Remembering Parvathi

Communist leader Parvathi Krishnan. Photo: K. Ananthan  

When MetroPlus was launched in Coimbatore in January 2003, communist leader Parvathi Krishnan was on the cover of our first issue. I remember the visit to interview her. A well-kept house, a clean kitchen still bearing the aroma of lunch-time cooking and a smiling lady welcomed me. I learnt that she loved flowers, elai saapad, jaangiri, rasam and vathakozhambu, not necessarily in that order. The 83-year-old leader spoke about cooking, children…

I listened enchanted as she spoke of a time when politics meant decency; of happy meals at the weddings of party workers and of living life on her own terms. It was like listening to an affable grandmother. Till mention was made of the much-debated Women’s Reservation Bill. Then, we got the firebrand leader — the four-time MP who once made Prime Minister Morarji Desai apologise in Parliament for his disparaging remarks against women. “I’m all in favour of the Bill. But, will it be passed, I wonder,” she said. “Women have the responsibility of proving themselves... They must be role models.”

It was an interesting afternoon when she shared nuggets of information. About being a student in London, about dinner conversations at home where family members followed different political ideologies (“My father wanted us to be united as a family... We discussed issues at home, but never about our respective parties. In 1947, my father signed the arrest warrant of my husband. When I came home, my daughter simply said, ‘Amma, appa veliyurla jail-la irukkar. Thatha thaan pottar’ (Amma, Dad has been jailed. Granddad put him there).”

In 2013, When MetroPlus turned 10, I contacted her again. “I’m in hospital, but please do come,” she said. It was the same smiling face I had seen a decade ago, but now it was lined with pain from surgery. And then, she spoke, her British accent intact, years after she passed out of Oxford. About power cuts, the stress of examinations, her love for humour, and sambar. “How I crave some nice sambar rice, with ghee!” she said, and complained that it was so difficult to train people to cook well.

In London, she joined a secret society of Communists, and met her future husband N. Krishnan. Though she came from a well-to-do family, Parvathi travelled by bus till she turned 80 or just walked. Her mother had taught her to live a simple life.

From her father, she imbibed a life-long love for books. “Life is grim. Read something light. Everyday humour, not forced humour.” She said she was a huge fan of the MetroPlus crossword and cartoons and loved Janaki Lenin’s column, My Husband And Other Animals!”

Her dream was to have one recognised union to represent an industry. “Unfortunately, that never happened.” Parvathi loved Coimbatore, where she lived for six decades. She loved its cleanliness, its friendly people, and its spirit.

At a time when being a leader means restricted access, Parvathi represented a bygone era. Her drawing room was open to all. Anyone could walk in. And they would be welcomed by a sprightly lady of 94.

P.S. Chandrasekharan and Geetha will miss their ‘ammai’ sorely. In 1997, electrician Chandrasekharan first walked into Parvathi Krishnan’s house in R.S. Puram. Impressed by his work, she asked him to shift into the vacant room on the ground floor. Ever since, he and his wife have been her constant companions.

“She was a lovely person to be with. She never ordered anyone around; we would only be requested,” he says. Geetha has fond memories of their arguments and mock anger. “But, like a mother, she would immediately make up.” They say they will always live by ammai’s ideals. She loved solitude, songs and books. Geetha, who occasionally cooked for Parvathi Krishnan, says: “Ammai also loved cauliflower fry.”

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2022 1:30:05 AM |

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