My great grandmother Paravathavardhini Thayar was a unique person. Her attention to detail, interest in keeping things spic and span were second to none. She was the daughter of Rajagopal Chettiar and Thayarammal of Karur. They were known as ' Peedha inti vallu ' meaning big house people. Her brothers were Viswanathan, Ramachandran and Krishnamurthy (Kichi). She was married off to my great grandfather S.N. Padmanabha Chetty of Salem at an early age and they were blessed with Ramanathan, Vitto Bai, Lalitha Bai (my paternal grandmother) and Subhadra.
Great grandfather was the founder of Gopala Padma Vilas ( Salem, Tamilnadu ) and his partner happened to be Jayagopal Chettiar. The two of them enjoyed a great partnership all their life. S.N.Padmanabha Chetty ( SNP ) was a noble and devout person. He was a true Dharmic Hindu and great granny was his able companion for life. While great grandfather was very fair, great granny was quite dark complexioned. However they made a very good couple. Both of them were made for each other. Great grandfather had worked very hard to move ahead in life. He used to move about with textile goods on a cycle during the early days of his career. His hard work yielded good results and he became a very successful entrepreneur.
My great granny was an excellent cook. She made tasty food for her family. Her love and affection towards small children was legendary. She used to make crisp ghee dosas and these would be filled with the best coconut chutney possible. My granny Lalitha Bai had inherited these traits from her. She was suffering from asthma like her mother. Great granny would recite Thiruppavai, Sri Lalitha Sahasranamam and Sri Vishnu Sahasranamam every day. " Thatha was an energetic person and a bit short tempered. But granny was a kind, calm and composed person. She was extremely level headed. The care that she gave thatha was exemplary. He had been sick for some years and was confined to one spot. She would sleep on the ground right next to him everyday. His needs were completely addressed by her with patience, " recalled my uncle R.Srinivasan, the daughter of my grand aunt Subhadra.
Great granny used to take very good care of her grandchildren during their summer visits. She would work along with the cooks in order to make the best stuff for break fast, lunch and dinner. " We would get some nice nungu by 11 AM in the morning and ice cream by about 4 PM. The sundays would be for a visit to circle eri with all of us. It would just be our grandparents and the twelve grandchildren. Summer was the time to celebrate Chithra Pournami and granny would be kalannalu ( flavoured rice ) for all of us. We would have it on the terrace. She used give chethi kadilu ( sharing small bites with her hand ). Pongal would be colourful for she would fill up the terrace with kolams and rangoli. Diwalis would be full of noise for me. Granny would wait with and we would burst crackers all light. Her asthma never deterred her. Crackers worth Rs.1000 would be spent in order to purchase crackers those days, " added uncle R.Srinivasan.
The devout lady had made her grand children write ' Sri Rama Jayam ' during the summer holidays and a crore names thus collected were sent to the Bhadrachalam Rama Temple. She took care of her mother very well. Food was sent my great great granny by my great granny. But the mother would never interfere in the affairs of her daughter ever. Visitors who included relatives would never return empty handed. Daughters and grand children would always get some gift or the other from her during their visits. She would always conjure up something. My granny told me that her mother wanted to outlive her father in order to serve him medically.
Great granny gave shares of Karur Vysya Bank to all her kids. Her father had been among the founder shareholders of this hundred plus year old bank. I was fortunate to assist my own granny to increase her holdings by regularly applying for shares in this bank during the rights issues over the years. Great granny was very fond of me and my brother Suresh. We used to visit her during our summer holidays. We would be pampered with nice cold rose milk, snacks and gifts. Her heavy breathing would be audible to us but her grit was simply great.
She had stayed in our Trichy Road residence a couple of times and her long stays gave her great joy. We would never want her to leave our house ever. She used to tell us stories and motivate us. Her nights were lonely in her later years. Brother Ramachandran would give her company. She used to call out to all the Gods in the pooja altar aloud before going to bed. They would be requested to give her protection. I remember my granny and great granny talking about their visit to Kanchipuram for having a darshan of Athi Varadar in the year 1939. This deity would be brought out only once in forty years.
