More than 270 friends and family members of the late Dr. Kamna Das gathered in a New Jersey Hindu temple on Jan. 15, 2011 to sing naam and celebrate her life and remember the countless ways the scientist, wife and mother loved, helped and supported them.
Her absence was felt acutely from the moment attendees arrived. Perhaps they headed to the kitchen and didn’t see her bustling about there. Or maybe they joined a group of women talking and didn’t hear her signature melodious voice. Or they gazed around at the colorful clothing and didn’t see her always-fashionable mekhla chador.
The date of the memorial service and naam fell on Magh Bihu, the Assamese harvest festival. But because Dr. Das was always such an integral part of these celebrations, the community felt it would be more appropriate to remember her life and commemorate the one-month anniversary of her passing before beginning the difficult process of moving forward.
Her legacy, of course, was everywhere. In the hordes of food that families made: her special dishes of cutlets, chole and payas were served and eaten in abundance. In the gratitude and grace of her most dear: husband Shonit Das and son Aabir. And in the songs and words that friends, family, office colleagues and so many others shared.
The prayer was started by a Borgeet, beautifully sung by Mrs. Gaytree Sarma. The naam was led by Dr. Brojen Bordoloi and included the participation of dozens of community members, including Dr. Deva Borah, Mr. Bimal Rajbanshi, Mr. Niren Choudhury and ladies like Mrs. Kabita Das, Bhanti Rajbanshi, Gayatree Sarma and Dr. Bharati Thakuria. The final naam was led by Dr. Bordoloi and Aabir.
In his eloquent eulogy, longtime friend Dr. Kripanath Bora began by saying, “No words can describe the colorful and endearing life of the departed soul. No scriptures can comfort the grief and sorrow of the family, friends and relatives of the departed soul.”
But, he said, “the best way to remember the departed soul is to celebrate her life.”
By that measure, the event at Ved Mandir was a grand celebration. One by one, her friends approached the microphone with tears and laughter.
“Baidew inspired us with her zest for life, grace, compassion, warmth and generosity. She checked on us consistently and stood by us with words of comfort and encouragement through all the twists and turns of life,” said her friend Navanita Sharma of Montvale, N.J.
“You welcomed me and accepted me into the Assamese community with open arms. You continued to open the doors to me and many others who are so far away from home. When I thought about your upbringing back in Assam, it made sense that you knew what it is like to enter into a new community first hand,” said Kyoko Toyama Baruah of Manhattan. “You are not with us physically, but you will be in me and my family’s heart. What I can do is to keep your legacy going by serving others with smiles, hugs and an open heart.”
Her office colleagues spoke of calling her “Mama Kamna.” Another remembered sharing her Reese’s Pieces with her. One woman recalled the day she saw Dr. Das listening attentively in the cafeteria to a man who looked like he was sharing all his burdens.
“Who was that?” she asked.
“I have no idea,” Dr. Das replied.
The concluding tribute was an Assamese song performed by Sankumani Sarma and written by Purandar Sarmah, recounting her memorable life, moves from Assam and Sweden and all the ways she was a pillar of her community.
And then the community feasted on an impressive potluck of offerings made and brought by friends who just wanted to do something and show how loved Kamna Das truly was. Just as she did for them throughout her life.
Mitra Kalita, pictures by Shravani Sarma