From little village girl to a woman who taught
herself to understand current affairs, the author reflects on the tremendously
inspiring journey of his mother.
It is nearly 18 months now since my mother passed away at the ripe age of 94. Except for the last 15 months before she passed away, she remained agile and active, as she was for all her life.
When I think of her, I am reminded of her great qualities of hard work, perseverance and the fortitude to face any trials and tribulations in life. Her life is the saga of a lady who was born in a remote village near Vellore, Tamil Nadu, in a family of a humble background; Circumstances meant that she could study only up to the primary school level.
Losing her father at the young age of 14, married to my father at 15, she had to manage a joint family of around 12 members, living with her in-laws. Those were the days when one could not complain about anything but she rose to the occasion and received the appreciation and blessings of her elders.
After three years, my father moved to Ooty to work for a British company; the Ooty of the 1940s was a totally alien place to her, a very chilly climate and one that required work ethics and manners of a different kind. She was quick to adjust to the new surroundings. Her innate desire to learn new things and hone her skills came to the fore. She learnt Carnatic music, tailoring, and baking with the help of local friends and even started picking up some English.
Contrary to the perception that women of that generation were all sheltered and ignorant, she had a natural urge to learn things and expressed it many ways, an example being her ability to attend to minor electric faults. In later years when my father moved to a British tea estate in Gudalur (bordering Kerala and Karnataka), she picked up a working knowledge of Malayalam and Kannada. For a woman born in an orthodox family in a remote rural milieu, to me, her achievements are nothing short of extraordinary.
Beyond all these achievements, what inspired me most as a young boy was her secular outlook. Both my parents had been raised in orthodox upper-caste families and were devout believers, my father organizing Bhajans frequently in our house or at the neighbourhood temples in the early mornings, during the Tamil month of Margazhi. Yet neither her faith nor her upbringing led her to discriminate.
In our residential colony, many of our neighbours were Christians. When they were in distress or needed any help, she used to be the first person to go to their help whether at home or in the hospitals. We had a photo of Christ at home and on Sundays, they used to light a candle. Just as Deepavali used to be a celebration for us to distribute sweets and snacks to all, we eagerly awaited the cakes and biscuits from our Christian friends. What this taught me was that following your dharma does not prevent you from having affection for others or treating them without any distinction. Even in later years in Chennai, when a Muslim friend of my brother used to come and stay with us, she used treat him with affection and feed him like she did her own children, without any distinction.
My father passed away at a young age, when I had just completed my Post Graduation and was busy preparing for my UPSC exams. At the time, among us five siblings, my younger sister was the sole earning member, working as a telephone operator. Against all odds, she brought us up with sheer will power and trust in God. She lived on for nearly 50 years after my father.
In the last 15 years of her life, she kept herself busy with reading religious as well as other books and was keen on keeping herself abreast of current affairs from magazines. No job was mean to her. She would readily chip in with any small household chores even when she was ninety years old.
While we, her children, took care of her in turn, I personally still feel that I could have done more for her, which she rightly deserved.
The top image (L to R) shows the author’s mother on a visit to the U.S, and along with him in Chennai. All images courtesy the author and his family members.
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