KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
We arrived at Bharat Kumar’s just as planned, and on time. Luckily, the dizziness that came on in Annapolis didn’t develop into anything serious and I was in fine form when we greeted our old friend. I had not seen Bharat since we met up in Delhi in 1999, but Anil had visited Washington in 2001 on his own. Luckily, Bharat has been reading my journal so he had seen a photo of us so he wasn’t shocked to see the changes that the years have brought.
Anil’s friendship with Bharat goes back to his days as a new student at Delhi University in 1963. Anil arrived in July from Patna to study Physics at the ripe old age of fifteen. He turned sixteen a few months later in September. A close friendship developed between Anil, Bharat and another Physics major, Balaji Doraiswamy. The three stayed fast friends over intervening years, until Balaji’s untimely death from a brain tumor in early 2002.
I first met this amazing duo when we stopped in Washington on our way to India for our wedding in 1974. Bharat was married to a wonderful woman, Helene, and Balaji was still a bachelor. Helene and I had great fun watching the three amigos reminisce about their college days together. Anil and I returned a few years later with our baby daughter Adia and then again in 1989 with our son Raj. By this time Bharat had a son Sean and Balaji was married to Lalita, with two children Meera and Ashwin. Balaji was working for the US State Department and had just finished an overseas posting and had returned to Washington. It was quite an eventful meeting because the afternoon we arrived; Balaji’s young son Ashwin has just fallen from a second-floor window while jumping on a bed. He had flown against a screen that gave way and failed to keep him from falling. He landed on the paved parking lot below. Everyone was alarmed that he might suffer brain damage from a severe bump on his head.
Balaji was working at the US Embassy in Sri Lanka when he was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor and he returned to the States for surgery. It was a very sad time for everyone. Anil made a trip to see his dear friend when it was clear there was no chance for recovery. I always knew when Balaji was the person on the other end of a call to Anil. There is no one, before or since, who could make Anil giggle (that’s the only way I can describe his laugh) the way he would when Balaji called. We all miss him terribly.
Bharat was kind enough to arrange for us to get together with Helene and Sean for brunch the day after we arrived. Helene and Bharat parted ways many years ago, but have stayed friends through the years. Sean has grown to be a fine young man, a successful lawyer busy with work, his new home in the old neighbourhood not far from his mother’s home and as an ardent supporter of Barack Obama. In fact, he was busy planning a fundraiser to be held at this home a few days later.
The same evening, we drove over to see Lalita Doraiswamy. This is the first time we have seen her since Balaji passed away and it was bittersweet. We were delighted that Ashwin delayed his Saturday night plans for a short time, in order to meet us too. I am happy to report that there was no permanent damage from that incredible fall and he has grown to be a handsome and articulate young man. His sister, Meera is working for the US State Department, following in her father’s footsteps and was recently married and posted to work in Mumbai. Lalita is a teacher in an elementary school and she and Anil had a chat about the challenges of teaching young children.
I didn’t mention that Bharat had just retired after working as an environmental engineer for the government in Washington. For many years, he had been responsible for seeing that the White House and The Capital Building were cool in the summer months and warm in the winter. Bharat has been an avid restorer of old homes over the years and continues to maintain them for the tenants who rent his properties. We had some interesting discussions about the recent downturn in the housing market and it was then that we learned that his condo in Myrtle Beach was not his only investment in the resort region of South Carolina. Here we were, homeless by choice. This led to plenty of conversations about the pros and cons of investing in real estate.
For the last twenty years, Bharat has had a keen interest in many forms of dance, starting out with country line dancing in the late 1980s. He is now keen on a form of dancing that was developed in Myrtle Beach called ‘shag dancing’. We get such a kick out of the name of this dance, for obvious reasons. Whenever Bharat says he’s going ‘shagging’ we can’t help giggling. With retirement looming, Bharat decided that he needed a new hobby and decided to take up golf. He has taken a couple of lessons and spent several hours at the driving range working on his swing. However, he had never been to a golf course and we were determined to get him started.
Ever since we got in touch with Bharat and told him we were coming to see him in Washington, the plan had been for us to travel together to Myrtle Beach to see his condo there and visit another part of the US that we had never seen before. When we visited in 1989, we spent a week touring the Civil War Battlefields on our own and ended up at Virginia Beach. That was the furthest south we have ever been along the Atlantic coast. A trip to Myrtle Beach would take us through the entire state of North Carolina and into the northern part of South Carolina. We set off on Monday morning for the long drive; it takes about seven and a half hours to cover the distance.