April 17, 2015

My parents in 1963

My parents in 1963

photo (10)

A couple I’ve known all my life celebrated 52 years of being married on this day. Fifty two eventful years with never a dull moment. Their marriage, like most, hasn’t been a storybook one. It has had its moments of glory and moments of utter despair. It resulted in five daughters—in a land where even a king who has five daughters is prophesied to end up on the streets with a bowl in his hand, they have survived. Gloriously. All five daughters married, with 2 children a piece, totaling ten grandchildren. I am talking about my parents, Jayaraman and Nithyakalyani.

This is my little tribute to their life together. I will follow the order in the phrase “mata, pita” and start with my mother.

She was born to Alamelu (Perambur patti to us) and Venkateswaran (Perambur thatha), with 5 siblings. Due to family circumstances, she had to drop out of school without completing high school to take care of her brothers and sister. She met my dad through her brother, my uncle, Mani mama.

I use the word meeting  loosely here, as it was 1963 in traditional Chennai, where a boy and girl talking in public was cause for a minor scandal. Mani mama and my dad used to work at Binny Mills (or was it B&C back then?) in Chennai. My parents got married at the young age of 23. Theirs was quite the unconventional marriage for those days as mom is the same age as my dad. But, the story I have heard goes like this: my dad said he would marry only my mom, or not marry at all. She married into a huge family of 8 sisters-in-law and became “manni” for not just her “naathanars” (sisters-in-law), but to everyone in the family who came later—including the “maappillais” and the grandchildren.

My mom is an amazing cook, very artistic (she makes beautiful kolams) and has a thing for numbers. She used to tell us stories most days while she fed us.

I love to hear stories about my thatha and how he pampered his daughter. He gave her very unusual wedding saris—a Kanjivaram silk in pistachio green with a dark green border for the wedding, and a gold tissue Banarasi for the reception. I remember the gold tissue sari from my younger days. It was the most gorgeous sari I had ever seen. Unfortunately, it simply became threadbare over time and we lost it. My thatha used to be an accountant for a cardamom estate owner and was able to afford nice things for my mom. From these and other little things she has told me about him, I know she was very much loved and cherished by her father. And that makes me very happy, because my mom’s married life has been no walk in the park.

She used to play the violin and put it away after getting married.

The 3 things that my mom taught me and my sisters, that still guide me are:

  1. Charity, even, or especially, in poverty—I remember one Vijayadasami/Saraswati puja when I must have been 12 or 13. I came home after some school activity. Mom had new clothes set out, and told me we were giving it to some poor kids (we were, by no means well off then—we got 2 new sets of clothes every year, usually from the textile factory where my dad worked, Anglo French Textiles. They were usually rolls of some fabric, in two colors/designs if we were lucky so that all four of us wouldn’t be wearing the same outfit. We also got used clothes from friends and relatives!) I accepted what she said without a question. That’s when she told me that she was just testing me, and the clothes were actually for us. I often think about this and wonder if I have passed this on to my kids.
  2. Run far away from people who do bad things (“dushtarai kandal dhoora vilagu” in Thamizh)—though I don’t always remember and practice this at the right moment, this has been an invaluable lesson and has saved me from plenty of heartbreak and pain, not to mention wasted energy and time fighting people and things when it’s not worth it.
  3. A corollary to #2: Don’t hit back at people who have wronged you, be it your sisters, your enemies, your friends, whoever—people usually get what they deserve. This one is hard, but the older and wiser(!) I get, I understand that the universe works in very just and fair ways, usually. For the rest, there is my old friend, Karma!

Of late, my amma has become frail and weak.  I wish I could bring her here to Florida with me and give her some peace and tranquility, but she is too tired to travel anymore. She talks about living in an ashram. I am not old enough to bless her, but I wish her peace for the rest of her life, with all my heart. Peace that has been a rarity in her difficult life.

Now about my dad. He is quite a character. Known as “meesai” mama by his nieces and nephews thanks to the military-style mustache he sported.

Like my mother, he too, didn’t finish college, and I suspect regrets it to this day. But, my dad never stopped learning. He has not let a lack of college education stop him from leading a successful life, giving all five of his daughters a decent education, and marrying them off.

