generations down was my father, who had no desire to stay back — overcoming a mild polio affliction and his father’s protective instinct, he chose to migrate to a distant city, Calcutta.
With no great formal education, he struggled initially, but managed to find a job as a stenographer. He went on to become an accountant, before landing senior roles in companies. I find it fascinating how, over generations, the family completely changed its trajectory. The tradition in the family was to value scholarship of a certain kind, different from studying engineering or mathematics, and to live a modest life.
I was born when Lord Archibald Wavell was the first Viceroy of India, just before Mountbatten, and after World War ii. Calcutta was my hometown till 21 years. Being fluent both in Tamil and Bengali meant that people in Bengal felt I was a Tamilian masquerading as a Bengali and folks back in my village believing I was a Bengali masquerading as a Tamilian!
I studied at Jesuit-run St Xavier’s Collegiate School, managed by Belgian priests. And one of the things that really impressed me was their scholarship. They were at ease teaching Sanskrit and Hindi. The teacher who taught us religion was equally familiar with the Bible and the Bhagavad Gita.
You don’t want to be left behind. Do you?
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