AHEAD OF HER TIME
HOW OUR MOTHER LIVED HER LIFE AND SHAPED HER LEGACY
By Amrit and Pooja
(Followed by comments by her relatives and close friends on their personal interactions with Pushpa Kishore Mehta)
Those who knew and loved our mother well affectionately called her, “I know”. She had this uncanny ability to weigh in on any topic, and provide her point of view. It was part wisdom, part hunger to share what she had learned, and part well-intentioned desire to genuinely help others. The truth is she was decades ahead of her time. In a world where it was neither expected nor customary for a woman to have a strong point of view, she always had one, and sometimes it took people aback. So be it!
Born on October 8th, 1947 in Karachi, she blazed a new trail right from the beginning. Her mother stayed back in Karachi to give birth to her in uncertain conditions post-partition. She narrated to us how her pregnant mother had to wear a burqa (abaya) at times to protect herself and her child. After her birth, both mother and daughter flew to Bombay. She was born Pushpa Hiranand Nasta, and was doted on and loved by her family, especially her father, who we affectionately called Baba. During one of his trips to Europe, Baba bought her a small ride-on-horse toy that she kept as a memory till this date. We would often joke with our mother that she never stopped being a spoilt child, intent on getting her way, but the fact is she was always a rebel, often with a good cause.
She received a top notch education at Auxilium Convent, and subsequently a BA with a Major in Psychology at the St Xaviers College. A top student, she excelled at maths and algebra, receiving 100% marks in school in both subjects, and often among the top 3 in her class. She wanted to be a doctor, but that would entail several years of study, and a delayed marriage, so her parents persuaded her to do a BA instead. She did well at that too, and also attained a Masters program in Management several years later, going back to college with our Dad, while Pooja and Amrit were 2 and 6 years old. We share this because she prized the pursuit of academic and career goals and instilled that in us right from the beginning. We are convinced in a different generation, or a different time under different circumstances, our mother would have been a top surgeon, a CEO of a major corporation or a successful lawyer – her father was a lawyer and her grandfather a judge. She had the intellect, the street smarts, the fortitude and the tenacity to accomplish anything.
Her marriage to our father was the stuff of fairly tales. She was his teenage infatuation, and they often spoke of how she was in Auxilium Convent when he was an engineering student at VJTI, and he would take the same BEST bus so he could see her daily. Several years later, when he returned from England after his Master’s degree, he wrote letters to our nana (Baba) asking for her hand in marriage. Baba was sufficiently impressed by this young, educated, articulate, handsome, tall young man and agreed to the proposal. They got married January 5th, 1969, and the romance continued. Their anniversaries were always special occasions, and our father often came home with flowers, a cake and a present.
We always had a working mother. When our father decided to start a business in the 1980s, she worked alongside him to set up and grow the family business. After all, they had been to management school together and were putting their education into practice as entrepreneurs. As kids, we remember going to Puja Knitting Works, a small factory with 4 large circular knitting machines. Our mother had a desk on the factory floor, and she would often work the phone talking to clients or supervising the workers. She could navigate a profit and loss statement and balance sheet with ease, being naturally good with numbers. She was the only woman in that industry but that never stopped her. If someone was late on their payment, she chastised them, and often dealt with grievances and needs of the workers. After her father unexpectedly died in 1977, it changed her profoundly, and she doubled down on taking charge, helping my Nani with her many administrative tasks, including visits to lawyers related to ongoing property disputes, helping her manage her investments and expenses. She did all this in addition to managing work and home. She could do it all!
For several years, mom was a volunteer cum Board Member of the Paraplegic Foundation. Most of the beneficiaries of this foundation were people who had lost two or more limbs in an accident or due to an unfortunate medical condition. As kids, we remember going to some events where she would volunteer. She knew all of them by name, and often got enthusiastic greetings when she showed up. Mom relayed to us their life stories and the cause of their disability. She took time to listen and understand what they were experiencing. It was heart wrenching, but she always reminded us she was not there to feel sorry for them but to help them be independent, to retain their dignity and to enjoy their lives to the fullest possible. Living in Mumbai, it’s impossible to escape visions of people who are much worse off than us, but it’s pointless to pity and do nothing. Rather it’s necessary to do something and help them get on their feet. We learned that valuable life lesson from her.
