Angelee Deodhar cast a long shadow on the haiku world in India. When she passed away recently it was a shock which has still not worn off. This is a small tribute to one of the giants of Haiku by members of InHaiku Mumbai and friends.
I met Angelee in the winters of 2013 in Pune. Seems like such unassuming statement to make. Except, it changed my life. It changed who I was. And who I will be. It is also possible that I was already changing, and she was merely the catalyst, hurrying me along the path I had already chosen.
So, let me try and begin again.
I met Angelee in the winters of 2013 in Pune. I had known haiku for about 4 months by then and we were at the Haiku Utsav. I, a neophyte haiku poet – bumbling, bustling, unaware; she, a master of the genre – respected, genial, polymath. I have to-date no idea, why she took me under her wing. Why she decided to beam one of her smiles in my direction or crack a joke or share her mail id. But that’s what she did.
If life is a journey and we at the end of our individual roads turn back to look at life stretched out in front of us, there will be dates, events and occurrences that shine brighter than the others. They will be the beacons around which the rest of our existence revolves and evolves. Meeting Angelee, that fateful day was that beacon.
For the next five years or so, I was to know her generosity, spirit, unparalleled wit, whims and her monk-like calm. All of it mostly over emails, which would come by the dozens. She gave me the gift of word. Painstakingly, one word at a time she held my hand through the nuances of haiku and haibun. She was my guru but not just for writing. Our mails would often spill over to life philosophy, jokes and cartoon strips. Her favourites were ‘Peanuts’ and ‘the Tigger and Pooh’. Mine ‘Calvin and Hobbes’. It’s only over my mails with Angelee that I realized, how crystal the life philosophy of these cartoon characters was.
She stood by me through highs and lows, through death of loved one, through failures. Over the course of time, our relationship would evolve. From Mentor-mentee, to that of friends and eventually in 2015 – when she asked for my address and sent me a sacred thread – to that of a brother and sister.
Like all relationships, we also had our differences. She would warn me against the hazards of publishing a book too soon and I would express my misgivings about her refusal to get her work out despite a lifelong devotion to the form. But like all good relationships, they were just that, difference of opinion.
Her last email to me on 27 Jun 18, reads ‘To relieve stress, I do Yoga. Just kidding, I drink wine in my Yoga Pants.’ Sixteen hours later, a WhatsApp message would inform me of her sudden demise. I am yet to come to terms with it. To accept that there will be no more words of wisdom, no more inappropriate jokes, and no more dinners or plays when we meet at haiku meets.
Someday I will be able to look at this differently. I will be able to recognize that she continues to stay with me in her poetry, mails and life lessons. But for today, I am selfish and unreasonable. I want her back in my inbox, one more time, with a joke totally inappropriate, and all the more funny because of it.
against calloused feet
for Dr. Angelee Deodhar
On my first visit to your house, you insist I walk barefoot in the garden. You introduce me to the plants and the trees; periwinkles, chrysanthemums, peepal, frangipani, bougainvillea, holy basil, ginkgo you point faster than I can follow.
Before I leave, you press a slim volume of Issa’s translated haiku in my palms. Between its pages you have left a fan shaped leaf. On one of your trips to Japan, you had picked up the sapling near a master’s hut. Pressing its wisp thin roots in a fistful of soft loam, you had wrapped it loosely in clear plastic.
Nine hours later, you opened the suitcase frantically, tossed out the kurtis, the trousers and pullovers over the tiled floor of the house, stopping only when you could see two tiny leaves nodding under the clear plastic sheet.
Yesterday, I pulled the books down from their shelves. One by one at first. And then with increasing urgency. As if I could change it all, if only I could find that solitary leaf. Hung upside down from their spines, the books refuse to cough up anything more than a few desolate syllables and a parade of orphan images.
after you . . .
the ginkgo leaf now
Note – The title of the haibun has been taken from Angelee Deodhar’s jisei haiku (death poem) . . .
water worn boulders
so smooth now
against calloused feet
I have a photograph of Angelee with my mother, you cannot make out who is who. This was taken when she came home, the day after Distilled Images, the haiku conference and ‘utsav’ that I had organised in Mumbai.
