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A Tribute to Mrs Lily Saikia

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Birmingham, August 1978, I was cradling my new born son in our bedroom. I heard my husband’s voice “We have a visitor!”

I looked towards the door and saw the most dignified lady. She was immaculately dressed in a blue silk saree, clutching a well wrapped gift for our son. Her flawless fair complexion with shoulder length curly hair added grace to her every movement. She introduced herself by saying “My name is Lily but for my family and friends I am Ilu”.

That was my first meeting with her. That first meeting brought a person into my life, who became my mentor, my surrogate mother, and a dearly loved friend rolled into one. That person became my “Ilu Baideo”.

We had just moved to Birmingham and did not know anybody. My husband had started work as a junior doctor in a hospital and was very busy. I was an inexperienced new mother in a strange, new place. I will never forget the love, support and advice from Ilu baido during this particularly testing time of our lives.

I spent long hours with Ilu baideo listening to her experience of her past life in Assam, her current life in England, her stories from her travels to various part of the world and her anecdotes from day to day life. She had a vast knowledge of almost all subjects with a sharp memory and was a natural story teller. We shared our experiences and jokes in person or over the phone and always parted with laughter.

Ilu baideo was born in Mandalay, Burma where her father, the late Girin Hazarika, was working as a surveyor. Ilu baideo still remembers her long arduous journey from Mandalay to Assam during the evacuation from Burma. Ilu baideo finished her school years in Dibrugarh and went to Shillong for her further education. She joined Lady Keane College where she was a brilliant student. While studying in Gauhati University for her MA degree in 1959, she married Mr Bap Chandra Saikia and then left for England. Their only son Anjan was born in 1963.

Though she had her hands full with a busy family life, yet she managed to devote time to teaching. She was a lifelong learner. After obtaining the diploma in social services, she joined the Social Services Department at Birmingham County council and managed to progress to the level of Manager of Walsall social services before her retirement.

Although she led a very busy life she took part in numerous activities with the Assamese community in England. She was an active member of Assam Association UK and served as a joint secretary for a long time, contributing to its growth and development.

She had a heart of gold and would help anyone at any time. Age, religion, race, sex was no barrier. She could reach the heart of people with her love and genuineness. She would never criticise anybody and saw the goodness in all human beings. I was so fortunate to know her and was honoured to regard her as my sister.

I will always remember her smiling face on the day her son Anjan married his wife Jane. Her only grand daughter Hannah brought immense pleasure to her life.

I spoke to her for the last time over the telephone on Tuesday 6 November 2009 at lunchtime. That same evening, we heard the shocking and sad news of her departure. Her passing has left a void in our life, but her memory will never fade, and the warmth of her love will always be with us.

May her soul rest in peace.

Manju Barkataki
Sunderland, UK