One does not have to look far from self or home to find inspiring stories. Stories of hope, faith, kindness and joy are all around us. As a person who has worked and travelled around the world, there is no dearth of stories to share and I actually find it difficult to choose one story or one person to write about.
I’ve seen people around me who inspire me day in and day out –
- My father, a man who had no one to guide him and yet he studied engineering and started with a salary of Rs.100 with just two sets of work clothes nearly 50 years ago and now retired from a senior position in a public sector company.
- My son who struggles with his allergies, who unlike other children his age can’t go to birthday parties or functions of any kind without worrying if it is safe for him to do so.
- My mother who was brought up by her father as his pet daughter and who had to struggle when she got married but went through everything and did the best she can.
- The mother of a friend, who has battled breast cancer and yet has a permanent smile stuck to her face, in spite of what she has gone through.
- The maid who walked out of her house with two children because her husband had an affair with her maid and brought her kids up and got them married with her hard work.
- My grandmother who had diabetes, blood pressure, stroke, breast cancer, had lost her speech and mobility and yet refused to give up on life.
- My grandfather, a self-made man, who was fluent in three languages and had his own taxi.
- My cousin who has cerebral palsy yet he went to a regular school and passed every single class till 12th in the first attempt and now works for himself.
- The friend who has struggled through a rough marriage just because she didn’t want her children to grow up without a father.
- The girl who lost her parents and got separated from her siblings because of communal violence and later on searched and found two out of her three siblings and who now lives with them happily.
- The man who was a senior guy in the Bus company who drove the bus when there were no other drivers for the sake of special children.
Too many to mention and yet when someone talks about someone who has inspired me, the first person that comes to my mind is this beautiful woman, let’s call her Shanti amma.
I met Shanti amma about 15 – 20 years ago and met her on and off for a short while before life took me to other places around the world. I was impressed with her when I heard about her and later on the confident voice of hers on the telephone made me wonder about her and when I met her, I actually fell in love with her personality.
Shanti amma must be as old as my father or maybe even older. Let us say she is now in her seventies. Twenty years ago when I saw her she looked like she was in her late fifties, though mentally as a twenty-something-year-old, I could relate to her better than most of the people around me. Maybe she was younger but what she gone through in life had made her look much older than she was. To add to that was the way she had dressed up. She was in a simple cotton saree, with a white blouse and no jewellery. I could actually think of her more as my grandmother’s age than my mother’s age.
This following story is from what I know about her, and what I had heard about her from her relatives. Shanti amma had never once opened her mouth to speak anything about her past to me. Shanti amma was born in an orthodox family in South Tamilnadu. As was the norm in those days, girls weren’t sent to school and she was no exception. She stayed at home with her mother and learnt to manage her home. Soon when she was at an age when she had to be married off, the parents found the right suitor and got her married off to the oldest son in a big family. Shanti amma’s new home was not very different to her parent’s home. It was a joint family and she being the wonderful person she is, easily blended into the family, taking care of her husband, helping her in-laws, and even being a good sister-in-law to her husband’s younger siblings. She was loved by all for her soft and loving nature.
Life was smooth and nice, she bore two sons and the sons grew up in the house like all other children, taken care of by the family of loving parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. She was four months pregnant with her third son when bad luck struck her. Her husband passed away all of a sudden. He left home as usual in the morning and no one expected things to change. It was the day beforePongal/Sankranthi and it was a festive mood everywhere.
Shanti amma was completely lost. She had never stepped out of the house or done anything on her own before. How was she going to manage her life now? How was she going to bring up her three children? She was worried about the unborn child. What will happen to her life? In just one minute, her happy life had turned upside down.
In those days, widow remarriage was unheard of. She was not sure whether to go back to her parents’ house or continue to stay with her in-laws.
At this stage, her father-in-law took over. The two children and the third son who was born a few months later were taken care of. They were put in schools, educated and after they finished schooling they were sent for higher studies. Shanthi amma never once had to step out of the house to do anything till her sons grew up, finished studies and started working. Her children were taken over by the rest of her family. She had lost her husband, the one man that meant the most to her and she lost control of her children too because the children did not spend time exclusively with her. She and her children were a part of a big family and no one had time to spend exclusively with the other.
By then a lot of things had changed in the world around her – both inside and outside the house. Soon, two out of the three sons got married, the in-laws passed away, her husband’s siblings moved away and now she was alone. She decided to move with her sons, probably in years or even decades she hadn’t gone beyond the four walls of the house, forget leaving the small town that she was in.
I met her around the time her third son was getting married. For a woman who was housebound for so many years, she seemed to be a very pleasant, friendly and outgoing lady. I noticed that there were other people in the family who were educated, who had travelled around but were very orthodox, where as she was unperturbed. She just seemed to take everything in her stride. The inter-caste love marriage of her third son, the attitudes shown by other women in the family, the way she was the odd one out even in the way she dressed– nothing seemed to stop her being her cheerful self.
While the rest of the family was telling the city bred new daughter-in- law what to do, she just went to her and said, take off, just go out and enjoy, go for a movie with my son, go to the waterfall, take spare clothes, play in the water, enjoy yourself and I will take care of everything in the house, do the laundry, cook food and get it all ready, you just go an enjoy! I was flabbergasted, a lady that was in a house where she wasn’t even allowed to get out being so generous, that is awesome!
I didn’t get to see much of her after that. The one time I saw her in Bombay it was like seeing a little child, she was on the train with us, eating bhel with the enthusiasm of a 5 year old. I would have loved to spend more time with her but unfortunately that was the last time I met her, though I do keep hearing about her once in a few months.
Supposedly the third son’s wedding ended up in a divorce and she supported her daughter-in-law all the way. She would have been a cool mother-in-law to have!
The last I heard of her was that she is with her sons and now at this age, has learnt to relax. She has handed over all her responsibilities to her daughters-in-law. Her oldest granddaughter is now married and the beautiful lady is being a wonderful guide to her too.
Whenever I ask about Shanthi amma people have always told me that she was happy and cheerful with whichever son she was, didn’t matter how the daughter-in-law treated her and how the rest of the family saw her. She was always attached to her children but never overbearing. She always helped people around, never said a bad word about any one, never gossiped, and even if anyone got angry with her, she would just smile at them and move away.
To be a woman like this, to live in a house which was like a prison and not hold any grudge against anybody and be nice and pleasant and open to new thoughts and ideas is something that we come across on a day to day basis. Three cheers to this wonderful woman and may she live for many more years to come and guide and bless the next generation too.
* Image courtesy – Google Images