by Sachi Sri Kantha, May 8, 2023
[Felicitations to our long-time contributor!!! – Editor]
by Sachi Sri Kantha
I reached 70 today (May 8th). I’m quite happy about this landmark, because when I was born in Sri Lanka in 1953, the then life expectancy for male babies was only 58. And my mother was only 17, when she gave birth to me. With God’s munificence, she lives in New Zealand (with declining health) and reached 87 last month. She was pleased to talk with her 3rd great grandson Ko, now 4 years old, via skype videophone.
One of Churchill’s most cited quote is, ‘The longer you can look back, the farther you can look forward.’ So, I looked back on my life, at 7 year intervals, aided by one of my favorite poems of 11 lines – Author unknown.
Seven years in childhood’s sport and play
Seven years in school from day to day
Seven years at trade or college life
Seven years to find a place and wife
Seven years to pleasures follies given
Seven years to business hardly driven
Seven years for some a wild goose chase
Seven years for wealth – a bootless race
Seven years for hoarding for your heir
Seven years in weakness spent and care
Then die, and go, you know not where!
A Look Back in 10 Lines
The personal marker years for me, according to the above poem were,
1960 – The 1st line of the poem says, ‘Seven years in childhood’s sport and play’. I was living in College Road, Point Pedro with my mother and sister. I was in the 4th grade at the Vadamarachchy Hindu Girls school. Father was working in Colombo. This happened to be the only year I lived in Point Pedro.
1967 –The 2nd line of the poem says, ‘Seven years in school from day to day’. I was in Colombo, and studying at the Colombo Hindu College, Ratmalana. Two of my teenage idols were actor MGR and boxer Muhammad Ali. ‘MGR mania’ bug bit me strongly, after MGR suffered gunshot wounds from actor M.R. Radha, on January 12th in Madras.
1974 – Still living in Colombo. The 3rd line of the poem says, ‘Seven years at trade or college life’. I was a junior (3rd year) at the University of Colombo, specializing in zoology. My first newspaper article was published in Sutantiran weekly by Kovai Mahesan, on January 20. The title ‘Seyarkariya seitha Periyar E.V. R’ [One who did something great – Periyar E.V. Ramasamy Naicker]. It was a soppy eulogy to EVR, who had died on Dec 24, 1973, at the age of 94. I had simply paraphrased what Annadurai (Anna) had talked about his guru.
1981 – A split year of residence. I was in Peradeniya, affiliated to the Department of Biochemistry, University of Peradeniya, for the first 7 months; and moved to University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, for Ph.D studies in August. Presented my first research paper at Madurai, in the 5th International Tamil Research Conference, and published first research paper in the Jaffna Medical Journal. At the age of 28, though the 4th line of the above poem says, ‘Seven years to find a place and wife’, the first part was correct for me; but, as for the second part, I still remained single.
1988 – Living in Tokyo, and affiliated to the University of Tokyo. The 5th line of the poem says, ‘Seven years to pleasures follies given.’ Having got married in the previous year, we were blessed with first child – a daughter.
1995 – At the end of January, I moved from Osaka to Fukuroi City, to join a food company. The 6th line of the poem says, ‘Seven years to business hardly driven’. I spent only five years in the food industry and quit in search of an academic position in Japan.
2002 – In June of this year, I moved from Gifu University (Associate Professor position) to Kyoto University (Primate Research Institute – Visiting Professor position) to study sleep behavior in New World monkeys. The 7th line of the poem ‘Seven years for some wild goose chase’ was apt for my pursuit. Then, my pursuit was a full professor position in a Japanese university. But, it turned out to be a ‘wild goose chase’ – because being a non-Japanese and having a non-Japanese name was a stumbling barrier, to pass Japan’s ‘academic apartheid’ wall. Though full professor rank couldn’t be reached, based on qualifications, publications and experience, I was offered visiting professor positions at the Gifu Pharmaceutical University and Gifu University, at pitiable remunerations.
2009 – Living at Gifu City. I was affiliated to the Gifu Pharmaceutical University. The 8th line of the poem says ‘Seven years for wealth – a bootless race’. Yes, this was 100% true. Who can win a bootless race, in this century? I’m no legendary Abebe Bikila, who won back to back Olympic marathon races – the first one in Rome, as a bootless runner. As such, I lost out in acquiring material wealth, due to pitiable remunerations, at a Japanese prefecture, where priggish officials literally ‘burnt’ money to avoid being get caught by the law’s arms.
2016 – Living at Gifu City. Again, I had returned to Gifu University. The 9th line of the poem says ‘Seven years for hoarding for your heir’. Simply put, I couldn’t pass any such hoard to my two daughters, because I possessed no hoard to boast of, other than my collection of books. The university ‘prematurely retired’ me at 63, two years before the due date.
2020 – Living in Tokyo. The penultimate line of the poem says ‘Seven years in weakness spent and care’. Certainly, this line has become partially true for me. For physical weakness, I do receive medications from monthly visit to a physician. But, mental rot hasn’t touched me yet. I count my blessings – three grandsons, aged between 4 and 6, are my tonic pills. They show interest in my land of birth and mother tongue. For them, I show photos of my salad days (aged 0 to 40 years). They look at with amazement – Is this Grandpa?
The youngest grandson learns Tamil, from YouTube songs of old Tamil movies of 1950s. One of his favorite is an old MGR movie ‘Manthiri Kumari’ (1950) ballad song of T.M. Soundararajan – ‘Anthi sayura neram manthara chedi oram’ [You Tube link is https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=40FNAynPkiU] because his name Ko appears in the lines Maruthakasi had written – kokkara ko kokkara ko kokkara kokkara ko.
This makes me wonder, what a fitting title MGR (Vaathiyar – Teacher) had. Along with his colleagues – Maruthakasi, T.M. Soundararajan and G. Ramanathan, he teaches Tamil to a 4 year old in Japan.