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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Life....the journey's been good!

After reading Subroto Bagchi’s article which you had sent, I had the overwhelming urge to read the book”Go, Kiss The World.” Coincidentally Ajit was here when I picked it up at a bookstore and he told me he had it lying back at his office. I read it and am re-reading it! It’s a powerful book made all the more so as, I think, we all can identify with his writing….he could be describing my parents’ and grandparents’ philosophy of life.
We went through a large part of childhood minus a fridge and then a TV as my dad could not see their need! And we walked….everywhere! I never gave these incidents much importance! I have always believed that I have been lucky…now I realize it is so because of the attitude I had imbibed unconsciously! When I got married to Ajit and went around in the beat-up vehicle, I was really grateful that I had bid farewell to the DTC buses…and to the bad hair days courtesy my dad’s scooter! A bare house, post wedding, was pure possibility….so many things to look forward to! The yearly bonus lifted my spirits till it came again…Ajit now gives me that amount as spending money and it is not appreciated half as much!
I will read out the book to Sangram and we will pause and talk about it. We all talk about how times have changed….but I was overcome with nostalgia for what we had while growing up and what our kids will never get! A simple life….where possessions were just that….they did not define us! Four glasses of milk in a day religiously…only actual throwing up could make one miss that ghastly glass once! One cold drink per child not matter what the occasion…no counting calories, no fussing over food…we ran about so much we ate everything that was edible and sometimes, some that was not…my teenaged sister ate an entire rasgolla tin, after lunch, (all 48 pieces) which had been left as it was “suspect”! She said that they were ‘sourish’ so she drank all the rasa to make up! We observed her carefully that afternoon but she suffered no ill-effects!

Sometimes, some things make one pause and reflect. This book did this to me. And as I re-evaluate my life and weigh it, I know I would not make any changes…the journey has been good!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Roots

It was a typical pre-Indepence village in the heart of UP, baked mud houses with thatched roofs, a cow or two tied in the middle of the courtyard, goats leaping free, chickens scratching in the dust, no electricity, no running water, no sewage system. The village had a one section school held under a sprawling banyan which protected them during the blazing summer months. During winter, the solitary teacher and his charges moved out from under the shade in the welcome heat of a benign sun. The boy was a happy lad, much favoured by his mother, running about barefeet with his myriad cousins, much like all the other kids in play, climbing trees and jumping in the vast pond where buffaloes joined them on particularly hot days, doing what little boys do when they are able to run free. What separated him from the others was when he was in school! The school had boys of varied ages, all sitting on the ground, learning aloud by rote what their ‘master’ deemed fit. Sometimes he would send Bholu to wash his buffalo during school hours, sometimes it was Chiddi who went to assist his wife in her household chores…the school teacher was the undisputed king and his word law! He would sometimes get up leisurely and catch a daydreaming boy by his ear and wring him rudely back to reality, sometimes whack a slow to learn boy on his back, secure in his knowledge that physical pain often made minds keener and sharper. He never touched the young lad. One day, he called the father and told him that the lad had learnt all that could be learnt in the little open school under the tree. The father sent his boy to a larger school which was far further and one had to walk a few miles to reach it. For the sake of company, the father sent his older son and a few nephews along too. The lad soon outpaced his elder brothers and completed his schooling.
The father had realized that he had an unusual boy on his hands and made the decision of sending the boy to the city where as was expected, the boy fared well and was ready for college. The father sold some land, gathered some money and sent his son abroad for further education. The boy lived and studied in a foreign land, among an alien culture with limited resources. He made friends and lived and laughed and studied ferociously. And after seven years of exile he came back home.
Two days later he was attending his own wedding to a bride he had not seen, let alone met. She came from a vastly different background than his. He applied for a job, got it and so joined the Indian Air Force at 26 yrs.
In time he had two daughters who went to convent schools and sometimes, his wife and daughters would giggle helplessly when he called a donkey a dunkey. Once he told his girl that a “steak” was pronounced as “stake’ and she did not believe him until he brought out the dictionary. He was a fun father but very short of time and when the girls would come into his room to bid him goodnight, they would find him sitting, surrounded with books and scribbling away in reams and reams of paper. When they got up in the morning, the light in his room would still be on and when they peeped in, he would still be studying. On rare occasions, he would suddenly burst out of that cell and sing songs in a language none of the women could understand and then disclose that it was a French or a German song to his wide eyed audience.
The younger daughter would creep into that room and do her homework very importantly there and if she had important questions, of which there were many, she would always go to him for answers. When all the neighbours bought fridges, he did not as he found it pointless. And TVs were relegated to the same category….he would teach all his kids and their playmates on holidays under a guava tree in the lawn and the lessons were endless. The kids would disappear on by one, on noiseless feet after a few hours….the final hapless youngster would ultimately be rescued by an irate mother late in the day. He believed firmly in feeding the kids well and in physical exercise.

