K R Gouri Amma, a champion of land reforms in Kerala, the revenue minister in the first communist government of 1957 and one of the last original revolutionaries in the country, died at a hospital in Thiruvananthapuram last Tuesday. She was 102.
To my family, she was much more than a political leader. To my dad, who followed her to the Janadhipathya Samrakshana Samithi (JSS) after she was expelled from the CPM in 1994, and my mom, Gouri Amma was a second mother. I grew up listening to heroic tales of AKG and Gouri Amma (both visited us sometimes), and one of the most enduring tales came from my mom, about the grandma’s ‘near-death’ experience that she narrated during one of her visits to our place.
An evening many years ago, Gouri Amma said, she thought she was dying. It was probably a case of palpitation. “I opened my wardrobe and took out the best sari and wore it,” said the woman who was always seen in a coarse cotton drape. “Why,” asked my mom. “When people come to see me after I am gone, I want to look my best.”
“I kept wondering why she did that,” my mom told me while she was penning a book on my dad who died last August. “Then I realised it was her grit, the casual way she looked at the inevitable. For Gouri Amma, death was never something to be scared of; it was the final visitor.”
A minister in four LDF governments (1957, 1967, 1980 and 1987) and once in a UDF cabinet (2001), Gouri Amma was a rebel and a tough task master. I’ve seen my dad, then her lieutenant in JSS, silently listening to her chidings like a schoolboy whose dog ate his homework. IAS officers froze when Gouri Amma looked up from a file, with a frown.
When she found something wrong – in a file or in society – she shouted. And she spared none. This quality of hers was probably one of the reasons that she never became the chief minister. In 1987, the CPM made it known that Gouri Amma would be the chief minister. The LDF won, but it was E K Nayanar who took the top seat.
For the CPM, the outspoken Gouri Amma was always a thorn in the flesh. Finally, in 1994, she had to bid adieu to the party that she so assiduously helped grow among the landless and the poor.
Her love affair – and later marriage – with another revolutionary, T V Thomas, was the legend of the times. The two worked in the EMS cabinet, and when the party split in 1964, Thomas remained with the CPI and Gouri Amma went with the CPM. As differences between the two parties grew, the couple parted ways in 1965. In 2019, Gouri Amma told an interviewer that she should’ve been a little submissive to make the marriage work.
Gouri Amma never allowed the paraphernalia of power to influence her rustic self. When my sister was to get married in January 2003, my family went to Gouri Amma’s ministerial residence in Thiruvananthapuram to invite her for the wedding. When they walked in, there sat the minister, on the floor, clearing government files spread all around her.
The last time I saw Gouri Amma was in early 1997. I had returned to Thiruvananthapuram from a three-month hospital stay in Hyderabad after a road accident. Between her busy political activity at the age of 78 then, she had come to see me. While leaving, she pressed an envelope into my palm. I owe Gouri Amma a lot more than ₹5,000.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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