She had a happy, restful day, going over my collection of Ganesha icons. But it was my marbles that intrigued her most, the ones I’d collected over innumerable matches in childhood (I’d lose them all were I to play now). She held a few in her hands, closed her eyes and meditated upon them. There would be a few in her hand throughout the visit.
the one bent branch
that reached me
She did me the honour of turning me into a haibun. I don’t know if it’s published or not, she didn’t seem to keep track. She did keep track of emails though. They sit there in my mailbox, by the dozens. From mostly WhatsApp Good Mornings they had turned to senior jokes recently. I have saved them all. Like Max before her, she leaves me with a lot of writings to read on a rainy day, but without the comfort of blotches left behind by hidden tear drops.
―only the chill parts
Raamesh Gowri Raghavan
Angelee : A Tribute
The manner in which our lives intertwine often gives me pause. What could possibly connect Dr Angelee Deodhar, retired opthalmogist and haijin par excellence from Chandigarh, with a nurse from Breach Candy hospital and a Bombay based companion animal veterinarian? What smile of fate brought Angelee to S.I.E.S. College, Bombay, for Distilled Images, a conference and festival of contemporary haiku in September 2014 that I too participated in?
At the end of the two day conference, Angelee asked if she could be dropped at a friend’s. Gautam, Rohini and I were more than happy to do so, as it promised an hour’s interaction with a truly accomplished haijin and a wonderful person. It was only when we approached a large Parsi settlement and Angelee asked for help finding the address, that I realized it belonged to the one client I had in that entire colony! A retired nurse with an Indian dog, my patient. And thus was born yet another subplot in the story of my life.
The next time I met her was at the Pune Haiku Utsav, Triveni in 2016. She appeared to have slowed a little but in a dignified manner, and the charm, wit and acerbic sense of humour was very much in evidence. Incredibly this doyenne of the haikai sensibility would email me a congratulatory note each time I got published. I will always be grateful for those moments of encouragement.
A few months back Mrs Shroff shared with me that our mutual friend was unwell. Thereafter all my e-mail correspondence with her would end with a query after her health. Angelee would reply with silence. When she moved on that is what she left in her wake. Stunned silence. Honest, compassionate, yet no nonsense the grand dame of Indian Haikai writing has left for better spaces. R.I.P. Angelee. We will always love you. My best wishes for your onward journeys, and may they each be lovelier, more exciting and more vibrant than the last.
your flawless skin
What follows is a conversation with Sister Pesi Shroff, old friend of Dr Shashi Mehta a.k.a. Dr Angelee Deodhar and a client of mine since some years, interspersed with some Ku penned by the good doctor herself (A.D.)
I was first introduced to Dr Shashi Mehta (maiden name) by a common American friend, Velena Boyd who had fought in World War 2 with my Karachi based cousin, Perviz Pavri. It happened perhaps in the late 60s or early 70s. Shashi was a beautiful, warm person. We bonded well and kept up a postal correspondence for decades thereafter. She used to write even then and would send me some of her poems from time to time.
meeting new friends
a flight of pigeons
One day Dr Shashi requested if she could come stay with me for a couple of days. It turned out to be a momentous visit. She asked if a friend could come over for a bit. That was my first contact with Dr Shridhar Deodhar, a physician and a fine gentleman. They stepped out for a discussion and returned having decided to tie the knot.
sharing an umbrella
your wet left shoulder
my right one
I attended the wedding in Chandigarh. Angelee and her fiancée Dr Shridhar received me at the station with a shawl. It was cold back then and I still remember the gesture. We put up at her brother’s (Dr Ravi Mehta) soon to be in-laws’ bungalow. The extremely pleasant and comfortable fortnight’s stay concluded with a traditional gesture generally reserved for family. The Deodhars gifted me a pair of gold ear tops (Shows me her ears. Still has them on) and house hold utensils including a pressure cooker.
