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Janaki and Swami

Updated on November 7, 2017

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:

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Kamala Ganapathy

Late Bhuvaneshwari Ramnath

Janaki Narayanan

Archana Schoeneman

Aradhana Jhaveri

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Blessed are we to have our late grandparent's ideals to lead fulfilling lives ourselves.

The magnificent temples of Trichinopoly
The magnificent temples of Trichinopoly

'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.

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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.

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Gender bias
Gender bias

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.

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British rule in India
British rule in India

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.

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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.

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Puberty
Puberty

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.

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The newlywed
The newlywed

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.

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Swami in Burma
Swami in Burma

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.

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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.

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The spread of the British Empire
The spread of the British Empire

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.

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Burma, the land of Pagodas
Burma, the land of Pagodas

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.

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The family man, Swami
The family man, Swami

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.

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War service in Iraq
War service in Iraq

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.

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Love birds
Love birds

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.

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Education
Education

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.

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Janaki's graduation
Janaki's graduation

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.

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A good life
A good life

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.

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Sail back to India
Sail back to India

'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.

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The Royal Palace at Bikaner
The Royal Palace at Bikaner

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.

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The ghats of Benaras
The ghats of Benaras

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.

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Janaki and Swami's first born
Janaki and Swami's first born

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.

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Practical skills of Swami
Practical skills of Swami

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.

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"Ramnivas", the residence of the Swamis at Benaras
"Ramnivas", the residence of the Swamis at Benaras

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.

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The Swamis' daughter and son-in-law
The Swamis' daughter and son-in-law

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.

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Maternity home
Maternity home

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.

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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.

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Refugees from Burma
Refugees from Burma

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.

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Medical Institute at Vienna
Medical Institute at Vienna

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.

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Vampire aircraft of IAF
Vampire aircraft of IAF

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.

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The Swamis' younger son
The Swamis' younger son

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.

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Painting by Dr S Janaki
Painting by Dr S Janaki

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.

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The friend, philosopher, guide, guardian, and host
The friend, philosopher, guide, guardian, and host

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.

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Janaki and Swami at Benaras (early 1960s)
Janaki and Swami at Benaras (early 1960s)

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.

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A stricken Janaki
A stricken Janaki

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.

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The passing away
The passing away

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.

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In remembrance
In remembrance

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.

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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.

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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,

Sundari Subramanian

Footnote:

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.

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    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 3 days ago from london

      You write intelligently and your poetry is great.

      A truly generous and sensitive narrative with supportive letters. A noble look at your grandparents lives.

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      Geetha Singh 3 days ago

      Excellent story told with poetic brilliance.Great reading!

    • profile image

      C R Ramesh 6 days ago

      Wonderful! This needs to be shared.

    • profile image

      Archana Schoeneman 8 days ago

      Bravo, fabulous. Brought tears to my eyes.

    • profile image

      C. Swaninathan 8 days ago

      Your eloquent pean to the memory of your illustrious grandparents, Dr. Janaki and Shri VK Swamy evoked gentle memories of my transition from raw boyhood in relatively protected Johore Bahru, Malaysia into the rough and tumble of the very different environment but “holy” dust-laden city of Banaras. Nothing had quite prepared me for this personal journey virtually into the unknown, except for the confidence, belief and prayers of my parents, and particularly my Athimbair and Eldest sister, Sundari, that I would make “good”, whatever, that meant!

      Now, looking back to that five-year eventful sojourn through the prism of more than fifty years away from the “holy land”, I cannot, but recall with immense gratitude the small but immense acts of kindness, I was always subjected to every time I called on the “threesome”, Dr Janaki, Shri Swamy, or Shri Ramaswamy.

      Saddu and I frequently cycled to ‘Ram Nivas’, not merely for a welcome difference to our degustation regime, but more for the enormously peaceful friendly and protective cultural “umbrella” that was in store for us, with Ramana Athimbair often gently chiding me as to my relative ignorance of Tamil, on the one hand, and then hilariously asking Saddu, whether the mangoes had already ripened, all these often without any intention to make fun of us.

      Dr Janaki and Shri Swamy, on the other hand were always more in the background, but providing sagely comments, whenever they were necessary. Suffice it to say that each visit to their midst provided me with sufficient emotional “charge” to last for months!

      In the middle of 1967, after I had graduated from the IIT campus in Kanpur, Dr Janaki visited my sister’s place in New Delhi. She appeared in good spirits and in good health. As usual, she was her quiet gentle self, ever-smiling, as always. Little did I realize then, that it was the last time I would ever see her alive again. The gentle spirit that had inspired so many even common villagers to trek to 'Ram Nivas' to seek her gentle touch, who even organised ‘melas’, while camping in front of her residence, was suddenly no more. It seemed then as if Mother Ganga had ordained that her healing presence would now be more relevant to the guardians of Heaven...Rather, her cycle of births in our firmament were finally over, and she had more pressing duties in a much higher plane..elsewhere!

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      Jaishree S 8 days ago

      Wonderful! My parents had immense love and regard for them. I remember them from my childhood days. They were true role models!

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      Rajini Devarajan 8 days ago

      Really nice to know about the journey of your grandparents.

    • profile image

      R Subramanian 8 days ago

      She was a very smart and capable woman. I remember seeing both of them in Benares during 1960-61. Considering that conservative era, it was a remarkable achievement to become a doctor.

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      Manjari Rajender 12 days ago

      What a life it must have been! I have only heard very fond and strong memories of them from my parents. There is entire generation in Benaras who are called Dr.Janaki's children.

    • profile image

      sundaram 2 weeks ago

      a touching poetic homage to your grandparents who were truly progressive!

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      S Shankar 2 weeks ago

      The manner in which you have presented in verses with such wonderful sketches makes it an engrossing story-

      You can be very proud of your grandparents- they were unique in their own ways- and now I know what inspired your children to pursue medicine !

      It is amazing that you have so much details about your grandparents - we have failed to collect even this much details from our parents even though there were so many anecdotes but not all dots connected - as far as our grandparents are concerned the picture is very vague except for memories of our trip to the village before electricity reached there and " enjoying " the summer holidays without light or fan at night! Lovely piece- look forward to reading more! God Bless

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 2 weeks ago from Hyderabad, India

      A very beautiful tribute to your forefathers who did so great service to the nation and humanity. I congratulate you for being born in such an ideal family.

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      Suresh Srinivasan 2 weeks ago

      Superb eulogy to a couple who were truly way ahead of their times. Thank you for the very poignant verse. Keep the ink flowing!

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      Mathew Selvam 2 weeks ago

      Great achievments in those days by Indians.

      Great reading.

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      Lalitha Manjunath 2 weeks ago

      Great reading!

    • profile image

      Krishnan Rangaswamy 2 weeks ago

      Simply excellent! Had a lump in my throat towards the end.

    • profile image

      Sharath 2 weeks ago

      Excellent story told with poetic brilliance. Good one Ram.

    • profile image

      Chandramouli Rajagopalan 2 weeks ago

      Great recapitulation Ram ! of your roots...

    • profile image

      Anand Ravi 2 weeks ago

      Absolutely superb - a touching account of personal family history on a vast canvas of social and cultural sweep, riding deftly into the reader's mind - thirsting for more!