My brother and myself would sing in front of her and she would listen to us attentively. Great grand father had made his daughters learn Carnatic Music and veena. His daughter played very well. My elder grand aunt Vitto Bai would play the Soundarya Lahiri often on the veena. Great granny had delivered most of her grand children at the family residence. She would tie curtains, provide privacy and take care of the child birth. She would thereafter look after the kids very well. My granny Lalitha Bai would never lift the child until its head got fixed. Therefore great granny would provide the required support to her.
Great granny wore a huge pair of diamond ear rings and nose pins. She would wear a number of chains and bangles everyday. her diamond haram was solid. My grand mother got a part of it after her times. It was known as ' Chinna Haram ' at home. The bigger one with granny was known as ' Pedda Haram '. Great granny and great grandfather ensured that their daughter in law R.Lakshmi Bai was given due respect at home. The daughter in law enjoyed enormous freedom and she was also keen to keep the premises clean and neat.
Most of the books belonging to great grand father were given away to a library after his passing away. I was lucky to get an old copy of the book ' Sethu and Rameswaram ' by Vanamamalai Pillai ( published in the year 1929 ) from her. The book stayed on and was later re published due to the efforts of Dr.Nandita Krishna of CPR Foundation, Chennai. I was requested to write the foreword for the book. It was released by Swami Dayananda Saraswathi and received by Dr. Subramaniam Swamy. I got this oppourtunity because of her. Great granny was very fond of my father Govindarajulu and mother Aravindakumari.
Great granny was deeply spiritual and she followed all the processes prescribed religiously. Her lovely pooja room had been made with tiles containing images of Gods. It was like a shelf with doors. The tiles are still preserved by the current owners of the property ANS Kumbakonam Jewellers. Great granny used solid silver plates and other utensils at home. She had made silver items required for the house warming ceremony of each of the daughters and they were solid pieces. The silver kudam ( pitcher ) given to my granny was solid and we would use it during the times of pongal.
The huge gold waist chain of my great grand father, the huge navaratna mala belonging to him are still in my mind. However I have been fortunate to understand that their legacy is more important than these items. Great granny and great grand father celebrated several occasions. The Sashtiabha Poorthy ( completion of 60 years ) and Bheema Ratha Shanthi ( coompletion of 70 years were celebrated with great pomp and splendour. They ensured that the requisite poojas and rituals were not left out. My grand parents accompanied my great grand parents for a big tour of the country by train. They visited Kasi, Gaya, Prayag, Kashmir, Mathura among other places. The trip took about two months and my aunt Nirmala had accompanied them as a child.
My grandmother Lalitha Bai used to recall an interesting incident which took place during this trip. They had all been forced to wait in a bus while going to Badrinath. The bus had developed complications and stopped. The entire party were waiting in the bus and few of them went off to sleep. Both my great granny and granny had a similar dream. Lord Krishna had guided them through this issue in the dream by providing a solution. He had come in the form of a shepherd. On getting up from their sleep they were surprised to learn that a real shepherd had come over to help them. The problem with the bus had been sorted out. Both the mother and daughter considered themselves to have been truly blessed for having been blessed with a vision of Lord Krishna.
Great granny lived healthy all her life and she did not suffer or have to endure any form of illness in her old age. Her courage, love for people, good nature, value system, morals and principles made her a great lady. She was a true Grihini. Her life and times will continue to inspire our family during the times to come.
Mr. Rajesh Govindarajulu is one of the founding members of The Verandah Club Pvt. Ltd. He is a leading columnist, historian, jeweler, entrepreneur, and a heritage enthusiast who is earnestly working to revive the past in the light of the present. Experiential learning about the history of Coimbatore is his main course of interest and he is also a panel member of many colleges in the city.
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