We stayed in touch via post and inland letters. She would even send me her books and continued to visit from time to time. Once with her then four year old son Ananth. A very sweet boy, he was the apple of their eye. She enjoyed the Parsi cuisine here, be it patra ni machi, dhansak, poro (parsi omelette) or cutlets.
There followed a hiatus of almost a decade, from the early 90s onwards. No replies to my mail. I was told that Angelee had stopped working and was having personal issues.
vapors from the tea cups
A.D. (Modern Haiku Vol. XXXI, No.3, Fall 2000)
One day an inland letter arrived from her husband apologising for the breakdown in communication. It seemed he was very unwell. Within a week of the correspondence he passed on. It was a crushing blow for Angelee and she became depressed. It was to be another four to five years before she contacted me. She was coming to Bombay. We met and rekindled our friendship.
acres of darkness
then a firefly
Sometime later I was diagnosed with cardiac issues and had to undergo a series of angioplasties. Angelee got to know about my financial issues and helped me out on at least three separate occasions before I requested her to stop.
She was extremely fond of her dogs.
the dog nudges me down
our moonlit path
A.D. (The Asahi Shimbun, Sat-Sun, Oct 25-26, 2003)
I well remember her joy when her grandchild was born.
the school bus gone
from room to silent room
the dog follows me
Then one day I heard she was ill. Angelee shared that she was feeling heavy headed. I pressed her for the reason. She said that she didn’t like to speak about her hardships. Each must bear their own burden. She could barely speak. Her family thankfully was very close knit and extremely supportive of her throughout.
finally letting go
the tangled kite
A.D. (C.H.O. July 2018, Vol. 14, No 2)
Angelee was one of my dearest friends, as good as family. Always helpful, generous to a fault and understanding. I have never met another like her. Although we lived far from each other we shared a strong camaraderie. Regularly exchanged birthday and anniversary wishes. It would have been her birthday on the 20th of this July. I hope she is at peace. God bless her and your family. (Breaks down)
(Mug gifted to Sister Shroff to commemorate the birth of her grandchild)
water worn boulder
so smooth now
against callused feet
Dr Angelee Deodar’s Jisei (Death Poem) Mann Library’s Daily Haiku
Dr Brijesh Raj
in your eyes . . .
in the stars
Angelee and I shared many moments of warmth and fun. We met only at haiku conferences but the camaraderie we shared managed to survive the geographical distance – we lived in opposite ends of the country. What started as discussions on haikai and haibun moved quickly to facets of Japan that we both found intriguing and fascinating.
One such conversation was about Jizo Bosatsu, the Boddhisatva who postponed Buddhahood to wait until all people on Earth are saved. We talked about her favourite Jizo, with the red bib and hat, a common sight in Japan. It is said that Jizo protects families and looks after children in the afterlife and helps them in their wanderings in ‘limbo’. A couple of years ago, on Vishu, I sent her a picture of ojizosama from my visit to Kamakura. She was thrilled and her delightful email reply came straight from the heart. She put her lovely haiku onto the photo and sent it back as a haiga!
Later, Angelee’s email messages and telephone calls would (of course) bolster my efforts with haiku but would also help in keeping me focused while dealing with health crises in my family and many routine tasks – “do the routine and from it, haibun will follow”. Ever since she heard my Japanese, she addressed me as ‘JG’ (Japani Gudiya). At the Pune conference, to my friends’ delight, she would frequently rib me – JG, JG, JG. I didn’t realise that it was to be the last time we would meet.
my wish to see you again
in the river of stars
A letter from Angelee
I have just returned at12.27 am ,from the Jindal Hospital,Chandigarh
where Ishu and Ananth were blessed with a baby boy .
He was born at 4.30 PM on 1st Feb,.and weighs 2.6 kg.
