My mother, Ansooya, had an out of the ordinary name for a nice Palghat Brahmin girl.
Ansooya had to reinvent herself right through her life learning many languages on the way. Her father was a rolling stone and the fact that she was born in Sarasathalli, Bihar says it all! She grew up assuming the role of a mom to her younger siblings as her Mom was sickly.
My grandmother used to cook food and Ansooya had to deliver it to bachelor boys in Parel, Mumbai. As she grew up she was used to the fact that the set dahi was for the bread winner, my Uncle Swamy, while the others got watery buttermilk. It was no big deal but as his health was important to keep the family going, everybody else took it in good spirit.
Ansooya was also elder sister to her older sister’s kids and till her death was called by name in that family! Her brother-in-law too had a great love for the horses and my aunt had a tough time bringing up seven children and looking after four of her own siblings.
She picked up her youngest sister, 5 Paddu, bleeding and dying and rushed her and her niece to the hospital when both were hit by a tram on Vincent Road (DR Ambedkar Road, Mumbai). Her niece survived and for years came to our house here in Madras for skin grafts. My mother must have been in her early teens. The trauma was with her all through her life but she would always help anybody who needed surgery or hospitalisation.
Then my grandpa moved to his family home in the village in Allepey but soon they were thrown out as my grandma had tuberculosis. They moved to a little village in Tanjore called Ombathveli and there my grandma died. Ansooya became the homemaker–no schooling, no play and a sudden thrust into adulthood with only neighboursd to tell her about puberty and being careful as a woman alone. Within a few years they relocated to Bombay and my grandfather too passed away.
Meanwhile my father–a dashing figure wooed her–and despite dire warnings from everybody my mother married him. One of the provisos of her marriage was that she had to wipe out the Malayali accent and to forget that she was affectionately called Anju by her family! She learnt to cook in the shortest possible time for hoards of visitors who would land up without notice and even today many people remember her eclectic choice of dishes for a meal.
She lived a life that many women live through–abused, degraded and insulted but a luxurious life alright. My father was unfaithful to her and she ended up with four kids and her two younger brothers to care for. My father too moved house and city regularly and she was fated to do this all her life with her sons and daughter as well.
She educated herself reading literature, Hindi, learnt music and used to sing divinely–in fact MLV herself used to say that she should take it up seriously. Her dream of performing was fulfilled when she came to Mauritius to visit me and performed on The Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation TV and radio. She had a song for every mood right through her life. Today when I hear the song ‘Edo oru paatu en kaadil kekum…” I am reminded of her.
Anusooya wanted to have an official qualification and at 40 did her Matriculation–Aligarh–the same year as my two brothers and scored more than both of them! She had Home Science for a subject and a young slip of an examiner asked her to demonstrate how to bathe a child with a doll. Ansooya told her that she had brought up her own four kids plus a clutch full of siblings and their kids. The examiner just gave her full marks without the test.
Next she did the Montessori Training with Euston, Maria Montessori’s nephew and scored brilliantly. She studied child psychology and had more practical knowledge than all the other participants. She taught briefly in John Connon school, Mumbai but again a sickly daughter, me, took her whole attention.
My mother was very much in demand to deliver babies as she was termed lucky and many families would call her for the delivery. She introduced modern concepts and ideas into a hidebound Tanjore family who were our closest friends and till her dying day she was ‘Anshya Amma’ to that family.
She withstood sending off a son to the UK when he was just 15 and then many years later visited him a few times. She travelled by ship to Mauritius with many adventures on the way in Aden and Daar-Es-Salaam.
Ill health plagued her as she had been emotionally battered and obesity played a negative part. She had seven major surgeries. She clung on to a normal family life for her daughter’s sake and when my daughter was born and I did not need a ‘porandaam’ or maike or maternal home anymore, she walked out of her marriage when she was 54.
She never had a roof of her own over her head and was dependant on her children. Throughout all these difficult circumstances she retained her sense of humour and always met people with a sense of joy and happiness. She was fond of travelling and ice cream.
Her intrepidity put steel into our backbones. Her sister-in-law, Savithri, her elder brother’s wife was her best friend, benefactor and guardian.
She loved reading–Mills & Boon on the one hand and murder mysteries on the other. She was fond of chanting and would set her prayers to music. She would spend all her time productively sewing, knitting, crochet and till her last days sewed her own clothes.
She would have been 89 this year but I think she went at the right time. She was a bit of a hypochondriac and loved taking medicines. She had a running battle with her family regarding this but would get the medicines through the maids alright!
Her last surgery was for a broken hip and she got secondary infection and she died, a Sumangali, on a Friday, early in the morning. It was 11 years since she died this March. She lives on for her children and grandchildren who have absorbed her undying spirit.
Today there are many women like her who are good at craft, cooking and homeskills that they can turn into lucrative projects. Ansooya gave away all that she made–for her hands were the tools to return people’s affection that was showered on her.