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