Born in 1936, Brittany, France
Married to my Father in law’s younger brother Rahgubir Kishen Khanna, Chacha to us, in the year 1964, she is fondly called Chachi (the wife of Chacha) by all of us.
Born in the north-west of France, travelled westwards to the U.K. to meet her life partner, and then all the way to the Indian Peninsula to meet her husband’s Indian family, has to have a karmic connection, don’t you think? Not just the circumstances that led to this bonding, but to the way she took to the Indian way of life like a duck takes to water reinforces this strong conviction. Chachi loves everything Indian- the ease and grace with which she wears and carries a sari would make you believe that she was exposed to this dress since childhood; her fondness of the family, meeting and interacting with the numerous aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews, the extended family that is so Indian; enjoying the sticky sweet jalebis, channa bhatura, kababs and biryani, shopping for silk chiffon saris, jewellery and trinkets, she revelled in it all.
Edited by Taruna Hooda
A major event……
Chachi shared how there were many events in her life that were special, but undoubtedly her marriage to Chacha was the most eventful and joyous moment in her life. On hearing of this liaison, Bibiji (Chacha’s Mother), his brother Lt. Gen. J. K. Khanna and the rest of the family were eager to meet the new bride. Just starting life together, Chacha and Chachi found that they did not have enough resources to fly back to Delhi together, so Chachi decided to brave the trip alone and win the hearts of all the family members. She won everyone over instantly with her openness, sweet smile but determined resolve. As they say, ‘Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen’
She loved it all, the festivities, the attention and love showered on her by the family and India in its myriad hues had her so hooked that she decided that she had to get a job in an Airline so as to be able to travel to India as often as they wished. Karma playing its hand again!
Her determination got her a job in Air France and she kept her promise to visit India and her extended family almost every year. She would come like Santa Claus with bagfuls of gifts for everyone. She recalls how Sumant, her 8 year old nephew, would be the translator between Bibiji and her, as Bibiji spoke no English.
Chachi jokes that she is a Bionic Women, as she had to get both knees and hip replacements done over the years. Surgeries apart, her positive attitude, love of life and fortitude in any situation, are enough to make her a Super Bionic Woman in my eyes and I have tried often in troubled situations to emulate her strength and courage.
Joyous moments in various stages of life……..
She always speaks fondly of her childhood. About their house in the South of France, her siblings and their antics, and the mischief they would always be up to, only to be reprimanded by their loving, hard working and diligent mother. How she inculcated all the good values in them, and taught them to be caring and self righteous individuals.
Chachi’s sojourn of 31 years, with Air France had many happy moments, too numerable to recount. The Launch of the Concorde, a British- French turbojet powered supersonic passenger jet airline, which operated until 2003was a great achievement for Air France. It had a maximum speed of over twice the speed of sound. Were the employees proud of it!
I remember the great time we had on one of her holidays to Delhi, when we went to my mother- in- law’s family home in Dalhousie with her brother, Jai Dev Uncle, whom all of us were very fond of. Sitting in the wintery sunshine, drinking beer and criticizing and poking fun at common relatives in good humour, playing cards and chatting into the night in front of a roaring fire, we enjoyed the little things in life, for one day we would realise that they actually were the big things.
The most challenging time in her life and how she overcame it…….
On the 30th of July 1995, Chacha passed away in his sleep. This came as a shock to Chachi and to all of us because it came without any warning. Chachi was devastated. After taking care of the last rites in America, (where they had moved by then) Chachi brought back Chacha’s ashes to Delhi, to his family, to say the ultimate goodbye. The family gave her love and succour, which helped her to carry on, conveying to her that all was not lost as she would always have a loving, caring family to come back to. By this time my mother- in- law was ailing and could not spend time with Chachi. I remember sitting long hours with Chachi while she reminisced about incidents in their lives together, their happy moments, even their differences which were fun to resolve, and their travels together: their enjoyment of the small pleasures of life, like their wine and cheese evenings together. I learnt how to be strong in moments of intense grief from her. I know she was totally broken, but in the face of adversity her true nature was revealed, making me realize that the most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen… I remember how Lokesh (my husband), my children and I would be there for her and try and divert her attention to lighter fun things. A different closeness had got woven into our relationship, which I will always cherish.
Back home she immersed herself in her job which helped her to put her sadness and grief behind her. She carried on, and proved Barak Obama right when he said, and I quote,“The future rewards those who press on. I don’t have time to feel sorry for myself. I don’t have time to complain. I’m going to press on.”
Her present desire……
Her present desire is to be able to lead a healthy comfortable life at this stage in her life. Spend happy times with her friends and family and her little dog Kiki, and to be able to continue with her volunteer work in the Large Print Library at the commune where she now lives.
A message to all….…
“Spend time with good friends and get as much as you can through exchanges with them. I don’t aim for anything else at my age,” is what she says and I agree. Some people arrive and make such a beautiful impact on your life, like she did on mine, you can barely remember what life was like without them, a real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out!
‘Be happy in what you do and how you live.’ ‘Be positive’ is something she taught by example. Having lived in a beautiful flat in a rather posh part of town, she took the big step of moving into a gated commune, with the positive attitude, that she would be just as happy there. This was a bold and concerted decision on her part. She embodies the saying by Helen Keller, ‘Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow.’
She once told me how she had helped someone in financial trouble, but with a warning to be careful next time. When the next time came and the person erred again, she dropped her like a hot brick. You dare not commit the same mistake again and get away with it! I agreed with her values completely. Never be taken in by sob stories, be able to tell wrong from right, was the lesson from her. ‘Don’t let anyone walk over you, stand your own!’ she’d say.
Chachi is a woman of strong values. She really appreciates honesty and generosity in people.
On talents, individual qualities and sharing…….
On her last three trips to India, I would take her to all the small famous shopping centres in Delhi, Lajpat Nagar, Bengali Market and Janpath, where she enjoyed buying chappals, jewellery, kaftans and gifts for family and friends back home. Giving thoughtful, appropriate, gifts to her favourite people gave her selfless joy. We would have great fun, choosing things, trying on rings and bracelets, eating street food and just wandering around window shopping.
She enjoyed stained glass making at one time, and still has some beautiful pieces made by her. French crosswords, playing solitaire, reading and watching television give her happiness in her leisure hours. She didn’t enjoy cooking but could put together a delicious channa masala, vegetables and spicy chicken for friends who liked Indian food back home.
Her bond with Gauri, an M. A. in French (karma peeping out again) and Pankaj, my children, is special. When she has problems with her computer she yells, ‘I need Pankaj.’
Though not related by blood, I had/ have a ‘dil ka rishta’ (relation of the heart) with Chacha and Chachi. Chacha was intuitive and could feel the pulse of the family; he was a good judge of character and would talk to Chachi about this. Chachi being a very sensitive person picked this up intuitively; she had/ has a special relationship with each family member. Though an inherently private person in some matters, she can do anything for those who touch her heart. She has a way with words and her anecdotes could keep you enthralled for hours. We would enjoy bed tea together and the cup of ‘elachi chai’ (a cardamom spiced tea) in the evening over endless games of scrabble. I miss her visits to us, I miss spending time with her, and now… not talking about her desires but mine, I wish we could meet again and catch up where we left off on her last visit, Inshallah! Skype, Facebook and emails are a great way to connect and to be in touch but I wish there was a time machine that could get us to be together in an instant. We love you Chachi!
-by Bindia Khanna