Over the years of my writing journey I have written a lot about my Appa. His life and philosophy are the foundations on which I built my life and the way I choose to live it.
The unexpected side effect of having a larger than life father is only dawning on me now, after so many years. My parents shared a loving and equal marriage of partnership and mutual respect. Their love was evident to us daughters in many ways. My mother lived her life under the very large and imposing shadow cast by my father. She was quite happy to stay on the sidelines and support him in whatever ways she could.
If I think of how much I interacted with them as parents, my maximum interaction was always with my father. My mother was too busy managing a household consisting of her mother (for a few years), her mother-in-law, her husband and five daughters. It’s no wonder that she didn’t have the time to slow down and emotionally experience life.
Amma has always been a woman of very few words. She will not carry a conversation on more than a few minutes. Gossip and banter don’t feature in her life. Her friends were very few and far between, having no time when we were younger for a social life.
She has her ways of expressing affection but it shows up in the most unexpected and unconventional ways!
Over the years, Amma settled into a much calmer and grounded person as her body slowed down with age. She was always physically strong. She visited hospitals only to deliver her daughters and it was only much later in life that she contracted osteo-arthritis and then diabetes. In the past few years she is also suffering from Parkinson’s disease.
But the one word that represents my Amma more than anything else is her stoic nature. She has seen many ups and downs in life but through it all she has always been the calming influence. As her health declined, her stoicism only increased.
She has always lived a simple and low maintenance life with not too many needs or wants. It has reached the point that if I have to think of what I’d like to buy and take for my Amma when I travel, the only thing that lights up her eyes these days are fresh green apples.
Around a year ago, Amma lost her balance and broke her thigh bone. She was in a critical condition and completely bedridden with no sense of time or place. With the support of great doctors, nurses and caretakers, she managed to rally and come out of it to a large extent and she is currently able to walk and manage her day to day activities – but with help from her nurse and caretakers.
Parkinson’s though is a degenerative disease and it has been slowing her down physically as well as mentally. Since the past few months when we sisters gather with Amma on our weekly video calls, many a time we don’t even understand her words as her vocal muscles are also beginning to get impacted by the disease.
If you speak to her caretakers she is the ideal patient anyone could hope to take care of. She rarely shows signs of being uncomfortable or in pain and the times she does say anything it is just a statement of fact, with no emotion or annoyance attached.
Seeing her take Parkinson’s as well in her stride for the past few years, it was an utter and total shock to me when my sister told me that Amma asked to speak to her younger sister who stays in Chennai. She is Amma’s only surviving sibling.
When my aunt came on the line, my Amma who has never uttered a single word of complaint since she contracted Parkinson’s completely broke down. She told my aunt that she was finding it extremely difficult to do even the most basic of actions and that she was tired of it all.
That incident has shaken me up more than anything else could. I am so used to taking things as a matter-of -fact where Amma is concerned because of how she calmly goes about handling herself that not once did I stop to think all these years as to how she must feel as Parkinson’s takes away muscle function by muscle function, memory by memory, thought by thought. This phone call she made spoke volumes to me about her struggle than anything else until date did.
It also made me realise Amma has a story to tell just like Appa did. It is not a story of glory and achievement and inspiration. But in her own way, Amma had to overcome many challenges in her life.
Amma, the immigrant from Kallidaikurichi
Amma, the wife who had to manage a household of young kids for 6 months a year in an alien city with no knowledge of any other language but Tamil because my father was travelling for business half of the year
Amma, the mother who probably suffered from post partum depression but had neither the means nor the time to articulate it
Amma, the socially awkward neighbour who didn’t identify with most of our other neighbours because she had nothing in common with them
Every one of these facets of my Amma are as important to write about as the stories surrounding my Appa
To my disappointment, Amma can no longer help me tell these stories. Increasingly though, her life runs in front of my eyes like a movie reel, demanding that I start writing about her.
The words I’ve penned today are a small beginning in that direction.