We received the following letter from Meera, a brahmacharini in Amma’s ashram:
My name is Meera. I was born and brought up in Kerala. I met Amma in 1988, when I was 12 years old. I have heard that Gail Tredwell is making accusations that Amma is repressing her female disciples and other women. I’ve also heard that Gail has suggested in her book that many of Amma’s female disciples are continuing to follow the monastic path because—due to our lack of education, money, street smarts and advanced age—we have no other choice. In this context, I feel impelled to share my story. My experience of living in the ashram differs from the version presented by Gail. It’s not like I have had a very easy life either. Let me explain…
My mother was diagnosed with cancer when I was three. My father had to stay with her in the hospital, so my brother and sister were sent to a boarding school. Since I was very young at that time, I was sent to stay with distant relatives. Despite two years of medical treatment, my mother could not be saved, and she passed away when I was five. My relatives did not want to tell me the truth that my mother had died. On the day of her funeral, they told me that my mother was coming home. I was thrilled. I was completely unaware that it was only her dead body that would be arriving.
When I saw my mother, I was shocked to see a face disfigured by radiation, a hairless head and a motionless body covered in a white cloth, decorated with flowers. I called out, “Mom! Mom! Mom!” many times, hoping she would wake up, but my calls and pleas were in vain. Finally I desperately threw myself over her dead body. Somebody forcefully took me away, and I remember watching the cremation fire in utter shock. As I stared at the fire, stunned and confused, the flames of the fire reflected in my own eyes. Later I came to understand that the fire is remaining always in my heart.
From the day of my mother’s funeral onwards, my life was filled with intense sorrow.
My siblings continued to stay at the boarding school and, since my father was working long hours to make ends meet, I continued to live with my relatives. In their house, I was never given any love or consideration. They treated me like a foster child. They never called me by my name and instead referred to me as “Hey, you!” I would watch them feed their real children by hand, but never me. I always dreamed of having a real family that loved and looked after me. But my reality was very different. Since I was in such mental agony, I could not study properly. My relatives would beat me to make me study and would often wake me up in the middle of the night by pouring water on me, demanding that I study more. The children at school always asked why I had bruises all over my body.
Over the years, sleepless nights filled with terrible dreams and shocking memories, slowly made me develop epilepsy. Whenever I would go to a temple, my only prayer was, “God, you have taken my mother away from me. Please give her back to me.” I repeated this prayer like a mantra. Soon, even though I continued to experience intense suffering, I began to feel that some unknown presence was there with me, consoling me and caring for me. Little did I know that soon my life would become a dream come true.
In 1988, when I was 12 years old, I was taken to Amritapuri for Amma’s darshan. It was then that I met my real mother. After so much suffering and abuse at the hands of my relatives, meeting Amma was the turning point in my life. Amma was the first person that I could ever remember calling me “darling daughter.” She fed me with her own hands and showered love on me like no one had before.
Since my relatives were too busy to take care of me, Amma took me under her wing, and in 1990 I began living at Amma’s orphanage, Amrita Niketan in Paripally, where I completed my education up through 10th standard.
Upon leaving the orphanage in 1993, Amma agreed to let me come live in the ashram, and I soon was volunteering the kitchen. It was rigorous work, but I fully enjoyed it. To be frank, having completed up through 10th standard, I was not interested in studying any further. However, Amma encouraged me to continue. Yet the tragic experiences in my life made it hard for me to concentrate on my studies. Instead of forcing and scolding me like my relatives did, Amma gently encouraged me not to give up, to be strong and do the best that I could. Also everyone in the ashram was like a large family. My ashram sisters patiently tutored me to help me do better in school.
Every day, I would take the bus from the ashram to the college. Back then, I was afraid to even travel small distances alone. Amma would lovingly advise me about the journey and gave me the necessary protection and strength to feel that I could make this trip on my own. After completing Plus 2, with Amma’s encouragement, I went on to complete several higher-education degrees, including Bachelor’s of Arts, Master’s of Arts, Bachelor’s of Education and Master’s of Philosophy. When I was with my relatives, I used to consistently get the lowest marks in the class. Due to the love and concern I received from Amma and my ashram family, I was able to score “first-class” marks in all of my higher-education courses. Amma’s support was instrumental in my success.
In 2002, I began serving as a Sanskrit lecturer and administrative assistant at the very same orphanage and school of which I had once been a part. There is a robust curriculum there, including dance, music, Sanskrit, yoga, computer skills, sports and drama as well as a formal education. Half of the students of Amrita Niketan are girls. After graduating, most of the Amrita Niketan children go on to higher studies in fields such as engineering, medical science, business or nursing.
When I moved to the ashram, not only did Amma encourage me to study, she also offered to arrange my marriage. She wanted to take care of every aspect of my marriage, just as a biological mother would, including all the monetary aspects. Amma told me she would find a nice, lovable man for me and would provide me with a beautiful wedding sari and ornaments. Amma offered all this to me because I didn’t come to the ashram for spiritual life but because of all the problems with my relatives.
When Amma offered to arrange my marriage, I began to ponder my future and what I wanted to do with my life. Before that, I had never really contemplated such things. Experiencing firsthand Amma’s love and compassion, I could only answer that nobody else in my life had ever been there for me like Amma. Amma was the first person that ever gave me true love. I felt full from Amma’s love and care, and I decided that I didn’t want anything else, other than to be of service to others like Amma.
I am currently teaching at Amrita University as a Sanskrit lecturer. At the same time, I am also working on getting my PhD in Humanities. I am writing my thesis on the role Amma is playing in women’s empowerment. So far I have written 12 papers on different aspects of this topic, and have presented these papers at top universities throughout India, such as Christ University Bangalore, Catholic College Kerala and Delhi University, etc. I travelled to all these places by myself either by flight or train. While travelling, I often wondered if I was the same person who used to be afraid even to travel alone even short distances by bus. Many young girls in Kerala are shy and soft-spoken. Since I underwent some serious hardships in my childhood, I was not only shy, but also lacked self-confidence. Amma is the one who has completely empowered and transformed me into the confident, strong woman that I am today.
I am now preparing for my final presentation of my PhD. I want my studies to reflect my own life and the transformation that Amma has inspired in me. I want to share my gratitude to Amma for helping me to succeed. What were before tears of pain and sorrow have now become tears of gratitude and love. My life is proof that Amma is the ultimate supporter of women empowerment.
Bri. Meera S.R.
Sanskrit and Cultural Education
School of Arts & Sciences
Meera’s speech at an international conference “Celebration of Women in Computing”: Ettimadai 2010