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Rajamma A. "Minnie" Ramanujapuram loved to sing, in English or Tamil

  • Article by: JENNIFER BJORHUS
  • Star Tribune
  • March 31, 2012 - 7:08 PM

Rajamma A. "Minnie" Ramanujapuram was half a world away from her true home in southern India when she died in Minneapolis on March 21. But she carried her songs with her wherever she was, said her son, and will live on in her music.

"She sang when she was sad, she sang when she was happy," said her son, Damodar Ramanuj, of Maple Grove. "Music was in her blood."

Ramanujapuram would have turned 100 in October, her life spanning eras from carriages and Mahatma Gandhi to Skype. She was born in an India that was still 25 years away from independence, lived through two world wars and journeyed to the United States in her final years to live with family.

Married at 14, Ramanujapuram moved to Bangalore, where her husband worked as a civil engineer. They raised four children, and she was active in a local women's group that worked on social causes, her son said.

His parents were firm believers in education, said Ramanuj, an engineer who now teaches electronics and robotics at Hennepin Technical College. "Fair but strict," Ramanuj recalls.

And his mother was always singing. Ramanujapuram studied classical Indian vocal music, a mix of southern and northern styles. While she never pursued it seriously, it was a deep part of her life.

Mostly she sang Hindu religious devotional songs, often in Tamil, her mother tongue. She also learned some English tunes -- there's a clip of her singing some of them on YouTube at Patima_ComeWithMe.

She passed on her love of music to her three daughters, who are all musicians, Ramanuj said.

His parents were very close, said Ramanuj, and when his father died in 1992 after 65 years of marriage, his mother poured her sorrow into music, penning 150 devotional songs in three languages.

Ramanuj published them in a book titled "Sacred Wealth." His sisters brought them to life, performing them in India, Canada, Europe and North Carolina.

In 2005, his mother came to live with him and his wife, Rohini, in Wisconsin. A few years later they moved to Maple Grove to be near their two sons at the University of Minnesota.

Ramanujapuram quickly took to the Mall of America, where she liked to buy gifts for the family, and to the Hindu Temple of Minnesota in Maple Grove, where "she was at her happiest," Ramanuj said.

Their family was planning to throw a big 100th birthday party in October. But when her health began to fail, doctors suggested they shouldn't wait to celebrate her life.

So they moved up the party and had it at the hospital. With balloons and a cake and more than a dozen laptops stationed around so family around the world could join the celebration via Skype, they all visited and sang "Happy Birthday" to "Minnie," as she was known. She recognized faces, Ramanuj said, and called out names although she had all but lost her voice by that point.

"She was overwhelmed," he said. "She was waving to everybody."

The next day, she passed away.

Ramanuj described the attention and care his mother received at Hennepin County Medical Center -- including getting the Internet connections straightened out for her party -- as "out of this world."

"It was just unbelievable," he said. "I have nothing but praise for these guys. They were a major part of this happening."

Her family will carry her ashes back to Bangalore, he said. "That was her last wish," he said. "Bring me back home."

She is survived by four children, 11 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

Jennifer Bjorhus • 612-673-4683

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