School for Underprivileged in Hills of Kodaikanal ~ Padmini & Ram Mani

by on July 5, 2011

We are happy & proud to feature Ram & Padmini Mani (whom we will refer to as PM & RM), a wonderfully interesting couple who live in their simple, yet aesthetically elegant home in a quaint little village called Attuvampatti, located in the verdant hill town of Kodaikanal, Tamilnadu.

 

Together, at an age when one wants to feel settled & comfortable, this couple decided to leave their home in Delhi & start afresh in a remote hill town, living in difficult terrain and enjoying every bit of it. Over the two decades that they have lived there, they have not only made many friends, they have also helped bring many dreams to life. They were mainly responsible in kick-starting the ‘no plastic’ drive in Kodaikanal (no shop keeper there will pack what you buy in plastic – from super markets to tea stalls, all wares are packed in paper bags).

 

They also started a school for the underprivileged children of farm labourers & petty vendors. In 1999, they began with 20 children in a little shed beside their home. Later, they donated their own piece of land to the school trust and literally built it brick by brick with the help of generous donors world over. Today, My School Satya Surabhi stands as a beautiful structure, spreading quality education to children who might have lost their childhood working on farms.

 

Interviews with elders

Padmini aunty (66 years) hails from Andhra Pradesh & Ram uncle (78 years) from Tamilnadu. We were blessed indeed to visit them on Ram uncle’s 78th birthday (Feb 24). Here’s what they have to say in response to our questions:

 

J&P: Happy birthday Ram uncle & thank you for the delicious meal Padmini aunty. Yours was a love marriage and with a wide age gap…12 years between you? What was the attraction?
She: I liked his calm nature and was attracted to his wise interactions as compared to the younger men I met.

 

He: Yes, our chemistry was right & our ideas matched on so many issues…we enjoyed similar music, liked the same colour schemes on walls, paintings etc. Strangely we hardly agree on anything now (has a hearty laugh).

 

J&P: That was a naughty crack Ram uncle! But moving on, tell us – what characteristics about each other have grown on you over the years?
He: Her sense of duty impressed me a lot right from the beginning & over the years it has grown on me too. Also her hospitality, genuine warmth for people & her loyal nature.

 

She: Ram’s sense of humour, his never say die attitude & his wise abilities have grown on me and warm my heart. I used to be very gullible, but I’ve learnt a lot from him.

 

Both: Our aesthetics have merged together and we enjoy adding simple new dimensions to our home, the school & our garden.

 

J&P: One change that you’d like to see in each other? (WHOA! One at a time please)
He: I wish she would control her short fuse. Although she can handle tough situations, I wish she would handle them more calmly.

 

She: He is such a control freak (smiles warmly). I probably did need the controlling when I was younger, but now I’m older & wiser too and like to make my own decisions (mocks a stern look in Ram’s direction).

 

J&P: Is food really a way to the heart? What are your favourite traditional foods?
She: Serving food with love & care surely is a way to the heart. But it is not the only way. Eating is an enjoyable experience in the company of loved ones.

 

He: Good food nourishes, elevates & enriches, just as a good book or good music does in a way. But I do agree with Padmini that it is not the only way to the heart. Even a woman who can’t cook or serve, can be well loved.

 

She: And what about all the men who can’t or won’t cook & serve? They are quite loved I’m sure! (laughter from all).

 

He: I like food in general. I have no special favourites. Until you’re married, your mother is the best cook. Then it is your wife (naughty twinkle in his eye).
“And for some lucky women, the husband is the best cook”, she retorts with a grin as we shake our heads with amusement at their banter.

 

J&P: Today is Ram uncle’s birthday. Is there a special dish you’ve made or would like to cook up for him Padmini aunty?
She: To be honest, it doesn’t require a special day to make a special dish. Ram likes anything that is well cooked & well served. Every day is special and we treat everything we cook as special. Although we can afford a cook & we do have helpers, I like to do the cooking myself. I’ve always cooked all our meals myself. Today, I’ve made Poricha Kootu & Paal Payasam .

 

J&P: A tip to youngsters about love, marriage, commitment & home food?
She: Love is a fleeting emotion. What you need in a marriage is nurturing and mutual respect.

 

He: I agree. In marriage both partners must allow the other to grow independently. But most important of all is loyalty. I would like to say that both Padmini & I feel very blessed for the life we have lived & shared together.

 

First published in July 2011 in Harmony – the magazine for elderly in India for the column – Soul Food and Soul Mates. Part-2 of this post is the healthy delicious side-dish Poricha Kootu from the kitchen of Padmini & Ram Mani – the 1st couple featured in this column.

 

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