It sounded pretty traumatic to me. For all the 7 children ranging in ages from 10 to 24.
My uncle was 17 years old and that was the year he had to prepare for his O levels.
They received the message (notice of death in a few words) through a telegram.
Just earlier that day they were pouring over a long letter from their father who was telling them how happy he was on his trip back to the Motherland in Sri Lanka.
The telegram was confusing. Their father’s name was misspelt. There was another relative with that name so that thought it couldn’t be their father then.
It must be a mistake.
But an uncle came by and said it was so.
They were all in disarray. Their mother and youngest sister were in Sri Lanka with their father, but there was no way of contacting them immediately as we would be able to today.
All of the other six children just couldn’t go in time for the cremation. That was impossible. Air travel wasn’t as accessible then.
My uncle A was the second oldest son and since the eldest son (my eldest uncle M) was doing his electrical engineering degree at the Singapore Polytechnic, he went in the eldest’s uncles place to do the Hindu rites for the 31st day after death as his father would have desired.
Travel was very difficult then. My uncle had a 4 day journey by sea to reach Colombo. From the capital he had to take trains to Jaffna. This was in July 1960. He braved the trip alone.
Having lost his father at such an early age, he couldn’t go on to do further studies (as he desired) and felt compelled to support his widowed mother and the family. Before even receiving his O level results he went into teaching. But all went well for him and he has no regrets.
His whole paycheck from teaching went to his mother. His eldest brother did the same. That was how they supported the family. Family and being filial was vey important to them all.
His brother in law, who was also his first cousin (his father’s sister’s son) supported the family tremendously. He became the pillar they all leaned on. I’ve always heard what a kind caring person my eldest Uncle P, was to all.
Uncle P had a job with the British, on a ship as a steward and later on in the The Corps of Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) managing the local civilian staff who maintained and repaired the army equipment. (My mum recalled that as a result, her eldest brother in law / cousin had always been great at fixing things like cars.)
It was colonial times then. In later years he was good at business (he imported cashews and crabs from Sri Lanka) and owned some provision shops in Singapore. In his first venture he had operated a pinball machine venture with a partner. An astute business mindset that his children inherited.
I hope I got the details of this story right and I’ll be adjusting this post if there are any errors.
I’m keen to record the stories of my family as I feel family history is so important. I am glad my father told me so many stories, but now I wish I had asked him more questions in turn. I just wasn’t mature enough then and thought he would be with me for decades more.
I’m so grateful that my uncles and aunts are willing to share with me all this history. I just hope to record it down as accurately as possible. Each of my relatives would have different memories or perspectives, so it’s invaluable to have all their inputs. Doing this for the younger ones in my family who might be keen on the information one day.
My grandfather died on Vesak day, the 9th of June at just 55. (That’s far too young) He only had the chance to be around for his first grandchild. My eldest cousin M. They doted over the eldest grandson whom in turn doted on me. There were 10 more grandkids to follow (including me).
And now 7 great grandchildren whom even my grandmother didn’t get a chance to meet. She would have adored them to bits. Even more than us for sure.
I am glad she was there for her grandchildren though, till age 93 almost 94 years old age).
Queen Elizabeth’s funeral is today. Seeing her grandchildren surrounding her makes me think of my own Ammachi. Seeing her no nonsense yet obviously caring demeanour towards her grandkids reminds me of my Ammachi too.
To me there is no queen like my own grandmother. She was our regal, iron willed Matriarch and our glue.