Everybody needs a hero to look upto. Some find it in iconic figures and some even fictional characters and very few seek it in themselves. Here’s my hero: 80 years old. 5ft’ tall, cuts his own hair, repairs everything around him and is the single most brilliant man I’ve ever known. This is the tale of V.V. Francis.
Francis was born on 24th July 1934 in the town of temples, Guruvayur, living with a joint family of 14. He was just 2 years when his 19 year old mother died giving birth to his unborn brother leaving his care to his 22 year old father and paternal grandmother.
This is the 1930’s so you can imagine the kind of picture I’m going to paint.
When Francis was five, he and his cousin were enrolled in a local school in Kottapadi which is 2kms from where he lived. This meant walking 4kms, going and coming. Everyday. No public transport or car obviously cause 1930’s guys. He was in this school till the age of 12. For high school, him and Devassy (His cousin), meant walking 20kms everyday. That’s a lot of waking. Devassy and Francis didn’t own any footwear so all this walking was done barefoot and during the rains, one umbrella was shared between the two. Cinematic.
When Francis was in the 11th grade, his beloved grandmother passed away. To make things worse, he fell sick for 2 months with typhoid and ended up flunking the year. After a painful couple of months, Francis rejoined college and passed with distinction. All this happened during the World War II, so there were a lot of problems that the family faced too. Amid crisis, Francis left the nest for the first time and moved to boarding school and a good couple of years later, he would make the big move.
Only aged 20, Francis left his home and came to Mumbai in 1954. He lived with his cousin Devassy in a chawl in a village named Kalai next to Ghatkopar without any electricity or water. Life there was so hard that even morning dumps were a pain in the ass. After constant problems, both decided to move into a 1 RK in Tilaknagar. Francis hunted for a job for an entire year until he finally found one in 1955 at the Indian Oxygen Company where he worked as a clerk for 6 months and after a small stint as a typist for a medicine company, he decided to work at Firestone which would prove to be his workplace for 38 years. He earned Rs.125/month there. He was always a hard worker and despite his tight income, he lived a very sustainable life. After 3 years of tireless efforts, Francis was gifted a 1room,kitchen by the government. By this time he had managed to form a tremendous social circle around him. He was loved, respected by many and even though Francis was a genuine workaholic he had countless number of passions he kept close to him. In the early 60’s, he including a few other Malayalis formed a organization called “Malayalam Samajhan” to promote the true essence of Kerala’s culture. They would submit short stories, poems and articles to various libraries. Life was free flowing and it would get better soon.
The later year, Francis got married to Baby. Her parents named her Baby because she was the youngest among her 3 sisters. Francis and Baby had their first child soon after and were blessed with a son. Two years later, Baby gave birth to another baby boy and then later to a baby girl in 1963. These three children would grow up to be three tremendous, genuine human beings under the best possible care.
3 kids, 1 RK. Baby used to stay at home while Francis worked at Firestone – a company he’d end up working for 30+ years, was also a part time editor at Malayalam Samajan and kept an eye of ongoings at his school. (Yes, he helped build a school. That’s a story for another time)
In 1985, Firestone was shipped back to the U.S. and was sold to an Indian company which resulted in the outsourcing of almost 1500 employees. 40 employees including Francis were then illegally transferred to work in a warehouse in Malad but nobody was given any work but were still paid. Apparently, this was a scam by the back then Modi Group because they wanted these employees to resign. Francis and a few other people fought against their company in order to obtain legitimate rights and after a lot of legal pressure, the management was forced to recall everybody back for work.
Francis officially retired in 1993.
As years went by, Franics could finally breathe a sigh of relief. Things were looking just in place. He bought a flat in Ghatla, Chembur for Rs. 20,000 and the current valuation of that flat in today’s market is almost 1.5 crore rupees. Once he had enough time and resources, Francis also built a house in Kerala with the help of his family. His eldest son is now working in London. His second son is an IITian who has his own company and is an Architect by profession. His daughter is a scientist working with the BARC.
To this day, Francis refuses to stop working for his family.
Time is a form of money which can be cashed in the bank of wisdom.
Meet my beautiful grandparents. They have lived a life filled with value, giving a lot to the world and in the process demanding nothing in return. My grandmother sits at home helping out in household chores and in the afternoon, she reads ‘French for Dummies’. My grandfather, to this day, occupies himself with anything that he can contribute to -from buying groceries to fixing the building elevator.
Francis always had to face numerous struggles to get where he wanted to but he did so with absolute tolerance and compassion. I wouldn’t claim that his life was hard because he never ever let anything or anyone put him down. He believed in the good of people and always made sure that he and his loved ones around him led a calm, peaceful life. I hoped you liked reading about him and maybe drew a little inspiration as I do every single day.
– Andrew Sabu
P.S. On my grandfather’s 80th birthday, my family set up a surprise at Adarsh Vidyalaya (his founded school) and without his knowledge a Rs.1,20,000 scholarship was donated to the most deserving student with an underprivileged background who was chosen with the help of the other founding members and committee members.
[ Glossary: Chawl- -Name for a type of building found in India. They are often 4 to 5 stories with about 10 to 20 tenements, Malayalis-People who have Malayalam as their mother tongue, Vidyalaya-School ]