In Paris… meeting Mohanjeet!

On 12th October, just over two weeks ago, while strolling along Rue Saint-André des Arts, I suddenly saw this storefront that read, “Diwali”. I was delighted. No pun intended. It was still my third day on my first visit to Paris.  😉


The bigger joy followed just moments later, when I met Mohanjeet! I was admiring the architectural details on the buildings of this delightfully narrow street, when a lady stopped me in my tracks, held my forearm, and asked, “Are you Indian?” I nodded in the affirmative. (Why would I deny a fact that’s written all over my desi face.) 🙂 I said, “Hello” with a broad smile I could not contain. The lady introduced herself, asked if I was in a rush to go somewhere… No, I wasn’t in any tearing hurry to get anywhere. I’d just got to this city a couple of days ago… and had many more to go. She said, “Then come with me, let’s have coffee, but first I have to go to the post office.” I followed her… we walked together to the post office, then to a café not far away – I remember it was Café Brasserie Le Danton at Boulevard Saint Germain. She asked if I would have a glass of wine. I preferred to have café at that hour. Glad I did — it was Lavazza, my everyday favorite. No sooner was l’addition du restaurant placed on the table — along with a bowl of chips, a glass of wine for my host, and a coffee for yours truly, Mohanjeet quickly put the bill in her pocket, saying she had invited me! Hmm… 🙂 Well, I learned some most interesting facets about her while we chatted. She was rather pleased to see I was with camera et al… and that I was traveling all on my own, immersed in the sights and sounds of this French city, which she seemed to have embraced as her home for almost 60 years! When she learned that I was writing a book – a biography – it brought on a smile. Soon I would learn why.


She cajoled me to eat the chips from her bowl, and when one bowl was empty, she quickly called for another… obviously, a regular patron there. 🙂 It was getting close to 7 p.m. By now we had been together for a good hour or two. She said she owned a store not far from there and invited me to go with her. We walked back to 21 Rue Saint-Sulpice. Voilà, haute couture, that’s what the boutique was… Earthy colors, elegant styles, this was women’s fashion… classy, chic and a cut above much I’d seen in the past 15 years — garments worn by Indians in the US. All of it was her own creation! While she talked to her staff, my eyes took in all the pretty stuff. She said, “Go up, there’s more to look at up there.” I went up the spiral staircase… ooh la la… more beautiful pieces… Shortly after, she closed the shop, I walked her to her bus-stop, and she invited me to see her again, if time permitted. We met again a few days later. I invited her for dinner. We ate at Cafe Comptoir Tournon, a short walking distance from Odéon – Théâtre de l’Europe. It was indeed a unique experience. She shared some stories from her life – personal, and professional. By now – through a Google search – I had also learned that she had played tennis with Elizabeth Taylor, and that Hollywood stars from Jane Fonda to Cameron Diaz had worn her creations. Originally from Lahore, she had survived Partition, but had left India when she was 19. She had rubbed shoulders with the likes of Yves St Laurent, and her creations had splashed across Vogue, Bazaar and such… but what may be of interest to my friends here is that she also had lunch with renowned actors Raj Kapoor and Nargis in 1952, with personal autographs from them. That was in Los Angeles, when she was a student of Political Science and Literature at UCLA. 🙂 This store – since 1968 – the only active one now, was among 11 that she had owned in Paris! Once upon a time, Mohanjeet had even worked for The New York Times. Oh, wow…

There’s much I could write here… but this should suffice… I was very fortunate to meet such an interesting person… serendipity! A memory I will cherish, and which I doubt will fade anytime soon… Mohanjeet, please take care of yourself. 🙂 I look forward to meeting you again someday. When I knew not even a single soul in Paris until a few days ago, from out of nowhere, you held my arm, and spent time with me. Thank you, for reaching out…


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