Friday, December 19, 2008

A daughter-in-law’s story – Ammal Mathew

As a daughter-in-law of the family, let me share my memories about Achayan and Ammachy.

The perfect way to begin would be my first day in Chirayil House. On the fifth day after marriage which was my first day in the house, I got up early, got ready and marched myself to the kitchen. Ammachy was already there. With a sweet smile in my direction she promptly went on with her chores. I didn’t know what to do but stand there and watch her do all the work by herself. How embarrassing!!! It would’ve helped if she had told me what to do but she didn’t and for good reason. She, it turns out, had a set pattern around the kitchen. The first thing she did was to get the ‘aduppu’ (wood stove) ready, then keep the ‘kalam’ (pot) with water for boiling rice on it. Only after this would she switch on the gas stove to make coffee. I swear I also remember her telling me there was no need to wake up so early as there was no such formality in the house and then she made me coffee.

I used to think at first that she was a bit miserly. For good reason, wouldn’t you think? She used to make coffee for the entire family with just one glass of milk. At times, she would scold me for not keeping the left out milk in the fridge, even if it was only half a glass. It was only much later on in life that I realized that this was how she managed to get all her seven children well educated and could bring them up successfully on Achayan’s limited salary as a school teacher.

She loved her children very deeply. There were times when I felt that only her children were allowed into the inner circle. But I know she loved all of us spouses and her grandchildren even though she never expressed this love. Over the years, when I got to know her better, I realized that that was her nature. She might not have expressed it but her love was there for everyone to see and she cared very deeply for each one of us. An example of her love for her daughters-in-law was her sharp reaction to a stray comment about me always falling sick. Ammachy very angrily replied with, ‘Ammal does all her work, is managing her own house and children very well. No one else is doing it for her’. I do not remember if I was there at the time but I remember being very thrilled when I heard about it and I will always remember the incident with gratitude.

I also remember getting a knife from Ammachi before leaving for Madras for the first time. It was strange as I expected advice from her, since I did not have a mother anymore to tell me what to take into a new house and kitchen or what I should do. Then I realized that a good knife is an important part of a good kitchen and it was really nice of her to gift it to me.

She would never stop us going home while on vacation. Normally one would expect a mother-in- law to have a problem with their daughter-in-law going home but Ammachy would not mind. Of course she sure wanted her children to spend time with her at home.

When I think of Achayan, I feel happy and thankful to have had him also as my father. He was a gentleman, a good father, a good neighbor, a good friend to so many and above all a good Christian. I have heard that he was a good teacher and a bad businessman as Biju puts it but I never got to see that side of him. He had a wide circle of friends and knew all relatives, his own and surprisingly even mine. He is the one who taught me all about my grandparents' extended family. You see at that time, I knew my aunts and uncles very well but not so much my relatives at my grandparents' level. But he knew each and every one so well.

I remember him climbing the Puthuppally hill to see Madhu when he was a baby. He would do this quite often and he was quite excited on the baptism day as he was going to be the god father. When we were in Trivandrum, Achayan and Ammachi came and stayed with us for a few days. Ammachi was quite happy to stay there and would never interfere in the running of the house. She would cut vegetables and then take rest. Achayan was a different story though. He could never stay at home. He would visit all the neighbors and by the end of their stay he had made lots of friends.

We were lucky to stay with Ammachi and Achayan for 2 months when Ammachi was bed-ridden. I would cook up curries like ‘chakkakuru manga’ (jackfruit and sour mango curry) and ‘chemmenum manga’ (prawn and sour mango curry) and so on. As mentioned by Johny, Achayan was very fond of food. And once he said it tasted exactly like his mother’s preparation. What was the secret? I used to, very sneakily, ask my aunt for the recipes and prepare them. Even though I had to work quite a lot, I would feel happy when he enjoyed eating it.

Achayan and Ammachy were good people. They used to argue a lot but never used to shout at each other or use bad language. When Ammachi was bed-ridden and couldn’t talk too much, she would always want someone near her. I still remember whenever Achayan used to pass by the room she would stretch out her hands. Most times Achayan would never see but whenever he did, he would go into the room, hold her hand and sit there for a while and talk, True love to the end.

I am happy to be a part of this family. All the credit goes to Achayan and Ammachy for bringing up their children so well. I have never seen them fighting with each other or with other people. So hats off to them and I thank Almighty for their lives and their love for each other and for us.

When I think of Ammachi, I remember her walking up and down the kitchen and I can still hear the sound of her chappals on the floor very clearly even now...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

My Chirayil Family – Rebeca Mathew

I have a strong passion for my maternal grandfather who I called Kottayam Appachen. He was a very lovable person.

My earliest memory of him is that he used to send me biblical story books in Malayalam. As I was studying in Delhi at that time and was not familiar with Malayalam words it was of great help to me and my mother who used to tell me those stories before my afternoon naps.
When we came to Kerala from Delhi, even though we were going to my paternal grandparents’ house in Chengannur, he would be waiting to greet us at Kottayam station and he would invite us to come to Kottayam at the earliest.