She was one of the most curious people we have ever met, with an insatiable appetite for learning. When she got her first computer in 2000, she insisted she had no use for it. That changed very quickly as the internet opened the world up to her. She was adept with technology quickly learning it and using it to navigate the world. We often called her cyber mom. She had set up news alerts for Michigan and Dubai and we often got WhatsApp texts about the impending snowstorm, election results, changes in laws, or work-related news from business publications.
She was loving but tough on us growing up, always expecting more. We played a lot of board games and scrabble with her as kids. There were visits to the planetarium, aquarium and book stores. She insisted we do an aptitude test in Grade 10, and reminded us often that two degrees were better than one. Pooja excelled in Creative Art Design at Sophia’s College and also did her BA on the side. Mom would not have it any other way. She often said it was important to be a working woman, as you never know what life has in store. Amrit attained an Engineering degree and she often reminded him it wasn’t enough. She said he needed to get a management degree. And even till date, she would often send him WhatsApp messages every time an Indian-American became a CEO of a large corporation, or if there was a news article about IIT or IIM graduates. It was her way of saying – if you think you are doing well, think again! Several years later, when the concept of Tiger parenting became popular – essentially a style of parenting that emphasizes academic achievement, life success, and discipline – we could not help but smile. We realized we had one of those Tiger moms.
And despite this attachment and expectation from her children, she was equally comfortable with letting go. Both Amrit and Pooja settled aboard and she often said – live your lives, build your future; you are young eagles leaving the nest and you need to fly and soar. And while we did, she and dad also traveled and lived around the world, visiting us often and working in several countries. Their spirit of independence and adventure kept them living and enjoying their lives to the fullest.
Perhaps her best chapter was as a grandmother. Like any grandparent, she was less tough on her grandchildren than she was with her own kids. We often teased her about that. And yet, there was doting and indulging, mixed with patient listening and sage advice.
For Veera, her Nani was both a friend and grand mom. Veera affectionally called her my “Naan bread” and mom called her my “Grand bun”. When Mom lived in Dubai, Veera got to spend many weekends and summer holiday weekdays with her Nani. And her famous batata vadas were a super hit at all of Veera’s birthday parties. They developed a loving relationship, each confiding in the other. Somehow Nani always knew what Veera felt without her saying it. She was Veera’s best friend, spending hours with each other on zoom calls until the last few weeks. They had a very strong bond.
And then there was Aman. Mom first saw Aman in ICU as a little baby fighting for his life. It was an unsettling experience for any grandparent. However, there was no time to waste or feel sorry for oneself. When we learned Aman had CHARGE Syndrome, she got to work. She became well known within the CHARGE community. At CHARGE conferences, people would reach out to Amrit randomly and ask if he was Pushpa Mehta’s son. And when she stayed with Amrit, she established a special bond with Aman. One can only describe it as a meeting of the souls. She understood him at a much deeper level. Even when Aman was young, she’d often point out that he was very intelligent, and would surprise us. And so he did. He flourished, and she rode that wave with him. Aman and Dadi shared countless precious moments together, reading books, talking about places to visit, and sharing stories. He will miss her the most, but we are grateful for the moments they had together.
With Anmol, she always had a patient ear and celebrated the smallest of successes, egging him on to do better. When Amrit was tough on him (guess where he learned that), there was always Dadi to call. She often said to Anmol that his father did not measure up to him, and reassured him he was doing great and was on the right path. She avidly followed his robotics team on tour, and asked him countless questions about his academic pursuits, taking interest in every small detail. This summer, she gleefully followed day-by-day accounts of his international tour with the orchestra group. It gave her immense joy!
And last but not the least, Rynah. When Amrit first broke the news about having a daughter she squealed in delight, saying it was her early Christmas present. Rynah always got a few extra kisses being the youngest, and some advice to go with that. There was summer fun on the lake when they visited, with Rynah being the perennial entertainer who made her laugh. And many FaceTime calls on Saturdays, a weekly ritual of sorts.
