I’m intrigued by the fact that some of my lifelong friendships have just “happened”.
It was in the second half of July 1955, that my mother came visiting. I was a student in Germany and we’d planned a trip through Western Europe during my summer vacation. Accordingly, I received her in Rome. We then decided to take a tour to Naples, Amalfi, Capri, etc. Our group consisted of some sixteen-odd people – Americans, Argentinians, Lebanese and of course, us Indians.
It was in Naples that a young lady joined the group. Meet Ms Esty Epstein, who would become my friend for life. Correction, she became a family friend, who came to know four generations of Thakores! We were only together for four (or was it three?) days, but the bonds of friendship had already taken root.
All I knew about her personal life was that she was a French Jew who migrated to the US after WWII, having lost practically her whole family in the Holocaust. But she held no grudges against anyone. Photography was her passion, even her profession. true to her French blood, she loved Art and Culture and going to the Opera and the like. Well, that was in 1955. We kept in touch thereafter, through regular correspondence, exchanging minute details of our ongoing lives.
Then, in 1963, I embarked on a long business trip which would take us to the US via Japan and then, onwards to Europe. It was during this trip that the real Esty came to fore. We were in New York for all of ten days and she enthusiastically took us around every where – either by subway or on foot (she never owned a car). And all of this on weekends, or after office hours. I still vividly remember the day JFK was shot. Having finished our work day early, my colleague and I walked out of our hotel to window-shop, when a stranger came across and said “Isn’t it shocking, the President has been shot!” I thought he meant the Indian president, when he quickly explained he meant Kennedy. We saw crowds gathering around a shop selling TVs and quickly moved over. Upon hearing the news, a black lady broke down, sobbing uncontrollably. We returned to our hotel and I called Esty in her office. She had already heard the news and came over to be with us. We actually saw live (perhaps the next day) when Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald as he was being taken into custody!
Our stay in New York over, we were to catch a midnight flight to Europe. Esty took a cab all the way tooth airport just to see us off. And it was her very thoughtful gesture that touched me and has stayed with me to date; my colleague, whom she’d not known before, was a strict vegetarian and she knew he wouldn’t be comfortable with the airline meals, so she brought him a bag full of apples! And thus ended our second meeting in person.
She liked to travel a lot and would narrate all her experiences in letters. Sadly, she never visited India. She was naturally very excited about going to France – the country of her birth – and loved Paris no end.
I met her for the last time in the year 1989, in July, when I visited the US along with my wife and our two daughters for my son’s graduation. Esty met my wife and daughters for the first time then. We were together for about a week, including a memorable visit to Staten Island. After 1989, we never could meet in person but remained in contact, mainly through the mail but also over the phone, when I’d enquire about her health.
When my son did visit her with his wife and daughter, she remarked that it was our fourth generation that she was meeting.
In her later years, she suffered from poor health and was often hospitalised but nothing could stop her from being cheerful and always smiling. She was in her nineties when she breathed her last two years ago.
A point I would to stress is that in a friendship lasting 59 years, we were actually together for less than three weeks!
Well Esty, I’m sure your smile must have infected the angels around you and I’m sure when we meet, you will bestow it upon me, too. Till then…