Age Is Just A Number

Age Is Just A Number

While starting to write this article for the UDHAVI website, the first thought that passed through my mind was in Tamiz, as follows:

Nejama, Nanjamma Chinnappa paththi solla konjananjama!

The English translation would read - "Honestly, there is so much to write about Nanjamma and Chinnappa".

Mrs. Nanjamma and Mr. Chinnappa, are in their eighties. When they retired, they had listed 10 projects on which they wanted to work. To-date they have completed two of them, the third is work in progress, and they have helped others work on two of the projects.

They come from that unique and quaint community of Kodavas from Kodagu, anglicised by the British as Coorgis and Coorg. After retirement and a very successful stint in Canada for 20 years, they returned to India. (Nanjamma – “I love Canada but I love India more”). To this couple retirement was from active careers - Nanjamma as a Statistician (graduated from Presidency college, Madras and the Indian Statistical Institute, Calcutta) and Chinnappa as an Engineer (graduated from Guindy Engineering College, Madras and North-Western University, Chicago) - and not from active life. They wanted to translate into English what their grandfather, Nadikerianda Chinnappa, had meticulously written down in the 1920s on the culture, folk songs and history of Kodava, based on first-hand information gathered from the locals. His book, titled Pattole Palame, written in the Kodava language (folk songs, proverbs etc.) and Kannada (text) was published in 1924. Chinnappa had also researched Kodava history and culture during their stay in England when Nanjamma was a Research Fellow at the University of Cambridge. Nanjamma and Chinnappa realised that with the fast changing times, change was everywhere and traditional lifestyles were giving way to more modern ones – which basically meant that the old history and culture of Kodavas could be lost forever. They wanted to preserve the wealth of information they had on Kodava history and culture, both from their grandfather and Chinnappa’s research, for posterity. This labour of love, their first book "Pattole Palame" (Silken Lore) the English translation of their grandfather’s book was published in 2003 and was very well received.

Nanjamma and Chinnappa now wanted to move on to their next project. In India, in every state, each community has distinct architecture depending on the terrain, weather, lifestyle and availability of building material etc., and Kodava homes are no different. Ancestral homes everywhere are being brought down to make way for homes to suit present times. The sheer elegance of these homes of a bygone era has to be seen to be believed. In future, we may be able to see most of them only in photographs. Towards this end, Nanjamma and Chinnappa visited all the (more than 700) traditional ainmanes (ancestral homes of Kodagu) that continued to be functional, travelling and trekking for 5 years in difficult terrains, to take photographs and collect information about the homes and stories of the clan to which the home belonged. In the year 2014 their second book "Ainmanes of Kodagu” was published. They are now busy uploading the photographs, information and stories of each ainmane visited on the website they have created,

It is only in the fitness of things that In spite of stiff competition from much younger high profile sports persons, namely Robin Uthappa (Cricketer), Joshna Chinnappa (Squash player) and Rohan Bopanna (Tennis Player), it was the low key statistician, scholar, researcher Nanjamma who was chosen the Coorg Person of the Year 2006. It was also in 2006, she received the Honorary Doctorate degree given by the Mangalore University from the governor of Karnataka.

In their pragmatic way, they have now moved into a Senior Citizen's home in Mysuru and are enjoying their stay there. They get to meet many people of their generation to interact with and time to work on their projects, without having to worry about running a household.

There is so much more to Nanjamma and Chinnappa that has not been said in this article. It can easily be a 300 pages book. Nanjamma and Chinnappa, had they participated, would have won the 70s and 80s Wills Made for Each Other contest hands down. But I can say with conviction this lovely couple doesn’t need any testimonial to say that they are most certainly made for each other.

  • Lalitha Ramachander