The children grew up and married, left home. And one day, the younger daughter who was now a mother herself, decided to go with her father back to the little village “to discover her roots” and so father and daughter came full circle to the tiny village with the mud baked houses and thatched roofs. And the girl turned woman then realized who her father really was. He was an ordinary Indian with an extraordinary mind who had leapt out of a village straight into the big world, straddling two lifestyles, different cultures, who had changed so much yet remained so intrinsically the same! Such a long journey traversed with such humility and matter of factness!
Yes, the lad is my father and I’m the younger daughter. I speak English effortlessly (French with effort) and drive myself around, equally at home in saris and jeans. I have one child and two dogs and live a life so different from the women in the village that we could be living in separate universes. And it happened all because a young brilliant lad in a village had the courage to leap into the vast unknown!

On Independence Day


My grandfather was a colonel in the Army and his three sons joined him there. My earliest memory is how alive the house seemed with all these four 6 footers together. Larger than life with fierce moustaches of all types…my nana amd mamas were my earliest heroes. I extended this same unconditional love to the Armed Forces. The olive greens, the black boots lined up in a military row, gleaming like only a soldier’s boots can, the dress uniforms with the polished gold bottons, the solitary camp cot whose narrow confines held all of us wriggling in it like puppies, the white enamel mugs which seemed to hold the very essence of this glamorous life….I think I loved all of it with a white hot intensity.


My father was also in the Forces…I saw another aspect of the Forces with him…fearless warriors patrolling the very skies….I grew up on campuses and I did not know what fear meant. We were the military kids and we were the protectors. I remember being puzzled when adults questioned me “who are you?’…I actually replied that I was an Indian. I got married outside the forces and saw a different side of life…but my love affair with the Forces never came to a halt. I have seen life come a full circle…when I was really young, the finest of the fine entered our Armed Forces. It was a matter of pride and honour to serve one’s country. And those who joined here could be spotted a mile off…they never tolerated any injustice , they were truly fearless…I had one mama who must have been in his late forties, who while escorting me beat up a guy who said something very nasty to me and who had made the mistake of thinking that I was traveling alone! The way my mama thrashed him with just his bare hands was a sight to behold. The predator turned prey did not have breath in his body to beg for mercy! Contrast that to the hordes who pass by when a woman is being molested and choose to keep mum! I have countless such stories…my nana aged but he still remained a lion. When one walked with him, one could sense the aura of powerful protection he exuded!


Then I saw how people began avoiding a career in the Forces. To become a soldier was now associated with foolishness…keeping pace with the marching materialism, fighting for one’s country was equated with outdated notions of idealism. What place does idealism have in our lives today? What do we teach our kids…do we teach them at winning is what counts or do we teach them that losing gracefully too is an art? Money is the biggest motivator for us today…money and the soldier are opposing forces. A Soldier cannot be money minded! A business man is money oriented, so is a trader, so is a householder! A soldier protects and defends…he fights. No more and no less!


And what do we give him in return? I ask you this question…how do we repay a man who takes up arms in our defence? How can we repay them? These questions are so relevant today because we see it for ourselves that our systems are collapsing but our Armed Forces still stand tall. Give a soldier his due. He asks for nothing so should we take him so much for granted? While rescuing frightened people during the Mumbai attacks in November, a soldier told them “Do not fear! To get at you, they will have to get me first,”….just one line but what a world of meaning!


If we all did our duty as bravely and unflinchingly as the soldier, we would be in a far happier position today. For to live life with honour is still one of the finest tenets to follow!