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...