Many of you have asked me to post the eulogy I delivered for my aunt Swapna, who passed away on January 15th. As I prepare to head back to India after a month with family, I am posting the transcript of my remarks in her loving memory.
I hope you will excuse me for reading this tribute to my aunt Swapna, who I called Rumu Kakima. It is not for lack of preparedness. Rather, I can honestly say that the thoughts I am about to express are among the most important I have ever uttered. In preparing my words, I thought long and hard about the tone I wanted to set. Would this be a tearful goodbye to an amazing woman we all loved or was this to be a lighthearted remembrance of a beautiful lady with an irresistible smile? George Bernard Shaw wrote that “life does not cease to be funny when people die any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh.”
As much as I have cried over the past year about the possibility that we would be gathered here today for this purpose, I still cannot help but smile and be happy at the mere mention of my Rumu Kakima’s name. In a world where uncertainty is the only thing that is certain, I could always count upon Rumu Kakima’s warmth, kindness and boundless love. She was everyone’s favorite simply because she said what she meant and meant what she said. She made it her job to understand those she loved – to understand our fears, our passions, our challenges, and the lives we lead.
Those of you that know my history may know that my aunt helped mom raise me when I was a young child. You may not know, however, that my Rumu Kakima was also my first love interest. Yes, indeed. At the ripe old age of two, I decided that my aunt Tumu – I was not yet able to properly pronounce my “R’s” -- was to be the woman I wanted to marry when I grew up. So enamored was I by her care, that I was apparently prepared to become the world’s youngest home wrecker.
In the nearly 38 years that she has been in my life, Rumu Kakima taught many important lessons:
First, she introduced me to the power and magic of Bengali sweets. A great chef by any standards, she really excelled in producing some of my favorite sweets of all time. I’ll put my Rumu Kakima’s chom chom – which she knew I loved to eat with a hearty dose of Rice Krispies – up against the world’s finest desserts.
Second, she taught me the power of presentation and finesse. Whether it is modulating your volume and tone for an occasion or room – something us Bengalis really don’t handle well as we shout through life, or ensuring your tie is the right one and tied with an attention to detail, no matter what you do in life – Rumu Kakima first taught me to take the small additional effort to do it well – your audience will appreciate you for it.
Third, she taught me the importance of family. For as much as we squabble, observing her raise my cousin Raja, who is an exceptional human being or watching our family come together over the past twelve months and especially the devotion and love of my uncle Subhas – my Bachu Kaku – I can truly say that I love each of you more today because Rumu Kakima once lived.
Last but definitely not least, Rumu Kakima taught me the value of life and that the journey is often more important than the destination. The Thanksgiving before she was diagnosed with her illness, during a call that now seems prophetic, she urged me to return to the US to be with my parents and family. Your parents are not getting any younger, she advised me, it is time to spend quality time sharing your life with them. All the money in the world, she told me, could not replace the time spent away from loved ones pursuing that wealth. I can say that my Rumu Kakima’s advice and subsequent illness is the single most important reason I quit my job with Hilton in October and has become a guiding principle in my life. Knowing that she would not be with us for very much longer helped make one of the biggest decisions of my professional an easy one. All my fears and worries about making the decision I needed to make were trivial compared to the battle she waged for her life. When I surprised her this October with news that I had finally quit my India based job, her beautiful eyes welled up with tears as she wept joyfully.
Rumu Kakima’s illness, and advice to me can be summarized as follows:
Live life with purpose.
Live life with dignity.
Live life with love.
Live life surrounded by those you love and who love you.
Live life remembering that for all of us, it shall end someday.
In short, live a life worth living.
I cannot thank you enough, Rumu Kakima, for being such a powerful force in my life. I can’t believe I’m standing here today and it shall take some time to understand and come to terms with the fact that God has moved you on. But, I take solace in the fact that someone as amazing and loving as you is now looking upon and guiding us from above.
I’d like to end my remarks with an old Vedanta prayer:
Oh Lord, lead us from the unreal to the real;
from darkness to light;
from death to immortality.
Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.
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