Dec 07, 2023
Dec 07, 2023
Her husband was everything for her in this world. She viewed him as an uncommonly great man. She believed that he would never err. Neither she lent an ear to what her well-wishers told about her husband’s crazy spending style, nor did she heed to their latter-day warnings. Till then, her very world inextricably rested with her husband.
It is only upon the death of her husband at an young age of 40 years which made her and her three male children orphans, that she could come to know about all his adventures. She cried and cried. People who were in the know of her thought that she, being scared of the terrible days ahead, was crying. Relatives felt that having failed to checkmate her husband when he was alive and having not saved anything for the rainy days, she was crying now. But the truth was … she was crying for her husband. For, husband was everything for her.
On the tenth day of her husband’s death, she was tonsured. She became a widow. Staring at this new amma, the third child—of less than two years old—was scared. He caught fever. His fever ultimately transferred her sorrow from her husband to the children. For the first time she was terrified to think about the future of her three children. As her relatives were commenting about how her husband had expended the wealth that he inherited along with the wealth that he had made on his own so casually without any forethought, she heard them silently.
She was slowly coming to know of everything — house was no more of them; the farm and the orchid were being appropriated towards the debt by the creditors; the family jewellery was in mortgage with a bank. Still, there was a huge debt to be redeemed. As she was now crying for her husband, she felt sad of his short-sightedness too. She was now crying not only at the death of her husband but also at his short-sightedness.
One day Janakamma’s akka  came and said, “Janaki, will the dead come back if you cry! You have to muster courage and with a brave heart must take care of your children. Your husband might have taken away all the wealth with him, but he had left behind these three children for you. If nurtured well, they would become diamonds. It is your male children who are sure to redeem you from all your hurdles!” Since then her children became her very world.
She suffered a lot for her children. The neighbours used to fan her courage saying, “Janakamma! You have nothing to fear, your sons will soon relieve you from all your sufferings.” None of the relatives, who hitherto enjoyed all kinds of help from her husband, turned up even to say a consoling word when she was saddled with so many burdens. A mother from the neighbouring house, however, used to console her— “Why do you cry Janakamma, you are the mother of three sons. You are the luckiest. Once they grow up, where would be your sorrow!” She had put up with the anger and all the acerbic talk of the society for fifteen long years. Her children became her very world. She had no other awareness.
Just opposite their house, there in a Madras-terraced house, a merchant family lived. Gurunatham, son of Subbamma of that house, used to play with these children once in a while. They had just turned a happy lot after journeying through poverty and the accompanying sufferings. It was no shame for Gurunatham—who, passing through misery and hunger had become very wealthy now—to chat with Janakamma’s children.
“Peddabbai , what you would do after completing your education.”
“Collector”, said Peddabbai without winking even for a minute.
“How about you Chinnabbai ?”
“Oh my good Lord! Janakamma garu, I am scared to look at your Chinnabbai.”
In the meanwhile, Subbamma came and placing a chocolate in the youngest one’s hand asked, “What you will do my dear grandchild!” Not being able to express, he cuddled in his mother’s lap.
Laughing heartily and blessing them, Gurunatham told Janakamma, “Ammagaru , just watch… growing up, if your sons won’t repurchase all that property of their father! All the three are invincible ammagaru!”
Janakamma wiped her tears. Her children were her world. They were everything for her. She thought these troubles would hardly last for another ten years.
Janakamma took a vow to perform astothara nama pooja  to Lord Chennakesavaswamy if her elder son passed his school final exams.
He passed his examination. But she didn’t have a single pie with her. Taking pity on them if someone came forward to admit her son in a college, she promised to perform sahasranama pooja to the Lord. In the meanwhile, the boys’ maternal uncle came saying, “Akkaiah, I shall take the responsibility of educating the elder up to BA.” She didn’t have a single pie in her hand; so what? Lord Chennakesava didn’t get angry—the boy joined the college. Subbamma said— “Your son will become collector amma… a child’s uttering is equal to Lord’s dictum.”
