“My name is Venkatramanan Swaminathan Iyer. I hail from Pattamadai, which is a remote place in Tamil Nadu. I have always been a top ranking student all my life in the Govindachari School. My father is a priest at the local Shiva temple. Everyday in the morning he wakes up at 3 am and after completing the religious chores at home, he walks the 3 kilometer stretch to the Shiva temple where he is the Archakar for the Shiva Sannidhi. Please forgive my lack of the knowledge of words for these Tamil terms that I have used. I wanted to go to the PS English medium school in the town, but then when my father asked for the admission, they said that I was a forward class and could not get admission. My father told me this and I felt proud that I was smarter than the other kids and so I was forward. But then unfortunately I must say that my command over English has remained at the same level till date. I have one elder and one younger sister, who are exact replicas of my mother.
I was one of the 10 students learning from Govindachari Thatha as we affectionately called him. He taught me many things. One thing he taught me was how I must be tolerant and give equal importance to everyone who is a part of my species called the human race. We had a big banyan tree under which we studied every evening. Every morning I would go and work in the field of the Pannayaar. When that Delhi Sir had come here looking for his house, he had said some word Zameendaar. So I used to work in his fields, so that appa’s earning and mine could ensure one meal a day. Everyday I would go running to the temple of the village deity around noon. With a simple white dhoti on my waist, my Poonal across my torso and my forehead beading with the sweat from having worked on the fields, I would run to the temple the minute I heard the sound of the bells ringing. The Chakrapongal they gave there was my first meal till the Puttu I might get at night. Most of the time, I used to go home late from school, so that my sisters can eat enough. But no Chakrapongal can equal the taste of the Puttu my mother used to make.
I loved to study and so Govindachari Thatha would make me come to his house and he taught me numbers and math. I loved it. I loved solving sums. I would work out sums in the farmlands writing numbers in the mud with the sickle I was to use to cut the harvest. The Pannayar saw this one day and he agreed to send me to the town to study. He said that he will ensure I get through the tenth and plus two. I was overjoyed, but asked the Pannayaar to take care of my parents. I had a mission now to get my sisters married and make my parents live peacefully. I studied hard in the town, cleared my tenth and plus two with 90%. I still have the letter my Appa wrote to me to congratulate me. Unfortunately the nearest telephone in my village was 5 kilometers away. So we used to stay in touch by letters. Postman Pattabi was a very nice man.
I went for my college admissions. I wanted to become an engineer and put communication lines all over rural India. But when I applied, they said that I am a forward class and so I cannot get admission into an engineering college. I got admission for BSc Music. I was crestfallen. I had no more money to try and apply in other states. So I continued. Time passed. I tried to seek employment, but again they said I was forward class. Slowly the letters I sent stopped. There was nothing to say. The last I heard was that our house roof had collapsed and water was seeping in during the rains. I need to collect money for that. I also need to look for grooms for my sisters, but I have decided. Whatever my father may say, I will not get them married to someone in a class as lowly as my own.
Any good person who finds this letter, please deliver the 6000 rupees I have saved till date to my address marked on the envelope. And also please convey these wishes of mine to my sisters.
Appa and Amma,
My Namaskarams and Sorry for not living……(the poison acted before he could complete the letter)