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Jan 3

Written by: Jennifer Kumar, Cultural Adjustment Coach
Thursday, January 03, 2008

This page is a 'tribute' to my Indian ammas (mothers). Many families and friends mothers helped to care for me while in India. When people take a liking to you and care for you in India - they go farther than 1,000 miles out of their way for you.

I came as a stranger to India -to Chennai - to my friend's homes. Yet, they trusted and cared for me as their own family member. Well, not everyone, but several families that I was very close to and visited frequently.

This page will highlight a few ammas whom I am very fond of.


My Tambaram Amma.

Amma was the mother of my friend who was my guide for my first trip to India in 1999. She was my 'local guardian'. To attend most colleges in India, one needs a 'local guardian' to be responsible for them. Amma was my local guardian, and took care of me very well. There are several instances I would like to recount with you.

Although Amma knows Tamil, Hindi, Kannada, Telugu, and English quite fluently, English comes lastly and is somewhat a challenge. As for me, even to this day Tamil is very challenging. In any case, as with usual meals, sambar rice, racam rice and curd rice, was freshly prepared by Amma daily for the brothers and I to eat. Hence, as I was still getting used to spicy hot food, one dish (forgot which one) came to set my mouth and set my throat on fire. Amma offered puchidi, which is a yogurt dish with cooling vegetables in it like cucumber. I agreed to take this, without realizing this cooling dish had been made with freshly cut red chilies. Oh this did not help! Though my portion did not come with a bite of chilly, the juice set my mouth ablaze. I was not able to express my liking for the food - it was very tasty- nor could I express how I had felt like a living fire pit, as she could not express how to help me. Finally, I drank plenty of fresh, cooling, plain buttermilk - about five tumblers before the heat subsided. Then, amma asked me to finish the food - again without knowing it is not only the type of food I needed to adjust to, but the sheer quantity. It was quite a hard situation at the time. Now, I look back with fondess.

The second, is a bit unhappy. I had come down with water poisoning due to taking packet water at the Egmore railway station. Packet water is water sold in small plastic covers (similar to capri sun), but this water is NOT safe to drink, although it is claimed to be better than tap water. Hence, I did not know the danger and drank it happily with my classmates. After this bit of satiation from the heat, I came down with an illness I never experienced before that scared me to death - water poisoning. I was not able to sleep that night, and got out of the bed and walked to the bathroom (being in hostel) many times to try to throw up what my body wanted to rid of, without success. I had a temperature of god knows, and wasn't able to eat in the morning nor stand without help or falling. Amma's son came to receive me and sign me out of the hostel and I was taken to the doctor. For two nights following, Amma cared for me in the midst of a chaotic move. The family was moving into a bigger flat. In addition to this, she also went out of her way to make me 'American' tomato soup, which was a touching gesture that I will never forget.

The third , which is always the first, was her constant love and affection. She helped me with so many things. I am sure to have tired her out by the time I left, but she never said one unhappy word to me. I really appreciate her and always will have affection for her and my brothers in Tambaram.

My House Amma.

My house amma was introduced to me by my very close friend, akka (elder sister). I met her at the perfect time. I was about to give up on India, my course, and just go home out of tiredness of falling sick (mostly hostel food and water poisoning). Hence, akka's local guardian had a neighbor, a widowed lady looking for a paying guest. I went to meet her, along with my Amma (Tambaram amma) and her very close friends, and it was decided for me to live with my new house amma.

It was a most desired and wonderful change. Some things did make it difficult, though. Like my late nights out for field work assignments. I know she worried about me very much. I was her responsibility. For this, I felt bad since she worried a lot about me, and others may talk something to her. I tried to follow the rules the best I could be to avoid this.

She cooked me the most delicious Kerala foods like appam and coconut curry. However, we also had westernised foods like 'bread toast', eaten like dosa with jelly (eaten with one hand, ripping off pieces and dipping into fruit (mixed) jelly), vegetarian fried sandwiches, something like raman noodles, Chinese noodles and other great foods.

With my house mother, I lived in a very modest place. We shared a two bedroom flat, so I had my own room. In it, I had a bed, desk, almiriya (closet) and tube light. We shared the 'bath' room, but I had a separate toilet. It was very clean, as kept by our very nice aayah. My room also had two windows, one of which you could look out of the flats complex to the next house in the backside (it was not a crowded area), and see the fences being whitewashed and painted with DMK (political party) slogans at night.

Kanchipuram amma

My akka is from Kanchipuram, her amma and appa (dad) helped and cared for me very much. They went very far out of their way for me. I will illustrate several occasions:

Unfortunately, many occasions I came to Kanchipuram, I fell ill. Due to many reasons. One time I feel extremely ill for at least five days. They had taken me to many hospitals. One of which had to take my blood, and was very 'unhygienic' compared to western standards. This perturbed me, and made me to cry. I can handle cultural shock when it comes to social norms and such, but at these critical, health related moments, it became too overwhelming. They took me home and put me in front of the puja room and lit a fire in lemon rinds to ward away the evil spirits. At the time, I was so sick that I could barely stand, and honestly, was very frustrated and short tempered, unable to smile. They had asked me to smile, but it was so difficult, being in pain, wanting to lie down and being standing to do a prayer and also my body temperature being 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Later, after it happened, and at the time also, I did feel bad that I could not have cooperated more. I know they were only looking after my good health. I appreciate that more than the world itself.

The other is a very happy moment. I had come November 2001 to finish my exams and was in perfect health, and came to stay a week at their home. In that time, we visited many of the temples and performed auspicious pujas in the major Kanchi temples, including Kamakshi puja, Ayyappa puja, puja for good health, 108 times for Lord Murugan, etc. Also, the highlight was to be dressed as a Tamil bride.


There are of course many more people to acknowledge on this page - Vidya's family, Kavitha's family, Pradhy anna's family, Gautam anna's family, Lakshmi's family, My HOD- Ms. Miriam Samuel, my teachers, field work coordinators and classmates and friends who helped to ease my stay in Chennai. You are all remembered fondly.

Copyright ©2008 Jennifer Jayanthi Kumar

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