Love, Acceptance & Gumption

Rarely do the skies reflect our inner turmoils so accurately. The past few days have been a strange time in that respect. The wildfires in California have been giving us days of poor air & light quality.

The first day dawned with the daughter waking us up looking excited. “Oh look how beautiful the light is outside. Everything is so pretty!” I peered outside and indeed it was. The world was bathed in a mellow yellow light, radiating a divine light. “It looks like a day when you feel you must count your blessings!” I said and rolled out of bed looking for the colors of the sunrise.

It turned out be a day to be doing exactly that – counting your blessings. A day to be celebrating a truly marvelous life, and thankful for the opportunity of having his presence in our lives. 

When I checked my phone, I saw that our dear Maama (Mother’s brother) – the younger one, had passed away. My mother confirmed that he passed away while on a video call with his daughter in the USA. Till the end, he was not in pain, and in these times of Covid troubles, he passed away peacefully at home. In death he had been blessed. Though if you had asked him, he would have said he had been blessed in birth as well.

For the past few months, he had been re-living his early years with his siblings at times. His conversations flitted to the village of his youth often, and he spoke of his life as a little boy, and he asked after his little siblings. In moments of clarity, he gave his caregivers careful instructions on how to reach the village where his dear siblings were: “Turn right from the road, and go straight for 6 miles, and you will see a small temple on the side of the road. “

His caregivers, like everyone who had the privilege of loving and being loved by him, indulged him. He truly was a man of many gifts – loving pragmatism was just one of them. 

Dear maama’s life was full of verve, energy, fun, love, and was tragic at the same time.

Yet, he never dwelled on the tragic. He was always a man of action. His nimble mind moved quickly with any tragic event to acceptance, and then looked for the actionable. He never considered any other course that a lesser human being might have resorted to. He was going to be helpful however he could, and he would do whatever was in his power to do. That was his responsibility. 

Talking to some of the lives he had touched after the dear man passed away, I found myself crying at times, laughing at some loving and funny thing that was so characteristic of him at others. The skies went from a count-your-blessings light to a gloomy ash-spewing state as the fires continued to spread through acres of land. 

Gloomy skies spewing ash

I have often wondered how the young children moved past self-pity. After all, the universe had played a low trick on them. He must have been a 11 or 12 year old boy when his father died, and his mother went into a decline from which she never recovered. The youngest sibling of his was my mother, all of 2 and a half years old, and he took her under his protective wing from when she could remember. 

Every time I think of the mammoth responsibilities the brothers shouldered, I shuddered. In an unforgiving world, the 7 siblings formed a bond like none others. 

No story about my mother is ever complete without Jayaram Maama and Pattumani Maama. Corporate environments would have made one write the vision statement and the other the mission statement. The younger of the two brothers, Ambi, as he was affectionately known, was the visionary one. He was also the effervescent one. The brothers made it their mission to educate their sisters at a time when most girls were married off at a tender age with an elementary school education – #HeForShe before it became a thing. They were curious combinations of the ritualistic and progressive. (My mother and her sister were the first women graduates from their village and went on to teach High School Maths, Physics and Chemistry)

Always forward looking, always willing to take action for what needs to happen next; his life is a lesson in acceptance, gumption, and constant self improvement. 

Today the skies have cleared up sufficiently for the sun to shine through again. It doesn’t feel apocalyptic anymore. 

Maybe the grand man is ready for the next great adventure. After all, he joined Pattumani on his second death anniversary.

To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.” Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter 

A Life Well Lived

One of my earliest memories were of sitting next to the grand old man and pressing the mole on his hand. It was a button, he said, that made him laugh. Every time I pressed it, he sent a shiver down his body and laughed. That is the kind of game that cannot ever tire a 4 or 5 year old child. I’d press the button at random times hoping to catch him off-guard. But the button always worked. It even worked last year when I showed the button to my little son as an adult. The great grand old man laughed.

He was known as Pattu-Mani, a loving nickname given to the bluish—gray-eyed handsome boy with a twinkling smile and pleasant personality.

He was the closest my mother had to a father. (How I Mother Saw Her Father)

Pattu-mani maama
My Mother Being Given in Marriage By Pattu-Mani Maama(Kanya Daanam – usually given away by the girl’s father)

I remember listening wide-eyed to the stories of my maamas (Pattu-mani and Ambi as they were popularly known) and how they raised and educated my mother, their little sister. (My mother was the last born in a family of seven. When she was 3 years old, her father passed away. A shock that left the family bereft, and sent their mother into a decline from which she never recovered. )

The one who regaled the story was often my father. He was the story-teller in the household. In his stentorian voice, he would go on to narrate how they educated their sisters making them the first graduates in their village, in a time and age that girls were married off before completing high school.

These people were the true heroes of the #HeForShe movement.

The same loving, doting aunts and uncles who bathed us in the warm glow of their smiles were heroes?

As a young girl, I cannot quite describe the impression it made on me.

Clad modestly in cotton dhotis with no fancy degrees or awards, living lives of modest means in normal houses with dignity and self-uplifted from poverty; the ideas of personality, achievement and greatness conflicted with the world’s idea of greatness. Was it not always associated with wealth and fame?

Confusing as it all was as a child, it helped me understand that greatness comes in so many shapes and forms. It helped me understand that life is unfair, but we have to fight fairly anyway. That there is no correlation between (wealth, fame), and (wisdom, greatness). Sometimes, the wealthy and famous are also wise and great, but not all wise and great people are wealthy and famous.

So, what constitutes a worthy life?

pattumani_maama3

Is it in the fact that every one of us nieces, nephews, and grandchildren felt they were special to him?

Is it in the fact that the entire town showed up to say farewell to him when he died last week? The very town to which he came barefoot and penniless, looking for work as a teenager after his father’s sudden death.

Or is it in the sparkling affection behind the smiles he bestowed on those around him every time?

All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts. William Shakespeare

Here is to a man who played every role well, who made the show enjoyable for all those who had the privilege of sharing the stage with him.

My heart aches, my eyes tear up as I hear things like ‘end of an era’, ‘great soul’ etc. Maybe his parting gift is the meditation on what constitutes a good life, and working towards the very qualities he embodied.

TED Talk on a Worthy Life: here

The past few days have been a glorious recollection of a life well-lived.

A life that shouldered responsibility with élan
A life that never questioned sacrifice and duty
A life that gave and accepted love
A life whose inner light lit the world around him
A life that showed us how extraordinary an ordinary life can be
A Life Well Lived.

I have a small birth-mark where he had a mole, I propose to make that my laugh button. My way to remember Maama and to remind me to laugh when life gets me down.

pattumani_maama2

I love and miss you dear Maama. Thank you for your influence, your love and your beautiful presence in our lives.