Amma was just the nagger.
Appa was always the one.
He didn’t expect me to do anything he didn’t do himself.
I vividly remember this one science test (on the topic of bonding and cement) where I had to get up early in the morning to study. Amma was sleeping to glory.
In the wee hours of the morning, Appa woke up, then woke me up, made coffee for me and sat down on the sofa.
I poured over the books. Appa’s head started bobbing and he was nodding off to sleep.
I begged him. “Appa, please, you need some rest. Why don’t you lie down on the bed or alteast the sofa.”
He wouldn’t lie down. He just sat there, bobbing his head to show his unwavering support for me.
It is not like I made a conscious decision saying “I am going to be there for the kids. I am not going to expect them to do anything that I couldn’t or wouldn’t do myself.”
I think Appa imbibed it in me without him or me consciously realizing it.
I am quite surprised when parents expect for the kids to do things they have never done or wouldn’t dare to do for themselves. Don’t be one of those.
Show them the ropes…literally and figuratively.
And, speaking of bonding and cement, Appa showed and made me mix cement, sand and water in the right quantity to use for construction.
There is a saying in Tamil that my buddy Charles reminded me of a few years ago.
It goes like this – “Thambi odiyan padika anjan.”
It means – “If you have a brother, then you don’t need to fear even war.”
I often remind the boys of this saying.
Today, Adi feel asleep as I was driving him back from school.
As I parked at home, he was still out of it and was slowly raising from his nap.
So, Ari proceeded to pick up Adi’s very heavy backpack along with his own backpack and lunch bag.
I don’t know what the boys will do if and when they face war.
But, I think that it is good enough if they know to help each other out with the lil things in life.
Vanity of vanities is a superlative expressing the supreme degree of futility and emptiness.
VANITY OF HUMAN TOIL
– From Book of Ecclesiastes, Chapter 1
Vanity of vanities, vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!
What profit have we from all the toil
which we toil at under the sun?
One generation departs and another generation comes,
but the world forever stays.
The sun rises and the sun sets;
then it presses on to the place where it rises.
Shifting south, then north,
back and forth shifts the wind, constantly shifting its course.
All rivers flow to the sea,
yet never does the sea become full.
To the place where they flow,
the rivers continue to flow.
All things are wearisome,
too wearisome for words.
The eye is not satisfied by seeing
nor has the ear enough of hearing.d
What has been, that will be; what has been done, that will be done. Nothing is new under the sun!e
Even the thing of which we say, “See, this is new!” has already existed in the ages that preceded us.f
There is no remembrance of past generations;g nor will future generations be remembered by those who come after them.
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My friend Dr.Mani Sivasubramanian pointed out to me how similar this Ecclesiastes text is to what is said in Bhagavad Gita.
What did you lose that you cry about?
What did you bring with you, which you think you have lost?
What did you produce, which you think got destroyed?
You did not bring anything – whatever you have, you received from here. Whatever you have given, you have given only here. Whatever you took, you took from God.
Whatever you gave, you gave to him.
You came empty handed, you will leave empty handed.
What is yours today, belonged to someone else yesterday, and will belong to someone else the day after tomorrow.
You are mistakenly enjoying the thought that this is yours.
It is this false happiness that is the cause of your sorrows.
When you leave, you leave so much behind.
I was fortunate enough to met him in person only a couple of times.
I insisted he at least briefly stop by one the parties we hosted during the holidays.
Despite his busy schedule, he swung by to just say hello to Amma and me.
That is when he brought this lucky bamboo.
He gave it to Amma, said hello to me and rushed off.
He didn’t even stay for dinner.
I was fortunate enough to live beside her as a neighbor for only about a year.
Then, I had to pick up and leave.
She is Gujarati but spoke excellent Tamil.
Ari adored her daughters.
She shared walks with me.
One rainy day, she made the most excellent sago vadais that I ever had and served it with chai.
These two people never met each other.
When I picked up and left CA, I left behind all the potted plants that people had ever given me during my 15 year stint in CA.
I left them with a girl Kavita Patel) who has a green thumb and who I knew would give the plants more love and attention then Appa or I ever did.
All the roses that had been brought to me over the years, that had been trimmed by Appa or Kumar, planted carefully, nourished with love and had blossomed in the spring…. I had to leave all those behind in the backyard.
I had to leave them behind because there was no place in the minivan after we had packed 2 kids, 1 dog and some bare essentials to start over our life in Austin.
There was just no space…except for the tiny lucky bamboo he had given me.
The night before I left CA, she had left a bag hanging on my door knob.
The bag had a plastic container filled with aloo masala and poori in an alumininum foil pack.
She texted me later saying that “You have several 1000 miles to drive in couple of days. I don’t want you to worry to stop for food. Enjoy the pooris and aloo masala.”
When I picked up and left CA, I brought a piece of each of them with me.
After we settled in, I re-planted the lucky bamboo he gave me in the plastic container she gave me.
Every time I water the bamboo, I say a prayer for them both and their lovely families.
I also say “Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu”.
Translation: “May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all”.
The He in the story is my buddy Gopal Kumarappan.
The She in the story is my friend Ami Parikh.
