My mother, Elizabeth Varughese, who has died aged 73, was a fine art and English teacher. She was known to most people as Prema, which means love and affection – love permeated everything she did.
Born in Kerala, India, Prema was the youngest daughter of Curumthodathil Perumarathinkal Philipose and Mary (nee Kurian), who was a homemaker while the children were growing up, then taught at a women’s college. Prema was sister to Molly and Mon, and went to All Saints girls’ boarding school in Nainital, in the foothills of the Himalayas, where she was taught by missionaries.
The family moved to Mombasa, Kenya, in 1956 when her father became regional manager, eastern Africa, at the Cotton Textiles Export Promotion Council. Prema then attended Kenya high school for girls in Nairobi when the family moved to the capital, later gaining a degree in fine art from University College, Nairobi.
In 1966, her beloved father was killed in a car accident. The whole family was in the car. This had a lasting impact on Prema’s outlook on life, causing an underlying anxiety that a similar fate would befall those she loved. Despite this, and with the help of my father, she never let it hold her children back. She would remind us of our culture, but also encourage us to assimilate to life in the UK while we were growing up.
In the 70s, Prema taught fine art and English in Nairobi to boys many of whom ran over long distances to get to school. In later years, she would comment while watching the Olympics that she had taught grammar to some of the Kenyan athletes.
She met Thomas Varughese in Nairobi in 1972, and they married that year. Perhaps it was destiny as there was only one character difference in their Morris Minor number plates. In 1979, when my sister, Mohini, was five and I was three, we moved to Croydon in south London. Prema stepped off the aeroplane in a sari and thin cardigan to be greeted by cold, rainy April weather.
From around 1980 until 1987, she started working at a heraldry company where she researched, created and illustrated family coats of arms. Her love of art pervaded all parts of her life. She excelled in still life and botanical painting and drawing, as well as painting landscapes inspired by her travels abroad.
Family was everything to Mum. She treated my sister’s husband, Jason, and my husband, Justin, like her own sons. Her cooking was at the centre of every family feast and was one of the ways she showed her love. For her last birthday, the grandchildren secretly collated and illustrated all of Mum’s famous recipes as a printed book: Ammi’s Yummy Recipes, Made With Love. Her artistic talent was also realised in the beauty of her garden – she would spend hours each day tending to it, carefully considering the planting, colour palette and textures.
Prema is survived by Thomas, Mohini and me, and her grandchildren, Sachin, Ashwin, Anjali and Mani.