Roads less traveled..

My grandmother died at the age of 108.

She just lay down and died. She was never bedridden, and never sick, as far as I could remember. I was a third year medical student and had come on vacation. I used to sleep on the floor, on a paya (mat) near her bed. Somewhere in the middle of the night, I heard her call me. She said she  was not feeling well, and said,” Mone,Go and call Achan 
The church was very near to my house, and I ran to the priest’s home.Fr Kallukulam was well known to us, and he didn’t waste time to dress up and came with me in his sleeping dress. Valyammachi was bit short of breath and my parents were near her saying” Easo Mariam Ouseppe, ente athmavinu koottakaname” ( Jesus,Mary,Joseph, be companion to my soul). She received the koodasa ( last sacrament) from the priest.She knew very well that she was on her final trip. She kept on repeating the chants till her last breathe. My father was holding her hands when she left us. It was the most peaceful death I had seen.

Valyammachi ( Grandmother) used to go to the church for the morning mass at six, most of the days. My house was in a large compound and most of the backyard was full of coffee trees. They grew there from times I could remember. I don’t see any coffee trees in that area these days. During season, it was a beautiful sight when coffee trees were in bloom with thousands of little white flowers. They looked like jasmine flowers. And the air was filled with the pleasant fragrance. The weather was different too. It used to be misty during the flowering season. And when the seeds finally ripen, the trees were heavily laden with those  cherry colored fruits. Squirrels and birds used to flourish on them. We never bothered about them, because they would just suck the pulp of the fruit and leave the beans on the floor.

My grandmother's main activity was collecting the coffee beans from the ground. She would start at one end of the yard, sweeping off the  kariyilas ( dried leaves) with a small stick and would collect the beans in her madikkuthu. By the time she finishes, she would collect at least a pound of those beans. She would then spread them to dry in the sun. Once ready, she would take it to her bedside, where she used to hide it away from my mother. Valyammachi had a brother at 100 years, who used to come to attend the Sunday mass at our church. After the mass, he would come to visit his sister, when she would secretly handover her collection of coffee beans to him. We all knew about this, but acted as if we didn't.

She made no demands. Occasionally she fought with my mother for nothing and then would refuse to eat what my mother cooked. There was a chilumbi puli tree behind our home. Studded with fruits. She would pick the young fruits and make her own thoran and then eat her meals. Or else, she would get up at late night ,when everyone used to be asleep, and would sneak in to the kitchen, and steal the food from the Uri. ( a hanger made of coir ropes)
She was a member of the Franciscan commune and used to wear a big’ venthinga’ around her neck. Once in a year, they had a special prayer gathering. I used to remember the day precisely because, after the mass, they used to serve breakfast at the Parish home. I used to accompany her for the mass, only to take part in the breakfast, of appom, mutta roast and boiled bananas. The next day if she asked me to accompany her, I would refuse, because there would be no breakfast.

Valyammachi started off the growth in our family.When she was young,my grandfather had died, leaving her with the responsibility of the family,long before I was born. She made  Uzhunnada ( small rings of fried urud dal flour) and achappom and used to sell it at the perunnals( feasts of saints) at the church. She also started off a small business  at the market, which my father took charge of, when he grew up. The rest was all his efforts. He was her only son, carried all the burdens, and he brought up his family of seven sons, now mostly engineers and doctors, and in addition, took care of his sister and her family as well. We all lived together as a big family.
 My grandmother’s three brothers,  all lived beyond hundred years. They all used to come to visit her, by walk, from distant places. I remember them as tall and thin, with no bulges in their bodies. They worked hard, lived their hard lives, and lived longer and peaceful lives. I have seen the depth and intensity of relations in them. The values in life which I keep, probably was handed over by them. It is easy for me to understand hardships, and realize the value of hard earned money, not the one which we see these days. Now a day, money is just brought in, in containers and distributed. People are under stress to hide and handle the loot. It is effortless, so they can just sit and eat, and develop bulges all around, and die younger.

Social isolation and the feelings of loneliness it leads to are common problems for old people living all over the world today. There has been a fragmentation of the families and older people are neglected and left behind, put  in a home and put them away.It was impossible to think this way in our society. Old people were lovingly and respectfully taken care of by their children.
Times have changed.Now everyone is interested in one subject above all else: themselves.


  1. very evocative post. the blooming coffee plants, te fragrance, the uri, uzhunnada - oh those were the days!

    she lived till 108! that's a news making age!all her siblings crossed hundred? wel, it's worth making a study of their lifestyle.

    i thoroughly enjoyed this post. i could relate to everything you wrote - the grandmother asking for the priest, the eso mariam ousepey, her collecting coffee beans in the madikuthu - - - -

  2. Well, I could imagine how it'd be, though it'd be virtually impossible for me to see what you saw in this lifetime. Things have changed, but I guess the greatest change is in the simplicity of life itself which in turn affects relationships as well...People had only so and so to dream of when they were into the days you talk of here; now people have all that can be imagined to be gained.It's a run to stock things -money, property, gold, luxuries etc.leaving all the simple things in life behind. Yes,things have changed. Everyone is expendable, people feel there is no longer a need to make sacrifices and eat off the sacrifices made by others....Sad ,but true. Maybe realization will set insometime, someday and thoughnot as a society, but atleast one person at a time will start going back to their root values, the very values that made their ancestors what they were...!!!

  3. enjoyed reading this

  4. It is certainly a blessing to have the family unit intact in this fast-paced world. Old folks can be forgotten easily as people scramble to be IT savvy- the social contact getting less and less.

  5. super post Dr...i fully agree when u say social isolation and the feelings of loneliness it leads to are common problems for old people living all over the world today..even my parents r aged and i am feeling helpless sitting far factors r too strong to be ignored..but anywy i dont think the joint famly system is going to return in a hurry...

  6. Keats : Welcome to the blog.Please come again
    Ramesh: Never lose any opportunity to express our love to them, and take care of them.The Biblical answer for long life is taking care of parents.

  7. Very beautiful story. The story of life all over th worl before this fast pace progression that destroyed many family values. Now we need to teach our kids again those values by our deeds.

  8. Thats a beautiful post Dr. Antony, and I completely agree with you...people nowadays are too self possessed to think about the old sould in their family. Old people dont need anything from us, all they need is a bit of our time and concern, that just makes their day....they keep praying for our well being, their presence in the house is enough to keep it intact...
    Thanks for the wonderful post, it sure gets some wonderful memories back :)

  9. @Anonymous.Thanks for the encouragement.Times have changed,and so, have values.My children might laugh if I tell them Ethakka appom was my favorite snack,and that I used to waste a whole day with my grandmother for the sake of Appom and curry!

  10. @ A new beginning
    Love flows like a cascade of water.From a higher level to a lower level.It can never flow back to the height.Our parents gave us all their love and affection,and we,in turn,give it to our children and forget to give it back to our parents.

  11. Beautiful memories and many many thanks for taking me back to my childhood.

  12. another excellent post from you Dr. Anthony. I just remembered my grandmother who died at the age of 102.

  13. Very interesting post. That generation knew nothing beyond family and the community and did selfless service without any second thoughts. Yes, how each generation has changed in their outlook.


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