I first got to know Lesley because we shared a common love for cats.
Meeting in the hospital where she worked in the morning, we’d have a quick catch up on what strange things my cat (then a wonderfully aristocratic stray called Gooch) did, versus the stray who visited her through her kitchen window.
Soft-spoken, with a twinkle in her eye, Lesley would throw her head back in laughter as I would narrate Gooch’s latest escapades, the sparrow he’d caught as a gift to us or the guest he shooed (rather mewed) out of his favourite chair.
Sometimes our conversations would cover a little bit of how her cat’s not doing too well and we’d suggest remedies for each other’s feline friends.

Over a period of a couple of years I’d gotten to know Lesley as a wonderfully gracious person, truly dedicated to her work and someone everyone around the hospital respected.

It was around the time that she retired that I was co-incidentally (and desperately) looking for someone who could lend me a hand in the increasing freelance work I was doing.
That’s when Lesley really came into my world. She agreed to work with me part-time and before we knew it we got started.
Lesley’s professional etiquette, her dedication to work, her commitment to time, and attention to detail came as a huge surprise for me. Not because I didn’t expect her to be professional but also because ours was a part-time, non-corporate arrangement and we worked out of a home office.
After having worked on my own for a couple of years, it was Lesley who brought back some of the corporate professionalism in to my little home-grown business. She was completely reliable, utterly dependable and quite infallible.
I am not saying Lesley was perfect or knew everything. But she was perfect in the way she approached her work. Everything, every tiny little bit of instruction was written down. While we struggled with new software (this is the 90s and we had 286s, Celerons and Windows that perplexed us with the START button to SHUT DOWN!)
Lesley and I both struggled with various shortcuts in the word processing software but while I bungled around to discover something and forgot about it till I needed it the next time, Lesley wrote it down! Shorthand be praised, Lesley would quickly scribble it down in those weird characters and then voila! the next time we struggled with, say, a page break, she’d bring out the diary and come up with the answer!
If I was happy to have Lesley assist me with work, there were two little creatures who were overjoyed having her around. By this time, my older cat had passed on and I had two new entrants into the house. My new kittens Caesar and Cleo, welcomed the cat-loving attention that Lesley showered over them. While Cleo was a bit haughty she still came and strutted around Lesley, while Lesley gently rebuked her for being so vain and proud. Caesar unabashedly jumped on the back of Lesley’s chair while she was working and played with her dangling earrings. Lesley never forgot that. And till the very end, Caesar remained her very favourite ‘dear ole Caesar’.
Over time, Lesley and I discovered our common love for reading and for writing.
Reading was anyway something that was obvious, because on a Saturday, Lesley would arrive with an extra bag. While Lesley worked only part-time with me, on most Saturdays (with prior notice) she left a little earlier. Her routine on Saturday was to go to the Club after work and read by the poolside. Her love of reading was not difficult to share. What I didn’t know for a very long time was that Lesley was a wonderful writer too. In fact, she had had a great flair for writing. And even later shared a wonderful published novel with me. Lesley in her quiet way never failed to surprise me.
I don’t know when our professional relationship with Lesley went on to friendship. But we just had so much in common that it was bound to happen. And I had so much to learn from Lesley.
Lesley was with me during one of the worst periods of my life. She saw me through my worst illness that lasted for months. By this time we had moved into a tiny little office in one of the industrial estates in Mumbai. Although a bit out of the way, Lesley never complained about the extra walk to the office. For that matter, Lesley never complained. Never, ever, ever. One of the few hundred things that I admired about Lesley and never ever managed to learn.
Lesley always looked at the positive side of things. She had a wonderfully quiet, British sense of humour, without any malice. Her love for life and all things good came through in her way of looking at the silver lining behind every cloud. And yes, we had our share of clouds. She had hers. I had mine. Through each Lesley would help break the sun through and show the single ray of light and we’d laugh; Lesley throwing her head back in laughter as usual.
Times were bad. Every day as I went through my illness and through the problems with my new office, I shared my bad news with Lesley. Every day I laughed with her as things got worse. Every day we said, “It can’t get worse”.  It did. But that gave us another day of laughter. Looking back anyone else would have buckled down. With either my problems.  Or Lesley’s challenges. But not Lesley. And not me, thanks in a large part to Lesley. She was definitely one of the pillars that held me up during my worst times.
While she never wore her beliefs on her sleeve, Lesley was deeply spiritual. A deep faith in the innate goodness of nature and a Supreme Force. Between the two of us, there was an unarticulated  agreement that somewhere there was something directing our lives and we had to make the best of it. God knows, Lesley did. And I tried vainly to follow suit.
Lesley’s wonderful spirit came out best when she travelled. And how she travelled. To Jordon. And Turkey. The United States. To South America. To different parts of Europe. And then she’d regale me with lovely extremely well written travelogues that took me there where I could not travel. Not only did I marvel at all those places that she went to, but I marveled even more at the energy and vigour with which she went with her wonderful adventures.
The time when Lesley decided to go back to England was around the time I was shutting shop myself. It seemed like all the changes were happening on all sides. However much I knew I’d miss Lesley it was the best decision she had made for herself. Once again, in hindsight, it really was. I was happy for Lesley that she was going to be close to where her sister lived, who she spoke so fondly of.
Back in England Lesley got on to the email circuit. In the beginning it was a bit tough for her but she managed (as usual) and went on to sending me wonderful mails. There were forwards that we exchanged about nature, travels and animals. Then she faithfully sent me her travelogues a bit after she came back from her holiday adventures. And from time to time it was an update on what was happening with her life.
And then early in the year I’d get the mail letting me know her dates to come to Mumbai for her annual break here. Always we made it a point to meet at least once during her trips to Mumbai. Once in a way we managed to meet twice. It was always wonderful to meet Lesley. We exchanged notes. She’d ask me about my work. She’d advise me not to work so hard. And then she’d invite me to come over and spend time with her. And then she’d be gone.
Year after year, Lesley’s birthday and New Year cards sailed on time into my mail box. The cards came in bang on time for Vinit and Niyati too. She never failed. Never.
This year however instead of a card, I got a mail from her sister. And my heart sank.
Lesley was not doing too good she said. I sent her a mail to convey my wishes to Lesley. To tell her that she was always in my thoughts and prayers. But then I am sure Lesley knew that.
The last time she was here, we were to meet yet once again when she called. She was at the CCI and was not up to making a trip to the Willingdon Club where we were slated to meet. I agreed to meet her at the CCI. Lesley had spent a sleepless night earlier and she was looking down. Her spirit however was not. She stated matter-of-factly of not being too good but then our conversation moved to pleasant things. As always. As always Lesley looked at the brighter side of things, as always happy that she had managed to make the trip to India. When I left she was smiling. And that’s how I’ll always always remember her.
In her last mail telling me about Lesley passing away, Lesley’s sister wrote, “She is a free spirit once again.”
I’d like to believe that. Lesley is free now. Free to think, dream and be positive. Free to travel where she wants. Free to believe in the goodness of all the life and hereafter has to offer.
There will be none like Lesley. And we who knew her, should be grateful we had such a gracious being in our midst.
Lesley, wherever you are, we know you are throwing your head back and laughing.
RIP.
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