She was such fun! This is an unconventional statement to make of one’s mother-in-law. But to me, that was the essence of her personality. It captures her spirit and joy of life -taking interest in everyday pursuits and participating in the simple pleasures, despite working so hard. Always willing to play a game of cards with her grandchildren, concentrating fully on her next move in a round of Chinese Checkers , or taking time to recount a story with a laugh- she was always ready for the activity, for fun and relaxation. This sense of participation, and the gift to be completely in the moment, made her special, the object of love and affection. And she had the ability to never appear rushed, even with the elaborate meal getting ready in the kitchen or the cooker giving off its shrill whistle on the stove. Come lunch time and she would effortlessly lay out on the table an assortment of dishes, rustled up while she constantly looked into the living room and engaged in conversation with family member, relative or visiting neighbour.
Festival days may mean endless chores to many women but to her they were days of rejoicing when members of the family would descend on the flat from all directions and she unfailingly stepped out of the kitchen to welcome each and every one of them. Not that there was not endless work to do. But she seemed to take it easily in her stride though thinking back it could not have been that easy at all…
She was an unusual mother- in- law who was ahead of her time in having an easy, informal relationship with her daughters- in- law.
I remember her visits to Ramnad. Her love for animals was deep and spontaneous . A dog had given birth to her puppies in the sheds just outside the bungalow. She and I would pay daily visits to see the progress the pups were making and she would take as much of an interest in them as I who missed my beloved dogs Fluffy and Julie in my parents’ home. We loved watching them frisking about and later when we had our adorable Lhaso aphso Lucky in Shastri Nagar, her face would light up at her antics, as the lively one chased a dry leaf across the garden or dashed playfully across the hall.
She was fond of narrating appropriate tales, as the occasion demanded. She had a store of puranic tales to tell. I remember listening absorbed as she recounted the story of Urmila, Lakshmana’s wife, and what a raw deal she had as he left her to follow his brother into the forest. It was a tale of sacrifice and loneliness, and the pathos of Urmila waiting for long years for the return of Lakshmana made an indelible impression on me.
More happy was the story of the Bhootham, the genie, who had an insatiable desire to work, which she would tell with a laugh. When I complained that one had to constantly find work for one of our lazy attenders or else he would happily slumber away all day long in the garage, she narrated the story of Bhoothathukku Velai. Brought home by a merchant to help his grumbling wife with the household chores, the genie agreed on one condition – that there should always be work to do. Or else he would be off. The woman was pleased but not for long as she had to feed the worker all the time with tasks to do. Finally, in a fit of desperation she handed him a long strand of her curly hair and asked him to straighten it out. The genie tried hard to pull it straight - turned it around, hammered at it and finally in desperation set light to it. It got burnt. Ashamed at having failed, he ran away and she sighed in relief at having got rid of him! Now when close friends ask me why we have not engaged someone to drive the car, I say “Not enough work”, briefly narrate the story, and remember her chuckle.
Kanu and Deepavali were special occasions when we always visited the Thiruvanmiyur flat. She would trudge up the steps with me, later accompanied by Radhika, to set out the tri coloured feast for the birds. The taste of her Kanu kootu still lingers…
A fine trait was that she understood that office work had a prime place in one’s life. She knew the seriousness of work and that it was not negotiable and always said “ Office mukhyam illaiya.”
She belonged to a generation of women to whom their family meant everything. She was a participant and never a spectator in the activities of her family and she related to each and every one of them in a special way. And that is what makes her today a central figure- even in memory!