My second daughter Sowmya Srinivasan has a blog called www.reinventionstories.wordpress.com, in which she uploads stories of women who have chosen a different path, a midlife change. One of the first stories she uploaded was of her mother`s; written by Prabha in her inimitable, simple English in which she talks about her early childhood brought up by a single parent (her father passed away when she was 20 days old etc) and how she transformed herself from a very shy person who was not at all comfortable in any social circle to be a confident individual willing to take on all types of social responsibilities while finding time to give expressions to her interest in writing, singing, gardening etc..
What triggered this change? How did it happen? What was the Turning Point? The following article gives you an idea of the unusual circumstances under which Prabha became a writer and how subsequent events opened up a whole new world to make her a multi-talented, socially active woman who was admired by her friends for her simplicity, commitment to any cause and her childlike enthusiasm for anything she took up. It is a story of how thinking `out of the box’ sometimes help us come out of very challenging situations. It is also a story of how hidden talent needs to be recognized and encouraged to make the talented persons blossom into confident individuals.
The article is an elaboration of a section of this story which is featured in my autobiography titled `Courage My Companion`. Read on and send me your feedback.
It was in 1986 that my parents who were staying in Mumbai with my younger brother, decided to move to Chennai to stay with my family . As the eldest son in the family I was committed to looking after them in their old age and I was happy that I was going to fulfill my commitment.
While I was cruising along steadily on the business front and thought I was doing well on the home front too, I was in for a shock. Two years after my parents came to stay with me; my wife Prabha became strangely unsettled. Often she would be lost in thoughts, irritable and at loggerheads with our three teenage children. Sensing her unhappiness I took her on a short holiday to Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.
But even after we returned her mood fluctuations continued. One night I returned home from a Rotary meeting to find an envelope on the pillow in our bedroom. It contained a 10 page letter to me written by my wife. She had poured her heart out in the letter in which she complained about my mother, accusing me of being a mama’s-boy, listening to my mother more often than I was listening to her. The letter talked about her lack of importance in the family because of her dominating mother-in-law.
This well written letter in Tamil was representative of the typical problems an Indian housewife faces in a joint family system. Though it was very interesting to read, I was shocked. The letter opened my eyes to the realities of my family life and particularly it helped me see my wife in a different light.
I realized that Prabha was suffering from an identity crisis, in spite of the fact that she had everything going for her; a good family, three lovely children, decent living conditions…or so I thought! But she was obviously missing an emotional connect with me
As an advertising man frequently dealing with creative people, I immediately recognized her immense talent for writing in Tamil. I decided to use this knowledge to provide a turning point in her life!
After mulling over the letter for a couple of days, I took it to the Editor of Mangayar Malar, a leading Tamil monthly for women. She was initially reluctant to read the letter as it was a personal letter to me. After some persuasion, she went through it and wondered why I was showing it to her. I asked her if she would like to publish it in her magazine as I believed the letter represented the feelings of thousands of Indian housewives in a joint family system. She agreed that it was hot stuff but insisted on meeting my wife and talking to her before initiating any action.
Later I told my wife what I had done. Though surprised and shocked, she agreed to come with me to see the Editor. After the informal meeting, she agreed to have the letter published as the cover story in the July ’88 issue of the magazine, but under a pen name. Since my mother was also an avid reader of the magazine, my wife did not want any trouble at home because of the article.
As a part of my strategy to bring her out of her shell, I took her on a 5-week holiday to USA and Canada carrying a few copies of the magazine, straight out of the press. I could see that the experience of visiting new places and meeting new people was beginning to transform her. In a carefree atmosphere and eating the rich food (loaded with ice-creams!) she even put on some weight!
On our return journey, she penned another article describing her problems with her teenage daughter, which also got published in the same magazine! This led her to try her hand in writing short stories some of which got published in some popular Tamil magazines.
Some friends persuaded her to join the neighborhood Ladies Club and the Inner Wheel Club of Madras South (the Ladies wing of the Rotary Club of which I was a Past President). She took to these organizations like the proverbial `Duck to Water`. She even became the President of the Inner Wheel Club of Madras South within a couple of years. She started learning Carnatic music and joined a few more classes to learn bhajans and devotional music.
While this helped improve her self-esteem and develop an identity of her own as a singer and a dependable social activist (apart from being a great homemaker), she stopped writing because of her pre-occupation with other activities. This made me unhappy. All my persuasive powers to make her continue her writing proved futile. I devised a strategy to revive her interest in writing.
Much against her wishes , I got a collection of her short stories published as a book and launched it on her 59th Birth Day at a function attended by a few relatives and her friends. My strategy worked. Encomiums and praise for her style of writing started pouring in. Motivated by the wonderful response to her book, she started writing again resulting in two Novellas and a few more short stories within 18 months. These were included in her second book published and released on 27th July, 2012- (her 61st Birth Day), by this time, we had already discovered that she was suffering from Cancer. I must record my sincere thanks to Shri Ravi Tamilvanan of Manimekalai Prasuram, a leading Publishing House in Chennai, for going out of his way to have the book published in record time. The fabulous response to her second book in the form of telephone calls and letters from readers of the book provided a good diversion to Prabha from the pain that she was suffering.
I have been known as a “Projects Man” all my life. Helping Prabha come out of her shell and blossom into a multi-talented person that she eventually became turned out to be an ongoing project in my life. Though I provided the turning points, on her part she grabbed all the opportunities that came her way and tried to do well in every role she was asked to play. In the process she endeared herself to many members in the several organizations that she was associated with. The large number of her friends, who turned up to witness her last journey on 5th Jan.2013, was a testimony to her success as a lovable human being . Prabha had come a long way in life and I was really very proud of her!
I have initiated some action to perpetuate the memory of my wife in my own small way. That is going to be the next project in my life. I will share the details with well wishers in due course.