A life unfinished

cc (1)Charusita Chakravarty, Professor of Chemistry at the IIT Delhi died last Tuesday, 29 March 2016.

Charu and I were married in 1992. In early 2013, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, the triple-negative subtype.  She won many battles against this form of the cancer, but in the end, we lost the war.

She would have been fifty-two this coming May.

Maudlin lines from a 1970’s novel run through my mind… morphing along the way to: What can you say about a fifty-one-year-old woman who died? That she was smart, witty, beautiful. And brilliant. That she loved Eliot and Tagore. And Kabir.  And life.

And that she was a scientist who cared passionately about her work, her teaching, her students, that last scientific paper, that seminar given at the last conference. That she brought intensity and genuineness to everything she did, from chemistry to cooking.

The last few years were a struggle against odds, but not always overshadowed by what we both knew. She found the time and the strength to do some of the many things she wanted. And made time for people, for friends.

The memorial service for her on Saturday included poetry which she truly enjoyed. Friends and family read out verses she loved or would have loved, and I know that she would have been surprised and pleased by some of the selections. Particularly these lines from Margaret Mead,

Remember me in your heart, your thoughts, your memories of the times we loved,
the times we cried, the times we fought, the times we laughed.
For if you always think of me, I will never be gone.

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30 thoughts on “A life unfinished

  1. Do not stand at my grave and weep.
    I am not there; I do not sleep.
    I am a thousand winds that blow.
    I am the diamond glints on snow.
    I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
    I am the gentle autumn rain.

    When you awaken in the morning’s hush
    I am the swift uplifting rush
    Of quiet birds in circled flight.
    I am the soft stars that shine at night.
    Do not stand at my grave and cry;
    I am not there; I did not die

    she is everywhere

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  2. In my last visit to JNU, I tried to meet you sir. One of your colleagues told me about the problem. I realized how much pain you have been going through. May her soul rest in peace.

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  3. I was not that lucky to get a chance to interact much with Charu ma’am… But one thing which will always remain in my mind and heart – when I recited my first poem at IITD, she was the only one among all faculty members who enjoyed my poem as other students did… Not for a single moment did I feel that she was a FACULTY MEMBER…. She became a student among students…. So full of life…. May her soul rest in peace!

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  4. Feeling sad for Ma’am’s untimely demise. May her soul rest in peace. Remembering the good old days when she taught us Chemistry in the IITD lab.

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  5. My sincere condolences. I was not fortunate to know her personally; it is obvious she was a much loved academic, by her colleagues and students alike. And certainly I can sense the love and deep affection you two shared. The memories of these, I hope, will keep you strong and continue celebrating life.

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  6. Charu was my colleague for almost twenty two years and we taught a few courses together apart from discussing/debating/arguing on many issues – academic and nonacademic. Though we were aware of her poor health, we never thought that the end would come so sudden. Charu remained remarkably brave all these three years while fighting her illness. She never compromised on her work as a teacher or a researcher. Till the end, she played an active part in all academic matters.
    It has been rightly said that nothing is unimportant.

    Does early death come
    as a punishment?
    Or
    Does it come too late,
    for those who are tortured
    by incurable pain?
    Is death really cruel?
    Or
    Is it merciful?

    From the Poems of Gitanjali, a teenager who lost her life in the late seventies due to cancer.

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  7. Works not completed,
    Not lost
    Rivers ending in desert,
    Not lost
    Unfurled fallen flowers
    Not lost

    Rabindranath Tagore …. poor transliteration

    Admiration and condolence

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  8. Sir,
    Was surprised when the first tears came when I heard her gone. Did only get to talk to her for a few times when I came to meet you.
    I will always remember her as a very warm person. Truly saddened by your loss

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  9. Like many, I have been fortunate to be her student, feel inspired and admire her for all that she taught and shared with us.
    Prayers and condolences.

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  10. When I entered in IITD, during my Phd interview , 9th June 2010, among all the faculty members of chemistry, only Charusita ma’am was there who encouraged me because I was speaking in Hindi. I was nervous during interview but only because of ma’am, I gave my answers in Hindi confidently. She saw my certificates and praised me. I really liked her and I never felt any fear from her. She was my role model in IITD. I will never forget her. RIP

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  11. Please accept my deepest condolences. I was not fortunate to have any interaction with her, but I gather that she was a much loved person. I heard nothing but praise for her – from her students (Ruchi and others) and colleagues. I tried to get her to speak at workshop I organized, but she was probably not well at that time. May her soul rest in peace.

