Kaushalya Devi: Reflections from Her Eldest Son – Vijay Pallod

Pallod in 1

We all address them differently – sometimes mother, sometimes Ma, Mataji, Kakiji, or as the new generation says it – mom. For many of us, it’s also a word that indicates our deep respect, gratitude, and love.

There is no doubt in my mind about the rock-solid role my mother Kaushalya Devi played in my life. She shaped my character, instilling the virtues of simplicity, healthy habits, and strong values of seva bhav, or service, not just in me but in my siblings too – towards our families, elders and the community.

Born in the small town of Sedam in Karnataka, Kaushalya Devi studied in a Hindi medium school. Her studies came to a stop at the age of 12 when she married 16 year old Brij Gopal Pallod and moved to Zaheerabad, a small town near Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh. If asked whether she wasn’t too young to get married, her reply is matter of fact “woh zamana aisa tha.” The third daughter-in-law of the family, she easily assimilated into the joint family setup of five brothers and their families and considers the joint family system a boon and an asset. As she says – “bahut fyada hai.”

The first grandchild and a clear favorite, Kaushalya Devi was brought up by her paternal grandfather Seth Tulsi Ram, a well-known philanthropist and grandmother Narmada Bai with a great deal of love and affection. She silently absorbed the values of duty and seva bhav from them and it is these values that found their way in her children Vijay, Kamal and Urmila. As my father puts it “ye har kaam ko bhagwad seva samaj kar karti hai. “This strong sense of seva towards the elders in the family was inculcated in her children who were encouraged to take care of their ailing dadaji. My mother remembers how as a young boy, I would patiently press my grandfather’s legs to ease the pain.

My father is also quick to acknowledge her role in bringing us up with the right values as he says that “mata pehle guru hai aur sab sanskar ma se zyada aate hai.” I also consider her the most influential person in my life and believe that my spirit of community service, abstinence from alcohol and tobacco, and healthy habits stem from how my mother brought me up. I remember the only time she raised her hand on me was when she smelled onions on my breath. To this day, onions are not cooked in the family kitchen.

At the age of 16, my mother had me – her firstborn. She lived on buttermilk during her first trimester and the discovered that she had developed gestational diabetes but her courage and will to continue living her life normally never wavered.

A very spiritual person, Kaushalya Devi gets up at 4:30 every morning and is immersed in her daily prayers at the family temple till midmorning. Her unshakeable faith in the Devatas gives her immense courage and probably accounts for her calm and composed demeanor. She is quietly content and counts her blessings in her children’s well settled lives, her caring daughters-in-law Sushma and Anju and her grandchildren – Kavita, Bharat, Namita, Radhika, and Kunj. Also she is blessed with her daughter Urmila’s three children. My father seconds her saying “Sab Bhagwad Kripa Hai.”

Bahut yaad aate hai Vijay ki.” Meri har baat manata hai. My mother admitted this to me and it’s true that she and I share a very close bond. It is one of my biggest regrets that I have not been able to spend more time with her as I live in Houston. As I sometimes tell her: “Kismet nahi hai ma ki seva karna.” I still have a letter she wrote me 12 years ago that I treasure.

A particular incident comes to mind regarding her concern for my wellbeing even today. During her visit to the US, she poured out my milk every morning. One day I hurriedly left for work without drinking the milk. No sooner did I reach my office than I had a call from her asking me why I hadn’t finished the milk. The point is that even now she doesn’t hesitate to take me to task if she finds out I am neglecting my health or not doing the right thing!

Speaking of the right thing to do, I used to take cigarettes and expensive alcohol from the US for my friends in India. One day, the cleaning boy told me that my mother was uncomfortable seeing alcohol in the room particularly as no one drinks or brings alcohol in the house. In a flash, I realized that I was hurting her feelings and compromising her values and that was the day I stopped bringing alcohol from the US.

A valuable lesson about not compromising on principles was also brought home to me on a road journey from Hyderabad to Zaheerabad. Since we were running late, I asked my mother to forgo stopping at the Hanuman temple on our way as it would save time. She did not agree. Not happy at her rigidity, I complained to my Nanaji Hanuman Bhagas Gilada about my mother’s conservative and uncompromising stance. I didn’t get much sympathy as my Nanaji sided with my mother explaining that one should not compromise on one’s principles.  Finding excuses not to visit temples can easily become a habit. The only other time I argued with my mother was at Bharat’s wedding in Hyderabad. Maaji would not touch the food made by the caterers as they were non marwaris and special arrangements had to be made for her meals.

My father who describes her as very “dharmic and himmatwali” offers an instance of her courage. She travelled to the United States on her own with a slip of paper that said – “SHE DOES NOT KNOW ENGLISH – PLEASE HELP HER.” She made it safely not once but twice for the deliveries of my children – Bharat and Radhika. She was also a guest speaker at a radio station in Houston where on behalf of the Senior Citizens Association, she spoke about Indian values and their importance in raising children in an American culture.

At 75 and several health issues, Kaushalya Devi is physically weak but mentally strong. In her own quiet way, she instilled in her children values that she holds dear. As my father says “a mother’s relationship with her children is 9 months more than all other relationships and she is their first guru.” Her children are living examples of her ingrained values.


Article contribution by Manu Shah & Beth Kulkarni