TIRUNELVELI: R Subbulakshmi, from Tirunelveli's Kasimajorpuram, was always fascinated by her father. She reminisces the respect he commanded as a valiant soldier who fought in the World War II.
This defence kid, 75 years of age now, doesn't recall much of the past, not even when or how the father died, but vividly remembers how he lived, in esteem. The Veerathai silver medal she recently received for supporting all her sons to join the Army brings those brief memories alive.
She gleams with pride as she encourages her grandson, who is to enrol in the battalion soon. A farmer who went against all odds to educate her children and motivate all her three sons to join the military, Subbulakshmi has made the country proud. She received the War Service Incentive Award aka Veerathai Award from the district collector.
She married R Ramakrishnan, a farmer and Sarvodaya Sangam worker from Ambasamudram, at a very young age when she did not know if she could have her own dreams. Her three sons and two daughters worked in the fields cultivating paddy, black gram and pulses for a meagre income.
She found purpose when her eldest son R Hariram said he wanted to join the Army after completing his Class 10. Subbulakshmi instantly approved of his ambition. She ran from pillar to post to fund his education and training. "I passed the selections after five attempts and joined as a soldier in Madras Regimental Centre in 1988 when I was 20 years old. I served for 20 years in the infantry," says R Hariram (54).
Subbulakshmi did not stop just yet though. Her youngest son, R Shunmugavelayutham, also had a spark for the battalion. With a strong-willed mother who worked tirelessly to fund his education, Shunmugavelayutham's hopes turned into reality when he got enlisted with the National Cadet Corps while he was pursuing degree.
The then 20-year-old got selected in his first attempt and took charge as a nursing assistant in the Army Medical Corps. He has been serving the Corps for 28 years.
Subbulakshmi's second son, R Rathnappa, initially had no interest in the Defence and followed his father's footsteps to Sarvodaya Sangam, and did farming alongside. But a year after his younger brother took charge, the fire that pushed his brothers ignited Rathnappa as well and he decided to join the Corps.
His father was hesitant to give away all his sons for the nation, but Subbulakshmi did not want to quell Rathanppa's fire. She took the burden of maintaining the family at home earnestly and supported him. Rathnappa got the same post as his younger brother and has been serving the Corps for 27 years now.
"Despite the general ideology to have one son to look after the family and the other sons to serve the country, I let them all pursue their dreams," she says. Her husband Ramakrishnan passed away in 2014, yet she continued to manage the farm.
"I opted for voluntary retirement as a Havildar in 2007 to take care of my mother who works all by herself in the fields after my father passed away. Now, I have been working as a security in the Ambasamudram TN Civil Supplies Services warehouse for the past 14 years," says Hariram.
Tirunelveli district Assistant Director N Murugan said that more than 100 women are conferred with the Veerathai award for sending their only son to serve in the army along with Rs 25,000. "Letting all her sons become soldiers is also bravery that needs appreciation," he adds.
Subbulakshmi's now has her next goal cut out. "After my sons, now I am encouraging my grandson to join the Army," she says. For Subbulakshmi, the feather on her cap is the respect her sons have earned as soldiers just like her father did. She holds it closer to her heart than the award.