Nostalgia Judy Vincent from Australia and her long-lost cousins trace their roots back to Kerala. She shares the details of her curious journey
For Judy Vincent the plantations of South India and its lovely bungalows are special. They are tangible reference points in her family tree that had huge blank spaces till she embarked on this trail.
This Sydney-based travel agent, who took up this career simply because she ‘loved to travel,’ was back at the place of her ancestors recently. And she brought with her cousins, their husbands, some of them meeting each other for the first time. The granddaughter of Edwin Vincent, the third of the Vincent brothers who pioneered rubber and tea plantations in the South, Judy was picking up shreds of a family history that was now turning into an amazing collage of memories.
“My father (Peter Vincent) lived in Mundakayam as a child. Helen, my eldest sister was born here. We are four sisters, Helen is no more, Susan and Elizabeth live in Sydney. I’m back with eight of my long lost relatives to follow the Vincent trail,” says Judy, slumping into the hotel lobby chair after a hot, sweaty noon of shopping.
Edwin Vincent reached India in 1912. He began his career as a manager in various plantation companies. “He is well known in Mundakayam as an efficient administrator. Edwin is credited with the development of the township, like putting in place the required infrastructure for Puthenchantha or the new market in the town, constructing roads that are still in use. He was secretary of the Mundakayam Planters Association and also worked for a few years in Boyce Estate owned by Malayalam Plantations,” informs George Abraham Pottamkulam, whose book The Path to the Hills , traces the history of the plantations in the Western Ghats.
Judy got to know of her roots through this book. And since then it has been her endeavour to visit and record her family history that is still alive in these plantations. “I came here in 2005 for the first time. It was a regular trip, on my own itinerary, with the usual must-sees. I returned not really thinking of coming back to India. That was when Faith Pandian, a New Zealand-based travel agent friend told me of this book. This was like a dream. I returned to India the next year,” gushes Judy.
That trip was a beginning. Judy visited Mundakayam, Koottickal and Periyar. “I saw the old bungalows, the Mundakayam Club, the factories. It was nice to see the old photographs of my grandfather, his brothers, and the families in some of the bungalows and the club. I travelled to Kodaikanal, Ooty and Coimbatore, and also saw J. R. Vincent’s grave at Thirupattur, near Madurai.”
This November-end trip was however very, very special for the remaining links of the Vincent Family. It was a reunion of sorts. “One morning I get a call at my Sydney home. The caller introduces herself as Sue Patch and tells me she is my second cousin. I was stunned. Here I’m in Sydney all these years and suddenly out of the blue I get a call from one of my cousins.”
Sue came to know of Judy and the Vincent connection through George Abraham’s book. “That book brought so many of the family together. We then planned to take a trip to India, along with others I knew from the family. That’s how we were here,” explains Sue.
And coincidentally they touched down in November, the same month the Vincents had come here about a 100 years ago. The group was given a rousing reception at Mundakayam Club that is celebrating its centenary. “Alexander Douglas Vincent, the youngest of the family, was in Mundakayam till 1950. We had, for the reception, people who knew him very well. There was K.V. Abraham Karimpanal, 92, who had bought the 600-acre Downton Estate, Pachikanam, from A.D. Vincent for Rs. 3 lakh. Then at the Kutikul Estate, owned by A. V. George Group, there were workers like Valliamma, who still remembered the Vincents fondly,” says George.
“It was certainly an emotional journey this time for all of us. We saw what our ancestors had started and were amazed to see that the factories like Pale Latex Crepe in Kootickal, still working fine. There was so much love from those who knew my father, grandfather and others,” says Judy.
Judy remembers one of her grandmother’s favourite bedtime stories that she heard as a child. It was of her days spent in Kerala and of how the children of the royal family were with her for a couple of days. She used to describe the estates, the bungalows. “The best part of the story was how the Maharaja took a ruby out of his turban on one of his visits and presented it to her. My sister Susan still has the ruby on her ring,” Judy remembers.
Those stories, those dreams have come alive for Judy and her cousins.
We saw what our ancestors had started and were amazed to see that the factories in Kootickal were still