Remembering Chandra Patti

Daddy’s Daddy named Sriram and Mommy’s Mommy named Babayi were siblings. So, Daddy and Mommy are first cousins.

Amongst many things, Kumar attributes my craziness to that fact too.
Amongst many things, I attribute the richness of my childhood experiences to that fact.

For every family story that I was told, there were atleast two versions of it. Mommy’s version and Daddy’s version.

The saga of the Mahabharata fades in comparison to the family stories I was told and I could re-tell.

The history. The challenges. The relationships. The drama. The wars. The struggles. The learnings. The wins. The losses. And above all, the togetherness.

Daddy’s Mommy Selvanayaki had a sibling. His name was Dr. Jeyavelu. Both Selvanayaki Patti and Jeyavelu Thatha (Grandpa) were both orphaned at a young age and were both self made people.
My story today is about Jeyavelu Thatha’s spouse – Chandra Patti (Grandma).

With Mommy:

Mommy lost her mom when she was a toddler. TVS Thatha (maternal side grandpa) never remarried and devoted his entire life to Mommy.
10 years after they were married, Daddy and Mommy still didn’t have a child.

When my mom finally got pregnant, TVS Thatha decided to leave her in the safe hands of 2 people he trusted the most – Jeyavelu Thatha and Chandra Patti. Given Mommy’s complicated pregnancy, Thatha was afraid that Mommy might lose the child (me) if she wasn’t given proper care. Jeyavelu Thatha was a doctor. So, TVS Thatha felt Jeyavelu Thatha’s household was where I should spent the last few months of my time in Mommy’s womb.

With Daddy:

Daddy had many stories to tell me of Jeyavelu Thatha. Jeyavelu Thatha had served the country in the army and was a retired doctor. At one point of time, he had taken a bullet hit to one of his legs in the battlefield.

After Daddy graduated high school, Jeyavelu Thatha had advised him to get a technical degree and join a car company. Daddy told me that his job and living was because of Jeyavelu Thatha’s great and timely advice.

During my childhood days, Daddy took me to see Jeyavelu Thatha. Jeyavelu Thatha showed me his badge of honor – the bullet wound. Jeyavelu Thatha told me the story with lots of color. But, unfortunately, I don’t remember all the details.

I was very impressed with Jeyavelu Thatha’s presence, high energy, sharp wit and his bullet wound. On the bus ride home, I told Daddy that I was going to join the army like Jeyavelu Thatha. I think Daddy was very shocked.

With Mommy:

TVS Thatha left Mommy in Jeyavelu Thatha’s and Chandra Patti’s safe haven. Mommy told me that she received great love and care there from Chandra Patti.

I was born in Chengelpet Hospital (it is a town near Chennai in South India) under Jeyavelu Thatha’s care. Mommy told me that she was treated like royalty because Jeyavelu Thatha’s high position in the hospital. Mommy always told me to be thankful to Jeyavelu Thatha and Chandra Patti because both of them were the reason that both Mommy and I are alive…despite her complicated pregnancy.

With Daddy:

I didn’t see much of Jeyavelu Thatha and Chandra Patti during my childhood. On the few occasions,that I visited Chandra Patti always treated me kindly. She would give me something to drink and eat, sit me down and say “Sangi (My middle name is Sankari. So, my family calls me Sangi.), your Daddy works very hard to give you a better life than he did. He has struggled a lot in life. He has taken great care of his family. You have to study hard and make a good life for yourself. That is the only way you can truly repay your Daddy.” When I was getting ready to leave, she would pull me aside, and give me allowance money.

I knew by then that Daddy was adored by his family and friends. I added Chandra Patti to the list of people that liked Daddy and wished him nothing but the very best.

I don’t remember when I saw Chandra Patti last. Perhaps, it was at my wedding reception.I realize that I am growing up too fast. It saddens me to note that people are leaving me – people that are a part of my family history and a big part of the reason that I am alive.Chandra Patti passed away yesterday. She was 80. She leaves behind a family that adores her – 4 wonderful children (Vasan Aunty, Revi Aunty, Mali Aunty and Chander Uncle), their respective spouses, nephew Balakrishnan (Daddy), niece Devaki (Mommy) and many grandkids including Sangi.

