Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Two Lives and A Wish

It was my first board meeting and the first meeting with the independent directors. This was a subsidiary company and so a meeting with its directors had not been the most pressing matter soon after joining. But now that I was meeting them, I wanted to make a good first impression. Fond of ethnic Indian clothes, I chose to wear my favourite salwar kameez that day. And that is what led to my first conversation with Mr. Interesting.

Mr. Interesting was the last independent director to arrive. He had just turned 90, but his appearance did not give away his age. When he spoke he maintained eye contact. When he read he caught the main points first. When he listened he had a smile on his face. But he ate or drank nothing. A strict Brahmin, he ate or drank only that which he got from home. It was the secret of his long life and energy. 

A few hours later, we broke for lunch. As he would eat nothing, he walked up to the next floor to sit in one of the cabins and wait for the others to finish. I do not recollect why, but for some reason I walked up to that floor as well. As I walked in, through the door, he was standing there. He smiled at me and said, "nice salwar kameez." I thanked him and smiled back. It was then that he looked me in the eye and said, "if I may, I want to tell you three things. Please always wear a bindi. Never wear rings on any finger other than the ring finger and lastly always wear bangles. Your wrist should always be adorned." 

All he said were things I had heard before. Some from my grandparents and some from others. Mother was the one who had gifted me her own rings to wear. So none of this was new; but coming from an almost stranger, replete with the affection of a grandfather and laden with the authority of a scholar; the impact was different. Every time post that encounter I attempted to ensure that I listened to his advise as often as I could, and if not always with all three, I would comply with at least two every time I met him.

Why did he tell me these things on the first day that he met me, I don't know. Now I will never find out, ever. A fortnight ago he passed away, and today comes the first board meeting of the subsidiary without him. This entire realisation has struck me as I am putting on my bangles and bindi after having worn a saree today...

I am sure I wore sarees to board meetings when Mr. Interesting was around, but another board member of the parent company could only keep asking me. 

Dr Artsy had been a renowned banker in her days and had been on the board for many many years. A strong willed and free spirited soul, she battled cancer for several years. She underwent multiple chemotherapy sessions and surgeries; yet her zest for life maintained its highs. Oh we would hear a loving but an earful if her favourite potatoes were not cooked for lunch on the day of the board meeting. She would call to remind that taking her out for a drink was overdue ,or she would call to simply say that living next door you had no excuse not to pay her a visit. She enjoyed every living moment!

After one board meeting, as I was helping her to the bathroom she very quietly said, "I am due for my next check up. This time I am worried. What if the dastardly thing is back?" I looked at her and gently reassured her that even if it was she would fight it back as always. I don't know whether it was a premonition but yes the beast had reared its ugly head again. 

Given the recurrence of the illness she decided to step down from the board. Given her long association with the organisation, a farewell dinner was planned. At the AGM before the dinner she chided me for not wearing a saree and warned me for trotting up at dinner in anything but a saree. There was no time to go home and change into a saree that day and so I rocked up to dinner in my work attire. Resplendent in a bottle green saree she looked at me and said, "if I have been able to wrap a saree and enjoy it, you have no bloody excuse not to be in one!" 

Now, even if I want I cannot fulfill her wish; she passed away last year. Dr Artsy, I am sorry I could not wear one while you were around, but today this saree is dedicated to you.

Two incredible lives lived with tremendous aplomb and grit. One was regimented and the other a free bird. Two gentle lives that were equally fierce. One curated and the other wrote. Two lives that were fertile with insights and experiences. One content to stand in the wings and the other always center stage. Two lives I think of, feeling humbled to have known. One I wish could answer me and one I wish I could respond to...

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