Ishu is tired as she had to undergo a Caeserean Section.Ananth is all thumbs when the baby cries…
With lots and lots of love, from all of us,
to change the umpteenth diaper
the arthritic granny
The Triveni World Haiku Utsav 2016 at Pune.
When I met her I little dreamt that I should absorb the vision that was Angelee deep into my heart and soul. So that I could conjure it up at will, caress it with my eyes and breathe in the fragrance of her gentle smile. Who was to know then that she would depart so soon and leave us clutching at wisps of her memory.
fading into nothingness
A tanka for Angelee:
of her memories
still looking for a star
with her name on it
A haiku for Angelee:
rooster’s cry ~
how painfully the sun births
this empty day
I did not know Angelee personally. I met her or let’s say heard her for the first time at Distilled Images – the International Conference and Utsav on Contemporary Haiku. It was at this event that she participated in the session – straw sandals: learning to write haibun.
Haibun, is a form that I was totally unfamiliar with, but she set my imagination on fire with her presentation on the subject. I returned home and stretched out immediately for a pen and paper and that’s when my tryst with haibun began
cropping and clipping-
I wish I owned a pair
of word scissors
I have met Angelee just once and that was during the Haiku Utsav at Pune- a shooting star who blazed across the firmament of my mind, sprinkling me with star dust.
I dedicate this haiku to her :
from this one banyan
a grove of trees
fragrance of her ink
in every word
we refuse to let go
of the memories
pulls the sky
into the valley
The first haiku I wrote, also the first haiku accepted (Bottle Rockets, autumn 2005), I dedicate to Angelee Deodhar.
Even before I met Angelee, I met her husband, Dr Deodhar. I was asked to collect two of Angelee’s books from him, as he was visiting his sister, who lives in Pune.
Dr asked me to recite one of my haiku. I recited ‘dripping mist’. I was so raw. Didn’t even know how to say it. It was over even before I started it! Dr said, “Angelee always says a haiku should be repeated twice.” I did!
Then I met Angelee in February 2008 at Sri Sri Ravi Shankar ji’s ashram at Bangalore where I had organised the 9th World Haiku Festival. We had honoured her with a Kashmiri shawl … I still remember the warmth of her beautiful and gentle smile.
I’ve met Angelee many times after this and spoken to her innumerable times (long conversations) and our exchanges were always filled with laughter. Her sense of humour was special.
Each time I called her before I organised any utsav, and even during the making of the anthology Naad Anunaad, she would say, “take care of your health, Kala. You are doing a lot. Don’t spread yourself so thin.”
The five days I spent with her at the Haiku North America Conference in Union College NY in 2015 and more recently at Bhubaneshwar in February 2018 are days that will remain with me.
Her death was a shock, it was too sudden.
undulating desert sands
touch the evening sky …
memories of you
blossom from somewhere
More than a decade ago, while I was struggling to learn this new and teasingly short form of poetry called haiku, I came across a few poems which moved me. Some were by the masters and intense, the seventeen syllables coming across the centuries with vivid and unforgettable images.
And one haiku was by an Indian I had never heard of at that time. The poem was warm and comfortable and brought the scent of home with just a hint of unresolved issues behind the scenes.
vapors from the teacups
So much in a few simple words. Poems like hers made me decide to explore this unfamiliar but tantalising form of poetry.
Over the years I read more of her poems.
in the downstroke of the brush
the sound of rain
sharing an umbrella
your wet left shoulder
my right one
I met Angelee a while later, at a Haiku conference in Bangalore. She was warm and friendly and always gave me an enormous hug. We continued to meet mostly at conferences and stayed in touch over email. She was always very prompt about answering mail.
In the last few months she was not responding to email either and I heard that she was ill.
an I.V. line
anchors me to the monitor
thoughts still wander
While looking for her haiku I found her death poem right here on Cafe Haiku. Who can say it better? She had a tough and painful life, but it is the harshness which creates the most beauty.
water worn boulder
so smooth now
against callused feet
I wonder if somewhere she is still writing haiku, carefree in some ethereal realm.
We will miss her in this physical one.