May God bless Thathamanji Jayachander Uncle and his family for taking care of Chandra Patti for all these years.

Drive Carefully – Remembering Dr. R. Anantaraman

I met him on a warm, sunny and beautiful afternoon in Summer 2012. I took an instant liking to him for three simple reasons:

  • He said he was 80+..but didn’t look it at all.
  • He seemed so full of life.
  • He said he had married his college sweetheart and enjoyed life with her in the last 5 decades.

As usual, I ran around and tried to ensure that he and his college sweetheart had enough company to mingle with at the party and were also well-fed.

Somebody had brought a couple of cakes to the party. So, I invited him to cut one of the cakes. He gladly obliged. I laughed as he beckoned to his college sweetheart to come eat the first piece. At that moment when he beckoned her, Kumar and I glanced at each other, nodded and smiled. It is one of those meaningful glances. Nobody would notice it. Except two people who are connected for eternity. The glance meant “How sweet! That is us. Is it not? In a few decades that is how we will be. Will we not?”. We clapped and cheered. Then, all of us ate the cake to celebrate “School is done! Summer is here! Let us have a blast!!”.

Soon afterwards, he and I became Facebook friends. We did the usual. Liked each others posts. Commented on each others posts. Wished each other for birthdays and other happy occasions.

He would send me the occasional “I like the way you choose to live your life” comments.

Several months later, his daughter-in-law (also my neighbor and friend) Meera called me to ask if I had a stash of Tamil novels or books to loans him and his college sweetheart.

Even though we hadn’t met each other after that summer party, I had grown to like him because of the glimpse he gave into his personality through the notes he sent me.

We all do favors for the ones that we like. Don’t we?

So, I went through all the bookshelves in the garage and made a pile of magazines (mostly Thendral monthly tamil magazines). I called Meera and she requested me to drop it off at their house.

Between errands, I swung by their place. His sweetheart answered the door with a smile. I gave her the magazines and she beamed. She urged me to come inside the house and have a drink and chat with him. I told her “I would love to. But, I am in a rush. Can you convey my regards to Uncle? I have to run.” So, I didn’t get to meet him that day.

If I had known what I know now, I would have listened to her. I would have walked inside. I would have flashed my usual grin and said hello to him. I would have asked him a whole bunch of questions about his life and life experiences. I would have gently nudged him to tell me more details about how he dated his college sweetheart in the 1950’s (when dating was taboo in India). I would have asked him about how he had proposed. I would have asked her how and why she accepted. I would asked both of them to share their “married for so many decades, raised 4 kids and still going strong” secrets. I would have asked him about the challenges that he overcame in his life. I would have clicked a few pictures of them together. I would have enjoyed the drink she would have lovingly made for me. I would have said good bye. I would have hugged both of them and sought their blessings. I would have. I would done all that and more. If only I had known what I know now.

Several months later, Meera invited me to dinner over a weekend. I couldn’t go because I was double-booked that day. I am not sure if he was with Meera that evening. I could have possibly met him and his college sweetheart.

Oct 10, 2013 was his 82nd birthday. I sent him this note:
Advanced birthday wishes Uncle. I seek your blessings. Please bless Kumar and me…so that we may live to be happy college sweethearts…just like Aunty and you.

He sent me this witty response:
Thanks for your greetings. It took me to years- 1951-1958 when my friendship with my classmate Tulasi blossomed into ‘love’ which later ‘tied’ us in wedlock. You said you and Mr Kumar are college mates. Good. Keep that relationship. But I am sure you would not have climbed the Pallavaram hills many times as Tulasi and I did, when we were in the third year medical students. Thank you once again.

Oct 10, 2014 was his 83rd birthday. I sent him this note:
Happy Birthday Uncle. May God bless you with many, many more decades of togetherness with your college sweetheart. Take care.

He sent me this quick response:
Thanks a lot. Happy you remember my college love affair ended in a solid and still loving married life. Thank you once again

On Thursday, Oct 16, my dear friend Trushna left me a voice mail. She asked me to call her back. Her voice read “worried”. So, I called her back right away. She gave me the news. My heart sank.

