Story #1: A Common Story in an Uncommon Voice

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Her Time Has Come…

Prabha Rajan succumbed to Cancer on January 5th 2013

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Though we speak of reinvention in singular, it need not be confined to that “once in a life time” experience. We may choose to reinvent ourselves in many ways and at any time.

Yet these stories record singularly life transforming events that makes us who we are; now, at present.

Here is a common story told in an uncommon voice!

Prabha Rajan chooses to tell her story in 3rd person, as she recounts a personal tale that takes us through the turn of the century.

I find this narrative especially interesting, as she records the pain and isolation of early childhood and subsequent abundance and achievements in adulthood, in the same detached style which makes me wonder if she is a spectator or the protagonist!

The reinvention is as dramatic as it is subtle. She talks about breaking free from early childhood experiences, societal pressures, family roles and responsibilities; to find true self expression and freedom.

Prabha Rajan: An impetus to create an identity for her self.

Story of How it all Began…

Born on 27th July 1951 in Mylapore near Madhava PerumalKoil, to a middle class Brahmin family. Youngest child in a family of four children – one eldest sister and two elder brothers.

Father had a good job in a well-known company. He and mother lived in a joint family of 16 people in the initial years. The only bread winner of the family was the father. He looked after all the members in the family. The other members were his parents and other first cousins of the family. Father had an office car and driver. The family lived a decent life.

Like typical olden days South Indian family, the mother was ill-treated by her in-laws and often sent to her mother’s place to bring something or the other. These things were not known to father. He was busy in his career and office work. He was nice to his wife. In that period of time a girl child was born, his fourth child.

Father went to see the baby in the hospital with his eldest daughter.  But he didn’t go into the ward because he was too shy to go into the ladies ward. But he did not know that it was his last chance to see the baby. After he returned from the hospital, he got chickenpox and within 10 days he died.

Stories from a Childhood Past….

So the youngest baby saw only her mother and not her father. She was brought up by her mother and grew up with her brothers and sister. She was a cute little baby and the neighbors pampered and loved her a lot. They took her wherever they went.

After her father’s death, the family members did not give much attention to the baby. Especially her mother neglected her and only her mother’s sister (Chitti) took care of her. She did not know her real name till she became old enough to ask. Everybody called her Bujji (little baby in Telugu).

She remembers that she was tied up to a small gate in front of her house with a rope. Whenever the people in the opposite house and neighbors saw her, they would call out to her and show her their affection.  She was cheerful and went with her maternal grandmother to meet friends and relatives. She was fascinated with the handwork that her grandmother did; she would quietly sit besides her watching.  She was not a troublesome child and everybody liked her, they wanted to keep her with them.

When her mother was hospitalized for some operation, she went to see her mother. Still she remembers the hospital atmosphere and the taste of the bread that she ate which was given to her mother.

Due to problems with in-laws, the children were shifted to different places. At that time she stayed with her Chitti in Andhra Pradesh. She enjoyed the love and affection of her Chitti and Chittappa, cousins and other relatives there. She remembers decorating her fingers and toes with mehendi which she would collect from mehendi trees found in different houses in the neighborhood.  She had a good time and enjoyed her stay there.

When she was old enough to go to school she was admitted to a small primary school in George Town, in Chennai.  She used to go to school with her elder brother holding his hands protecting him from the heavy vehicles and traffic. She would act as if she was the elder sister! She would go to his class to see whether he had eaten and then wash his tiffin box and bring it back. Always caring and responsible in her childhood, she used to participate in plays and singing programme. Still she remembers the first dialog that she spoke in her first play when she was in first standard!!

They shifted their residence from Patti’s (maternal grandmother) place to another rented house; in which tenants lived in different small portions. She now had more people to play and chat with. She remembers playing with a lot of children on the terrace. They used to even sleep on the terrace during the hot summer with their mother.

