At Home Coping With COVID-19 travel blog

Kamal And Manju Mehra In Happier Times

The Four Kapoor Siblings And Their Spouses In Dec 2014, Kamal I...



On April 11th, we received the very sad news of the unexpected death of the senior member of our close-knit ‘Gang Of Eight’. By this I mean, the four Kapoor siblings and their respective spouses. His death came as quite a shock to us all; we had just been together in Delhi in February to celebrate the 50th Wedding Anniversary of Anil’s eldest brother Arun, and his wife Neena.

To me, Kamal seemed his usual vibrant self, but Anil told me later that he had complained of a certain loss of enjoyment in life due to his declining senses of vision and hearing. His normal day since retiring had always been focused around reading the morning paper and watching cricket on television. He was finding both of these activities more and more difficult. In his conversation with Anil, he referred to the fact that Anil’s younger brother’s wife had died suddenly on October 25, 2019, just four months earlier, and Ajay had been left to fend for himself with loving support from his son and daughter-in-law, who live nearby. Kamal made the comment that he should go first, because he didn’t think he could cope without his beloved wife Manju.

Now, here we were, just two months later, learning that he had developed leukemia very suddenly, and equally suddenly, just a matter of days after being diagnosed, he was gone. The situation was made horribly worse by the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic was on the horizon in India and the government had imposed a very strict ‘shelter-in-place’ lockdown for all the 1.3 billion residents of the country on March 24th.

Anil’s sister was now on her own, with her two children living in different cities – her son in Michigan, US and her daughter in Mumbai. At first it appeared that neither of them could travel to be with her, or to participate in the Hindu rituals that must be performed before and after the cremation. Fortunately, Kamal’s immediately younger brother was a retired Indian Army Brigadier, and he had some powerful connections. He managed to get a letter of permission for Kamal’s daughter to travel by road from Mumbai to Nagpur, however only immediate family members were authorized so Kajal’s husband had to act as her driver to get her to her family home.

It was a very long journey, taking over seventeen hours, travelling through the night, in order to reach Nagpur in time to perform the rituals and have the cremation carried out. Within a couple of days, the decision was made for Manju to return with her daughter and son in law to Mumbai despite the fact there was a chance she might have been exposed to the COVID-19 virus during her time in the hospital while Kamal was receiving treatment.

We were in touch with Manju several times in WhatsApp and were able to give her encouragement and love, thank goodness for modern communication technologies. She was settling into life with her grandchildren and it was good that she could keep herself busy helping with preparing meals and other household tasks. Manju is a retired English teacher so no doubt she is helping her grandchildren as they work on their lessons remotely.

An important Hindu ceremony is normally performed on the thirteenth day following a death, family members had time to gather from far-flung places in India, but this was not possible because of the COVID-19 shelter in place edict. Instead, Kamal’s son and son in law organized a Zoom video conference for any and all who wanted to participate.

Our first Zoom conference ever was held shortly after Kamal died, but with a much smaller group, mostly individuals from the Kapoor/Khanna side of the extended family. It was heartening to be able to see everyone’s faces as we spoke and it prepared us for the experience of the much larger Zoom conference on the thirteenth day.

We were dreading it a little because we thought we would be remotely participating in the Hindu ritual, watching the pundit, the Hindu priest perform the ceremony in the family home, in front of a sacred fire. However, it turned out that the ceremony was done earlier in the day, and the Zoom conference was simply a chance for many of Kamal’s descendants to share their thoughts and memories of their brother, father, uncle and grandfather.

The conference lasted for over three hours as each person shared stories that made many of us laugh and cry. It was an amazing tribute to a remarkable man. He was the eldest of our Group of Eight. It’s shocking to realize that we’ve lost the eldest and the youngest within a few short months of each other.

I’m happy to report that the fourteen-day quarantine period has passed and Manju is not showing any symptoms related to the virus. She is now able to live comfortably with her daughter, son in law and their two young children in Mumbai for the time being. We are all so grateful that she is not alone as she grieves for her loving husband. She has been a complete rock, something that has surprised no one in the extended family, as she has been the matriarch of the family ever since her widowed mother in law passed away a few years ago.

We have so many happy memories of our time together with Kamal and Manju over the years. We’ve made many trips to India and always try to see them whenever it’s been possible. We were with them in Michigan when they were on hand for the arrival of their first grandchild in 1998 and we were on our way to a family wedding on my side, in Pennsylvania. They came to Canada twice – the first time was in 2004 and then again more recently in 2017 when our son surprised Anil for his 70th birthday by bringing his three siblings and their spouses to Canada to join in the celebrations.

Kamal was a very special individual; loving, kind, non-judgemental and incredibly industrious. He was famous for being able to fix anything that was broken, and for lending a hand whenever one was needed. He will be sorely missed by all.


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