An activist with a heart of gold

In an era when women were limited to playing stereotypical roles, Jayalakshamma’s activism stands out. Her hospitable and compassionate personality was symbolic of a bygone era. Palahalli R Vishwanath reflects upon the life of an extraordinary woman who was his mother.

This is a son’s tribute to a great lady who would have been 100 years old this year- a well known social worker of Bangalore in the last century.

Jayalakshamma was born in Hassan 100 years ago, the youngest in a family of four. She was pretty, dark and short. At the age of 12, she was married off to an idealistic youth, P R Ramiaya who had run away from Mysore to Benares when he was in school. He was about to complete his Master’s in Chemistry when the pied piper from Porbandar called upon the youth of the country to make sacrifices and serve the country. My father came back to Karnataka as a Hindi teacher. For reasons unknown he had had already a wife when he married my mother.

Garlanded when she became the Deputy Mayor of Bangalore

Garlanded when she became the Deputy Mayor of Bangalore

My mother’s activism came to the fore with my father’s journalistic and political career coming to an end. In her early fifties, mother took upon the torch which had been lit by him. The Sun with his fierce rays had set and the Moon was to rise with its cool light. As a corporator for the Jayanagar constituency and then its Deputy Mayor, unusual for a woman to do so at that time, she worked very hard for six years. I remember my college days when she would go in the morning and return very late in the night. She was also associated with many organizations including the State social Welfare board for a long time.

Jayalakshamma in her office in the Bangalore City Corporation

P R Jayalakshamma in her office in the Bangalore City Corporation

My mother did a lot for the less fortunate women and children of the society. Even till the age of 80 she would take up the problem of each unfortunate woman individually, and ensured that they were housed and fed. She ran a school and an orphanage for the deprived children of the society and when the grants from the government were not forthcoming she would stage a dharna in front of the CM’s office in Vidhana Soudha. This orthodox lady, who protested the opening of a beer shop in Gandhi Bazaar, would go and knock on the doors of liquor barons to get money to build a dwelling for ‘her’ children.

Jayalakshamma with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi

P R Jayalakshamma with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi

My mother was very orthodox in her personal life. As an official of the Social welfare board, she used to tour most of Karnataka for days together and all that she would take in would be bananas and cocoanut water! She had also compartmentalized her life. She would spend whole days in harijan bastis but would take a bath at the end of the day. In some strange ways she was an extremely modern person. She was reticent at first when boys and girls in our extended family married out of caste (including her own daughter) but later welcomed to the new entrants pleasantly into the family. I think she understood the nuances of social change very well.

Jayalakshamma with Smt Vijayalakshmi Pandit

P R Jayalakshamma with Vijayalakshmi Pandit

Though her education had stopped at the middle school level, mother was fluent in Kannada, Tamil and Telugu, and she had no hesitation in displaying her broken Hindi and butler English. When I see myriad photographs of her with the important personalities, I cannot help admiring her. She used to tell us at times that she would have been a minister in the centre if only she had known English.

P R Jayalakshamma had numerous achievements to her credit during her lifetime. Listed below are some of them

– President of Ashoka Shishu Vihara, Gaana Mandira, Deaf and Dumb Society

– Treasurer and VP of State Social Welfare Board

– Member of State Family Welfare Planning Organisation, State Beggar Welfare Committee, Bangalore Co-operative Society, visiting committees Victoria and Vanivilas Hospitals

– Worked for several organizations and NGOs like Stree Sangha, Akshatha Poshaka Sabha, Abalashrama, Gopala Niketana, Gokulam Garden School, Bharatiya Grameena Seva Sangha, Gayatri Women’s Welfare Organisation, Varalakshmi Mahila Seva Sangha

– Member of the Congress party since the early days of the freedom struggle, later worked under Ramakrishna Hegde for the Janata party

– Corporator, Jayanagar, 1957

– As Deputy Mayor, worked to mitigate the problems connected with the water shortage and creating alternate housing for slum dwellers

– Credited with developing the Wilson Garden area into a good residential extension

– As member of Sharada Stree Samaja in Chamarajapet, worked for making Makkala Koota famous

– Author of Badri Yatre, a travelogue and Kaavya Gayana Stotra Manjir

– Contributed articles to newspapers and magazines on topics connected with women, epic stories etc

My other was also rajasik to the core. When VIPs visited Bangalore it was she and not the Mayor who would go to the airport and welcome them. She was very human and had her small vanities- she reveled in photo opportunities. I still remember the glee and enthusiasm with which she would get ready for meetings, not unlike that of a school girl on her first day of the class. While she did not have a single mean bone in her body, she used to feel bad at times when her work was not recognized or rewarded. But she was not the type to talk about herself either.

My mother also had a schoolgirl kind of enthusiasm, with a ‘let us do it ourselves’ philosophy. As a corporator for Jayanagar, she made sure that lorries delivered water to afflicted areas. It seems on one occasion she decided to sit next to the driver of the lorry delivering water. As the lorry went around distributing water, it stopped at several places where people used to come and thank her. I think she would have loved to shake hands of people except that she was afraid to get off the lorry since she would need a chair to get onto it again, as she was short!

Mother was compassionate and kind. She was on visiting boards of several hospitals and at times she herself would accompany poor patients to meet the concerned doctors.

At times we would criticize her for her generosity. The great Plato had said that the best way to help a hungry person would be not to give him a fish but teach him to fish. My mother who never knew Plato taught many unfortunate women and children to fish during her lifetime, also giving the poor soula a fish for the day to quench their hunger. She used her personal money for this purpose. And when she did not have money, she took loans from people much to the displeasure of armchair critics like us.

Looking back, I feel my mother’s activism sprung from basic compassion which she had in abundance. I do not think she knew much about ideologies. My father’s activism was rooted in his intellect but for my mother it came straight from the heart. It is in this aspect that she reminds me of Buddha more than any of our heroes. Mother passed away in 1991 at the age of 83.She was in love with life and I guess she achieved her ideal of having Sahasra Chandra Drashana (the longevity to witness a 1000 full-moons)

Amma, Happy 100th birthday! Nooru varshada shubhashayagalu. Yes, you were another Mother India.


  1. raj chandra.r says:

    Palahalli Viswanath – a very moving tribute. Glad to know about this woman with a golden heart.Nooru varshada shubhashayagalu

  2. Palahalli Vishwanath says:

    Sri Raj Chandra

    Thank you very much for reading and liking the article on my mother. She indeed was a different person in a different era, Regards

  3. Shruti Ramesh says:

    ” Nooru varushadha shubhashayagalu Jayalakshamma”, your life story is so very inspiring us! I liked the fact that with Butler English and not much of higher education, Jayalakshamma achieved much and is a Winner!

  4. Palahalli Vishwanath says:

    Ms Shruthi Ramesh
    I do hope that people continue to get inspired by her. Yes, she did not have much education, but was a very wise and more importantly kind soul. Thanks a lot for your comments

  5. V.T.Venkataram says:

    It is an inspiring article about a noble lady who had dedicated herself to a noble cause. A piece of information- She was also a director of Bangalore City Cooperative Society for a very long period and my father Prof. V.T.Srinivasan was also one of the directors of the society. My father innocently asked Mrs.P.R.Jayalakshamma to suggest him a suitable alliance for the marriage of my elder sister. Next day, MR.Shamanna, then a corporator(who later became an M.P.), came to our house and suggested the name of Mr.P.R.Ramaswamy, son of Mrs.P.R.Jayalakshamma as the groom. The marriage was performed in a grand manner.

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