Janaki and Swami
This is the life story of my paternal grandparents
late VK Swamy and late S Janaki. I share their legacy with five other of their grandchildren, namely:
Late Bhuvaneshwari Ramnath
Blessed are we to have our late grandparent's ideals to lead fulfilling lives ourselves.
'Twas about the beginning of the twentieth century;
On the eleventh of November, nineteen-O-three;
Was born a girl in the quaint town of Trichinopoly,
Once the seat of empires and steeped in antiquity.
The third of a line of six siblings was she;
Born into a traditional Tamil brahmin family;
An elderly kin known for his intuitive ability,
Portended for her an unfamiliar destiny.
Sacrosanct was the prevailing societal divide;
Straying entailed exclusion or a tanned hide.
Gender too got deeply mired in the schemes;
Girls emerged domestics; Boys lived their dreams.
The British held all political and regulative reins;
Of a community fragmented, the new suzerains;
A mandated pursuit of learning, of reasoned docility,
Made the brahmins a preferred utilizable commodity.
And so did this man with a brood of six strive,
To make ends meet, on the edge of solvency thrive;
The boys were educated in modern ways and more;
For the two girls, it was mostly household chores.
Quickly pass, did time; the elder girl turned twelve;
Puberty rolled in; a new phase she was led to delve;
For the parents, the cue it was, to seek for her a mate;
With no role in selection, the girl did wonder and await.
Luckily for them, a young man they soon secured;
A widower, a bit rugged, but a choice never rued;
At twenty-five, double the girl's age and size he was;
Time proved that to regret it, there was hardly a cause.
In a foreign land, employed was he, by the British rule;
A temperamental dapper; if provoked even ready to duel;
Self-taught, he could make the pretentious look ignorami;
Helpful when needed, else almost anomic, was VK Swami.
Nature impelled the couple to their shared mutative goal;
A son she birthed, did Janaki; at thirteen, a mother's role;
Not an uncommon state of being this, in fact it was the norm;
Robust women by middle age often delivered a human swarm.
The vitality and drive of youth, did Swami, it motivate;
To seek to actualize aspirations, a private niche to create;
The spread of the empire was his fortune-seeking realm;
Life was demanding; ever eager to ambush and whelm.
From the densely forested highlands of British Burma,
To the bare, undulating, sandy dunes of Mesopotamia;
The man plied his average abilities, as best as he could;
Chasing fortuities; hoping to nab them as anyone would.
Earned sufficiently did he, for the needs of four families;
Yet faced domestic anomalies and distasteful homilies;
Witness was Janaki, to her husband's deft maneuverings,
To feed and support hers, as well as his own siblings.
In far away Europe, the First World War raged;
The realm soon expanded, where conflicts were waged;
For war service at Basra, did Swami manfully proffer,
Enticed by both adventure and the bounties on offer.
For Janaki's brothers, had Swami in Burma, found jobs;
To have wed him, happy was she; he was her heartthrob;
The year 1921 bestowed another bundle of joy and wonder;
A diction of the couple's love it was, as sweet and tender.
Against odds, the couple decided, by a decision to abide;
To spawn no more, going contrary to the prevailing tide.
Janaki joined school, with an intent to become a medic;
Swami backed her to the hilt, a move, very progressivistic.
With her kids in her mother's care at Mandalay, Janaki went;
Enrolled at the MadrasMedicalCollege as a graduate student;
The year was 1926 when she qualified as a general medic;
A rare achievement, when of biases it was a period prolific.
A return to Burma, an anticipated family reunion ensued;
Scholarship and affluence altered the way life was viewed;
Their son finishing high school nudged them to propose,
A move back to India for good, as a possible counterpose.
'Twas in 1934, for India, the family of four finally set sail;
Swami renounced service, Janaki trusted her ability to prevail;
A position awaited her in Gadag, at a government hospital;
It was a short stint, for a longer term she was non-committal.
