– Inspiring story of Madhuri Mody –
When Madhuri Mody smiles, her eyes twinkle and light up. She’s one of those people who exudes energy and enthusiasm that can mesmerize you. When asked to summarize her life, she smiled and said “Mine can be described as a beautiful life because I did what I loved and fell in love with what I did.”
We at the Senior Station spent a breezy Friday morning photographing Madhuri, who generously agreed to model for our page. While speaking to her about her life we realized very soon that Madhuri’s was a story truly worth sharing….
“I have spent 52 years of my life in Sri Lanka. And I am now a Sri Lankan citizen. So I guess that makes me more Sri Lankan (the country of her birth is India),” she says beaming. “While my growing years were indeed the most exciting, I think that my time spent in Sri Lanka has been the most fulfilling.
I was born in a little town called Nasik, which is located at the foothills of the Western Ghats mountain range, about 150 km East of Mumbai. It was an idyllic and innocent life, typical for any small town child. Cocooned in the protection of an indulgent extended family which included my parents, brother, four sisters, aunts and many cousins, my days were filled with play and laughter. All the children went to the town school which could best be described as a small building with a few rooms. However even then, I knew there were bigger and better things in store for me. I must say that I owe much to my father who encouraged me to pursue my every dream. When I was in the seventh grade I asked my father for a bicycle. He agreed to get me one, on one condition – that I would come first in class. The day I peddled to school on my brand new bicycle, I felt a gush of pride because I had won a hard earned prize. A passion for achievement began to bloom within my heart and I suddenly started to see opportunities everywhere I looked. Sanskrit was introduced in to our school about that time and I threw myself in to the subject. Not long after, I entered into a Sanskrit speaking competition and gave a speech entirely in Sanskrit on a national hero, Bal Gangadhar Tilak. I came third in the district!
The first major turning point in my life came when my family moved to Mumbai. To my young mind, the enormity of decision to move to this great metropolis was an eye opener and provided me with exposure to the larger world. Perhaps Mumbai then was far quieter than the overcrowded megapolis it is today, but for me, a little small town girl, it was an incredibly exciting new world. I enrolled myself in classes near my home where I was introduced to yoga and participated in a range of sports such as hockey and badminton. In college I thoroughly enjoyed sports and excelled in them all, playing inter college matches, and was the goal keeper of the hockey team. I think it was through sports that my personality truly blossomed and I never looked back.
One day I heard about the Bhosle Military School which ran regular military training camps for boys and girls. I convinced my cousin to cycle with me to the academy to collect a set of enrollment forms. It was almost 7 kilometers away from Nasik! My family members were furious when they found out that one of their girls wanted to undertake military training. However, once again my father took my side and supported me. I was able to attend a 20 day camp in which I was trained in archery, rifle shooting, horse riding and other military exercises. It was an exhilarating experience and inspired me to enroll in the NCC (National Cadet Corps). My moment of pride was when I was one amongst just eight girls who were selected to represent the State of Maharashtra at the annual Republic Day Parade in New Delhi.
The Republic Day Parade is perhaps the largest public event in India in which all states compete in cultural and military displays. That year, Maharashtra won first place in the parade and to my astonishment and delight I was chosen to collect the trophy from the then Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. Oh what a special moment that was! The joy and pride I felt cannot be described in words. That moment will always be etched in my memory.
My mother was the person who taught me the skills that a young woman needed. I soon grew in to a young woman of marriageable age and finding a good alliance for me preoccupied my parents and other elders in the family. I was presented with many fine suitors and whilst I knew marriage was inevitable, I turned every proposal down for the fear of my dreams being stifled within the confines of married life. But all that resistance changed the day I met Kirti.
Kirti was different from all the men I had met. I wouldn’t say my heart went in to a flutter when I saw him. He was tall, but not really handsome. There was however, a pleasantness about him. He was intelligent, kind and humorous – very solid in a quiet sort of way. He came from a family that was learned, well traveled and in many ways very progressive. My father had learnt that society in Sri Lanka allowed many more freedoms for women and knowing my strong headed ways, advised me that perhaps this would be the ideal match for me. Things moved very quickly from there and before I knew it, I was married to Kirti and moved to Sri Lanka. The second big turning point in my life!
Sri Lanka was a whole new learning experience for me. I don’t think I would have found it easy to adjust if not for absolute support I got from my new family and most of all from Kirti. My big disappointment however, came when my father-in-law refused to allow me to work in the family business. I decided instead of feeling sorry for myself, I would find other ways to spread my wings. I took up various crafts, and learnt the local language and as much as I could about Sri Lanka. I learnt about Ayurveda and acupuncture and almost became professional in the fields. However, not too long after marriage, my son Sandeep, and then daughter Deepali, came along and consumed all my time and attention.
It was being married to Kirti though, that made everything perfect. He was a truly noble man. He was a wonderful father and husband. My children doted over him and I felt completely secure in his care. Kirti recognized my many talents and encouraged me to use them. I participated in the activities of the Gujarati Mandal in Colombo where I taught Indian dancing, which I learnt in my youth. I also was one of the founders of the Sri Lanka chapter of the Chinmaya Mission which promotes the study of ancient Vedic scriptures. You could say I am a spiritual explorer, and was interested in ways to connect with the divine. This interest cuts across religions. For example, ever since I was young, I have been interested in Sufi philosophy and many other spiritual teachers.
At 56, I faced the most dramatic and traumatic turning point in my life. In 1996 Kirti was struck with cancer and after two heartbreaking years he left us. My world was shattered! My soul mate, my mentor and my dearest friend and husband was gone. I felt completely crushed and thought I would never survive without him. But I found the courage largely thanks to my children as well as a final letter from Kirti encouraging me to stay strong and independent. I especially drew a lot of strength from my daughter Deepali who stayed rock solid by my side, though she refused to pamper me. Sometimes I resented that she would not step in to share in my responsibilities. In hindsight I realized she was just helping me get strong again.
About this time, the family business and assets had been divided amongst the various family members. I took charge of Kirti’s share and restructured the business to make it more profitable. I managed the finances, negotiated new transaction terms and sorted out all the tax and legal issues that arose from Kirti’s passing away. It was no easy task for me as I was not well versed with the business and therefore I was particularly proud of how I executed it all.
After Kirti passed away, I learnt to reinvent myself personally as well. I made new friends and looked at new ways to grow intellectually and spiritually. I was one of the early members of the Theosophical Society as well as the SAARC Women’s Organization. I still dance at Gujarati Festivals and am learning to play the harmonium. I am also very closely involved with charitable institutions that helps those who are suicidal and suffer from deep emotional distress. Otherwise I fill my days with reading authors like Deepak Chopra, Vimala Thakker, Kambiz Naficy, J Krishnamurthi, and the publications of the Chinmaya Mission. I also enjoy being connected with friends through What’s App and emails.
A friend has nicknamed me ‘Ever-ready’. I suppose it’s because I am always willing to try something new. I guess I am just trying to keep my life meaningful.”
-As narrated by Madhuri Mody