Each one of us scrambles to get those extra hours into the system on a daily basis. Sometimes work, sometimes home, sometimes social or business life. While we battle to meet deadlines at work, keep members of the family safe, secure and happy and battle for the success and connections that bring us grief and joy, most of us fail to understand that the key to living is within oneself. Maintaining the quality of life with healthy living – not just the intake of diet but healthy in terms of the mind, our interaction with others with basic kindness.
It often takes someone like the adorable 106 years old Surajben Doshi (fondly called as “Kakiba” in this story and with friends and family) to provide a living example as a woman of magnitude – strong mind, highly powered intellect with a kind and honest heart. Here is the life of Kakiba who has lived with basic entities that cause no health risk, is of high value and above all comes free. The reason the story becomes interesting is because typically by the time someone gets to be the oldest, they either lose their sense of hearing, or would not provide a direct answer to every question you ask. With Kakiba it is different. She rejoices in sharing those wonderful moments with her loving husband who is no more, calling him as “the most handsome and the best man” she has ever met all her life. She also adds that “nobody in the world is as good as my husband”. She still remembers her interaction with “Vallabh” (read Vallabhai Patel) and her presence at Mahatma Gandhi’s meetings and many more stories. She vividly remembers “the jaggery water offered as a substitute for alcoholics by Gandhiji” and also with a beautiful smile mentioned how united all of them were in their struggle for freedom. How everyone came together and there were no hard feelings and how everyone contributed their bit to see themselves free of bondage.
Born on April 9th, 1904 at Chotila, Saurashtra region (Gujarat), Kakiba came to the United States in 1973 when she was 69 years old. Mother of seven kids, she has 16 grand children, 14 great grand children and 6 great great grand children. The family spans four generations and Kakiba still stands as the foundation to the closely knit family. The family instantly reminded me of the Bollywood family entertainers with family members meeting at every event/festival possible.
Questioned about the changes in the family structure from the past to the present, Kakiba with a small twinkle in her eyes mentioned in Gujarati that she loved “joint family”. She still feels that joint families would work if the “two individuals work towards the happiness of the family members putting aside economic liberty and freedom”. Kakiba mentioned that there were 22 people living in the same home and how they were devoted to each other. She strongly feels that a “woman should be financially independent not because it is the basic right”, but according to Kakiba, “a woman represents strength, unity and a strong mind and she can equally contribute to the security of the home”.
According to Kakiba, a woman has the complete skill to share the burden of the family. She is equally equipped with a good skill set to manage crisis. Kakiba maintains that she always encouraged women to work and not sit at home. Speaking to kakiba’s family members, they reiterate what I just saw – a woman who was too progressive for her times. Kakiba wanted to study more but had to cut short her education in 4th grade but her intellect is far more superior to most graduates today. She wanted to be a doctor but said that her “responsibility towards her family, kith and kin did not give her an opportunity to study more”. According to her son and grandson, Kakiba loves writing long letters where she uses beautiful words to describe moments. Most of her letters are very inspirational to date, said her family members.
With decades of experience handling family relationships, where does Kakiba feel the change? She is quick to retort that “people today are not devoted to each other like how they used to be. Husband and wife seem to get a little tired of each other. There is some light sense of competition between the two. Also, the respect and the feeling one has towards elders have changed”. As I ask her the reason behind this disparity, she mentioned that “education, the need to not share anymore and economic independence could have caused it. Also, most individuals today do not have patience to accommodate another person’s feelings and the willingness to adjust”. Those days, people never got offended easily, she added.
As an aside, Kakiba used to love Amitabh Bacchan and Rajesh Khanna. Currently, she does not watch movies.
According to her family members, Kakiba has maintained her body as a temple and her diet as an offering. She rarely sits idle. Till date she contributes towards the chores in the house as she strongly believes that “exercise in one way or the other is important for healthy living”. She encourages all her family members to do something fruitful in the spare time. She stresses on “hard work” and her caring and sharing nature has made her live life for others. She has very minimal requirements in life and believes that “having minimum requirements can bring more happiness”.
Eagerly waiting to hear her diet plan, I quickly quizzed Kakiba with her daily schedule wanting to know if she was eating any special herbs, here’s something interesting:
Kakiba strongly believes in the power of prayers. She feels prayers bring discipline to one’s life. Maintaining healthy habits, Kakiba eats only two meals a day. She hasn’t been eating sugar for over 70 years now and she eats only in small portions of food. Her daily schedule has a lot of reading- newspapers, magazines, and religious books. She feels that her “readings have stimulated” her mind to progress and think. She reads and prays for over 8 hours a day. Kakiba has never taken any medications. She eats cereal, natural foods and she drinks milk. She does not eat after sunset. And, she would eat half of what her stomach says. She feels that abusing one’s body without knowing its capacity and capability is a sin. Also, “if your stomach is full”, she jokingly says that “you become idle and lazy”.
What is Kakiba’s strength? What makes her different? She is a woman who is flexible in her adaptation towards change. She can easily adapt to any environment or circumstances. It does not matter if it is a millionaire or a beggar sitting in front of her, she treats them all the same because according to her good begets good. He fond memory is a lovely spinning wheel she received from Gandhiji and for long she has spun her own fabric (Khadi) as her saree. She has stayed very hygienic and clean. To that matter, Bharati Doshi her daughter-in-law whom Kakiba resides with has great things to say. “She is my mom. She keeps the house so clean. She helps me and she is so fun to be with”.
According to Bharti Doshi (Kakiba’s daughter-in-law), Kakiba is the ‘coolest’ person, very adjustable. “I take her out everywhere because she loves visiting places. She never comes in between my activities, she is like my baby. She gets up at 7 a.m., sits on the floor for hours as she does prayers for close to three hours, non stop. She has a perfect natural meal at 10:30 a.m. She reads, sleeps so cutely for sometime. She knows where her glasses, stick, books etc are. She rarely needs any assistance”. Kakiba is welcomed by everybody. She is loved by all because she is just cool. Nobody thinks of her as a 106 years old grandma. Bharti maintained that Kakiba still “sings and dances with us at parties”. She does not complain about anything bad. She does not retaliate even if I don’t treat her right at times when she makes the decision to fast. I am so blessed that we share that bond and that we have that kind of understanding, she added.
Sharing her experience as advice to the younger generation, Kakiba stresses on three important elements of life: “Do your work with complete ethics and honesty, success will follow. It might be delayed, but it will certainly be yours for a long time. Have a strong religious background: no matter whether you are a Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Jew or Buddhist, believe in the power of your prayers and last but very important – be moral towards your family. This will keep you happy and healthy”.
Here is 106-year old Surajben Doshi – a woman who possesses a strong will power blended with progressive thoughts that are sprinkled with a positive outlook towards life. It is her willingness to learn even today with her clarity of thought that has made her live life queen size. She has set a kind example to many about the fact that seeking material power is not bad, but compromising spirituality and kindness for meaningful and selfish gains can only destroy the spirit and damage your body. She isn’t a business powerhouse or a celebrity, but she is our Inspirational Michigan Indian because she has shown us what it takes to be 106 years and what it is to be truly happy at 106 years.