Savithriammal was breathing heavily now. She had been having difficulty in breathing since the afternoon. Her husband Ramakrishna Iyer, was worried . The inhaler was not working. Her breath was coming out in a very laboured way.. He had tried to call both Ramesh and Suresh. Ramesh , his older son who was in the US was not picking up his calls. It was going into the answering machine. And Suresh who was in Bangalore had said that he would try and come by on Sunday..! “Of course if your mother lasts until then” he muttered to himself as he put down the receiver.

He looked outside- it was raining heavily. How on earth was he going to get proper medical help? The nearest hospital was in Tanjore. Mayavaram, or Mayiladuthurai the small  town where they lived was a good two to three hours away!

“Do you want some warm water Savithri?” he asked his wife.. She shook her head and closed her eyes. Savithri- his wife of fifty five years was struggling to take breath and here he was an old man of seventy five unable to do anything to help her! He felt frustrated !

He remembered the day they had got married. Savithri was eighteen and he was twenty and just out of college. Savithri was from Trichy – a “town girl” according to Lakshmi Pati his widowed grand aunt. Savithri had completed school and was looked at by the other women in the agraharam as something of a novelty!  Ramakrishnan was in awe of her-she was a beautiful girl and he felt like a gawky teenager though he was a good two years older than her.

She settled down soon enough into the humdrum of daily life in the household assisting his mother in the kitchen and humouring Lakshmi Pati’s complaints about this and that!

It took them all  about a year  to realize that she had a special skill.

His sister Padma was having her delivery and the midwife was in panic. The  baby was a breech birth and she was very nervous that it would be fatal for both mother and child. Before anyone could realize it Savithri had found her way into the room and was assisting the midwife with the delivery. It was a miracle –both Padma and the baby were safe! Savithri was a heroine!

Soon, every delivery in the agraharam had Savithri assisting the midwife. Slowly, as she gained confidence she began to handle some of them by  herself.

The real trouble came when Kuppan came one day requesting for Savithri Amma’s services as his wife struggled through labour. Srinivasa Iyer, was furious that a person of a low caste could even imagine that the daughter –in –law of a vedic scholar would come into  his hut just because his wife was in labour! He yelled at Kuppan and asked him to get out before he polluted the entire agraharam with his low caste presence.

Ramakrishnan, a mild mannered boy had always been very afraid of his father’s wrath. So he was shocked when Savithri suggested that he accompany her after dinner to Kuppan’s hut! He flatly refused. But Savithri obviously had other plans .. In the night when she did not come into their room, he guessed what she might be up to!

All hell had broken loose in the morning. Srinivasa Iyer was yelling at his daughter-in-law who stood quietly in the street outside the house. Lakshmi Pati was calling her a girl of loose morals who was disrespectful to elders. But surprisingly, his gentle mother had eased out the situation, asking her daughter –in –law to come to the backyard where she kept ready the bucket of water for her to remove her pollution and enter the house.

After that it had become a routine. People from all castes in the village would come to Savithri for assistance during the deliveries. Sometimes, she worked with the midwife and sometimes all alone. She never denied anyone her services. The paraiyans , vannans and all the lower castes who were never ever allowed to even step into the agraharam felt overwhelmed as Savithri Amma came into their huts and delivered their babies…When she returned home, it was the same routine- entering the house through the backyard after pouring a bucketful of water over herself to remove the “polluting influence” of the places she had visited.

When the Christian missionaries set up a health centre in the village, it was not surprising that they tracked down Savithri and asked if she would be interested in joining their training program for birth attendants. Head strong girl that she was , she never stopped to ask either him or his father. Amma was her close confidante and silent supporter in this endevor…

The years went by. Savithri herself became a mother. She had also completed her training in midwifery and was now a certified birth attendant. She continued to work with the nuns in the health centre rendering her services whenever required. Srinivasa Iyer was a spent force.. he realized that he was fighting a losing battle.

Ramakrishnan who worked in a local school as a maths teacher, felt a sense of pride as some of the children in his class told him that they  were delivered by his wife! But he was never able to proactively reach out to the children from the lower caste settlements like his wife did. He taught them at school and was always conscious of his upper caste status sometimes cursing the government for its reservation policy which made “morons like these” to get admission in college despite their low marks.

The years went by and  Mayavaram became Mayiladuthurai! The impact of the MGR films and the dialogues written by Karunanidhi began to result in social transformations across the town. The children of the lower castes realized the power of education and went on to acquire degrees and good jobs in Chennai and elsewhere. The agraharam no longer was a “consecrated” place that would not tolerate the presence of other castes. As the older generation passed away their children who lived in cities began to sell those ancestral houses to outsiders- often people of other castes.

Ramakrishnan the  casteist  snob refused to have anything to do with his neighbours. He kept to himself and wished that his wife would do so too.

But that was too much to imagine! She was her usual friendly self talking in her Brahmin lingo to all her neighbours ignoring the smell of garlic that emanated from their kitchens and laughing at her husband’s anger..

She was too old to continue with her midwife services. Her asthma was getting worse by the day and today it seemed to have propelled her towards her death!

Ramakrishnan wondered if he should ask his neighbours for help. But he decided against it- He had never really spoken to them before. What would they think if he suddenly walked into their house in this pouring rain ..

When he heard the knock on the front door, he first thought that he must be imagining the sound. But when the knock became persistent he went out to see who it was…Was it Suresh, who had changed his mind and decided to come after all?

( to  be continued)

For those of you who are not familiar with Tamilnadu – the word Agraharam refers to a dwelling place around a temple in which the upper most in the caste hierarchy -the Brahmins used to traditionally reside! Paraiyans and Vannans are the castes who are lower most in the caste  hierarchy referred to today as Scheduled castes or Dalits


8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. KP
    Apr 22, 2012 @ 13:04:12

    It is very nicely narrated bringing out the admirable trait in Savitri who was ahead of her times with a liberal mind of her own.I can guess the turn the story would take and would wait eagerly for you to complete the story.You have a riveting style


  2. Jack
    Apr 22, 2012 @ 21:20:25


    Very eagerly looking forward to next part. Please do not delay it too much.

    Take care


  3. ramananth
    Apr 22, 2012 @ 22:40:34

    It is indeed a nice story, felt good to read.


  4. ramananth
    Apr 22, 2012 @ 22:42:32

    It was good to read a nicely written story, will come back for the next part.


  5. renu
    Apr 23, 2012 @ 12:44:00

    very interesting story…


  6. Bikramjit Singh Mann
    Apr 23, 2012 @ 15:56:45

    hmmmmmmmmmmmmm I will say WHEN ARE YOU PUTTING PART 2 🙂
    interesting so far …


  7. Anu singhal
    Jul 23, 2018 @ 13:57:05

    So absorbing loving each and every narration .


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