Once her leg was burnt by hot water, poured on her accidentally by her grandfather. Her sister took her to the terrace and removed the bandage, which is still an unforgettable memory of that terrace… Howling and running all over the place!

As they had their father’s savings and compensation money they lived a decent life. They were fortunate to have good food and adequate dresses. They didn’t demand anything they could not afford and they were very responsible and studied well. But they couldn’t get any help for studies from their mother, as mother was illiterate and could not read and write. The only resource was going to school.

She enjoyed their mother’s singing which she did whenever she was very depressed. Mother used to keep her Veena in one hand and hold the children on her lap and play it as long as she could. Sometimes she continued her singing even after the children went to sleep.

Food was not a priority to them. They would sit around their grandmother with all their cousins and eat the same food, left over from the previous day and which they still felt was as good as a feast.

After they shifted their house, due to some misunderstanding, Patti, Chitti and other cousins stopped coming to see them. They were missed as they only had neighbor’s friends. Mother used to go out with neighbors and the children would be left at home. Reading books was the main entertainment. Since there was no radio or alarm clock at home, it was fun to hear cine music from radio in the neighboring houses.

She would sing all the cine songs of that time, holding the small babies from the neighboring houses on her lap. She didn’t miss anything; always cheerful and happy. Whenever somebody asks her father’s name, she would say her brother’s name!

Her sister and brother went to college and soon they shifted to Mylapore from George Town.  She and her immediate elder brother were admitted to a small secondary school. Their classes were on the terrace of a house. Opposite to the school, there was a tiny restaurant where she used to eat pattani-sundal (boiled nuts). She cannot get the same taste anywhere else!!

When she was in her senior class she was admitted into a Christian Missionary school. There she found complete change in her school and personal atmosphere. That was the time she became old enough to look around, analyze and adapt her self to the surroundings. She became a mature teenage girl. Now she felt she was missing something…perhaps fatherly affection?

Once she was badly affected by self-pity and emotions when she was awarded first class in her 11th standard public exam. No family member was there to cheer her or congratulate her in the school. That day she cried a lot and felt the loneliness.

Stepping into adulthood…

She went to college for further studies. At that time her sister finished her studies and got a job in a decent company. After that their financial position became slightly better and the family enjoyed dining out and her elder brother also started his further studies.

She got a few close friends in the college.  She shared her feelings with them. She enjoyed being with them. But she was so possessive that she did not want her friends being close to others. She felt sad when her friends avoided her. She witnessed two-three love affairs also. She closely watched her friends involved in love affairs and noticed the sad and happy events of their lives. Fortunately she was saved from these kinds of hassles. These were the things which had made her mentally strong to take decisions.

That time her mother started looking for an alliance. Her uncle brought an alliance for his friend’s son. After that everything went very fast and marriage happened!

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She married an Ad man, an enthusiastic man who wanted to rise up in his career. So she had to match up to her husband’s expectations. She was confused.

What kind of lifestyle did she have to face in her new family?

Because of her family background she could not mingle with other people very freely. She had to attend parties and also entertain people in the house. Slowly she trained herself to adjust and live this kind of lifestyle. In course of time she was blessed with three lovely children-two girls and a boy.

She lived with her in-laws. Her children were very attached to them.  They didn’t demand and expect anything from her. Her husband was also very busy with his work and did whatever was necessary for the family. She did the entire household chores with enthusiasm and hard work and attended to the children’s need.

But she felt something missing in the family atmosphere. She thought the whole thing was mechanical and nobody was connected to her thoughts. She felt even if she was not there, no one would miss her.  This made her sad and depressed. She wanted her presence to be felt in the family. She thought she was staying apart from her husband, though they were living together.

Re Invention and Re creation…:

She could not take the pressure on her mind. So she wrote a long letter to her husband about her loneliness and the recognition that she wanted from others and other heart-felt feelings. She poured out everything in the letter. It was an eye opener for her husband and he took it in the right sense. In his style, he got it published in a Tamil weekly magazine. That was the first turning point.

