She was lovingly named ‘Raj Kumari’ (princess) by her parents. Their first born, she was born with the proverbial silver spoon, and was pampered silly by all. Growing up in the pre partition era, she must have known what abundance meant. But when random lines were drawn, her entire family, immediate and extended was advised to make the move. Comply, they did, but in return had to give up everything they had…to find themselves cooped up in refugee camps in what we call India now.
For a nine year old girl, life as she had known, vanished into thin air. What they must have taken for granted back home, was now a luxury. Making ends meet was an uphill task but the family managed. They were relocated to a small town where her studies couldn’t be continued so she was packed off to a relative’s place where it was possible. These were way too many changes for a young girl to take in and she gave up somewhere on the way and went on to get married as most girls around her were, too. She deeply regretted dropping out on her education but life was moving at its pace. When a cousin of hers picked up her books, that was probably the inspiration she was looking for. But with two kids in tow, life was tougher than ever before. Her parents were supportive and took the responsibility of the younger one who was just a toddler. Though in the same city, she would meet him only on weekends. Mondays used to be painful but she trudged along with the support from her husband and her parents.
In all these years, school was no longer where she had left it. The curriculum had changed and now English was a ‘must-know’. It is difficult for us to visualise but for someone who had never read a word in English, it could might as well have been Greek and Latin for her. Tutors were tried but it turned out to be a morale breaker at which point her younger brother took the responsibility of teaching her the language. The young girl, now a mother of two, would pore over her books, dawn to dusk and finally managed to finish school. No mean achievement that, but not one to rest on that, she pursued higher education. To cut a long story short she eventually became a teacher and with great pride she would tell me how her batch of students turned out to be the brightest ones. I have met some of her students and the effusiveness and warmth with which they spoke about her was proof enough of what an amazing teacher she must’ve been.
What I often remember about her is her indefatigable zest for life and the courage to try new things. She was a social being, sometimes pushy but she could charm her way through it. She just couldn’t sit still or idle. There was always something that needed to be done. Up at dawn, she would be on her toes all day. She was always in a tearing hurry, may be because all she wanted was everything! A perfectionist to the core, once she undid a whole sweater that she had knit and redid all of it again! Why? Because she didn’t like the way the design had turned out. There was not a single lazy bone in her.
She was the usual woman-next-door, though I would say she was always quite well turned out. She took great care of her long black tresses and skin and did indulge herself there.
All her life I observed her closely, loved her dearly and acknowledged the traits that I mentioned but somehow beautiful wasn’t one of them. It was only when she left us all, one night, in the same hurry as she lived, that I realised there was so much more to her. In the prayer ceremony, that followed her death, a few days later, I heard people talking about her with so much love and warmth. They narrated how she had touched their lives, sponsored marriages of orphan girls and had pledged her eyes.
That day, I realised, I never knew this ‘ordinary’ lady, who was my maasi (my mother’s elder sister), and that was the day I saw her as truly beautiful.
My regret always would be that I took her for granted, assuming she would be there always. It does make me happy that she was very proud of the fact that I was a doctor and would often publicly proclaim that I was one of her favourite girls. She was one of my biggest cheer leaders. I would wave it away casually then but secretly glowed in the attention.
How I wish I could tell her in as many words that I love her and I miss her! I’m not new to loss but somehow her absence, the suddenness of the loss, it has had no closure for me. And hence here I am paying my tribute to her in a way that I know best.First Published – https://www.momspresso.com/parenting/musings-and-reflections/article/from-a-princess-to-a-karmyogi-a-tribute