I was used to being on stage. I was used to being in front of people singing, dancing, acting, and teaching. But here I was, with my heart pounding so loud it could drown the noise of the traffic and all I had to do was talk to one person.
The light on a mountain
Focus On The Family India
2021 — “Can I come by and see you tomorrow?” I asked. “Not possible now,” she said. “Are you up for a call?” I pestered. “I’ll call,” she texted.
2020 — “You have handled business worth crores, and you can’t manage to make a simple Gpay transfer of 2000 rupees?” I asked. “Just shut up and do it for me,” she snapped.
2010 — “Hey, why is this nut coming loose from your chair?” I joked. “Leave it alone!” she screamed. She treasured her custom-built chair and would not think twice to repeal my permission to be anywhere near it.
2005 — “Someday I will slip this bracelet of uncut diamonds off your hand and you won’t see me anymore,” I threatened. “Hah! Never going to happen,” she said.
2001 — “Can I pick you up today?” I asked nervously. She said, “Sure,” and continued to give me directions. After the weekend drinks at the pub, I had to literally pick her up and put her in the car, drive her home and hand her over to her disapproving mother.
1999 — I was a last-minute invitee to a get-together of assorted individuals from across the country, who would otherwise meet every day (and night) in Footsie — a chat room on Rediff. We were meeting at the home of ‘cateonhottinroof’. When my wife and I got there in the evening, we were introduced to our host. It took me a couple of minutes to get comfortable around her, and then we hit it off. That was the beginning of a 22-year long friendship with Jyothi Reddy Konda.
A friendship that indulged in long talks in her car parked outside my office (she wouldn’t get out of her car), concerts presented by mystical Sufis, European chamber orchestras, Indian classical maestros, and me. I took her to musical events and she cut CDs for me. We sampled food ranging from local Haleem to Italian, but she knew to always invite me when she had dal and bhendi fry at home. She invited us to spend Dusshera at her farmhouse and we got her VIP invites to a motocross event. She would buy Tees for me and mojris for my wife. One of the tees said — Overeducated and Underemployed. She insisted I wear it to work and make sure my boss saw it. Well, we grew older, and our interests and topics of discussion changed.
She was non-judgmental, caustic, frank, loving, critical and courageous. Yes, courageous, resolute, undaunted, gutsy, and strong. Mentally and emotionally strong.
When my office moved to within half a kilometre of her home, we were both excited that I could visit her more often. I teased that all my lunches would be at her place. But just a few months and the pandemic locked the city down. We could not visit her physically and had to make do with phone calls. Then her vocal cords were paralyzed partially. The phone calls became shorter. It was an effort for her, but she needed to exercise the cords, so we kept the calls going. When the effort of talking began to strain her we had to make do with texting. My wife and I made plans with her to visit her with a 20-feet social distancing agreement after a week of us staying at home and not meeting anyone. We could not afford her to fall sick.
Last month, she sent an update that she was going into surgery in 48 hours. I said I would come by and wave to her from the window. She denied. I asked for a quick call, she said she would call sometime. I was tempted to go by her place, but I knew she would have had a good reason to deny me a visit or a call. Kept praying through her surgery and the following post-op care. The surgery had gone well. The worst was behind us and all that was required was time for her to recuperate. We were all praying and hoping for her recovery. When post-op complications arose, her spirit fought strong. But her body could not match. She was not physically strong. She was fragile. Extremely fragile. All her life.
The ACVR1 gene in her bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) pathway had mutated. This meant that she had a condition called FOP (Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva), that would progressively cause ossification (development of bone where it is not normally present), thus leaving her body inflexible and stiff. We had spoken about it only once, when she had mentioned networking with an afflicted father and son duo in Delhi, some fourteen years into our friendship.
She did everything (and indeed more than) a regular person would do at studies, work, and in life except for what was physically impossible for her. And she did everything with grace. We never heard her once complain about her affliction. No, not even once.
2001 — Her body was stiff and so she had to be picked up when she encountered steps or had to get in or out of a car. She allowed a precious few to pick her up and now I was on the list. I was nervous because she was literally putting her life in my hands.
2005 — It would have been easy to slip the bracelet of uncut diamonds from her hand that was stiff and thin. She kept control of her weight despite her inability to engage in any calorie-consuming physical activity.
2010 — Her custom-made chair was one of a kind, made to support her body that was bent and stiffened by FOP. She spent her entire day in it, whether at home or getting around town. She could not afford any loose nuts on it.
2020 — She could not manage the Gpay payment because her fingers did not have enough mobility to manage a touchscreen smartphone.
2021 — The post-op recovery was slow with some complications coming up. Her strong spirit led the fight, but her afflicted and fragile body was lagging in strength. Two weeks of struggle ended with her body giving up and her spirit soaring free.
All her life, she was true to her name (Jyothi — light, and Konda — mountain).
She was a light shining bright on top of the mountain she had conquered.
Her hand slipped away, I will see her no more, and all I am left with is a bracelet of memories more precious than uncut diamonds.
Happy 50th birthday, Jo.