In 1946, John Kuruvilla had passed Grade Two Hospital Assistant’s Medical Examination. By 1955, he completed his Grade One Hospital Assistant’s Medical Examination, where he scored good grades in most of the subjects. In that same year, he sat for the Special Examination for Pharmacists in Kuala Lumpur, and qualified as a Registered Pharmacist. This was equivalent to Division One within the Government sector.

Career wise, John Kuruvilla was on top, but for a man approaching his thirties, especially being Malayalee – and still single – that was something to worry about! He had arrived in Penang as a young man and throughout his nine years of working and living in Malaya, he had little time to think about marriage. As a filial son, he had promised his father that he would return to get married, but the war had also taken away some precious years of his life. For an Indian man, during his times, being still a bachelor at that age was considered abnormal. People were getting married before they reached 20 years old; but for John Kuruvilla, who was already turning 27, his parents back in India had every reason to be worried. They were always praying for their son to find a wife.

In 1946, when things returned to normal in Malaya, his father had written a letter to him: “Son, I want you to return to Kerala and marry a girl from our own community.” After numerous persuasions by his father, John Kuruvilla took leave from Kedah Medical Hall and left for Venmoney, India in Dec, 1947. A few months earlier in August of that year, India had just been granted its Independence and Mahatma Gandhi was made the Prime Minister of the new India. India was still in a jubilant mood, celebrating its Independence.

There was a lot of excitement when John Kuruvilla finally reached his village, after being away for almost ten years. His parents were eager to see their son find a wife from within the Malayalee community. In those days, it was common to have an arranged marriage. They had made prior arrangements for their son to meet a young lady, Kalakkattu Gracy John, who was still studying in Year 10 at High School. It was a humourous story, as he shares with his grandchildren many years later about the first encounter with their grandmother:

 

“My friend accompanied me to her house. That day, we met two of the sisters. The moment I saw Gracy, I said: “I agree.” That was all to the marriage proposal. Nothing more, nothing less!”

 

Gracy’s father, K. John George was from the Kalakkattu Family in Perissery, near Chengannur. He was a land proprietor in those days. Her mother, Achiamma was the daughter of Idicula Muthalaly, from the Nellimoottil Family in Adur.

On January 26, 1948, during a wedding ceremony conducted by the Very Reverend C.I. Abraham, John Kuruvilla and Kalakkattu Gracy John tied the knot at Mar Thoma Sehiyon Church in Venmoney, John Kuruvilla’s home town. It went on for one whole day, and was well attended by family members and relatives, totalling 200 guests. In all, he had spent some M$1000 for the wedding ceremony. One of his older cousins, his first teacher in the Primary School, V. Pappy, whom he used to call “Pappy Sir” was among the guests. By tradition, John Kuruvila had to give Pappy Sir a gift for attending his wedding. On that auspicious day, he presented Pappy Sir with a small Malayalam Bible as a gift because he had also been John Kuruvilla’s Sunday School teacher.

During the two months in India, John Kuruvilla ran into financial difficulties. He had brought along with him only 2000 Rupees for the whole journey, thinking that the Kedah Medical Hall would send him money if he had financial problems. On arrival in Venmoney, he had to put tiles over the roof of the family home, costing him 1500 Rupees. It was previously thatched with weaved coconut leaves. After spending money on the family home, there was hardly anything left for him to carry out his wedding plans, leaving John Kuruvilla with no choice but to ask for a loan from a younger brother, who was already working with the Reserve Bank of India in Bombay.

In March 1948, together with his newlywed wife, Gracy, John Kuruvilla returned to Malaya, where he continued his role as Managing Partner of the Kedah Medical Hall. In the mean time, John Kuruvilla was also trying to earn some extra income by setting up a Taxi service company in Sungai Petani. With a lot of money invested into the business, the business failed; eventually, the company was wound up in 1955 and the taxis had to be sold very cheaply. Fortunately enough, the pharmacy business continued to excel.

 

 

Starting A New Family

 

One year after John Kuruvilla and Gracy tied the knot in Kerala, India, their eldest son named after his grandfather was born on Saturday April 23, 1949. By tradition, the first son born to a Malayalee family was to carry the paternal grandfather’s name. Within the family circle, he was known as Vijayan, but his official name was K.J. Kuruvilla – the `J’ being John, after John Kuruvilla.

“I was of course excited when our first son was born,” he shares the excitement of those days when he first started a new family. Vijayan’s baptism was conducted by Rev V.E. Thomas in Sungai Petani.

Vijayan had just turned one, when Ravi was born on a Thursday, July 6, 1950 in his hometown of Sungai Petani. He, too, was baptised as a child by Rev P.C. John.

            After being in Malaya for two years, Gracy decided she had to visit her home in India in 1951. She had learnt that she was pregnant when she was planning the trip back to India. On her return to Perissery, Chengannur, Gracy was living in a bungalow near a Syrian Orthodox Church known otherwise as Kalackattu Madayil House. It was a matrimonial gift from Gracy’s own father when John Kuruvilla and Gracy were married back in 1948. It was here on a Wednesday October 31, 1951, in a cosy little room, that Gracy gave birth to the third child, a daughter by the name of Pearly. The midwife was there to assist. Gracy’s sister was also around. It was a simple delivery at home. Mary is the official name, while Pearly is the pet name only to be used within the family circle and among close friends.

