Having met KR Gowri Amma, my husband’s aunt, at a couple of family functions, I was thrilled to be granted an interview while compiling a book on Kerala in 2009. In an old tharavadu in a white cotton sari, she spoke mostly of her marriage.
The walls were covered with large photos of her with her late husband TV Thomas, a politician; they were both ministers in the first Kerala Cabinet in 1957. It is no secret that they separated sometime during the 60s. But she later went on to say, ‘I feel I should have been a little submissive.’ Maybe that was in the context of marital longevity. It is obvious from her other interviews that she had a close relationship with her father, a commonality among many professionally successful women. A lack of domestic bliss post-marriage is perhaps another commonality, unfortunately. Even in this generation it is a challenge to have it all. Most women end up with a so-so career and a so-so marriage.
Famous for her quote ‘If police lathis had sperm, I would have given birth to a thousand lathis’—Gowri Amma was never a stereotypical shy woman of her times. But the softness that overrode her formidable reputation stood out in her casual observations and reminiscences; in the evening of her life, her failed marriage seemed to be very much on her mind.
She served mangoes interested only in the long flat seeds, saying few people knew how to enjoy this fruit and mistook the fleshy part for the real thing and spoke about the two years of solitary confinement in Trivandrum Jail. ‘Those were nights that went on endlessly, no morning in sight. When life is a six-by-six cell and the whole earth narrows down to four cement walls that press down on the chest, even the moon is under arrest and, oh, the darkness that descends on you!’ But talking about her jail days also brought her to the love letters she exchanged with her husband when they had once been imprisoned at the same time.
Actually, all conversations that day brought her to him. I suspected it was because I represented her in-laws, but it soon became apparent, when I read up on her, that she had only been repeating herself to me. Her husband was constantly on her mind. Even her parting shot held romance in it, a feline one. ‘I did have company in those 24 long months in jail, a cat. But she was meeting someone on the sly, she had her kittens.’
Many who read Kerala, Kerala, Quite Contrary said they had expected a more feminist piece from a politician of her stature. All I remember is the faraway look in her eye as she recounted how she met TV (as her husband was called) for the first time and also that last time as he lay dying in a hospital in then-Bombay. There was no trace of bitterness, only a frank chronicling of love once felt.