Champa Rani Vaid died on July 22 in College Station, Texas, at age eighty-seven. She was the mother of my dear partner, Urvashi Vaid. I knew Champa for thirty years. I don't remember the year we first met and, in that not remembering, I miss her.
If I could ask her today, she would no doubt pause, her eyes seeming to scroll to the exact year, month, date, and day we met. Also available: the occasion, the weather, location, and any salient astrological aspects. Losing her is like losing a living data cloud.
If Ancestry.com were a person, her name would be Champa. To the end of her life, she could detail large, interlocking, extended family trees from deepest root to newest leaf. She kept in touch with many branches. She loved her cellphone. Champa could also explain the complex family lineages of her beloved Hindu myths.
Once, amid final preparations for a family Diwali, the festival of lights, she sat calmly and recapped for me the sprawling Hindu epic, the Ramayana, with the gossipy contemporaneity of a "Here's What You Missed: The Real Housewives of Delhi."
Champa herself was a renowned homemaker in Delhi and in Potsdam, New York. She took both pride in and umbrage at that. As a strong woman, she chafed at the micro/macro abrasions of two cultures' patriarchal castes. Besides raising three accomplished daughters, she made and moved many homes filled with art and music, all on an English professor's salary.
At her memorial this summer, many testimonials were mouth-watering menu recitations of her artfully lavish, multidish meals. She entertained friends and family in India and new American friends and homesick Indian ex-pats huddled in the frozen tundra of Potsdam. That's where Krishna Baldev Vaid, her husband of sixty-five years, taught English at the State University of New York.
Champa was an eager adopter of the iPad. She said it opened her world. It enabled her own curiosity to hit warp speed. Fingers skittering over the iPad like a dragonfly on a pond, she read many newspapers, checked horoscopes, learned painting techniques, watched Indian movies and soap operas, visited websites, read blogs, and looked everything up on "the...