(Editor's note: Onmanorama published this interview with KR Gouri Amma on June 19, 2019, two days before she turned 101. The veteran Communist leader passed away on May 11, 2021.)
Veteran communist leader K R Gouri Amma has lived an illustrious century. The former minister, who turns 101 on June 21, says she is in no mood to celebrate the landmark birthday. But memories swell up when asked about her eventful life.
Surrounded by black and white photographs taken along with former comrade and husband T V Thomas, Gouri Amma opened up about her younger days of revolution and romance. Sitting in the hall of her house at Chathanad near Alappuzha, Gouri Amma keeps a tab on her household and those passing by her house. Now and then her eyes are locked on the photos taken on her wedding day.
Asked if she still went through the pictures, she replied that everything was fresh in her mind. "TV (Thomas) lost the election after the dismissal of the ministry of 1957. He had no income. He was dependent on me. I used to slip in Rs 2 into his wallet everyday, for his bidi, cigarette and drinks. I did not want him to go out for a drink. So I got someone to bring him lighter toddy.
"When we shifted here, TV wanted to drink and smoke. I started vegetable farming to raise money. I also raised a cow to sell milk. When the Communist Party of India (CPI) split, we decided to join the CPM. But M N Govindan Nair persuaded TV to be with the CPI. He was the villain in our life.
"Though T V walked out of my life, I had gone to look after him when he was admitted to a hospital in Bombay. EMS initially objected since we were in different parties. A party forum later let me be with TV for two weeks. When it was time for me to leave, TV cried. I never saw him again," Gouri Amma said.
She narrated how she received a phone call from the Thiruvananthapuram district collector to inform her of TV’s demise. She went to Thiruvananthapuram to pay her last respects. She also accompanied her former partner’s body back to his native place in Alappuzha. Gouri Amma wanted to cremate his body near her house but she could not.
Gouri Amma said she also received proposals from other celebrities including CPM stalwart A K Gopalan and poet Changampuzha Krishna Pillai. "For AKG, even marriage was in accordance with his party work. He proposed to me. He liked me until his death. When I was down with an illness, he asked his wife, Susheela, to look after me. After the Lok Sabha session was over, he visited me along with Susheela. When he realised that Susheela had not visited me earlier, he was angry," Gouri Amma said.
Gouri Amma went to Maharaja's College in Ernakulam along with Changampuzha Krishna Pillai, who had just attained stardom with his poem, 'Ramanan'. The poem was a rage across the campus but the shy poet was lesser known.
Gouri Amma said her Malayalam lecturer Kuttippuzha Krishna Pillai recited the poem in class one day and asked if anyone knew the poet.
Everyone replied in unison that it was Changampuzha. But including Gouri Amma, no one knew that Changampuzha was the same Krishna Pillai who sat silently on the next bench until the teacher introduced him to the class.
"One fine day, Changampuzha came to me and proposed. I refused because I was into someone else," Gouri Amma said. The other man was Rajan from Palakkad. She said that she was a little intimidated by Rajan, when he persisted with his proposal.
"After we left the college, I was drawn to Rajan. I asked around about him when we were forming the party. I was told that he had died."
Gouri Amma later went to the Thiruvananthapuram Law College. "Very few women in Thiruvananthapuram draped a sari those days. I used to. The boys used to wait for me. I did not enjoy the attention though. One day, I was going to wash my hands after lunch when someone approached me. His name was Sarath Chandran Nair. He asked me if I got the love letter he had sent me. It was an anonymous letter. I said I liked him but not loved him. He was a bit down. "He left with my ring, embedded with the picture of Lord Krishna."
Gouri Amma said her autobiography could create an earthquake. "When I finished writing my autobiography, I gave it to a party leader for publishing. He showed it to someone else. I was warned of legal suits if I published it".
Gouri Amma does not have any regrets in life.
"I have no children but I do not think about it. I never prayed to god earlier, but now I do. I am alone but I can go on," she added.
She also never expected favours from anyone. She rejected the notion that her life had inspired the Malayalam movie, 'Lal Salam'.
"It was the story of Varghese Vaidyan’s wife. It has nothing to do with me."
She was unequivocal when asked about her opinion on the recent controversy surrounding women’s entry to the Sabarimala shrine.
"Women should be allowed in all public places, including Sabarimala. If someone does not want women in his house, so be it. Women and men have equal rights over public places."
She said she was neither excited nor dejected about her birthday. "I am not going to celebrate my birthday. I invited all of you for a feast on my previous birthday. I don't care if someone else organises celebrations for me. Rajan Babu wanted to celebrate my birthday after he returned to the party. Let him do it."
Ask about her biggest influence in life and she has only one face to remember - her father.