My mother saw her father for the first time when she was 73 years old.

Her older siblings were in their eighties and nineties. Yet, their reactions on unexpectedly seeing their father made one think the last seven decades never happened. Geriatric Joy is lovely to behold.

My mother was the last born in a family of seven. When she was 3 years old, her father passed away. A shock that left the family bereft, and sent their mother into a decline from which she never recovered. Kind relatives helped, but there was no denying that the household was headed for turbulent times. Her older brothers, then teenagers, made for the nearby towns in search of work. They were hardworking, sincere boys; and slowly managed to bring the rest of the family to the town. Despite all the hardships, they sent my mother and her sister (still young children) to school.

Heroes of #HeForShe

The girls did not disappoint them. Their schools recognized their intelligence and perseverance and encouraged them to get a college degree. When the world around them judged the brothers for spending their hard-earned money on educating the girls (Sisters, not even daughters, wagged the village tongues), they did it anyway. The sisters became the first graduates from their village and went on to become Physics and Chemistry teachers.

Life’s tempests denied my uncles the opportunity to study. But they still educated their little sisters. They, in my mind, are the true heroes of the #HeForShe movement.

“O, brave new world
that has such people in’t!” 
William Shakespeare, The Tempest

Who was my mother’s father?

I am reminded of the poignant children’s book, Are You My Mother, By P.D.Eastman. In the book, an egg hatches when the mother bird is out. The chick goes out into the world searching for its mother. The little chick asks all types of creatures: dogs, cows, and even cars and planes, “Are You My Mother?” 

I remember thinking that my mother must have felt the same way about her father. She had no recollection of how he looked, and this was something that always wrung my heart given how much I adore my own father. She, however, was stoic and practical about it, just as she is about life. She considered herself lucky to have been a sibling to such a loving set of brothers and sisters, all of whom dote on her to this day.

Pictured in memories

Her brothers, our dear maamas, told us that they looked and searched for any photographs of their father, the good-looking, duty bound man.  They had combed through the scant wedding albums, peered into old archives since he had worked as a chef in the Kanchipuram Sankaracharya’s Mutt, but they were disappointed. There were no photographs anywhere. Though many people had good things to say about him, and even went on to say my mother looked a lot like him, there were no photographs anywhere. He lived on in the memories people had of him, but my mother did not even have any of those to hang on to.

Then, one spring morning in 2018, on a new moon day,  her 90 year old brother who was more of a father to her, sat down with his morning coffee in hand and opened Dinamalar, the Tamil newspaper. That day the newspaper had printed some pictures from the Kanchipuram mutt’s archives. And there he was. In the frame beside Sankaracharya stood their father. Maama recognized him, and immediately hollered to his son, to send the picture to my mother. “She is the only one who has no memory of how he looked.”, he said smiling like a child again

Finding father in Dinamalar

The picture shows a man with with his palms folded
A picture of my mother’s father (image courtesy: Saumya Balasubramanian)

So, at 73, my mother finally saw her father. Radhakrishnan Iyer had 7 children, two of whom have already passed away. The youngest is a septuagenarian. What were the chances of a 90-year-old man still retaining the habit of reading the newspaper every morning? Why had he been reading that particular newspaper that day? The fact that he retained the mental acuity to recognize his father who passed away 70 years ago is nothing short of a miracle.

I sat with my mother while she massaged her arthritic knees, and asked her how she felt at seeing her father’s face finally. Her face broke into a slow, wide smile, and she said, “I felt very happy to see him of course! You should have heard anna and akka (elder brother and sister) though. They were so happy to finally show me my father.”

I love the word, Serendipity.  If this isn’t Serendipity, what is? Though a tiny analytical piece of me nudges me about probability and coincidence, I think Radhakrishnan Iyer wanted his youngest daughter to have a glimpse of him in her lifetime, and he revealed himself to her.

“Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable” – Mary Oliver

P.S: My Uncle passed away 6 months after this newspaper clipping.

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