Jatinder Yakhmi

Myriad of memories, unabated

Upasana with her husband, the author

My wife Upasana (fondly called Guddi) died a year ago (Oct. 8, 2022) but her memories continue, without fading. Guddi was 74 at the time of her passing away, and our wedded life lasted over 50 years. She is gone but I continue to see her impact, everywhere.

Guddi donned several roles in my life, including as my therapist and also a psychoanalyst. She asked me never to make an attempt to reduce my weight, because whenever I tried that seriously, I fell sick. Often, I felt a bit uneasy on the eve of a domestic or a foreign trip, and Guddi would encourage me to go ahead by stating “you will be alright”. And I was! She would always come to see me off/receive me at Mumbai airport.

After we shifted to our current residence in July 2020, she would egg me on to go with her to walk at the walking track within the building complex. But due to a condition with my pelvic muscles, I was scared to do so lest I had to sit suddenly to relax. To calm me down, she would go and place a poolside stool, beforehand, at a convenient spot for me to sit, if I had to. Eventually, she did get me out of this fear a few months before her demise.

She knew that I was essentially an insecure person mainly due to my lonely childhood. If I did sleep-talking she would wake me up and ask me to stop that and go back to sleep. She had concluded that I started sleep-talking after a 2-month trip to Toronto in 1990. I used to walk to the University of Toronto from my apartment hotel, a distance of about a km, every day. Almost daily, a group of rowdies loitering on the way would ask me for a dollar, which I ignored, and continued to walk my way, without responding or looking at them. One day, one of them, possibly in bad mood, ran after me as if to hit me, but just stopped short of me, as I kept walking. I changed my route, thereafter. But this did have an impact on me. What if he had hit me?

Guddi was a great care-giver, right from her college days when she nursed her aging father. My daughter Geetika was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes during her 2nd semester at engineering college. As a caring mother, Guddi would go and stay with her in hostel during her semester exams or finals. Similarly, when I underwent an open-heart surgery (CABG), Guddi attended to me constantly at hospital, and at home later, to help me recuperate. She herself went through tough times when due to acute backache, she was advised bed-rest for a full month in mid-1980s. Just a few months before her demise in 2022, she had Bell’s palsy, which she conquered through sheer determination and regular exercises for weeks together.

During emergency situations, Guddi kept her cool and composure. Once, while returning from Juhu beach, alongwith our two kids, we stopped over for tea at a restaurant. My daughter Geetika was then 10 months old, and was in Guddi’s lap as we all settled on the restaurant table. As soon as cups of hot tea were served to us, the infant Geetika suddenly moved her limbs, tipping away Upasana’s teacup and spilling hot tea on her own tiny legs, which brought blisters on her soft skin, instantly. We bought Burnol ointment immediately and applied, but as further precaution we rushed the kid straight to the casualty of our hospital to check if any further procedure was needed. All through, Guddi kept her cool.

A very devoted wife and a constant companion, Guddi simply adored me. Her excitement was to be seen at a conference banquet held at Westin Awaji Island Hotel, located at Awaji Island, near Osaka in 2009, when the organizer Prof. Takeji Takui announced my name as one of the three from among 80 participants, chosen to say a few words about that conference. She was already so thrilled to see the Indian Tricolour fluttering at the Hotel lawns among the flags of the participants’ countries to welcome them, and I and Guddi were the only Indians present.

A Home Science graduate from Lady Irwin College, Delhi, Guddi was an expert in cooking and excelled in making several Indian dishes and savory snacks, such as gulab jamuns, nan-khatais, Dahi Vadas, Chana Masala, and long salty ‘mutter’.

Whenever we planned to travel to far-off places in the city of Mumbai, she would carry sandwiches, and cut fruits for both of us to avoid outside food during those 4-5 hours trips. If we were travelling in the direction of her favourite shops for sweets or snacks, like Tewaris or Jhama or Madras Café, we would stop-over, buy some items, keep them in the car, and proceed further.

I would often request her at food-courts to make a choice both for herself and for me and bring, as I occupied a table. She loved to do that, not forgetting to bring filter coffee also for me, which she knew I liked.

During one of our visits to Weizmann Institute in Israel, Guddi brought packed lunch for both of us on a few occasions and would lay it meticulously for both of us to share under the cool shades of trees at the lawns of the Institute

Guddi was thrilled to get a chance to have a detailed look at two domestic kitchens during our trips abroad. First one was during our visit to the residence of Prof. Corinne Dejous, from IMS, Bordeaux in France. Guddi listened intently when Corinne explained to her the details of how the placement of appliances in her kitchen had been made for convenience during cooking.

