Love Thy Neighbor

And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

Luke 10:27

Sometimes you don’t realize how much time has passed, until you turn back and look at the serpentine tunnel of time behind you. I cannot believe twenty long years have passed since I met her last. It might well have been yesterday.

She was well into her seventies when I first met her. I remember her vividly, since I never met a more sophisticated or classier woman. Something about her memory reminds me of a beautiful Hindu temple, with large brass bells ringing outside, as they often do in temples.

I had just finished my Board exams and was off for the summer. We had recently moved into a new neighborhood. “Nani-Maa” (grandma in Hindi) as we would grow to call her was our next door neighbor. When I first met her, she was wearing a beautiful white sari (a garment consisting of a length of cotton or silk elaborately draped around the body) with a dark temple border neatly draped and pinned around her petite figure. Her hair pulled back into a high bun so tightly that not a  tendril of hair would ever fall out of place. Her skin was thin and translucent and her face reflected the wisdom that comes only with age.

She talked very softly, so you had to listen intently, and I instinctively wondered what stories this lovely creature had to share of her life. As it would turn out she had many.

Nani-Maa was the oldest in a family of four children and came from a  wealthy family of Nawabs. The year was 1947 and Nani-Maa was a young woman of 27 already a mother of three kids, when India was caught in a wave of celebration and turmoil. While the country celebrated its Independence on one side, riots were breaking out along the western and eastern borders causing massive population exchanges and sectarian clashes that the young administration of the countries could not support. Nani-Maa and her family, like millions of others in the day, found themselves caught in this political tornado. The riots that broke out had forced them to  leave their palatial quarters in Lahore (Pakistan) and leave for India overnight. Much of what their fathers and forefathers had built was lost overnight.  And yet she had many heart wrenching tales to share about the victory of love and humanity in the midst of these darkest of hours.

Nani-maa and her husband were young doctors and soon their practice flourished in India. They became well known and came to lead a comfortable if not a princely life  raising their beautiful kids the best way that parents can; with love and fortitude.

Disaster struck again, when Nani-Ma’s husband died leaving her a single mother with three children to raise. The kids were now well into their teens. She practiced medicine for another 20 years before she renounced Allopathy completely in favor of Homeopathy.

She believed that while modern medicine had the same prescription for all people based on their ailment, homeopathy offered a much more tailored approach; suited to the patient not only by the ailment but by the patient’s age, gender, weight and other biological factors.

I still remember how many people visited her at all hours of the day to get Homeopathic treatment. She would sit and talk patiently with all, offering free consultation and drugs. I would often warn her against offering people free medicine as the huge influx of patients was causing a toll on her own fragile health.

2 Years later, I left for my studies to the US. I would call my parents on a regular basis  and frequently enquire about “Nani – Maa”.  One day I got a call early in the morning. Nani-Maa had passed away peacefully in her sleep. She had left behind a wealth of family consisting of her children and many of theirs.

It is very unfortunate that I never could meet Nani-Maa again. I console myself with the belief that being sad for the passing of awakened souls diminishes their greatness. I remember her till this day as a classic beauty who served more that her fair share as a mother, wife, doctor, philanthropist and a great neighbor that I only wish I could ever measure up to.

Inspired by Daily Prompt: Good Fences

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