My first English teacher, she is. My words, I owe her.
She taught me to be independent. She taught me to be brave. She taught me to stay committed. She taught me to take the right path, however difficult. Her name, ‘Sathyam’ which means truth. Truthful just like her
Mom. Amma as I address her.
Born and brought up in a small town in Kerala, she went to a convent school. She went on to become a B.Sc., B.Ed. while her cousins were all married and ‘settled’ with two or three children by the age of twenty. She got married to Achan (my father) immediately after joining B.Ed. and they stayed apart for a year so she could complete her course.
A year after she joined Achan, she was selected as a Primary School Teacher in a Government Aided School in the NCT of Delhi, but all of five weeks I was present in her womb when the medical test was conducted. In short, she lost two years of service because of me. She joined the school when I was one (thirty-five years ago) and continues to teach hundreds of students every year.
She meets many of her ex-students at various functions or at the temple and she makes it a point to remember their name and some of the incidents associated with their childhood. Initially, every single time someone came up and touched her feet, we felt awkward. We felt awkward because we didn’t realize the importance of a teacher in a student’s life. We felt awkward because we felt insecure. Amma has always addressed her students as ‘ente makkal’ which translates to ‘my children’. As kids, we were always annoyed with this expression. But she never changed it. A toffee we were sure to get only if she had decided to distribute a packet in her class.
For a major part of our childhood we were brought up by Amma single-handedly as Achan had taken up a foreign assignment which stretched over a decade. She was strict, yet convincing. She loved me, but rarely expressed. She cared for, but I never understood. With my cousin brother, my uncle and my aunt staying with us for years and my ever-cranky and always ill little sis, Amma never had much time for me. Or she thought I was old enough and I understood. I loved summer vacations, but only the train journey. During the journey, she was my mother. She would share stories from her childhood, from our childhood. She would share life lessons her big girl must know. She would talk to me endlessly. Once she was in Kerala, she would mostly be busy attending my bed-ridden grandmother and preparing her ayurvedic medicines or taking us to various relatives.
Recently, I had a conversation with my sis about Amma and she started laughing. I told her that I still am not clear if I connect with Amma the way I should. I told her how I never got a chance because of her (sis) clinging on to Amma for everything all her life. I told her how I disliked one of my aunts for not even letting me sleep next to mom after Achan’s posting abroad. I don’t know if she ever realized, but I missed Amma more than Achan even though she was physically present. And maybe that’s why I never spoke to her about my decision to marry the person I loved. She was the silent spectator of my discussions with Dad regarding the love of my life. I never thought it appropriate to go and talk to her about any of my problems. At times I wonder why I never wrote a letter to her just like I wrote to Achan.
Even with all this imaginary distance, it is from her that I learnt most of life’s important lessons. Like,
- Why we must learn to forgive and forget.
- Why it is important to let go of your ego to maintain relationships.
- Why we must not procrastinate.
- How to fearlessly accept your mistake and apologise.
- When to stand up for yourself and others.
- Doing what you love to do irrespective of what others think of you.
- How to remain content with what we have and not fall for competition.
My grandparents died. Amma and Achan have helped all their siblings settle down. I got married. My sister got married and settled abroad. Most of her responsibilities have been taken care of. Now, she has all the time in the world for me. But I have a family to attend to. I have my in-laws to take care of too. Many a times I do not give her enough time. And at these times, I realize why she couldn’t give me much time when I was young. She never complains. But I do feel bad for her. She calls me at least ten to fifteen times a day and the questions are repetitive.
“How are you?”
“What are you doing?”
“How is your husband?”
“How are the children?”
“What are they doing?”
All she wants to know is that we are fine.
Sometimes I do not answer her call. Not deliberately. But because I’m busy preparing breakfast or I’m busy teaching the girls for their exams or I’m busy cleaning the house. Sometimes I get irritated because of my anxiety disorder and my husband has to bring me back to senses. And at night, when everyone has slept and everything has been taken care of, I think. I think and I regret. Sometimes I silently weep. Wasn’t this the time I had waited all my life for? Wasn’t this what I missed all my life? And now how am I treating her? I wish she understands. I wish she forgives me. I wish I speak to her about it someday.
Love you lots, Amma!
I hope to spend some good time with her as she retires this September after 36 years of dedicated service as an educator.