I gathered up my pep-talk strength and called Meera. I told her to stay strong. I told her that it is going to be alright. I told her to put up a fight for him and for his college sweetheart. I told her not to give up.

I went through my old stash of pictures of him. I realized then that I didn’t have even one picture of us (him, his college sweetheart and me). I told myself that he is going to come out of this. I told myself that my birthday wishes (“many, many more decades of togetherness with your college sweetheart”) has to hold. It has to. No questions about it.

As I went to sleep, I prayed for him and her. My horrifying experience from several years ago played itself out in slow motion in my dreams.

That fateful night, Kumar and I had dropped of a friend in the airport. Kumar was driving. I was in the passenger seat. We were driving back home. We turned right from the Decoto Road intersection to Mission Blvd in Union City, CA.

2 raccoons had decided to cross the street. In a split second, Kumar, (bless his gentle heart!), swerved to save their lives. Thump. Hit. One of the raccoon was hit. The other one was saved.

I woke up in a sweat. I went to get some water and prayed that he and his college sweetheart should be saved.

As an aside, I grew up in a Hindu household. I was taught that hurting any form of life (even it is insignificant in the food chain) in considered a sin.

Whenever I see a raccoon, my mind races to that fateful night. I wonder whether the two raccoons were mom & son, or mom & daughter, or dad & son, or dad & daughter or just 2 lovers strolling on the street in the middle of the night. There is nothing we could have done to save that raccoon. I know. But, forever, I will live in regret of that fateful night. Of separating 2 loved raccoon.

I didn’t have the heart to call Meera. I knew she would be flooded with calls and messages. So, I waited and prayed. I believed.

Meera called me on Sunday, Oct 19 afternoon. I was in the pasta aisle at Randalls. She delivered the news to me. I felt like my knees couldn’t hold me up anymore. Adi saw my face and rushed to my side. He put his arms around me. She hung up. I just stood there for a few minutes. I gathered up all the strength I had and walked the boys to the checkout stand. I drove back home and went through the summer party pictures again.

I worried. I worried how Meera and her family were going to deliver the news to his college sweetheart. I worried how his college sweetheart was going to live without him.

I told the news to Kumar that night. He was shocked and saddened.

Those people we see on the streets and crosswalk. They have a life. They have kids. They have grand kids. They have a future. They have a heart. That heart loves their loved ones. They are loved. They are adored. Very much.

Put down the cell phone when you are driving. Don’t multitask. Don’t answer calls. Don’t make calls. Don’t speed. Focus on the road. At all times.

Because, even if you are being extra cautious, the sun might blind you as you drive that bend and accidentally hit that elderly college sweethearts taking a stroll. Then, there is no going back. There is no way to hit rewind. Be cautious. Be careful. Pay attention.

Because, that person walking down the crosswalk might be somebody that you or I adore. That person might be somebody that you or I wish to spend more time with. That person might cook one of yours or my favorite dishes. That person might rule a certain portion of your heart or my heart. That person might be somebody you met a summer party. That person might be Dr. R. Anantaraman.

Please join me in praying for Meera’s family as they grieve the loss of Dr. R. Anantaraman, Retd. Professor of Anatomy at Madras Medical College.

Dr. R. Anantaraman is survived by his college sweetheart Tulasi, 4 children (and their spouses) Prem and Chitra, Neela and Baskar, Anoo and Parthi, Kumaran and Meera, many grand kids and a random girl that he met at a summer party.

Post notes from a student who knew Dr. RAR:

He came to the Anatomy department because he felt he could share his love for surgery by teaching surgical anatomy to young doctors (like me) who might live out his dream of becoming surgeons (like I did!)

I was his student. I benefited from his experience and knowledge. The last time I recall meeting him was when we left medical school, and had a farewell party to which all professors and teachers were invited. Since then, I lost touch with him.

