The Devanesans

I had heard about Dr. Chandran Devanesan from Sam all my life. He adored CD, as he was affectionately called.

When Sam was sent to the Madras Christian College after he finished school in Hyderabad, his Dad put him on a train bound for Madras with a tin trunk that held his clothes and belongings. The shy young boy landed in MCC a day before the College started when none of the Halls were open.

Dr. MacPhail the principal was not prepared for students arriving ahead of time.  He told Sam to sleep on the floor outside the office of the Selaiyur Hall.  When he went to sleep, Sam was alone. When he woke up there were 2 Seniors from Ceylon, Stephen Aseervatham and Wesley Ariarajah  sleeping on either side of him. They had arrived in the early hours of the morning and were waiting to rag him.

It was a big change for Sam. The language was different. The food was different.  He switched from schoolboy to adult, from kakhi shorts to bell bottom trousers,  trading the regimentation of the boarding of the Wesley Boys School for the loosely knit freedom of a Hall system at Selaiyur Hall. One person who helped Sam make this transition was Dr. Chandran Devanesan, the first Indian Principal who took over from Dr. Macphail. His beloved CD who kept a kind eye on him throughout his stay in MCC.

CD as he was affectionately called, was the mentor who guided Sam into the Student Christian Movement, a fellowship that had a deep impact on Sam’s personal and spiritual growth. CD encouraged Sam to volunteer at the Pammal Leprosy Clinic. During the weekly visits to the Clinic the students used to clean and dress the ulcers on the anaesthetic feet of the Leprosy patients, paving the interest for a career when Sam started Medicine at CMC, Vellore.

When we were posted in Nepal, Sam heard that Dr. Chandran Devanesan was attending the UMN Board meeting in Kathmandu . Sam was so excited, he wrote and invited CD to make a detour and visit us at the Anandaban Leprosy Hospital after the meeting. To our delight , CD agreed and he spent 3 glorious days with us in our home.

CD was very proud of Sam as he was of all the Alumni. He went on rounds with Sam all over the hospital and met the Staff and Patients in the wards. He preached at  a service over the Diwali weekend and spoke of the Light of World and the conquest of good over evil, seamlessly entwining doctrines in a simplistic way that everyone could understand. He did not have any notes to read from. He spoke extempore with a Nepali interpreter translating it for the patients and staff who had gathered to hear the Doctorsahib’s Principal speak.

CD was a charming house guest who fitted in effortlessly with the family. He romped on the floor with Rekha and Anish who loved him from the start and climbed all over him, while he played referee during their squabbles. They would wait impatiently outside his room for him to get up in the mornings . He was the Grandpa figure that they missed in Nepal. I heard him ask them Why are you both complimenting each other so early in the morning ? during one of their verbal spats.  A line I borrowed and frequently used after he left.

He was appreciative of anything that I cooked for him and he left promising to bring Mrs. Savithri  Devanesan with him the next time he came to Kathmandu. Sadly  that was not to be, as he passed away shortly after, leaving us sad,  but filled with happy memories of a brilliant human being with simplicity and humility as endearing qualities that left an unforgettable impact on everyone he came in touch with.  I for one will never forget CD and the happiness he brought into our home when he visited us.

RIP dear dear CD.

I met Mrs Savithri Devanesan when I was a second year medical student in CMC.  Sivalingam, a Malaysian  student from  MCC was referred to CMC with a diagnosis of a malignant tumour in the Gall bladder.  He was sick and sinking. His mother had come from home to be with him in the last few days. All of who were from Singapore and Malaysia used to visit them in the wards.  One morning when we went in to visit, we saw an extremely beautiful, elegantly dressed lady sitting on the bed comforting Siva’s Mum.

She was crying as she held Siva’s Mum in her arms. Rocking her back and forth she kept comforting her, as only another mother could. I will never forget my first impression of Aunty Savithri as she came to be known .  A loving and compassionate human being. Beautiful on the outside and beautiful on the inside.

Siva was just one of hundreds of students from MCC.  Dr. Chandran Devanesan  was the Principal and as the Principal’s wife, she had made the effort to drive all the way from Tambaram to Vellore to comfort the mother of  one their students who was dying among strangers, far from his home and relatives.  She won my heart that day, in a ward in CMC.

When Sam’s younger brother Prem went to MCC , he too landed early before the hostels were ready and before the Hall rooms were allotted, making one wonder if this was a genetic trait the brothers shared. Sam, on the Campus settling Prem in ,was flooded with nostalgic memories of his arrival at MCC several years ago. Mrs Devenesen  met them on her walk and heard about Prem’s predicament. Without batting an eyelid, she invited Prem to join the many other students who were camping on the verandah of the Devanesen Home, waiting for a room in various Halls.

Mrs.Savithri Devenesan’s legendary hospitality extended beyond the verandah of her home to all the kids who entered the gates of the 100 acre Campus of MCC. She was a Mother figure to many, often sending them food from her home when they were admitted to the Infirmary, a loving and tender touch to many youngsters far from home. I am sure she would never remember every random act of kindness she ever did as second nature, but there are a host of grown men, all the world, who remember her affectionately, with fond memories.

RIP dear dear Aunty Savithri.

Sometimes Life hands you a beautiful human being you can never forget. Sometimes Life hands you two beautiful human beings as a couple you can never forget . An extraordinary couple who complemented each other.  A couple who lived by example. A couple who opened out their home and hearth to youngsters far from home, shaping formative mind, as role models.

CD and Aunty Savithri……


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