We, The Josiers
To-day is my father, the Great Viswanatha Josier's death anniversary. He died on 13th November, 1962, at around 12 noon, with all his ten sons gathered around him. It was the first Car Festival and Gods Viswanatha, Visalakshy, Ganapathy and Subramanya with his two consorts Valli and Devasena set on a chariots procession around the village.
The previous evening, he had started sinking and we knew that the end would come soon. I went to the temple authorities and explained the situation and asked them to stop all chariots a bit away from our house. They did this and it almost looked that the Gods themselves had come to take our father away in their chariots. He lived such an honourable life that he deserved this.
As I write this - even after fifty years - I re-live that great day, and my eyes are moist, in thankful remembrance of him. His death was more because of our mother's death the previous year on 3rd November, and a feeling of loneliness rather than the diabetic condition he was in for some years. And, I am very proud that the last words he spoke - when he was to be administered an injection - were "Moorthiya Kooppidu". His end came around noon, and cremation was over by 3 PM, so the chariot procession could continue, as usual.
Now, I will share my knowledge of this Giant, whose progenies numbering over a hundred and fifty are spread all across the Globe and excelling in various fields and demonstrating their skills as change-agents, and are recognised as such. There is no exception whatsoever and, I attribute it to His blessings and leading from the front.
Appa, he was to us the children, so shall refer to him so. To start with, he was an extra-ordinary person both within the home and outside. Every one feared him, out of respect and for his worldly wisdom. He was a very good strategist and communicator. He had no formal schooling - since there were no schools around - so had to be content with Sanskrit, Tamil and Malayalam which were easily learnt by Brahmins of those days. He did understand a little of English when hearing others speak. He insisted that all his children should learn English and Sanskrit, and that we should read aloud so that he can hear us.
My brother Sahasranaman did this, even when he was doing B.Sc. I used to recite aloud only the Sanskrit slokas so that he would be convinced that I was studying, but this was a camouflage!
One day, I told him that there were other subjects to learn, so why was he insisting only on English and Sanskrit. He said that I could be a typist or a small-time Vaideek! He was very proud that all of us graduated or went to College. I was the first and only one to do post-graduation in the family, because I had distinguished myself while in the B.A. classes and had won proficiency prizes in English, Sanskrit and Economics. It was the Diamond Jubilee year of Government Victoria College and the then Governor of Madras was the Chief Guest. I had not told my father about this but, my dearest friend Rajansar's father got to know it. He was an admirer of Appa and his children - and he persuaded him to attend.
When Appa asked me if he could come, especially because he was not used to wearing a shirt, I was moved and said he could most certainly come as he was. And, he was sitting in the front row that evening and seeing me receive the prizes.
I was keen to keep the momentum and continue studies and take the IAS examination. I ended up in the Law College and had Second rank both in F.L and B.L. That I did not practise law even after doing apprenticeship and the Bar Council exams with credit is a different story. I realised my ambition in 1988 when I retired from GEC and did get some recognition as a lawyer. I am now very happy that a few of Viswanatha Josier's grandchildren and even great grand-children have pursued this profession and already distinguished themselves.
Back to Appa, now. He had been orphaned at the age of twelve or so. He had an elder brother Sahasranaman and a younger one Subramanian, two sisters Pichu athai and patchu athai. When he was around twelve or so, and not knowing what to do, Pichu athai's husband Sarani Deekshitar, a distinguished Deekshitar who performed several yaagas including the Soma Yaga advised Appa that he really belonged to the Astrology profession which was the family heritage for several centuries and that he should pursue this. He directed him to go the Maharaja of Cranganore (Kodungalloor) who had his Guru Kula for Astrology and he could get boarding and lodging free.
Appa did as advised and joined the Guru Kula of Valia Kunhunni Raja, who was a legend as an astrologer, especially predictive astrology and prasna saastra, Prasna is very complicated in that the client only says he wants a prasna finding. It is the astrologer's prerogative to find out the question in the client's mind and the answers, also advise what "pariharas" are to be done to restore harmony. With his diligence and hard-working, he soon became the favourite of the Maharajha, who kept him as a favoured disciple for 12 years.
When Appa returned to the village, may be in 1900 A.D or so, he was around 24 years, his elder brother had children. Although he came back to live with his elder brother in the ancestral home (Josier House) he was not happy with the environment or the treatment he received. Appa started practice as an Astrologer, and soon picked up a large clientele. This was easy because our family was recognised by most Brahmin Agraharams, as the family astrologers for hundreds of years. My father's contemporary used to say that like Sahasramam is identified with only Vishnu Sahasranamam, the mere word "Josier" would indicate only Viswanatha Josier. Other astrologers needed their name also to be identified. Added to this, the Maharajha was too old and started referring his rich and famous clients, especially from the southern states where he was very popular, to Appa. That is how he got several ICS officers (O,Pulla Reddy, J.P.L. Shenoy etc) Income-tax Commissioners, Directos General of Excise, Registrars, Police Officers etc. for clients. As a high school student I had seen letters written to him by these senior officers inviting him for consultations. He used to visit Madras and Ootacamund, regularly, especially during Christmas and the summer holidays. He would buy a concession ticket valid for two or three weeks and make several trips. When he returned, we could see wads of currency notes and gifts given to him.
