The ageless wonder

For 91-year-old Sunanda Rangappa Nayak, age is just a number. Her cheerful disposition, magnetic presence and love for life will have one and all mesmerised.

ImagePicture above:  Sunanda says “Hi.”

Charismatic, cherubic and vivacious, this sprightly ever-smiling 91-year-old lady has a presence which is angel-like. But behind the veil of cheerfulness is a woman who has fought problems aplenty all her life.

Early days

Born on 7 September 1921 in Cochin (now Kochi) to Nidodi Babayya Nayak and Sharada, Sunanda was afflicted with filaria when she was just 5. She had to discontinue her studies at TD High School in Cochin when she was just 8 years old because acute filaria made it impossible for her to study. A fall from a swing only added to her woes.

At 23, she was married to Rangappa Ambalpady Nayak of Udupi who was seven years older than her. Post-marriage, the couple stayed in Mangalore for some time before moving to Bombay (now Mumbai) in search of greener pastures.

Tough days

Misfortune struck the family soon. Rangappa Nayak had to quit his job as salesman in Popular Pharmacy, Bombay owing to failing health. Though the couple was staying in a joint family at Bombay they found it difficult to make ends meet. Sunanda took up a job in the packing department at Minal Metralise. After one and a half years, she moved to Cymose where she worked as a store-keeper and then 5 years later she quit the job to work as a compounder with a lady doctor who practised near Victoria Terminus. Unfortunately, Sunanda couldn’t work for more than 5 years with filaria again making her life miserable. “Every now and then I would get fever,” she says.

ImagePicture above: Sunanda smiles for the camera.

The US stint

In 1981, goaded by relatives Sunanda went to the US. She worked for 9 months at Maryland as a baby-sitter. In the US, she stayed with her dad’s relatives and her niece. In spite of all the problems she had faced back home in India, Sunanda missed her country and thus 11 months later she flew back to Bombay.

Husband’s death and later

Sunanda had no children. Her husband passed away in 1986.

After her husband’s death, Sunanda moved to Bangalore and for the last 27 years, the garden city has been her home. Why did she move to Bangalore? “An aunt was seriously ill and I moved here to be with her.” She loved her aunt who she says was almost like a mother to her. Sunanda and her brother had spent a great part of their childhood with this aunt who had no children of her own.

Back to work

Since her aunt’s death in 1989, Sunanda has been staying alone. She started working again at 69! First it was with a Ladies Co-operative Society for 5 years as a store-keeper, then it was at the Mysore Poultry Farm in Hebbal again as a store-keeper for another 5 years and then as a saleswoman for another 2 years. She doesn’t work now.

ImagePicture above: Sunanda in her kitchen.

She cooks all by herself

How does she run her home which I noticed is sparkling clean? “From the money I saved and from a lot of generous contributions from near and dear ones,” she says with a smile. Her endearing disposition has won many hearts. Her mobile rings now and then with callers inquiring about her health and well-being.

ImagePicture above: Her mobile rings every now and then. She has a lot of fans.

In between all the conversation, Sunanda has found time to cook a fine tea-time snack for me in spite of my protests. And she wouldn’t let me off without a cup of coffee.

I ask her if she loves cooking. “Oh not really. I took to cooking only after I moved to Bangalore.” What is her favourite dish? “Biscuit roti [a Mangalorean speciality],” she says with a twinkle in her eye.

ImagePicture above: Sunanda astride her neighbour’s scooter.

Talent with languages

Besides Konkani, which is her mother tongue, Sunanda can speak, read and write in Malayalam, Marathi, English and Hindi. She also speaks Kannada and Tamil.

ImagePicture above: Sunanda loves visiting temples. She visits a temple every day.

A day in her life

How is her day like? “I wake up at 6 am and have bath and then cook and have breakfast. I then visit a temple. Once I am back from the temple I prepare lunch and after having lunch I have a 2-hour nap from 2 to 4 pm. I do not miss out on my evening cup of coffee at 5pm. Dinner time is 10 pm and I go to sleep at sharp 11.” She adds, “I do not eat hotel food and I don’t have onion and garlic.” She has a servant do the housekeeping.

ImagePicture above: Sunanda performs puja every day.

The walls of her modest home in Rajajinagar are adorned with pictures of deities. She performs puja every day.

ImagePicture above: Sunanda has an ever-smiling countenance.

