Tag Archives: #remembering

A Cup of Tea With Papa

I met Neelu’s Papa just once, two or three years ago.  I went to her home for a meeting we’d planned. It wasn’t Neelu who opened the door, but a trim gray-haired gentleman.  “Neelu had to step out unexpectedly to pick up her daughter,” he told me, “she asked me to tell you she’d be back in a few minutes.  I’m Neelu’s father,” he introduced himself, as he ushered me into their living room, “please come in and sit down.” He offered me a cup of tea and insisted on sitting and chatting with me until Neelu returned home; telling me about his son, daughter, grandchildren, and how he spent time traveling back and forth between Mumbai and California to be with each of them. In those fifteen short minutes, I got a sense of the man and his love for his family.

Neelu’s Papa died late last month in Mumbai, a victim of COVID-19. I watched as she did her very best to ensure that her father received the best possible care; driven to do the best she could, and distraught and helpless at not being able to travel halfway around the world to be with him, hold his hand, and be there for and with him, in the way she so desperately wanted. 

Neelu could not have dialed up a better day for a prayer ceremony and remembrance for her beloved Papa. It was crisp and sunny in her backyard as she and her family performed the traditional Hindu rituals sitting around the Havan Kund, as the prayers and shlokas invoking eternal peace for the departed soul were expertly chanted and rituals orchestrated and explained by a learned priest dialing in remotely from New Jersey. Fifty-plus relatives, friends, and colleagues of the family watched remotely on Zoom from locations across California, the US, and India. It was a surreal experience – this improbable juxtaposition of ancient Vedic rituals, many thousand years old, with a fledgling technology that enabled far-flung, somber, and grieving onlookers to hold hands in remembrance and prayer in a single virtual room.

The final prayer was complete. Then came the eulogies and the sharing of memories, tears, and laughter; in a trickle that soon became an outpouring of emotion. A picture emerged of Papa and the man he was. A loving father, grandfather, friend, neighbor, and mentor. The adopted ‘uncle’ of many.  A loving, caring father who sacrificed a lot in his own life in order to give his children the education and grounding that would carry them to successful professional careers.  A man who helped look after the grandchildren he loved deeply – a love that was reciprocated by them manyfold. A man who never forgot someone’s birthday or anniversary; who always made time to reach out to people, meet them, talk to them, and inquire about their wellbeing. Invariably over a cup of tea, as evidenced by the number of people who, in their reminiscences, talked about chai with Papa ji!  A simple, decent, hardworking, loving caring soul. One whose loss reverberates through many households, cities, and countries; his influence and memories carved indelibly in the hearts and minds of so many. 

I am blessed and fortunate to be among those whose path through life crossed with his. It is, however, my loss that I did not have the good fortune to share a few more cups of tea with Papa.

We have lost yet another treasured soul to the illness that this scourge, monstrous Coronavirus has inflicted on humanity.  Each death has shattered the lives of so many.  As I write this piece, more than 1.2 million lives have been lost to COVID-19 worldwide – with more than 230,000 of those in the US – staggeringly large numbers that fail to describe, or even begin to measure the impact of their loss on all their loved ones.  How many more stories like Papa’s remain to be told? 

We can all collectively heal as a community, as a nation, and as members of the human race by sharing our memories of these departed souls. Each one of them must be cherished and treasured. We can live our lives better by celebrating theirs and passing on to those that follow the life lessons they taught us.

Neelu’s Papa, we will all miss you!


Mukund Acharya is a co-founder of Sukham, an all-volunteer non-profit organization in the Bay Area established to advocate for healthy aging within the South Asian community. He is also a columnist for India Currents.

At the Marienplatz with RK

Last October, my husband and I, newly empty-nested, decided to visit Europe. One evening in vivacious Munich, we were roaming the celebrated Marienplatz Farmers Market (real name: Viktualienmarkt). Strolling past the effervescent crowd at the outdoor beer garden, we made our way to the numerous stalls selling spices and spice mixes. We came upon a stall where the vendors were singing what sounded like ebullient German folk songs—we stopped to listen and check out the merchandise. The stall had several bins of richly colored powders in hues of red, orange, and brown—I counted more than seven different types of ‘Italian Bruschetta’ mixes. I looked up to see a vendor on the other side of the bin eyeing me with a smile on his face. He was a portly middle-aged man, dressed in a white t-shirt and green apron like the other merchants in his stall.