He is a constant learner, full of curiosity, and doesn’t mince his words. This last trait has not won him any popularity contests, but I know people respect him for it.

He has great work ethics, is a self-starter and knows how to get work done from people. When I read about people like Jack Welch and Steve Jobs, I honestly think under the right circumstances, provided the opportunities, my dad could have been a fantastic entrepreneur. At 75, he keeps himself as much updated on the technology of today’s fast-paced world as he can, drives himself and mom around in the horrible Bengaluru traffic, and pretty much keeps himself busy with a job he doesn’t need, if only for my mom’s sanity. He left India between 1977 and 1985 to work in Kenya and Nigeria to be able to provide a better financial life for his family. (That’s where he learned to speak Swahili, and still retains some of the vocabulary, especially the swear words!)

The things that my dad taught us girls directly or implicitly, in no particular order:

Obsessive punctuality—I sometimes wish I hadn’t acquired this. While it is painful to be fashionably late to social functions, the pain is magnified by the fact that I am married to someone who is perpetually running late.

Curiosity—I like to think I inherited my curiosity about the world around me from my dad, and thank him for it.

Play—my dad definitely is one who qualifies for a “young at heart” award. He has always been boisterous, fun-loving and loud. His “kaaka” (crow) in the kaka-nari-vadai (crow and the fox) story is probably the only one to sing “chaudwi kaa chand” when the cunning fox tricks him into singing. He cheated on all games with us kids. I suspect he still does, when he plays with his grandchildren. He is also the source of the latest kollywood gossip for me—our telephone conversations include an update on the latest movies, politics and news such as “nalaikku Sridevikku valaikaappudi”.

He is also the proud author of a family lullaby, a classic that’s been passed on to his daughters, all of whom have sung it to our kids:

The song goes like this:

“Thoongu paapa thoongu

Thoongina odane ezhundru

Ezhundha odane saapdu

Saapta odane thoongu”

Translation:

Sleep baby sleep

Wake up after you sleep

Eat after you wake up

Sleep after you eat

Genius, no?

I do wish he would be more patient with himself, mom and everyone around him and generally sit back, relax and enjoy his retirement years. He has earned it.

My parents are polar opposites in everything—personality, temparement and outlook. They bicker, they drive each other mad, and I don’t know how they have survived fifty years together, but I am positive they wouldn’t know what to do without each other.

Happy 52nd anniversary, Amma and Appa!

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9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Vijaya Ramaswami
    Apr 24, 2013 @ 22:15:12

    Must have been celebrated. Pl. convey our best wishes to ur parents.

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  2. Padma
    Apr 25, 2013 @ 02:16:27

    that is a nice tribute on their 50th wedding anniversary. well written ! Pls convey my respects to your parents.

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  3. Radha Ramesh
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 07:36:42

    Very Nice Srilatha!!! I couldn’t retain from reading the whole post in the midst of my work 🙂 Nicely written.

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  4. chellappa
    May 04, 2013 @ 05:35:39

    Dear Latha, I gone through your posting about your Mom and Dad 50 years of glorious wedding day. On this happiest occasion, I want to share with you about happy memories with my Nithya… She shows her affection to me very much is ever green from my childhood … we are the Paasap Paravaigal….The incident you mentioned about me is some thing a sweet dosai.. Like that so many we faced … My life started with job at Pondy along with Nithya is one of the most remarkable pages in my autobiography. My best wishes for the simplest, happiest lovely couple of my Nithya and Athimber Kannappa.(Jayaraman). By loving brother CHELLAPPA.

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  5. sri
    May 10, 2013 @ 08:39:06

    Dear Chellappa mama,
    Glad you enjoyed it. Amma is always telling us stories about you, and I still remember the Pondicherry days when you used tell me scene by scene the stories from the latest MGR movie you’d seen.
    -latha

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  6. Swaminathan Jayaraman
    Apr 18, 2015 @ 22:07:58

    Hi LATHA Very very touching I actuall cried out of joy a best and healthier life to u and fmly Appa

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