Maya Chakravarti: Mother. Nani. Auntie. Kind. Born June 28, 1934, in New Delhi, India; died Feb. 14, 2021, in Saskatoon, Sask., of cancer; aged 86.
Maha Maya Mukerji was the oldest daughter in a large family. Maya’s mother insisted that her daughter be educated and Maya was tutored at home and eventually earned a master’s degree in economics from Agra University.
At 23, Maya agreed to an arranged marriage with Aninda Kumar Chakravarti; and after a weeklong wedding in Bulandshahr, India, in May 1957, moved to Allahabad on the banks of Triveni Sangam. One year later, their daughter Anita was born. Soon after, Aninda travelled to the United States to complete his studies and Maya raised her daughter with the support of a large extended family. After two years apart, Maya and Anita flew to Madison, Wis., where Aninda was completing his PhD. When he was offered a job at the University of Saskatchewan as a geography professor, the family drove north to Saskatoon.
Money was tight. With no Asian grocery store in town, the few immigrant families pooled resources to send someone to Edmonton to pick up basmati rice, lentils and spices. One friend even returned from India with a small amount of yogurt, which was carefully cultured and reverently shared. Maya was sure some of that culture still floats around Saskatchewan.
Maya’s ability to knit, sew and crochet came in handy. She made the family’s clothes and most of the clothing and accessories for Anita’s first real Barbie – she also saved nickels and dimes to purchase the store-made Barbie wedding dress her daughter wanted.
In 1966, the family purchased their first home in River Heights – there was no back fence, just wheat fields as far as the eye could see. Maya adapted to suburbia, she became an excellent gardener, learned how to drive, joined the University Wives Club, and even worked at Simpsons Sears where she made many lifelong friends.
As a pioneer in Saskatoon’s Indian community, she was active in Hindu society and at the temple, and was often recognized as someone who could bring together people from different backgrounds, faiths, races and cultures. She received many awards and distinctions.
Maya’s love language was food – compassion was her secret ingredient. She was known for her Bengali sweets such as rasogulla, ras mallai and sandesh and everyone knew that if you were ailing, delicious food would show up on your doorstep. During meals, Maya only served chappatis right off the grill. It drove her daughter crazy that she always made sure everyone else had seconds and thirds before sitting down to eat herself.
Maya’s daughter’s Indian wedding was one of the first in Saskatoon – and she organized it with such flair and love. Her relationship with her son-in-law was strong – she said that God had given her the son she had always wanted. The two often “ganged up” on her daughter and would watch Bollywood movies together. Her grandchildren, Jay and Sonya, gave Maya such joy. “Nani” was there for every single school play, recital, birthday, high-school and university graduations, and their weddings.
Aninda died in 2007, shortly after their 50th anniversary. Maya showed resilience and slowly developed a new life – one filled with service to others.
In January, 2021, Maya learned she had metastatic cancer. The community organized a virtual evening prayer vigil that lasted 10 days. Friends from near and far shared stories of how “MayaDi” (big sister) helped them through difficult times. Maya listened every night. “I didn’t know that I meant so much to them,” she said. “I didn’t realize my life had such value and worth … I am so grateful”.
Maya died on Feb. 14 surrounded by family. She was the physical embodiment of love and compassion, and the synchronicity of the date gives her family comfort; not only is it Valentine’s Day but it was the day to celebrate Saraswati (goddess of wisdom and knowledge), which was also Maya’s mother’s name. Maya was called home.
Anita Chakravarti is Maya’s daughter.
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