The second kitchen Guddi saw with interest was at the residence of Prof. Ishi Talmon, a reputed chemical engineer working at Technion Institute, Haifa in Israel. During 2009, when I was the guest of Russell Berrie Nanotechnology Institute there, Ishi drove both of us for dinner at his flat, the balcony of which overlooks the foothills of Mt. Carmel. As I and Ishi discussed about his trekking trips on this hill, and some remarkable photography of wild flowers done by him at Mt. Carmel, his wife, Mrs. Lynda Talmon showed Guddi her kitchen and various appliances in it and explained how she preferred to use them.

At Haifa, we had been allotted a compact flat at the residential area of Technion, one of a set of four, for two months. It was located just a few steps uphill from the city-bus stop, where students waited to board or alighted to go to their hostels. Among those students were two or three girls from India. Guddi loved to chat with them discussing their life in Israel.

She had fun doing window-shopping in Israel. I recall that she wanted to spend time observing items new to her at a clothing shop at a large shopping mall in Haifa. She was also mindful that I would get tired if I had to stand beyond 10-15 minutes, so she asked me to sit at a bench from where I could see her moving around in the shop. She would rarely buy things, but chose a blazer for me from that shop, which I still have.

Guddi was always on the lookout for exclusive designs during her purchases. While buying clothes for our son Ashish, for instance, when he was a year old, she settled on a fancy imported dress, expensive but exclusive, which always stood out at parties, etc. Similarly, she bought a Pearl Stainless Steel tea-set, just after it was introduced in the market in 1972.

Guddi was fond of collecting French perfumes. Opium, Poisson, YSL, Channel, Nina Ricci, were all in her collection, though she rarely used them. During our first trip to Paris, she took a liking for the Gemey brand of beauty products, particularly their lipsticks. Once at a Gemey stall, she asked the salesgirl to show some recent Gemey introductions, pronouncing it as ‘Gemmie’ (with ‘Ge’ as in ‘get’). The salesgirl looked baffled. Then we pointed out physically to some Gemey products at her stall. She laughed and asked us to pronounce it as ‘jimaiy’. Guddi loved that brand, and would often recall the gaffe she made in pronunciation.

She had a melodious voice and could sing well. As newly-weds, we had rented a portion of the residence of Natalis, a Gujrati family at Chembur in Mumbai. Two sisters from that family, Meenakshi and Naina (now in their 60s) recalled recently how Upasana would often spend an hour or two with them, and they would all sing aloud Bollywood songs like, “Choori nahin ye mera dil hai”.

Guddi was truly innovative. When my rheumatologist asked me to keep a folded towel under my knee and press it periodically for a few minutes every day for relief, she went and bought a cotton bundle and asked me to use it in place of a towel. It worked, and I continue to use it still. A second example of her innovation was related to the packed lunch she gave me daily to carry to my office. It was always in a stainless-steel box that could hold all the items of lunch. To pre-empt the SS box opening up accidentally while being carried in a bag, she would insert it in a plastic carry-bag from Premsons store at Breach Candy in Mumbai, because she had observed that it could hold the lunch box tight enough. She always kept the Premsons carry-bags handy.

Guddi liked to be present at colourful events. On the occasion of the wedding of the Bollywood actor Rishi Kapoor in 1980, the venue – the famous R.K. Studio in Chembur, Mumbai was lit up in style in the evening and rows of cars bringing the glitterati were lining up to enter the venue to be welcomed personally by papa Raj Kapoor. I and Guddi happened to be passing by, and she asked me if I would take her to the gate of the venue so that she could see a few of the film stars. I declined seeing the security staff shooing away the uninvited. Suddenly, Guddi walked across alone, entered the R.K. Studio, roamed around for a few minutes, spotted Raj Kapoor and Randhir Kapoor, and some other actors, and came out triumphantly without anyone checking her!

About the Author
Prof. Dr. J.V. Yakhmi, FNASc, had a research career of 45 years at BARC, Mumbai. He authored 450 publications, and 10 books on magnetism, superconductivity, soft matter, Sensors and Organic Electronics, etc. Also published two poetry books and 52 popular articles in newspapers, including Medium. Delivered 425 Invited Lectures in reputed labs and at conferences. As Chairman, AEES, he ran 30 Schools /Junior Colleges across India for three years.
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