Monday, 17 July 2017

Genius Girl Geetanjali

It has been a long while since I last posted on my blog. We moved to a new house in Kenya and then had a plethora of guests from India in the new house and somehow I never got around to writing about it. I hope to do so in the near future. Then we came on our annual sojourn to our home town Pune and we went for a quick vacation up north, in an attempt to expose the children to the northern half of their genetic make up. The northern part of India has a ubiquitous charm and there's lots to write about but again, not right now.
While we were traversing across our national capital, I was also a part of the core team on ground zero in Pune, who were hard at work planning our 25th school reunion. And thanks to the connectivity on WhatsApp, they asked me to pen a tribute to a beloved class mate who had passed away in a very tragic accident. I have been wanting to write about our class genius for the last many, many years. I had, in fact, even asked her younger sister for permission to write (and received it too)  but then found it too overwhelming emotionally and so never really got around to doing it, except in my mind. Now, it seemed, my class mates had left me with no choice, as they wanted to print the tribute in the school memoir book we were publishing. And so, on my way from Delhi to Agra I managed to write a few lines about a very dear friend, even as I scrubbed away my tears. So, through a blur of tears, here it is...
When I first joined St.Helena's in class two, way back in 1983, Geetanjali was in my division. Our mothers had been class mates in school too and the family's brilliance was already legendary. This, in effect, meant that whenever Geetanjali and I were in the same division, I had absolutely NO chance of standing first and had to be content with a second rank. My mother fondly recalls a day way back in 1985, when we were in fourth standard, and Geetanjali and I were in different divisions. When my mother came to collect the report card, Geetanjali went running upto her and joyfully exclaimed,'Aunty, Anupama has stood first!' Well, so had she in her own division, but was just too modest to add that! That was our Geetanjali to the core.
But the beauty of it was that we all automatically deferred to Geetanjali's far superior intellect and had nothing but praise and admiration for her all through our school years.  She, in turn, remained humble, helpful, generous in sharing her knowledge and ever willing to explain the intricacies of Maths, Physics and Chemistry to those who needed help in High School..
Geetanjali and I were immersed in reading books, even throughout lunch break in school, much to the irritation of our friends. She loved Anne Of Green Gables. Surprisingly, I never read Anne (with an E) then, and became fond of the Anne books much later. But I can never read Anne without thinking of Geetanjali, even today...Before I left Kenya last month, I watched all the Anne episodes newly released on Netflix and desperately wished I could message Geetanjali to get her view of it all!
 I always had the highest marks in essay writing. During an essay competition in the 9th standard, our teacher had given us the topic, 'My favourite Book'. I had just put down Benazir Bhutto's 'Daughter Of The East'. I had nothing but admiration for the lady in question, after reading about her travails, and that came through in my essay about the book and I thought I had written a brilliant piece! Geetanjali, on the other hand, wrote about 'Anne Of Green Gables' and she won the first prize! As a fourteen year old, it was upsetting for me at that point, but in retrospect I can quite see why our teacher found Anne more delightful than Benazir! Today I'm SO glad Geetanjali won that day... for she was to lose a very major battle a few years down the line...the battle for life.
Due to our surnames being in alphabetical order, a U and a V in school, we sat close to each other during exams. Geetanjali writing an exam was a sight to behold! She was absolutely calm and steady and if I ever felt overwhelmed by a question, I only had to glance at her and observe her demeanour for just thirty seconds to regain my confidence! 
She had a brilliantly fair complexion and actually glowed from within and truly stood out as extraordinary. Her eyes were  glowing, glittering jet black orbs, framed by beetling brows and sparkling with all that knowledge deep within her. An Everest house prefect, Geetanjali was loved by all who came in contact with her. Other friends fondly recall cycling to school with Geetanjali, especially during the monsoon months when she stood out by virtue of her bright yellow raincoat. Yet another friend says whenever she visted Geetanjali's house, she often found her Dad teaching her from books meant for the next academic year! Her brain could easily absorb material meant for a grade higher than the one she was currently in. Little wonder then that she found the current year's work child's play...An IQ test in school in the 9th grade proved what the rest of us always knew.. Geetanjali, with an intelligence quotient of 149, was at genius level...
Engineering or medicine? Daughter of an engineer father and doctor mother, she faced this classic dilemma. Eventually medicine triumphed and she became a radiologist. As a doctor, she once again went out of her way to help and guide friends who had medical issues and is very fondly recalled by every single one of them today.
One new year's eve, fifteen or so years ago, I received a cryptic message on my cell phone. 'Happy New Year'. Geetanjali. I knew only one Geetanjali in my life who would reach across to me, a decade after we last met, with just a short message and a name. I grabbed the phone and chatted non stop with her for more than an hour... We promised to meet and catch up but it was not meant to be, for I moved to Tanzania very soon after that. Then her younger brother and I were in touch through the now extinct Orkut and he gave me the news that Geetanjali had a baby daughter and another little one was on the way. Many messages passed back and forth between the two of us, via her brother, even as her second doll was born. Geetanjali would not live to see her second baby's first birthday. Today, it has been exactly ten years, on this very date.
I will never forget that July night when my mother called me up in Tanzania to give me the heart breaking news that Geetanjali had succumbed to her injuries after a horrific road accident. My first ridiculous thought was ' But she hasn't read the newly released Harry Potter yet. How can she go?'Our common love of books bound us, even as I heard she was no more. I accused my own mother of lying to me because my heart and mind refused to accept the heart wrenching news. Even as tears blinded me and my own then three year old son clung to me, my only thought was for her two daughters. Every time tears flowed down my face my son burst into tears too.I felt as if I could not even mourn for such a dear friend. I had to control myself with great difficulty and often resorted to sobbing in the bathroom, with my three year old toddler banging on the door from outside. If I was in so much pain what did her immediate family go through?
 The two adorable baby girls she left behind are in middle school today and, friends in touch tell me, are as brilliant as their mother was! I am so glad that her legacy will continue after her and I hope I can meet them some day when they are older. We all have so many memories of their mother that we would love to share with them.
She will always be loved and missed by us. We salute you Geetanjali even today, like we did then. We missed you sorely at our 25th reunion and it wasn't really complete without you...We are planning to institute a rolling trophy for Outstanding Academic Performance in your name, in our alma mater St.Helena's School, Pune, so that generations of girls, not just us, remember Geetanjali Vaidya...

                                                           Dr.Geetanjali Vaidya Swami
                                                             April 1977-  July 2007


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