Hyderabad: One hundred years is something to celebrate, especially when you’ve lived through two World Wars, four Indian wars, the Spanish flu, India’s struggle for Independence, and the deadly Covid-19 pandemic. A day before she cuts her birthday cake and blows out 100 candles, Shakuntala Patnaik relived her experiences and recollections.
Dressed in a silk saree accompanied by a pearl necklace, Shakuntala posed for a few photographs, surrounded by generations of family members as she celebrated an incredible milestone in her life. Her life path is an inspiration; even in the midst of adversity, she kept a grin on her face and made do with what she had. "My life's journey has been happy and exciting; I tell God I am content; I no longer desire anything."
Shakuntala, who was born on June 22, 1922, in Saravakota, a small town near Visakhapatnam, has witnessed a lot in her long life. While the Covid-19 pandemic pushed many into melancholy, anxiety, dread, sadness, and loneliness, Shakuntala, who was quarantined in India and abroad, encouraged people to stay positive.
"Take things as they come, try to solve them if you can, if you can't, there are people who have been through it before, they may be able to advise you," she said on Tuesday.
Shakuntala's father was a quartermaster in the British Army and was captured during the Burmese war. Despite coming from an orthodox household, he encouraged women in his family and provided them with convent education.
"Because of my father's assignments in other locations, I gained more exposure, I attended good convent schools, and I played basketball. I grew up with strong family bonds, and we used to share everything," she continued. We've been through a lot of difficulties, but we've never been depressed."
In 1946, she married Dr P.B. Patnaik, a mathematics professor. Soon after, he travelled for London to pursue his doctorate in statistics. "He travelled on ships, and due to the conflict, they had to take a longer, month-long journey. Letters used to take a month to arrive back then. In 1960, my husband joined the United Nations, and I began teaching English in UN schools. Thanks to the British, my English was so fluent and good that I was able to work in different countries,” she recalled.
Shakuntala’s family, along with her husband’s side, now expanded into hundreds. Her family has made a significant contribution to society; all four of her sons and a daughter have important positions in society, with one of them retiring from NASA as a scientist. There are twelve grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren in the family.
"Cell phones damaged relationships, took up one's spare time, and took away one's peace of mind," she says when asked what the main problem in today's relationships is....