Work chagrin prompted Janaki to displace from Gadag;
An offer from the royal house at Bikaner seemed snug;
This too took on the flavor of the other side of the fence;
A call to teach and care at BHU induced a shift thence.
With Benaras, what started as a tentative dalliance,
Transformed to a 30-year long association of salience;
For Janaki, it was an arena to display learned prescience;
And for Swami to flamboyantly manifest social valiance.
Revel they did, at their son's exploits, in humble pride;
Their girl pursuing Janaki's trail, was a joy hard to hide;
Her diligence at work and a supportive mate gracefully led
Janaki along a path of fulfillment that is rarely tread.
A penchant for learning propelled Swami to hone
His range of practical skills; for lost options to atone;
Actively encourage all, he would, to pursue knowledge;
Even arranging for the deserving admission into college.
With their dedication even the gods seemed impressed;
In 1939, with another bundle of joy were they blessed;
Swami oversaw their house construction; a no mean chore;
Their chalice of happiness was filled to the brim and more.
Many familial moments of delight, followed one another,
Their son married and made them grandparents a year later.
It was then the daughter's turn to repeat the same sequence;
Society deemed them to have been successful in life, hence.
The business sense and a social need of a maternity home
In a society ailing from the "invisible women syndrome",
Did the couple see an opportunity to be of service profitably,
Janaki tended to patients; Swami managed the rest ably.
Their clientele, the city's and the state's commons and elite;
Goodwill, notional and material, began to slowly accrete.
Assisted in birthing, did Janaki, many a child who would be,
One day widely known in the world or animate in obscurity.
World War II had begun; Burma overrun by the Japanese;
Locals targeted Indians, their old resentments to appease.
Victims trekked through the jungles to reach their homeland;
To acquaintances the Swamis did stretch out a helping hand.
To be familiar with the latest developments in her field,
And be able to, her knowledge, more effectively wield;
A Fellowship at Vienna, helped Janaki, her objective fix;
A year-long specialization in Gynecology & Obstetrics.
New bounds were set, to the reach of their societal arc,
To the call of the skies, when their younger son, did hark;
The Swamis were contentedly privy, with a bit of remorse,
To the young man earning his wings, in the Indian Air Force.
Went on, did their second son to see action in the nation's wars,
Handling a plane's throttle and switches, rather than scimitars;
A horde of adventures was he a part of in his activity realm;
Rose up the hierarchical ranks to attain an organizational helm.
Years rolled by, the autumn of life gracefully set in;
A little more time was at hand to pursue many a whim;
Janaki was an individual with multifarious avocations;
With music and painting were her leisure fraternizations.
Swami played a senior statesman's role, a social provost;
A willing friend, philosopher, guide, guardian, and host;
Of those seeking his valued counsel, there was no dearth;
The city of Benaras for most Indians was heaven on earth.
Not that there were no contrarieties between the twain;
Heterogeneity is after all, essential for life to sustain;
What could be certainly said of them was that they
Managed their differences in a very principled way.
Autumn leads to winter and its coming was a verity;
None however, anticipated its suddenness and severity;
In 1967, Janaki had a stroke, leaving Swami crestfallen;
Affect most body functions, did a damaged encephalon.
Time had cast the die with supervenient consequences;
Life slowly ebbed; to keep company were reminiscences;
A despondent family by her bedside, Janaki passed away;
And left behind a legacy that inspires descendants even today.
For 9 years more Swami lived on, a lonely man, yet stoic;
Introverted by now, upon society, he was almost an epizoic.
His only prized possessions during this last stage of his life,
Were a eulogy in verse that he had written and a picture of his wife.
Included below is a personal homage to late Dr.Janaki and late VK Swamy by a visitor to the Hub page who was closely known to them. Being a four-page hand-written document, it was too long to be with the other comments. Also the written matter of this note, in my opinion, was qualitatively appropriate to be part of the main content of the presentation rather than being a comment. The picture below shows the first of the four pages and is followed by typed copy of the contents of all of them.
