What can you say about a 74-year-old sister who died? That she was pretty and brilliant. That she loved Gray’s Anatomy besides classics by Emily Bronte, Chandradhar Sharma Guleri and Erich Segal; was crazy about old film songs and movies, loved Rajesh Khanna, Dylan Thomas — and us.
When the ringtone tolled early on April 21, I smiled, anticipating a chat with the effervescent Bhabhiji. Uncharacteristically, the loved family elder quietly said, “Kusum has gone.”
Our only sister, Kusum was a better daughter than we were sons, better sister than we were brothers. Choked and numbed, I walked across to the deserted park, sitting broken-hearted with sepia-tinted memories. She had rushed crying to mother one cold December evening in 1971, clutching a telegram mistakenly declaring me killed in action. Hiding tears, mother hugged her: ‘Ro mat! Wardi mein teen aur hain na.’
“Remember, Rajinder? You wrote my Loreto declamation speech? I, who feared walking past empty stages, won… Mother Superior hugged me… Mum and brothers conspired to get me married to Raghuvendra in Patiala’s royal, garden-led ambience. I was Princess Kusum! I blossomed like my name,” the train of memories was endless.
Kusum joined BDS at King George’s Medical University (KGMU), Lucknow. I remembered her blushing confession. How, trembling and agitated, she rushed to her cousin acknowledging she was in love with a doctor — her senior, but from a different community. Mum had approved, but Kusum needed unqualified family approval, and imagined apocalypse.
She raised the issue: ‘I am in love with a brilliant doctor, my senior, a Kayastha… I wish to marry him.’ In that picosecond, when time stood still, her brothers, in one fell swoop, hugged the best sister in the world.
Raghuvendra was master-class in oral surgery, she in plastic surgery and dento-facial orthopaedics. Widely travelled, they taught in the US, the UK and Switzerland. An outstanding student, she became a competent doctor, mentor, mum, wife and sister.
Over decades, her rakhi became like the Tamil-Carnatic wootz steel alloy. Her threads of love wouldn’t break, accompanied by her prayers for longevity in cursive convent writing.
The transitoriness of life unfortunately dawned last month. The brothers rushed, praying that the rakhi threads, by reverse osmosis, grant her longer life. I met her with three handloom saris, her favourite music playing: Ajeeb dastaan hai yeh... hugging her one last time, not wanting to go or stay; haunted, tormented.
She went, saying a wordless thank you, just as Erich Segal’s Jenny did to Oliver when her Love Story ended. Kusum’s requiem was for her family, kids… and us.
(This obituary was published in 'The Tribune' and has been reproduced in remembrance of our notable member, Maj Gen Raj Mehta's late sister.)