Within the then huge Madras State, he used to travel to Salem, Namakkal, Trichy, Madurai, Ramnad, Chettinad, Erode, Gopichetty Palayam, Bhavani, Udumalpet, Pollachy etc. regularly on professional work. He started earning money and, with his frugal habits, could accumulate enormous wealth.
The Periappa, Sahasranaman knew how to perform SIVAPOOJA, since our family has been doing this daily for hundreds of years. During those days, the very early years of the 20th century, Indians relocated to Burma, the Federated Malay States (FMS) now called Malayasia, and other Far Eastern countries, to work in construction, teaching, and other professions. Periappa's son had gone to Penang and settled well there, as a priest. On his suggestion, Periappa also re-located there along with his family. At his instance, my father paid Rs. 500 each to the elder and younger brother and became sole owner of JOSIER HOUSE.
My role-model in life has always been my great father Sri. Viswanatha Josier. I have always wanted to be like him, knowledgeable, widely respected, independent, proud of oneself and his own views and actions, and have the conviction and courage to conquer the world.
It was, of course, only a tiny world - unlike, to-day, where you are all earning in millions - and begin at the middle of the ladder. Even when the old man chastised us for any mis-behaviour, he would chant a Sanskrit sloka in justification. It could be that his communicating ability was best in that language (he knew no English).
All these slokas registered in my mind so deeply that I still use them on occasions. For example, when we returned home beyond time and to the neglect of our studies, there he was reciting -
“KSHNASAH KANASASCHAIVA VIDHYAM ARTHAM CHA SAADHAYET
KSHANA THYAGE KUTHO VIDHYAA, KANA THYAGE KUTHO DHANAM”
(Knowledge and wealth are to be earned little by little by good management of time; If you neglect even a little of time or a little part of money, both will ultimately show up the deficiency.)
Another sloka he used to recite was about the methods of learning. You are taught only a quarter portion of any subject by your teacher. Do not blame the teachers for insufficient standards of knowlege exhibited by students, and yet, how many parents blame the teaching system and the teaching faculty for this. Of the other three quarters, one quarter should be learnt by the student himself by supplementary reading, home-work etc. A third quarter is learnt from fellow students, through purposeful inter-action. And, the last quarter comes by itself, in due course of time, and by life-experiences. And, now for the sloka:
PADHAM SISHYAH SWAMEDHAYAA,
PAADHAM KAALAKRAMENA CHA”.
As I said, he had an appropriate sloka for every occasion and for every one. It was a treat to see him debating with leaders of other professions, especially eminent lawyers and businessmen. I used to hide and listen to what the debate was about, and later on ask him questions. When I had studied and passed my B.A, I had a reasonably good repertoire of these and similar slokas, either in support or contradicting it.
Once, he recited to me the sloka which says that one should never lend money to ten kinds of people, because it can land you in embarrassment - mostly you will lose the money.
“DOORASTHA NISHKHANDAKA NIRDHANAANAM,
RAGNAH SABHAAYAM SWAJANASYA SATROH,
STREENAM GUROONAM CHA THATHAA YATEENAM RINAPRADHAANAM THU PUNARNA LABHYAM”
Do not lend money to anyone living far away, the hard-hearted man, the poor, to the King or Government, including their employees, to public societies like Clubs, etc, one's own relations, known enemies or adversaries, to women, to teachers one's own children, to recluses who have given up the world and become Sanyasees. If you do, you will never get it back, besides end up in misunderstandings.
In sheer exasperation, I asked - I was earning well then and had, in fact, given loans to my friends - who do I then give my surplus money to… and, in a jiffy, the old man said: "Give it to me".
Later on, after he had died in November 1962 and we had moved to Ernakulam, true to his premonition, I lost nearly Rs.2,00,000/-, lending to friends.
Shakespeare had echoed this advice (See HAMLET, THE PRINCE OF DENMARK, where Polonius advises his son Laertis-
"NEITHER A LENDER NOR A BORROWER BE,
FOR A LOAN OFT' LOSES ITSELF AND FRIEND"
His sermon was never ever borrow or lend even to your brothers. I have lived up to his advice, mostly, till this day. I even pay one-year’s advance, not only to all public utilities and taxes but, even towards newspapers and internet.
Of course, on many occasions, I have voluntarily helped the members of the family, with no damage whatsoever. I recall Canara Bank had once issued me a Credit Card, which I kept unused for over ten years. When we were re-locating at Palghat, the Bank Manager was surprised at this, and volunteered to return to me three years fees collected by the Bank!
My father was also a straight forward person and would dare to tell anyone to the face that he was wrong, or unjust. He had the courage of his convictions, and could not be flattered or bamboozled. So, when you see me abrasive, or critical of people, remember that it is inherited from him, and I do not regret it.
(To be continued)