Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Interview - Mrs. Sreedevi Varma, Flow With Life, Live a Life of Giving

80 years of life packs enough to warrant an interview immediately and the first thing I thought of when I heard that Nisha's mom was about to turn 80 in a couple of weeks was that I needed to get her views on some of the things she has experienced. She has lived pre-Independence, has seen India get its freedom, has seen India grow as a sovereign entity, seen the era of radios, of transistors, of televisions, of emergency, of satellite TV, of mobiles, of internet. Aunty does not look 80 and appears to be freer, happier than most younger ones. When I proposed an interview she shy smiled shyly and said that she has nothing really to share. But she was kind enough to humour me, and I am grateful for that.

Q. 80 years is a long time. What are the impressions you carry?
A. I was born in Kerala in 1934, in a village called Kannambra in Palghat district. I was born into a joint family, a Nair family. Our family were landlords. We were 6 children and I was the 5th.

When I was 6 years old I moved to Trichur and started going to school at Vivekodayam school. I was always encouraged to study and I enjoyed my years at school. Then we moved to Cochin in my 6th class and I studied in Cochin Girls school and later at St. Theresa's College. I did my B.A. Economics from Maharaja's College. After my education however I was not encouraged to take up any jobs nor was I in a hurry to work. There was no culture of women working those days. The next thing was my marriage and I married into the royal Varma family from Cochin.

My husband had a job in the Singareni Collieries and I came to Kothagudem in Andhra Pradesh. The initial years were tough since I did not know the local language Telugu, but we had many friends from Kerala and other parts of the country. While there, my three daughters Asha, Meera and Nisha were born,

Q. It was pretty progressive of your father to encourage you to study wasn't it?
A. He was an incredible man. He lived to be 96 years. But how he lived so healthy and strong for all those years is an interesting story. It was mainly because of his habits and discipline. He'd get up at 4 in the morning, have his bath at 630, breakfast at 730, read the newspaper, attend to work, buttermilk at 10, lunch at 12, nap, tea at 3, buttermilk at 5, dinner at 730 and off to bed by 9. I was very young but I remember his routine and the discipline.

There was a large age gap between me and my older sister, and it was she who I grew up with. She brought me up like her own daughter. So some part of the credit goes to her as well.

Q. How were those days without gadgets? Any particular memories of life then?
A. Those days there was not even electricity in Trichur. We were happy with the Petromax lanterns. Of course, no television and mobile, so a lot of time with family and friends.

Q. What has been your life philosophy?
A. That there will always be changes. We need to adjust to the flow. Otherwise life will be difficult. Adjust. Be empathetic. We were brought up in a broadminded environment, got an education.

Q. How do you look at life now? How do you cope with it? With all these changes?
A. Thank god that my health is good. I do kriya everyday. Go for an evening walk. Cook, something that I enjoy. Keep myself busy and active.

Q. What are the lessons you learned form life?
A. We should be sincere to others. Honest. God fearing. Don't expect from others. Always give. Be open minded.

Q. What is important to a person to deal with life successfully? If you could rank them.
A. Character. Relationships. Knowledge. Money.

Q. What do you think is the purpose of life?
A. To do things. To make others happy.

Q. Do you have any regrets? That you could have certain things differently?
A. No. Nothing at all.

Q. Your happiest moments?
A. When Asha, my oldest daughter, she got her Ph.D. When I got my own degree. Nisha's marriage. Meera's marriage. I am happy that I have 2 nice sons-in-law.

Q. Any other happy memories?
A. We had some fun times in Kothagudem and Bellampally. The club was a great getaway. Playing shuttle.Cards.Swimming. I remember my husband playing tennis. He was a sporty man.

Q. Who were the people who impacted your life?
A. Dr. Rama Varma, my husband's nephew. His dedication to his uncle was amazing. My husband. My father. They were the other two people I can think of.

Q. Your favorite books?
A. Bankim Chandra Chatterjee's books, Tagore and Shakespeare.

Q. Music?
A. I enjoy listening to Vasanta Kumari and Lata Mangeshkar. I enjoy Carnatic music. I studied music for 8 years with Bhagavathar Narayanaswany and Mani Bhagavathar.

Q. Your passions in life?
A. Cooking, stitching (embroidery) and music.

Q. What are the three most amazing places you have seen?
A. Coming out of Kerala was itself a huge thing and opened up a new world for me. Bangalore is a place I like. I also liked the USA. It's so clean and beautiful and nice. However I do not like their culture. People stand in the queue and kiss openly. It was rather awkward. But otherwise USA is a nice place too.

Q. Any message to your grandchildren?
A. Obey your elders. Be honest. Study well.

As with my other interviews with those who have lived to be 80, Aunty's clarity of thought got me. Not for one moment did Aunty think before she gave her answers. She spoke honestly and every now and then when she spoke of her childhood, I could get a glimpse of the child she must have been. Hers is an uncomplicated world as she makes the best of it, lives happily and contentedly with those around her. There is an overwhelming amount of gratitude in her voice as she speaks of her older sister and how she brought her up, her father and his broadminded ways and her husband who she admires greatly for his brave and positive outlook to life. The interview went much longer than what is reported as Aunty reminisced stories and we finally had to wind up as lunch time drew closer. I identify with her view of life, of going with the flow and more importantly of living a life of giving. Aunty is one who practices what she preaches and there was much joy in her voice as she told me of her plans for the next couple of months - her 80th birthday celebrations, her visits to Kannambra for some occasion, meeting other relatives etc. Wonderful stuff and thank you Aunty for giving me the time and sharing your life with me.

1 comment:

Rajendra said...

Nice. It was a pleasant surprise meeting her last week.