Idols have a way of cropping up everywhere – in your family, in the society, on a train/plane ride … In families they come mostly as ancestors, people you haven’t met but their stories have been passed down to the succeeding generations. There are some living idols that could be related to you… but it’s difficult to idolise a relative, atleast for me, you see the warts up close :):)

She is my ancestor, my mother’s maternal grandmother. I think I would have idolised her even if she had been alive since her stories just make me feel so proud. I am sure people trace their ancestry just to find some hero they can be related to. I want to go no further than her. Onnama had two children, a son and a daughter. Just the daughter survived. Around 1914, she and her son went to attend a temple festival in a nearby village and she came back alone. Since there were no telephones or other means of communication then she couldn’t inform her husband. When her husband asked about their son, she replied “he contracted brain fever at the festival and died. I cremated him and did all the ceremonies and came back !”. My great-grandfather obviously didn’t know how to react, but as I try and be in the same room, what strikes me is the sheer guts my great grandmother had and she was so accepting of reality.

Onnama was widowed when she was around 35, so she had to bring up her daughter all by herself. The spunky woman that she was, she setup a hotel, selling Idlis and bought a house for Rs. 100, paid for it in installments of Rs. 10 !! The house is still around, but not in the family as it was sold off by her grandsons. It was at this Idli shop that my grandfather met my grandmother and wanted to marry her…. He was 11 and my grandmom was 7 when they married and against all conventions then, the son-in-law grew up in his mom-in-law’s house and Onnama ensured that he completed his education and started to manage his vast agriculture lands. Onnama had 18 grandchildren and 11 of them survived. My mother and her two younger brothers were the only ones brought up by their mother, while all the older siblings were brought up by Onnama. She ensured they all got good education, especially the boys, as was the norm then. But all the girls are literate and am sure she would have let them study further if any of them had shown the inclination. Onnama was actively involved in the affairs of the day – independence movement and the politics afterwards.

She died in 1957 at the age of 78… Even her death was like she was going on a journey – she told her grandsons and son-in-law the time of her death exactly, gave instructions to the girls on how to drape two saris on her body and also had predictions on how the future would be for her grandsons !!!

She did die at the time and date she predicted without drama, leaving behind a worthy successor in my eldest aunt, Padmasini, who had her trademark spunk and the guts to face life. She gave her abilities to make the world’s best Idlis to her daughter (my grandmother) and her expanded world perspective to her son-in-law (my grandfather) !! My grandfather was truly egalitarian, never had differences of caste, creed or any other disparity and had a large giving heart ….. Both gifts from his mom-in-law.

An idol from my ancestry !! Thanks Onnama for being the inspiration and an example …. And the awesome genes.

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