For years, I knew Sitalakshmi as my friend Raji’s mom. It was only in the last weeks of her life that I found out her name and the meaning of Sita and Lakshmi in the Hindu religion. Sita is the Goddess of Harvest. Lakshmi is the Goddess of Wealth and Purity. I knew her as the woman that taught me to fry puri, a simple unleavened wheat bread used to grasp food while eating.
Sitalakshmi had a beautiful smile and a profound influence on her family. I was honored to lead a simple memorial service at Raji’s home. Sitalakshmi had a favorite Hindu mantra that reflected greatly on the priority of her life. The mantra is Loka Samastha Sukhino Bhavantu. We chanted the mantra and had the Hindu words and the meaning for the guests.
“May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.”
As part of the memorial, Sitalakshmi’s grandson, Rahoul, composed the story of her life that he presented to the guests. Ammama is the word for Grandmother. Rahoul was close to his grandmother and spoke this from his heart.
“Sitalakshmi Murti was born in a small village in Southern India. She was the second of five children. India at the time was being ravaged by tuberculosis and it did not spare her. At just eleven years old her mother died in her arms. This would prove to be a seminal moment in her life. The shy, young lady was forced to step up and, with the help of her older sister, care for her siblings. This is the first example of her devotion to family and she rose to the occasion.
Three years later, she would marry my grandfather. Thatha was penniless but brilliant and hardworking. Ammama would act as his foundation as he educated himself and rose up to become the CEO of a major British company. This uneducated but brilliant woman would help him make major decisions all while raising a family of their own. Their devotion to each other was legendary and it was the happiest time of her life. Her two daughters would ultimately have four grandchildren.
But just six months after I was born, she was dealt a tremendous blow when Thatha suddenly passed away. She would never fully recover and would forever lament her loss. But Ammama was strong. A pillar. She did what she always did and continued to devote herself to her family. She was integral in raising all four of her grandchildren.
Every summer she would come to Columbus and stay with us. Every time it would start the same; she would land, critically appraise me, lament at how thin I was, and proceed to stuff me full of her delicious food. Her cooking was simply legendary. She would sit in the basement, singing in her beautiful voice while cooking up dosa, aloo dum and gulab jamun that was simply beyond reproach. She was tremendously spiritual and, over the course of her lifetime, wrote Sri Rama Jayam a million times. One million times!
Though she was uneducated, she instilled the importance of education into her daughters and this would carry over to her grandchildren. Bursting with pride, her greatest dreams were realized as she watched her grandchildren become ultra educated with a specialized prosthodontist, Stanford educated sound engineer, and two surgeons. Her acerbic wit was ever evident. I remember when she learned that I got into medical school, she was back in India. Mom called her and, when she heard the news she said: “If I could jump, I would jump, but I cannot jump”.
She would eventually come to live with us in Dublin. She ultimately lived to see three great-grandchildren. It was my greatest joy when she held my daughter. Her final years were spent in our home, in her sunroom lounging with the dogs. She died as she lived, much loved and in peace. Ammama was a pillar in all of our lives. She instilled hope, joy, love, and the principles of honesty, devotion, and education. She took the challenges of life in stride. Her strength has carried on in her daughters, grandchildren and, I hope, in her great-grandchildren. I will always cherish my memories with Ammama.”
And so it is that we honored Sitalakshmi. Her story is worth telling because it reflects the power of one person to impact many others. We believe that the soul continues and that she is now a spirit guide to those in her family. Her devotion to her family, her religion, and the peace and harmony of those around her have earned a place of devotion in the heart of those that knew her. The Creator resides in our hearts and we share this memorial in her honor.