Eleven people from various fields in Tamil Nadu have been conferred the Padma awards. Among them and possibly the oldest living recipients from the list is 105-year-old Papammal from Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu who has been awarded the prestigious Padma Shri.
Papammal runs her own organic farm spread across 2.5 acres of land where she has been cultivating a variety of millets, pulses, vegetables and corn for over nine decades. “I’m very happy,” Papammal said over the phone as she was commuting to the Coimbatore airport to meet DMK leader MK Stalin. She joined the party several years ago.
From an early age, Papammal alias Rangammal was interested in agricultural practices. She was born in 1914, lost her parents at an early age and was brought up by her paternal grandmother in Thekkampatti where she continues to live. She would not have studied beyond class 2, say her family members.
Papammal lost her husband a decade ago and has three daughters, three grandchildren, two great-grandchildren and lives with five members of her family.
“Paati is a boon for us,” said her grandson R Balasubramanian who is also a farmer. “Of course, I learnt everything from her. I’ve seen her work on the farm since I was a child and from class 10 until now I’m farming,” said Balasubramanian, 50.
Papaammal saved money by selling snacks and beverages from a provisional shop she inherited from her grandmother. With the money, she bought 10 acres of land to cultivate pulses and corn. “There has never been a day when she hasn’t worked,” says her second niece R Kamalam who was accompanying her to the airport.
With age, she sold a major portion of her land and retained 2.5 acres. The centenarian’s day starts at 5.30 in the morning and by 6 am she is on the field working until the afternoon. She had been associated with the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University in its education and other activities. She also had a stint as a councillor of the Thekkampatti panchayat in 1959. She also attends several village functions where they seek her blessings.
The past year, however, slowed her down a bit as she developed wheezing and has remained indoors due to the Covid-19 pandemic while her family members help with her farm.
According to her family, Papaammal’s active lifestyle and food habits keep her healthy. “Her favourite is mutton biryani and she takes her food with lots of greens and vegetables. She eats all her meals hot on a leaf and doesn’t use plates,” says Balasubramanian. “She sticks to hot water and avoids tea and coffee.”
Though she received the information from Delhi on Monday afternoon, it was formally announced at night. Their home witnessed a beeline of visitors, including the media and politicians, since the announcement. “Her celebration is being with so many people,” says Kamalam.
The family is planning a date to organize a formal celebration for her. Balasubramanian says that he brings up his two children with her as the role model to be active and work hard. “Our inspiration is at home.”0