An avid traveller

I ask her about her hobbies. “I love travelling especially to holy places. I have travelled to Tirupati 34 times, the most recent visit being last year. I must have climbed the hill in Tirupati at least 9 times.” She has travelled alone on most of her trips. Her love for travelling has taken her through the length and breadth of the country. You name a place and she says she has been there – Badrinath, Kedarnath, Varanasi, and all other major tourist destinations in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. She makes it a point to have a darshan of her family deity  Lakshmi Narasimha in Mulki, South Kanara, every year. She hardly misses a family function.

ImagePicture above: Sunanda sometimes rides pillion.

Commutes by BMTC buses even today

Surprisingly, Sunanda travels around the city mostly by BMTC buses. At times, she even rides pillion on two-wheelers. When I ask her to pose for photos, she is quick to change into a beautiful silk saree and is as enthusiastic as a bubbly schoolgirl.

Sunanda had a heart attack 5 years back. How does she manage to maintain such a cheerful disposition and be so active in spite of all the difficulties in her life? She bursts into laughter and attributes it to God.

ImagePicture above: Sunanda at her gate.

Even as I leave, Sunanda has not stopped laughing. She sees me off at the gate and makes me promise that I visit her again. Here’s wishing the gritty lady many more happy years!

100 thoughts on “The ageless wonder

  1. Her patience, will power to live on and not let life beat her down to the ground is deeply inspiring and motivating. thanks for this article Sujatha 🙂 it has inspired me to deal with few problems in my own life head on 🙂

  2. an inspiration for all those who are depressed and let down by several miseries and have no courage to move on in life struck by problems…..

  3. A true inspiration for all of us!! She has proved that age and circumstances do not limit what you want to achieve, the passion and drive to achieve is what is important!!! Thanks to you for sharing this …

  4. When we are ready to accept defeat when small obstacles confront us..we should look at her for courage and motivation and face the problems with a smile! Hats off to her !!

  5. I’ve had the good fortune of spending time with Sunanda bappamma (that’s how we called her, She is my paternal grandmother’s sister) as kids….she stayed with us for a while in Mumbai. She would tell us bedtime stories and taught us bhajans which we (my sister, brother and me) would sing during evening aarti…at home daily!
    Thank you Sunanda bappamma for infusing our culture into us and for the beautiful bedtime stories which I remember and cherish to date.
    May God almighty grant you, Sunanda bappamma, many more years of Health and the smiles you generously share!

  6. There are many persons like Sunanda Nayak, for whom life has been a long obstacle race, but who have still retained their optimism and zest for life. Unfortunately, they are not spoken about.

    Thank you for this heartwarming post about one such unsung hero!

  7. Hai! I know Mrs Sunanada very well. I was working in Tata Indicom showroom in Dr. Rajkumar Road where she used come to pay her landline’s bill and give us the chocolates. Indeed she’s a great lady to inspire.

  8. Sunanda maayi is a light of living life igniting to whoever reads her article.Wish to go and hug her. Any contact info of hers.
    Thanks for the article as it gives each one the spirit to live another day cheerfully.
    God bless.

  9. Inspiring….leaves hope for us as we grow old…helps to look back are course correct our relationship with elders….helps relook the way we treat our parents…

  10. Hi

    I am rakhee… I am here distant grand daughter… Can’t thank you enough for publishing this. Can you please share her contact number we have lost it…would love to meet her

  11. Namaskars to the brave lady!! Special hats off to you for bringing her stry out to the world…
    Wish to meet such great people and get blessings!!

  12. Loved this article every bit..she reminds me of my ajji..Thanks for sharing.. With your permission can I share this on my Facebook wall??

  13. Namaskara to Great Amazing Lady God bless her with more energy and enthusiasm so that we all learn from her


  14. Oh my gosh !!we live in a small world…know Sunanda Aunty since a child been neighbours during my stay in Kumara park house’s so lovely to read this article..indeed a true example of fighter n a lovely human being above all.

  15. Excellent write-up. When people our age are cribbing on the not-haves, this Iron lady even after going through so much , gives a smile that is infectious. It is to remind ourselves of how to keep it going with a smile and not get bogged down. She has won many hearts for sure.

  16. She is inspirational model for us. Sometime we miss to attend function at kashimath but she attends without fail Lord parathasarthy blessing is with her. All volunteer are very inspired from her and its my pleasure to know about her life biography..:)

  17. Oh my god … An inspiration for the rest of my life… Sujata . give me her address sometime so that I visit her sometime …. Would love to meet her in person and seek her blessings….

  18. A true role model to all..Sunanda ajji 😊 love u..may u live, hundred more years 😊 bless the world for peace and harmony 😊

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