Not just my mother… my teacher too 01/06/2011

My mother, Leelavathi, was the third child in a large family of three brothers and four sisters. Her father, a government employee, was a strict disciplinarian. She was still in her 7th grade when she was married off at 13. Despite studying in Telugu medium, our mother tongue, my mother picked up English out of sheer interest and love for the language, and read the novels of Pearl S. Buck and Rabindranath Tagore, among several writers. She related these stories to me and my two elder brothers. However busy she was with her routine — of cooking three meals a day, keeping the house spic and span, performing daily prayers — she would never miss reading the newspaper. The time she normally kept aside for her ‘indulgence’ was before siesta, the only time she had for herself, she would say. I would often find her dozing off in an easy chair with the newspaper lying on her face. I would gently remove the paper and her spectacles without disturbing her.

She was well informed of worldly affairs and she enjoyed discussing them with us as well as with visitors who regularly dropped by. Though an opinionated person on men and matters, she would patiently listen to others who tried to convince her but rarely would she concede their point. She had strong likes and dislikes and was never the one to suffer fools or entertain hypocrites. She was brutally frank and outspoken, a quality very few understood or appreciated in her. The positive way of looking at it, I thought, was a total absence of hypocrisy in her. She had a particular dislike for snobs and the vain who were status conscious and were condescending in their manner. She tried to keep them at arm’s length though and didn’t avoid them completely for the sake of civility.

An orthodox woman, my mother wore a nine-yard sari in the traditional way, carried her four feet eight inches with dignity and was light on her feet. She was efficient and brisk in whatever she did. She would prepare breakfast and lunch by 8 a.m. (cooking on a charcoal oven) and all of us (with the exception of my father who would come home for lunch) leave home with our lunch boxes and return in the evening by which time she would be ready with some home-made snacks for us.

My mother believed in practising what she often advised us — make do with whatever you have, never ever borrow anything from anyone, be it money or an item which you run out of in the kitchen. She believed in cooking for the family all by herself and never considered it a chore. She maintained good health all through her 68 years, and rarely fell sick. But even when she did, she would still prepare food for us and then rest for a while. Probably, it was by sheer willpower she managed to do so.

“As far as possible don’t make it a habit of buying clothes or jewellery by paying in instalments. Save a little from your earnings and pay the entire amount at one go which will leave you with peace of mind” she would advise. She herself had a very sparse collection of expensive saris and very little jewellery as my father earned enough for us to lead a life of comfort, not luxury. Our wants were limited and we were taught not to keep up with the Joneses (our well-to-do relatives and friends). My mother had to necessarily repeat wearing the same sari on formal occasions, be it at a wedding or a party she would attend with my father. Sometimes, she would face embarrassing queries and sarcastic comments from the well-to-do but who were not necessarily well mannered. She would either smile in response or say “I like this sari very much, that’s why I wear it often.”

The other thing I learnt from my mother and which she practised herself was the value of relationships, keeping in touch with our close relatives and extending a helping hand when it is sought.

My mother would welcome whoever visited us — relatives, acquaintances or friends — with a smile and would never let them leave without enjoying her hospitality. If they called on us during our lunch or dinner time, she would invariably ask them to join us (there was always food for an unexpected guest).

She advised me to spend my time productively and not indulge in gossip of any sort. “It will only spoil relationships and earn you a bad name in the process” would be her refrain.

N Meera Raghavendra Rao

Published in The Hindu, Open Page, May 08, 2011

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11 thoughts on “Not just my mother… my teacher too 01/06/2011

  1. May be that’s the reason for the overwhelming response (more than 70 emails and 25 phone calls, some were very touching) I received for the article.Incidentally Keshav’s illustration captures the essence of the story, true to the saying ‘a picture speaks 1000 words!All credit to the artist.

  2. Kerri Fenton

    Dear Meera,
    Congratulations on being published in The Hindu; I cannot imagine a more beautiful way to honor a mother than through the power of eloquent and wise words. I felt humbled to listen to the simple yet important lessons you referenced such as not indulging in gossip, not “keeping up with the Joneses” :), and more; these are values that I continually have to remind myself to abide by. Also the images you include such as your mother asleep in her easy chair with the paper lying on her face speak volumes to her hard-working and intelligent character.

    When you referenced the power of relationships, it very much reminded me of my stay in India and the generosity of all those that I came into contact with. 🙂 It is comforting to know that despite all the negative articles posted in the paper on war and hatred, an article with such insight and morality shines beside. Thank you so much for thinking of me; I always love reading your writing.

    Your Friend and Fan,
    Kerri

  3. A Muralidharan

    Dear Madam
    It reminded me of my mother only. Whatever you have written about your mother squarely applies to my mother also including the nine yards saree and the only exception is that our family during my younger days i.e., in school days was not that much affluent to have breakfast and lunch. We used to go directly for our lunch i.e., either break fast (a combination of meals and break fast) or lunch as the case may be. Now I really feel my mother and father is not there to see her children are well settled and this thinking has made me to provide help to people who are really in need and this
    probably has made me not to go after money but value the relationship. I thought I could share my feelings. I hope you will not mind this. When I read your articles all these things came to my mind.
    Very nice article.

    A Muralidharan

  4. TSK

    Dear Mrs Rao:
    I read your excellently written article when I was in a flight.
    Very emotional /Very heartmoving.
    Congrats/best wishes
    TSK

  5. Jyothi

    Hello Meera,

    Written…”direct dil se”..that’s why it is so readable…sure your mom would be proud of you, today

    Best Wishes,
    Jyothi

  6. R Pankajam Sitharam

    I am 78,and a practising gynaecologist.My beloved mother would have been 108 years old had she been alive today.When I read your article “NOT JUST MY MOTHER…MY TEACHER TOO” I was overcome with nostalgia and shed tears.Every word,every sentence you have written about your mother,every advice every value she passed on to you applies to my mother too. It is a pity that I don’t have a talent to write articles .I immensely enjoyed your write up about your mother
    yours truly,
    R.Pankajam Sitharam

  7. Chitra

    I enjoyed your article. It was racy and full of emotion. I am sure that is what tugged at the heartstrings of your ‘fans’.
    It was wonderful seeing you and Mr Rao at the function this morning. Let’s stay in touch.
    Regards,
    Chitra

  8. AMRUTHA

    Hi mam,

    This is amrutha, D/o Mathura shreenivassan,

    I read your article which was really good. your mom might be the role model for the women.
    I have learnt from this article that how to be so simple and dedicated to family members and also hospitality. It was really amazing to read this article.. The way you portray about your mom was just awesome..

  9. B.S.Raghavan

    Meera, I read your touching snapshot of your mother, Leelavathi. You have done well to celebrate your good fortune in having a divine gift like your mother bestowed on you. I jet-read many of the other pieces also. Your flair for building instant rapport through the spontaneity and elegant style of your compositions is remarkable. May your tribe increase!
    B.S.Raghavan

    1. Thanks a ton Mr.B.S.Raghavan for the nice words. I deem it an honour to receive such rich compliments from a person of your stature — a former bureaucrat, well known author and a columnist of a business daily.

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