When I think of Pattammal athai, I go back to the time when I was around ten years old. Athai was very fond of me and always treated me like her very own daughter, often bringing me all kinds of gifts on her various trips in and out of Madras. I eagerly looked forward to and highly appreciated these gifts, among other things.

Whenever she returned from her trips, she spoke with earnest enthusiasm describing the places and the interesting people that she had met in her line of work. I remember myself listening open-mouthed, entering her charmed world with all the innocence that children are naturally blessed with.

Her stories of travel and the picturesque world that she inhabited were very exciting and she brought a lot of charm and a sense of wonder into my drab life which was filled with monotonous routine otherwise. She influenced me deeply and was an inspiration and an important and vital presence in my life.

Athai’s children, Siva and Lakshman were boys of similar age as mine and we played together as children. Though I wasn’t quite a tomboy, there was an easycomraderie between us. We basked in athai’s affection and warmth; it was like a protective umbrella in a difficult and challenging world.

I recall the time when I spent some valuable time at athai’s house when my mother was away at Hyderabad. Athai would wake up every morning at 4 am for her ‘Sadhana’. She would sing in the pooja room, pouring her heart out, as it were. I recall listening to ‘Diwakara Thanujam’ and ‘Ekambresa Nayike’especially , among other kritis. I learnt those songs just by listening to her at that hour. I realise now, how precious those moments were – they weremeditative moments, not just for athai but for me as well. Those moments are etched in time, never to be forgotten.

Athai also played a vital part in bringing me and my beloved husband together in marriage. I will remain forever grateful and indebted to her for this wonderful gift that she bestowed me with.

There is yet another moment that is unforgettable and memorable, when time stood still. My husband, Gautam was a distinguished pilot in the Indian Air Force and served in Congo in 1961, as a part of Forces from United Nations. Congo was then a turbulent country full of internal strife and beseiged by anarchy and chaos. It was a dangerous place to be in and we were all very worried for my husband’s safety.

When he finally returned from that mission safe and sound, it was a big relief. All of us, myself, my husband, my parents with my little brother, athai and her husband went to the Vadapalani Subrahmanya Swami’s temple to offer our grateful prayers.

It was early morning and the sun had not yet risen. The ‘Sanctum Sanctorum’ was very alive, dark and pregnant with mystery. After the pooja was over, athaisang a ‘Vrittam’ which was very moving and so from her heart. Her ‘bhava’ and ‘bhakti’ were palpable, bringing us all to tears. The atmosphere was charged and it was as though one could feel the presence of the Lord Himself. Time appeared to stand still for a while.

I will remain ever grateful to my dearest athai.

Bala Gautam