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Life On An Eversilver Plate

Monday, March 16, 2009


You could set your watch by her. At five to 8 every morning, when we were young, Nagamma Ayah - an illiterate, old woman would turn up at our doorstep to shepherd us to school. “AbhiBhavani…” one of the many children in her herd would call out to us from the entrance. As if we were conjoined twins and not a pair of siblings baying for each other’s blood at that very moment. Ayah would motion for us to hurry up and we would join the motley flock as it made its way to school.

On our walk to school, she would sometimes tell us about her wayward sons, her deceased, alcoholic husband and on other occasions she would chat with other ayahs about her struggling milk business and its defaulting customers. It gave children like me a brief insight into the lives of those who worked for us. Those invisible cogs in the wheel who were only ever noticed in their absence.

She attended my wedding and she also came around to see my child when he was born. She was amused that the girl she had once walked to school was now a mother. I would go visit her in her tiny little house on my trips to Madras. She would still call me ‘our Abhi’. And I’d be touched by her easy assumption of propriety over me.

This morning, Appa told me that Nagmma Ayah (or 'School Ayah' as she was popularly known) had passed away. The last time I saw her, she was still accompanying children on their school run. In another life, one of those children would have been mine. And I too, like my mother and others like her, would have been assured that my son was in capable hands.
Thank you, Ayah. For giving much more than you ever took.


Vijay said...

Great post. I guess all of us who grew up in India at the fag end of the 20th century have similar tales to tell. You tell them well.

Unused Mind said...

Sorry about your loss... A very touching recollection indeed. May she finally rest in peace.

It is so easy to forget those people who have made small but very valuable contributions to our lives and personalities. I've been lucky to have had several such "school ayas" when I grew up and one can still see the affection in their eyes each time I meet them.

Nimmy said...

touching! :-| reminds me of my school aayah

Maddy said...

The act of taking her picture and keeping it safely itself shows the bond between both of you.

May her soul rest in peace.

Bhavani said...

Paavam aayah - I distinctly remember Ayah and her green sari , waiting at our doorstep

Archana said...

this is bhava's friend. We tend to take a lot of things, including people who touch our lives everyday for granted. Thank you for making a change in our thoughts and attitudes through your writings.

Teesu (very very Indian, very very good) said...

Ohh. How sad. Such an individual is closer to the heart than we may even know. Her contribution too much more valuable than apparent.SIGH.

SUMI said...

touching... R.I.P Ayah...

Vidya said...

>Those invisible cogs in the wheel who were only ever noticed in their absence.

Lovely lines / post. I recall the lives of several others who led similar lives.

Balaji S Rajan said...


Great to think about great people who mean little to others. I understand you being human, since I do keep talking about the ayahs who used to take kids to school and with whom I had acquaintance. Children growing in western world will never know this unless people like us tell them. I understand your feelings and your gratitude. I owe the same to many and I thank them for everything.

Well written and your post made me to think about the past and wonderful people I had come across. I liked your narration about her ayah describing about her alcholic husband, and her milk business. I could imagine the scene.

Anonymous said...

I remember an ayah similarly. A poignant remembrance.

Happy Birthday btw :)