Indian Roots (part 4): RAMA RAYIRU, INDIAN IMMIGRANT
My great grandad, who I will now refer to as Rama, was born in India in 1893. I never knew him, nor did I ever show any real interest in knowing about him as I was growing up. He was just a man in a black and white photo on our living-room wall.
But all that changed one night four years ago when I had an unusual and vivid dream. If you’re not already familiar with the dream I’m talking about, may I suggest you go back to part 1 of the story (the parts are short, I promise) in which I explain.
Rama was one of those old-school immigrants who moved to a country, adapted and integrated, started a family, never spoke a word about his past life, brought his kids up in the culture of the land of their birth and then returned to his homeland at the end of it all to see out his final years. Because of this, no one seems to know much about him.
Still, I did have the Rayiru Facebook group to go to for answers. In there were most of Rama’s grandchildren, my mum’s cousins, none of whom I know personally. Again the knowledge was vague, but combined with the family tree research that my friend Jemilla was able to conduct for me, I managed to piece together to a certain degree my great grandfather’s story.
Rama was born in the south-western state of Kerala, next to the sea. I hadn’t known this when I had that first dream, but I tell you what, the coast of Kerala don’t half look like the place my subconscious conjured up that night.
He was, by all accounts, an actor and dancer. According to some of my distant relatives he was pretty famous, but I have no proof to back this up. I suspect the story has been unintentionally embellished over numerous tellings throughout the years. He came to England by sea in 1926 to perform, and later the same year he married his English fiancée Gertrude Carter, who had been born in Bombay on the 13th April 1904, during the time of the British Raj. No one knows what exactly her family were doing in India.
Anyway, documents show that she left India for England in 1917 at the age of 13, sailing from Bombay to Southampton, on the boat Nagoya. Gertrude and Rama married in London and began having children. Six sons, no daughters. Gertrude gave birth to my grandad and name giver, Ram Krishna, in Marylebone in 1936. Eighteen years later he was grown up and got married himself, to my nan, whom I never met as she died before I was born. In 1956 The pair of them had their only child, my mother.
In 1959, with Rama in his 60s and in failing health, which included being partially blind due to cataracts, he and Gertrude returned “home” to Kerala in India, where a house next to the beach was built in which to live out their final years. Rama died in 1969 in the land of his birth, at the age of 76. Gertrude moved back to England shortly after and died a few years later in Harrogate, Yorkshire.
And finally some extra information I found out, not that it means anything to me as I am unfamiliar with the Indian caste system. Rama was a member of the Nair caste, native to Kerala, and spoke Malayalam as a first language, as well as Hindi as a second. The Nair were historically involved in military conflicts in the region. Following hostilities between the Nair and the British in 1809, the British limited Nair participation in the British Indian Army. Rama’s occupational title was Kurup. The Kurup served as warriors, generals, and warlords to kings. Being anti-war and an anti-monarchist myself, these words don’t fill me with pride. But I’m not simple enough to compare this to what we would consider a warlord or a king of today, in the western sense of the words.
After finding out all of the above, my next challenge was to try to discover where in Kerala Rama came from, and if I have any distant relatives still there. I’ll tell you about that soon. Keep following the story by giving me a follow here on Medium. In less than three weeks I’ll be off to India.