I almost knew the news coming, but it still shook me. I stopped working, went out for some air, came back and sat, feeling a little guilty, sad, and so much missing.
We remember people not so much for their accolades and ranks, as we do for the way they made us feel. For the person she was to us and for the way she made us all feel, I owe her this one.
Dr. Priya Hosali already had our expectations flying with what we heard of her from our seniors. So she was the celebrity prof. we looked forward to meeting, following all that fanfare. And we finally did. A petite, lovely, woman in her early 70s, surveying us with sharp eyes. We stuck to the details in our shameless gapes: fluffily beautiful white hair, huge, framed glasses, the hint of a smile, and an aura we knew we would love to bits.
It’s next to impossible not to love a darling like her. Word went around that the optional phonetics professor was the new love in town! Class after class, we had stories to share, eventually ending up her being referred to as a doll. She showed us how you could enviously age with all the grace in the world. She shared her love for cats with us, made it a point to remember the tiniest of details about us, and above all, made us total fans of her particulars, which could easily have backfired as irritating.
To start with, her darling highness arrived in a cab which drove her from her home 30 KMs away from our University. She would wait outside her cab until someone came to collect her bag and walk her to class. You had to hold her bag at precisely 90 degrees; no tilts. She would hand over her bag like she knew she was granting a desperate wish of yours. If you think she was being pompous, know this, we stood in line to hold her bag, sometimes raced to hold it first, so we could talk to her on the way in or out, to get more of that cuteness. While chalk powder would ruin her hair-day and she hated it for that, we still found a way around. Her classes were worth pining for, and she made sure we loved them each day the same, or more.
She had special ways of addressing us, a way that made us love our names all the more…The ‘Mr. Chatterjee'(with an ‘I know what you’ve been up to’ look), ‘Ameena’ (as opposed to ‘Amina’), ‘Deboo Rooyy’ (‘Deboo Roy) and of course, I always loved how she called me ‘Tisha John’ with that emphasis on the surname. She eventually also started calling me ‘Kehaar’, which was the name of a character in a book/movie I had to do for her presentation. Needless to say, I loved that too.
She made us pine so much before she finally brought us an old photograph of hers (always referring to her younger self as ‘when I was young and beautiful like you’ and enacting an hour-glass figure action simultaneously). She gave us stories of sharing tea with Noam Chomsky in a ‘dirty little restaurant in Hyderabad’. Her scariest nights were those when she had to go to bed without her dinner juice due to the thunder which scared her or when her cab driver took ill and a new one was assigned, all without a prior 24 hours notice to her. Of course, we loved her more each time she shared these, and waited until we opened the cab door for her highness, eyeing the poor, replacement driver with distrust for what clearly was not his fault. She also took compliments like a pro when someone commented on how pretty her pearl necklace or shawl looked. Our ma’am would run her fingers gracefully over her pearl necklace, give us a flash of that magic smile and reply, “I know”.
One of the best memories of her I would take home was the pure joy I saw on her face while she watched a small intro to the animated movie, Watership Down, I played as part of my presentation. She positively looked annoyed when I stopped playing it to continue with the presentation. I remember running after her to ask how I did and she told me coyly, ‘I gave you a good score’. I was left trying to define her ‘good’. She gave me an 18/20.
She loved to toy with us as much as we loved to toy with her. We loved her maid Johnson, whom we never got to meet. We loved to pull her leg asking whether we could meet her at her home and her highness would generously invite us over to a posh club near her home. Treats on her.
We heard stories, sometimes even beyond class hours, of her cat, April, of her life in the UK as part of her Ph.D., and of the number of men she turned down without a second glance!
She was a darling, we loved her as much as she loved us. The one professor whose classes we rushed to reach on time, the one class we loved to sit down for, the stories that never lost their charm even on their nth narrations. Her basic-model mobile which she would lift carefully to answer, her annoyance with promotional calls/messages, her refusal to change her tattered bag, her magic smiles, her clever silences, her innocent woes on life…oh the list is listless! Her age never posed a difficulty for us to connect with her. While she was a legend in her field, we loved her even more for the beautiful person she was.
We remember people not so much for their accolades and ranks, as much as we do for the way they made us feel. For the person she was to us, how she made us all feel, I owe her this one.
Dr. Priya Hosali, we love you. We’ll miss you.