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My paternal uncle and his wife - Chinniah and Chithi

Chinniah (he was named Kathiresan) was born in Sivakasi, Tamil Nadu in 1918 as the last of three siblings; his childhood and schooling were in Thoothukudi (anglicised as Tuticorin), Tamil Nadu. His two older siblings were very close; so he was probably treated as the baby of the family. He was only six years old when his sister got married and left home. His brother (my father) was academically bright but Chinniah was not; however, I suspect the family expected him to follow in his brother’s foot-steps. So, it may not be surprising that he rebelled and fooled around, enjoying life in a well-to-do family; the chastising by his parents and brother probably went in one ear and out the other!

Chithi (she was named Chinnammal) was also born in Sivakasi in 1922. My recollection is that her parents and brother emigrated to Sri Lanka. She was a “Secret Christian” (See Section 2 – Chinniah’s mother, Thenammal, probably checked up on this before Chinniah’s wedding arrangements were finalised!).

Chinniah and Chithi were married in 1939 and here is a photo taken on that occasion:

Soon afterwards they must have moved to Sivagangai (anglicised as Sivaganga) in Tamil Nadu where a family business had already been started. They lived in Sivagangai for the rest of their lives. Sivagangai is a city with about one million people in the Sivagangai district which includes an area called Chettinad which is famous for its wonderful cuisine. So, Chinniah was frequently requested by other members of the family to find them good cooks to employ, and he always obliged. I remember that the cooks employed by my parents were always supplied by Chinniah.

They had four children – Rajakumari (born 1941), Kandasamy (born 1943), Lakshmi (born 1947) and Vittobha (born 1950); I have provided below brief accounts of each.

Whilst I have not been particularly close to Chinniah and Chithi or their children, they have certainly been very much a part of my close Indian family. I can also say that they have all always shown me and my family nothing but a good deal of kindness and consideration. During my visits to Thoothukudi, Chinniah and Chithi were usually there and provided any help I needed. I can remember having some interesting conversations with Chithi and thinking that she was a very intelligent person. Here is a photo of Chithi, Anna and Chinniah, which was taken when Anna and I visited Thoothukudi in 1987:

Chinniah died in 1988. Thereafter Chithi lived with her younger son in Thoothukudi for some time and then returned to Sivagangai where I understood she ably managed the family business. She passed away in 2006. I remember them both with a lot of affection.


Rajakumari is married to Sankaralingam who was an officer in the Indian Central Government civil service; so most of their married life was spent in Delhi, the capital of India. During our family holiday in Delhi in 1980, we met them and their two lovely daughters – Radha and Geetha; they were all very welcoming and helpful. The two girls also had an elder brother called Ravi who was unfortunately very disabled and so needed constant attention. Chinniah and Chithi took on the responsibility for looking after him, and employed a carer for this purpose; Ravi died in 1994 aged 33. Rajakumari and Sankaralingam now lead a retired life in Madurai. The photo below shows Sankaralingam, Rajakumari and Radha:

and this picture shows Rajakumari, Chithi, Ravi and Chinniah:


Kandasamy in some ways went through the same experience as his father; he was expected to emulate me and excel in academic education though he does not have an academic bent. Like his father, he is good with people and can be a real charmer. He took a share of the family business in Chennai and still carries on that business. He is married to Lalitha and they live in Chennai. They had three sons – Vasanth, Satish and Praveen. Very sadly Satish died in an accident in 1992 when he was only aged 19; understandably his parents have had great difficulty in coming to terms with this. Here is a picture of Kandasamy and Lalitha on their wedding day:


Lakshmi is married to Chandrasekaran who is a chartered accountant and they live in Sivakasi. They have four children – Bhaskar, Baburam, Chiranjeevi and Meera. Here is a photo of Lakshmi and Chandrasekaran on their wedding day, with Lakshmi’s and my paternal grandparents - Periappa and Thenammal:

Vittobha (now known as Jacob)

Vittobha is married to Sandhya and they have two children – Jayadeepan and Thenmalar (named after Thenammal); they live in Thoothukudi. Some time after their marriage Vittobha and Sandhya moved into the house opposite the one inhabited by Periappa. So, during my two family holidays in Thoothukudi in 1975 and 1980, we saw a lot of them. My children and I still fondly remember their hospitality and the visits to the lovely beach in Thoothukudi, where we played some very enjoyable games which Vittobha knew.

Vittobha had lived with his parents longer than any of his siblings and so must have been strongly influenced by his mother’s religious belief. Quite unusually for our family, some years after his marriage he announced that he was converting to Christianity and taking on the name “Jacob”. Sandhya and their children have also been converted to Christianity. I can testify to Jacob’s missionary zeal (no doubt inherited from Thenammal) because he attempted to convert Daniel, Kate and me when we were in India in 2007!

Here is a photo of Jayadeepan, Sandhya, Jacob and Thenmalar taken at their home in 1998:

Apart from the fact that such Hindu/Muslim marriages were, and probably still are, unusual in India, this story is perhaps not particularly remarkable. However, when my parents’ story unfolds in due course, it will be interesting to see how they reacted to my own marriage across the race/religion divide.

Prem Kumar

June 2009