Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Departure of a noble soul

Mrs. Subbalakshmi Karyakkar (1925-2010)

Mrs. Subbalakshmi Karyakkar of Chathapuram Gramam in Palakkad died on the 17th of November 2010 at the ripe old age of 85. A widow, she left behind her two elderly daughters, Rajam and Rukmini. A simple old Brahmin lady, she was not of much consequence to the present day society of Palakkad which is fighting hard to catch up with the rest of this consumer state for the fast moving life that we witness all around. Who was this venerable lady –who we fondly used to call Mami -to me? To put it straight, I must say that she was more like a mother to me, though we were not blood- related.

Sixteen years back, when I made a career change and when I and Sindhu were expecting our second child, we were at Palakkad enjoying the good winter weather and the delicious foods the place was famous for.

As it happened with me, my spare time often used to be spent on visiting some of the local traders who dealt in antiques. Most of them were raw dealers who were neither well read nor knowledgeable about the items they handled. However they were nevertheless shrewd businessmen who knew how to extract the best price from a yearning collector. One of them whom I know for the last 25 years and who had humble beginnings, is presently a very rich man who supplies old and remodeled furniture to the makers of Mollywood movies for its set

One such trader, a friend, the old and simple Kunhippakkutty Sahib of Melamuri told me that I may meet the Karyakkar family at Chathapuram that used to do some family business in old and antique goods from their home. This led me to the house of Mami and the first meeting with her and her two daughters was the beginning of a lasting association of mutual respect, affection and un-adulterated sentiments which has been continuing ever since.

Chathapuram Gramam, Old Kalpathy, Palakkad

Mami personified grace, charm, warmth and hospitality for which her generation was famous for. She was particularly graceful and always reminded me of the inimitable M.S.Subbalakshmi whose name she too shared. Mami had resplendent and big nose- rings set with the finest of old diamonds. She was an expert in judging the precious stones. Mr.C.S.Raja Karyakkar, her husband belonging to the renowned Karyakkar family of old Kalpathy was a fine scholar in Sanskrit and Indian Philosophy. The Karyakkar family was originally from Kozhikode where they were the officials of the Zamorin. Some unpleasantness in the relationship caused the family to move to Palakkad more than two centuries back and they were welcomed by the then ruling family of Palakkad with all respect. Raja Karyakkar was also a dealer in diamonds and knew the subject of gemology like the palm of his hand. He also traded in elephants and was an expert in the subjects like Hasthiayurveda-Ayurveda of Elephants- and was adept in books like Mathangaleela. One of my regrets in life-I have quite a few- is that I could not meet and acquaint with the family when he was alive. Mami used to tell me that I am like a son to her and that her husband would have been immensely pleased to meet this humble chronicler during his life time.

Chathapuram Vinayaka Temple

Mami was born in Kizhakke Madhom in North Parur in the erstwhile Cochin State as the daughter of Mr.S.Devaraja Iyer and Mrs. Nagalakshmi, who had 6 sons and 6 daughters. Theirs was a rich and influential family and Mami inherited all the great qualities of her roots. She was always cheerful, gracious and was like goddess Annapurneswari. Lots of people visited her house and always had the most delicious foods served. All the hardships in her life could not take away the smile on her face with which she made her abode a most cozy one. She lost her husband early in life and had to see the death of her son- in –law, Mani Swami, another jewel of a person whom I had the privilege to meet. Of her two daughters, Rukmini, the younger one who earned a degree chose to remain a bachelor and despite offers of employments wanted to be with her devoted mother. Rajam, the eldest daughter whose husband died and whose daughter Radha had to wriggle out of wedlock, was also staying with the mother and Mami certainly was very fortunate to get the caring and loving treatments from her devoted daughters during her old age.

Mami was a great devotee of Lord Vinayaka, the presiding deity of the ancient Chathapuram temple. She earnestly believed that the “Remover of obstacles-Lord Vighneswara- is always there as an all-encompassing presence to protect all of us. As high priests to the temple, the Karyakkar family had special privileges. On many occasions, Mami and her daughters had arranged special pujas for us at the temple and the offerings included the tastiest of succulent modakas- Modaka is small and steamed rice ball filled with a fine mixture of grated coconuts and melted jaggery-

Mami’s house was a Kalavara-store house of food articles-of sumptuous snacks and varieties of south Indian vegetarian delicacies for which the Keralite Tamil Brahmins were always famous. T.N.Seshan, former CEC of India had famously remarked that the Keralite Tamil Brahmin excelled in three Cs; Civil Servants, Cooks and Crooks. Mami was not a civil servant and she was anything but a crook. But she was indeed a great Cook. How many times have we relished the murukkus, pakkavadas, laddus, ada dosais and the freshly brewed filter coffee Mami used to make with the greatest of care and the fullest of warmth with dashes of innocent smiles thrown in?

She got a golden ring done for me with three small and exquisite diamonds from her possession. She had sat through with the goldsmith to personally oversee the work.

Mami left for her last journey rather peacefully on the auspicious Ekadasi day of Lord Guruvayoorappan. It was also the day when the famous Ratham festival of Kalpathy concluded. Devotees believe that those who die on this auspicious day join the lotus feet of the Lord. I am sure; Mami’s noble soul rests in peace with the Almighty.

Every trip of ours to Palakkad always included a visit to Chathapuram and Mami’s house. The visits will continue but we shall surely miss the warmth and the maternal love we were always privileged to earn.

