–by-Geeta Iyengar from the book-Yoga rahasya
A great Yagna avalkya had two wives, Katyayini and Maitreyi .Katyayini was Karmamargini,(one who follows the path of action)and Maitreyi was a Jananmargini(one who follows the path of knowledge).Yagnavalka had a huge ashram that housed thousands of students. Katyaini maintained and administered the ashram while Maitryi studied under Yagnavalkya and taught the other students of te ashram. Amma my mother was both katyayini and Maitreyi to my father, Anna.She performed all the household tasks as well as kept herself abreast with the teachings of yoga.
Amma entered my father’s life at the tender age of 15 through an arranged marriage. She did not know anything about yoga although she knew that she was to marry a Yoga instructor. Her elder brother demonstrated Pashimottanasan when she asked him what a yoga instructor did. She accepted her explanation about her would be husband’s profession.
Amma was very talkative and argumentive before her marriage .My father first saw her bargaining in a shop and noticing her practical boldness he felt that she was the right person for him. In 1940 Pune was was like a foreign land for any south Indian family. My maternal grandmother must have been very courageous to send Amma to what seemed a distant place. My maternal grandmother use to go herself to pilgrimage without knowing the local languages. This courageous trait was inherited by my mother .My maternal and paternal grandmothers were widows and faced severe economic hardships and therefor the wedding was celebrated in a simple but traditional way.Hence,both families did not demand anything from each other.
In those days there was a custom of the brother advising a newlywed bride.Ammas brother advised her to speak only when spoken to and never to argue with the elders. She followed this advice throughout her life. She treated her MIL,as she would her own mother and my paternal grandmother always had a soft corner for her. They seldom met each other but their bond was strong. Amma could not visit my grandmother on her death bed at Banglore because of our annula examinations. The news of her passing away reached amma the following morning while we were fast asleep. Amma wept quietly and when we got up we saw her her swollen ,red eyes.She kept her sorrows to herself.
It was her nature to share her joys but not her sorrows. Anna was strict with us although he never enforced discipline but made us understand the ways of life. Amma was not strict but could not tolerate anything done wrong. She took good care of us but could never cajoled us.Annas strictness coupled with Ammas softness prepared us for disciplined life due to which the disciplined path of yoga also became a smooth path.
She had perhaps studied upto 4th stad.but yet she could teach me mathematics upto 7th std. She was unhappy that she could not continue her education. She was very good judge of people. Anna would often meet swamis and sanyasis either out of curiosity or because he was compelled to meet them as a yoga teacher .She would always accompany him and judge whether they were genuine or not.
When she came to pune,Amma did not know the local language Marathi, but she quickly acquired fluency in it.
She could not only read and write Marathi, but could use it a medium to teach us mathematics and poetry. Anna was indifferent to Marathi then because he knew he could easily manage with Ammas proficiency.
Simplicity, neatness and straightforwardness were inborn in her. She could never tolerate hypocrisy. Devotion was in her blood which was expressed in her domestic duties. Work and worship was her nature. She always believed and worshipped God but never made an ostentatious display about it.
She was a housewife and performed all the household chores during their short grihastashaam of 30 yrs. Anna could devote his time totally to Yoga because Amma made sure he was not tied down by the problems and worries of family affairs.Annas guruji,T.Krishnamacharya appreciated this attribute of Amma and he use to tell us “Rama is Yogini, this is because of her that your father is seeing this success in Yoga”.Amma also served him as Guru whenever he came to Pune. Their relationship was thicker than blood. He remembered Amma even when we met him before his death.
Amma never complained of difficulties she often had to face. We lived in a small house consisting of a small kitchen and a small room and the other room was yoga room measuring eight by ten feet. The kitchen was used as a study cum dining and the other room was yoga room in the day time and bed room at night. In addition to 6 of us and my parents, the house was never without guests. Amma was like an angel who would transform all the unfavorable and unsuitable conditions to a favorable atmosphere for Anna to continue with his yogic practice and teaching.Ammas joy rested in Annas joy. His success was her success. She kept Anna free from the web of worldly affairs by herself getting entangled into it but she never felt burdened by it.
She was detached even in her attachment.
Ammas total support for Annas activities helped him to concentrate on yogic path. They were made for each other. There was deep, natural ,and mutual understanding between them. Their attitudes were well balanced and supportive due to which they could smoothly follow the chosen paths. Her softness would nullify his vibrancy.
Both Amma and Anna had experienced grief and sorrow as they had seen poverty since birth and had lost their fathers in childhood.Therefore,they always helped those who needed physical,monetary,emotional,or moral support. Amma always had soothing words and a healing touch for those in grief. There was warmth in her friendship and everyone felt that she was their nearest and dearest friend.
In 1981,Dr.N.B.Parulekar of the Sakal newspaper got to know Anna well and gave him a lot of coverage in his newspaper became a family friend and often visited us at home. He told Anna after meeting Amma, “Undoubtedly you have done a great work but your wife is Sharada Devi(wife of Ramakrishna Paramhansa).Ramkrishna became Paramhansa because of Sharada devi .Whatever you are is because of her”. How true his words were!
