My name is Anaimuthu, I was born around 1950, I do not know exactly, in a village called Naluruki between Chennai and Trichy. My father’s name is Arumugam, and my mother’s name is Anjali. I have two siblings, brother Velaimuthu and sister Ragambal.
My childhood was happy and colourful in the village and that early year of my life still overwhelms me. There was no school in our village; we grew up without any worries of the present or future concerns of life and the learning of the hard life of being adults. I especially liked Playing Kabadi and cooking traditional dishes such as sollam, kambu, ragi, the kelvaragu, in the rice fields with my parents. We also prepared Kutansoru; ask the people from the city if they know what it is!
Unfortunately, while I was growing up, my father made me work harder and harder under the sun glowing rice fields and was expecting more from me to make more money to help our family survive. I wanted to go to school but I realized what my father wants out of me. Hence, misunderstanding grew between us. Due to which I fled when I was 14 with Full of dreams and hopes of fortune, I boarded the train of a new life that brought me to Madras, remembering these Madrasis scene from time to time in my village, with different pants and coloured shirts. The steam train with its red
When I landed, my dreams of wealth quickly became disillusioned. With the help of the strangers for a place to work, I was guided to Kothachalvadi, the former fruit and vegetable market of Madras, until the inauguration of the Koyambedu today’s market, in 1996, the only wholesale market in the capital.
I found work quickly, as casual labourer, employed by Sithapadi Naidu, and paid at the time (circa 1967), thirty-two annas per day (two Rs), a little amount in a big city like Madras but so much more than anyone could have expected in my village! I had to spend about fifty rupees per month to face my personal needs. This lasted sixteen years, loading and unloading fruits, vegetables, working, living, and sleeping in the same shop.
Around the age of thirty, it must have been in 1983, I decided to stop working as a coolie to start my own business so to get more money. Thus I hired a cycle-rickshaw for one rupee and twenty five paise per day. It was a great period for this job because the Government had to ban hand-carts and auto-rickshaws were still rare, only few people could afford to buy one. Soon, I was able to save enough money to buy my own cycle-rickshaw for one thousand five hundred rupees. After which I had no reason to stay in Kothachalvadi. I looked for a house to rent and found one among a dozen opposite Central Station, near Parry's Corner, on land dotted with bushes where the only real construction were the graves of Christian and Armenian cemeteries, a place notorious at the time, (many people were killed there and their bodies buried in the tall grass and bushes), which has since become the slum of Gandhi Nagar. So I would sit in a hut which was rented next door of Samiyar Tea shop.
Despite the number of years, I stayed in touch with my family. I started to miss my family so decided to pay a visit to my relatives. To my surprise, my family members were happy to see me and greeted me. Members of my clan advised me to get married so the wedding was arranged with Danakothi, a girl from the neighbouring village, Kothalam. I went single to my hometown but left married back to Madras.
Thus began the worst years of my life, not because of my wife, but because of lack of money. Before my marriage It was easier for me to adjust with my monthly income of one thousand five hundred rupees, but then it soon became insufficient, especially when life in Madras increases day by day and the demand to meet the needs also increased. Without really wanting, we had children, five in all, first three boys and a girl and then another boy. I had to begin to borrow money and quickly I was covered with debts.
To make matters worse, the area where we lived grew rapidly with the numbers thus became the Gandhi Nagar slum, was ravaged by the fire twice. It was the first fire In August 1996 and another one in August 1997. The Great Fire of 1997 destroyed the entire area, and lost not only my house, but everything we had. We stood on the sidewalk with nothing around us.
But the owners were delighted when Corporation of Chennai decided to rebuild every house with bricks, with a metal door and a roof made of asbestos sheets, along with an official title of occupation as bonus. My owners immediately increased my rent and soon after I had to vacate the house, unable to pay five hundred rupees monthly rent as demanded to me. My family and I, including my last child who was one and half year, we resigned ourselves to make a small hut made of scraps, palm leaves and plastics sheets attached to the wall of the nearby military ground. For the first time in my life I realized the misery in which we were.
The worst came a few weeks later, when Danakothi (My wife) fell seriously ill. I left her at the General Hospital where, due to lack of attention (this is the fate of the poorest), she died very soon. Without money, I resigned myself to give up her body, not even having enough to honour her with a decent funeral. Soon after, my eldest son, David, left us as I had left my own parents, about the same age.
I remained alone with my four other children, Gideon, who was about ten years, Solomon, his sister Esther, and the youngest, Moses, I tried to sell the children to a childless couple in order to secure their future than for financial reasons.
Two years passed by, I made it a point to educate my children. Fortunately, other than teaching, the school also gave them lunch. One day I was visited by people who c laimed to belong to an organization that could help me, called SPEED Trust.
After several interviews, they summoned me into their office, filled a folder, and took a picture of my kids and myself. I was not sure what they wanted, what it might bring me. Then they explained that they would help me financially, as long as I keep my children and send them to school. To do this, they would open a bank account in my name in which foreigners would pay money regularly.
I had the opportunity to meet these foreigners soon enough, it must have been in 2002, the first time. It was a couple of Europeans who lived and worked in Chennai. Over the years, ties were knotted, grew stronger, and they invited us from time to time at their house in Neelankarai.
But I kept peddling till then! And I still continue, despite my crazy leg, to earn three thousand rupees per month. The most important was to have my children going to school and feed properly. Even when I came home late at night, Gideon, Solomon and Esther were responsible for cooking the dosas. As for the money is deposited in my account, I preferred to save up to one day buy a house, a good one made of bricks with a cemented floor! My dream is to provide each of my children with a house before I die.
They continued to grow and study, except Gideon who did not attend the 10th standard exam. SPEED Trust involved him in a screen-printing training and after two years, he could find a job in a workshop. Then he passed his driver's license and now works as an auto-rickshaw driver. He married two years ago, and I arranged the wedding in the Kalyana Mandapam from the slum. I left SPEED Trust’s chairman the duty to hand her thali to my daughter-in-law who is also a native of our village near Tindivanam.
Solomon, Esther and Moses continue their studies. One day I told the teachers from SPEED Trust, "I am illiterate; do not expect me to teach anything to my children. I can only do my duty of father and send them to you so to get the best education. I do my job, so do yours! "
In 2008, my son Solomon brilliantly passed his 12th standard exams and got the Higher School Certificate with 917 marks out of 1200.
He has completed his BE - information Technology at New Prince Shri Bhavani College of Engineering. To finance his studies, SPEED Trust granted him, year after year with educational loan, presently he has got a job in ICICI Bank and he has started repaying his loan every month.
My daughter, Esther, has successfully completed her 12th standard exams. She pursued her optometry course at MN Eye Hospital and now she is presently working for Vasan Eye Care Hospital.