Monday, December 16, 2013

The late Rupali Hota: a voice from our past speaks to us today

“Rupali Hota (July 14, 1975 - December 15, 2008), the second-born child of Prasanna and Rama Hota, was born to be a star. As a child, she donned her mother’s highest heels and tottered about boldly, much to the delight of her doting parents. As a teenager, she was the maverick leader of her sisters and idol for her cousins.

As a young woman, she grew up to be a fashionista, a journalist, a food critic, a teacher. Not only was she vivacious, generous and spirited but she also gave herself completely to those she loved.

“Most knew Rupali as a fantastic friend, a darling daughter and sister, a perfect wife and an exemplary mother. However, few knew that she was also a painter, a singer, a dancer, an actress and a talented writer.

She was extraordinary, accomplished and greatly loved. Her jokes, her laughter, her endearments will echo in our minds. In her smiles, she hid her pain, only to keep us laughing and joyous. She lives on in our hearts and in Nirvaan.

Another beautiful young life lost to Fate!!

“R.I.P. Princess!!! Love you …!!!”


Rupali, an SIMC alumni, was also one of my most sincere and honest students. Simrin Chahal, her close & dear friend from college, runs an open FB group called “R.I.P. Rupali”. The above tribute is taken from that FB page.

At my request, Simrin sent me one of Rupali’s articles, which was recovered from Rupali’s computer. Though it is incomplete, I am posting it ‘as is’ on the occasion of Rupali’s death anniversary. She passed away on 15 December, five years ago.


By Rupali Hota

The chilly fall wind had blown the leaves everywhere and the tree stood bare trying to shield its nakedness. Just a minute ago, it was beautifully wrapped in the red and yellow-colored splendor and now there was nothing. A recycling bin and garbage can were its only companions on the lonely street corner, where a big bold sign was placed in front of the larger-than-life model home. “Prices Reduced”, it said. The home was striking, in an unsightly way: very brown and very large and a bit smug. Even the breeze went around it to revel in the sights of the beautifully landscaped backyard with the fire pit and the meticulously planted flower beds. It had taken a month or even more to put together this amazing feat of labor and it showed.

But Naima hated it.

Naima was a middle-aged Muslim housewife, who lived next door to the sights and sounds of the model home. Her husband, Afzal, was a pleasant and lazy man, who made a living selling New Zealand lamb and organic chicken in a tiny smelly store on the wrong side of town. Naima herself worked behind the counter, saving money on hiring extra employees, while her husband listened to the music of the machine grating and cutting through the gristle and bone of the meat and packed them swiftly in little bags to hand them over. It was after fifteen years of living in a one room apartment in a shoddy neighborhood where homeless hobos rummaged through the garbage for food and cigarette stubs that they had put away enough money to put down for a home in this upper class community. It had its own park and a man-made lake with duck and geese swimming in it.

An ordinary life, coupled with a barren womb, had held her back, keeping her aloof and remote in her grief. Moving into her own home made her feel alive again. She went for long walks in the drizzle that always kept Seattle green and lush and sat on a bench next to the lake, listening to the throaty croaking of the frogs, seemingly immune to the rain falling on her head. People ran and jogged by her, wondering at the brown lady sitting in the rain, busy with their schedules and their appointments, too busy to stop their pace. She didn’t mind. Her eyes were too busy absorbing the tranquility of the scene, a far cry from her cramped and smelly workplace.

Her home in the neighborhood was beautiful too. They bought it when it had been just a piece of land and had personally chosen the finish and colors of the house. It was the end of a deep struggle and was their haven after a long and tired day of rank odors and thankless customers. Her favorite part of the day was to escape to her big bathroom and take a hot bath in the jetted tub with fragrant bath salts. The woman suppressed by the grind and bustle of mundane life turned into a water nymph, electrifying and seductive in her abandonment to this simple pleasure.

Soon her views from the bathroom window got darker and, to her dismay, a very sizable home next door seemed to have blocked the lake. The model home was built with great speed to attract future customers and had been adorned with every upgrade there was to offer. Her bath time shortened and the smells from the bottles of bath salts fell flat. ‘All these years and all this work and she couldn’t even be in her favorite place in peace now.’

Afzal had loved his evenings in his new home. Their lonely and isolated lives had new warmth as he waited for Naima to come out of her bath everyday, looking oh so happy and fresh! They would then eat their dinner in bed together, watching the Indian channels she so enjoyed, their bodies touching each other, radiating camaraderie. They had no children, an unspoken sadness between them for years, finally taken over by their new baby, their dream home.

