Mrs. Prasanna Parekh was my landlady. But if I called her that, she would correct me. We are a family, she would say. You are a member of our family. Don't think of us as anything else. She was a lady of great goodwill, kind and protective.
So, yesterday, when I heard of her death, I felf that I had lost a family member. Not just any family member, but a very close and dear one. And there must be many others who felt that way. Because, from her ancestral village in the Kumaon hills, she had brought many people to Bombay, kept them in her house, fed them, found them jobs. A year back, when she was operated, a whole lot of these simple people went and stood in a line at the Bombay Hospital to donate their boold.
That was her first and last oepration. Before that, she was as healthy as a person could be. I remember when I first went to stay with her, some three years back. She would fet up in the pre-dawn, have her bath, do her puja, and go for a walk: from Nariman Point to Chowpatty, back to Nariman Point, the very end, back to the fly-over, back to Nariman Point, and then home.
And thoughtout the day she would be busy, running the house, loking after the large number of guests who who would call daily on her husband, Navnit Parekh, preparing cold coffee for them. I recall the first time I went to see them, I has cold coffee.
And with her robust health, was her goodness. Mr. Parekh is know as Baba to his friends and admires, though he has never himself asked that he should be addressed so. Still, he is a learned man, steeped in Indian religion and culture, fluent in Sanskrit, a keen trekker in his younger days and skin with nature. But if he made a godly figure, she was a saintly person. Not saintly in a religious manner, but in her living and her dealings with people.
Everybody came before her, and this countined right till the end. The operation, if successful, was only for a brief period. Then the diease reattacked her with greater vigour. The doctors tried to hide this news from her, she hid it from all of us. Not those closest to her knew in what pain she was and how well she was aware of the approaching termination of her life.
She did not tell us because she did not want us to be upset. Her real pain, she kept even from her husband. While everybody slept, she would quietly slip out of the bedroom, not disturbuing anybody, then spend the night in the drawing-room, comforting her agony.
Her one desire was to return to her native Almora, to die there among the deodhars and the pines and the mountain ealge winging above. Two weeks back, she returned there, bidding farewells, not letting us know this was goodbye. And once there, amidst the mountains and the forests, she gave up the uneven struggle with life. They say that God takes away those he loves most. It is a difficult concept to accept.