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  12. I could not believe my ears when I heard about Charusita Ma’am’s demise. Such a talented scientist, teacher and such a warm person taken away so early………rest in peace Ma’am. My heartfelt condolences to you Sir and your family.

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  13. Jeez, Ram. My condolences.

    I feel a part of your loss and that itself is weighty. Getting immersed back in work and intensifying the efforts to achieve whatever you both dreamed about, but could not in full, is, I guess your chore right now. All the very best in that. Wish to see you at the earliest and see the familiar Ram…

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  14. An ode to a brief and beautiful memory in a beautiful place on a beautiful day, Cambridge 1984 with Charusita Chakravarty. May you find peace. Vidya Raghunathan, NII

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  15. कभी किसी का यूँ ही चले जाना, बीत जाना उतना याद नहीं आता, जितना किसी का लम्बे समय से जाने की तैयारी के बाद जाना. दिल्ली आई आई टी की प्रोफेसर डॉ चारुसीता चक्रवर्ती नहीं ही जी पाएंगी, हम सबको मालूम था, हैदराबाद से ही मालूम था, पर पता नहीं कैसे एक भ्रम सा था कि चाहे जैसे हो वे बच जाएँगी, कुछ साल और. अब मेरे व्हाट्स एप्प पर कविता की मनुहार करने वाला कोई सन्देश कभी नहीं आयेगा, कभी कोई नहीं कहेगा कि एक्टू खानिक ट्रांस्लेशोंन टा कोरे दाओ, आमाय बूझिये दाओ, शोना” अचानक कोई एस एम् एस नहीं आयेगा कि सुनो तो तुमने फलां पोलिश कवि को पढ़ा है, या कबीर की कौन सी कविता तुम्हें अच्छी लगती है बताओ तो.इस एक साल में कई दोस्त खो दिए मैंने. अब दोस्ती से भय लगता है, न जाने किसका हाथ कब छूट जाए, पसीने से भीगी ठंडी हथेली पर तुरंत रखे हाथ का स्पर्श महसूस ही होता रह जाये, बांह उठा कर कह भी तो पाऊं -सुनो तो,इतनी जल्दी मत जाओ, अभी बहुत कुछ कहना, सुनना-सुनाना शेष है. वो चली ही गयी हैं और नहीं आयेंगी, कैंसर से लड़ती देह ने जवाब दे दिया है, पर मेरी स्मृति में जीने की चाह लिए डबडबायी आँखें टंक गयी हैं. मन घुट रहा है. इस तरह भी जाता है कोई. हमें तो जे एन यू में कई बातें करनी थीं, कांधे पर सर धरकर रोना था, हँसना-मुस्कुराना था, एक बार लौट पाएंगी क्या, जी भरकर देख ही लूं आपको …

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  16. I had the privilege to work with Charu when both of us were postdocs in Santa Barbara. More than 20 years later (2014) fate brought me to Delhi so I contacted her and I’m grateful for having had the opportunity of meeting Charu again and bringing up old memories. May her soul rest in peace !

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  17. I knew her as Mauri my dear childhood friend. Her calling my name Raama in her lilting Bengali voice still echoes in my ears. So many evenings playing as little girls together. Her passion for books even as a little girl, and her coverage on the news when she topped the Delhi board as a teenager. Unassuming and self effacing. Our paths crossed briefly again as students in college and then I lost touch. I now hear this with a really heavy heart. May your soul rest in peace, my brilliant Mauri.

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  18. From this year onwards, the Charusita Memorial Lectures will be organized at her undergraduate college, St. Stephen’s (Delhi University). Here is a link to the inaugural lecture that was given by Professor Richard Zare of Stanford University, on 31/1/2017:

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  19. Very painful to read the above expressions about the memories of Prof. Charusita Chakarvarty with them. I personally do not know much about her but have heard about her talent from people belonging to IIT Delhi and going through the institute website as an IITian my self from IIT Delhi. It will be a great loss to science and her family members in particular. She was having remarkable academic career and could have given more to the field. It is really very sad to learn about her demise so early in her life (just 52 years). May her soul rest in peace.

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