A Double-Eights Celebration for Mama


Mama gets ready to blow out the candles on her 88th birthday cake as her caring friends and admirers surround her on Sunday, August 7 at Nirvana Restaurant on Memorial Drive.

By Jawahar Malhotra

HOUSTON: The passage of another year has not dimmed her mind, nor has it diminished the ardor of her admirers who have grown accustomed to calling her mama. Even if her step is a little lighter, and her gait a little slower, mama still remembers each person by their name and with a smile, and she astonishes with her ability to reconnect events and recall the associations in memory.

But perhaps it’s her smile that wins people over and the trusting way she willingly gives out a hug, even to a person she has just met. For many she is simply “mama”; for her grandkids “mamaji” and for the reading public of this newspaper she is Shakuntla Malhotra – my mother – the writer of Mama’s Punjabi Recipes.

For many more, she is an inspiring figure who will attend many a community function where they flock to touch her feet and gain her blessings, in our traditional, ancient way of revering the wisdom of elders and seeking their benediction for a long, happy life. She offers it willingly; with grace, serenity, a warm touch and a gentle utterance of “jinda raho” in Punjabi (or jeeta raho in Hindi: live long).


At mama’s birthday party, her sons Jawahar (left) and Jayant (second from right) with grandson Sanjay and his girlfriend Alexendra.

Mama has lived a remarkable life; escaping the violence of Partition in Punjab as a teenager, with the clothes on her back and with her family to Delhi; then 25 years in other countries as her husband worked in the Indian Foreign Services; then back to Delhi till my father passed away in 2003. At 76 she moved to Houston and has made it her home, gaining many friends who care about her, as she cares about them.

For nearly 9 years, each year, she is tricked into coming to a restaurant and then surprised to see so many well-wishers there shouting out a Happy Birthday! This past Sunday, August 7 was no different when she got a surprise for her 88th birthday as a packed Nirvana restaurant greeted her and she was serenaded by her sons and friends alike.  She took it in her usual good natured way and delighted in mingling with all those who came to visit with her for the afternoon. Her only regret? “I could have dressed a little for colorfully,” she told a friend, “but they never tell me”, referring to her two sons.