Defying Age with her Actions ~ Tamilian Great Granny Subbulakshmi

by on February 5, 2013

There are many first moments we witness in the lives of those around us – first birthday, first job, first meeting, and now, ever since I have been writing this column about great grannies, I am seeing the excitement about the arrival of one’s first great-grandchild. “It is indeed a very special feeling,” says Smt. Subbulakshmi Subrahmaniyan, who at 74 is defying age with her activities, even though she became a great-grandma just a month ago.

When a paternal great-grandson is born, then a ritual known as ‘Kanakabhishekam’ or ‘showering with gold’ is performed for the great-grandparents. This is also known as ‘Suvarna Seedhi Samaroh’ or ‘Climbing the golden ladder’ in some North Indian communities. It is believed that becoming a great-grandparent entitles one to the golden ladder of heaven.


Defying Age - Granny Subbulakshmi

Smt. Subbulakshmi was born in April 1938 in Sengottai, a city in the Tirunelveli district which belonged to the Kerala state of South India until 1956 when it was merged with Tamilnadu. When I asked her whether she considers herself a Keralite or a Tamilian, her eldest son Narayanan said that such distinctions did not exist earlier. She simply calls herself a South Indian Brahmin. Blessed with 4 children, 7 grandchildren and 1 great-grandson, she is an epitome of cheerfulness and contentment. Attending to her husband, giving instructions to the maid and yet attentively answering the questions I put forth, she defies her age with her actions and attitude.


Where did you spend your growing years?
In Sengottai. I was always interested in extra-curricular activities and learnt the dance forms of Kolattam and Kummi at a young age. I also loved making friends and stitching.


Who taught you house work ?
My father was an agriculturist, and we had lots of staff at home, so I hardly did any housework when I was young. I was married at the age of 15 and learnt cooking and household chores from my mother-in-law and my husband’s grandmother. My husband is an only child, so we were a small family and responsibilities were fewer. My mother-in-law treated me like a friend and took me along wherever she went.


Did you pursue dance after marriage?
Not really, but I attended a lot of music and dance concerts with my mother-in-law. I enjoyed that very much and continued to do that all my life. Now, my health does not permit me to venture outside, but I continue to enjoy many of these programs on television.


This interest in attending concerts seems to be a lovely practice in many South Indian families, particularly in Chennai, isn’t it?
Yes, that’s true. My husband was the secretary of Ramana fine arts and we were invited to many shows which was an added motivation. Even when my children were born, I took them along rather than missing any of the events.


From what you say, it seems that you have had a rather liberal life.
My mother-in-law was really an exceptional person, she never imposed any restrictions on us. I could enjoy my outings and movies. Apart from that, my husband is an expert in astrology, so many friends and relatives visited him to consult their horoscopes. We have also made friends from other cultures, including Muslims and Christians. I enjoyed mingling with all of them.


That seems ideal. But then, how does one inculcate a sense of responsibility in the children?
I follow my mother-in-law’s example where my own daughters-in-law are concerned. Even though we may be liberal, the boundaries are clear. I am rather lucky that my children never went against us. My husband has been quite strict but never unfair. Of course times are changing and children’s demands and needs have changed a lot now.


So how do you manage the situation now?
By not interfering. As grandparents, our role is to nurture and love them. It is up to the parents to decide how they want to bring them up. I am very clear that we must not impose our views on them. They manage their own homes and families as they know best. I am happy that they take care of us and treat us with respect. For instance, even though all my daughters-in-law make the same Sambar and Rasam, yet each one lends her own unique flavour while cooking. I enjoy and appreciate these subtle differences very much.


In a nutshell, what are the traits needed to be happy?
‘Manodairyam’ – that means a strong mind. We must be clear in our views and our boundaries. That makes it easy to handle life when difficulties come in our way. The other thing is to count one’s blessings and feel grateful – ‘anugriha’. I always thank God for the blessings he has bestowed upon me. I also enjoy my routine prayers, reading scriptures and chanting.


First published in February 2013 in Harmony – the Indian magazine for silvers for the column – The Great Granny Diaries. Part-2 of this post is Aviyal, an authentic Kerala recipe from the kitchen of Subbulakshmi. She is the sixth grandma featured in this column.


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