Reading about all the love and affection Amma showered on us, you probably assume that she must have herself had a rosy and loving childhood. After all, isn’t it true that only those who have known love can give it to others? Read on…we’ll see….
Amma had lost her mother at the tender age of 8 years. Her sister was two years younger. As was customary in those times, the family pressurized her father to re-marry, and produce a son to carry forward the family tree. My grandfather, being an engineer (which was a rare thing in the 1940s), was warily viewed by the community as progressive-bordering-on-eccentric.
‘Why eccentric?’ I remember asking Amma. Her reply, ‘He didn’t want to live in the agrahaaram with the other Brahmin families; he built and lived in a house on the outskirts of the village, isolated from everyone else. He didn’t mingle with these families much, either. He was moody, sometimes rude. He allowed people of other castes to move freely in our house, and used to treat them with consideration, which orthodox people in the community couldn’t tolerate.’ Listening to this, I understood where Amma got her sense of empathy. But I also realized how the little girls must have felt isolated and alone, being deprived of the sense of security other kids their age would have had because of social interactions with the community.
So, Amma’s father refused to re-marry and held out as long as he could; finally, he yielded to the emotional blackmail of his father who threatened to go “Deshaantaram” (into exile) unless his son got married again.
Amma and her sister were lucky – they got a stepmother who was kind and affectionate to them. This was a boon for the girls, for their own father tended to be emotionally distant (remember the ‘eccentric’ I mentioned earlier?), and except for an aunt (their father’s sister called Chinathai) who doted on them, the little girls didn’t have much affection coming their way.
The stepmother came from an affluent family and introduced the sisters to new things like bathing soap, for instance. Although she was perhaps a mere 8 years older, the stepmother did her best to mother the little girls. (‘What did you use before the soap,’ I asked Amma and she replied, ‘Gram flour (besan) and shikakai powder and chigare (reetha) powder.’)
Amma was married at the age of 15 years – and if you’re thinking that’s such a tender age – let me inform you – it was considered pretty late by the standards of those times. Right from the time she had been 11 or 12, people would pester my grandfather to get Amma married, and some would openly snigger that “there was something wrong with Narsimhamurthy’s daughter and that’s why he can’t find a groom.”
Reality - Engineer Narsimhamurthy, as I already mentioned, was a progressive, who insisted on toeing the legal line. The law of the time said girls should not be married before the age of 15; so he got his daughters educated till Matriculation, and arranged their marriage only after they completed 15 years of age.
As I come to the end of this post, remember my question at the beginning of this post? Can someone herself starved of deep affection be a loving mother? Psychology experts will say it isn’t very likely and yet, I’m sure you’ll agree that here too, Amma defied the odds.
More about Amma’s life before her daughters were born, tomorrow!