City Obituary - Shree Kumari Pandey, Gurgaon

City Obituary – Shree Kumari Pandey, Gurgaon

City Obituary - Shree Kumari Pandey, Gurgaon

”Jagat mummy”

[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]

The world is the size of each person’s head. An entire universe has been lost with her passing. Shree Kumari Pandey died on Thursday, aged 97. She is survived by US-based son Gyanendra, and Delhi-based daughters Gayatri, Geetanjali, and Jayanti. The Delhi Walla had interviewed Shree Kumari during the first Covid lockdown four years ago, meeting her remotely through WhatsApp video—see photo. Outliving the pandemic, she passed peacefully on her bed surrounded by loved ones, including devoted attendant Bittan, who massaged her daily with coconut oil, aloe vera cream and calendula.

Shree Kumari’s long life had the sweep of an epic novel, witnessing all the defining episodes of contemporary India. Born to a Benares college principal, she married Anirudh—then an army officer, later a bureaucrat—with whom she lived through the partition riots in Calcutta. The couple spent a lifetime in UP cities—Bareilly, Muzaffarnagar, Aligarh, Budaun, Mainpuri, Fatehpur—until the husband retired as a district magistrate in Allahabad. Eventually they moved to the Delhi home of their eldest child, son Shailendra. Shree Kumari’s husband died in 2002. After the eldest son’s passing six years ago, she settled with daughters Geetanjali and Jayanti in a Gurugram apartment.

The wider world might actually be familiar with Shree Kumari’s middle daughter, who took on her mother’s first name as her last name. Although Geetanajli Shree’s debut novel was titled Mai, Shree Kumari herself was always “mummy” to her five children. She was ‘mummy” to a wider circle of acquaintances as well, who sometimes called her the “Jagat mummy,” mother of the world.

A passionate reader, Shree Kumari’s beloved writers included Manto, Tagore and Premchand, but she had pursuits outside the literature, too. She played “saanp seedi” with daughters, crooned film songs, and loved imitating the famous head-shake of her movie idol Rajesh Khanna. Lately, as a private joke within the family, she would mimic Geetanjali’s “Booker smile”—it was the smile that appeared in Geetanjali’s most circulated photo in 2022 after being awarded with the International Booker Prize for her novel Ret Samadhi, aka Tomb of Sand. Talking of her mother, the novelist compares her to “a beautiful tree in the garden, gentle shade and soft breeze.”

One evening, Jayanti conducted a “pretend interview” with “mummy” in the drawing room, asking her, ‘Aapko kaisa laga ki aapki beti ki rachna ko Booker prize se nawaza gaya? (How did you feel on your daughter’s creation being graced with the Booker”)? Shree Kumari replied: “Woh to milna hee tha! Aakhir Geetanjali meri rachna jo hai (She had to get it! After all, Geetanjali is my creation).”