But Naima seemed to have become moody lately and did not seem too eager to come back home from work and it worried him. He would see her looking out of the bathroom window listlessly, playing with her graying hair; staring at the brown walls of the home next to theirs. This new house had been her child and he had thought she was happy. Maybe he was wrong. He sighed, muted by the silent melancholy that always surrounded their life.

Every morning before work, Naima would go into the model home and wish the realtor in her beautifully decorated office. The real estate market had crashed, but the realtor was there unfailingly, convincing the diminishing trickle of potential buyers about the rebounding economy and the good investments to be made by buying a home. Naima saw the realtor’s confident smile getting brittle every day, shadowed by an ailing mother in the nursing home and rising dry cleaning costs of her branded work clothes.

Naima entered the house everyday and after greeting the realtor, took her customary tour around the house to see new upgrades. She never got tired of looking at the warm tiles in the bathroom; the bedroom turned into a theatre room and, of course, her all-time favorite, the television in the mirror of the bathroom!!! The rich furnishings and trimmings of the model home titillated and angered her and she would go to work in their little shop with a vengeance, counting out money and tallying receipts, her eyes filled with faraway yearning.

The week after, everything changed. As she entered the model home, the realtor was unusually busy, not bothering to look up at Naima, who had become the crazy Indian lady fixture of the day. “It seems like your morning routine will be different from next week,” she said, busily chewing on her acrylic nails. “Why is that?” Naima asked confusedly. “Are you not going to be here anymore?” ‘Maybe her mother is really ill’, thought Naima to herself, saddened by her realization. “No, I will not be. I have just sold the home and the new owners will be here.”

The realtor seemed animated as she told Naima the details, oblivious to the pinched look on her face. ‘That’s it. Life was so unfair. Now she won’t even be able to come in and enjoy the ambience anymore. Now she would have to be in her bathroom, sans the window view, looking at this gargantuan house from the outside.’ Not bothering to say farewell, Naima rushed out, rubbing angry tears which threatened to escape. The realtor looked after her retreating figure thoughtfully, thinking about how lucky she was to get that commission to pay for her mother’s nursing home bills.

The week passed in a blur and the movers van came and went. The garbage bin started being put outside the house on Thursdays and the big bold sign came off. The new neighbors left cookies at Naima and Afzal’s doorstep to say hello and decorated their windows with colorful drapes. Naima ceased her usual stopover at the model home in the mornings. She would stare disdainfully at the trikes and Krazr scooters left outside the house by the children. Her house looked desolate, no toys peppering the sidewalk and no chalk drawings in the driveway.

As night fell, she would take her customary bath and eat dinner quietly with her tired husband and then she would leave the warm bed and step out for a walk in the crisp black night. Standing next to the model home, she looked around furtively. Knowing all the people would be in bed by that late hour, she would walk around the house into the backyard and sit next to the fire pit, looking at the stars, not daunted by the fact that she was trespassing. Afzal could see her from the bathroom window and he would steal secret glances at the face of the woman who he had been with for years. Naima never saw and never realized, wrapped up in her own sadness like the bare and naked tree standing out in the front of their yard.

(… Incomplete …)


Anjum Dhir Kulkarni said...

This is a beautifully written piece Sir, thank you so much for sharing it with us:) RIP Rupali...

Joe Pinto said...

Tks, my dear Anj. Peace and love - Joe.

Joe Pinto said...

Vandana Mohal-Dewan, SIJC-1996, one of my most sincere & honest students, writes to me in an email dated 16 Dec 2013:

"The incomplete story of Naima has got me very curious. Too bad Rupali isn't around to complete it. She was an awesome writer.

"I hope her child all the best and all the love in this world. I can't imagine my life without my parents, even at this age, can't even imagine how a little child would feel.

"Btw, what happened to her, how did she pass on? And her friends are doing her memory a lot of good through the FB page. Kudos to them."

Joe Pinto said...

Julie Merin Varughese, SIMC-2009, another of my most S & H students writes to me in an email dated 16 Dec 2013:

"That's such beautiful writing by Rupali. May her soul rest in peace."

Pramod Mankar said...

Vaishali s said...

that is a beautiful peice of writing. wonder what she planned to convey. wonder if she would have added any more to the story. Its sad in a way but also very sweet. Met Rupali so briefly but we became friends instantly and I remember her twinkiling eyes that seemed to dance as she spoke. we are friends to date because I only remember the lively Rupali. Cannot fathom why she would take her own life...