During her final weeks, mom showed us the best version of her. As her body started to give way, her mind was sharp as ever. She refused to feel sorry for herself or cry, and reminded us to do the same. Mom said she felt what Aman went through – perhaps she willed it for herself, we don’t know. She insisted on eating and drinking water by herself despite having very little strength. She showed an amazing amount of grace, dignity and courage. Mom knew she was setting an example; raising the bar once again. Because when our time comes, which it will, we can only hope we come close to matching her strength of character.
The bottom line is – she knew, she always knew – right, wrong or indifferent. She was ahead of her time and it took the rest of us a while to understand it. She leaves us with an awesome life, legacy and plenty of inspiration.
Aman often says, people become stars in the sky when they die. And so it shall be – a new star joined the billions of stars in the sky tonight. She will no doubt be a shooting star somewhere in the universe blazing new trails. Her life and her memories will be a blessing for generations to come.
Goodbye mom, until we meet again.
11th December 2023
Deepa Laji Bhagnari
Such a beautiful tribute … a very apt description of our dear friend….people would say Pushee will now say I know….and I would tell them…but Pushee really knows…so she has to say that ..as she would then explain her viewpoint which was always correct…I really admired her for her Intelligence. Her knowledge and her generosity in always helping others. She never hesitated to do so…her heart and her house were open to all. It was she who pushed me to write articles…and I am ever so grateful to her for that… as I was never a very confident person, but she instilled that confidence in me…and then my journey of writing started with my articles Random Thoughts ..Thank you my dear friend….you were a treasure trove of knowledge.. Intelligence and love….Will really really miss you….
Meena Sadani (Pushpa’s sister)
Amu, A golden eulogy for my golden hearted sister, you said it all. She was way ahead of her time and was made of the stuff super achievers are made off. Often, she would get impatient with me when I would be relating anything to her and would come up with her ‘I know’ comment even before I could finish saying, she would say you are taking too long to get to the point, I have already understood it all.. she was a karma yogi, who believed in doing all the good karma / help for whoever crossed her path.
A rare combination of beauty and brains, she was sought after by the most eligible suitors. but your dad was the best match for her.
I don’t know if you kids know that when they lived in Madras, your parents entered a ‘made for each other’ contest and won the first prize. Yes. I remember the days she volunteered at the Paraplegic society and how charged she was of helping out.
Not to forget how she even changed the life of her household helpers by motivating them to move on to better opportunities even if it meant she was stuck with no help at the domestic front. In Madras she had this helper Chandran whom she enrolled in night school because she felt he could do better than menial work. Last, I remember, he was still in touch and informing her about his successes and achievements.
Pushpa had the strength of spirit that is so hard to come by. Against all odds she faced life head on with grit and determination.
My last exchange with her to share my most favorite Meditation! I am a child of God!
We bid her farewell with heavy hearts but find solace in the knowledge that she is now at the lotus feet of the lord, our father! Om Shanti!
I never met her in person but we did chat online especially when Aman was young. That is a woman who fiercely loved her family. I remember she asked so many questions and sought to learn all she could. Such a lovely woman.
Suresh D Gehi
I have personally lost a very sincere well wisher. I vividly remember how I suddenly had to fly to Bombay in Jan 1999 to visit my sick father and Amrit was getting married around that time. Pushpa’s joy knew no bounds to see that I was at the wedding ceremony. May her soul rest in peace.
I will remember Pushee (as we fondly called her) as a very helpful person. We would jointly find ways to contribute to the community. She helped in maintaing UAE Bhagnari database after I left Dubai and later helped to organise collection of an emergency fund in Dubai. This fund was used to meet the cost of several major medical operations. Many Bhagnaris words in Bhagnari Dictionary were contributed by her, for which she maintained an Excel worksheet. This was finally ported to the community website. She always helped her friends with technical problems on their phones. Names of many Bhagnaris for Facebook and WhatsApp groups Bhagnaris in the Americas where given by her. In fact for these groups and the dictionary, we had a healthy competition as to who has contributed more names/words.
