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Smt. H. Y. Saraswathamma was a taayi, a mother. That is how anyone who knew her speaks of her. They say this not only because she raised eight children into conscious beings of the society, but championed the cause of children’s education with her domineering spirit. She served the society with selfless devotion, but a redeeming cause.

Born on 06 April 1906 to Smt. Chellamma and Sri. Vajapeyam Venkatasubbaiah, Saraswathamma unfortunately lost her mother when she was only a few days old. She grew up in her granduncle’s home, in times that saw the rise of nationalist movements and parallel protests against social evils. She saw her father, Venkatasubbaiah, join the Servants of India society, founded by Gopal Krishna Gokhale and serve the society with remarkable respect and vision. His visible life—although absent to her personally—served as a great influence to the young Saraswathy.

In 1919, Saraswathamma married Sri. H. Yoganarasimham, who had just completed his B.A. from the University of Mysore with the highest honours. With him, she travelled to Mysore, where she raised her first five children. After moving to Bangalore—in 1937—where Yoganarasimham became the Principal of the Maharaja’s Sanskrit College, Saraswathamma acquainted herself with Smt. R. Kalyanamma, who was her second big influence after her father. Kalyanamma subsequently became Saraswathamma’s mentor; and immersed herself in the duties of Akhila Karnataka Makkala Koota, which Kalyanamma had founded for the education of women and children.

Once the family moved back to Mysore, H. Y. Saraswathamma established the Mysore Makkala Koota, in an attempt to continue service to the education of women and children, this time in Mysore. She regulated the functions of the organization with Thimmamma and Leelavathi Anjanappa, who were Treasurer and President of the Koota, respectively.

And hence the name taayi. Even the book her family published in her memory bears this title: Halavu Makkala Thayi (A Mother to Many). Apart from being a dedicated wife and mother, H. Y. Saraswathamma, was indeed a mother to many: to the institution which she planted and nurtured, to the many women and children who studied under its shelter; and as a selfless social worker who saw her life’s fulfilment in responding with concern and action for the cause of education, she was a mother in embodying the conscience of a country.   

Smt. H.Y. Saraswathy, wife of Sri H. Yoganarasimham, was born on the auspicious day of Chandramana Yugadi, April 6, 1906. Her father, Sri Vajapeyam Venkatasubbaiya of Bangalore, was the Secretary of the Madras branch of Servants of India Society, established by Gokhale and was a highly respected social worker.  Her mother Chellamma died when the she was barely two weeks old and she grew up in Bangalore under the loving care of her father’s relatives and later in Madras under his own care. Apparently, this period of her growing up cast a profound influence on her. It was at that time that she was introduced to the ideals of social service, personal integrity and simple, unostentatious living. When her father died in 1940 at a relatively young age of 54, Mahatma Gandhi paid him a glowing tribute: 

“I loved Venkatasubbaiya. To meet him was to love him. I have not known a more unassuming man than him. In his death the Society has lost one of its most valued, loyal and devoted members, and the country has been deprived of a quiet, unostentatious and selfless worker.”

Following her marriage to Sri Yoganarasimham, Smt. Saraswathy not only shared and nurtured her husband’s interests and ideals but grew into a well recognized social worker in her own right. She was remarkably advanced in her thinking for those times. Long before government agencies and non-governmental organizations recognized the importance of education and development of social consciousness in women and children as fundamental to the progress of our society, Smt. Saraswathy and a band of highly motivated workers under the leadership of Smt. R. Kalyanamma of Bangalore had taken up that cause. She was active in the Akhila Karnataka Makkala Koota movement and ‘Saraswathy,’ a magazine by and for women, founded by R. Kalyanamma. Later when Smt. Saraswathy moved to Mysore, she established a sister institution there too called Mysore Makkala Koota.  Over the years hundreds of children attended it in the evenings and holidays and were introduced to the fascinating world of music and literature, sport and physical exercise, national and social awareness that were not available to them in their traditional schools. Many of those children still remember her for the inspiration and guidance they got from her,

Although she never had much of formal education, she was very well read for women of those times and was familiar with Kannada, Telugu, Tamil and English. She was a fine writer in Kannada. She retold the story of Parvatibai Athavale, a prominent social worker of Pune and an associate of Maharshi Karve, which was a prescribed text book for high school students. It narrated in a very simple and forceful style the struggles that Parvatibai underwent as a young Hindu widow and how she broke the shackles of the society and emerged as a person in her own right and helped other women in similar plight. 

Smt. Saraswathy wrote many short skits, poems and stories for children and produced programs for them on All India Radio. She translated the Children’s Illustrated Mahabharata from Telugu, a delightful picture book. She was also a regular broadcaster on All India Radio giving talks and participating in women’s programmes. 

She had many varied interests of which perhaps the one that gave her most satisfaction was gardening. Wherever she lived, she would grow a small garden with lovely plants. She was a regular correspondent until her late years writing to all her children and grandchildren and others. She was an expert cook and managed her household most efficiently.

An idealist who understood the importance of social work and drew inspiration from her father, she was also a very capable organizer and executive. Yet she shunned publicity, preferring always to remain out of the limelight.

After a long and useful life Smt. Saraswathy passed away on June 23, 1993. On her 110th birthday her family brought out a commemorative volume on her titled ‘Halavu Makkala Taayi, A Mother to Many.’  The book contains personal reminiscences of not only her own children and relatives, but also those of several past Makkala Koota members, her colleagues, friends of the family and others. Also included are a few articles written by Smt. Saraswathy herself. In addition, a large number of photographs and family genealogy are provided, which make it an interesting and useful resource book.  For additional details regarding the book, see (link) 


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