When my parents were my age (I am 56), they bought sympathy cards in bulk. Every time I visited them, they had either just gone to a funeral or were just about to go to a wake. It seemed as if everyone they knew was dying.

I feel as if I have taken their place. I’ve lost three dear friends in the past few months, along with many more who were not so close, but every bit as real. Two I have already written about: Nicholas, who died pure and glorious and much too young; Joan, who could never live long enough to satisfy her friends.

Now, I want to write about Jyotsna, who passed away a week ago, leaving her family and friends gasping for air. How could this happen? How could she be gone – so suddenly, so cruelly?

Jyotsna started out in my life as my friend Shalini’s mother.

Young woman looking at camera; older woman in foreground looking off centre

One of the many things I love about India, though, is the way that one’s friends’ mothers become part of the scene. You don’t just have disembodied friends here. They come with families. Especially mothers.

Jyotsna was a particularly beloved mother to a very special friend. She was cool. She was sophisticated. She was an athlete and a dancer and a woman with opinions and ideas in an era when a woman with a mind of her own was way, way ahead of her time. She was vivid and surprising and a law unto herself. She didn’t care what other people thought – about her or about anything else. She knew her mind and she did what she thought was right.

Just one example: Jyotsna moved to Dehradun not for the climate, not for the price of real estate, not because she had family here. She moved to Dehradun because of her dearest friend Pom and Pom’s husband Rajan. She and Pom shared a birthday (January 26!), a vision for their lives and over 40 years of experiences and memories. That was important enough to her to pull up stakes in Kolkata and transplant herself to Dehradun.


That’s inspirational, folks. In her last years, when getting out of the house had become impossible, Jyotsna stayed in touch with her friends by phone. She remembered birthdays, anniversaries and whose grandchildren were doing what. Her friends remained a constant, treasured part of her life even as her life narrowed further and further down. So place your bets on friendship.

And place them also on two generations down.

Two girls: Amaya and Tanisha. Both awesomely creative (like their mother; like their aunt); both funny and sweet and frighteningly intelligent (and, in the family tradition, not going down the familiar pathways but following their own passions and talents: Amaya is about to become an architect; Tanisha is training to be a designer). Jyotsna adored her grandchildren.

Older woman with young girl - by a river

Older woman with young child And they adored their grandmother in return. 

Few children of their generation had grandmothers like Jyotsna.

A woman of passion and conviction who also lacked the judgement gene. She accepted and loved her children and her grandchildren as they were.

And in the process, they learned to accept themselves.

What do we do with that information?

What did I do with it?

I didn’t see enough of Jyotsna in my life here in Dehradun. The complexities of my day-to-day world (a handicapped child; an aged mother-in-law) make getting out of the house to visit people I love and admire a difficult task.

But I carried her image in my mind and my heart and I thought of her often. Whenever I asked myself why I had moved to Dehradun in the first place, whenever I second-guessed that decision, wondered at my own sanity: I would reassure myself: Jyotsna moved here too.

And though I never did get around to talking with her about two specific things which I thought she might have some good advice on, I knew that I could if I wanted to. She was there. And she wasn’t going to judge me.

We all have regrets. I regret not spending more time with Jyotsna. I will carry that regret with me forever. But she would say (I can hear her voice): “What nonsense! Life is for the living.”

Blessings on you, Jyotsna. Thank you for your wisdom and your courage. Thank you for your daughters and your grand-daughters.

Showing 2 comments
  • Sahu

    Each of your posts is a what’s-that-again? short film. We’re sitting up. Aut the story’s over before we know it, complete. Now I’m wishing I’d met Jyotsna.

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