Mumbai's 'oldest' citizen to celebrate 109th birthday

Khar’s Kamala Banavalikar to celebrate a landmark birthday tomorrow

Kamala Banavalikar's Khar home is a flurry of activity when we visit her on a weekday afternoon. Hectic preparations are on for her birthday tomorrow, when she turns 109. "When do we have to bring aaji’s cake?" somebody asks above the din.

Banavalikar (centre) with daughter Jyoti Honawar (left), grandson Ashish (second from right) and his family. Pic/Nimesh Dave
Banavalikar (centre) with daughter Jyoti Honawar (left), grandson Ashish (second from right) and his family. Pic/Nimesh Dave

Meanwhile, 'aaji' (grandmother) is reclining on a cot, smiling at the whirl around her. When you are turning 109, you have the licence to relax and watch others work to mark your special day.

Kamala’s daughter, Jyoti Honawar, is in the thick of celebrations. Jyoti's daughter, Archana, and her children are down from Nashik to mark the day.

Ashish, Jyoti's son, who lives in the neighbourhood, says, "My aaji made the best puran polis and fish curry. She used to cook till a few years ago, but of late, she has not been very mobile, and has been confined to the bed. She had a fall some time ago and has lost her confidence to walk."

Kamala, says Jyoti, was born in Mhow, Indore, Madhya Pradesh. She holds an MA in Hindi literature from Nagpur University. "She was to go to London for higher studies, but because of World War II, she was unable to do so."

Kamala's great-grandsons — Aryan (12) and Avaan (6) — are her favourites. Aryan says, "I love playing racing with her on my iPad. But she prefers playing old school games like noughts and crosses and snakes 'n' 
ladders."

Ashish's wife, Neha, reveals aaji's fitness mantra: "She used to regularly walk to a Shiva temple, which is a good 30 minutes away. She would refuse to take the car, saying walking is good for health. She spent time meditating and match-making, too!"

Ashish adds, "A few years ago, aaji would chase everyone with a stick around the house, if we got up to mischief. Watching her celebrate her 109th birthday makes me proud to be her grandson."

Kamala's birthday has, traditionally, been a day of family get-togethers. "Every year, we celebrate her being with us for one more year. On one birthday, we had a photo cake made for aaji. This year's is a surprise," says an excited Ashish.

Oldest in Mumbai?
When we asked BMC chief Ajoy Mehta if Banavalikar is Mumbai’s oldest resident, he said, "We are the custodians of birth and death certificates in Mumbai, but we do not have records of the oldest residents of the city. Yet, 109? That is quite an age."

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