A brothers narrative about the earliest Kashmiri couple in the San Francisco Bay area!
Dedicated to Girja on her tenth day
Girja may have left her worldly form but she will live within our hearts till almighty God wishes for us to join her. She lives in her loving daughter Aparna, we call Bota and her very adorable grand children. She is very much here! May God bless Aparna, Imran, Inaya and Anika!
Let us not forget Maharaj, we called Bairaj, who perished last year. He was a role model to us, the early immigrants, who strived to be here and spent early years very closely with this most loving couple, before other family members joined all of us. Whenever I travel to Albany and Berkeley areas, the early years of 1972 come to mind, looking at the university housing, with fond memories. Both Girja and Bairaj, along with little Bota lived in the Albany village university housing in a two bedroom flat. When I arrived to the U.S. first time, I stayed in their living room for 8 days (the other bedroom was taken by Bairaj's sister's husband who had arrived earlier with a green card as well). So much happened in those 8 days. Bairaj got his Ph.D from U.C. Berkeley, they both received a green card and we all moved into a two bedroom apartment across the university housing. We both took a bus to San Francisco looking for jobs and we both found one in the next month.
Times were tough due to the U.S involvement in Vietnam.I found an apartment in El Cerrito and moved, making Girja very hurt because she didn't want me to move out of her place. One day both Bairaj and Girja walked in my apartment and started picking up my stuff (very little there was that I could call mine!). I tried to convince them but Bairaj said "if you feel it is an obligation, pay the same rent to Girja but live with us till Usha arrives.
I bought my first car and took a loan against it. $700 loan seemed so much then. One day, Girja was driving with me on San Pablo avenue in Berkeley and she asked me to stop at the bank where I had borrowed money to buy the car. She went in and paid off the $700 saying "pay me back but I don't want you to pay interest to the bank."
When my wife Usha arrived few months later, Girja bought bed sheets, kitchenware and everything we needed to start a life on our own. Usha and Girja were the best of friends.
In mid 70's housing started booming. Girja and her husband were fully aware of my deep financial commitments but offered a $6000 loan so that I could buy a town house. My predicament was being Girja's brother (an old fashioned young man) and would not feel comfortable taking help from a sisters husband. So very quickly I was able to borrow on the newly acquired home from a loan shark to pay them off. The interest rate was 19.5%. A dollar was worth Rupees 6 then and starting salary for a graduate Engineer was less than a thousand per month.
Girja was very mild mannered, soft spoken and anxious to help others. She loved everyone and will be missed by all those she touched. I will miss her for another reason: we both had the art of mimicking. It came naturally to us even though we found some easier to mimic!
When she learnt in October that she had cancer, she told me "It is OK. I lived good 60 years but am thinking about the young life we lost in 2008." She was talking about my son Amit (Chintoo). She loved my son very much and was very protective of him. In fact, when she moved away from the San Francisco bay area in 1999 after her separation and bought a home in San Diego, California, Amit was a student in San Diego and was the first person to live in her brand new home while she was still in a state of transition. She knew his girl friend and later heard from her neighbors about his helping nature and sweet behavior making her very proud of him.
Girja and Bairaj were envied by many for the love and respect they both had for each other. As they say, we have to seek God's blessings to save us from the evil eye. The evil eye separated them for a decade but only physically.
I am not surprised to see that they both merged with their love and are hopefully, again together in a more real and peaceful place!
This is time to emulate Girja and be more caring to the needs of others by checking on a neighbor, calling on a relative and giving dear ones the emotional support they may need. These may be human characteristics inherited by many but we all must try and constantly remind ourselves because today could be the last day.
Girja earned her MBA at age 50 because she had this desire for so long. She had a great job with Eaton and was a very strong person.
Let us console ourselves by remembering that even Buddah died. Great swamis, and spiritual leaders died of cancer and other diseases. So we must know that everything is impermanent and death an inescapable fact of life.
What is born will die,
what has been gathered will be dispersed,
what has been built up will collapse,
And what has been high will be brought low.
The whole universe, scientists now tell us, is nothing but change, activity, and process - a totality of flux that is the ground of all things:
Every subatomic interaction consists of the annihilation of the original particles and the creation of new subatomic particles. The subatomic world is a continual dance of creation and annihilation, of mass changing into energy and energy changing to mass. Transient forms sparkle in and out of existence, creating a never-ending, forever newly created reality. (Gary Zukav, The Dancing WuLi Masters)
What is our life but this dance of transient forms? Isn't everything always changing: the leaves on the trees in the park, the seasons, the weather, the time of day, the people passing you in the street?
And what about us? Doesn't everything we have done in the past seem like a dream now? The friends we grew up with, the childhood haunts, those views and opinions we once held with such single-minded passion: we have left them all behind. Now at this moment, reading this narrative seems vividly real to you. Even this page will soon be only a memory.
Essentially, what we have to understand is the truth of impermanence. To understand life, I recommend reading The Tibetan Book of Living And Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche.
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