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Death of Maya Thomas

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The month of February, 2009 saw the passing of the last of Sarah Joseph's siblings and the second daughter of Barrister George Joseph and his wife Susannah. Maya Thomas - who most of us knew as Mayakochamma - passed away at the age of 92. She had been in failing health ever since she suffered several strokes over the past couple of years.

George, Leela, Rana and Mini were present at her funeral which took place in Kottayam.

Mayakochamma was a remarkable individual and anyone who interacted with her over the years could not help but be struck by her personality. She was named "Maya" by her father who was going through a Buddhist phase then and named her after Buddha's mother. She was an intellectual in the true sense, interested in ideas and had a fine critical mind. She was not given to the usual preoccupations of many middle class Indians - money, family connections and status symbols. She was an idealist and a true secularist through her life, having no time nor patience for communal or religious divisions.

Her younger son, Raju, said of his mother: "What amazed me about Amma was that she could have engaging conversations with a very wide spectrum of people - from a humble peasant or construction worker to a political/corporate honcho, from the illiterate to the learned, from children and young adults to the middle-aged and elderly - on topics ranging from the mundane to the esoteric."

George, her nephew, described her as a "free spirit in thought though not as much in deed" since she had to compromise to meet the exigencies of life. But this "free spirit" would come to the fore in any discussions one had with her and in that sense she was quite unconventional in comparison to her peers.

She remembered at the tender age of five, accompanying her parents to the Sabramati Ashram of Gandhi's in Ahmedabad. This was after a bonfire of all foreign clothes and the giving away of all household objects collected over a number of years and the adoption of khadi. This episode in her early life and, of course, the family preoccupations with the freedom struggle left its mark and influenced some of her later activities - such as when she was jailed after taking part in the "Quit India" movement.

Peter, another of her nephews, was taught English by Mayakochamma when he was at Loyola School in Trivandrum. He said "she was an excellent teacher of English and stressed to her students that knowledge of English is the ability to express ideas simply and concisely. She used to allude to George Orwell's book "Animal Farm" as a prime example of how even such a complex political philosophy such as Communism could be dealt with at various levels be it as a story or political satire and still appeal to range of ages." He goes on to give credit to her saying "if there's any semblance of cogency in my writing, she had a lot to do with this. Her corrections of my homework/test papers would have the comment 'keep it simple'! "

Kuki kochamma (Anna Varkey), her first cousin - a daughter of Pothan Joseph - described Mayakochamma as being " full of life and verve" - a very apt description of her personality.

Mona (Priyabal Joseph), another first cousin - the elder son of Barrister George Joseph's brother, Thomas Joseph - was struck by how well-informed she was about the US presidential campaign which was then in full swing in April 2008 when he met her. She told Mona that she was an Obama supporter because "Obama is the change candidate, and we need 'change' to move on". She told him that she had, in fact, had listened to a couple of Obama speeches on the radio or T.V., and was quite impressed. Mona goes on to say that "as I listened to her, I could visualize her fighting the British for India's independence as a young lady, getting arrested and thrown into jail." She authored a book on her father Barrister George Joseph - a moving and personalized account of his life.

She had three children - a daughter Manoma, and two sons, Mohan and Raju as well as three grandchildren, Vikram, Neel & Anunitha.

Link to Announcement in Express Buzz

Posting on Ashok Chandran's Blog on Loyola School

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Mayakochamma with Mary around 1936

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