New York, 5th Nov'2017
My dear Sridhar1,
On reading your brief story in verse of the life of late Janaki Athangar2 and Swamy Athimbair3, I felt morally compelled to write a few lines. My memory goes back six decades ago (Dec of 1953). They were my angels guiding my destiny - a couple exemplary in every way. I have very special and pleasant memories of their association. Not a moment passes each day without thinking about them. In life's journey, one meets a few who make an indelible impression that leaves a sweet fragrance throughout your life. Our family greatly benefited much from their generosity of spirit and their magnanimity of heart. When my family consisting of my parents and three siblings landed in Chennai in Dec 1953 from Malaysia, we hardly knew anyone. Perhaps it was divine intervention that brought us into contact with Ramanna Athimbair3 and Nagamma Athai4 who were solely instrumental in my marriage, Both my dad and Ramanna Athimbair3 being in the same teaching profession, immediately struck a chord and became fast friends. My father's first duty was to proceed to Benaras to perform the obsequies for his departed parents. Incidentally, he was able to meet Swamy Athimbair3 and Janaki Athangar2 who came forward to guide him in the selection of priests etc., in an unknown place. I must consider myself greatly blessed and privileged to have had their blessings and guidance especially when my parents were away in far off Malaysia. Each time we visited Benaras, we were greatly overwhelmed by their outpouring of love and hospitality. Their exceptionally altruistic nature made us feel greatly humbled. In those days, for women to emerge successful and come to the forefront was very rare and unusual. Credit goes to Swamy Athimbair3 for his unflagging support. Seeing the great potential in his wife, he gave unflinching encouragement to pursue her dreams. Despite her illustrious career, she remained humble, simple, and unassuming, which reflects her nobility of character.
Variety is the spice of life they say, and I found Athangar2 a repository of many branches of art namely music and painting. Her unflinching enthusiasm and zest for life was amazing. Since playing on the violin was my forte, I found her company exhilarating and refreshing. In one of my visits when I had a longer stay, I had the opportunity of meeting her tutor Dr. Rajam to whom she went for her violin lessons. I remember learning a Kriti6 on raga Begada from Athangar2. After the hectic schedule at the hospital, no matter how late it was, she would sit down to practice pieces on the violin. She had spare violins as her eldest son (Chandra Athimbair3) I heard was also very good playing on this instrument. Another incident I very vividly remember is the boat ride on the river Ganges followed by visits to the temples - Vishwanath and Sankatmochan. Their house just outside the BHU campus was a welcome haven to all our relatives including my brothers Swaminathan and Viswanathan who graduated from BHU. I still remember the day she breathed her last (I think it was the 13th July 1969) at the Military Cantonment Hospital, N. Delhi and accompanying the body along with other relatives to Balu Mama5's house in Greater Kailash for the last rites. Now, in my 84th year, I have learnt by observation and experience that when you allow things to unfold, you come to realize the purpose of life. I am thankful to the almighty for the countless blessings, his immense grace and the well wishes of so many elders in the family. Really very gratifying and fortifying.
Last but not least I wish to pay homage to the wonderful couple, especially to Janaki Athangar2 by quoting Wordsworth's poem 'A Perfect Woman'.
"The reason firm, the temperate will,
Endurance, foresight, strength and skill,
A perfect woman, nobly plann'd,
To warn, to comfort, and command;
And yet a spirit, still, and bright
With something of angelic light."
With love to all at home. Your affly,
1. The letter is addressed to the author of this article, Ram Ramakrishnan, which is his official name. At home, and among family, the author goes by the name of Sridhar. The writer of the letter is the author's maternal aunt.
2. 'Athangar' refers to father's sister's daughter in Tamil
3. 'Athimbair' refers to a sister's husband in Tamil
4. 'Athai' refers to father's sister in Tamil.
5. Mama refers to mother's brother in most Indian languages.
6. Kriti is the word for a composition.