Behind the Faded Walls, She Lived a Life of Spirit
By Archita Suryanarayanan | Published: 07th August 2014 10:53 AM |
CHENNAI: With a staircase caved in, bats fluttering around and green light filtering in through the few remaining stained-glass panels, the house where Dr Muthulakshmi Reddy lived in is hardly a tribute to the life she lead. Of being the first female member of the legislative council, the first girl student to be admitted into a men’s college, the first woman House Surgeon in the Government Maternity and Ophthalmic Hospital, a reformer for child marriage, devadasi system and women’s rights. When she established the Avvai Home in Besant Nagar in 1931, she opened her doors to girls who weren’t welcomed in other places.
Dr Reddy who also founded the Adyar Cancer Institute lived on the Avvai Home campus. The house is flanked by a double height portico and the insides remain cool even the Chennai afternoon.
“The house was always peaceful and quiet. We loved the high ceilings,” says K Rathnam, who lived in the house for nearly 25 years when she studied at Avvai Home. Rathnam came to the school as an orphan around 50 years ago, and still lives here. “It saddens us to see the house we loved so much in such a poor condition now,” she says. After Dr Reddy’s demise, the running of the school was taken over by her daughter-in-law, Mandakini Krishnamoorthy.
“People have told me how great Dr Reddy was, but to me Madakini madam was great as well. Around seven of us girls used to stay and help around in the house after school and some of us even slept there too. Madam would stay up late night working out the accounts of the school, while we slept,” she fondly reminisces. “I never felt the need to leave this place because of people like her who made it home for me.”
She recollects her life at the house. “The rooms in the front were used by madam’s husband, who was a doctor. The room at the entrance was to receive visitors, and the family ate at a smaller table in the kitchen.” The hall now has portraits of the founders, and the doctor’s room is a library for the school children.
A rickety staircase leads to the upper floor, where the terrace looks into the entire campus. “Madam’s children got married from this house, and her husband lived here till her death, after which it has gone into ruins,” Rathnam says sadly.
The school funds through which V Susheela the school chairman just about keeps the school running, cannot be used for the house renovation as well, she says. “The land belongs to the Tiruvannamalai temple, and was taken on a 100 year lease. After the 50th year passed, the rents were increased steeply and we are still fighting a court case against this rise,” she says. But the house, she says, is in the temple’s custody and nobody has taken the effort to renovate it.