It was past midnight in the early 1940s but Padmavathi could not sleep. Earlier in the day her husband’s last rites had been performed. Suicide, it was said.
But she knew it was not suicide. Such a devout, loving, caring person would not run away from his duties like that. She was sure he was poisoned and that too by his own brother-in-law.
Such a difference of personalities; her husband was an epitome of goodness. Their house was like a shelter to the needy. The ancestral house now was home to about 30-35 people who had come to their refuge either because of unemployment, sickness and so on. And there was this person who was ready to kill for what–just an ancestral home.
But now how was she ro run the sprawling house and raise her six children the youngest just 3 months old?
And so the thoughts ran in her mind and it was quite late that she fell asleep. She woke up late; by the time she came to the kitchen she saw the coffee brewing. No doubt her eldest Sugandhi who had started on the breakfast, but what is this such a small amount of coffee for so many people,’Sugandhi, why so little, this will be enough for just 3?’
Sugandhi came and stood at the doorway with her head bowed.
‘What happened?’, asked her mother.
‘Your refugees have all run away now that their benefactor is gone,’ she replied with a bitterness in her voice.
Padmavathi’s head reeled. Fair weather friends she thought.
Then again she thought how am I to raise my children. Sugandhi and Vimala were already 12-13 and were of marriageable age. How will I get them married. How am I to educate my four sons?
The wheels of time moved forward. Most of the relatives shied away. Except one of her brothers who agreed to take care of Vimala and Padmavathi was relieved. She was a bold boisterous type and would quarrel with anyone who dared to be disrespectful of her mother. Atleast there she would get to eat properly.
Her sister-in-law and her husband lodged a complaint saying that her husband had taken a lot of money from them and so now the house belonged to them. The case was in court.
She worked as a helper in many homes and managed to run her house. There were many who suggested that she think about herself and send her kids to orphanage, many suggested some other things also which she did not want to brood upon and then their was this Father who suggested that they convert and their whole responsibility was theirs. But she said no. She believed in her faith. Ups and downs were a part of life but if he could, could he waive off the fees. The school fees were paltry but for them it was difficult to manage.
Ultimately her eldest son, though very bright had to abandon school to fend for the family. The second too after a couple of years had to do likewise. But it was her third who was a problem to her. He liked to have good food and with their meagre earnings how was that possible. Very often Sugandhi and she would sleep on an empty stomach, a wet cloth tied around their stomach to give an illusion to the brain that the stomach was full.
Eventually Sugandhi and Vimala were married off to widowers twice their age. But both her sons-in-law were jewels. They kept their wives as queens in their meagre earnings. Sugandhi would come home with scented soaps, clothes and footwear for the kids. Vimala, her stars had always been good, her husband was a shop assistant who ultimately owned a jewellery shop and lived comfortably.
Her eldest son though had to drop out of school; was a voracious reader and educated himself. Politics, history, spiritualism, you name it and he was adept in all.
The second too paved his own way and had his own business.
The third, the one with the very active taste buds had a thirst for knowledge and was not ready to quit school. And so he distributed newspapers, sold peanuts in cinema theatres and paid for his own education and eventually became a diploma engineer.
The fourth was the black sheep of the family but the others saw to it that he became independent.
The court case was lost and the house was gone but Vimala who by then was wealthy, bought it and gifted it to her mother.
Till date Padmavathi and her children are revered in the town of Payyanur in Kerala. Hers is the story of unfailing courage and the belief she had in herself, her faith and her children.
Padmavathi’s story is not uncommon, there must be a million story like hers who kept their head high and struggled through the odds of life to look after their family. She did not take part in the freedom struggle, she did not go and prove that her husband was murdered, she just looked at the fact that her kids should be raised with good principles.
This story was narrated to me by my father on a bleak morning when I had completely lost faith on myself and life. He had told me how a single mother had struggled to raise her kids without loosing on her morals.
Padmavathi was my grandmother and the son with the active taste buds; my father. His emergence from a small place to a steel plant is another inspiring story which we will reserve for another day. 🙂