Packing to return to Malaya, Gracy’s widowed sister, Kunjanama Verghese and her child, who were living with Gracy, pleaded with her to allow them to continue staying in the house. She had earlier lost her husband. After some consideration, Gracy and John Kuruvilla graciously decided to give away the matrimonial home to the widowed sister.

When Mohan was about to be born, John Kuruvilla, by now a newly-elected town councillor, had phoned a fellow Malayalee, Dr. R.V. Pillai. Dr. Pillai (who later became a Palace Physician) was the Superintendent-in-charge of Sungai Petani District Hospital. He had arranged a special room for Gracy, and made sure that there were senior nurses and a doctor to take care of Gracy. Mohan was born on July 9, 1953.

John Kuruvilla had turned 36, when his youngest daughter, K. Petsy John was born at Alor Setar General Hospital on a Saturday morning of September 17, 1955. It was a hectic year for John Kuruvilla. In that same year, John Kuruvilla completed his Grade One Hospital Assistant’s Medical Examination, and passed the Special Examination for Pharmacists. As a registered Pharmacist, he was also Managing Director of Kedah Medical Hall. Most of his spare time, he was also busy establishing the Sungai Petani branch of MIC, a component party of the Alliance. John Kuruvilla personally helped Tunku Abdul Rahman, who contested for the Sungai Petani constituency during the first Federal Election. The construction of the Gandhi Memorial Hall was also completed in 1955, where he was made the Honorary Treasurer of the Building Committee.

            By now, Vijayan was already six, while Ravi was five. Pearly had turned four and Mohan was two years old, when Petsy arrived. K.J. Petsy is the youngest in the family.

 

 

Humble Beginnings

 

            The family was living in Sungai Petani. It was a small agricultural town, mainly with rubber plantations. There was already a HSBC Bank and Cold Storage. Most of the major retail shopping had to be done in Penang, which had a big influence on Sungai Petani.

            Schools in Sungai Petani were good and Indian graduates played a role as educators in the local popular schools. It wasn’t until the 70s and 80s, that supermarkets started to emerge to replace shops for retail business, and came the 90s when massive pace of development came to Sungai Petani after the N-S Expressway was built. It was growing into a residential town. An industrial estate was also fast emerging, giving employment to the locals in the nearby towns. Gradually, the old Sungai Petani town, which the Kuruvillas knew as their home, became the second fastest growing town after Johor Baru.

            In those days, John Kuruvilla owned a Ford Consul, which his wife drove most of the time to ferry the children to school. Apparently, his favourite car in those days was always a Ford; he later changed it to a Ford Cortina. The family was fond of travelling to Penang on a regular basis. Mohan can still recall their visit to Penang Hill, where a trick photo was taken in which the rest of the family stood on their father’s left palm. Penang Street was famous for its shopping, where they bought most of their clothes, shoes and enjoyed their plate of the famous Penang Char Kuay Tiaw. Vijayan still remembers seeing the popular dancing Kuay Tiaw man at his trade.

            For young Ravi, Penang was a big city with the trams and double-deckers. “We used to go to the stalls in the night market, where one had to really bargain, before buying anything.  Later, when I grew up, my formula for bargaining was simply to divide the quoted price by two and minus one.  Let’s say the trader quotes the price of an item at RM10. I would offer him RM4 instead. If he was prepared to part with the item, I know that was the fair price. As a family, whenever we visited Penang, we would always certainly end up eating lunch at Dawood Restaurant. I simply loved their Chicken briyani. I joined the family on most occasions, but because I had school on Sundays, sometimes, I was left with Mr E.D. Paul’s family while my other siblings went to Penang.”

            The family had shifted a few times within the township of Sungai Petani. Their first house was a semi-detached house which had about three bedrooms and an outside toilet bucket system. It was very common in those days. The house was located near a Hindu temple in a lower middleclass neighbourhood about 1.5 km from the town centre. Having their neighbours who were mainly Malays and Chinese was a great opportunity for interactions. There was a lot of mutual respect between the neighbours, regardless of race, creed or religion.

             The family subsequently moved to the next house in Taman Kolam Air, one of the first planned housing estates in Sungai Petani. It was a single storey semi-detached house, located about two kilometres away from town. It had three bedrooms and one bathroom.

            Subsequently, they moved to a shophouse with three bedrooms and two bathrooms, about 2.5 kilometres from town. Before long, they occupied another single-storey semi-detached house in Kampung Raja, which was a mixed group of Malays, Chinese and Indians. This has created a spirit of Muhibbah in the children, that there was never a feeling of racial discrimination. They had friends who were both Chinese and Malays. As Petsy recalls nearly fifty years later:

 

“We liked all our neighbours and our next door neighbour, Tuan Lebai Hussain (spiritual imam of Kampung Raja) used to be so close to us that we lent each other furniture during auspicious occasions. So close was Makchik Hussain to us that sometimes she got annoyed with me for not helping to look after the younger children, whenever there was festivity in their home. Annuar, their son and I used to play when we were younger. We saw our neighbours grow up, married and have children. My classmates were from all races and we are still in touch with each other.’

 

            (Finally, after all five children graduated, in 1981, the family again moved to a double-storey detached house at 903 Taman Kg. Raja, Sungai Petani, which had five bedrooms and three bathrooms, which John and Gracy Kuruvilla lived on for many years until they moved to the Klang Valley. It was at this family home that most of the family reunions were held, with memories going back to the eighties and nineties. This was the only family home that is known to the grandchildren).

 

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