Friday, July 30, 2010

When Life Twists Your Ear

Sodder (Mother India) and Radha in Pune

Some weeks are bummers. Hopefully it all remains within that short time span! Last week we had hoped to visit Jyotsna in Pune and carry on from there to Khandala for the grand finale of our dialogue group. The Pune trip happened but Khandala went for a sixer on account of my knee which suddenly decided to pack up and had me hobbling all over Jyotsna's apartment hanging on to Sharat for dear life, and sometimes to Sudha as well.

As they say however, every cloud has a silver lining so the lining in this cloud was Radha, who's moved to Pune recently and whom we saw a lot of during the two days we spent at Jyotsna's. We caught up with all the news, enjoyed an evening of music and meditation together with a round of sharing. And one of the evenings my god daughter Devika cooked up a fabulous meal for us, the base of which was Korean chicken supplemented with Khim chi and other delicacies. So got to meet "The Boy" - Dottie's wonderful fiance, Tarun, who periodically slipped off into the kitchen to help the beloved with her task for the evening.

Devika and Tarun

Getting back to Bombay the knee improved but now I've come down with this stomach bug. Ugh. I shouldn't be surprised as this is an annual phenomenon - something which happened exactly at this time last year, which laid me low for over two weeks. Am hoping that having addressed the issue with some potent antibiotics prescribed by the doc, the germs will vacate my stomach soon. Well the silver lining right now is that my old Buddi playmate from Kindergarten, Suman is here for a few days and we are "having a fun", being shamefully silly and slipping back into our KG years without any qualms.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Mayah Balse 11th December 1939 - 9th July 2010. Serenity In Action

Mayah and Suresh in the early days

I sometimes don’t feel like an Indian at all, because among my many anomalies is the fact that unlike so many people from this country I do not spend a lot of time catering to the whims and fancies of relatives and filling my time with weddings and birthday or tea parties followed by hours of resentment at having to do stuff I didn’t want to do. Luckily for me the people I do count among my relatives are few – but what I can say about those few is that they mean a lot to me.

Mayah belonged to a rather small branch of the family on my mother’s side and with her death a few days back what I am left with is a sense of … what can I call it? Not only sadness at having lost a cousin but well, at having lost a comrade whose view of life somehow resonates with my own. Her last wishes according to her husband Suresh, reflect this in a way. Approaching the end of her three year long battle with cancer, she made the following requests of her family. Not to have to undergo chemotherapy, not to be hospitalized, and not to be allowed to survive in a coma. Also she didn’t want any ceremonies and rituals conducted after her death. Having had these requests agreed to, she then went on to assiduously detail the many tasks which needed to be done after her death, to make lists of where the family would find various things so that nobody would be inconvenienced when she was no longer around to take care of all that she had previously handled.

Her down to earth attitude more or less echoes that of most of the women in our family who lived ordinary lives and yet, who when they passed on, left behind a sense not only of their fierce independence but of deeply caring about others. And so one could say perhaps, of this individual too, who never made much of anything, who was almost defined by a seeming ordinariness that in fact in her low key way of going about her work and life she was rather extraordinary.

“Seeming” is of course the key word. For Mayah’s laidback attitude, belied the inexhaustible energy with which she backed her many talents. TV addicts from the old days will remember the serial “Dekh Bhai Dekh” which she scripted as well as others like “Campus”. That’s not all. Through the years, she kept open house for an assortment of people, and both she and Suresh tended to sick or ailing relatives, including both sets of parents, with supreme aplomb that quite hid the effort that must surely have gone into taking care of them.

Sunaina (Nina), Mayah and Supriya (Pia)

These days, seventy seems like a relatively young age to die, but then Mayah had it lucky in some ways. Her last few months were spent in the company of a totally devoted husband, and her two daughters Pia (with whom she stayed in Bangalore, the last six months) and Nina, as well as their spouses.

At the time of writing this short tribute to a cousin who was an intrinsic part of my childhood, (in fact theirs was the only household where I agreed to spend weekends away from home when I was a child of four!) whom I kept meeting through the years, both when the family was posted outside Bombay as well as in their apartment in Andheri after Suresh’s retirement - while writing about this woman who took the ups and downs of life so serenely, I can hardly believe that Mayah is no longer with us.

But then, in a way she lives on through her writing, through the volumes not only already published but also books yet to be published, a trove of stories and other material which her daughter Pia informed me she now needs to sort her way through. For me though, Mayah mainly lives on through her family – through her husband Suresh who quite on his own reflects the same qualities that his partner did, and the daughters and their families as well, whom I am glad to be able to think of as part of my own.