I read with a certain guilt-feeling Lakshmi Ramanan’s latest in Mangayar Malar (Tamil mag.) – Nee Oru Sakku-mootaiya? (Are you a bluff artist?). That hyphenated s-word is a Tamil term for someone adept at making excuses to cover-up a lapse or cope with an embarrassing omission. I have been guilty of resorting to it with Shyamala (which is how we call her), particularly, whenever my wife and I neglected to meet her ailing mother (she is no more) during our occasional Chennai visits.
Lakshmi Ramanan, a prolific Tamil short story and feature writer, is my wife’s cousin. Her parents – Ramasami Iyer and ‘Thirukkural’ Kalyani Mami – had been a great help when we were setting up house in New Delhi in early 70s. At a time when we had no elder relations in Delhi to look up to for advice and guidance Shyamala’s parents were there for us.
I don’t recall the specific excuses I made up, but Shyamala or her IAS husband Mr Ramanan ( who retired as Chief Secretary in Rajasthan) have been decent enough not to challenge me. If anything, they acted as if they believed my cock ‘n’ bull that I invented on the spur of the moment. The pair of them are delightful conversationalists. Shyamala speaks as breezily as she writes.
I don’t get to read much of what she writes (can’t keep pace with her turnover in varied magazines - Mangayar Malar, Kalki, Kalaimagal, Ananda Vikatan, Kumudam Bhakti Spl.). However I recall a piece she did on her grand-father, Venkatsamy Iyer of Chamarajanagar. The reputation he had with all his grandkids (including my wife) was that of a stern person who had firm beliefs about the status of women, and their place in our households. In his reckoning a woman’s place was firmly in the kitchen.
Shyamala happens to be the first female graduate in the family (she passed out from Delhi’s Indraprasth College)in her days. She couldn’t have even thought of becoming a graduate, if her grand-father had lived longer. He died before she joined college. Shyamala recalled that when she once showed him a medal she got in school her granddad asked, “what would you do with a medal?” Education was not for girls, who should focus on marriage and on their work in the kitchen.
Irony was, as Shyamla put it, “I couldn’t have got married to Mr. Ramanan, had my grandfather not died at the time he did”. Mr Ramanan wanted a graduate bride..