Monday, January 30, 2006


The other day, my brother told me Paru-athai passed
away. My immediate reaction was, "may her soul rest in
peace" ,literally, for, she was a woman who had lived
her life bravely, with a very strong will power and
strength of character and a load of love within her
for everyone and nothing else in this world. You
cannot say she had a checkered life nor was she an
extraordinary woman in the modern context. She was a
very very ordinary woman who had not stepped out of
the remote village she was born until her death at the
ripe age of 92, with no birthday celebrations. I doubt
if she herself knew about her birthday.

She was there ever-since I can remember. Perhaps she
was only 40, when I was a very young girl. Yet she
never looked young even then. The last I met her was
last year when I had gone to my native place after
several years. As usual she was there at the temple
and as usual she asked me with all the love and
concern in the world," how are you my child? Haven't
seen you for long. How is your family, the children
and the others?" She had the same questions to ask
everyone and she was happy if only we answered her.
She did not have any more expectations.

Who was this Paru-athai? Athai, in Tamil means paternal
aunt. No, she was not my father's sister. She was, in
fact , Paru-athai to every one in the village. No one
ever addressed her in any-other fashion. If she was
an ordinary woman, why do I think she was someone
special? Well, I feel she was a very very brave woman.

Paru-athai was a born widow! Surprising? Well, when she
was about 8 years old, she was married (she had not
even seen his face, prior to or during the ceremony).
When she was about 9 years old, one day, she was
called in while she was playing outside her house with
her friends and told she had become a widow. She did
not even understand what it meant. Anyway, she was
made to sit in a corner and everyone around cried
aloud beating their breasts. Young Paru did not know
what had happened. Nobody cared to explain to her.
When she felt hungry, no one was serving her food.
Now, young Paru cried and it was her father, who could
console his only daughter and explain to her that her
husband had died in a far away village. Paru did not
lose only her husband that day, she lost her youth,
her womanhood, her life. Her long hair,
which she adorned with flowers everyday, was cut and
her head was shaven. She was given a coarse red
unstitched cloth and she never wore any other type of
dress. She did not wear any jewelry nor was she
invited for any auspicious functions like, marriage,
baby showers etc. Yet, I have never seen her depressed
or showing any bitterness towards life. She took care
of all the children around, in the close knit society
we lived in. She was there to console the child who
fell down while playing, she was there to discipline
us whenever we children got into some mischief. She
lived with her only brother and took care of his
family and helped bringing up his children. When her
only brother died some 40 years ago, her brother's
family sheltered her and fed her and cared for her
till her death. That was the only good karma she had
earned in her previous life, perhaps.

These things flashed thru my mind when I heard about
her passing away and I saluted her will power
silently. I was telling my teenaged niece about
Paru-athai and she immediately asked me, why didn't
she drown herself and why did she have to live thru
this life with no one to love her no one for her to

I have often wondered what-gave strength to people
like Paru-athai to live thru the long life that was
given to them, when they had nothing to call their own
nor any thing to look forward to. It is not one
Paru-athai, I can remember so may young widows of her
age, as I was growing up in my remote village, who had
not known what life was, who were branded inauspicious
even before they could spell the word " auspicious"
who had not stepped out of their village even once. My
husband tells me, it is their unconditional
surrendering to God that gives them the strength to
live on without any expectations. The spirituality
that they imbibed as they were growing up gave them
the will power to live life that was given to them.

I also wonder why youngsters of today feel like taking
their own life for the slightest disappointment? Why
they think life is so cheap and worthless? Why is it
that they cannot take a "no" from any one or from
life? Who are to be blamed, they or their parents or
the society? I don't get an answer.


Anonymous said...

I also wonder why youngsters of today feel like taking
their own life for the slightest disappointment? Why
they think life is so cheap and worthless?

Arguably being "born a widow" is not what we would term a "slight disappointment." This was an event that governed and dictated her life for the next 83 years. That aside, we have far more expectations from life now than Paru athai and her contemporaries did in the year 1912. It's surely a cause for much celebration that kids who would be in Paru-athai's grandchildren's generation have so much more to look forward to in life.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the above comment. I am always amazed at a society that could bestow such horrors on a young, helpless child and expect her to bear the abuse of others silently. I am glad we are independent today from these shackles of the past.