Monday, March 4, 2013


Venkatraya ( my father) was the third son of Badettu Narnappaya and he was indeed an enigmatic character whose mind no one, even his own wife, was able to read during his life time. He was supposed to have completed the intermediate course of olden days and worked for some time with a coir manufacturing English firm, called Darahsmail in Alleppey. During the later years of Narnappaya in Kerala, he was drawn into hotel business and assumed an important management role in running the grand old hotel Sri Krishna Bhavan along with two of his brothers Subbraya and Ananthrama. As described earlier he was some what dominant, probably being a permanent resident staying at Alleppey year round with relatively fluent in English and Malayalam so necessary to conduct business in Kerala at that time. He looked after the accounts, taxation matters, local purchases, labor management and public relations. His more than 65 years of life in Alleppey did make him some one with a tall stature and senior personality commanding respect from Madhwa community in the area, political classes and business leaders. Being a man of few words, many of his friends and well wishers admired him because of his "weakness" for helping all and sundry whether deserving or not.

Out of his 11 children, 6 were males and 5 were females ( one deceased early in life), all of them are comfortably settled in Alleppey, Mysore, Mangalore, Bangalore and Madras. It is a tribute to his vision that he made most of his children at least college graduates giving them opportunities to choose their life line without being influenced by him or the established hotel business. Being a strict patriarch, his children could never understand his mind and the reservoir of affection he had for each one of them during his life time. As a youngster and being the first son in the family, I could never understand his relationship with his wife (my mother) or with his brothers and during my stay in Alleppey from 1941 to 1961, I must have seen him talking to his father or brothers, not more than a couple of times! A man of few words with a soft mind and hard exteriors, he had a voracious appetite for work and probably he was the main pillar upon which the edifice of Alleppey Sri Krishna Bhavan was built and sustained.

How he came to marry Kaveri of Kande family is not clear though this family was once prosperous in Padubidri with a doctor, lawyer and an air force personnel being some of the members. One and the only female member in that family, Kaveri was brought to Badettu family as the third daughter in law by Narnappaya and it is another matter that almost all members of this once renowned family have disappeared into history unsung! Probably one may attribute this to past curses about which I know nothing. Two of my uncles served in Alleppey but did not prosper and to day their successor families are leading pedestrian lives in Madras, Alleppey and Ernakulam. Whether Venkatraya could have been more accommodating to uplift them is some thing I cannot judge at this point of time. But it could be too much to have expected during those days "escort like service" from early generation members like Venkatraya because they themselves were products of hard working and self established doyens. Of course, by to day's standards parents like Venkatraya would be an anachronism because of the extra ordinary care taken by modern day parents to play up to the whims and fancies of their kids, leaving nothing to chance! How many parents can get a sound sleep when examinations are announced for their kids? Practically none because they wish to escort their kids to achieve incredible success and not to be left behind in this crazy world where competition is the name of the game!   

According to the words of some observers he was a "schemy" person, apparently being unsympathetic to his brothers and manipulated to edge them out from business by paying small compensation during nineteen seventies for bringing in his own family members into the business. Of all the innuendos hurled at him, harshest was that he did not buy the hotel property till his brothers were with him though it was offered several times by the original owners but managed to acquire the property all of a sudden after he became the sole owner of the hotel. This conveniently obscures the fact the there was a gap of more than 10 years between the exit of his brothers from business for family reasons and acquisition of the property. As some one involved in efforts to buy the property I can swear by God that left to him self the property would never have been purchased but for the generous help of BTH Govinda Rao, Narayana Bhattar of Bhima & Brother and liberal loans from Nedungadi Bank! The property had to be bought because it was sold to some one in Dubai by its owner, taking advance and promising to vacate the tenants (us) in 6 months' time. It was because of the benevolence of BTH Govinda Rao who came to know about the proposed sale to the Dubai businessman and who pressurized Venkatraya to try to buy the same! It was provident, luck, God's grace and ancestors' blessing that he was able to acquire the property with great reluctance. Judgement about any machination on the part of Venkatraya will have to be left to history. As for his children like me there is neither rancor nor remorse about what transpired four decades ago.

