My mother-in-law came and stayed with us for a couple of weeks in March, just before we moved out of Bangalore and in the twenty four years I have known her, this time I felt she has lost a lot of her vitality. My mom-in-law has had every adversity thrown at her and she just took them in her stride and mocked adversity !! The only word that came to my mind when I met her for the first time in April 1990 was “vital” – she had what today you would call spunk, a ready laugh, and all the guts in the world. She has a sharp wit and a sharp tongue, probably the only negative in someone who just radiates positivity. I love her and admire her and I am more her daughter than my mother’s. My mother has her virtues but just the style in which my mom-in-law has lived her life is my style – “bindaas”. I don’t speak to her for weeks, but I think of her everyday just as I know I am in her thoughts and prayers everyday.
She had so many constraints – losing her mother when she was very young, managing her younger sisters and brother, getting married into a large and not-so-well to do family, losing a baby daughter, living in orthodoxy and following the austere traditions, taking care of her mother-in-law and sisters-in-law, bringing up three boys, one of whom was a handful (yes, Krishnan), and all this on a shoe string budget – anyone who thinks they have troubles, just read the above paragraph !! If that was not enough, losing her eldest son in the prime of his life … Just when financially things were turning around. Many would have been broken, she did break, but she is also made of sterner stuff.. She managed to live through it, lost her health but not her spirit. Then Krishnan and I got married – she took me to her heart without any hesitation, taught me how to cook, how to manage a house and yes we had moments when I said something hurtful or she said something hurtful, but the fact that neither she nor I can remember any of it means they didn’t matter. And then we gave her grief as we lost money in business and had to move out of Chennai and try and make a go of it. There never was a day that she and my father-in-law did not stand behind us solidly and had complete confidence that we will overcome this adversity too and we did.
Krishnan and my father’s great relationship soured a little during this phase and again it was my mother-in-law who pushed him to reach out and re-establish the connect because she knew dad was a good man and for him, I was his whole life. Dad did reach out himself, apologized and Krishnan and his relationship went back to normal, so much so that when he was in the hospital many people thought Krishnan was his son and I was the daughter-in-law !!
My father-in-law passed away in 2000 and that’s when the first signs of my mom-in-law losing her vitality were felt … She still washed her clothes herself, cooked food for Nachi, Kousalya and ofcourse her grandson Dhanush, made yearly trips to be with us and nothing much slowed down. Then in 2006, we went by road to Mcleodganj and for the first time I realised how much she had slowed down, when she got off the car and started moving backwards rather than forward 🙁 And then the train trips became difficult. Sitting for long hours became difficult. Slowly the decline in health set in. When she came in 2013 to Bangalore, I almost cried as she stepped off the train – as she couldn’t bear Krishnan holding her arm as it was painful for her and she just held onto the two of us and slowly got off.
This post is not about her health … As she says every time we ask her how she is feeling “As I should at this age” :):). This post is to celebrate a very special woman, who just happens to be my mother-in-law. I meant to write this for a long time with the intent of exploring how growing old brings three challenges – debility, insecurity and irrelevance. And in my mother-in-law’s case all three have an impact – her health does not permit her to live the way she likes, cook and do things for others, some sense of insecurity creeped in when my father-in-law passed away because the regular income stopped and now at times she fights the fact that her era has passed on and we live in a different world where some of her solutions may not be relevant.
I keep saying that we should live life the way we want … But when I rewind my mom-in-law’s life, she just had one challenge after the other with no time to think about herself and what she wanted to do in life. Her whole life has been about helping others – bringing up her sisters, her children, her sisters-in-law, doing her duties as a mother, wife, sister, aunt, sister-in-law, elder, and her life has also been one of being the fibre that holds everyone in the family together. So circumstances do force certain things on you…and you just make the best of it. In the book “journey of the souls” the various case studies say clearly that many evolved souls take on a difficult life so they can get a double promotion in terms of growth. My mom-in-law is surely topping her class for having dealt with all the lessons so well and brilliantly, and with a hearty laugh thrown at them. What a life and what a role model !! She truly is a “Vedavalli” – someone who conquered the Vedas.