Her Final Message
It was my first day at the counselling course, sometime in 2009-10. I was uneasy as everyone around me looked far more experienced and serious. Then my eyes found her. This gorgeous angel in a beautiful saree, matching bindi and the sweetest smile. She had the kind of face that you cannot stop admiring. She must have caught me staring at her because I don’t seem to remember how we struck a conversation. Within a few minutes of talking, she declared to me “I have a son…I’ve always wanted a daughter. So henceforth I am your mother and you, my daughter.” I happily nodded, overwhelmed by her affection and the offer of such a blessed relationship. That is how easy it was with my dearest Vyju. But I am only one among the many whose mother she became, and to whom she was the dearest person. That was her specialty – she made every single person she met feel like they mattered, because she loved them.
Over the next ten years, she and I started our work together, first at Youth for Seva, and later at Mythri Speaks. When we first began our menstrual education sessions in rural government schools, we developed the entire process, spontaneously. When we noticed that the girls were shy and awkward, we would share with them our stories of menarche and make silly jokes, to get them to laugh and relax around the topic. Children mostly experience older women as strict disciplinarians. So, for them to see Vyju being like a child and laughing with them, set them free to share their deepest secrets and fears. And she gently laid it all to rest. Fear left the room when she entered.
These sessions later evolved into a script and became the Mythri animated film, which is now available in nine Indian languages and has reached over few million adolescent girls in India and other countries like Nepal, Bangladesh and Indonesia. We travelled together to eight states across India to share this film with government departments, train teachers, health workers and NGOs, and to undertake sessions. It was she who named it Mythri, after a little girl she once met at an orphanage, and instantly took a liking to.
While dubbing for the animated film Mythri, she was to deliver a few dialogues as the mother of the child in the film. She had to say in a stern and angry voice “Lakshmi, go inside. How many times have I told you not to play outside, that too with boys!” We did at least 30 re-takes for this in English, Hindi, Kannada and Tamil versions where you can hear her voice say these lines. She just couldn’t bring herself to speak in a stern way, even if it was fictional. After every retake, we would say “Vyju, please show more anger!” and she would reply innocently, “How to be angry at a little girl?”
Her Birthday Wish
Every year, she supported at least ten students for their education requirement, raising every rupee herself. This year, during her birthday on June 25, I asked her what she wanted. Her reply was “I no longer feel like celebrating or receiving gifts for myself. But I want to help more people, especially children who are ailing or in want of educational support.” So, this year, we tried to make it a little easier for her and set aside a corpus for those who she wished to support; and in no time, four more new students who came to her were supported. For so many children’s families, she brought monthly groceries from her personal money and gave it without most of us even getting to know about it.
Her Divine Hands
We loved our board meetings at Mythri Speaks. They always took place at her dining table. She would call in the morning and ask ‘North Indian or South Indian?’ and give a list of mouth-watering options. Nobody in their right mind missed these meetings. Whatever she cooked was simply the tastiest one has ever eaten. And the loving way in which she served; you could almost taste her love. One of our team-mates once told her mother (who she loves very much) “Even you don’t serve with as much love as Vyju does.”
Vyju never sat at the table with us. We tried pleading, requesting and even blackmailing that we will not eat until she joins us; but it never worked. Ultimately, we all gave in to the temptation and eagerly gobbled up whatever she put in our plates. Somehow, we never saw the bottom of the vessels. There was always enough and more food even if there were extra guests. I still wonder how she planned the quantities because she never ever ran out of food. She was Ma Annapoorneshwari herself. There is no other way to explain it.
Her Last Message
My relationship with her could never be formal or strictly professional. It was always very personal. Her presence in my life was something I relied upon to feel normal, to feel stable, to feel cherished, to feel that everything will be okay because Vyju is there.
Whenever our conversations veered to topics of life and death, she always made a statement “I want to go like this”, and snapped her fingers to show what she meant by ‘this’. She did go the way she wanted - unexpectedly and without suffering. She looked eternally rested and at peace in her final moment. As I mourn her, I realise that it is just one more selfish moment on my part because I cannot imagine not having her to turn to when life goes upside down.
On that fateful night, when we reached home with her in an ambulance, she was greeted by the piercing wails of the many women whose lives she touched. The lady next door whose children Vyju counselled and supported; her maid who constantly relied on her advice; the lady who swept the street in front of Vyju’s house and whose grandson’s fee she sponsored; and others who I don’t even know. They shouted her name and cried like children who lost their mother. They repeated, like a chant, ‘how do we live without our Amma?’
Just four days before she left us all, she sent me an email. It was in response to an intervention that had helped a physically challenged woman get back on her feet, walk again and even get married. This was what she wrote:
“So pleasant to hear Sinu…. what a transformation in life...Never under estimate the power of Life”
As I look back, I wonder how she knew what to write…what to leave me with so that I could find some semblance of sanity when she left. I recall now, time and again, her words:
“Never Underestimate the Power of Life”
- Sinu Joseph (co-founder, Mythri Speaks Trust)