Ashis Nandy met Uma Nandy, his wife of 50 years, at the Shivrath Centre of Excellence in Clinical Research in Ahmedabad. She remembers what he told her after walking into her office for the first time in 1961, “Ms.Trivedi (her maiden surname), I have come here to listen to your music.” Uma now adds with a loud laugh, “Little did he know that he would have to hear it all his life.”
A trained Hindustani vocalist and a clinical psychologist, Uma chose to stay at home when they shifted to Delhi. “Times were different then and I was lazy to do both,” she says.
Nandy has always brought home little money but they “were happy”. “We lived for about 30 years in a two-room set. On one side of the bed, I would do macramé, make pot handlers, sing, and he would read and write on the other side and life would go on.” Those days, they could afford only one chocolate at a time and would share it between Ashis, Uma and their daughter Aditi. “We used to go to Madras hotel in Connaught Place to have dosa, one rupee four annas each,” she fondly recalls.
The house that they live in now was his brother’s, well-known media personality and film producer Pritish Nandy, 10 years younger to Ashis. “He gave it very cheap to us and yet, we didn’t have the money,” she says.
A trait she notices in her husband is, “he is often very forgetful.” At times, he gives appointment to people, forgets. So she has to keep them busy in conversations, often about him, to make waiting for him less dull. “I tell people stories about him, how once, when he was a school boy, he didn’t get off at the tram station near home because he was reading and ended up in the last station. He had no money with him, so he had to walk back home, took him hours.”
Uma knows what her husband loves the most. “Not me, but his freedom. He can do anything to remain free. He is very fond of his daughter but there was not much involvement as a father on a daily basis,” she says. For a man to be in love with his freedom, to think the way he does, it must be a hard time for him in these days. She says little, the tears welling up in her eyes express more.