Amma- some reflections

One of the questions that the yaksha asked Yudhishthira in the Mahabharatha was “ What is more nobly sustaining than the earth? ” Yudhishthira replied “The mother who brings up the children she has borne is nobler and more sustaining than the earth”. What can one say of a mother who brought up not one or two but eight children? Having lost her own mother early in life and with her father deciding not to remarry, Amma as the eldest daughter had to shoulder a lot of responsibility right from the time she entered her teens. It was a long story of struggle that called for many sacrifices. Despite all the problems, physical or financial, of the early years she brought us up as healthy children, caring and considerate most of the time and strict when the occasion demanded. I remember how my school friends were frightened of her and would try to drag me to play cricket or participate in drama rehearsals when she was busy in the kitchen. She taught us to be disciplined and instilled the right values in us. It was because of her that I could recite the Venkatesa Suprabhatam and Tiruppavai from memory even when I was in school. We were all trained in household chores. My job was to get vegetables from the market, wash the plates before lunch or dinner and lay them. We were constantly reminded that vegetables are good for health and advised not to waste food. Looking after the younger siblings, preparing them for their exams, rocking the thooli to make children sleep etc were all part of our daily routine. Tears well up in my eyes when I think of the endless days Amma kept awake and made tea or coffee so that I didn’t doze off, when I was preparing for my various exams.( That I used to sleep immediately after taking tea or coffee is another matter). She was very concerned that my job was quite demanding and would sport an unhappy look whenever the file boxes were brought in (which was a daily feature).

Amma will be remembered not only as a strict disciplinarian but also as one who showed that there are several ways of enjoying life. She was always well dressed, would admire the beauty of flowers, appreciate the symmetry of Radhika’s kolam, go gaga over the lemons, the coconuts and the narthangai in the garden, revel in the music of MS or Maharajapuram, make pertinent comments about the food and was always keen to be part of everything that was happening. I remember how happy she was to see the two Thanjavur paintings of Lord Krishna that Kausalya brought from the shop because both of them were very nice and she could not decide which one to take. This happened just a fortnight before her death. Amma’s vote helped in making the final choice. She was uptodate with all current events and would spend nearly one and a half hours everyday reading the three Tamil papers, Dinamani, Dinamalar and Dina Thanthi in that order, whenever she stayed in Shastri Nagar. She was equally fond of reading the magazines and would avidly discuss with my sisters about the happenings in the serial stories. Her knowledge of mythological stories, acquired from years of attending discourses and reading books and magazines, was truly amazing.

Amma was very hospitable too and no one who came visiting would be allowed to leave without having coffee or tea. Appa’s second and third cousins would come unannounced from distant places and Amma would cook food afresh . No wonder Amma was very popular with all of them.

I’ll always cherish memories of the time that I spent with Amma whenever she stayed in Shastri Nagar. We had coffee together early in the morning and read newspapers together. This was the time Amritha would call without fail which made Amma very happy. Breakfast was the only meal I could have with her. In the evenings she would look forward to the tulsi that I brought from the nearby temple. I used to sit with her for about half an hour after dinner and discuss events centred around the family.

Although Amma was keeping indifferent health for the last five years and was visiting the hospital regularly, her condition became bad only in the last five weeks when she was suffering from severe cough and swelling in her legs. The two heart attacks in the first week of December took a very heavy toll of her stamina and she probably lost the will to live. When I visited her at the hospital on the 3rd, she wished me “happy birthday” and blessed me by placing her hand on my head. I was crying inwardly. Just a few hours before her death, when Anna and I were standing on either side of the bed, she took our hands simultaneously and said something. Alas, we could not make out what it was. Probably she was feeling bad that she was not able to see Jagan’s and Rahul’s weddings. Wherever she is, I’m sure her heart will always be here and we’ll always have her blessings. Amma was lucky in many respects: she lived a full life and did not suffer much. Till the last day, she was conscious and knew what was going on around her. At times one feels God let her choose the timing of her passing “ out of the chill and the shadow, into the thrill and the shrine; out of the dearth and the famine, into the fullness divine”. Thank you, Amma, for all that you’ve given us. You will always be part of us.

December 2006