Patnem, India

Patnem, India

In January 2012 I was in Patnem with Daisy, lying on a lounger outside Salida del Sol engaged in a light doze and earwigging conversation around me, when I overheard an English couple discussing finding accommodation for a return visit in the next year. I couldn’t resist butting in and thank heavens I did because it was the start of a great friendship between Bob and I and Joe and Janet Dunlop. That year was their first visit to Patnem and they were staying at the Oceanic hotel which was nice but a bit of a hike to the beach. I advised them to walk up the road and look at the Tubki, which they did, and thereafter stayed there every year.
Joe is a lifelong actor and writer, Janet a counsellor and clinical psychologist and we found we had a lot in common over dinners and drinks. I’ve done a bit of theatre in the past and love theatrical tales and Joe often had me in stitches with his stories of backstage and onstage life. Janet too was wickedly funny. Our friendship grew to extend beyond Patnem. We visited them in London. They visited us in Kent. We found we all enjoyed short sojourns to France to help deplete the French wine mountain. They introduced us to a wonderful little chateau hotel/restaurant near Bordeaux where we enjoyed several stays. We go to Stratford upon Avon a couple of times a year, they told us about staying at the wonderful Moss Cottage.
Last year we all stayed together at the Tubki and most nights we’d enjoy drinks on one or the other’s terrace. Joe and Janet’s lovely daughter, Kirsty, her husband Tony and their children Amelia and Henry came out too for two memorable weeks. Janet and Joe took the kids to ride on elephants. It was such a happy time. At the end of the holiday, Joe had his birthday and we set off lanterns and made plans for a visit to Pondicherry before Patnem this year.
Janet was her usual vibrant, funny, active self. We didn’t have a care in the world. Just a joyful holiday. So, it was a huge shock when just a month later, after some blood tests, it was found she had stage 4 lung cancer. An unbelievable shock. No cough. No great weight loss. Hadn’t smoked for about 12 years. To all appearance, symptomless. We were reeling so heaven only knows how the family felt.
Janet and Joe approached the treatment over the summer with great courage and positivity. Kirsty read every article available on treatments and therapies. Chris came home from New York and we all met up at a Sunday bbq. Still, Janet seemed her normal self. I think we all knew that the situation was life extension, not cure, but still…… we hoped and prayed. Joe was an amazing carer and it was humbling to see how lovingly he supported Janet and how they kept each other’s spirits high.
By mid December, it was becoming clear that the chemo was not holding the damn lesions in check and time was short. We spoke to Janet on the phone and she was cheery and positive, clear in thought and speech. Funny and loving and full of talk of Amelia and Henry as always. I like to remember that.
We came to India knowing we would probably not see our friend again. It has been poignant to be here and visit so many places we have been before in their company. On Saturday night we went to dinner at the Tubki and on our way home afterwards, around midnight, we stood outside “Joe and Janet’s bungalow” and looked at the two empty chairs and our thoughts were full of them and we said a small prayer and went home. On Sunday, we had an email from Kirsty to say that Janet had passed peacefully and surrounded by her closest family on Saturday night.
So many people here in Patnem have spoken up about their lovely memories of Janet. Tonight we had arranged a memorial ceremony down by the waters edge at the beach. It was really very lovely. We bought two very large paper lanterns and we began by lighting them and sending them skywards. At they ascended Ye She, chanted and sang Tibetan prayers for the dead, wishing Janet’s soul a peaceful transition into a new realm and happiness in the afterlife. We all watched as the lanterns rose incredibly high and flew far. Honestly, I have never seen lanterns fly like it. Ye She kept the prayer chant going until they both totally disappeared from view which must have been a good 10 minutes. We all had turned to watch them ascend. It was a lovely symbolism. I think we all felt very moved when they finally disappeared into the night sky. We hugged and kissed each other. Then we walked down to the water’s edge and threw marigold flowers into the surf, thinking our thoughts of Janet as we did so.Back at our table which the restaurant had placed away from the rest, we talked of her, sharing memories and Gloria made a very poignant speech and toast to Janet’s spirit. We felt as though she was with us tonight, and she would have enjoyed it and been as funny and witty as ever no doubt. Finally, we had a round of coconut fenny, Janet’s favourite Goan treat, and we toasted Janet, Joe, Kirsty and Chris and sent our love and thanks for knowing Janet back to them as they face this difficult week. It is lucky they are such a close family and that love will sustain them no doubt and also Amelia and Henry will pull them through. Children have a way of breaking the sadness.
Janet will always be here in Patnem for us, in our memories. We look forward to making more memories with Joe when he is ready.

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