My Neighbor, Mira-ben
Posted by Harshida Mehta on Apr 10, 2014
When I was in 2nd grade, one of our close neighbors was Gandhian family. One of the daughters of the family was Miraben, who was one of the pioneering Gujarati authors. Their entire family was rooted in a kind effortless virtue that made them very lovable -- and respectable. Seeing a woman become a writer, in those days, gave me a subtle sense of confidence that I too could do the same. I owed her a huge debt of gratitude, but over time, we had all moved and lost touch.
Decades later, one fine Wednesday, when Mahendra Meghani (whose father Gandhi named as India's national poet) was a guest speaker at our Awakin Circle, a elderly couple walked in as guests. It was Mira-ben and her husband, Mahendra-bhai! At first, we didn't recognize each other. As affinities go, though, we somehow started talking and invited them to Dinesh's music gathering on Sundays. They came. Because Miraben was wheelchair bound, she required some assistance but she always found a way to contribute and give freely. I was naturally drawn to her, and in passing conversation, we got to talking about our roots -- and lo and behold, we (re)discovered each other!
What a joy that was. I called my sister in Chicago, who also remembered Mira-ben fondly. She immediately mailed me a copy of her book, that she still had. It was one of only handful of copies of her first Gujarati book that she had writer, and for which she had received the first literary award by the government. For several years, we had the occasion to stay in regular touch in our local community in California.
Earlier this week, we got a call that she had suffered a stroke, and her brain was no longer functional. Respecting her desires and following her health care directives, they pulled the life support plug. And Mahendra-bhai was keen that we would be by her side when did so.
Yesterday, we went to her funeral. Hundreds of people had come, from all walks of life. They had come to pay respects to the kindness and compassion that she offered to everyone. Although she was physically challenged, she found a way to give. She would sing with you, she would listen to your stories, she would hold you with a warmth of a mother. One Mexican gentleman stood up and shared, "I had just moved to the area, and I didn't have any family in the area. But Mira-ben would always take care of me, and feed me. Given her own simplicity, once we spoke about resources it takes to feed others, and she confidently told me, 'Don't you worry. I will take a loan if I have to, but you can always count on a meal in my house.' She fed me for years."
That was the essence of her spirit.
It brings me tears of joy to know that my path crossed Mira-ben, that life conspired to reconnect us decades later on another side of the planet. I wish I could've spent more time learning from her, but it also inspires me to take a stronger resolve to become an effortless giver like her.
Beloved Mira-ben, may your spirit continue to be blessed wherever it goes. Thank you for blessing me all these years.