Amma did not know even the ABC of yoga when she entered Annas life but her inquisitiveness made her understand what he was doing and he then started practicing it. Later, Anna initiated her into the art of teaching by asking her help him in different poses. She learnt very quickly and soon knew where to touch and how much pressure to apply so as to improve the posture. It was not easy to help him since he was very sensitive regarding his own movements and adjustments. Amma used to accompany Anna when he had to teach in a girls school in order to generate confidence in the students to practice yoga.
It was Amma who would teach and correct me when I started practicing Yoga regularly. She could even mould me into asanas such as Mandalasana, Dhanurasana, Kapotanasana. She knew the names of all the asanas even in those days when there was no book available. She was like a walking encyclopedia.
She could get up early in the morning to make coffee for Anna and to prepare the room for his Pranayama practice by cleaning and lighting incence sticks. She would also practice behind him. However, she had to keep her interests aside due to family responsibilities.
Her attitude towards her friends and family members was same in the days of poverty as well as when she saw better days. She neither shed tears when she had nothing nor got excited when she had everything. Amma was an intelligent lady with good sense of humor. She was quick in Grasping, strong in memories, good at narrating stories and at answering. She believed in tradition but was not a Hypocrite. She used to do pooja regularly and recite shlokas. She use to love music and used to sing and Thyagaraja kritis wee her favorite.
She was very fond of cooking and she was a great cook. None who came to our house were sent without food even if they came at odd hours. She sometimes use to say its good that God has given me Akshay Patra and I do not have to send anybody without food. (Akshay patra is a vessel that never gets empty).
Once I was unconscious and on threshold of death due to which Amma had to face a lot of hardships especially because Anna was in Bombay. She was active till her death. She was always on her toes and a pain-staiking lady but quite peaceful at heart .Sometimes, her friends use to ask her ,Rama you have 5 daughters ,aren’t you worried? “She would reply , “what is the difference between girls and boys? And why should we worry? “Our parents gave us everything that we wanted and needed”…
Amma had an untimely death but she faced her death very gracefully and majestically. She expired exactly four days after performing the Bhoomi Pojan of the institute. Many of our family friends advised anna that he should not proceed with the building of the institute at that site as her sudden death was a bad Omen.However,Anna insisted on building the institute at that site only as she had seen and sanctified the place with her own hand. We can all see how right his decision was.
The Bhoomi Puja was done on a Thursday. She was admitted to the hospital the next day for a checkup as she felt restless and breathless. Amma looked at the house very sadly when we left the house and my heart missed a beat .She was fine on Saturday morning. After preliminary examination the doctors assured me that she was fine and needed rest and he would discharge her on Monday.
I could not stay with Amma that fateful night .I had to go home because my sisters, Suchita and Sunita were to go for a sitar concert while Prashant had a violin recital. Anna was in Bombay to conduct classes. So I left my servant who was like a family member with her when I departed at 9pm.Just when I was about to leave the hospital I saw doctors and nurses rushing into adjacent rooms. I saw an old man aged 72 years struggling for breath. His desire to survive was very strong although death appeared to be certain. My mother enquired about what was happening and I told her about the old man gasping for breath. My mother wanted to have a look and I empathetically prevented her from getting up. However, moments later I came back and like a fool narrated the entire incidence to her about how the man was struggling to live. She listened very quietly. None of us knew that her death was just six hours away. She was just 45.
I got a message from my neighbor at midnight that we were urgently needed at hospital. I woke Prashant who was fast asleep and we rushed to hospital on scooter. The nurse informed us that we do not need to worry about Ammas health but had to call at these odd hours only because Amma had insisted.
When I entered the room Amma told me calmly, Geeta, I am dying. Now, I won’t live,ask Prashant to go home and light the lamp in front of Lord. Bring Sunita and Savita. Let me sit an die .I told her that we would not get any transport at that time of night and we could get that in morning. She insisted that she could not live that long and asked Prashant to go.
Prashant did as told but he could not bring my sisters to the hospitals as no transport was available.He did not waste any time and came back alone.
In the meanwhile, I requested the nurses to call doctor who came after half an hour. Amma asked the doctor to permit her to sit and die. To die in a sitting position is considered auspicious something only a yogi can manage .She sat up before the doctor could say anything. The doctor said that she was making a fuss .I told the doctor that it was not in her nature to make a fuss about anything. My mother who was very alert and conscious said in Marathi, “Doctor, why will I make a fuss? Believe me…
She held our hand and said, I am going. Look after every one, Did you light the lamp? Prashant nodded his head. The next moment she closed her eyes and went into another world-From the known to unknown. The experience of seeing Amma passing away so silently and peacefully was implausible.
The doctor was flabbergasted and he could not believe his eyes. For a moment there was absolute silence. And those who were present there quietly paid their obeisance. It was so unbelievable that the person can be so alert and peaceful at the moment of death. She faced death boldly and majestically.
She was a yogini. She was a wife of fearless yogi. She fearlessly entered the unknown. Even death saluted her.