Tribute to Paati

It is difficult to write about Patti precisely because there is so much to say, because she has been such a strong and nurturing presence throughout my life. It is painful to think of her lying sick and helpless in GH, it is painful to think of her gone. If there is some consolation, it is that she did not suffer too much, and that I got to see her before she passed away, as I wasn't able to in Thatha's case.

The two most notable qualities about Patti were the strength of her personality and the depth of her affection. Most people, when they grow older, are content to retire into themselves. Not so with Patti, she wanted to be front and centre right till the very end, active, curious, in the know about everything to do with the family. There was something almost awe-inspiring about this spirit, this vigor for life. Sometimes it led to conflict but on the whole it was refreshing, even lovable. With her energy, her instinct towards self-reliance, she must have felt keenly the failings of old age. But she also resisted them keenly. My most happy memories of her relate to the home environment in Thiruvanmiyur - preparing food, keeping up a constant stream of conversation, as Thatha sat on his chair by the window fanning himself, and listening... There are more specific memories, of elements of a tradition that I fear is fading away - the social functions at Thiruvanmiyur where the cousins would all have balls of food pressed into their hands, the "bakshanam" and "yennaimaanga", the games of "dhayakattai" and "paramapadham". Always her smile, her stories about the childhoods of me and my cousins, her solicitiousness. She fitted the role of the Matriarch to perfection. Hence her fondness for social functions - she had an insatiable need for people, for company and conversation.

She must have been unhappy about having to move from the Thiruvanmiyur milieu, about losing her independence. She regretted no longer "being useful". She didn't realize that just having her with us was a privilege for many of us. We have been such a close-knit family over the years; so many of her children were willing to host her and care for her in her final years. One might say she was lucky, but then this was a testament to how well she had brought up her children - she made her own luck. If there is a lesson to be gained from her life, it is about the importance of a strong and stable family environment, and the sacrifices that must be made for it.

She lived a full life. If there are any regrets I have now, they are similar to the regrets I had when Varadachari Athimber who passed away last year - maybe I didn't really let them know, in so many words, how much I cherished them. I hope they realized it; I miss them, and will continue to miss them for a long time. But I'd like to end on a happier note, since Patti was essentially a happy person. This is a memory from my visit to India last January, when Patti was staying at Shastri Nagar. She wanted to spend time with me, and knowing that I liked to watch tennis (the Australian Open was on at that time), she would come and sit with me, and try to appreciate the game, despite knowing nothing about it. And somehow, she would make very astute observations at times! Her love of life and her curiosity about it, and her affection, always manifesting themselves...

January 2007