Janakamma counted the years that had passed by. Her hair turned grey in that counting. Her wrinkled face appeared as though measuring the weight of the years that had passed by. The skin on her forearms too had wrinkled. Now she was counting months. Elder son was in BA. Managing on his own with whatever that had been fed by good Samaritans, her second son, scoring good marks, had come up to school final. Third one was studying third form. She was simply living on the blessings showered on them by the well-meaning women: “You would be relieved of your pangs, Janakamma! Your sons will become resourceful, Janakamma!” Every evening, while lighting the lamp, she offered her salutations to all those kind mothers and fathers who blessed her children well. There was no day that passed without her pleading to Lord Chennakesava to forgive her for the delay in fulfilling her vows but promising to fulfil all her commitments once her elder son got employed. She didn’t forget this daily routine even when the pain of starving at a stretch for two to three days or the accompanying nagging headache was weighing heavily upon her.
When once the elder son came home before exams, serving him curd that she had bought with an anna  that she somehow managed to earn, she asked him—“Nanna , for certain, you would write exams well and redeem your mother from all her struggles, won’t you! Sure, you won’t forget your brothers too, my child!”
“Amma , I am studying only to wipe away the tears of all the mothers in the world. Not only my own brothers, I will not forget any brother in the world amma!”
Janakamma wiped away her tears. Never in the past did her elder son spoke that affectionately nor that assertively. His disposition was always of an introvert sort.
Ten days after her elder son went back to college after vacation for writing exams, Janakamma’s brother came crying, “Look Janakammakka! How your elder son ruined you! You know, he ditched you, he ditched me, and everybody!”
She was stunned… “What did he do, Tammuduu ?”
“He did what he wanted to. He revolted against the British kingdom in which the sun never sets. This stupid seems to have counselled people not to join the war at the military recruiting centres. Handcuffing him, police took him away akka! How stupid of me! I thought of marrying off my daughter to him!”
Late in that night, two unknown students came to her. No women could venture to say even a word to Janakamma. It was like… her heart would stop throbbing if anyone uttered even a single word. But those two students, the classmates of her elder son, consoled her saying, “Why are you crying amma? Your son is a noble son of Bharatmatha . Even we didn’t have that courage. Unless the lordship of white people is driven out, he says there would be no relief for the Indian mothers from their anguish. You must only be proud of him, but not sob for him!”
“Nayana ! Will they let me see my son?”
“He is still in the sub-jail. Magistrate is an old gentleman. We shall go to see your son tomorrow through him amma!”
Janakamma met her elder son in the jail. There was no fear in his eyes. No dissatisfaction. Nor repentance. Seeing that stilled idol-like son, Janakamma withheld her sorrow.
“Why did you do this stupid act, my son? Want to torture your mother? Want to betray your mother and brothers who placed all their hopes on you?”
Janakamma’s elder son didn’t answer her. Pushing forward his hand through the jail bars, he touched her shoulder. She then remembered what her son had said when he last visited her —“Amma, I am studying only to wipe away the tears of all the mothers in the world. Not only my own brothers, I will not forget any brother in the world amma!”
A kind-hearted woman, saying, “Are you to be sad of what your elder son had done! Watch! In another year, your second son will fetch a job and take care of the family”, tried to console Janakamma. Subbamma came, saying, “Janakamma your second son is brilliant. If someone gives him money, he will not spend it, instead saves it. He would be the son who will set right your family.” Though these kind-hearted words moved her so much, she remained silent.
Once in a while, those who read the newspapers used to inform Janakamma about her elder son being released from the jail or about his re-arrest and so on. One day, a boy coming with a newspaper in hand, read to her the letter that her son had stealthily written to the patriots from the jail. Jankamma’s eyes welled up.
Janakamma’s second son passed school final. In the past, her two younger sons used to flood her with questions: “Amma why have they arrested annayya ? When will he come back?” Nowadays, while roaming on the streets, if anyone, reading about the brave acts of their brother from the newspapers, discussed it loudly they used to listen silently. They did not even bring it to the notice of their mother.
Visiting employment exchange offices, their maternal uncle somehow managed to get a job for her second son. He could thus earn something and with it the family was moving forward. The third one was studying alright. As the second year was passing, one day her second son fell at her feet and said: “Amma, I can no longer do this job!”