– Student of Dr. RAR and Heart Surgeon

Remembering my Mother in Law – Girija Nagarajan

Long before I met her, I started hearing stories about her. About her sweet kozhhukattai and her savory kozhhukattai. About her special karthigi adai. About all the coconut pieces in the karthigi adai. About how she would wash all his clothes even after he had become an adult. About her love for jewelry. About how she dealt with all the problems life had thrown at her. About how she managed to deal with it all with a happy demeanor. About how he was her special kadai kutty (last born favorite child). About how much he couldn’t wait for me to meet her and get to know her.

I met her for the first time in Nov 2000 in her Tiruchy house on the day of our engagement. She was kind. She introduced me to all her neighbors and relatives. She proudly said to everybody “My daughter in law studied M.S. in U.S. But, she speaks with me in Tamil.”

Despite her severe arthritis, she walked a lot on our marriage day. She wanted to ensure everything went smoothly. After the marriage, Kumar and I spent a few days in her house. She showed me here favorite coconut tree. She wanted me to visit all her favorite temples. I did as she said. I brought her back prasadam and flowers from every single temple. She accompanied Kumar and me to the mandatory “newly-married-couples” visit to Vaideeswaran Temple. She told me to pray hard to get good kids.

When nobody was around, she whispered “Kumar is my kutty (little one). Please keep him happy. Feed him good food. I have trained all my boys to help their spouse. He will help you. Just ask him for help kindly.”

What brought me to tears was the following “I had a bad mother in law. She treated me badly. I don’t want to ever do that to my daughter in laws. Always, I will be your friend. You think of me as a friend too.”

I knew then where Kumar’s kindness came from. The apple doesn’t fall from the apple tree.

After our marriage, I got back to California. We would speak on the phone over the weekends. I soon realized, that the first question would be “What did you cook today?” First few weeks, I dreaded that question. Then, I realized there is no getting around it. I made it a point to cook something on the weekends. So, when she asked me the question, I was able to give her an honest answer.

She started sharing recipes with me. My head started spinning. I didn’t have the heart to tell her “Amma, my head is spinning. I don’t think I can do this.” I just noted everything down. I promised her that I would try it and report back next weekend.

She gave me sweet pongal recipe. I reported back “Amma, I don’t know why….but, the pongal was very hard.” She would laugh and say “Did you heat the rice and jaggery too much. Don’t do that. Just a little bit will do.”

She would tell me about all the soap operas she was watching. I thought my head was going to burst. But, she was the kind woman who bore my kind husband. So, I listened patiently. Kumar told her “Amma, she does not like soaps. She considers watching TV a crime. Please don’t bore her.” She could care less what Kumar said. Next weekend, over the phone, I would hear all the latest soap updates. Kumar would say “How can you be so patient with her and so impatient with me. Life is not fair!”

She was elated when she heard that I was pregnant. She was sure it was going to be a boy. She told me “Don’t work too hard. I know you like Rajinikant. I know you want to walk fast like him. But, please don’t do it. You are pregnant. Walk slowly. Eat good food. Drink water. Please don’t stare at the computer screen. Think good thoughts. My grandson is going to do great things. I already know it. “

Adi was her second grandchild. Her joy knew no bounds. But, she was so disappointed that she couldn’t hold him right after he was born. She was 10,000 miles away. She kept asking me “When will I see him? When will I hold him?”

Kumar and I planned to take Adi to visit her for his first birthday in July 2003. We kept sending her pictures. Then, suddenly in Nov 2002, her health worsened. We feared for her life. We didn’t want her to pass without holding her second grandchild. So, Kumar and I decided to make an emergency trip to India. Friends warned us “Don’t do it. Adi is not even 4 months old.” We did not heed their words. The trip was hard. But, we did it. Together.

We did not tell her we were going to visit her. We just showed up at her door step with Adi in Kumar’s hands. That day was probably one of the happiest days of her life. She immediately mobilized her entire family to take care of the baby. She made arrangements for the baby’s thuli (cradle) to be setup within a few minutes after we had entered her house. She stood beside the thuli. She didn’t move. She sang lullabys.

