Mothers’ day musing- part 2
The person presently occupying the honorable chair of my mother, is older to me by only 6/7 years and therefore, is more like an elder sister rather than a mother. She is none other than , hold your breath, my own and only mother- in- law, whom we all in the family affectionately address as TVM, short form for the city she lives in. Since my marrying her daughter, she has been with us for every good or bad occasion, births, weddings, deaths, illness, summer and winter in the families, my own and extended. She speaks, as her daughter used to, only when she should and never pokes her nose into affairs which doesn’t affect her directly or indirectly, a rare MIL-virtue. She is respected by all my relatives for her calm , gentle, unassuming and non -interfering nature. I visit her often while in India and talk frequently over phone. A gist of our tele-talk, before my recent USA trip:
‘ Bye, TVM, leaving for Baltimore this night”
“Glad that you are coming. The Sreekanteswaram temple festival is to begin tomorrow”
” Take an auto to go for the Padmanabhswamy temple festival. Don’t go by walk”
” Yes, first you come here. Tapioca pappad, I can always get”
The audibility acumen of the SIL and MIL being in such a peak, where is scope for our fighting?
There was another great mother- in- law in our family. My mother’s. It was she who snatched my mother from the jaws of death, when a smallpox epidemic invaded our villages and consumed almost everyone around. The knowledgeable elders of the village who had seen such catastrophe earlier, examined my mother’s condition and advised my patti to shift her to the thinnai, front open hall, where such hopeless cases are placed before their last journey. It seems in some places, the hopeless victims used to be shifted to the woods far away from the village and left their to rot and die. This is only a hearsay .
My grand mother flatly refused to obey the village elders . ”My Cherunatturi Bagavthy will not snatch her from me”, she said. In fact she was the only person who did not lose hope. Sitting by the side of the patient, fanning her body with a bunch of neem leaves and cleansing her throat with her finger wrapped with a clean cloth and moistening it with drips of liquid slowly and carefully dropped, the great mother- in- law was able to stop the advance of the Death at the gate. The Unconquerable refused to surrender totally to a meek woman, head and body covered with a single piece of white cloth. The Death snatched her first and precious grand child, my elder brother, who was just an year old baby and also my mother’s one eye. That unalloyed affection towards the daughter in law continued till her last breath and my mother too never forgot her life-savior. In fact, right from the day one, my Patti had developed immeasurable love for her DIL, as my mother was mother-less and in her early teens , when she entered our ancestral house.
Patti, my paternal grad mother was an epitome of womanhood. I was 6/7, when she passed away but my memory about that slim, fair, small woman walking on her fours, is vivid in my mind. Her presence was felt everywhere, in my father’s shop close by, in the kitchen, near the well where the servants use to gather and chit chat, in the hall where the vegetable vendors from the nearby Coimbatore, used to dump their farm produces in bulk required for the hotel, though she was confined to her bed in a separate . Appa, after pulling down the shop shutter, every night, used to come to his mother, make the bed, though it would have been already made by mother, sit near her and give a detailed account of the happenings of the day in his business establishment. It was a long list containing not only the income and expenditure statement of the day but the names of the regular customers visited, their family problems and all such petty details. There was no need for that but that was my father’s way of telling his mother that she was needed and her suggestions and advice were respected. I recall this, when my eldest son Ananth, comes to my study and spend some time, every night, , before he goes to sleep, discussing about the happenings of the day in his office and outside..
Patti knew when her end was nearing. ‘Don’t go to angadi, for shopping today. Keep enough coins and one or two new white clothes ready. Send a word to Soori Vaadyar to be available on short notice” – These were some of the last minute instructions, very practical indeed, left to her only son. As a fully ripe leaf falling from the tree branch, she passed away on her son’s lap, absorbing the few drops of the water from the Ganges stored in a copper vessel and poured reverently, carefully by her son, reciting the sacred mantras..
The house, hotel, nearby shops, the Mariamman temple, all were sunk in gloom. The Railway staff, timber merchants, the nearby shop owners and their workers, the imam from the nearby mosque, the vegetable venders, the potter, wood cutter, pappadam-maker, all were there in our house to mourn her death. Only one man, bulky with a huge belly seen 24×7 in the house was missing in the crowd. He was a relative who had no family of his own and therefore living in our house, enjoying the free food and other courtesies due to an elder relative. He had gone to enjoy a feast in the Kalpathy village , on the other bank of the river, despite patty’s advice to stay back.
” Everyday you enjoy feast-like meal in the hotel” Patti pleaded, ”be here so that if things go wrong with me, you will be of some help to Ananthan( my dad) “
”Nothing will happen to you Manni” he assured her, “I will be back in a couple of hours.”
Appa sent servants to look for the relative, soon after the death occurred . He had already left Kalpathy for another village to enjoy feast the next day.
He returned the next evening. By that time, even the ashes of the caring woman, who used to keep a watch on my mother, from her bed, to ensure that he was served quality food, had been collected. He could see only the ash-pot hanging from a tree at our back yard.
He rolled on the barren ground and cried like a child. But it was too late.