Dubai: An endearing Canadian expat of Indian origin in Dubai, who turned 101 on July 31, has shared the secret of her longevity.
“I eat well, enjoy the sun and people say, I have a dry sense of humour,” Nibha Chatterjee, fondly referred to as Dida, tells Gulf News.
Well, that’s instantly evident. But there’s more to come when she cuts her birthday cake at a small gathering of friends and family.
As her grandson Bobby Rakhit, with whom she lives, tries to put a piece of the vanilla cake into her mouth, she is quick to push his hand away, preferring to do it on her own. She blesses him though, her spontaneous gesture touching hearts that have already been warmed by the ‘101’ candles on her cake.
Anyone who knows Dida will tell you her’s is a life well-lived. 101 glorious years and counting, with its sumptuous share of ups and downs, triumphs and tribulations.
“Make no mistake. I am 100 years young,” the no-nonsense Dida, who moved to Dubai at the age of 98, had told Gulf News on her 100th birthday last year.
'It must be the Dubai sun'
“I am still in the pink of health – it must be the Dubai sun,” she says, her impaired vision in one eye her only undoing.
There’s no telling that her journey to Dubai two years ago began under the “most difficult” circumstances during the pandemic. Just a few days before she was to fly down, she had suffered a bad fall with a broken cheekbone and fractured wrists, following which she was hospitalised.
“Remember, doctors had said I would not last the night and that I was on my death bed?” she asks Rakhit. “But see, I am still around.”
Dida says she owes much of her longevity to her sense of daily discipline.
“I have always been an early riser and also go to bed early. As long as I could, I would do a lot of physical work. I would clean the house, cook myself and take care of the family. Now, I have two helpers on the insistence of my grandson and they don’t let me do any house work.”
Still capable of moving around with the aid of a walker, Dida walks around the house and also sits in the balcony to soak in the sun.
“In fact, she does that twice a day for around half an hour to 45 minutes each time in the morning and in the afternoon. I also make sure she uses the elevator and goes down the building for a short walk in the lobby. I feel that’s very essential for her,” says Rakhit, who dotes on Dida.
“She keeps far better health here than in Canada,” he says, narrating how she had moved to Montreal with her late husband Dr Santhosh Chatterjee, a well-known doctor from Alabad in India’s Kolkata, over three decades ago.
He recalls how his mother, who was their only daughter and took care of Dida in Montreal, died in May 2020. But the warrior in Dida not only survived the terrible loss, but also “the craziest time in recent history as the world was in the grip of COVID-19”. It was in the midst of all of this that she, again on the insistence of Rakhit, decided to move to Dubai, but not before a two-month stint at the hospital after the fall.
“My last prayer for my departed mum was to tell her that I would take over where she left off after taking care of Dida for 30 years,” says Rakhit, who is ever so grateful that he was able to convince Dida to come to Dubai.
“Look what the sun is doing to her here,” he says.
Typical day and diet
So what is Dida’s typical day and diet like post-100?
“Although I am up early, I surface by around 7-7.30am these days. I need my morning cup of chai (tea) immediately. Then, I have my breakfast by around 8.30am.”
And what’s for breakfast? “Some fruit, usually papaya, and a slice of toast with butter and strawberry jam. I again have a cup of masala chai.”
“With two full spoons of sugar,” Rakhit is quick to add.
Dida admits she has a sweet tooth and never fails to have a piece of mithai (Indian sweet) after lunch, and sometimes with her evening tea too.
“Lunch is served at around 1pm and can be anything from fish fingers – she just loves them – to some pasta, noodles or a medium size pizza. We have a chef at home who prepares all her meals. Dinner is always an Indian meal, comprising rice (white) with dal (lentils) and a sabzi (fish, vegetables etc),” says Rakhit.
Love your food
“You see, what is important is to love your food and enjoy it, not stress or worry about it all the time. That is not good for your body or the mind,” says Dida.
Over the last one year, she has had much to celebrate, her good health topping the list.
Rakhit says she she also received a congratulatory letter from Queen Elizabeth II on her 100th birthday.
“It was perhaps one of the last letters Her Majesty must have sent before passing on,” he says, noting how it is a highly treasured document in the house.
Dida also touches upon her days in Kolkata, India, before she went to the West. Glorious chapters with many cherished memories, the kind that make up a life truly well spent.
Ask her what her mantra as a centenarian is going forward, and pat comes the reply: “Just stay positive - and laugh more.”