A Sweet Soul Who Defined “Amma” and “Avva”

A Sweet Soul Who Defined “Amma” and “Avva”

If there was one thing she proved in her 80 years, it was that she could be mother to anyone.

From the milkman to newspaper delivery guy, the neighborhood grocery store lady to the manager at the bank that held her account, she was amma to all. True, it was society’s norm to call elders like her such. But with Sreemathi Ledchumi Rengasamy-Krishnan, the term often took on a deeper meaning that resonated with the love people experienced from their own mothers.

“For many, she became the meaning of the word amma, although she never experienced love from her own mother,” eldest daughter Anuradha says. “She never knew her grandmother. But she made sure every one of her grandchildren knew and loved her.”


It was a calling that few in her own family had expected of Ledchumi, when she was born in 1936 as the second youngest child of six to Kuppummal and Rengasamy, a couple from Veloor, South India, who settled in the Penang town of Province Wellesley in Malaya, later named Seberang Perai.

After her mother died when she was about four, young Ledchumi was mostly raised by her father and three elder brothers. The men doted on the two girls in the family. To Ledchumi, it was a love that not only gave but also instilled responsibility: through the affection of her father and her elder brothers, she learned to care for her baby brother, who, more unfortunate than her, lost his mother when he was just an infant.

“I often cried, wondering why my mother had to leave us at such a young age, and I felt so sorry for my younger brother. I did my best to be the mother he never had,” she would say.

By the time Ledchumi was 18, the senior Rengasamy, a railway worker in Prai who also ran a food outlet at the town’s toddy, or liquor store, was ready to give her away in marriage. The match was arranged by him and his eldest son Sidayah. Ledchumi was more than content with their choice in Krishnan Ramasamy, a strikingly handsome man who would later become a town bus and truck driver. Married, they had their first child when she was 20, and five by the time she was 32.


Thus began the legacy of the Krishnan Family – with its five children, their spouses and 11 grandchildren – and Ledchumi as its Grand Matriarch. A family that took its humble roots from Prai to the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, and has even crossed oceans to reach Norway and the United States, where its youngest live today.

Those triumphs didn’t come without challenges though. It’s one of life’s ironies that the greatest difficulties always come to the most well-meaning people, and Ledchumi was no exception to this. Blessed with an amazing father, she was deprived of a mother.

While her husband was loving and supportive, life itself was a never-ending challenge as she struggled to raise five kids on his meager income. She fried nuts and hawked them below her flat home, earning a side income that helped support her children’s school expenses.

In later years, she ran a street-side food business with two of her elder daughters. She fumed at her husband once when he innocently suggested their other children quit school too to help with the business.

“My children will study. That’s what I live for. I will not let them become like me!” thundered Ledchumi, whose only grievance with her own father, if any, was in not letting the girls in their family complete school, unlike the boys.

And study her children did. Although her daughters never went to college, they became career women in their own right – one great in the food business like the mother, the other two involved in a bridal makeup boutique that after 20 years remains one of the best-known in the community.

Her elder son studied electronics, and manages people and marketing for a global Japanese firm, while her youngest writes for a world news service in New York.


“Whatever little she knew, she taught us to perfection, making us what we are today,” said Sumathi, her third daughter, who crisscrossed the world as a flight attendant before settling into the bridal boutique business with elder sister Amu.

Bowing in homage to Ledchumi aren’t just her children. It’s also her grandchildren. From eldest grandson Khishaan in Norway to youngest granddaughter Harvaniya in New York, she was an avva, or grandmother, who left them with indelible memories.

“I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: There is no Punam without Ledchumi,” one granddaughter writes in a heartrending tribute. Born with multiple heart complications, Punam Naido was literally raised from within the palms of her grandmother, who went through untold sacrifices with the girl’s parents to make her into the woman she is today. Ledchumi’s story is incomplete without Punam’s, and Punam’s story cannot be told without her avva’s. Such was the bond.

“People always say vaalvo saavo, naalu maanusaal irrukanam,” Amu, Ledchumi’s second daughter and mother of Punam, said, referring to the Tamil adage that calls for at least four individuals to create the mutual dependence that exists within society. “But our mother touched more than a thousand people with her love.”


Narayanan “Nick” Nair, a Malaysian and long-time U.K. resident, was one of them. Nick puts Ledchumi on parallel with his own mother, saying the most infectious thing about her was her smile.

“It was a smile that wants for nothing but only giving. It was a smile that says you are family. My wife and girls always speak of her with great fondness and love and never forget the warmth in that smile. I also get blessings from her whenever I visit, and a prayer of well-being whispered in my ear.”

Mahendran Kanagaretnam, Malaysia’s former central bank head in the United States, also adored her like his own “amma”. “She was really a great person who showed such warmth to everyone,” said Mahendran, who was in New York with his family in 2006 when Ledchumi came to visit her son, the writer.

Pammy Murugappan, who’s known the Krishnans for 35 years and, like Nick, considers the family her own, said avva will continue living in the hearts of those she had touched. “For nothing loved is ever lost, and she was loved so much.”


It is certainly a legacy that will endure, Ledchumi’s elder son Sukumar says. “It’s impossible for it to go away when she has given so much and taken so little.”

Even in death, Ledchumi continued to give, allowing her heart-broken son Barani, who couldn’t return for her funeral, to follow the entire proceedings through real-time streaming in New York.

“Yes, it was technology that allowed me to do that but I don’t think it would have been possible without my Mom’s blessings,” he said. “For two-and-a-half hours, my wife and I virtually participated in the funeral, and again the next day when they took her ashes out to sea, and the connection never broke once. Try doing that anytime with a video call. No, it was her.”

Shrimathi Ledchumi Rengasamy-Krishnan was born in the year 1936 and returned to Shivaloga on 11 Jan 2016.


  1. Sarojini Perumal

    Anni was a mother who showed us with her love. For my elder son’s wedding she came to my house one week earlier to help with the preparation which I was blessed. You are very special to me as you have taught me alot of good values in Life. Miss you a lot Anni.

  2. Uma Revathy

    She’s truly a beautiful soul who gave birth to such beautiful gems . All her children are so full of love and so caring . Her guidance and blessings will forever be with all of you ❤️

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