Rajeev Srinivasan's personal tribute to his late friend.
Varsha had a distinct, trademark, booming greeting for me: She'd call me on the phone and positively bellow, "Raaaaj!" with that twinkle in her eye that I could almost hear over the phone. Nobody has ever called me that, but I didn't dare tell her to call me by my full name: She was not to be trifled with, and she would do things her own way, come hell or high water.
And so she went the same way, taking her own life with a gun. It is hard to believe that that booming voice, that infectious chuckle, that unshakeable spirit, is gone forever. She swept through life like an irresistible force: I used to call her Typhoon Varsha. She was one of those large, Earth-Mother type women with an infectious laugh, who would brook no argument.
The last time I spoke with her was a few months ago, and she told me she was working on a cookbook, and was almost finished with it. She mentioned nagging health problems, including surgery that had gone awry: She was still in great pain.
I used to call her now and then at her Mumbai residence, on Peddar Road if I remember right. But I was defeated by her Oriya maid, who was zealous in the defence of her mistress's privacy, and treated all callers with suspicion. Between her broken Hindi and my broken Hindi, I could not convey that I was not trying to sell anything and was actually a good friend of Varsha's. So I gave up, and had to wait for Varsha's infrequent calls.
Strangely, for two people who were friends for over 15 years, we never ever met in person. Once, on a visit from San Francisco, I landed up in Mumbai and called her -- but she was busy that day and couldn't meet. And we never managed to meet up later although we kept planning that we would on one of her innumerable trips with her mother, some of whose shows and albums she produced.
As a human being, she was warm and generous; this surprises people because they have been conditioned to believe that right-wing Hindus are mean, noxious people. In fact, Varsha was the very exemplar of what Hindutva is -- an accepting, broad-minded and tolerant point of view; a Hindu fundamentalist is one who accepts that there are many paths to the Truth, although he or she may prefer his/her own.
Those who think Varsha was some kind of religious bigot should know that she was once engaged to be married to a famous musician of another religion. In addition, she used to defend a person of the Communist religion whom I considered a pill of the first order. She knew his absurd political views, but she had a soft corner for him as a person.
Apart from Varsha's humanity, of course, what captivated her many admirers was her lion-hearted defence of Hinduism, and of the idea of India. For years, whenever I happened to mention her on my blog, I have been getting many anxious queries from people about how she was doing. Obviously she touched a chord, and she articulated what a lot of people felt.
And that is what brought Varsha and me together: she, daughter of the soil, and proud of the martial past of the Marathas, and me, a long-term exile who had gradually come to understand what India meant to me, and to the world. We shared a fierce love for India, she with her signature passion, and me with a little more scepticism.
I learned from her about things that have been obscured by malign textbook-writers and a lapdog media. I heard from her about Veer Savarkar, who has been demonised by sarkari, motivated historians. I heard about Kala Pani, the notorious prison in the Andamans. And I told her about the Battle of Colachel, and Marthanda Varma, and little Travancore's great victory in 1741CE over the Dutch.
We discussed the writings of Sita Ram Goel and Dharampal; and we were optimistic that if only that single missing, magic ingredient were to be found -- leadership -- India would once again rise from the ruins.
We looked forward to the day that India became a leading economy and power in the world. Those were heady days, some years ago, when liberalisation was beginning to bear fruit, and Indians were beginning to show that they could be among the world's winners: First in high technology, and then in other areas as Indian-origin CEOs began to lead big global firms.
I used to enjoy discussing my columns with her; once she even played a prank on me, parodying one of mine with one of hers. Together with a few others, we thought we could help provide an alternative point of view, one that celebrated the native genius of the country, which gave the Hindu-Buddhist tradition the position of primus inter pares as we navigated the Huntingtonian clash of civilisations.
But alas, at the height of her popularity, and at around 45, at the height of her intellectual fire-power, Varsha stopped writing. She retreated from the Internet as well -- no more e-mail, and certainly no Facebook or Twitter. In a sense, she was like a shooting star, one that illumined the path, and then disappeared all too quickly. Perhaps it was better that way, that she did not decline, or become senile, or become co-opted, as many others do. We can still remember her the way she was, from the fiery archives of her columns that Rediff.com has preserved.
Varsha's all-too-brief life reminds us that the path of Dharma is difficult. I have written about others who trod the path of Truth, bearing their crown of thorns -- for instance, Professor Eachara Warrier, who for 30 years demanded the truth from the State about his 'disappeared' son, and whom the State stonewalled till he died. Like Warrier, Varsha Bhosle was also a hero of mine.
Godspeed, dear Varsha. There is a place for you in the Great White Space in the Sky reserved for patriots.