Sameer Srivastava

August 31, 2003 Print this speech Print Print this speech Download

Chote Papa, has just sketched a broad outline of Dadima's life. I would like to begin painting some pieces of that sketching. I find it an incredibly difficult task. Dadima's life was so rich, so full, so splendid, and so filled with meaning that we can only begin to understand the impact she had on each of us individually and on the family as a whole. When I reflect on her life, I think not only of the countless milestones she reached and which Chote Papa just recounted but also of some key themes that made her so distinctive and such an important part of all of our lives. I would like to highlight five of these themes for you today.

The first is Family. Dadima was born into a large and close-knit family. She then married into a large and close-knit family. And as she had children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren of her own, she built and cultivated the large and close-knit family that has gathered here today. Dadima wanted nothing more or less than the company of her family. In talking to Dadima about this, I was often reminded of myself when I was a kid growing up in Chicago. We used to have regular and frequent family get-togethers. I used to have so much fun that I would never want them to end. Inevitably, in the car ride home, I would well up with tears. I never quit understood why we had to leave. Why couldn't all the grown-ups quit their jobs and take up new ones closer to our home in Chicago? Why couldn't the kids all just transfer schools? Why couldn't we live nearby and see each other every day? Why couldn't we just be around our extended family all the time? As I got older, supposedly wiser, and ever more pragmatic, I stopped asking these questions. My sense is that Dadima never did.

The second theme I would like to highlight is Strength of Conviction. Dadima had strong points of view about many things, ranging from personal values to social norms to child-rearing to politics. Her views were well informed and well reasoned, and she rarely hesitated to tell you about them. Many of you have heard her riff on the importance of marriage, particularly of early marriage. I still recall graduating from college ten years ago and getting an especially thick letter in the mail. It was, of course, from Dadima. My college writing professor would have been proud. She had penned a 15 point, well-structured argument in favor of early marriage. I decided to respond to this letter with a rebuttal of her 15 points. Big mistake. The response came swiftly. She pointed out all of the gaps and inconsistencies in my argument. And she ended the note with a crushing blow. You see: one of her 15 points was that people become more stubborn as they get older and find it harder to adjust to another person. The fact that I wrote the rebuttal was early proof that I was becoming more obstinate and only underscored the urgency of the marriage situation. At that point, I knew I could not win the argument. We didn't resolve our differences on this topic until I got married four years later.

A third theme I would highlight is Generosity. There are many people in India and in the US who have been touched by Dadima's selflessness and focus on doing good for others. For me personally, the most vivid memories are from the early 1990's when I would come home to Cross River, New York, from college. At the time, Dadima was in her 80's and was suffering from arthritis and several other ailments. Yet, the first thing she wanted to do was to give me a head and neck massage. She worried that I was too tired out from studying and from exams. Of course, I almost always took her up on the offer. And as I would drift off to sleep during one of these 45 minute long massage sessions, I would think to myself: "Gee, I really should be giving her a massage, rather than the other way around. After all, she's eighty-something and suffers from constant joint pain." But then, totally calm and relaxed, I would fall asleep.

I think everyone is this room has experienced the fourth theme I want to talk about: Competitiveness. Anyone who has sat through a marathon four hour game of Scrabble with Dadima or had her dissect their every move in a round of bridge can attest to her competitive drive. She played to win and usually did. But she was a gracious winner, consoling her opponents (often her grandchildren) by noting that those who lose in cards often win in life.

The last theme I would highlight is Dadima's adaptability. Dadima adjusted to an incredible range of environments and circumstances. She moved at a late stage in life from India to the States. She adapted remarkably well to her new setting, perfecting her English, soaking in popular culture such as soap operas and TV game shows, and enduring too many hours of MTV viewing by her grandkids. And who can forget the image of Dadima dancing with her walker at the Sangeet party leading up to Ruju's and my wedding. Dadima eventually even became a US citizen. Dadima also endured some very painful period in her life. She lost many family members, including some of her own children, a grandson, and a daughter-in-law. But she gained ever more love and affection from her growing family. Through all of these transitions, Dadima was tough, resilient, graceful, and, for the most part, upbeat.

Now, all of us here are about to go through a major transition of our own: a transition to life without Dadima. For most of us, this will be a profoundly difficult transition. But I think we can look to Dadima's life and see within it some examples and lessons. These examples and lessons can give us strength and courage. This is perhaps Dadima's final gift to us. We pray for her peace and happiness.