A Multi-faceted Genius

Paraphrasing what Lata Mangeshkar said about Kishore Kumar in the Album Shradanjali “Kya nahi the?” meaning What was he not?, I would like to start with the question “What was she not?”, the she referring to amma, my maternal grandmother Thiruvengadavalli alias Jayalakshmi Sudarsan who was born this day, 5th October in 1923.

Jayalakshmi Sudarsan

She was
a composer (aasu kavi) having composed hundreds of songs on many deities with the tune and the tala
a violinist,
a vocalist,
a person with a phenomenal memory for dates, names, events, slokas, paasurams and the like,
an excellent cook,
a brilliant administrator and organizer,
a stickler for discipline as well as an embodiment of love and affection,
a willing teacher and even more intense student,
a store house of knowledge about traditions,
a wizard in money management,
an engaging conversationalist,
an avid reader,
a genius critic of movies,
a tireless worker,
a shrewd assessor of people,
a person with a high threshold for pain and a penchant for subtle humour, skilled in card games like literature,
a person capable of forgiving those who had wronged her,
someone who wouldn’t think twice before extending a helping hand to others ….. I can go on and on but let me start with a few examples of some of the few qualities as above.

My earliest recollection of her in late 1960s was her attending classes in cookery including jams and squashes and doll making. Very quickly, her stuffed dolls of different shapes, nationalities and hues were adorning the walls and the huge glass case in the hall. I particularly remember the Japanese ladies that she made. I have relished her various dishes that she had learnt including the juices. In fact, she used to make grape juices and sold them in the neighbourhood as well. When she was in her mid sixties, she would walk to Triplicane in the late afternoons to learn a composition or two from Dr S Ramanathan and quickly teach me the same. A paralytic stroke that struck her put paid to her efforts to continue to learn.

This is just a beginning and I will attempt to bring to light the genius I was privileged to call “Amma”.

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