Gnanam: Life Lessons from Her Mother

Gnanam: Timeless Wisdom by Selvi Sachithanandam – BAREFOOT‘Gnanam” by Selvi Sachithanandam, shortlisted for 2023 Gratiaen Prize

Gnanam is a biography cum memoir and charts the stories of 5 generations of women belonging to one family in Jaffna and it was inspired by the love, empathy, and trust that they handed down. The spiritual thread that runs through the book is innocuous, but profuse in its presence and draws a correlation between wisdom, health, spirituality and healing.









Reading of an excerpt:


Interview by SBS Tamil – Unveiling the Source of Inspiration: The Motivation Behind Crafting ‘Gnanam | SBS Tamil


by Sunday Times, Colombo, May 26, 2024

For the matriarch Gnanam, life was no hassle and she lived to the ripe old age of 101 with dignity, decorum and happiness untarnished. How she did this, is told in her biography written by a daughter who marvels at the ‘timeless wisdom’ (in fact the meaning of the name Gnanam) that stood her mother in good stead.

Selvi Sachithanandam, though a product of St. Bridget’s Convent, Colombo, grew up partly in Jaffna and was nourished by old Hindu fables and parables so beloved of earlier generations.

The book – initially an attempt to come to terms with her mother’s death – embraces five generations of women in the family, and charts a history that begins in the era of British Ceylon. It delves into the spicy details of housekeeping in those inner courtyard kitchens, caste practices and gender relations in the Dravidian world hemmed by palmyrah fences.

Selvi gained graduate and postgraduate education in architecture, town planning and development planning and worked as an architect and town planner abroad. She is passionate about history, storytelling and creative writing.

Her narrative interspersed with legend and parable, begins in the early part of the 20th Century, and takes on the divisive politics of the 1950s, the rise and fall of the Samasamajists, the ’58 riots, Black July, the war and the end of the war in Mullivaikkal.

But the ‘driving force’ of the book says Selvi, are the life lessons from her mother. “This book bespeaks how to love, find real and lasting happiness, and live a beautiful, purposeful life even in the midst of war, conflict, and injustice. The wisdom in this book can inspire and instruct any reader of any background.”

The ‘spiritual thread’ running through the book makes lessons of how Gnanam responded to life situations – “the important choices she makes, equanimity in extending her circle of love to include other people and the importance placed on the web of relationships over money and property.”

Says Selvi, “The book asserts that we are part of a whole and here to serve humanity. This world view aligns the thoughts and emotions impacting emotional and mental wellbeing in people. Ayurveda reinforces this by “Kshamavaan aapthopasevi bhaveth”- health happens when you treat everyone around you as near and dear.”

The dignity and grace of a matriarch through life is admired but even more impressive is how she met death.

“…She chose the time of death and how to exit this world. Her fourteen day fast without food or water and the final peaceful exit are the ultimate affirmation of her wisdom and spirituality.”

One reader at least, found this last detail beneficial, confessing that she ‘lost the fear of death’. Others were to testify to a ‘shift in consciousness’ after reading the book.

The book entailed a lot of research on “historic events and consultations with family…- to corroborate the verbal narration”.

The book was a labour of love shared with Selvi’s daughter Dhivya who contributed in no small part to the tapestry of a lost age and its eternal wisdom.

Selvi, who after returning home, was glad to work as a senior programme officer with the UN, also founded the Poornam Foundation on spirituality, healing and meditation which spearheaded a project to assist war widows in Kilinochchi.

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