After that husband and wife started understanding each other, like they were on a mission! He understood both her feelings and her writing ability. He encouraged her to write more articles and stories. Slowly she started writing (in Tamil) whatever came to her mind and started looking around for themes from the outside world.

At that time she and her husband had a chance to go abroad. They visited the United States. That was also an eye opener for her. Seeing a lot of people made her more confident to speak and carry herself well. She wrote about those experiences as well.

She found that every family had a problem and they had to sort it out, and come out of it. Apart from her husband’s help she thought she should do something to come out of the depression. She learnt music and fine arts like stitching and painting also. She realized that apart from house work she should have some hobby or interest for self-satisfaction.

One of her friends introduced her to social work. She went as a scribe for the blind people. Slowly she was introduced to a service organization. It was a ladies organization which does community service. She met sick, disabled and depressed people. It opened her to the world and made her think about other things than children, house, husband and family.

She participated in community service and did whatever little she could do. It was appreciated by the Club she belonged to and the people who benefited by this. She got the recognition that she wanted. The family circle also realized her ability and her confidence in doing things. It gave her more satisfaction and happiness.

To gain greater confidence she went to a public speaking course. She learnt more about communicating with people, addressing meetings, and she was ready to lead a club or group of people.

She became the President of the ladies club. She ran the club efficiently with the help of her husband. She took her husband’s help in preparing speeches and sending mails. She was fully confident of facing situations, handling crisis etc. It helped her in the family front also.

After that she was no more an introvert, she was confident talking with people. Conducting programmes’ and giving speeches became her hobby!

Everything seemed different and she took a positive approach to everything.

Now that her children are all married and she has fulfilled her responsibilities as a grand mother, she has more time to spend. Apart from gardening, music is also close to her heart. She enjoys singing any song that she likes. She learnt music from other teachers and she also loves to sing in public whenever she gets a chance! This also made her popular among friends and gave her a lot more to share with other people.

Her book Kadambam, a collection of her short stories in Tamil, was published and received very good reviews from everyone. Another event that has boosted her confidence. A second turning point.

These changes made her a totally transformed person and it showed in the family situation also. She is confident and cheerful to handle many family situations and problems. She is very clear in her thoughts and in taking decisions. She got the recognition she was yearning for.

She now has an identity of her own which she missed in the first half of her life!

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The couple went to Delhi to start a new life.  She had a chance to go abroad with her husband.  She met a lot of people with different mindset.  She realized that everybody has their own thoughts and are different from each other.  She started writing whatever comes to her mind about the people whom she met on her journey through life.

The thoughts that she could bring into writing made her happy and gave her self-confidence.  She was introduced to the world of music also which made her new person.  She used all her talents to learn music and art and also joined a service organization which made her more confident person.  She became the President of the organization.  Whenever she met people she became more confident that she could do better things.

She helped her children in her own way.  She helped them to do things without spoiling their independence.  Children became adults and developed their own talent.  Since they were in a joint family, they had moral values and got good name in the family and friends circle.  They got married and well settled in their lives.

She thinks she had achieved good and had a satisfied life.  Whenever she feels depressed of whatever she missed and not achieved, she thinks about the good things and happy moments of her life and will get back her enthusiasm and energy.  Happiness is within us and not got from outside.  All our gurus, elders, scriptures are teaching the same thing.  It took me so long to learn and follow the same.  Find out the things which will give you happiness and satisfaction and try to do it with love and you will get happiness in life.

Reinvention Story…







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One response »

  1. I had to read it a couple of times and I’ve only begun to understand the wonderful ways in which your mom has experienced many life choices & circumstances. Thank her for courage- such a personal self-revealing process of sharing impacts the writer and readers (well me for sure) rather intensely.

    You (and mom’s story) have got me absolutely excited about this project.

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