People of all age i.e., from small children to very old people enjoyed his company. All of his grandchildren loved him very much. He knew each and every one of them at heart and dealt with each likewise which was really amazing and is a memory which I still keep close to my heart.

Appachen knew many Malayalam and English folk songs and he used to sing them with gestures. As I was a small child and loved music, I would fall into giggles on seeing them. I remember the cat which Ammachi hated, curling over Appachen’s bushy chest hair during his afternoon siesta. Even though Ammachi was bedridden at that time, she could feel the cat’s presence and would shout to shoo it off.

I always remember Ammachi as a strict person and a gorgeous cook. The taste of her beef ullarthiyathu, cabbage thoran, sambar and pacha moru (in that combination) still stimulates my taste buds and to avoid “direct competition” I never make it. As my brother wrote, she used to keep the kitchen very neat which I admired and I now try to do the same!

My mother was very much fond of all her brothers and sisters and I still remember her talking about each one of them often. She told me that tears would run down Johnychayan’s eyes during her story sessions which Ammachi found as an alternative to keep her children calm and quiet.
I was always fascinated by the way Leelakochamma used to keep her clothes in the cupboard. During summer holidays most of the family members would come together at Kottayam. The nightly talking sessions were very interesting. Appachen, Ammachi and all of us would gather together for the evening prayer.

During my mother’s period of illness, all her brothers and sisters looked after her very much. They even left their families and were extremely keen on helping her. We cousins also have that sort of a strong bond between us even though we are in different parts of the world and busy with our own duties.

I always loved being part of a close knit family. I am fortunate by the grace of God to be linked to such a family. I thank my cousin Lisa for giving me this opportunity to write about Chirayil Family. I hope and pray to God that this bond of love between family members will be continued for ever.

Monday, December 15, 2008

What I learnt from my parents - Lily Mathew

Let me start with Ammachi. The foremost impression about her would be that she had dedicated herself to the wellbeing of her children. Ammachi sacrificed her comforts and leisure for her seven children and cared for them equally. She knew our potential and short comings and ably guided them accordingly. She always had a good idea about our teachers, friends and class work. When we returned home after an examination, she could guess how many marks we would score from our body language. Ammachi was proud of her children. It was her firm belief that her children would not lie or do anything that was wrong. Her belief in us saved us from many a wrong deed in our life. I do not recall Ammachi ever punishing us, physically or otherwise. But her scolding was powerful enough. She wanted all of us to have a good education and for that our studies in the lower classes had to be good enough for us to build upon later so she focused her efforts to give us that strong base. As she put it in her colourful way, she had to do all this with one child inside her, one on her hips and one underfoot.

I always tried to limit my study period to a minimum, but stood little chance in avoiding her eagle eye or strong reaction to such tactics. The final university examination for languages was held immediately at the end of my 2nd year of B.Sc and so the usual annual examination for the subjects [Physics and Mathematics] was rescheduled after the long summer holidays. I was reluctant to study during the holidays but Ammachi thought otherwise so I ended up revising and getting a better grasp of the fundamentals during the holidays. This, I think, helped me to graduate with higher grades. If we did not do well in our studies, the feeling that we would be letting her down was always at the back of our mind. Her family always came first for Ammachi.

Achayan was different. It did seem that social commitment came first with him. He was always active in public affairs. Though he was very pleased when we excelled in something and was always willing to help out if approached, Ammachi was the one who put in the hard work and effort. Achayan liked people and cared for them. He was always prepared to help others. We never found him jealous of other’s successes and he was always glad when somebody did well. He refrained from smoking, drinking and most other bad habits except perhaps his love for food, especially well cooked food! He tended to trust everybody unlike Ammachi who had a knack for assessing people with a high degree of accuracy. He found great pleasure in company, inviting them home, serving them good food and talking to them. The difficulties at home hardly ever deterred him from this exercise.

Achayan and Ammachi did not see eye to eye on many things. But there was deep respect and affection between them. During our school days we had to return home before nightfall. The process of settling down for our evening studies usually started with arguments and quarrels and ended only when Ammachi entered the scene. Then it was time for bathing, study and dinner in that order. Achayan would return from the local club or other activity but by then all the hullabaloo was over and the scene was peaceful. The younger kids were asleep by that time. After Achayan’s bath and dinner we would assemble for evening family prayer. This was usually followed by a family chit chat session. Looking back, I feel that that was a very enjoyable part of the day.

Even in our college days, when we returned home for our holidays we tended to share our experience at college and hostel with Ammachi. She was always an interested listener. The usual venue for these conversations was the kitchen. So we were always aware of each other's college and hostel life, friends, teachers etc. Susy, the eldest of us, had a special talent for going into detail in such a way that made it very interesting to listen to. Achayan had no time to spare for such things and hardly ever participated. Later in life he used to say half jokingly that we were all more close to Ammachi. Still later, he often fondly reminded us of Ammachi’s role in our upbringing and achievements. Achayan and Ammachi were able to keep high moral and religious standards, took the effort to develop the same attitudes within us and taught us to be equitable in all our dealings.