The relatively uninterested stake Venkatraya had in amassing wealth is reflected by his poor judgement on property purchase as well as lack of motivation in looking after what he acquired during his life time. The Thondankulangara property which was a lease from the nearby temple was in the name of Venkatraya and Subbraya and the title came relatively late in his life. After Subbraya wanted to leave Alleppey once for all, he was paid compensation for his share though I do not know how much was paid. At least I know that both Subbraya and Ananthrama had no rancor or ill will against their brother on this score. With earnings from the hotel Subbraya and Ananthrama had also acquired a property in Pazhaveedu area in Alleppey which was sold to Padmanabha Bhattar of Bhima & Brother in haste before migrating back to Mangalore. Even the Thondankulangara property was not looked after properly till his wife took interest in fencing, fertilizing, coconut harvesting etc and to day if the neighbors had usurped almost 10% of the land through devious means, there is none to be blamed except Venkatraya! Blaming such a person for selfishness may be scandalous at the least!

One of the important attributes of Venkatraya and his wife Kaveri which is not well known to members of fourth and subsequent generations of members of Badettu family is their extra ordinary kindness to children other than their own! While during nineteen fifties the three Rams, Sethu, Jay and Raghu dominated the Alleppey household, it was the trio of Vedavyas, Vittal and Seena who provided the backbone to the house during sixties. In fact Vedavyasa and Vittala knew Venkatraya better than what they knew about their own parents! Similarly these two cousins knew what Venkatraya had up in his mind than his own children! Can any one believe Venkatraya writing his will with the help of Vittala in 1987 while every one else had no idea about it till after the death of the former?! If Vedavyasa, Vittala and Seena had become somebody in life, probably a small portion of the credit must be due to Venkatraya and Kaveri! This is not to belittle the extraordinarily endowed personality of these cousins and their achievements in life which were hard earned. Is it not a reflection of the love and affection of Vedavyasa and Vittala towards the Venkatraya family that both of them chose eventually to settle down in Alleppey itself and made their families, living happily there to day? 

I have faint recollection about some of the friends of my father who included the Kodayannachi, Electricity Kini, Bhima's Padmanabha Bhattar and Narayana Bhatter, Aital of durga hotel, Narasimhanna of Narasimhampuram hotel, Soppanna household, Punchiri Avarachan , the Auditor L Rangamani, Vasu Pillai of a local small eatery, the Thadi Iyer who accompanied him regularly to Sabarimala every year and a few others. Invariably he would be spending his evenings with them sitting on a bench in the big gate area behind the main Cash Desk. I can never forget his twice weekly purchase trips in the early mornings on Wednesdays and Saturdays to Kallu Palam water front vegetable market to buy the needs of the hotel. I also cannot forget the communist stalwarts like late R Sugathan, T V Thomas, K R Gowri etc who had regards for Venktraya being a kind cash cow for them, giving money when they come and request. The former Chief Minister of Kerala V S Achuthanandan might not be remembering Venkatraya or his children like us though we can never forget when he was a peon in the first floor office of the communist party during nineteen fifties and sixties, shuttling between the cash desk where the lone phone in the entire area was located, ferrying messages to and fro!.

I wonder whether any of my contemporaries remember the veritable Ambalappuzha Sami who was the alter ego of Venkatraya. It was this kind soul who sacrificed a major part of his life for the welfare of Venkatraya family. He was housed in Thondankulangara property and was like the proverbial "Emeritus Manager" or a jack of all trades doing hundreds of odd jobs for which Venkatraya had no time being pre-occupied with hotel management. I can never forget him in my life because he was like a foster parent for most of us. In fact the "Potty" suffix became a part of my name because he was the one who took me to the school for admission and when the authorities there asked him about my cast he blurted out as "Potty" which put us on par with local priest community known by that name. It is another matter that this surname haunted me through out my life, especially during my more than two dozen international travels and working aboard for a number of years because every child is familiar with the word Potty, being the permanent fixture in the toilet! Interestingly where ever I had worked, there was only one Potty, that was me, giving a sort of instant recognition!

Venkatraya's awesome presence among hoteliers can be gauged by the fact that he was the President of Hoteliers Association for some time providing guidance and assistance through his knowledge of labor laws and other government regulations. It is a tribute to his stature as an elder statesman in Badettu family that his most ardent "fan" was BTH Govinda Rao who was his own cousin and did not fail to prostrate before him where ever and when ever they used to meet. It was his abiding faith in God, trust and faith in people around him and liberal bend of mind that benefited his descendants so abundantly.        

Answer to the Quiz in Blog 1030

Ranga, second son of Anantrama is at present a senior executive associated with BTH chain of hotels in Ernakulam. He joined them at an early age and was a confidant of late Govinda Rao. He has considerable experience in many aspects of hoteliering. 

Quiz for the current issue

One of the third generation son-in-laws in Badettu family is a versatile person with talents in poetry, writing, film production, politics, teaching, music and social service. He is a living legend well respected by the Society. Can you name him?


No comments:

Post a Comment