Pathamavathee Pillay, 1927–2007 (aged 80 years)
|Birth of a brother||Sivasoobramania Pillay|
October 17, 1929 (aged 2 years)
|Death of a father||Pathmanathan Veloo Pillay|
1936 (aged 9 years)
|Death of a mother||Kuppamma Pillay|
1942 (aged 15 years)
Note: Extrapolated from the fact that Sivasoobramania Pillay (my father) was 13 when his mother died
|Death of a sister||Adilutchmee Pillay|
November 7, 1970 – 08:35 (aged 43 years)
|Death of a brother||Kumarsamy Pillay|
May 7, 1982 (aged 55 years)
|Death of a brother||Alaganathan Pillay|
April 27, 1992 (aged 65 years)
|Death of a brother||Pugavathie Pillay|
June 16, 1992 (aged 65 years)
|Death of a sister||Sakunthalay Pillay|
April 2, 1996 (aged 69 years)
|Death of a brother||Sivasoobramania Pillay|
August 31, 1997 (aged 70 years)
Cause: Congestive cardiac failure
|Death|| May 6, 2007 (aged 80 years)|
Cause of death: Cancer of colon
|Cremation|| May 7, 2007 (1 day after death)|
6 yearselder sister
11 monthselder brother
17 monthselder brother
3 yearsyounger brother
Kanthan's speech at his Aunt's funeral
Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen. Thank you for being with us here today.
Mrs Pathmavathee Moodliar was born in 1927 in Malvern. Her father, Mr Pathmanathan Veloo Pillay, who had come to Durban as a passenger Indian from Kanyakumari (Cape Comorin), India, had married Kuppama, daughter of Mr Sinappa Pillay, another passenger Indian who had come from Madras by way of Mauritius. Sinappa Pillay had established a trading store in West Street in those early years two centuries back.
Veloo Pillay and Kuppama, my grandparents on my father’s side, had 11 children. The first nine were Adilakshmi, Kumarsamy, Mahibalan, Sabapathi, Saravanan, Soundree, Alaganathan (known to most of us as Shunmugam), Pugavathie, and Sivathanam. Mrs Moodliar, who for the past 40 or so years has simply been known as “Red Hill Athai” to most of my 64 first cousins, was the youngest daughter. My father, Soobiah, born two years after her, was the youngest son.
There was a moment yesterday when Seelan asked me to speak at Athai’s funeral, and my immediate reaction was to say “no!” I don’t speak at funerals – that is something for the older generation.
And then, the penny dropped. Athai, Mrs Moodliar, is among the last of 39 grandchildren of the dynasty founded by the late Sinappa Pillay. Last year saw the passing of my perima, Thilanayagie. The year before saw the passing of my grandmother, Angellai. As far asi I am aware, only two grandchildren now remain, Soundravallie (daughter of the late Joe Soobiah), and Sivathanam, Athai’s brother.
While still a teenager, Mrs Moodliar became the beautiful radiant bride of Manickum Moodliar who hailed from a well-known family in Umzinto. She was still a child in years, young and unsophisticated at 17 years old, when she gave birth to Seelan, but proved to be more than up to the task of being an exemplary wife and mother. Her sharp intellect and business acumen led to her joining her husband in running the famous Broadway Sweet Store at the corner of Grey and Carlisle streets. She obtained her drivers licence and juggled assisting her husband at work while being a doting mother to Seelan, Shamala, and Karunagaree.
Many enjoyed the hospitality of the Moodliars at their home in First Avenue in the early years and later on at her current home in Bailey Road. My earliest recollection of those days in the early 1960s was that at my home in Henwood Road, we had three dogs – Foxy, Bully, and Mischief. Mischief had developed a deep attachment to Athai and would frequently vanish from home making the treacherous journey through the traffic to First Avenue to get to her. Eventually, my mother decided that Mischief clearly knew what he wanted, and he was left with Athai who doted upon him as much as she did others in the family.
She was a charming hostess who enjoyed nothing better that to cook mouth-watering meals for her guests. (To this day, when I get together with my cousins, we reminisce fondly about Athai’s legendary mutton and potatoes.) During that time, the family went to India to join Seelan who was already studying there. They set up home in India and spent memorable times together where she also made her mark as hostess to the numerous friends they made.
During that time in India, Athai was able to indulge her passion for classical music. Upon her return, I remember us sitting riveted to an audio recording from All India Radio of the Tamil film Thiruvilaiyadil – dialogue and music, but no pictures; the VCR would only enter our lives 20 years later. Her Phillips reel-to-reel tape recorder would pour forth songs to keep my father entranced. Athai treated her music collection as one might treat fine porcelain. She was happy to play the music for visitors or to make copies for those who wanted them, but none but her would lay hands upon it.
The untimely death of her husband in the early 1970s would have broken a lesser person. Athai remained a dynamic vibrant head of the family as mother and grandmother. Many of us will recall her relatively small frame steering her massive and elegant Dodge through the streets of Durban with consummate ease. She continued this way over the next decades until ill health slowed her down and finally claimed her life. She would have turned 80 years old this year.
The children of Veloo Pillay were larger than life in many ways. Their interactions amongst each other were dramatic, passionate, frequently confrontational, but always underpinned by love. For my own part, my travels and career have meant that I have spent most of my life living in places other than this city where I was born. But no matter how hurried my trips to Durban were, the visit to Athai’s house was for my part almost obligatory. The outpouring of love and delight upon her face whenever I saw her, no matter how brief the visit, would leave me recharged for weeks thereafter. Our family will always remember her for her warm caring nature and her passionate love for family – not only her own immediate family, but also that of her brothers and sisters.
Most of us, as Hindus, believe in the immortality of the soul. We believe that death is a transition for the physical body to be left behind while the soul journeys on and into the spiritual world for fresh adventures. We take comfort from hoping that she will now be free of pain and now making contact with loved ones that have gone before.
I am very conscious that Athai’s passing marks the end of an era. Already her family are spread throughout the world with grandchildren and great grandchildren in Canada, England, Johannesburg, and here. She was the focal point that tied that dynasty together as did so many other powerful women among her contemporaries – Kula’s mother, Ganesa’s mother, my grandmother, Mrs Dixon and many more. For myself and the other great grandchildren of Sinappa Pillay, their generation provided us with the education and values which have allowed us to spread our wings and prosper.
Athai is survived by her brother Sivathanam, by her children, Seelan, Shamala, and Karunagaree, a host of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and by all of us here today. For my part, her smile of delight whenever I saw her will live with me forever.