In this age of nuclear families, 84-year-old Thankamma Job, mother of 14, basks in the pride of having kept her large family together

Padua House on Beach Road in Fort Kochi is 100 years old. Its century old walls harbour untold tales and unseen times. But closer to our time, in 1974, it was bought by V.V. Job, a coir exporter from Alappuzha. His wife Thankamma and he moved into the beautiful mansion with their children and rechristened it Padua House. It was named after Saint Antony of Padua in whom the couple had immense faith. Soon after moving in they visited the shrine in Italy in thanksgiving. As if in blessing, the couple soon had more children and the big house started buzzing with their prattle. Thankamma Job has14 children.

Raising a family

With nuclear families being the order of the day, Thankamma's parenting, bearing and raising the children, seems no mean task. She attributes it to God's blessings.

She had her first baby, a boy, when she was 19. After that, she bore 13 more children with a gap of a year and a half between each. Soon the colonial bungalow was full of voices of little ones playing in the garden, of rooms filled with laughter and tears, of cricket balls crashing through window panes, of football ruining the manicured lawns, of laundry ranging from baby nappies to teenage trousers, of little feet playing hopscotch or screeches of joy having spied the den!

Today the children have grown into men and women with children and grandchildren of their own. A whole generation has moved on. And watching this transition, sitting pretty in her tharavadu, is Thankamma, the big mamma at 84, savouring every moment. She vouches that she is only an “instrument in the Lord's hand to bring forth and raise the family.” Her faith and love makes her world go round perfectly. “I am very proud of all my children. They help each other, they love each other and they love me the most,” she says proudly. Her daughters-in-law and sons-in-law, too, are in the family mould. “They are God fearing,” she says happily, something she had always wished for.

Thankamma's confinements were easy; the deliveries normal and at home. A midwife assisted her through them. On raising the little ones, she says, “I raised them on my Christian beliefs. Those days there were a lot of people to help. Nowadays it is difficult.”

Praying together

Her 50-year-old son Antony, who walks in, is received lovingly as, “my naughty one”. He recalls that his mum was strict and loving at the same time. A family rule of praying together in the morning and evening is followed till date. Thankamma played the perfect mother and homemaker, playing hostess to her husband's business guests, minding over the children's studies and monitoring the kitchen where the fires were always lit. “My mother was active in the Rotary, also in the Inner Wheel. She used to travel overseas with my father and actively participate in all affairs,” remembers Antony. “These days one is not allowed to beat children,” says Thankamma with disbelief, she not having spared the rod on her boys, when required. “Boys are naughtier,” she says and more difficult to handle. Her advice on strictness is to temper it down with love.

In 1977, recalls Thankamma, her whole family was under this one roof. It was the most beautiful time for her, having her entire family, eating, sharing, laughing and praying together. Xmas and New Year time were other big family affairs. Antony remembers, “When we were growing up, Fort Kochi was a party zone. The Mariner's Hall used to swing with dances. We boys loved to go there but had to be back in time for midnight mass. Amma was very particular about that.” The boys followed the rule. At the stroke of 12, they were back with the family in prayer and soon rushed back to the dance. It was prayerful togetherness that bound them, or so they all believe. One year, the only one year, when Thankamma was away, the boys took the liberty to stay away at the dance. “That year my father passed away. We feel it was because we did not pray together,” says Antony.

Thankamma took the jolt in her stride, remaining a pillar of strength for her family. She is recently back from Bangalore after attending her great, granddaughter Priyanka's graduation in medicine. She is proud and happy. The grand lady of parenting says, “It's love that has kept us together. We are glued to each other.”

As the cliché goes, “Behind every successful man is a woman,” here Thankamma has been the guiding light for her children, grand and great grand children.