She hated it when Kumar and I tried to cover up Adi with a diaper. She made the rules in her household. No diaper under her watch. So, through out that trip Adi went diaper-less. I lost track of the number of times she helped me change his clothes every single time he peed (frequently and a lot!).

That trip was during the Tamil month of Karthigi. I got to taste her famous Karthigi adai. It was yummy. It had a lot of coconut pieces. Just like Kumar had described it to me years ago. She had me light lamps around the house for Karthigi.

She told me that Adi would bring Kumar and me closer. She said “Ambal, What you teach Adi is what he will carry with him for life. Teach good things. Work hard for him.”

She came to visit us in Jan 2004. She loved America. She loved the Golden Gate Bridge. She loved Muir Woods. She kept asking me “Ambal, how many years old are these redwood trees?!”

Couple of weeks after her arrival, she feel very sick and we had to admit her in the hospital. Those few days with her in the hospital were an eye-opening experience for me. She never complained. She never grimaced. Whenever any hospital folks came to see her in the room, she would say one of the few words she knew in English. It was either a cheery “Hello!” or a heartfelt “Thank you!”.

She was constantly making observations. “Ambal, this hospital looks very clean.” “Ambal, these doctors have such a warm personality.” “Ambal, that old doctor would make a good boyfriend to me. What do you think?”

Whenever I visited her in India, I got treated like royalty. She would ensure that I was always fed well. She lived with my sister-in-law whom both of us called Manni. Together, they would cook up a storm. She knew all my favorite dishes. “Manni, let us make beans osili for Ambal.” Then she would call her eldest son “Dey Kanna, don’t forget to buy fresh corn from the market. Let us make that in the evening for Ambal.” “Manni, today let us make bringal varavul (fry) for Ambal.” “Manni, today let us make poddi vengaya (small onion) aruchu vitta sambar for Ambal.”

Kumar became very jealous. He would say “I can’t believe this! You have used your “friend making magic wand” on your own mother-in-law. How could this be?”

Many years passed. She lost her husband in May 2007. I told her to come live with us for a few months. She said “No Ambal. I have to complete all the pujas for the departed soul for next one year. I will come later.”

Ari was born in August 2008. Exactly, 15 months after her husband had passed away. She was confident that my father-in-law’s soul had taken rebirth and come back to live with the family.

We went to India for Ari’s first birthday. She couldn’t be happier that Kumar and I decided to do exactly what we did for Adi. On both of their first birthday, we took the boys to her home. We did the first year puja in her home. She appreciated that very much. She knew it was expensive for us to fly back and forth from India to US. But, we did it. Because, we wanted to the boys to be with their family. To be where it all began.

She came to visit us in Fall 2009. We became very close that year.

She was a traditional South India lady. But, had a wild streak to her. She had always wanted to sport a “bob-cut”. But, she was too shy to ask her sons. She asked me, rather shyly “Should I get a bob-cut?” I said yes. She loved it. She was like a little girl. Excited. Anxious. She worried about what Kumar would think about her new hair-cut. He didn’t like it. But, I asked him to be supportive and to compliment her. He did. She was so happy to get his approval.

Due to her diabetes, I put her on a strict diet and urged her to walk. I became the strict parent. And, she became my obedient daughter. She followed my exercise rules…to the dot. On Fridays, she would ask “Ambal, I have been so good this entire week. Can you get me some onion rings? Or, how about some ice cream?”

She had to use a walker. And, she walked very slowly. I don’t know how…but, I grew patience that year. Kumar often said “You are so impatient. You want to talk fast and walk fast. Doesn’t her slowness bother you?” Yes, it did bother me. But, I also thought about the miles she must have had to walk as he raised Kumar. Then, my impatience vanished. Only patience prevailed.

So, she went everywhere I went. To drop Adi. To pick up Adi. To the store.

She loved shopping at Walmart. She loved stocking up at Costco. She loved checking out the Farmer’s Market.

That year, I got more than my share of recipes. She insisted I write them down. She said “I will be gone one day. I want you to have these recipes and cook delicious food for Adi and Ari. There is no food like a mom’s food.”

