Asha was a firebrand, a woman strong and bold and born ahead of her times. Her innate goodness and compassion were shrouded in her aggressive exterior and blatant outspokenness. When you first met Asha Kapoor, you would not guess what a bundle of selfless service she was.
She lived in an apartment by herself in the upmarket , Greater Kailash area of New Delhi. A staunch spinster she had given up several corporate assignments when her boss or colleague tried to take undue advantage of her single status. The pattern had a sameness to it. Was she free to travel for the weekend? Would she come over for dinner? How did she spend her lonely nights? The prying questions and suggestive moves infuriated her. How dare they ask such private questions or make such insinuations. Her reactions were always the same- she would throw her resignation on the table and walk out, head held high and dignity intact.
Asha belonged to an upper middle class family and was the eldest of four sisters. She had lost both her parents in a gruesome accident soon after she had graduated. That was one sorrow that remained with her unhealed. Hunting for jobs and acquiring them wasn’t easy even in the 60s and that too with just a degree and a typing diploma. But Asha was smart, had good communicative skills and so always landed a new job within a couple of weeks.. However she never remained employed for too long. Patronising predators waiting to make their kill always followed her. She would never mince her words, she would openly accuse them, fend for herself and quit yet another job.
When I met Asha, she was into her early 70s .She was always smartly dressed in handloom sarees or kurtas with her trade mark red dot bindi on her forehead. Her petite build and light frame belied her age in spite of her salt and pepper hair. She was an art aficionado and greatly appreciated Indian painters, music and dance. The walls of her flat boasted of originals and prints of greats like M F Hussain, Aparna Caur, Yousaf Arackal and many more. She frequented concerts in the capital with her friends and moved in Delhi’s high society.
She had another side to her. She was always spiritually inclined and frequented Sivanand Ashram regularly. There she picked up meditation, prayer and yoga. After quitting her corporate jobs, Asha went deep into the study of Yoga. Vipassana and Reiki also caught her attention and she studied these with great diligence. She travelled to various places to understand and master Reiki. Once she had mastered it, she began practising Reiki on her friends and her family. Vipassana was cathartic and she drew great strength from it. According to her Vipassana was self purging. She literally felt a stronger and better person after attending the camps which were tough, regulated and disciplined.
Asha did not have much money with her but managed well within her resources. She lived in her nephew’s flat on his insistence, as he was away in the US. Her own flat she had rented out and so received a reasonable amount as rent every month. Her 3 younger sisters were married and well settled. They were deeply concerned about Asha. They met once in a while, but Asha refused any form of generosity from them. Perhaps being the eldest herself, pride did not permit her to accept offerings from her younger siblings.
Asha’s inclination to help others made her sponsor the education of her housemaid Kamala’s only daughter Nirmu, a bright young girl who studied at the local government school. Kamala’s meagre earnings from the house work she did was insufficient for her daughter’s education. Her husband Shankar , a drunkard, had died when Nirmu was 5. Since then Kamala had worked hard to care and educate her daughter. Her only aim was to give Nirmu a better life. Asha helped out by giving a monthly amount of 1000 rupees specially for Nirmu. She did so with a warning to Kamala that the money was not for her daily expenses. Kamala was intelligent enough to understand her ‘didis’ advice and carefully put the money in the bank only to be used for Nirmu’s fees, books or uniform. This proved a boon for Nirmu, who went on to study at college after school, using this money and help from others too. Nirmu completed her B.com with a second class, Thanks to Asha’s timely help. Kamala remained a loyal servant ever grateful to ‘Didi’ . When Nirmu picked up a job at a Delhi export house, Kamala stopped working in other houses and remained with Asha the whole day. Asha too was much older and needed help. Kamala did the chores and cooking for her and accompanied her on her visits to the market.
Asha always lived life as she desired, busy with her morning meditation and Reiki sessions. Helping others and curing their aches and pains was deeply satisfying. She was always aware that a greater force, a universal energy was working through her. A nearby Ashram with a basement, offered her free space to practise Reiki. Numerous patients came to her every day. Soon she became ‘Doctor Maaji’. Her sincerity and compassion worked wonders. She treated the poor free and took Rs100 from the rich for an hour’s session of Reiki.
And then the unexpected happened. This brave lady who fought like a tigress alone and braved all obstacles, was suddenly left helpless. Her vision had been declining and inspite of numerous visits to the doctor, she turned totally blind within a span of a year. She could not move around without help. She hated that. Her outings and therapy sessions had to stop. Confined to the house, her only solace was music.
The last time we met, Asha was totally blind. She was 78 years old and shrunken in size, a mere shadow of her smart original self. The moment she heard my voice, she shouted out my name as we hugged each other. We chatted ad nauseum over many cups of tea. Kamala, bright and smiling was there to look after and care for Asha. Life had come full circle.....Kamala and Nirmu had a chance in life as they stayed in the same apartment caring for ‘Didi’. Asha was not alone......