Girija Jayanandan received a BA degree in English Literature, in April 1967, at the PSGR Krishnammal College, Coimbatore.
“I was the first graduate in my family of ten children [three boys and seven girls of whom one brother and five sisters survived], and I was the ninth child who grew up smelling food prepared in the neighbor’s kitchen and listening to music from the radio of the neighbor. I walked my way to school crossing the Noyyal river with sparking crystal clear water with pebbles underneath soothing my feet and mind; the sweet memory lingers till I went to sleep. I remember the shadow of the outer wall falling on the floor which indicated the time of the day as we did not have a clock. Early in the morning my sister would comb my hair and put two plaits and an almost invisible vermilion mark on my forehead.
Every evening after school I would go to the nearby temple where Thiruppavai, Thiruvembavai [sacred hymns in tamil literature] classes would go on. I would sincerely sit and sing along with others and when it was over we would get a handful of boiled groundnuts or lentils and I would eat it to my full. During my walk from school to my home I shuddered with fear whenever there was a drum-beating or noisy festival in the temple. Another object to scare me was the temple elephant. Though I stood first in every subject I used to be scared of all the teachers. The math master once praised me with my test paper for doing all the sums scrupulously and getting all the sums correct. The way he shouted at the other children made me shiver in silence.
For three consecutive years there was one and the same English teacher. Though I did very well in English, she was partial to two girls who were the children of a doctor nearby. One of the girls picked up the garbage and put it inside my desk . When the class representative told the English teacher she started asking the children who did it. This girl who did it pointed out to me and mentioned my name. At once the teacher slapped me left and right and I cried out and ran away home. My people at home would never ask me why I cried or why I was upset, I had to console myself. When there was a call for essay competition on the topic ‘Telling the truth’ I won the first prize and thereafter the English teacher was all praise for me. I remember once when I dodged an essay competition with the excuse that I did not have a pen, all the thirty students waved their pens towards me compelling me to participate. Because there was no encouragement in the house to talk or laugh loudly I could not even smile at anyone and take part in oratorical competitions. I was a thorough failure when it came to oratorical competitions and fared very badly when there was an oratorical competition on the poet Bharathiar.
I would often get beaten by my father or brother for coming late by ten minutes as I was eager to learn cycling. This episode came to an end with my brother threatening to take my legs and hands off if ever I learnt cycling. My eldest brother [only kind person who loved me] encouraged my studies by offering to give one ootai kalana [one paise coin with a hole]. I would gather six such coins and buy brinjal or ladies-finger for my mother to cook that day. Very rarely I would be tempted to buy a piece of panai karuppatti [a kind of jagggery prepared from tender palm fruit] and lick it all the way home. One day my brother asked me what I bought with the coins he gave. I told him that I collected six such coins to buy vegetable for mother. This story came to an end with my beloved brother, the only earning member of the family meeting with a fatal accident.
Thereafter it became the responsibility of my elder sister to earn for the family till her death. One full meal was a luxury. I never wore chappals or powdered my face till I was appointed as a tutor in the same college I studied and could afford to buy them; for one thing, my sisters whether employed or otherwise, grew in an atmosphere of utter fear of my father who never smiled either because fate played tricks with his fortune or he did not have a liking for his own progeny. The reason I indulged in studies was that we were not supposed to listen to music or go out in order to learn anything. One employed sister met the expenses of my bus journey to and from college; she paid my fees working overtime and attending office work on holidays for double payment.
I graduated with the help of the correspondent and worked as a tutor for one year; and with great difficulty got a seat for post-graduation. The whole course of my PG studies I read at night with the help of kerosene lamps as I was not willing to burden my sister with the power bill. My appointment as a tutor would not have happened but for the scarcity for the faculty of English and for the strong approval of my former principal who became the Director of Collegiate education soon after his tenure as principal and soon after my PG course. Thereafter there was some improvement in the household. Even after my employment as a tutor my father would raise his eyebrows if the radio was loud when there were some hindi songs.
After working as a tutor and assistant professor in various colleges I retired as Head of the department in Queen Mary’s college where I worked for 29 years. I encouraged my daughter to do her best in studies and she got an MBA from Symbiosis University and graduated in film director’s course in Film institute Chennai. She is pursuing her profession though there are challenges and many difficulties in her way
Encouraged with the determination and perseverance I showed in my hard work and studies, my niece took mathematics as major and did her Ph.D; she stood first in her studies and I admitted her in Avinashilingam home-science College. Her performances were so good that her articles were published in Australian journals. However, Fate is merciless and does not spare hard working honest people and punishes every one irrespective of good qualities, values and hard work. She lost her father when she was two years old and her mother was illiterate and penniless. My niece had to give up her position as HOD to look after her only child due to autism. The struggle goes on. But the education we gave ourselves helps us to face life with fortitude and patience.”