When the doctor in charge of the medical intensive care unit where my mother was admitted for treatment after she had a heart attack on 1/12/2006 informed that she had died of another heart attack, I was choked with emotions, distress and disbelief. It was at 2.00 A.M. on 5/12/2006 and she had stayed in the hospital only for four days before her death. She had been getting admitted to hospitals off and on, but she had always come back after a few days. It is now difficult to believe that she, who had been a part of my life for 67 years is no more!.
She was such a strong personality that she had an impact on all of us around. The most significant part of her life had been her great love and affection for all her children and grand children.
If I rewind my memory tape decade by decade, I realize the role she played in nurturing and nourishing me through my school and college days. I recall my examination days in Trichy when she used to get up at 3.00 A.M., prepare my coffee and send her father along with a walking stick (to ward off barking street dogs) to escort me to the railway station of Thanjavur, to enable me to board the 4.00 A.M. Boatmail from Madras. The hours she spent by my bedside when I was sick with typhoid, come to my mind. Each and every one of my siblings will have such memories of her sacrifice. She brought us up teaching us to cultivate pride in our family without showing any tinge of jealousy or malice towards anyone! She made us feel the vitality of a family relationship in honouring the differences among ourselves and with others , and to enjoy the similarities in us.
One proverb often quoted by her was
Kuttram parkkin suttram illai
– if you only notice the flaws in others, you cannot have proper relationship. This will always be ringing in my ears.
She always had the magnanimity to forgive people for their unkind words or for their unpleasant deeds.
She was generous in tipping people of lower rungs of society like drivers, servants or workers and had a ready smile for everyone. True, she was not given to a life of ease and comfort in her earlier days as she had the responsibility of bringing up a family of eight children on a limited budget. She knew that the best things she could give her children was a balanced food. Her lunch included greens and each had a banana before sleep. She insisted on good habits and good manners which are the backbone of all our lives even today. Often she denied herself the essentials to keep us happy.
When my father got promoted in service, financial status brightened. When some of us got into job, she really felt welloff.It is her financial acumen and skill that kept her family running. She planned and saved significantly for the sake of her children’s education and marriage.
My father ‘s cousins from Kazhiyur , S/Shri Aravamudhan, Srinivasan and Ananthazvar used to liken her to Goddess Mahalakshmi, Her beaming face always with a ready smile charmed all our relativies. On top of it, whe was a very good hostess. Our relativies from Kazhiyur used to come to Cheyyar for watching a movie or for any other entertainment. She always had something to feed them. Some hot drink to serve them and sent them back satisfied.
She was equally friendly with her neighbours. Often we could see them coming to her for some counsel or help. She believed in socializing with people and sharing their grievances. My father had to work as a leave reserve official in his younger days. He used to come home with a message “tomorrow we have to shift to Station ‘A’ 40 miles away!” She had to pack all things within 24 hours. She did that with efficiency and she was a great support to my father.
She had a stable and steady life only when I and my two sisters secured jobs in Madras and we shifted from Kancheepuram to Mandaveli in Madras.
Her skill and interest were varied. She was playing chess well and she even taught her grandchildren the game. She was adept in caroms and card games. Before the advent of T.V. we relied on the radio for cricket commentary. She used to sit along with me and my grandfather , closely following the swinging fortunes of Indian players. Later, during the days of T.V. she was following tennis and athletics also.
Her enormous appetite for books and magazines was something incomparable. When my parents and the family was in Pollachi, I was a lecturer in a College near Coimbatore. I used to visit Pollachi every week and take two Tamil novels to my mother from the college library. She would have completed reading them during that week and advise me on what to read and what to avoid!
Though she enjoyed material things, she was basically a very religious person. She made all of us memorise “Thiruppavai” and a few other stotras. She recited a number of slokas everyday, which habit all her sons and daughters have imbibed. She used to ask every one of us to copy some sloka in her prayer notebook. She used to quote from Nalayira Divya Prabhandam extensively and was fond of discussing about them. She had undertaken a long pilgrimage, covering Gaya and Nepal as well as Haridwar, Rishikesh and Badrinath. She brought gifts to all her children and grand children during that trip.
The occasion of “Purattasi Thiruvilakku” (also known as Maavilakku) was a great event for my parents! They used to invite all children and grand children for a gala feast. My mother always cooked all the food herself and slogged throughout the day!
Often times, she used to say that she was fortunate in her sons-in-law and daughters-in-law. She had genuine love for all the families. When my wife Rajeevi won a prize in a competition by Kalki and got a set of gold bangles as the prize, she told the correspondent in Bombay that she would give the bangles to her mother-in-law. The reporter was pleasantly surprised and wrote so in her report. A colleague of mine who read it in Kalki wrote to me that the incident speaks volumes of the character of both the women, the mother-in-law as well as the daughter-in-law. It was indeed so!
When my mother was staying with me, she used to praise her daughters-in-law to our neighbors and servants. She never spoke a single wrong word about any one of her children’s families.
It is her intense love, affection, magnanimity and generosity that stood out in her personality. One Tamil film calls mother as “Kudiyiruntha Kovil” as everyone before birth stays in mother’s womb for nearly 10 months. For the eight of us, she was indeed a sacred and endearing temple. If our families are closely knit today, it is because of the silken thread which she has woven around us.