Awed and Humbled: The First LifeStories Interview


Awed and Humbled

~Uma Vangal~

It was a pleasant Saturday and Swarna and I were doing a prelim interview of Vasantha ‘Perimma,’ our first woman in public life for the OHP of the PSW Initiative.

As I listened to her talk about Gandhi, Nehru, Annie Besant and Sarojini Naidu, I could almost imagine I was there listening to them speak. Mrs. Vasantha Ramakrishnan slowly went back in time to recall her memories, and I realized that we were in the presence of a historian, albeit an untrained one. As such her memories were intensely personal yet reflective of her times.


And on Tuesday, as my crew of 3 women began recording her interview for posterity, we were awed by her enormous contributions. We felt, as my AD put it, “We have achieved nothing in our lives when compared to her rich life.” And my camerawoman was so engrossed that at times we were unsure if she was filming or just listening in rapture. As for me, it was a humbling experience. Here was this wonderful lady, so animated, so dignified and so willing to sit patiently through two days of talking with us. A stretch of nearly 4 hours can put a strain on anyone and for someone at her age – it must have been quite tedious. But she never flagged, sitting upright energetically sharing her thoughts on a wide ranging array of subjects from non-violence to female foeticide. Her activities in as a child in Rangoon, her migrant experience, Emergency—were all narrated in an unassuming manner as also her participation in the Seva Dal, Bharat Scouts, Quit India and down the years to the present. Her reminiscences were so vivid that we were entranced. And what zest and penchant for detail.


She read enthusiastically from her vast collection of writings on diverse issues – Deepavali to rural items to domestic abuse. And as we reached the last few minutes to record the pictures and archival material we stumbled on some photographs of her saluting the flag and leading the march past on the historic occasion of India’s independence- Swarna and I felt a rush of excitement. What a gold mine we had stumbled upon! (To look at more photos, visit

scan0016And when we wound up we felt truly humbled at her ready acceptance of all of into her family fold – and the picture we took with her will be a cherished one for the blog and for each of us, the whole experience was one to be cherished.


For us, it was long held dream come true to begin this oral history project. And the first one only whetted our appetite. To many more such wonderful memories as we continue with this effort!


8 thoughts on “Awed and Humbled: The First LifeStories Interview

  1. Vasughi

    Reading this makes me feel so proud to be working with you all! What a goldmine indeed and what an idea! Uma, your piece persoanlizes it even more for me! Feel truly grateful and blessed!

  2. Anand Rajaram

    Swarna and Prajnya colleagues

    Great subject to kick off a great initiative. Enjoyed the pictures on flickr. How does one get to hear the audio of the interview?

    You might take a look at the National Public Radio program called storycorps which invites people to record personal reflections from memorable events in their lives selections from which are then replayed on Friday mornings on the radio. They make for very poignant listening and really give you a sense of the people from all walks of life and their inherent greatness. Perhaps you could build some aspects of that program into the Prajnya initiative.

    Keep up the great work. I will keep stopping by your website to see other items.


    • Hi! Will look up storycorps. You will have to wait for video-audio clips because we splurged to do this before the lady left Chennai for a long series of travels. We will slowly get them up and let people know when we do!

  3. edsley

    great work! by your team.
    it would be more relevant if you could have brief profile of Vasantha ‘Perimma as the first para. We could relate as we read.
    this reminds me of ‘Rabbit Proof Fence’ narration.


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