Grief vies with disbelief as Basu is laid to rest

September 13, 1992|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,Staff Writer

BETHESDA -- The tinkling of wind chimes and the sweet aroma of incense burning atop of the coffin of Pam Basu floated through the thick crowd of her mourners yesterday as hundreds of friends and relatives said goodbye to her in English and Hindi, a language of her native India.

Priests and family members sprinkled water over Dr. Basu's casket, graced with her wedding gown and photographs of her, to signify the eternity of her spirit.

"We have something sacred to fulfill here," said Dr. S. J. Bhattacharya, one of two Hindu ministers who presided over the service preceding the Howard County woman's cremation. "We have to remember her and share about this noble woman . . . to remember what sustained Pam: her belief in life."

Pam Basu's life was taken from her and everyone who loved her last Tuesday in a horrible crime near her home in Savage.

Convicted murderers in most parts of the world are not punished the way Dr. Basu was punished while taking her daughter Sarina to the child's first day of pre-school.

"This is not the right thing to happen to her," said one mourner.

Forced from her BMW automobile at gunpoint while idling at a stop sign near her home, Dr. Basu's arm was stuck in a seat belt as her attackers raced away with 22-month-old Sarina still in the car.

Dr. Basu, 34, died while being dragged along the asphalt of Gorman Road for nearly two miles.

The baby, put out of the car during the attempted escape, was rescued by a passing motorist. The stolen BMW finally stopped after ramming a fence. Rodney Eugene Soloman, 26, and Bernard Eric Miller, 16, were arrested and charged with murder.

Yesterday, in a downtown Bethesda funeral home, about 400 men and women in traditional Indian garb, business suits and mourning dress listened as good words were offered in honor of Dr. Basu, a nationally known research chemist with W. R. Grace & Co. whose work with catalytic converters led to changes that saved the auto industry billions of dollars.

Some of those who turned out from the Washington area's Indian community didn't know Pam Basu but were moved by reports of her death to pay their respects.

Her husband, Biswanath "Steve" Basu, did not speak at the service. He delivered a message read by Nita Davad, Dr. Basu's sister.

"It is so hard, but I will try . . . Without your support and concern, my family and I could not have coped with this insanity. For Sarina and I, our lives are forever changed."

Mr. Basu remembered that his wife, whom he called a "dedicated scientist, a true mother and a friend," lived for their newly adopted child. "The central point of her living is our daughter Sarina," he wrote. "And now I am left with caring for and nurturing this precious angel Sarina" by myself.

Mr. Basu recalled that their favorite family pastime was to sit pTC together and read books aloud to their daughter and how he never felt he could match his wife's talent for elocution.

After the service, Mr. Basu turned a switch in the crematorium which, in the Hindu custom, returned his wife's body to "its elemental nature."

A consolation in the tragedy might be found in the eternal quality of the human spirit, said Kamalaji Devi, the Hindu minister who married the Basus in 1980.

"Our prayers have a power. They benefit and uplift and console [us]," Ms. Devi said. "It is time to remember the immortal part of our being that is exclusively in the life of the soul."

Asked what karmic future might await the souls of the men suspected of killing Pam Basu, the priestess said: "It is not our purpose today to discuss that."

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