There are some things which we take for granted in life. For me, one of them is my choice of newspaper. It has always been Malayala Manorama. When I started reading, we were in Dammam, Saudi Arabia and my parents used to buy MM during the weekends - the news was always 5 days old, but that did not matter. I remember my family and friends discussing the actor Jayan's tragic death 5 days after it happened. In the time of trunk calls, no one wasted money or time to convey such "trivial" news to their relatives abroad. The only time my choice for Mallu news wavered was when I was in the US and we had to make do with online newspapers. Deepika was my favorite then because all the news loaded on one page and the only thing I had to do was scroll down. But at all other times, it's always been Manorama...
This August, Malayala Manorama's chief editor, Mr. K.M.Mathew passed away. He had been the chief editor of the paper since the time I knew about it, or rather, he was Manorama to me. So when I saw his autobiography - Ettamathe Mothiram (the Eighth Ring) - at Kottayam, a month after his death, I couldn't resist buying it.
Although I am a native of Kottayam, I was never fortunate enough to see Mr. Mathew in the flesh. I had never heard him speak and have only read his serious opinions through his editorials, so the easy and informal style of his autobiography was a complete surprise to me. Indeed, the whole book was an eye-opener. The author has omitted much of his grown-up personal life because he has dealt with it in another book Annamma, which is named after his wife who was better known across Kerala simply as Mrs. K.M. Mathew. Most of what is left is is essentially Manorama's story and the struggle of a family to keep itself afloat on a sea of misfortunes during Sir C.P. Ramaswamy Iyer's persecution which I was already familiar with. But the author's perspective of it - how the family members passed through the troubling times and how they rode over it makes the events more real and all the more touching. His memories of his childhood home, Kuppappuram, his tussles with his siblings and amusing anecdotes on some of the more colorful characters of the newspaper family are all superbly interesting. Pervading all this is the author's trademark humility that extols all around him as having been great, but seeing himself as only having reaped the benefits of the hard work and excellence of those around him.
What touched me the most was a passage in the introduction to the book. He explains that when his mother died, his father got nine gold rings made after melting down her jewellery. He had all his children wear it for the first time on a special occasion, stipulating that they say an oath before they wore it. The oath exhorted them to think of their mother in times of temptation and to adopt a course of action that would be pleasing to her when she looked down upon them from heaven. With parents like that, is it a miracle that their family has prospered so much over the years? It really made me think about what we should be teaching our children. Now I am looking forward to reading Annamma too.
And yes, Mr. Mathews has taken the title from the ring incident as he was the recipient of the eighth ring. He still had it when he was 90 years old and was writing his autobiography.