Wednesday, March 07, 2007


A little while ago I got the news that my aunt Revathy (my mother's youngest sister) passed away. I was in Bombay yesterday to see her and my uncle Gopal and cousins Kartik and Skanda.

Revathy had been battling cancer since April last year. She and her family fought a very brave battle, keeping up hope and untiring efforts even in the face of grim reports. In the last week, her condition took a severe downturn, and she began sinking. And in the end, even when she was completely enfeebled and bed-ridden, her mind, her voice, her vision, her will - holding on to life - and her faculty of infinite selfless love remained undiminished. She would have been 60 this year.

Revathy was a connoisseur of the arts, a person of refined sensibility, taste and feeling, and an accomplished writer and poet. Yesterday afternoon she spoke to me about her recently published collection of poems Last Possibilities of Light (Writers Workshop, Calcutta).

I have known her from my infancy. As my youngest aunt, she was more than a mother can be. Books, literature, poetry, songs, music, cinema - she was a channel to so many things for us. Most of all, she cared for others, even at personal cost.

From her I learnt the phrase "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways" (from Elizabeth Barrett Browning's poem), and so much else besides.

A couple of years ago I wrote her:

"Many years ago, you gave my mother the book The Barretts of Wimpole Street, with an inscription, "How do I love thee, let me count the ways". Thus did I learn about Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and later in college we studied Robert Browning's poems in the compulsory English courses. But that phrase has remained with me ever since. Several years ago I read the full poem. Now, thanks to the wonders of the internet, I have this in my computer. So I send it to you, with thanks."

She replied:

"This is the sweetest thing that has happened for a long time. Thank you. I love the circular nature of things that happen in one's life. And poetry gives us a much needed dose of dimly-glimpsed Reality."

And some months later, after I wrote her to put up performances of her singing, she wrote:

"... Perhaps with your prodding I can do more to remove bushels covering the light! Isn't 'light' a beautiful word?"

In September 2005, after the birth of Naina, my sister Shyama's daughter, Revathy wrote:

Is she a key
to a time of dreams,
a future without fear
and the heat of futile wars?

will we walk through
the door into a future
where people bathed in light
turn smiling at one another

with their hands joyfully
hurling flowers
at one another.

When she opens her eyes
to the light,
we will know.

Revathy lived to give love, joy and caring to those around her. Her passing away is a devastating loss to us. She leaves behind a terrible void.

Read Revathy's son Kartik's tribute here.

Read a friend's tribute to Revathy here.

Read the obituary in Chowk here.


Space Bar said...

Rama, i got to know of this a few hours ago as well, but I was really not expecting it at all. I'm in shock. I had no idea she was in hospital again, or that the cancer had spread. I spoke to her in Jan, and she sounded so cheerful.

I'm really sorry. Please convey my regrets and sorrow to your mother. Revathy was a good friend, the best one could have. I was the richer for konwing her.

Sita said...

Revu is/was a beloved aunt, a friend, big sister and so much more. She radiated warmth, love and care on everyone around her. I can't imagine not being able to call and speak with her every so often. She would want us to remember her with laughter.

K said...

It's impossible to pigeonhole this woman into convenient societal slots. As someone who resisted the malignance of conformity with her very being, she would not want strait-jacketing labels imposed upon her; she facilely transcended wifedom, writerhood, sisterliness...She just WAS. That she was also my mother for thirty-five years is mere addendum to the joy and febrility with which she glided and glissaded through life. I don't think I ever opened myself to her the way I did during her last few weeks as she lay in her hospital bed enfeebled, draining away, and I am much the poorer for that, for losing out on those vast tracts of time in which I could've held her and confided in her and told her everything she deserved to hear again and again. I pray that she realised how precious she was to me, to everyone who knew her intimately or fleetingly and regarded her as much much more than a daubing brushstroke on the canvas of existence.

Nithya Krishnan said...

I write this with a heavy feeling inside my heart. Revathy was an inspirational instructor.I was her student very briefly when she taught a series of session in my Indian Literature appreciation class in the year 2000 at the Xavier Institute of Communications, Mumbai. After her classes I always went back home and curled up with a book she may have spoken about.I will cherish the memories of her as my teacher. Her presence will be missed for years to come. My condolences to the family and loved ones.