As far as you can see on the horizon, there is green paddy fields. The paddy is swaying wildly in the strong winds that are howling through your ears. Thunder starts rolling. The sky is darkening with black clouds as she is crossing the fields and heading back home in a rush. She is careful as she rushes…because she is carrying precious cargo in her womb. She pauses for breathe under a tall straight lean tree and hoping she can get back home before it starts pouring.
That is when lightning strikes that tree, rages through the trunk, cuts through it like a sharp razor and splits it in half. Sparks fly off. She screams and holds on to our womb in a instinctive movement that humanity has perfected neuromuscularly to protect its off spring.
That is one of the first stories of my early life that she told me over and over again. She instilled deep strength and incredible power within me by highlighting the fact that even lightning couldn’t hurt me.
She called me “A survivor”.
That is what I told myself over and over again as I grew up and struggled through every curve ball that life threw me and every time I got lost – “I am a survivor.”
That is what I told myself when life threw me into dark pits that I had to claw myself out of – “I am a survivor.”
She also said that that stormy day on the fields, the dark sky eventually cleared and the sun came out, shone bright and made the rain drops on the paddy fields sparkle like diamonds.
Over the last 4 decades she reminded me (her Leo daughter) to look up hopefully at the sky during the dark stormy times because the bright sun (Leo) will eventually appear.
On Sunday (July 30) evening, it was a bright beautiful sunny day with clear blue skies.
There were no dark clouds.
There was no lightning.
There was no storm.
Well, except for the storm that raged in my heart which was filled with grief and sorrow.
I looked at her lifeless beautiful face. I moved my face to her heart hoping it would rise and sink rhythmically.
Perhaps, this was just a bad dream that I could wake from.
Perhaps, if I remembered what she said and, if I looked up at the sky with hope…. perhaps, the storm in my heart would pass.
So, I moved my gaze from her heart and looked up at the bright sky. Tears welled up. I knew she would hate to see me crying. She wanted me to be always dignified…no matter what the situation was. I tried to keep my eyes dry.
I told myself over and over again – “I am a survivor.”
I gathered up every ounce of strength in the body, mind and soul that she had blessed and nourished me with.
And, then, I did the unthinkable.
The one that gave me life,
The one that cooked and fed me all my favorite food,
The one that strived hard to give me the great equalizer (education) of all,
The one that shared her love for prose and poetry with me,
The one that urged me to live a happy and good life filled with positivity,
The one that held me inside her womb for 9 long months,
The one that carried me in her heart for the last four decades,
The one I called Mommy,
I fed her to the fire and watched her be consumed by it.
The crematory played Poet Vairamuthu lyrics that my brain failed to comprehend (but appreciated) as I sauntered out.
Then, I found a spot under a tree, closed my eyes, focused on my breathe and tried to meditate to soothe my incredibly brave and strong heart that had been ripped apart in places that can never heal during this lifetime.
That is when a gentle breeze came by to brush my cheeks and hair. Mom loved a gentle breeze (called ilan thendral in Tamil) as much as I do. I figured it was her away of trying to soothe me. So, I took the focus away from my pain. I turned my attention to appreciating the breeze, to feeling utter gratitude for her and the moments I shared with her.
My mom, T.S. Devaki, is survived by by a family that adored her, friends whose life she touched and her “survivor” daughter.
Thank you to my dear friends Subashini Ganesan and Punitha Nagarajan who dropped everything to rush to pick me up at the airport and drove me all the way across the state to get me to Daddy as quickly as possible. Even with all rush, Suba remembered to bring a big thermos filled with coffee to perk up my spirit.
Thank you to Chander Thathamanji Jayachander Uncle for rushing to spend the last few moments with his cousin (Mom) and bringing a beautiful and fragrant flower garland to adorn her.
Thank you to my brother in law Srinivasan Nagarajan (and his family) for rushing to be with Daddy and me and for carrying Mom during the last rites ceremony.
Thank you to my sister’s family members Karthikeya Sivasenapathy who have moved heaven, earth and everything in between to not only provide care for Mom but also arrange for a beautiful funeral ceremony for her.
Thank you to Chittapa (Daddy’s younger brother and Mom’s cousin) and Chitthi for being my pillars of support during these last few days and guiding Daddy through all the funeral proceedings.
Thanks to Kumar Nagarajan for rocking the airline reservation system to get me across the globe to be with family.
Friends – My heartfelt thanks to all of you for the outpour of your condolences messages. I am sorry that I have been unable to return each of your messages personally… please know that I deeply appreciate all of your thoughtfulness and encouraging words.
The crematorium played a Poet Vairamuthu song that soothed my heart last Sunday evening. But, due to my grief, I couldn’t comprehend or remember the words. I asked many folks who attended the funeral for the lyrics…but they didn’t know it.
One of the drivers who had brought me to the crematorium, drove me around town last week. I asked him if he remembered the lyrics. As luck would have it, he is a poetry lover like me. So, he did remember the lyrics. The song is called “Jenmam niRaindhadhu”
Lyrics and meaning here.
Even if you don’t understand a single word of Tamil, the pathos in the song will evoke healing in your heart.