Some people are truly ageless. You feel they are your age when you talk to them. They qualify as a best friend.
And their Life is never about the state of their anatomy.
Other than my parents and family, she is probably someone I knew the longest.
They all called her Dr. Tai. Not her formal name as on her degrees and awards. But more a sign of how she was regarded.
My first acquaintance with her was something I couldn't possibly remember, simply because I must have been a newborn. She was a med student at one of Mumbai's biggest and best public teaching hospitals. She was also my mother's great friend, and contrary to the custom of getting a newborn's ears pierced at a jewellers, mine were surgically pierced by her, would you believe it, for practice. A perfect job.....
That she was the city's leading gynaecologist for many many years, built up her own hospital from scratch, her students swore by her, and had a huge rural clientele because of her complete understanding of rural women's family and sociological problems , was known to all.
That she was called upon for her diagnostic and surgical excellence to attend to cases by many luminaries in the field did not surprise anyone. And her ability to speak her mind, with clarity and without mincing words, for the welfare of her patient, could make several otherwise stuffy family members of the patient , see immediate light. (I have seen her strongly fire a father-in-law, who refused to allow a full term daughter-in-law with a complicated pregnancy, to travel to hospital (despite being warned of a possible early delivery and the indications), citing that the day was not auspicious. They lost the child.)
But few knew how she came to be.
She lost her mother early on in life, and was one of the four children, 3 daughters and a son. Her father, born in the latter part of the 19th century, was a Vedic scholar, who participated in the Freedom movement as a young man. He had a younger sister, and when it looked like his imprisonment by the British, for unknown periods, was imminent, he got his sister married, so that she should not be left alone to face the vagaries of life. By the time he was released, her husband, who was a sick man , had passed away, and he brought his sister home, to give her a dignified life, in her own maternal home.
So Tai grew up with her father, aunt, and 3 siblings. She and one of her sisters never married, and dedicated their lives to their profession of medicine, and looking after their father and aunt. They built up their own hospital, bit by bit, from a small set up in the city , in rented space, to a space adjoining their house.
I have great childhood memories, of dropping by her clinic occasionally with my mother, and the most coveted things was collecting blotting papers from her; pharma companies would give these out to doctors with med samples, as advertisements, with interesting visuals, and these things gave us a great status in class, when fountain pens were compulsory and ball pens hadn't made an appearance. I had a habit of asking a lot of questions about women, babies etc, and she always had answers for me, which even involved showing me a newborn.
She was an amazing combination of the traditional and the knowledge society. She respected those who suggested spiritual /religious worship as a solution for any medical problem, but ensured and insisted that the patient's well being was primary throughout it all. Her father's and aunt's wishes were always respected and their advice asked in non medical situations. Few people know, that for many summers, she would drive 120 miles to a relative's house, to bring their differently abled child to her house, (where , she had a ready care taking set-up since she had a hospital) , so that the parents would get some stress free time of their own. The parents would of course follow later,
She celebrated all the milestones in my life like an aunt would. When I graduated and was leaving for graduate studies in the US , she and her sister suddenly turned up one morning and presented me with a wonderful silk saree. We stayed in Mumbai then, and our trips to Pune were never complete without a trip with her to our college hangout. It was her college as well as mine, decades apart. And Coca Colas , which were greatly frowned upon by parents, were avidly imbibed when with her as a treat, along with wonderful Dosas.
My son was born in her hospital, and her old aunt, would come by and visit me with some delicious traditional, dry amla-ginger pieces and cardamom to nibble on, every day. I had a special Ayurvedic send-off lunch cooked by her and her sister before I went home. They came for his naming ceremony, and I still have the beautiful green and gold stud earrings they gave me. The little boy born there , was on his own, great friends with her and he too went to see her before he left for his graduate studies in the US a few years ago.
Somewhere in her early seventies, she cut down on her surgeries, and slowly started dismantling the hospital setup. Partially because the next generation of nephews was moving in to start their enterprises and offices, and partially because she was being realistic; there was no one to carry on after her. But she would still get called in to attend difficult cases at various hospitals.
So many of her students were now the leading medical practitioners in the city, and they never forgot their teacher. On one of our many trips to our old college hangout place, I was dumbstruck to see a middle aged gent in tennis shorts sighting her, and rushing to see her. The place was frequented by folks who came there to have a great breakfast after a tennis session early in the morning, and he was one of them. He came over, wished her, bent down and touched her feet. I asked her who he was. A leading doctor of Pune today, but her old student, remembered it was Gurupoornima (Full moon day in the Indian Calendar dedicated to gurus/teachers) , and came to pay his respects.
When my mother took ill suddenly one evening in 2000, and had to be rushed into an ICU, she was the firs person I called from Mumbai, while waiting outside the ICU . Technology was there , expertise existed, but I needed to talk to her. She could sense what was happening, knew what was imminent, and but talking to her was like a comforting, reassuring hand on my shoulder. Much later , when my mother was no more, we actually ended up being more friends than aunt-and-niece.
She herself , in her late seventies ended up being the caretaker of her siblings and family members. Her own sister, someone who was like her shadow for more than 60 years, passed away. She lost her brother and his wife around the same time. And finally in the house that her father had built, more than 100 years ago, but which was now renovated to accommodate future generations and larger populations, she became the Honored Grandma of a bunch of grandnieces and a grandnephew .
She never stopped being a student. Although her hospital had been dismantled, as such, her consulting room was maintained as it always was. She would consult for patients so many times a week, and was often found regularly studying the latest journals in her field there.
She was a member of a film appreciation group at the Film and Television Institute of India, where they showed classics from the archives and had seminars. She would attend these with interest...
Around 80 years of age, she decided she needed to brush up on her Sanskrit which she learned from her father as a child and in school, and joined a Sanskrit class, where she was the star pupil. (Another gentleman in his 70's , her classmate, told me that). She loved travelling, was a great reader of classic scriptures and philosophies, and had an amazing ability to make you feel she was your age when you spoke with her.
A year ago, she had a stroke, and collapsed into a coma. I wrote about the experience of seeing her. Those days saw the Whose Who of medicine and surgery dropping in to enquire after her, leaving the ICU staff completely thunderstruck. 4 days later she emerged from it, just like that, all systems normal, except for paralysis of the lower limbs. Her memory was never sharper, her mind more logical than many people half her age, and she put up a great sustained fight for many months.
Her grandnephew was graduating from high school, and she fretted in her state, not about how she couldn't move her limbs, but of whether he would get admission into her old college. She had full confidence in him, and she spoke about that with me on one of my many phone calls to her from Mumbai. She always asked about my children and their progress, rejoiced whenever occasion arose, and was a huge source of advise and inspiration when I looked up to her in times of trouble.
Two days ago, she woke up at 5 am. Her grandnephew, out to attend an early morning class spoke to her about his exam (which would happen later in the day), and they bid goodbye. That was the last she spoke.
Her life had set, quietly, stealthily, by the light of the rising sun .
You always think some people are for ever. I thought so about my parents. And after them, I thought so about Tai.
And one by one, they prove me wrong.
Maybe they prove me right.
They are for ever.
In my mind. In what they taught me. In my memories of them.
They will remain.
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