With a shattered heart, she looked into her son’s eyes. She knew fully well about her son—she was aware of his sitting with hermits and ascetics at the choultry abutting the village tank till late night, coming home quietly, nibble something and then pretend to be sleeping….
“Nayana, get married … establishing a family of your own, you have to take care of your brother. How …how to go about without doing the job, nanna?”
“Amma, you don’t know! … I have no interest in anything.”
Within three months of this conversation, her second son disappeared from home. It stirred up many rumours and wild gossips. One day Gurunatham coming home told Janakamma that a certain carpenter from Ponnur village had seen her son at a mattam .
This time round her eyes didn’t moisten.
“Gurunatham, I have to see my elder son. Could you write a letter to him?”
Catching hold of those who regularly read newspapers, and picking up some cue about her eldest son, he wrote a letter to some address. It was not, however, known to whom it went. By now Subbamma had lost her sight completely. Limping to Janakamma with the support of a shaft in hand, she said, “Janakamma, your family is having this trait … trait of joining the hermits … in the past, your father-in-law’s younger brother went away from home to join the monks … he hadn’t even undergone his upananyanam  by then.”
Janakamma didn’t speak to anyone. She was getting her third son educated with the support rendered by her brother. Despite all the affection showered on him for being the youngest in the family, he never failed in the exams. He stood first in all. The kind-hearted mothers said that if there was anyone to wipe out Janakamma’s struggles, it would be her youngest son.
All of a sudden, one day her elder son came home. Leaders of the nearby villages and many other villagers too came to see him. He was fully occupied for the whole day. He didn’t get an opportunity to speak to his mother even. People hadn’t allowed him even to have his lunch. Getting ready to leave the home, he said to mother, “Amma, what’s becoming of you! I feel brother took a wrong step. Amma, you may read the “Geetarahasya” written by Balagangathar Tilak!”
People talked well about her younger son passing the examinations that were meant for the award of a higher degree.
She asked her younger son, “Nayanaa! Why are you not trying for a job?” By then her sight had diminished slightly, hearing had impaired, and even she had lost a few teeth. He replied thus: “I am not looking for the routine jobs, am aiming to write for newspapers, and for that to happen, I may have to struggle for five to six years.”
“How will you carry on till then, nayanaa!”
“True, but then can this little belly be not filled somehow? Work in the newspapers is like an offering to god amma.”
The press people proposed to depute her third son—who, staying in towns and cities for five long years, had learnt journalism—as a special correspondent to foreign countries. After five years he went home to share the happy news with his mother.
Greeting him, “Good, my son!” she tumbled into his hands. Gurunatham came forward alerting him, “She is no more.”
At the time of lighting the funeral fire, all her three sons were there—the elder son coming from north and the second son coming from some hermitage down south joined the ritual. Around ten thousand people walked along her corpse to the burial ground. A big condolence meeting was held at the graveyard.
“What a great lady! Gave birth to three diamond-like sons”, murmured all those who had a kind heart for her. Coming home, Gurunatham said to his mother in the bed, “Amma, Janakamma died.”
Subbamma murmured, “Amma dead?”
 Akka—elder sister.
 Peddabbai—elder son.
 Chinnabbai—younger son.
 Ammagaru—a respectful way of addressing the lady of the family.
 Astothara nama pooja—pooja performed by chanting 108 names of Lord Chennakesavaswamy.
 Anna—one-sixteenth of a rupee.
 Nanna—an affectionate way of addressing a child by a father or mother, or elders.
 Tammudu—younger brother.
 Bharatmatha—mother India.
 Nayana—an affectionate way of addressing the youger ones by the elders.
 Annayya—elder brother.
 Upananyanam—sacred thread wearing ceremony.
This story, Aame Peru Amma was written in Telugu by late Munipalle Raju and was first published in Andhra Sachitra Vaarapatrika on 29-8-1956. This is one story with which, I am sure, many of the first-generation educated lot from rural India can easily relate themselves. I am thankful to Munipalle Raju garu for so graciously permitting me to translate a few of his stories, and also for so many encouraging words that still ring fresh in my mind.
More by : Gollamudi Radha Krishna Murty