My friend Devayani, the mother of my friend Anil, died this afternoon [update: I bumped this is when I put in the full obituary; she died 29 May], after being in failing health for the last couple of months.
She was born in India, moved from there to England, then to the US, with her husband L.N. Rao, MD, FRAS, and her children Anil and Geeta. The Raos had a third son, Ajit, in 1969. She also had two grandchildren, Deviyani and Tristan,
I met them in about 1967, when Anil and I became friends, and I’ve known the family ever since. In later years we joked — except it wasn’t completely a joke — about me being her middle son, by adoption.
I miss her.
Extended obituary below the fold.
Devayani “Devi” Rao was born on May 28, 1930 in Hyderabad India, to Venkanna Tembourni and Tara Bai Gunti. She was one of six children, including Gouri Shankar, Vijaya Lakshmi, Meera, Sureka and Uday Shankar. Tragically, at the age of eight, Devi lost both her parents and had to assume the duties of raising her brothers and sisters. She took this task seriously and wielded a wooden ladle as a threat to keep her misbehaving siblings in line, for which she was called the “sergeant major” of the house. As she grew into a young woman, she witnessed firsthand the turmoil and excitement of Indian independence from British rule, food rationing, and Hindu-Muslim riots in the streets.
Devi was the proverbial “girl next door”, catching the eye of her neighbor and future husband, Laxmi “Bob” Narasimha Rao, who insisted on being her math tutor. He wrote “Will you marry me?” on a math paper one day, but she said “No!”. However, Bob’s persistence eventually paid off and the couple were married on July 15, 1953. Marrying outside of their castes and against the tradition of arranged marriage involved some complications. The news broke to the other family members when Bob and Devi, on their wedding day and dressed in their traditional wedding attire, just happened to encounter the woman that Bob was originally arranged to marry. Upon hearing the news, Bob’s mom cried for three days and the couple was even banished by Bob’s dad to set up a medical practice in a rural community far from Hyderabad.
However, the birth of the first born son, Anil, finally brought the two families together, and the couple reconciled with Bob’s parents. Daughter Geeta was born soon after in 1955. Bob went on to the US and then sent for his family. During the voyage to the US by ship, both Devi and her daughter became quite ill and had to remain in England where they recovered, thanks to the skill and kindness of the British medical staff, for which she was always grateful. Once healthy, Devi and her daughter reunited with the rest of the family in Topeka, Kansas and started a new life in western culture. Because Devi and Bob were among the few Indians in the community at the time, the transition was difficult, especially for Devi, but she eventually adapted. However, the rough times weren’t over. In 1957, Devi gave birth to a daughter, Sunita, who died mere hours after birth due to a heart defect.
After a period of grief and after Bob completed his residency, the family returned briefly to India before going to Newcastle and then to Preston, England, where Bob trained in neurosurgery while Devi raised their two kids. Devi adapted to the damp weather and the bland English food, but the professional opportunities in the United States were better for Bob, so in 1966, the whole family returned to America and settled in Colorado. They spent a few years in Pueblo, then moved to Denver for one year, where son Ajit was born just 6 days after the Apollo Moon Landing.
But they soon returned to Pueblo, where the family lived for many years, and where Devi made many close friends, attended her kids graduation from high school and college and saw her eldest son Anil, marry Dixie, in 1978 .
After nearly 21 years in the US her husband Bob passed away on May 27, 1987.
In the years following her husband’s death, Devi devoted herself to her children. She moved with her son Ajit to Boulder while he attended college, and where they both lived with Geeta for a few years. Soon, her first grandchild was born, who was also named Devi, after her grandmother. Grandma Devi moved in with Anil and Dixie in 1992 with the birth of her grandson, Tristan. So a new phase of her life began; helping raise her grandchildren. They referred to her as the vegetable police as she made sure that no vegetables, of any color, were left behind on the plate. In many ways, cooking was an important part of her life; it brought family together, gave them comfort in both bad and good times and gave her a creative outlet. She also loved to read mysteries and watch old black and white movies on TV. However, one of her most intense interests was American football. It was an odd sight; a four foot nine inch grandma so devoted to football that she became the go to person for latest Bronco team information. She was thrilled to see the Denver Broncos win two championships.
In subsequent years, she enjoyed traveling to India, and around the US to visit family. In 1999, her daughter Geeta was married to Jim and she visited with them often in Tucson and later Houston. As ever, she was devoted to her grandchildren, attending her granddaughter’s graduation in May of 2008 , enjoying seeing her grandson mature into adulthood and marveling at how he towered over her.
On May 29th 2009, two days after the twenty-second anniversary of her husband’s death and one day after her 79th birthday, she passed away peacefully at 12:47 pm, surrounded by her family, and with the knowledge that she is greatly loved.