13 October 2012

For Mekela Thirunavakarasu, wherever she may be…

[In memory of my mother, Indrani Seneviratne, who passed away three years ago]

My sister Ruvani, ‘Nangi’ or ‘Nanga’ to everyone in the family since she was the youngest, for reasons of birth order, was closest to me.  Well, I like to believe this, let’s say.  She was two years younger and was eminently qualified for teasing. I put this down to the fact that our older brother Arjuna was serious, stronger and certainly not willing to suffer any teasing.  I like to think, in retrospect, that this hardened her against the horrors of this world.  The truth is, she’s tough.  I think that’s because she is incredibly sensitive and tender.  Sounds like a contradiction, I know, but that’s how it sometimes crumbles. 

She was always the grandmother of the family, even as a child.  A voracious reader, endowed with sharp tongue and enough debating skills of the black-white kind to drive fear into siblings, cousins and even aunts and uncles. Grandparents indulged; they weren’t overawed. 

I remembered Nangi today for two reasons.  I remembered her because the 13th of October is the second death anniversary of our mother, Indrani Seneviratne.  I also remembered her because for her love was thicker than loyalty.  Of a particular kind, of course. 

I remembered her because of ‘motherhood’.  She’s a mother, but that’s not why.  After our mother died, although replacement was not planned or possible, there were many people who became ‘mother’ to me.  First and foremost, my wife Samadanie who understood me as much as my mother did.  Nangi, being grandmother, quickly and without even planning to, became the Matriarch of the family and as caring, worrying and celebrating as our mother.  When I see her with her children, I see her mother in her.  Perfect replica.  Makes me smile and how certain things don’t end with death. 

There were other mothers and this is not the place to name them all.  Among them was Aunty Saji who I got to know through email correspondence and who I’ve met just three times in my life.  She writes to me almost every day, comments on what I write, questions, comments and chides.  I remembered Nangi because I remembered Aunty Saji.  I will tell you why, by and by.

Loyalty. I remember teasing her, bullying in fact, by asking her to imagine that I am not who I was but an imposter who appears in the form of her brother.  This would terrify her and the fear in her eyes made me quickly reverse gears and put her at ease.  Once I told her ‘I have a terrible secret; I will tell you but you must not tell anyone’.  She swore not to.  Then, with appropriate facial expressions to indicate gravity, I told her, ‘I have a cancer and I am dying; no one knows’.  She believed and was determined to tell our parents.  I said ‘you promised!’  She brushed it all aside.  For her, love for more important. 

Back to Aunty Saji.  She wrote something a couple of weeks ago that made me sad for reasons I can’t identify and therefore will not get written.  It was in response to something I had written about kites.  This is what she said:

‘I know all about 'collecting' and all about 'giving away' and destroying, too. I also know about flying kites with Mano and the kids on the hills of Diyatalawa, on the beaches of Batticaloa and on Galle Face Green.  They are the more beautiful of recollections and experiences-and the children still remember.
We gave away a lot of books along the way. Almost two years ago I destroyed the most poignant of my collections- the hundreds of letters I received when Mano died. I read each one and cried as I read them and burnt them. But I kept just two- one was written by a girl of sixteen, a friend's daughter, in Kitwe, and the other, written by Shanti Perera (Elmore's wife).’

I asked her what was special about those two letters. 

‘Shanti married Elmore and were our neighbours in Dla-occupying the same thakarang hut that we had, earlier. They became good friends. She wrote a long appreciation when Mano died-it was published in the papers, I believe. But her letter to me (in Harare) was more personal-she said that Mano and I had taught her what married life should really be. I had never, until then, thought of 'us' as models of anything. We just respected each other.

‘Mekala Thirunavakarasu, was the brilliant eldest child of an engineer in Harare. The family came over in '85. Kids were all Tamil educated- so her English was not perfect. They used to come home and borrow books, ask questions about our lives-and were generally delightful-all 5 of them. Mano had an incredibly untidy office-so he badgered them into cleaning and dusting it once a month, poor kids! They loved him.
She also in her letter made the comment- 'of all our friends in Harare, I envisaged you and uncle as the ideal couple. I want to marry a man like him!'

I asked” ‘And did she?’

‘I don’t know. They migrated to Tasmania and then moved to Australia-I know Mekala did brilliantly well in all her studies-summa cum laude, all the way. I've lost touch.’

Aunty Saji prefers quietude.  She is the most vibrantly alert octogenarian I’ve met.  She wouldn’t ask for help unless she really needed it.  I offered to try and locate her.  She simply asked if this were possible, pointing out that she hadn’t been in a fit state of mind to correspond and that the girl may have married and changed her last name. I googled the name, but nothing came up. 

I know Aunty Saji could very well be angry with me for writing all this.  But my love for her is thicker than loyalty.  I write in the hope that Mekala, wherever she is will read this someday, or that someone who knows her will inform her that a lady who admires her loved her so much and appreciated their long-ago encounter enough to retain a letter she had written decades ago, one of only two she kept from the hundreds she must have received. 

Aunty Saji is like a mother to me.  She is not my mother and never will be.  Right now, though, I can’t think of a better way to pay tribute to the life my mother lived and gave, or her immense reserves of generosity and love, than to do my little bit to find someone just so a lovely lady’s lips will break into a smile she has not yet smiled. 

I know that Nangi will understand, being a mother, being sister and friend. 

So, if anyone reading this knows or knows of Mekala Thirunavakarasu, please tell her that Saji Cumaraswamy has a letter she cherishes. A letter written by her.  And for once, in my name of my late mother, Indrani Seneviratne, I want these words to go all over the world, into every household and heart. 

She is waiting, Mekala. 



Anonymous said...

I read this in 2011, again in 2012 and before reading today, knew the contents by heart. Also have watched your little arguments with aunty Saji online time to time. She is one person who didn't seem to praise every little thing you do or write, but told you boldly when she disagreed. That takes a lot of love and caring. Today, I feel really happy that you posted this again - because I understand (just by observing these pages) that aunty Saji is one of your most ardent admirers and I think I know how she would feel seeing this again today. Happy.

Anonymous said...

But then again, she won't see this today, would she? This is the old link and she will not know this was posted again.

h. said...

So beautiful that this makes my heart ache.
You are so so so blessed, do you know that?