She lived all of 95 years, and true to her nature, she bade goodbye peacefully and calmly.
On one of our family group chats, a cousin from Preethi's side, commenting on Ammachi's photo that had been shared, remarked that she must have lived a spirited life.
I was quite struck by that comment - because this cousin had not seen her; she had only heard of her from Preethi. But her remark was so accurate - if photographs can convey the personality of a person, then here was proof. If I were to pick a few words to describe her, "spirited" would definitely be there at the top of the list.
She was indeed an amazingly spirited woman. Married at the age of 13 or 14, when she was still in school; a beloved daughter, a loving sister, a wonderful wife, mother to seven children, grand-mother to us cousins, great-grand-mother to my children and the children of my cousins, and even great-great-grandmother to a few grand-children of her grand-children - I believe she must have seen at least seven, if not eight generations!
To say that she went through a lot in her life would be an understatement. From my mother, I have heard of the hardships that she went through bringing up her children, when my grand-father suffered a few business failures and financial setbacks. She watched helpless, as cancer took away a very young grand-child. She saw the death of her youngest son and also the death of two children who had been joined to her own children through marriage. But she did not lose hope - her faith in God, her determination and her strong spirit kept her strong all the way.
She was a very enterprising woman and usually spent her time in the kitchen or out in the vast compound surrounding her home, among her cows, hens, ducks and trees. She was more at ease managing the middle and back-office as opposed to the front-office; more comfortable in the kitchen than in the living room. And from what I have seen, I don't think she resented it one bit - in fact she enjoyed being the strong support that her husband and her children needed. During the financial difficulties that they faced, she took it upon herself to become self-sufficient; she generated a small but significant income from the sale of her coconuts, chakkas2, perakkas3, chambakkas4, milk and eggs - an income that meant that she could just about manage the household expenses without having to burden her husband further. She was also adventurous, unbelievably agile and flexible - easily managing to climb atop her favourite trees to pick the ripe fruit, even when she was almost 70 years old!
She had an incredible memory - even as late as four or five years ago, she would call to wish her loved ones on their birthdays. She always knew exactly where each grand-child was, what he or she was studying, which semester they were in currently and when they would finish their courses. Incredible, considering I sometimes forget which class my own son is in!
Looking back, I dare say she was a feminist in her own way. Not the kind of feminism that is usually branded about today, but feminism of a very different kind. A feminism that understood and accepted that a husband and wife, while equal in many ways, still had different roles in the family. And that there was nothing to look down upon a life lived more in the kitchen than in the living room. She was the quiet, strong foundation on which her family was built.
For me, she was the soul, life and essence of my maternal home - a place she very reluctantly had to leave, after the death of her husband. Considering the practical difficulties that her sons faced because of her staying far away and alone on her own, she agreed to move in to stay with them in the city. I am sure this decision must have been very hard for her; but she adjusted well, I must say, considering the circumstances.
There are quite a few images of her in my mind.
But probably the one image that will remain etched for ever is of her standing at the kadavu5 and waving to us, as our boat slowly makes its way to the other shore, her white chatta6 and mundu7 standing out amongst the lush greenery all around.
1 Ammachi: grand-mother
2 chakkas: jack-fruits
3 perakkas: guavas
4 chambakkas: rose apples/java apples/wax apples
5 kadavu: jetty/pier
6 chatta: traditional white blouse
7 mundu: traditional garment worn around the waist