Fort, Tripunithura, South India,
23rd November 2010.


Shobhana said...

a very nice work done. thanks to you for this. even though she was our beloved periyamma this article proved to be very nice reading. she was hospitality personified. just last month we lose our mother and she had help[ed all of us to cope with the loss by being present with us on all the 15days. she rather insisted and cooked in our house on the 11th day and 12th day function. under her able guidance we performed everything.

as you had rightly said palakkad and chathapuram was synonimous with periyamma. for us she was the most caring, loving, and sweet person. nobody can replace her.
we all pray for her soul to rest in peace. shobha

Murali RamaVarma said...

Thank you, Shobhana. Mami had told about the demise of your mother for which she had come down to Tripunithura.She had expressed a wish to come to my place on a later date. Alas! it was not to be! As you rightly mentioned, her hospitality was legendary.The loss is particularly felt by all of us very intensely.

Kindest regards,

Jay Ramakrishnan said...

Tears rolled down my cheeks as I was reading about "Chuppuka" as we all fondly call her (I do not want to say "called" because, in our hearts she still lives and will live forever). I am Jayashree (from Canada), her niece (her yongest sister's daughter). We are really fortunate to say that we belong to the same family. What we always call her is a "Peacemaker" of the family. No matter what the relatives say, whenever they are in trouble or in need even without calling her she would help us in whatever way she could. She used to be a great guide for all of us. She was the oldest person in our family of the recent times. She had a special relationship with my mother and was really fond of my mother (who shares the same name as her older daughter) as a little sister (even now) as my mom was yonger than he daughter and she always considered my mom as one of her daughters. As you had mentioned, only people who know her can appreciate the chef in her. Be it a simple Upma or an elaborate meal, hers is the best. I still have her "avakkai pickle" in my fridge which she made for me when I was in India the last time. It is a great loss for all of us. As always we wanted her to live forever but god decided the other way. We are all praying for her that she reaches Lord Ganesha's feet. I thank you very much for having said some nice words about akka.

Jay Ramakrishnan said...

Tears roll down my cheeks as I was reading your blog about "Chuppukka" as we fondly call her (I do not want to say "called" as she lives, will live in our hearts forever). I am Jayashree(Canada), her niece - her yongest sister's daughter. We are very glad to be a part of her family. I have never seen such a dynamic, yet a traditional person like her. She was the pillar of our family as she was the oldest sister who lived in her times. She rose to any occassion, no matter what the relatives say about her, she was there for each and everyone of us in times of need. Only people who have had her food can appreciate the best chef in her. Be it be an ordinary Upma or an elaborate meal she makes them the best. She welcomed anyone who entered the house and fed them without any hesitation, I do not have to say this, people who were associated with her will know. I still have her "avakkai pickle" in my fridge, which she made for me when I came to India in June 2010. She shared a special relationship with my mother and was very fond of my mother (who shares the same name as her older daughter). My mom is the yongest in the family and is older than her daughter and so she always had a speical bond with my mom, her little sister. It is great loss to all of us. We wanted her to live forever, but god thought the otherway. We all pray that she reaches Lord Ganesha's feet. We all miss her very much....

Murali RamaVarma said...

Dear Jayasree,

Thank you for your comments and for the observations you made about Mami. I appreciate the sentiments with which you have written about her and I wholeheartedly agree to those.

I remember to have met your Dad and Mom at Mami's place during one of our visits.Your Dad is a kind person whom I found very warm and most affectionate. My wife recalls your presence too on that occasion when you had come down n holidays!

Kind regards,

Maddy said...

Though we know the place very well, and many people there, we never chanced on this lady. probably my friend Madan is related to her, i will find out.

I did not realize you had restarted writing..keep going

Murali RamaVarma said...

Thank you, Maddy.There were many personal issues around which kept me away from writing for a few months.

It is kind of you indeed to have written.

Kindest regards,

Meera's World said...

The first thing my husband talked to me when we first met was about his paatti , like the one in your post:)who used to make endless snacks and keep them in steel containers. He said there was never a single time when they were empty!
Who also had endless stories for him.I wish such paattis live for ever! Actualy i think they never die,they live forver, in our minds.Even though i have never met this paatti she is living in my mind:)

Murali RamaVarma said...

Thanks a lot Meera for sharing this. Your words reflect the goodness of your mind and the purity of your thinking. Your husband too seem a very sensitive and affable person. What you said is fully correct. Such Paattees belong to another world and another generation. We are poorer by the depletion of this rare persons from our midst.

kind regards,

Ryan said...

Though I do not know this great soul, I happened to read and was very touched. May God send more such kind souls to guide us. I am from Philadelphia, but have never been to Palakkad though that is my native place (was raised in Sion, Bombay). We lead a mechanical existence here and miss company of our native place and meeting such good souls. Well written articel Murali. May God bless.

Ryan said...

Though I do not know this great soul, I happened to read and was very touched. May God send more such kind souls to guide us. I am from Philadelphia, but have never been to Palakkad though that is my native place (was raised in Sion, Bombay). We lead a mechanical existence here and miss company of our native place and meeting such good souls. Well written articel Murali. May God bless.

Ryan said...

Though I do not know this great soul, I happened to read and was very touched. May God send more such kind souls to guide us. I am from Philadelphia, but have never been to Palakkad though that is my native place (was raised in Sion, Bombay). We lead a mechanical existence here and miss company of our native place and meeting such good souls. Well written articel Murali. May God bless.

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