I do feel that she was the inspiration behind Amrit’s sponsoring several students’ higher education and setting up Devibhai Mehta Scholarship. She had also organised a large donation amongst her siblings whose interest was used for Annual Prize Distribution function.
The enclosed photo was taken just a few hours before she developed cardiac issues. The picture was taken at a meet with Reena Mehta in NSCI.
Such lovely words Amrit. I was so sad to hear about your wonderful Mom. I think we only met once, maybe twice (see pic) but I felt I had met her many times. She was such a wonderful ‘cyber aunty’ who kept in touch with the whole family. Over the years we shared many exchanges, she would often send Pooja’s work campaign videos, news of your work and family Amrit – she was always so very proud of you all in her messages to me – I still have them all and will share them with you. For me, she was a very important link to India – I valued talking to her on WhatsApp and we shared pictures and stories over the years. If ever I had a question, I would send her a quick message and she would tell me, most recently in September about our Great Grandparents. I will miss that connection enormously. How lucky you were to have had such a wonderful mother. I am thinking of you all as you navigate this loss. Much love, Imogen
Pushee was a very knowledgeable well-spoken person. She was a member of our home kitty in Dubai and we would go together for the kitty. In Mumbai also we would be together at some kitties. I was last together with her in June 2023 at NSCI lunch and she was ever so happy to be able to come. A very social person indeed. God bless her soul. She’ll be missed.
I am not sure I have any specific memories of her, but I do know she was one of my favorite CHARGE grandmas. I will miss her and seeing her like my posts. but I know she’s with us all.
So sorry for your loss, Amrit and Pooja. I remember chatting with her, both online and on the phone, when Aman and Amita were young. She had many questions and also gave comfort to me. A wonderful and loving person, she was. Om Shanti.
Nancy TwaI Neshewat
Firstly, I want to say I’m so sorry for your loss, she sounds like an amazing person, mother, grandmother, wife. We should all and try to be a like her. She set her goals high and achieved more than most. I loved reading that and thank you for sharing it with us all. I found it amazing that you think she was held back as a female in India back then. I feel like India has been the most advanced than all other countries for woman. I know she was admired by you all and especially her bond with Aman. She’s among the starts. God bless her.
Such a beautiful, wonderful tribute to your Mom. How fascinating her life was and how strong and intelligent she was. She was so beautiful as well. I know she will be missed. May her memory be a blessing to all who knew and loved her. You are all in Gregg, Sarah and my thoughts and prayers.
Minnie Lee Lambert
I never met her in person, but I loved the love that she had for her family and especially Aman. She always shared the most positive things with me, some that I needed at just the right moment. I am truly sad that I will never have the amazing opportunity to meet her in this lifetime.
My fondest memories of Pushee Aunty are our summer holidays Kiran and I spent the most amazing summers at Yashodan. She mothered us during those two months. Her prawn pulao, her teaching us how to be responsible girls and us being in awe of her when we watched her dress up to go out for parties. She always said I have 4 children when we went out. All the outings and picnics especially to Marve. She has left such beautiful memories for us. We will miss you Pushee Aunty. You are forever in our hearts.
Pushee aunty was extremely passionate about education. She loved talking about new age careers, enjoyed visiting universities and sharing her experiences with me. We often chatted about U.S. education. Such a strong and powerful woman she was! Her memories will always live with me. RIP aunty.
Such a beautiful tribute to Pushpa Aunty. From what I recall from childhood, she did come across as a very intelligent woman with a lot of knowledge. Sending you all a lot of strength and love right now. She’s probably studying the cosmos.
What a wonderful tribute to your mother. Jan and I were so moved by your words. We had the privilege to meet her three times, twice in Bombay and once in London. She was kind, intelligent and facilitating. She helped so much to connect the Nastas in England with those in Bombay and further afield. We loved our time with her.
We will always be grateful to her and your lovely father, Kishore.
My relation with Bhagnaris was initiated because of my relation with Pushpa Mehta and on every visit to India – a day was kept by me to have a dialogue with her in person and such hospitality and extensive warmth and openness was direct tendencies which she exhibited so warmly. May her Soul Rest In Peace.