And Then There Were Twelve.

The dreaded Typhoid stalked and ruthlessly claimed the lives of many of the siblings in the pre-Chloramphenicol era. Disease, Death and  Disaster rounded off the survivors, to an even dozen of six girls and six boys, who crossed their fortieth birthday.

My mum was the eldest of the twelve and all the siblings called her Pengal, the elder sister. This term is usually used by brothers for an elder sister. As my mum had four brothers in quick succession after her, this name stuck when the sisters arrived later. Over the years, she grew to be more than an elder sister, as she assumed all the duties of a parent, pushing her own life and happiness to one side.

Waking or sleeping, she had only one agenda when she woke up each morning and when she went to bed at night. She was completely and utterly preoccupied, with the welfare of her siblings and their families. A chronic ear infection in childhood , had left her hearing challenged. The progressive deafness, that became a part of her life and ours, did not dwarf her authority in any way. No one dared defy her. At least, not openly to her face. Her whole life was a mural of devotion, with every conscious moment used to improve the lot of her siblings and their families. She made sure that they were given a fair chance in life, with education and opportunity. Meagre finances helped the elder ones to cross the divide. They did not have to return the money spent on their education, but, they were then prompted to turn right around and help the next one waiting in the wings. What was spent on your education, you had to spend on another.

If they had a family emblem, the motto would have read Each One Help One.

This, with time, would spill over to touch the lives of her nieces and nephews too. Family responsibility came first, much to the chagrin of some of the in-laws, who joined the family later in marriage. They came from compact family units, more affluent in some cases, where the stresses of living and survival, covered smaller head counts in comparison and where one, generally, looked out for themselves and their own.

Certainly not an entire clan.

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