CHENNAI: Most memorial meetings are solemn affairs, with people dabbing at their eyes with their kerchiefs every time a particularly tearful memory Is shared. It's probably a testament to the life and legacy of Dr Suniti Solomon that the best stories shared about her made people laugh and feel good about themselves.
"My mum was a really fun person and I think she's probably looking down at all of us and laughing to herself. Because she'd have wanted all of us to get on with life and get down to work. That's how she was. She was full of life," said her son Sunil Solomon, "Right to the end." Everybody knows her as the first person to detect HIV in the country during her time at MMC, but the picture of the fiercely committed, fun person that she was behind all that research began to emerge through the stories.
One of the things that he is personally thankful for is that one of her lifelong dreams came true, despite her being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. "She'd always wanted to visit this 144 year old Wisteria tree that flowers only during a particular season in Japan. The day after she was diagnosed we were supposed to leave but she wanted to cancel. I insisted, so we made the two day trip and she managed to finally see the Ashikaga Park there," he recalled, "The flight was tough, but we managed and she was totally happy that she got to see it," added the assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University.
That was in late April. After that, she began chemo and began battling a different nemesis than she had been for the last three decades. "The thing I loved about my mum was that she was never about the research papers or getting published in the lancet. For her it was always about understanding the community and staying current with the issues there. I remember there was on night at the dinner table when she casually asked me if I knew what a blow job was," he said to a lot of laughter.
Another compellingly funny memory came from Mohammed Zaifulla, from the TN Slum Clearance Board, "She was spontaneous and had no reservations when it came to driving home a point. I remember the first time we went to a slum to do a ln awareness campaign on safe sec and using condoms. She first asked for my finger to use as a reference and when I was reluctant, she called a boy there and asked him to bring a banana to drive home the point. He brought a small one and she very casually said that it was too small to use and finally used a large vazhakkai plantain to show people how to use to a condom. That sort of candid attitude really worked with the people there and we saw some great results," he said.