Dipti Gupta


A great soul serves everyone all the time – a great soul never dies – it brings us together again and again. Since Papa’s demise on March 22, I have been overwhelmed by the number of calls and messages we have received from all his fans and friends all around the world. I say fans because those of us who knew Papa well – knew that he had a magnetic persona that attracted and inspired people.


I met Papa for the first time when I was working with Suhasini and Tapan in New Delhi in 1986. Suhasini Mulay and Tapan Bose’s film on the Bhopal Gas disaster had been released and when I saw it I discovered that Papa was amongst the first doctors to come to Bhopal from Canada to carry out research of the effects of MIC on victims and survivors. This research work he continued and his findings have been published in prestigious medical and political journals.


Papa and Suhasini were the ones who connected me to Rahul and once I got married to him, Papa regularly wrote letters before I joined him after eighteen months of racist immigration backlog. In a letter immediately after our marriage, he wrote “You and Rahul getting married means a lot to me for numerous reasons not necessary to say (this was his typical style) – and then he continued in the same letter: “I am so happy that you two went to the village to meet everyone but especially my mother.” She must have been very happy. I am sure she will have a lot to say about your trip although it may not appear from the brevity of conversation she and you had in the village. Perhaps you know that Rahul was born in that village, as was I, and my father and his father. It is an important place for me despite the fact that I stay there only for very short durations when I visit India”. In the same letter he continued, “I would like to suggest that you give some thought about what you would like to do when you are here. One possibility is to go to university for further studies in any area of your choice.”  The study program may itself prove satisfactorily productive. He wrote, “Of all of us the only person who learnt French is Suhas. It was good and you may be the second one to learn French and that will be good too!”


To his happiness, I can pretty well operate in French. He ended that letter by writing – “Deepti take care of yourself and you may assure your mother and father that you will never be uncared for.” He continued to write as frequently and kept me looking forward to joining the family here. I have kept all the letters that I received from Papa and Shree and read them one more time recently.


Papa and Shree could not be part of our marriage in India and Papa sent Feroz as his ‘representative’. After I met Feroz and got to know him – I understand this ever more. Feroz has been one of the closest allies and friends to Papa and often ‘a partner in crime’ as I would loosely say…I have never seen any two people of such different ages have such a close association!


That first year while I was still in India, Papa came for a visit in the summer. He asked me if I wished to accompany him to meet his relatives especially his mother in Narion – a small village in UP. I had already been there with Rahul but jumped at the opportunity. This visit to the village with Papa has become one of my favorite memories amongst many others.


We took a train to Lucknow and then a rickety bus going to the village, where we met a few villagers who instantly recognized him and called him Doctor Sahib and unhesitatingly began to talk to him in Bhojpuri. We reached Narion around 10:30 in the night and as the bus dropped us on a small pagdandi (small kuccha path)– as the bus sped away, I realized that we were in the middle of a pitch-dark field. All we had – were the jugnoos – the fireflies to guide us to his home. Throughout the way Papa kept talking –telling me stories of how he used to walk and go on a bail gaadi (bullock cart) to his school. That was one of my longest conversations and a long pleasant walk to his home – the time was spent hearing his stories and his experience until we reached the house. I realized that day that it took a lot of hard work, dedication and determination to be able to continue to study and accomplish all that he had – given that a proper school was several kms away from his village. As people later told me that he had won many scholarships and many accolades to accomplish all that he had in his life. That year, when I visited the village school (which was many years later than Papa had started his education) – I was surprised that it still did not have a proper building or classrooms. Things have changed since and some relatives of the family have continued the tradition of being teachers in the village today.


Also, being in the village with Papa my father-in-law was an experience in itself – Papa and I walked the next day – surveying the village – meeting people, looking at the fields and I think people in the village were kind of surprised seeing me walking without any veil all around the village with my father-in-law. I am sure the sight did raise some eye brows or may have dispelled some norms – either way Papa did what he did best – telling me more about the politics of the village, the challenges and the medical shortcomings of how several ailments were treated in the village.


A few days later, we came back to Lucknow and then took the train to come back to Delhi. On the train he saw this young woman who shared the same coach with us – she was reading a film magazine and Papa was reminded of an old Indian actress who resembled the actress on the cover. Papa asked me at that time – if I remembered the heroine from the 40’s – when I could not come up with a name  – he questioned my film knowledge and kept on trying to rack his brains. Anyways, we ended up having a good discussion with this young woman in the berth and around 10 pm after dinner – I went to my berth on the top and fell asleep. Around 3 am in the morning, I was woken up by Papa – he told me that the heroine’s name was Nimmo and while I was trying to understand (in my rather sleepy state) what he was saying – he blurted – okay – now I am going to sleep!!! This was Papa – he was struggling to remember the name all this while – as I was snoring away unaware of his agony!


Papa was a wonderful father-in-law – always very supportive, loving – his ways of showing his love was by just slowly rubbing your head sometimes – you just knew – he was not one to give huge hugs – but if he saw me cooking or cleaning – he always wanted to help. He used to often tell me that I should fight an election – I am not sure where that came from – but I guess it was my PR skills that he always associated with people who run for office! He was supportive of Rahul, of Teesri , of his children and was very proud of each of their accomplishments. He was particularly very proud of his grandchildren and I am so glad that he got to spend a good amount of time with them all. Aliya and I are truly blessed that he asked us to come and be with him this past winter when Shree was going to India and he did not want to travel. I think he knew at that time that he was not well.


He will be sorely missed, by me, by Aliya and of course Rahul and everyone who knew him….I am happy that I had one amazing father-in-law – as a woman of South Asian background I know that he broke many norms of being a typical father in law – but than most of us know – he was not an ordinary human being – he was an exceptional man – an extraordinary person in many ways. Papa you have brought us all together one more time and we will continue to celebrate you as long as we live

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