The Lakshmi and Raman Family Archive: Memories of Lakshmi


Granddaughter Shwetha Balakumar (1981- ) was raised in her grandparents' home, #7 First Trust Link St, Mandaveli, Madras. As a Brahmin family, they never called the city by its Tamil name Chennai and habitually used the British name Madras instead. This and the adjacent property (which bore Lakshmi's name), where her aunts lived, were owned by P.K. Raman. After her mother passed away in 1986, Shwetha was looked after by Lakshmi like a daughter. The shipping business kept Balu frequently away on travel, so Raman, semi-retired by the time of her youth, was normally the only male in the house. Balakumar recalls him as a gentle man, although once in a while he scolded her gently with a choice term in Croation picked up from his business partners, jebenti boga. As a child, she fell asleep to lullabies in Bahasa. When her aunts visited, her grandmother prepared gado gado (an Indonesian dish) and nasi goreng (eaten in Singapore) for the occasion. The language spoken at her home was a combination of Tamil, Malayalam known as 'Palakkad Tamil,' with a few English words mixed in. K.G. Lakshmi was shy to speak English but understood and read well, perusing The Hindu daily. After Tamil and Malayalam, she felt most comfortable speaking Bahasa, which she learned from the Chinese-origin girl next door in the years she lived in Batavia/Jakarta (from marriage in 1935). The neighbour, who attended school while Lakshmi stayed at home waiting for Raman, played with Lakshmi in the late afternoon after the end of the school day. A generally cheerful person, Lakshmi recalled her most difficult life experience as losing her son Rajan, born in between Leela and Kamala, to an illness in his infancy. On occasion, she spoke about him with a kind of resigned sadness.