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Saturday, 30 November 2019

NaBloPoMo 2019: Day 30: The End

19th May, 2019, Sunday

Suresh, and I have just returned from the hospital with my father-in-law who has had to undergo some emergency test.

Bhargavi calls with the news. Amma is no more.

We go home, pick up Sanath, and reach my parents’ house in a record 45 minutes.

I walk inside. The Vishnu Sahasranamam by M.S. Subbalakshmi is playing in the background. Amma has been placed on the floor. I stand in front of her, clasping my hands in prayer and then go inside looking for Appa and hug him. He’s surprisingly calm. As is everyone else in the house.

We knew this was coming.

From the past two months, Amma’s health had been steadily declining and she had been praying for mukti from the discomfort. Till her last coherent moment, she had a japa on her lips.

My cousin Athri says we must remove the ornaments Amma is wearing. I step forward to do it. Athri holds up Amma’s head, and gently, I slide out her mangalyam. Athri turns her head to let me unscrew the studs adorning her ears. I insert my hand gingerly into her left nostril to unscrew the nose ring that’s still shining on her nose.

I move to Amma’s feet, and slowly pry out the toe-rings. This body is now lifeless and devoid of sensation, but my mind, still thinks of this frame as “Amma,” still does everything gently, not wanting to hurt her even a bit.

Unknown to myself, I have begun reciting aloud the Vishnu Sahasranamam in tune with MS. Athri is staring at me, maybe checking if I’m breaking down and need help. But I’m fine – after all, am I not Amma’s daughter?

Kaushik and Sanath and other relatives carry Amma out of her home to the car waiting downstairs. Today, she can’t refuse the help.

All her life, this dear mother of ours had always insisted on doing every small day-to-day task on her own. Not once asking for help. Only during the last few weeks, she had become completely dependent for even the most basic of needs. She used to feel bad, not about her discomfort, but about creating extra work for her daughters.

As I’m writing this blog today, I suddenly remember an incident from the Tisca house. I was around 14 years then, Komala 11.

It was in the late evening. Appa had been hit by some youngster speeding on his bike. Passers-by helped him home, but his leg was rapidly swelling, and he was in severe pain. It was a huge shock for Amma, Komala and me who were the only ones at home. I think someone called the doctor, and Amma was running around – placing a pillow to raise Appa’s leg, giving him a cold compress, bringing water ….

I had never before seen Amma so disturbed. She was loudly chanting all the shlokas and stotras she knew, non-stop, as she fluttered around. I was embarrassed to hear her doing this in front of all the strangers there. Like a typical teenager, I even found myself irritated by it and wanted to tell her to stop. 

But I got called outside, and the moment passed.

Little later, Amma had calmed down. And in thinking back to my irritated moment, I suddenly realized that this, calling out to God, was her way of dealing with the stress. Who was I to interfere because of the superficial reason of ‘What will people think?’

On May 19th, 30 years later, I found myself using the very method Amma had used, as an anchor, to stay calm through the crisis of losing her.

Amma’s favorite song, was tallaNisadiru kaNDya tALu manave By Sage Kanakadasa. You can listen to it here

This is the translation by Chakravarthi Madhusudana.

Fret not, O Mind! Be patient
He will protect everyone, there is no doubt about it.
Who was it that tended and watered the tree
that grew on a hill top?
As He is responsible for your existence,
Firmly He will look after you, have no misgiving |1|

Who was it that fed the animals and birds
that roam in the forest?
Just like your own Mother, He will take the onus
to care for you without fail. |2|

Who nourished the worms and insects
that were born on a stone?
The lotus-eyed Adi Keshava of Kaginele
will protect everyone, there is no doubt about it.

As I end this blog series on Amma today, all I can offer is a prayer to the same Adi Keshava to take care of Amma’s atma as it proceeds on its journey ahead. And to bless us all with the same kind of faith in Him that Amma possessed.

The spidery Kannada scrawl is Amma's contribution to a Japam Book in which I was writing. She barely had strength to sit for 5 minutes, and yet, she did, and painstakingly wrote a few japams.

Note: This post I wrote in January 2019 is also about Amma's faith...

Friday, 29 November 2019

NaBloPoMo 2019: Day 29: Amma continues to inspire…

When I decided to write about Amma, I had no clue about how it would flow. I had ideas and memories of my own, and the ones shared by my sisters…and looking at my table, my sister Komala had laughingly said, “It looks like the table of someone into serious research!” 

Re-search it certainly was. And in the process of my search and re-search, and re-re-search, it looks like so many people have been touched by some or the other aspect of Amma’s story. The feedback I received is a reflection of that… 

Many of you have been sharing your thoughts with me daily, or as and when you could. Some of you left comments on the blog, some messaged me on WhatsApp, a few elderly relatives called over the phone and told me how much the blogs touched them. I'm extremely grateful to each and every one of you, including the ones who didn't write in despite reading...

