Elizabeth Varughese, my mother, passed away at the age of 73, and was a well-respected English and fine art teacher. People fondly called her ‘Prema,’ a name which translates to ‘love and affection,’ as her love permeated through everything she did.

Prema was born in Kerala, India, as the youngest daughter to Curumthodathil Perumarathinkal Philipose and Mary (nee Kurian). Her mother was a homemaker who later went on to teach at a women’s college while Prema and her siblings, Molly and Mon, attended All Saints girls’ boarding school in Nainital situated in the Himalayas foothills, where she was taught by missionaries.

In 1956, when her father became the eastern African regional manager for the Cotton Textiles Export Promotion Council, the family moved to Mombasa, Kenya. Later, when they relocated to the capital city of Nairobi, Prema attended Kenya high school for girls and obtained a degree in Fine Arts from University College, Nairobi.

In 1966, her father met with a fatal car accident while the whole family was present. This traumatic incident had a lasting impact on Prema and instilled a deep-seated anxiety in her about the safety of those she loved. Nevertheless, with my father’s support, she didn’t let this incident hinder her children’s growth and development. While we were growing up, she encouraged us to embrace and assimilate to British culture while still being connected to our roots.

In the 70s, Prema worked as an English and Fine arts teacher to boys in Nairobi, many of whom had to travel long distances to reach school. In later years, while watching the Olympics, she would comment that she had taught grammar to some of the Kenyan athletes.

Prema met Thomas Varughese in Nairobi in 1972, and they tied the knot later that year. In 1979, when Mohini, my elder sister, was five and I was three, we moved to the south of London. Wearing a sari and a thin cardigan, Prema bravely stepped off the airplane into a cold, rainy April day.

From 1980 to 1987, Prema worked at a heraldry company, creating and illustrating family coats of arms. Art was a passion that pervaded every aspect of her life, and she excelled at still life, botanical painting, and landscapes inspired by her travels abroad.

Family was everything to my mother. She treated my sister’s husband, Jason, and my husband, Justin, like her own sons. Her culinary skills were a highlight of every family gathering and reflected her love for her family. On her last birthday, my children secretly collected and illustrated all of her signature recipes in a book titled ‘Ammi’s Yummy Recipes, Made With Love.’ Her artistic flair was also evident in the beauty of her garden, where she spent hours tending to the plants’ color palette and textures.

Prema is survived by Thomas, my sister Mohini and me, along with our children, Sachin, Ashwin, Anjali, and Mani.


  • owenbarrett

    I'm Owen Barrett, a 31-year-old educational blogger and traveler. I enjoy writing about the places I've visited and sharing educational content about travel and culture. When I'm not writing or traveling, I like spending time with my family and friends.