She didn’t like my strategic approach of “cook for 2-3 days and stock it in the fridge”. She thought it was an absolutely idiotic approach. She would cut fresh vegetables every day. My job was to cook as per her instructions. Initially, it was pure torture. I wanted to fill the trunk with all my books, get in the car and drive far away from home. But, I resisted that urge.

I decided to show up and just give it my best shot. I murmured a prayer every time I went near the kitchen “God, please give me patience. Please.”

Between my crazy work and home schedule, I learnt about frying lentils and grinding many types of powders for cooking. I learnt about the perfect way to make idiyappam. I slowly warmed up to the notion of cooking a fresh meal every day.

During the winter months, she huddled up in a warm coat and cap. Every night, just as she was ready to go to bed, I threw her blanket in the dryer for a few minutes. The blanket came out warm and toasty. I rushed to her bedroom with the warm blanket and tucked her in. She would be so happy as I tucked the blanket beneath her legs. With a gleam in her eyes, she would say “Thank you Ambal. Good night.”

She made friends will all my friends. Because, she couldn’t communicate in English, she would speak with my friends through sign language. She became friends with Adi’s piano teacher.

She would help Adi with his Tamil homework. She would say “Adi, listen to Amma. She is working so hard to teach you this Sanskrit sloka. She will be so happy once you learn it perfectly. Come here. Practice it with me.”

She did not like my constant running around. She would say “Ambal, come here. Sit down beside me. Eat slowly. Enjoy your dinner. No, I mean it. NOW! No getting up and running around.”

She did not like the fact that I got so absorbed in work that I would forgot to drink the coffee while it was still hot. She would say “Ambal, you remind me of my Appa. He never drank his coffee hot. He was absorbed with work….just like you. Why don’t you drink the coffee before it gets cold? Come here. Enjoy the coffee with me. It will only take a couple of minutes.”

Every evening, Adi and she played Uno. We called her the “+2 Queen”. Somehow, she ended up with +2s and +4s. She would dole them out, at the right time, with an evil grin.

She constantly inundated me with soap opera updates. “Ambal, he did this. She did this. They split. They got together. They had a child. The child left.”

She would make garlands for our Nataraja statue. My job was to pluck flowers from the backyard. She would tie them together. I had to get the garland from her hand and respectfully place it on Nataraja statue.

Adi and she loved to go to all the local parks. She loved Lake Elizabeth in Fremont.

I asked her “What do you like to do? Should I get you books from the library?” She told me about her long lost passion of embroidery and knitting. She said “Those days are gone. I don’t think I can do that now. Not with these arthritic hands.” Given the feminist I am, the word “knitting” was taboo. To me, it signified girly girl. But, I wanted to cheer her up. I told her nothing is impossible.

I went to the library. I brought home every single book that said knitting. Her face beamed. Because she didn’t read English, she didn’t understand the text in the books. But, she didn’t have to. She looked at all the pictures and admired them.

I worked up the courage. I decided to tread on grounds that I had never tread on before. I wheeled her wheel chair into the yarns section at Walmart.

She became a child in a candy store. She picked out yarn and knitting supplies. She came home and started knitting. She knit caps. She knit scarfs. She asked me to hand them out to my friends who had a special place in my heart. She instructed me clearly “Not to everybody. Just the special ones.”

Then, I took her to another store that I had never set foot in. Joann’s Fabric. More yarn. More colorful yarn. More caps. More scarfs. More handing out to special people.

Kumar and me started discussing moving to San Ramon. She said “Why do we have to move? Let us stay here. All our friends are here. Good schools in San Ramon?! What do you mean good school district? My grandson is smart. We don’t need good schools. He is already good.”

She wanted me to take cuttings of all the rose plants from our Fremont house. She insisted I take many cuttings from our special pink rose plant. She said “Remember, that plant is from the rose bouquet that Kumar gave you for the very First Valentines Day you celebrated in this Fremont house. We can’t leave this plant behind.” She helped me plant them in our San Ramon house.

She helped me pack for the move from our Fremont house to the San Ramon house. She woke up on the morning of our house warming puja. She made pongal. She instructed me on how to boil the milk for the puja. She told me to light the lamps.

