She is 82 years old.
She is virtually blind now, depriving her of the ability to even watch television.
She is alone the whole day as the son and daughter-in-law she lives with are both working.
She has no grandchildren to entertain and keep her company at home.
Yet, she is Malaysia’s very own Prabhudeva! So much so that I would say to the real Prabhudeva, “Move over! You have more than met your match.”
Meet Prabhavanti Patel, an octogenarian who may have a fragile body but one, which has a spirit embodied that will put youngsters in the shade!
Prabha Mami (Mami means maternal aunt) is not called Prabhudeva affectionately for nothing! All you have to do is take a look at the cover image on this post to see for yourself. By the way, the younger woman in the picture is her daughter, Varsha Samji.
Born on February 13, 1933 in Mandalay (the last royal capital of what was once Burma), Prabhavanti spent the first 6 years of her life in the country, which is now known as Myanmar.
In 1939, she moved to her Mama’s (maternal uncle) house in Gondal, Gujarat because her mother took ill. Perhaps the move was a blessing in disguise as the move coincided with the outbreak of World War II.
Prabha Mami grew up in Gondal and Jetpur in the Indian State of Gujarat.
When she was 19, she arrived in Malaysia as a young bride. That was in 1952.
Imagine a starry-eyed, young girl with the hope of life shining out from her eyes. Actually, you don’t need to imagine. Here are some pictures of the young Prabha Mami. Take a look for yourself. See the innocence? See the bright, sparkling eyes?
I have an even better image in store for you below. It appears that young girls down the ages are the same, playing ‘dress-up.’
Take a look at this amazing picture of Prabha Mami and Leela Mami (watch out for her story in tomorrow’s post) dressed up in Western clothes. There they are, two young girls imagining themselves to be Madhubala or Nargis,* behind closed doors!
I was blown away when I was shown this picture. So heartwarming! Especially when you consider the conservative Indian society of the 1950s and 60s. Not just that. You have to also consider that Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) tend to be even more conservative as they get caught in a cultural time warp, defined by the year they left their homeland.
Prabha Mami’s playful spirit has stayed just the way the picture depicts.
She adjusted to living in a large joint family in Malacca.
She adjusted to being a mother of 2 sons and 1 daughter.
She adjusted to times when money was short after the family business broke up. I have heard that she has seen days when she had to scrounge around for pennies to run the household. Not an easy thing to do for a girl who was born into a very rich family in Burma.
She adjusted to being a widow when her husband passed away in 1993.
But she never lost her spirit and her zest for life.
Prabha Mami loves life so much that even language never poses a barrier.
In around 2013, she went to Sydney for a vacation (her daughter, Varsha Samji) is settled there. In Sydney, she met Crystal Fickers (Trishay Trada’s bride-to-be). Crystal neither speaks or understands Gujarati. Prabha Mami has no English to speak of. Yet, the two hit it off and a bond was formed. Crystal calls her and Leela Mami the ‘2 Ba’s’ (Ba is a Gujarati word for mother).
Here are some more pictures, which speak of the feelings there. No words needed.
Do I need to say more about Malaysia’s very own Prabhudeva?
Yes, I do. I need to share with you that in the two odd months I have been in Kuala Lumpur, I speak to Prabha Mami at least once a day. Typically, the conversation with a chirpy Prabha Mami goes something like this…
Jai Shri Krishna! Lata Bahen, khem cho? Khana khaya? Translated, that reads, “Salutations of Lord Krishna. How are you? Have you had your meal?
Then she will go on to sing a few lines from a popular Bollywood song to me on the phone.
The daily conversations I have been having with her warm my soul.
I am going to miss that when I go back to Mumbai, India.
Prabha Mami, what else can I say but that YOU ROCK! Just like you are rocking here in this photograph of you, all dressed up in traditional Burmese costume. A real ROCK STAR!
#NRI #MigrantStories #MigrantHeroes
Author’s Note: This is the second in a series on Lata Wonders on the courage and sacrifices made by first and second generation migrants to enable succeeding generations to lead a better quality of life. The first post was Fly, little one, fly!
Featured Cover Image Credit: Prabhudeva in action at Crystal’s Mehndi July 29 2015. Image from Wedding Album.
*Madhubala and Nargis were famous Bollywood female actors in that era.