I had thought I would sum up what people said. But then realized it would be futile to try and convey their thoughts in my words. So, I’ve simply taken shots of what they shared, so you can read it for yourself. 

Another person told me this: 

What I learned from your Amma’s experience was that she had no inhibition to learn new things at whatever age. She did all the normal work, but also learned new things. Also, she did all the work with a song on her lips (you wrote that she would recite shlokas and stotras while doing housework), and that means she must have had a song in her heart too. So she could do all the work because she did it out of love, without feeling it as a burden. This is an inspiration to me to adopt the same spirit. Despite being married at such a young age, she learned to become independent later in life. I also realized that nowadays, we feel proud of being so educated and all, but our attitude to life is not so positive. Your Amma had that positive spirit, I felt. Another thing I noticed is about how despite being Brahmins, your parents treated everyone equally – that is something to appreciate because in those times, many Brahmins used to have a superiority complex. Now I can understand how you have the same spirit of equality because you have learned it from your parents! 

I’m touched and humbled by this experience of writing about Amma, and the kind of response it has generated in the ones who came along on this journey. 

I’m most grateful to Amma and Appa for bringing us up the way they did. The former wouldn’t have been possible without the latter.

I’m equally grateful to all my sisters for us being what we are – and for always being there for each other for things that matter the most.

After Amma passed away, there was this deep desire to write something about her – but there was an equally big block too. I couldn’t get myself to write about anything else either. But when I started this blogathon, it was like the floodgates had opened. The topics suggested themselves, the ideas and memories we sisters talked about coalesced into words and words became paragraphs and paragraphs became blog posts, and, judging from the feedback, the posts glided right into people’s hearts to create a lasting impact.

My sister Vijaya, who is more reticent than all the rest of us, had this to say at the end:

I have been keeping away from commenting on the blog about AMMA, for a number of reasons and the basic being it does not come easily to me to write or share my feelings.

One of our bhajan group friend Mr. Sundarshekharan continued to visit us frequently even in the shop-house.

He would bring storybooks for ANU to read.

A lot of reading from a young age has made Anu so good at her writing.

I think it was more due to anxiety that parents decided the living space rather than the actual financial condition.

Amma like most women was insecure due to not owning a house and with six daughters to be married off and all the customary rituals for married daughters I think she thought of ways to save money.

She had an inherent quality to live with the bare minimum and always avoided buying new things especially for herself.

Blogging by Anu regarding Amma has helped me in the grieving process.

Thanks Anu.

What more to say....such is Amma’s mahima that she continues to help us even when she’s no longer here!!

Thursday, 28 November 2019

NaBloPoMo 2019: Day 28: Resourceful Amma

Born and brought up in Karnataka, Amma knew to read, write and speak Kannada. She also spoke the peculiar dialect spoken by Iyengars of the “Ashtagrama” region of Hassan. After moving to Redi and then Goa, Amma learned to speak Marathi, Konkani and Hindi. She even picked up basic English and occasionally used a few surprisingly apt words. By association with the bhajan group, she learned to speak pure Tamil too. 

One of our favourite foods, out of all the tasty things Amma cooked, was “Fodi.” It’s a Goan dish – basically fritters – that she made with potato and sometimes, also with ‘neer phanas’ which I think is breadfruit (it looks like a miniature version of the jackfruit). Another Goan dish that Amma excelled at making was solkadi – the kokum drink.

In all the houses in Goa where there was open space around, Amma had cultivated flowers and ornamental plants and maintained a small garden. We used to have large yields of the Gotla flower (Barleria lawii) in pink, light purple, and white colors, and Amma would string them up for us to wear in the hair.

I’ve already mentioned how she used to make paper flowers, and flower garlands and godadis (quilts from old cloth), and how she stitched our clothes herself. She also did quite a bit of hand embroidery – different types of stitches, and cross-stitch too. She would stitch a backing cloth to the embroidered cloth and voila – the pillow covers were ready! These are all skills she picked up in Goa.

During the bhajan sessions, Amma learned several bhajans. On her own at home, she learned many new stotrams and also taught them to us. After moving to Mysore, at age 57, Amma learned to recite the Soundarya Lahari hymn composed by Adi Shankaracharya, which runs into 100 verses, with each verse having a different tune.

I mentioned how Amma and Appa learned the 4000 Divyaprabandham in Bangalore. Although older than 60 at that time, she was a very zealous student and would practice diligently at home, reciting every evening what the teacher had taught in the morning.

