The news of Z’s passing came as a complete shock to me and I think what is even more surprising is that I reacted a lot stronger than I expected to. It took a while for it to sink in and when it finally did, it was devastation. Though I barely stayed in touch with her the past few years, nothing can change the fact that she played an invaluable role in shaping who I am today and if it hadn’t been for her, I don’t know how my life might have turned out.
I first met her as a culture-shocked teenager new to India,18 years ago. She took one look at me and figured out exactly what was going on inside. And she did. You see, up until then I was an academic failure and a very angry young person. Nobody thought I had the intelligence to get through school or the talent to make it through life, forget succeed. Up until then, nobody believed in me, except Z. She was the first person who bothered to go beyond the facade of the troubled teenager I was and see that I wasn’t stupid or rebellious, but lost and terribly lonely.
Z gave me roots. She saw things in me no one else imagined possible but most of all, she taught me to be unafraid and to never apologise for who I was… She saved me. From my downward-spiraling life. From the big, bad world. From my very own self.
I don’t have a unique story. I am like the hundreds of others Z did so much for. If I had to list out all I have to be grateful to her for, or the memories I have of her, I’d run out of time before I ran out of words. To me, she was a human ambulance – rushing to people’s rescue and bringing them back to health and life. It’s what she did best and she did it better than anyone I’ve ever known. It was her gift and I believe there was not a day she did not touch someone’s life in some special way.
Losing a loved one has done what it should do – it has reminded me that life is infinitely precious and fleeting and we must do what we can to make peace with the living. It is not enough to just move on. Moving on requires no effort or choice, but peace means work and it is time now to do that work. So go find those people who need love, and give it freely. Find the relationships in your life that are rotting from neglect, festering in anger and dying from indifference and give them a new lease on life. This, I think is the way to keep her alive.
To her daughter, I’d say, ‘I believe she was life personified. Someone who didn’t just live, but thrived and made the most of every single day. Your mother was also my mother and perhaps this is why this is such an interminable loss. I grieve her deeply and send my hopes for your peace of mind, the greatest courage and gentler days ahead.’