Original Article published in Kalki Magazine in Jan 2006
A rough translation of the original article is enclosed below
When the mother became the child
Memories shared by Visalam Ammal
“I must have been around 10 years old. Both my father and mother were working in Kalki Gardens. A palatial home, a huge beautiful garden, and many other children Radha, Vijaya, Thangam and Anandhi to play with. So, I used to like going there often to play. It is there that I saw MS Amma for the first time. Such a smiling face, curly hair, soft spoken and so much beauty and grace. Noticing how precocious I was, MS Amma said “ Why not let her stay here, for a few days, with us ?” Who would have known that those ‘few days’ would really end up being the next 64 years ?
From that day, I had the good fortune to stay with MS Amma and help her with anything she needed till the very end of her life. Sadasivam Sir would tease her and say “Kunjamma, I think in your entire life, the name you have called the most must be Visalam ! “ Somehow, Amma had so much affection for me. She always wanted me to be by her side.
When my father informed them that my marriage had been arranged and was going to take place in Senji(about 3 hours from Chennai), I am not sure if Amma thought I was going to leave forever; she ran into her bedroom, threw herself on the bed and sobbed. Sadasivam Sir comforted her and said that I will not be going away forever and that I will be coming back after my wedding.
Amma had concerts or recordings all the time and so I used to take meticulous care to make sure she was in good health. Amma used to be even more strict about my well-being ! Amma would scold me and say “ You keep washing your hair because it is the month of Krithigai, Monday or Wednesday and then running to do your work without drying your hair properly; you might fall sick. Make sure you dry your hair properly and also put Sambrani on it “ If Amma even heard a small sneeze from me, she would come running and to touch my forehead and check to make sure I did not have fever.
Whenever I brought her anything to eat, Amma would first ask me – “ Have you eaten ?” I would insist that I was only bringing her food after I had eaten; but she was not fooled. She would shake her finger playfully and admonish “ Don’t you lie to me !”
As they grew older, Sadasivam Sir was not picky about food; even if it was curd rice with a tasty Peerkangai Thogayal, he would enjoy and eat it. But Amma was not like that; it took a lot of effort to convince Amma to eat properly. Sadasivam Sir would jokingly tell me “ You better come with us to heaven, Visalam. I am not sure if there are people there to give us our medicine correctly and to make sure we eat properly every day!”
Day to day, Amma would dress with simple elegance. Till the very end, she used Kasturi Manjal(Turmeric), and cosmetics made with naturally occurring ingredients like Hyderabad Kum Kum for her Bindi, Kohl made with the herb karisalankanni, dry shikakai powder. In her younger days, her curly hair used to spread out on her back, like the feathers of the peacock. Many women used to ask me what shampoo Amma used. They would not believe it when I said Amma only used a dry mix of powdered shikakai and moong dal.
Amma was really not that interested in gold jewelry. She used to love wearing glass bangles and used to have two boxes full of glass bangles in various colors. When Sadasivam Sir used to see it, he would say “ Why so many ? It is a burden. “ And, Amma used to give even that away, four at a time, to various friends.
When Amma was seriously ill and at Isabella Hospital, she was very weak and only communicating via gestures. I did a namaskaram to her and gestured, asking if I may leave. Amma immediately responded in a feeble voice “Where are you going ? Why are you going? Come back quickly. “
That was the last time I saw and spoke to Amma. It has been one year since Amma told me to come quickly.
Amma may not have given birth to me but I am also like a daughter to her. Radha and Vijaya treat me like a sister even now. I consider it an incredible boon that someone like me from such a humble background got the opportunity to serve such a world famous and great musical legend.”