Amma even knew what to do when the power supply had stopped in just our house. She would switch off the mains, pull out the fuse, and check if the wire there was burned, and repair it if needed. She would fish a metallic wire out of an electrical kit she had handy, which was filled with old wires, screwdrivers, cutting pliers, and other paraphernalia. She taught me too how to change the fuse.

And then there were the tricks Amma developed.

Look at this cloth pouch enclosing the table leg. It was stitched by Amma when she couldn’t find the rubber bush to replace the one that broke. Not wanting to let the metal scratch the floor, she devised this ‘cloth bush’ herself!

Long before the steel wire scrubbers were available in the market, Amma had her own way to remove stubborn sticky items from utensils. She would just scratch at it with empty blister packs she had saved after using up the tablets in them.
Look at this picture.

Did you notice the plastic bottle next to the shoe stand? It was the hand-wash devised by Amma. She filled an old Pril bottle with water, and kept it next to the shoe stand. Because after touching the shoes, you must wash your hands, but you can’t walk into the house with the shoes on to do the washing. So, simply squirt a few drops of water onto your palms for a quick clean. Komala’s husband Srivathsan liked the idea so much that he’s following Amma’s tip!

Coming from the days of cooking by a wood fire on a mud stove, Amma made a smooth transition to the gas stove and much later, even to the gas hob. From washing clothes by hand, she moved to the washing machine. From grinding in a stone, she waltzed into using the mixer and grinder. From filtering coffee decoction through a cloth, she went to using a coffee maker. From boiling water in a copper hande on firewood, she moved to boiler, geyser, and even gas geyser.
Amma making Janmashtami tindis 
Cherishing her traditions, yet adapting to the new, that was the spirit of Amma!
Simple living, high thinking was always the motto!

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

NaBloPoMo 2019: Day 27: Amma as Paati

Amma first became Paati (grandmother) at 43 years of age. Maithili’s daughter Rajashree was born when we were living in Surla in Goa. A few years later, Maithili’s son Shreeharsha was born, also in Goa, when we were living in Tisca. 

Bhargavi’s son Kaushik was born in Bangalore, and Amma went there for the delivery. After a month or two, she brought both baby and mother to Tisca and cared for them.

As these grandkids grew older, they would come for vacations to our house in Goa and later, in Mysore and of course, in Bangalore. We all have had some really good times together.

Celebrating Kaushik's birthday in Mysore
With Harsha and Kaushik in Bangalore

With Maithili and her family
It was after quite a few years that my son Sanath was born, and at this time, Amma didn’t have all that backbreaking responsibility as in Goa. Also, because my in-laws were engaged in caring for their parent and sister who was critically ill, I would leave Sanath with Amma when I got back to work post-delivery. So he turned out to be extra-lucky and got Amma’s undivided attention. She even played cricket with him, sitting with the bat, and swatting the ball he wobbled at her. Right up to the very end, Sanath never ever left Mani Paati’s house without planting a soft kiss on her cheeks.
Taking care of Sanath
Letting Sanath be naughty
Yes, a little spill, but so what, said Amma

Komala’s daughter Sriprada was also born in Bangalore, and Amma took care of her too for the first few months.

Youngest grandchild Sriprada
Doing "Aaney borey..." with Sriprada

The first 3 kids all called Amma as “Goa Paati” to distinguish between her and their other Paati who lived with them in Bangalore. Sanath and Sriprada had no “Goa” connect, so for them, she is just “Mani Paati.”

On a trip to Nandi Hills (Harsha, Sanath, Amma and Rajashree)

As I’ve mentioned in one of the earlier blogs, Amma welcomed all these grandchildren with her hand-made godadis and langotis. She would give them (and their mothers) the customary oil bath herself. She would sing songs and lullabies to them; she would rock and coo to them.

As they grew older, she would play with them – I think she taught them all (except Sriprada) the native board game called “Chauka Baara” in Kannada which is played by drawing squares on the floor or on a carboard, and small shells/cowries are used as the dice.

She would stand up for the grandkids when she thought their mothers were being unreasonable. At the same time, she didn’t hesitate to side with the mothers when she thought the kids had erred and needed to learn what was right and wrong.

By God’s grace, Amma had the good fortune to be not just Paati, but also “Kollu Paati” or great-grandmother to Rajashree’s son, Ojas.

Amma with Rajashree and Ojas

Amma was a frail woman and yet, by sheer force of her character, how many lives she touched and molded!

There are readers who have been writing in, saying how inspired they are by Amma's example and how thankful they are for my writing this blog. 

If Amma had been around and I had told her I’m writing about her, she would have said, “What? You have no better work or what?” with a typical bemused look. Then, if I had told her that see the impact it is having on people reading your story, I sure she would have said, “Good if it is helping them. It’s God’s grace. Let God bless them.”

Kids of the family - the one missing is there "virtually" (on the phone screen)