Monday, December 27, 2010

Freedom fighter dies at 106

Ganga Ba Patel, a freedomfighter and staunch Gandhian till the last day of her 106 years, died at 6.30 am on Sunday.

Ganga Ba was close to my mother's family. "I have never seen her in anything but white khadi clothes. Nor do I remember seeing her wearing any ornaments, not even a bindi. And she was always a skinny woman, never have I ever seen her put on weight. She walked a lot, always walked to our house, even till recently. She ate extremely simple food, without any spices. At her house, we were always served buttermilk, milk, rotlo* and such stuff. Whenever we went to her house, she was always busy doing physical work, be it milking cows, cleaning up the yard. Afterwards, when age made this difficult, she was always alert and supervising the household chores", says Miki Desai, my maternal uncle.

Gangaba's husband and my grandfather were close friends. When her husband was jailed, Ganga Ba's interaction with the Desai family grew and she soon became an integral part of the extended family. She also grew very close to grandfather's mother, Hari Ba.

"She was the 'grand old lady' who could tell anybody anything. She called my father by his name, Chandu. She could tell any man what she wanted to, be it my father, my uncle, us when we grew up. She could call us and ask us to shut up, or do this instead of that. She spoke a lot about women, how important it is for them to be strong and independent," says Miki, his recollection of the strong woman taking him back to his ancestral home and people in Nadiad.

Baba and my uncle had gone to meet Ganga Ba at her residence around March 2010. Ganga Ba had stopped walking her usual long distances, but was as alert as ever. "She had a very mischievous smile and was in perfect control over the household," remembers my father about the last meeting. Before this, they had met Ganga Ba about five years ago at the funeral of a grandmother from the extended family. At 100, Ganga Ba had walked about half a mile to attend the ceremony, talked with everyone concerned in an astute, attentive way.

I do not have any memory of meeting her. But would love to believe I have met her. As a child playing somewhere with dozens of cousins in the sprawling backyard, running about without a care, only to be caught in the spindly hands of an old lady.

"Eyy chhokri. Koni baby chhe?"** Ganga Ba may have asked, her commanding eyes twinkling with mischief.

"Nayana ni". I would have said and run away...

Yes, I would like to believe I have met Ganga Ba.

-Gauri Gharpure

* Rotlo- Thick roasted bread made from pearl millet
** "Eyy girl, whose daughter are you?"


Glassbeads said...

Really touching. I can't say anything else.

Capt. Anup Murthy said...

Well written blog about an inspirational person. We'd be a better planet if there were more of this kind. Sadly that isn't the case.

Gauri Gharpure said...

Thanks N.

Captain Anup Murthy, thanks for stopping by and commenting. That generation with iron will is fast fading.. Makes me so uncomfortable thinking this at times

Joe Pinto said...

My dear Gauri,

Thank you for posting this tiny memoir of a great and simple lady. Please collect any other memoirs on her. Maybe there's a book written on her and post it.

Follow up the spindly old lady. She may not have known you. But, because of you, we know her now.

Peace and love,
- Joe.

Kamini said...

Thanks for a year of interesting reads on your site. Wishing you, your family and all your readers a very happy new year and all the best,

Gauri Gharpure said...

@Joe Pinto Dear Sir,
Thank you for the kind words and guidance.

Gauri Gharpure said...

Thanks Kamini, for making this space meaningful with your feedback. Here's wishing a happy, healthy New Year to you and yours.

YOSEE said...

A wonderful human being. A life lived Fully in all senses.
Good, Inspirational read to start the new year with. Thank you for posting it.
Best wishes. Have a great 2011.


Thank you for bringing this wonderful woman in our midst - truly an inspiring woman.

Gauri Gharpure said...

Thanks Raji, I wish i had met her.. consider a missed opportunity..

Indian Home Maker said...

Loved reading this post!!! 106 is really something and I am sure one has to be very active and eat simple, unprocessed food to live that long and be active. Amazing account!

I am sure you did meet her!! I can so imagine the meeting exactly like you described. Loved how you ended it.

Gauri Gharpure said...

Thanks IHM.. When i read it in the Gujarati newspaper, i immediately went about translating and developing the story. May be i should have approached an English daily.. :(.. I am so glad you loved the ending. It's indeed possible we have met, all elderly people in the community make it a point to know exactly which kid belongs to whom :D