“So many!” I said to him. “Which one is good?”

“All very good, Madam!” he replied with gusto. “All best!”

I smiled at his selling skills.

“You want spicy?” he ventured.

“Yes!” my husband and I declared, simultaneously.

“Ha ha!” guffawing at our vehement, synchronous response, he asked, “You, India?”

“No—I, California. America!” I answered, trying to match his energy and mirth.

“Aah, California!” he echoed. “But first—India?”

“Yes,” I conceded. “First from India.”

Then, it was my turn to be amused as he broke out in song.

“Main shaayaar to naaheeen!”

I laughed, feeling a rush of joy at the unexpected reference to one of my favorite songs.

“You like that song?” I ventured, “You saw the movie?”

“Yah! Baabby!” he stated immediately.

“Yes! Bobby,” I agreed.

Rishi Kapoor (so cute!) Dimple Kapadia (so hot!) in Raj Kapoor’s ode to young love that was released right around the time that I, and all my friends, were coming of age. Of course, we idolized everything about it — not a girl in my school had not brandished the Dimple half ponytail and everyone had a crush on Rishi.

The conversation at the Farmers Market reminded me of the bygone ‘encounter’ with Rishi. The year was 1970 and another RK movie, Mera Naam Joker, had just been released. It was, one can say, not quite the blockbuster that Bobby was three years later, but it was Rishi Kapoor’s first significant role; he played the teenage version of Raj Kapoor, the namesake Joker of the film. The city was Vadodara — we called it Baroda then — and the movie was to premiere at the trendy Sadhana Talkies. The theater was owned by my aunt’s family, and her two children and I, all of us between nine and eleven years of age, spent many a warm afternoon in the air-conditioned cinema hall for at least a few minutes to watch a favorite song or scene from whatever popular movie was playing at the time. All we had to do was run down the stairs and ask the doorman to let us in, for the family’s home was right above the cinema hall.

We were immensely excited to learn that, to promote the film, the cast of Joker, including Raj and ‘Chintu’ Kapoor, as Rishi was known then, were to attend the premiere! An actual Bombay style premiere was to be held at Sadhana Talkies! By default, since I was constantly spending weekends with my Sadhana cousins, I was included in the welcoming committee.

As we stood, in our best attires, on the steps leading from the street level lobby to the theatre’s balcony and offices, I recognized a shy young Chintu Kapoor ascending the stairs. We had seen photos of the cherubic eighteen-year-old and heard that he had given a wonderful performance in his debut film. 

Rishi kept his head down as he climbed, smiling to himself at the shouts of “Chintu! Chintu!” from the huge crowd gathered in the street below. He wore a suit, I recall, and pulled demurely at his jacket. He did not look up until—to the incredible delight of my young self—Raj Kapoor, following his son up the stairs, stopped in front of me. Bending down—his green eyes looking into mine—he gently tugged at my cheeks and extolled, with his trade-mark charm, “Kitni pyaari bacchi hai!” What a sweet girl!

Rishi looked back—our eyes met, and he smiled!

An RK fan for life that day was made and the grown-up Rishi Kapoor of Bobby only further consolidated the deal. The faith of millions, like me, was well placed in the young man, as he proved to be a versatile actor and entertained audiences for many years with exemplary performances, from the romantic Hindi film hero to the nuanced characters of his later years. His untimely death in April has left the film industry undoubtedly poorer. 

Back at the Marienplatz, having completed our purchases, we were about to walk away when I heard someone call out.

“India!”

Of course, it was my German friend. As I looked back, he held up a finger—just a minute.

“Ghe ghe ghe ghe ghe, pyaar mein sauda naaheen!” he sang. His eyes danced, waiting for my reaction.

Laughing, I crooned back, “Ghe ghe ghe ghe ghe, ghe re saahiba, pyaar mein sauda nahin.”

We were attracting an audience of fellow merchants; some of them started to hum the tune.

“Do you know what it means?” I asked. “There is no trade in love. You should not take money from me—just give me the spices for free!”

We walked away to sounds of laughter and cheerful banter in German. Rishi Kapoor — to borrow the immortal words of O. Henry — makes the whole world kin.

Bela Desai, Ph.D., has been working in biotechnology in the San Francisco Bay Area for more than twenty years. Besides science, she enjoys reading and traveling to different places around the globe. She loves to dabble in singing and writing as well.