I feel honoured penning this piece about my dear departed wife, Varshita. She would have fought shy of publicity when alive, but ‘con su permiso’, which I hope I have now, I have to do this. She died fighting metastatic cancer a little after midnight on the 10 January 2020. She packed a lot into the 4400-odd days we spent together as man and wife…and a lot more into the last months of her life, when whatever she did, she had the happiness of everyone she knew – relatives and friends and even mere acquaintances – in mind.
Varshita became a Norwegian citizen in 2017. She put the real India out there for foreigners to see through her goodness and sublime humaneness. She compelled one and all to question the misconceptions they harboured in their mind about India and Indians. She went on to teach immigrants from different countries in the world who came to Trondheim (PhD students many of them), the Norwegian language at home, sometimes gratis and at other times, for a pittance. She was like a godmother to many young wives who came over to Norway just as she had in 2008. Yes, Indian she was, and spoke fluent English, Hindi and Bengali, and also a little Tamil, but she earned the epithet – Global Indian, thanks to the dedication she showed in blending in, and understanding and respecting the Norwegian culture and language, while honouring and educating foreigners about India and Indianness. Life lessons for all Indians, who wish to make the world their home in the future.
Every morning when the Sun would rise and we would have coffee together, watching the fjord from the living room window, I wanted to sense some epiphany, some blessing which would convince me that magic which would stun the doctors and script a new course in the field of oncology, was about to happen. I told her, a few minutes before she passed away that she would always live in my heart. That whatever I do in the future would be in her honour and memory – and thereby only good and virtuous deeds, to make the world a better place.
An effort to keep Varshita’s legacy alive
The third sustainable development goal (SDG) unveiled by the United Nations focuses on health (SDG 3), while SDG 4 focuses on education. SDG 5 emphasises gender equality and women’s empowerment. In order to ensure that the world marches towards SDG 5, SDGs 3 and 4 are of paramount importance. India, which will soon become the most-populated country in the world, and thereby will also account for the largest share of womenfolk on Terra Firma, needs to gin up, on all the 17 sustainable development goals in general, but more so, on SDGs 3, 4 and 5. It is here that the role of Varshita played in her ‘48-year-short’ life and now continues to play in her afterlife, needs to be written about. The focus of this will be on the good being done in the after-life, posthumously.
Plan USA – Varshita Venkatesh Girls’ Education Fund
The author was mulling over the best way to honour Varshita’s memory, and quite like an answer from God, the path shone bright and clear. His prior association with Plan USA made him think of a Varshita Venkatesh Girls’ Education Fund, which would enable girls from all over the world to find the right opportunities to get educated. This two-pronged bequest set up aptly on Valentine’s Day 2020, as a gift to her soul residing up there in the astral plane, includes the Plan International USA Sponsorship Endowment Account, and the Girls’ Education Fund. The former provides sponsorship within India, for one child and family at a time, community to community, and generation to generation, in perpetuity. The latter will support educational opportunities for girls and young women all around the world and not just India. There is indeed a strong possibility that some of the girls benefited by the Fund may become entrepreneurs or world leaders or award-winning scientists in the future, contributing to socio-economic development in the world, and keeping Varshita’s legacy alive. Readers are more than welcome to consider contributing to this Fund. Details and links are available on the webpage the hyperlink1 will take you to.
Gharkul – Varshita Venkatesh Children’s Fund2
The Varshita Venkatesh Children’s Fund, was instituted with Gharkul (www.gharkul.org), a special school for special children with the support of its founder, the self-effacing Sunil Satpute. Those keen on contributing just need to follow the hyperlink2 for the requisite details. Here, one sees a stark overlap between SDGs 3 and 4, as the beneficiaries are mentally-challenged children who are being educated at Gharkul’s school in western Mumbai.
Varshita Venkatesh Scholarship Fund for Excellence in Languages
This Scholarship has been instituted to reward excellence in languages – English, Hindi and Marathi – at my alma mater, Our Lady of Perpetual Succour High School, in Mumbai. Varshita was a polyglot – Norwegian, Spanish, English, Hindi, Bengali and a smattering of other Indian languages. There is a fond hope that the awardees will treasure the certificates they receive in Varshita’s name, and go forth to use their command over languages to communicate love, hope, joy and courage to the world, as Varshita did.
St Jude’s Children’s Research Centre
Now, this is offbeat. It is indirectly a fund, channelled through a book of poems3 on Varshita titled – Varshita – a tribute to my soulmate – and published by Lulu Inc., North Carolina, USA. The royalties will be directed to the St Jude’s Children’s Research Centre in Memphis (Tennessee, USA), and will benefit children who are suffering from cancer in the USA. Varshita downplayed her condition by saying that God after all let her live for 48.5 years; but takes away so many children at very young ages. Her last days were spent in styling ‘eyes’ for owl toys which were to be gifted to children suffering from cancer (or children of parents suffering from cancer) at the hospital for Christmas. We did not want to have children of our own as we thought it unconscionable to bring children into a world where millions were starving and suffering but considered the children of the world, our own.
Imran Khan Cancer Appeal, Inc. – Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital
The Varshita Venkatesh Memorial Fund4, set up within the Imran Khan Cancer Appeal Inc., with the support of Mariam Ibrahim Khan, has, using the crowdfunding approach, garnered funds to support breast cancer research and treatment in Pakistan. Varshita was a secular, global Indian and it is apt that the cool showers (her name means ‘rain’, in Sanskrit) of her goodness bless people the world over.
She became a Norwegian citizen in 2017 and philanthropy would be incomplete if it did not encompass Norway. The crowdfunding approach helped me to set up the Varshita Venkatesh Vision Fund for Sightsavers Norway, with the help of Øystein Samnoen. Poor children in Africa will be the beneficiaries in this case. Thanks to her, several African boys and girls will be able to watch movies, read books, admire paintings and be out in Nature, staring at mountains, marvelling at trees in the forests, and silently watching the rivers flow. Her memory will be honoured by the opening of the eyes of blind people, to hope in the future.
Health of animals – why just humans?6
As far as sustainable development goals go, this falls under the ‘Life on Land’ targets (SDG 15) associated with conservation of biodiversity (fauna in this case). An e-book of poems titled We came before you and other poems7, published when Varshita was boldly battling cancer in 2019, is for a charitable purpose in her honour – the royalties are directed to the noble work done by In Defence of Animals (India) in Mumbai. Varshita had a soft corner for animals and birds, and I am sure that the canines and the felines, using their sensitivity to those wavelengths which we do not hear, will communicate with her soul and say thanks.
Carrying the torch forward
Varshita’s concern and burning desire to make the world a better place to live in, which she shared with me, as true soulmates are often said to do, needs to be fulfilled by me. It is a job she has entrusted to me, without saying so explicitly.May God give me the courage and the ability, the thoughts and the gift of the gab, like-minded friends and the wherewithal, to continue doing more and more, in her honour and memory. If I need to leave footprints on the sands of time, may they also be accompanied by smaller ones belonging to Varshita – there used to be so many when we used to take our walks on seashores and beaches!
I am hopeful that friends and well-wishers will help me in these endeavours and keep the light shining, and the torch burning, as Varshita continues to shower her love from the welkin above, true to her name…