My beautiful friend Raji Shanker passed away early Monday morning. It was news I was hoping I wouldn't hear for a very long time. But she knew. She had told me a couple of weeks ago that it didn't look very good for her, that the prognosis was bleak. But you would never know it — not from her posts or her upbeat and witty comments on all our blogs.
I had the good fortune to meet Raji and spend time with her on my trip to India in Dec 2010-Jan 2011. Anita and Raji cooked for me, making me feel very special. Raji came bearing her now famous brinji, an unbelievably flavorful sambar and a Christmas cake. I was jet-lagged and did not entirely comprehend how someone so vivacious and full of life could be sick. She had a rare congenital digestive condition, she told me, and was possibly looking at undergoing yet another surgery a few months down the road. I looked forward to meeting her again a week later but by then the pollution had already started taking its toll on me and we were trying to do too much in the few hours we had in Delhi. There was going to be a next time, we promised each other. A picnic, even.
Just before her surgery last year, Raji sent me passwords to her blog and her email account, asking if I would moderate the comments on her blog and if her recovery took longer than expected, to publish a few posts she had in Drafts. I was honored and overwhelmed at the same time. It was like a key to her thoughts. I moderated the comments that came through and prayed that that would be the extent of anything I would have to do. I wrote her long emails and she always wrote back, no matter what. Within a couple of months, she was home and I was only too happy to hand back the reigns to her blog.
It was difficult but she was not one to wallow in sympathy or self-pity. She also wasn't planning on giving up. I didn't want her to give up either so I asked my neurologist brother-in-law who was transitioning from Columbia to Mt. Sinai if he could reach into his network for information, new developments, anything. He spent a fair amount of time explaining, only because I was unwilling to hear what he was saying, that she was getting the complete picture from her doctors. It was even harder to tell her that. Raji fought it the best way she knew. True to her nature, she donned a cloak of bright upbeat spirits and faced each day with a positive outlook, for her young daughter and her husband.
Thanks for your support and I'm glad I met you when I did! she wrote in her last email to me. Me, too, sweet Raji. Me, too. I will miss your sharp wit, your lovely smile and the underlying mischief in your words. I loved being irreverent and flippant together with you. It made for some full-belly laughs without being disrespectful or mean. I will miss that the most.
Rest in Peace, my lovely friend. And, one way or another, we'll find a way to picnic together.