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 

How My Mother Saw Her Father

My mother saw her father for the first time last week. She is 73 years old.

Her older siblings are in their eighties and nineties. Yet, their reactions on unexpectedly seeing their father made one think the last seven decades never happened. Will miracles never cease? Geriatric Joy is a lovely thing to behold.

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. Kind relatives helped, but there was no denying that the household was headed for turbulent times. Her older brothers, then teenagers, made for the nearby towns in search of work. They were hard-working boys, and slowly, the boys managed to bring the rest of the family to the town. Despite all the hardships and the lack of money and resources, they sent my mother and her sister (still young children) to school.

The girls did not disappoint them. Their intelligence, hard work and perseverance was easily recognized by their schools, and soon, they were encouraged to get a college degree. When all the world around them judged the brothers for spending their hard earned money on educating the girls (That too sisters, not even daughters wagged the tongues in the village), they did it anyway. The sisters became the first graduates from their village and went on to become Physics and Chemistry teachers.

Life’s tempests may have denied my uncles the opportunity to study, but they did not hesitate when it came to educating their little sisters. They, in my mind, are the true heroes of the #HeForShe movement.

“O, brave new world

that has such people in’t!” 

William Shakespeare, The Tempest

I remember reading the children’s book, Are You My Mother, By P.D.Eastman . In the book, an egg hatches when the mother bird is out. The chick goes out into the world searching for its mother. The little chick asks all types of creatures: dogs, cows, and even cars and planes, “Are You My Mother?”. 

 

 

I remember thinking that my mother must have felt the same way about her father. She had no recollection of how he looked, and this was something that always wrung my heart given how much I adore my own father. She, however, was stoic and practical about it, just as she is about life. She always considered herself lucky to have been a sibling to such a loving set of brothers and sisters, all of whom dote on her to this day.

Her brothers, our dear maamas, told us that they looked and searched for any photographs of their dear father, the good-looking, duty bound man.  They had combed through the scant wedding albums, peered into old archives since he had worked as a chef in the Kanchipuram Sankaracharya’s Mutt,  but they were disappointed. Though many people had good things to say about him, and even went on to say my mother looked a lot like him, there were no photographs anywhere. He lived on in the memories people had of him, but my mother did not even have any of those to hang on to.

Then, one spring morning in 2018, on a new moon day,  her 90 year old brother sat down with his morning coffee in hand and opened Dinamalar, the Tamil newspaper. That day the newspaper had printed some pictures from the Kanchipuram mutt’s archives. And there he was. In the frame beside Sankaracharya stood their father. Maama recognized him, and immediately hollered to his son, to send the picture to my mother. “She is the only one who has no memory of how he looked.”, he said smiling like a child again.

 

 

So, at 73, my mother finally saw her father. R Iyer had 7 children, two of whom have already passed away. The youngest is a septuagenarian. What were the chances of a 90 year old man still retaining the habit of reading the newspaper every morning? Why he had been reading that particular newspaper that day? The fact that he retained the mental acuity to recognize his father who passed away 70 years ago is nothing short of a miracle.

I sat with my mother while she massaged her arthritic knees, and asked her how she felt at seeing her father’s face finally. Her face broke into a slow, wide smile, and she said, “I felt very happy to see him of course! You should have heard anna and akka (elder brother and sister) though. They were so excited and happy to finally show me my father!”

amma_thaatha.jpg

I love the word, Serendipity.  If this isn’t Serendipity, what is? Though a tiny analytical piece of me nudges me about probability and coincidence, I think R Iyer wanted his youngest daughter to have a glimpse of him in her lifetime, and he revealed himself to her.