Click on each photo to enlarge
It all started more than a year ago. In one of the quarterly meetings of the family Trust, Amritha and Santhanam were in animated discussions. On being pressed, Amritha said,’ Santhanam Anna was saying that Amma would have been 100 in May 2021 and we were discussing about Amma.’. It was from this germinal thought that the Centenary Celebrations were conceived.
After nine months of being confined to Bangalore, we had been to Chennai in November 2020 to attend to urgent repairs in our Arumbakkam flat. We had to follow it up with another visit in February 2021. The Management Committee meeting of the Jayalakshmi Ranganathan Trust in that month was held in Arumbakkam. Though not a member of the Managing committee, I am the chief எடுபிடி (edupidi - assistant) of the Treasurer and thus take active part in the Trust affairs. After the agenda items were discussed Santhanam initiated discussions of the Centenary celebrations. He became the motive force for whatever was to follow. More of it later.
When the siblings discussed how they were all brought up, I realised that Jaya akka (You have to read my article to know how she was Akka to me) was really a role model in all the roles she had donned in her life. She was a dutiful daughter, a loving sister, a caring wife, a strict but affectionate mother, an excellent cook, a capable home-maker, a fond relative, a universally loved grandmother, a voracious reader and in all a great human being. As we were all reminiscing and looking back, we unanimously felt that Jayalakshmi and Ranganathan made a life statement with the way they lived their life and it was a reservoir of learning for all those who were fortunate to have been a part of their life.
In 1997, when I was in Assam and the Net was in its infancy (at least in India), I would view some personal webpages by connecting to ER-Net through the credentials.of Central Railway’s Data Processing Centre, Bombay. Creating a personal website became a target, though it was unachievable from Assam. But I thought my webpages would definitely include details of my extended family. In November 1997, while on a 2-day visit to Chennai, I had asked my father and mother to tell me the details about their brothers and sisters and their children and noted down everything. At that time, I did not know that it would be my last meeting with my father who passed away in May 1998 after I was posted back to Bombay from Assam. The eight sheets containing the names and years of birth of my twenty uncles/aunts and their sixty-one children were with me for a long time, but were lost in the shifting of residences. Fortunately, I had the foresight to post everything in my website which I eventually made in late 1998 and hosted it in the free site GeoCities, which collapsed in 2009.
The website with over fifty html files and fifty photographs was created when the speed in MTNL internet connection was 50 kbps. From 1999, we had a Railnet connection in our flat in Colaba which was free, but at about 20 kbps. Harish gifted me this site (sparthasarathy.biz and sparthasarathy.com) in Yahoo in 2005. This site has been alive thanks to the fact that the monthly payment was automatically debited to Harish’s and after he went to USA, my credit card.
From May 1998, I have been having a laptop. I did have every file I created in my laptop. But with every change of post, I had to hand over the laptop and procure a new one. Hundred percent backup was not always possible. It is only after my retirement (2008) that I have my own laptop. Most of whatever I have written after 2008 is on record either in my laptop or in my website. I was also an active blogger from 1998 to 2010 and was publishing the family Newsletter every two or three months. Thus, where others have to dig deep and take out pearls from their memory, I have to only go through my website or the folders in the laptop.
Another important source of information about my parents, their siblings and my grandparents was an audio cassette tape recorded by my brother Sampath and his family in 1995 when my parents had visited Calcutta. My niece Radha had preserved it and gave it to me in 2008 when we were planning to celebrate my father’s centenary. I got it converted to CD and had distributed the audio-CD with the Souvenir we brought out on the occasion.
I have been able to put together Story of Jayam as gathered from my father’s audio, Kannan’s and Amritha’s articles in my Family Newsletter, Prasad’s Story of Ranga’, my own recollections and of course inputs from Amritha.
As I said earlier, Santhanam was the force that moved everything. We decided that the family will celebrate by providing Annadhanam, Archana etc. and the Trust will institute endowments in schools In the Trust Managing committee meeting held in Arumbakkam in February 2021, it was decided to create an endowment for Rs 50,000 each in the following four schools and award a prize to be called “the Jayalakshmi Ranganathan Birth Centenary Endowment Prize” to the student who gets the highest marks in the aggregate (or in a particular subject) in the Class 12 or Class 10 Board examination.
