Smt Subbulakshmi Subrahmaniyan, Chennai
An engaging series about the wisdom of love, nurturing and culinary bonding across generations
We witness many firsts 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 witnessing the unusual excitement about the arrival of one's first great-grandchild. "It is indeed a very special feeling," says Smt Subbulakshmi Subrahmaniyan, 74, who became a great-grandmother just a month ago. If it is a paternal great-grandson, 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.
Smt Subbulakshmi was born in April 1938 in Sengottai, a city in Tirunelveli district that belonged to the Kerala state of South India until 1956, when it was merged with Tamil Nadu. When I asked her whether she considers herself a Keralite or Tamilian, her eldest son Narayanan said that such distinctions did not exist earlier. She simply calls herself a South Indian Brahmin. Blessed with four children, seven grandchildren and a great-grandson, she is the epitome of cheerfulness and contentment. Attending to her husband, giving instructions to the maid and yet attentively answering my questions, she defies her age with her actions and attitude.
Where did you spend your growing years and what were your interests?
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 housework?
My father was an agriculturist, and we had 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 husbandís grandmother. My husband is the only child, so we were a small family and responsibilities were fewer. My mother in-law treated me like a friend.
Did you pursue dance?
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 programmes on television.
This interest in attending concerts seems to be a lovely practice in many South Indian families, particularly in Chennai; isnít it?
Yes, thatís 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.
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 consulted him for their horoscopes. We have also made friends from other cultures, including Muslims and Christians. I enjoyed mingling with all of them.