The amma I started knowing

Her serious brush with death made me start noticing her a bit more, post her discharge and full recovery.

While I had been seeing most of her work for many years by then, I had hardly observed. When it comes to our parents, we – or at least sons – are all Watsons. 9

I discovered that she woke up every day at about around 5 AM, without any need for an alarm clock. Whenever I asked her how she managed to do something so consistently which I found difficult even with an alarm clock, she would say, “If your body sleeps on time, it’s clock will wake you up automatically at 5“. 10

I found her answer to be innocent and simple. I realized over the next few years that this was fundamentally how she was made – with a simple innocence about life and work.

In fact, until a week before her final hospitalization, Amma continued waking up at around 530 AM – without an alarm clock – and started her household work.

Just four months after her aortic dissection in April 2011, amma had started being fully active again. I rarely found her complaining about the extent of household work she was doing, even though she was already 73 years old and had been close to death just a few months earlier.

We got a maid to assist her only in 2015. Until then, a 3-hour non-stop housework was the first round of work for her in the morning which she did with no maid, and absolutely no reliance on me (who she felt should not be burdened with housework), and dad (whose efficiency she did not trust).

If you had been like me, it would have surprised you to know that there are close to fifty different activities that need to be performed in the first few hours of the morning for a house to look like a house and not like a college hostel room. Many of these are very brief activities – opening the windows for light and natural ventilation, for instance – but each small activity has a contribution to make.

Amma did each and every one of these in the same order everyday. Fifty is a lot of activities to perform everyday, leave alone in the same order, without a checklist and discipline. For amma, the checklist and discipline to follow it had been almost wired into her brain.

And It was not just the number of activities. Every one of these fifty assorted activities, she did it to perfection. For instance, it was not enough to just remove the mat at the front door entrance and replace it with a new mat – she also ensured right then that the old mat was placed in a proper location at the back of the house so that she could not fail to wash it. I did not realize at that time how meticulous she was with every activity – this had to wait almost 10 years when I got to work closely with her on these during her final three months.

It’s likely that many ammas from around the world have similar habits. I was however noticing these for the first time.

We take hundreds of things for granted in our lives. If we spend a few minutes on any of these, we will realize that we have taken it for granted only because someone else has not.

Here’s something families can try as an experiment: Get children in their teens to do, a day per month, all the household work that ammas do every day, starting of course with waking up at 5 AM. I have a feeling that admiration for ammas among teens worldwide will show a remarkable increase in a very short time.

Fig 2: Increasing children’s respect for ammas – The above curve, based on my experience, suggests that once children really appreciate the amount of work mothers do, which they will if they are asked to do them for a day or two, they will no longer look at their mothers in the same way. When they are especially asked to wake up early to do some of these tasks, the respect for their moms could rise sky-high.



9. Sherlock Holmes is famous for telling Dr John Watson, his assistance – “As always John, you see but you do not observe”

10. What amma called her body clock is what sleep scientists term as circadian rhythms. In the last few years, one of the experiments I did was to sleep by10 PM at the latest. Most days I did this, I was able to wake up by 530 AM without too much of a problem – it used to be 630-7 AM earlier. On some days, I woke up at 530 AM even without the alarm going off. Given that adults need only about 7 hours of good sleep, is it any wonder that our bodies are indeed fairly precise alarm clocks!

Next: A beautiful amma

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