Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Ray of Sunshine

The first thing that I notice about Anna Smita Thomas Eapen is her smile that flashes like a ray of sunshine, making me feel as though I have known her forever. Her liveliness stems from the fact that she has travelled a lot, both within India and without. Her father initially worked at BHEL, Hyderabad from where he shifted to Delhi, where Anna attended the Jesus and Mary Convent from the fifth to the twelfth standard.
Twenty years ago, her father turned to her and said, “Annamma, you must write!” Considering that she had travelled to places as varied as Thailand, England, America and even the Ivory Coast, [where she recalled watching the French troops marching in all their glory], Anna had wonderful memories and much she could have written about. It was in Thailand that her father-in-law took her aside and repeated the advice, “Smita, you must write!”
This was to form a kind of refrain in her life, as years later, when she joined a prayer group, her pastor’s mother, a feisty lady who was suffering from bone cancer, spent a restless night, tossing and turning as sleep eluded her. Suddenly Anna’s face came into her mind, and she sent a message to her that she wanted her help to write her biography in English for her. The original would be in Tamil. As Anna put it, “I believe in the will of God. I did not want to jump into anything, especially as I had never written anything before!” Finally it was Mrs. Nalini Chandran, Founder Principal of Hari Sri School, where Anna’s son, Aaron was studying, who told her, “Anna, you should write!” This definitely had to be the will of God!
For Anna is no ordinary person. She brings joy to all around her with her love of life, even though she has a visual disability, one that has been robbing her of her sight over the years. As a child, she could read without glasses, but found it tough to read from the blackboard. At the age of seven she went through the whole gamut of viral infections - measles, German measles and a particularly nasty bout of chicken pox, which left patches on her retina. By the time she reached college, she needed thick glasses and realised that she had to live with the problem. Her mother would read her lessons aloud to her.
When she was young, she was enthralled by Enid Blyton, Nancy Drew and Hardy boys, and graduated to the romantic novels of Barbara Cartland, Georgette Heyer and Mills and Boons. Years later in America, she had access to a good library, where she would spend hours together, listening to unabridged books on tape.
Once when she was in Thrissur, she had a virulent viral fever, during which her eyes clouded over as if covered by a mist. A doctor in Cochin prescribed Cortisone drops to bring down the inflammation, and even though the intense haze cleared, whatever clarity she had in her eyes earlier was lost. “Before this, I loved writing letters and sending Christmas cards to my friends and family.” Today she uses a thick felt pen to write with.
Despite the obstacles she has had to face in life, Anna believes in smiling through them all. She states, “There are only two clear cut options before me. One, I can grumble and be unhappy at my lot. Two, I can be bright and cheerful, a much happier option!” And that is what makes her a ray of sunshine – her cheery smile and her diehard optimism, as she digs out her felt pen to write down my phone number, even as she regales me with a story about how the family loves dogs. “My husband wanted to get a Rhodesian Ridgeback, but my son took one look at its picture and found it too ugly!” she laughs.
Her Dad has been her inspiration in life. He admires him for being a true gentleman, chivalrous to the core. Her parents were this ideal combination. “Dad was an idealist while Mom was the practical one”, says Anna. Her dad was a symbol of absolute self control and restraint, and she doesn’t recall hearing him lose his temper even once, or saying a bad word about anyone. His advice is what she follows today, “Don’t react to actions!”
And as she lives her life in the beautiful house which was built by her father in law, and supervised by her efficient mother in law, in the warm bosom of her immediate family – her mum in law, her husband, Ajit and her bright little son, Aaron, it is this cheerful equanimity that makes her such a delightful package, truly exemplifying the saying by James A Garfield:
“If wrinkles must be written on our brows, let them not be written upon the heart. The spirit should never grow old.”

Published in City Journal, Thrissur

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