Broad-mindedness Prevails ~ Tamilian Great Granny Doraiammal

by on September 5, 2013

A grandmother of six and great-grandmother of seven, Mrs. Doraiammal Neelakantan is much loved by friends and family for her warmth and hospitality. As Mrs Chithra Viswanathan, who gave us her introduction, astutely remarked, “Discipline with affection is her success formula. Her broad-mindedness has allowed the children to enjoy their wings and yet stay rooted.” The ease with which Mrs Neelakantan answered the questions and the delightful chuckles with which she recalled many incidents made her seem much younger than her 83 years.


Interviews-Broad-mindedness of Granny Doraiammal

Namaste. Tell me about yourself.
I was born in 1930 in Chennai in a well educated Tamilian family. My childhood was spent in Tiruchy. I got married when I was sixteen. My grandfather was bestowed the title of Rao Bahadur. My father-in-law was an engineer during the British rule. My husband, Brig. Neelakantan, served in the army. We were posted in 7-8 cities after my marriage, but eventually settled in Chennai.


Your children tell us that your maternal family as well as your husband’s family have also been keenly interested in education.
Yes, my sister completed her doctorate back then. If I had not been married early, I am sure I would have also studied further. My father-in-law was also very particular that girls must also be educated. His daughters completed their graduation before he thought of their marriage. In fact, the family has always been broad-minded and a widow remarriage took place in the family as early as the 1920s.


During your husband’s postings, did you travel with him? What about the children?
I travelled with him, but whenever he was on field, I chose to stay in Chennai. The children stayed here since we did not want to disturb their education.


Did they manage easily when you were not here?
They had to learn to do that. Those days, we communicated by letters. They all wrote to us and managed well on their own. Occasionally, we made trunk calls to speak to them. In fact, we all share a very affectionate relationship. Both my sons and daughter came down with their families for my eightieth birthday and we spent a memorable week in Yercaud together.


What makes you so easy going with your children?
I think that the military influence and constant shifting from one place to another played a great role in the way we looked at life. We were bound to have a broader social outlook. I remember when we first went to see my daughter-in-law Uma for my son, we thought about how she will adjust in our family because she was from a traditional background. I clearly remember how scandalized her family felt when my son suggested that he take her out for a chat. I must add that she has adjusted so beautifully.


I can imagine. In those days, youngsters were not expected to display such independence!
Yes, glad that things have changed now. Our role in the lives of our children is no more as decision makers, but only in an advisory capacity.


According to you, what is a prominent change in family structure over time?
Earlier one was always surrounded by people. For instance, a young married girl was conscious of her mother-in-law’s likes and dislikes and adapted herself accordingly. But nowadays, families are smaller. Many young couples live by themselves. Even in a joint family, there is much more freedom and individuality now. Youngsters are much more conscious of their own preferences.


Your daughter Geetha says that she has learnt much from watching how you took care of your husband, his mother as well as the children.
I don’t think we thought about all this, we just it. I just did it. In fact, from 1979, four generations have lived here in this very house. It required some adjusting but it was never difficult.


What do you expect from your children?
Just that they should get along well and be happy. My son married an American girl and so did my grandson. I am proud of their choices. I am sure it was the broad-mindedness which prevailed in our family that allows us to welcome people from different cultures and languages as our own.


And how do you spend your day?
I take care of the house and supervise the kitchen work in the mornings. In fact, I have always loved cooking. Even when I am not feeling too well, I still enjoy cooking. So my son has made a wooden stool for me to sit upon and cook.


What is the secret of your joy in the kitchen?
When you have a husband who says, ‘Prepare the dish however you know and I will give it a new name,’ then you obviously feel encouraged.


First published in Sep 2013 in Harmony – the Indian Magazine for silvers for the column – The Great Granny Diaries. Part-2 of this post is Sojjiappam, an authentic sweet dish from the kitchen of Doraiammal Neelakanthan. She is the 13th grandma featured in this column.


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