Today has been a exemplary summer day of Ranikhet…a good, long glimpse of the Himalayas in the morning, brisk morning breeze replaced by cool air surrounding each ray of sunlight. Blue, blue skies and green leaves, bright flowers and noisy birds all over the town.
Morning hours were taken up with Gudiya and the socks. 4 weeks was all she needed to get the Eureka moment to achieve the right sizing and fit. Our collection is growing and I am digressing from my subject!
The noon sun watched me drive 10 kms to spend the afternoon with the graceful Mrs K. She spends her summer months in a lovely old villa on the other side of the town. Well appointed garden and home, gracious hospitality, and a simply delicious feast would be waiting for me. And while I drive through the dappled roads and moss covered trees, let me tell you a little bit about Mrs K.
She was this lonely and shy old lady, sitting quietly at an empty table, when I met her for the first time at a summer party last year. Widowed some years ago, she had worked hard at being the good bahu of a business family in Kolkata. The loss of her husband and a son left her with a vacuum, bereft of any future plans and present joy. The summer villa was crumbling with disuse and dirt, the sambar deer and the forest bears were marauding the garden, the staff was unconcerned and Mrs K had come to sell the villa and return to a quiet and lonely life in Kolkata.
I plonked myself on her table, introduced myself and we started sharing our social statistics. Me divorced-she widowed. Me living alone in flat-she residing in historical villa. Me mother of two amazing girls who live far, far away- she mother of one remaining son who is totally busy with his business, family and life. Me finding ways to live on tiny budget-she finding ways to spend some of the funds left by her caring husband. Me considering myself lucky to have been able to live life on my terms-she, with trembling lower lip, wondering if I had lost my mind to consider myself lucky to be without a caring man beside me.
I moved on to meet others, laugh and eat and be merry, and to have a good time. Mrs K tried to catch up with me, but other than remarking that this could actually be the best time of her life, if she made the choice to explore that option, I really couldn’t and wouldn’t sit and talk philosophy on a lovely summer day.
The word “choice” hit her like a ton of bricks. She tracked down my mobile number, home and my free time. Came over and discussed what could she do—a widow in her late sixties, six months of summer time to spend here, funds and staff available for any project, and a desire to do something for the hills.
Fast forward to today afternoon. Exactly 12 months later.
I arrive at this beautiful villa ( sorry folks, I left my camera behind, you will have to rely on my word pictures) with a manicured lawn, blooming geraniums and roses, two healthy and happy German Shepherd doggies padding over to welcome me and chairs laid out in wide circles.
Mrs K walks up to my car, lightness of being and strength of substance in every step, big smile and sparkling eyes on her face, and hugs me tight. She has visitors—girl friends from Kolkata. 6 women who have left family, grand-kids and homes to have a week with Mrs K. All of them amazed at the life she had created for herself in the last 12 months.
And what had she done?
- Established a small training institute for women after coordinating with the councilor
- Pulled across this expert seamstress and crafter from Kolkata, in her trademark cotton sari, to teach the local Kumaoni women. Students speak Kumaoni, teacher speaks Bengali, but oh—what a symbiosis of toil and talent!!
- Travelled 30 kms every day to ensure that things were happening…students had to be punctual, teacher had to take tests and feedback, cleanliness and order had to be ensured.
- Started meeting people, invited neighbors and others over for delicious meals and “gap-shap”. Plied us all with unusual savories and snacks.
- Smiled, laughed and sparkled with the compliments, the visits and the bonhomie surrounding her villa.
We had a wonderful time today. Ten guests and six visitors enjoying the ambience, the conversation and the sunlight before having a lovely meal. Mrs K is becoming hard of hearing, but that doesn’t stop her from plunging into the discussion—a far cry from the quiet, shy and diffident lady I had met last year.
She tells me,( and I listen with a stuffed mouth and full heart), about the way her life has transformed after she realized that she had to choose the options which would define her future. That these choices may be invisible to her family and friends, but that doesn’t make them unacceptable. That by choosing to be grateful for having a chance to live life on her terms, thanks to her husband’s care and generosity, she is not being unfaithful to the memory of her late partner.
And finally, by choosing to choose, she is a happy Mrs K, who sleeps deeply after her day of planning, supervising and travelling.