My dear friend Deepa Bhushan turned 50 on November 1st . Her children organized a birthday party for her and they invited me and Ravi. Ravi and I seldom go anywhere together (That's life. We would love to. We can't.) - and I was the lucky one this time.
The Bhushans are a funny clan. They pretend they aren't into birthdays and other sentimental observances and their celebrations are heavy on the jokes and teasing. I know they are as emotional as anyone else, and particularly about Deepa, their jewel in the crown, but somehow when it came time for the testimonials at her party, I got all shy and self-conscious. There was so much I wanted to say that I couldn't say a thing. I just kept taking photographs and practicing my speech in my head, hoping someone would force me to the mike.
No one did (which I intend to resent for quite some time to come), so here it is in writing instead.
The first time I met Deepa was soon after her marriage. Her husband's cousin, settled in the US, had come to our place to meet Ravi and Prashant had accompanied him. Soon after, we were invited to their place for what I assumed was dinner - 6 o'clock. Dinner time, right?
We had a house guest at the time and of course we brought him along too. Six o'clock on the dot. Deepa was the life of the party. She served pakoras, pizza, sandwiches and cake and I kept thinking that these were the appetizers and that dinner was still to come. I held back, thinking: "If the appetizers are so amazing, what will the dinner be like?"
By the time it was clear that we had been invited for tea and not dinner, I was too deep in my delicate appetite role to change course. I left hungry, but fascinated by the woman who had invited us. (But not as much as Ravi and our guest were . . . they were speechless with admiration. "What is wrong with you guys?" I asked as we all sat around the table back at our flat, eating toast. "Deepa to bahuthi soni hai," Ravi sighed. "She's very special," Arun agreed, looking a little dazed.)
Luckily, I am not the jealous type. And besides I was just as smitten.
Deepa and I were pregnant at the same time - she with Manav and me with Cathleen. We did our prenatal yoga and stretching together and were each present at the other's delivery.
I gave birth to Cathleen at home, so she had no problem. For Manav's delivery at Holy Family Hospital, I had to sling a stethescope around my neck and pretend to be a doctor to get into the labor ward.
Over the years we have shared experiences, sorrows and joys, advice and recipes and we have watched our marriages and our children flourish and grow with pride and amazement.
I wanted to tell the gathering at her birthday party that night about the novel I dream of writing one day - a novel about Deepa and her galaxy, a novel which would chronicle the vast network she has created of relatives, friends and colleagues and which she sits at the center of, effortlessly (it seems!) connecting, nurturing, repairing, restoring . . .I've never seen anything quite like it. Every time I phone her she's on the way to visit somebody in the hospital or taking someone to the train station or buying supplies for an elderly relative or attending a naam karan ceremony or taking a friend who needs cheering out for lunch. The list of her engagements boggles the mind. She is endlessly there for others, yet somehow maintains her own equanimity and balance.
Deepa is one of my life's anchors. She reminds me of all the important things: to drink a cup of tea, to eat well, to get enough sleep, to call the kids, to think things through. WWDD? is a question I often ask myself. In difficult situations requiring judgment, maturity, resolve and kindness, I know I will not go far wrong if I can just figure out the answer: What Would Deepa Do?
And if I can't decide on my own, I know she's just a phone call away.