She liked the San Ramon house. But, her favorite was the Fremont house. She said there were too many good memories there.

I started training for Mt. Whitney in Spring 2010. She did not like one bit of my constant chatter about how I was going to conquer Mt. Whitney. She said “Don’t go. Why are you stressing your body?”. Then, she suffered through more of my constant chatter about Mt. Whitney. She became curious. She started asking questions “Ambal, when you are at the peak, will the clouds be beneath you or above you?” That is when I knew I had hooked her. As much as she hated my hiking, she wanted me to scale that peak.

In June 2010, she left to India with Adi and Kumar. The house felt empty. There was nobody to nag me to drink the hot coffee. There was nobody to ask me to sit down and enjoy my dinner. Joann’s Fabric became “No Ambal’s land” again.

She would ask me “How are the plants doing? Are you watering the banana plant regularly? How is that pink rose plant doing?”

I visited her in August 2010 in her home. We did our usual temple tours. She told me ancestor stories. We went to Kal Anni (Stone Dam) in Tiruchy. We visited her extended family.

She found every opportunity to brag about Adi. “My grandson. He speaks very good Tamil. He is born in America. But, he knows a lot about our tradition. He can recite more Sanskrit slokas than all of you.”

She bragged like it was nobody’s business “Yes! Why don’t you serve him vathza kozhambu (South Indian curry) in vazhai illai (banana leaf)? He will eat it like a typical Tamil boy. Try it.”

As I was getting ready to leave, she said “Ambal, I know you don’t like jewelry. So, I am going to give you something that is far more worth than my jewelry. Take all my Golu dolls. Some of them have been in our family for many decades. Take them. I know you will appreciate them. I know you will hold on to them. Keep them in Golu this year and invite all your friends.”

I explained to her that I won’t be able to take all of her Golu dolls due to baggage restrictions. She still urged me to look through them. They were so beautiful. They were made out of mud. But, they were precious. She had a story for each one of them. About who had given the dolls to her. About where she had bought some dolls. I picked a few and asked Kumar to pack them securely.

We drove back from Tiruchi to Madras. The driver dropped me off at my parent’s place and drove away with her. She waved good bye and told me to take care of the three boys. That is the last time I saw her in person.

I sent her 100s of pictures of her Golu dolls after Navarathri 2010 passed. She was so happy to see the pictures and here all my Golu updates. She told me “My Golu dolls have found their right home. Now, it is your turn. Raise Adi well. Make sure you pass on these dolls to his wife.”

In April 2012, she fell very ill. Kumar rushed back to India to help and nurse her back to health. She enjoyed that time with him. But, she worried about how I was going to take care of the kids without him.

Today, the inevitable happened.

I did not want to believe my ears. She had been sick before and she had come out of it every single time.

So, no. It can’t be it. There should be a pulse on her. She must be breathing. How could she not be breathing?

Then, it slowly dawned on me.

The person who gave me my most wonderful husband was no more. She passed away. She had passed away peacefully in her sleep.

She had just turned 70 last month. But, she had decided to leave us. She left me with her kadai kutty Kumar.

How am I going to shower the love she showered on him? How can I deal with this? How can I?

Who is going to remind me to drink my coffee hot.

Who is going to ask me “What did you cook today?”

Who is going to tell me “Be kind to Adi. He is yours. And he is mine.”?

Who is going to bore me to death with details about the latest soap operas?

Who is going to torture me with never ending cooking recipes?

Who is going to tell me how to raise the boys?

Who is going to make the osili that I love?

Can I tell her how much I appreciate the wonderful gift (her kadai kutty) she had blessed me with?

Can I eat her karthigi adai one more time?

Can I have her back?

Can I?

I want to be like her.

I want to smile through this adversity.

I want to smile through this curve ball life has thrown me.

But, I can’t. There is no stopping these tears. I want to follow her advice and think good thoughts. Think happy thoughts.

I can hear her voice –

“Ambal, Keep the good memories. Just the good ones.”

Help me say good bye to my most beloved mother-in-law and friend Girija Nagarajan.

And, keep the good memories. That is what she would want us to do.