1. SSKV Higher Secondary School for Girls, Kancheepuram (where Pushpa and Amritha studied)
2. Anderson Higher Secondary School for Boys, Kancheepuram (where Santhanam did the final two years of his schooling)
3. St Anthony’s Girls Higher Secondary School, Santhome, Chennai (where Amritha and Hema studied)
4. Saraswathi Venkataraman Matriculation Higher Secondary School, Tiruvanmiyur, Chennai with which Shri C. Srinivasan (Chooda's husband) is associated as Correspondent/ Secretary for a number of years.
Members of the family also contributed money for organizing annadhanams in old age homes and hostels and special poojas in temples. The amount was utilized as follows:
(a) Donated to Sevalaya for organizing Special lunch on 27.5.21 to senior citizens/ students- Rs 36,000/
(b) Donated Rs 20,000 to Shri Pulikundram Santhanam for organizing annadhanam during Bramostavam at Kancheepuram (yet to be utilized)
(c) Donated Rs 10,000/ to Vishranthi Charitable Trust, Chennai for meeting one day’s food expenses on 27.5.21
(d) Donated Rs 10,000/ to Sri Poornamahameru Charitable Trust, Chennai for meeting one day’s food expenses on 31.5.21 - This is the place where Jaanaa, younger sister of Jaya akka spent her last days
(e) Donated Rs 5,000/ to Shri Balaji for performing special pooja for Shri Panchamukha Anjaneyar at Tirunindravur and distribute prasadam
(f) Donated Rs 5,000/ to the Bhattar of the Perumal Koil at Perambai for doing special pooja to the deity and distribute prasadam
(iii) In addition some of the family members have, on their own, organized archanas, poojas at local temples on 27th and 31st May.
Santhanam asked me whether I could organize a video meeting of all family members over the Net. Unfortunately my technical expertise is limited to webpages and WhatsApp and I told him the younger family members would be the ideal persons to approach. Madhu ably assisted by Geetha and Aditya took over the job of organizing a zoom call (a word the seniors heard for the first time). But the trial on 22nd May 2021 was a great success with family members from four continents joining.
The get-together could not be organized on 27th May 2021 as it was a working day and many were busy. So we will celebrate the occasion on 5th June 2021. The change would have been approved by the Centenarian, as she used to say வேலை முக்கியம் இல்லயா Velai mukhyam illaiya.”But photos and video of the celebrations in Sevalaya, an orphanage on 27th May 2021 brought tears in all our eyes.
I had undertaken to bring out a special issue of the family Newsletter. The response to Santhanam's and my emails and Amritha's phone calls to every potential writer was amazing, as everyone that was contacted wanted to write (or speak) about Jaya akka. Perhaps it is not so amazing considering the fact that she truly believed that relationships matter the most to any human being. And so I have 27 articles on Jaya akka (and another 19 on Kannan (Narasimhan). The webpages on Kannan will be published on 3rd June 2021. Putting them together, transcribing the audios, relearning the half-forgotten html coding – above all selecting suitable photographs was a tough job. But I think this edition of the Newsletter has come out well.
Gradually what began as an act of head became an affair of the heart, especially for me and Amritha. My thanks to Amritha who, like her mother, remembers a lot of things and also places relationship above everything else. My thanks to Santhanam who is the prime-mover behind whatever is happening. My thanks to Hema who edited every article as if it was a loan application and to Aarthi who designed the logo. I have been fortunate to read and re-read the articles which have dredged out old memories from the innermost recesses of people who were close to Jaya akka. These articles are a kaleidoscope of incidents and events - some funny, some moving, some reflective, but all of them interesting and highly readable. Some are hearable as well.
We wanted to have a physical get-together. We wanted to do much more, At the same time we felt that the celebrations should reflect Jaya akka’s personality and should be good and appropriate rather than grandiose. The pandemic may have reined in our enthusiasm, but we are heartened by all that has been achieved.
This edition of the Newsletter is a humble tribute to a great human being. We hope that you will enjoy it as much as I enjoyed putting it all together.
31st May 2021