Have you ever seen a beautiful sunset? I have, when I was a little boy, standing near the sea at Rameswaram, the town where I grew up. As the sun goes lower and lower, the sky turns a vivid red and golden. The sea reflects this beautiful play of colours, and as you keep watching, the sun dips further till it seems to disappear into the water.
This is one of my favourite memories of my boyhood—of standing by the seashore, watching the sun go down, and then racing home to my mother. Our house was in a street called Mosque Street, and it was built by my father. I was born in this house on 15 October 1931. In fact, I am told that I was the first child to be born in this house! I was the youngest of all my siblings. There were so many of us living in that house! Some of you may know what it is like to live with brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and grandparents. We, too, lived like that—always surrounded by elders and children, old and young. We had so much fun, playing games, studying and going to school together.
This does not mean that we were very rich. My father had some land where he grew coconut and other plants. He also had a boat that was used to ferry pilgrims. We were comfortably off and I went to the local school with all the other children. My mother, Ashiamma, was a wonderful cook. I may be old now, but I still remember the taste of the sambar and chutney she made for us that we ate from banana leaves sitting on the kitchen floor.
My father would visit his coconut grove frequently. On the days he went there, he woke up very early and walked to the plantation which was some distance from thehouse. I loved to accompany him but could go only on some days, when I didn’t have school or classes to attend. We would set out from our home before the sun was up and the light was only beginning to appear in the sky. It was usually cool and there would be a breeze coming in from the sea. I would hold his hand and walk quietly by his side for he would be saying his prayers under his breath. Then, something interesting would catch my attention, and I would forget to be quiet.