Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Khaandaan Ka Paandaan...cont.

Daddy Runs Away

Daddy was a restless boy. He had an overactive imagination and was forever up to some prank or making an endeavour to live out his dreams. This was one side of the dreamer, poet, artist and fun loving ambitious boy. However buried, not far beneath, in his soul smouldered a terrible temper; perhaps an accumulation of all the unspent energy and also the frustrations he must have had. He was impetuous and reacted, often, very irrationally when in a rage. Usually it meant beating up someone or being destructive in some way.

One day when he couldn’t have his way with his mother, he decided to run away from home. He must have been about thirteen or fourteen then. They lived in a small town in Punjab, where my grandfather was a teacher in the Government School. Dad didn’t have any money nor did he have any kind of plan in mind. So once his temper had cooled down and he realised that running away from home wasn’t the wisest thing to do, he was already quite far away from home. Hunger and fear weren’t making things any better. He kept walking and sat down only when his legs couldn’t hold up any longer. He was sitting near a watermelon rehri (cart) and one can only imagine how much his mouth must have watered for a bite. He was miserable and wanted to go home, but being arrogant he did not know how he’d face, not only the beating he was bound to get but also the humiliation of defeat. He found it was harder to say ‘sorry’ and accept his fault than sit out his hunger and fatigue.

At a point he did come close to giving up and going back. It was summer and the Punjab summers are extremely harsh. Perhaps he would have swallowed his pride and turned homewards but someone approached him. It was a eunuch. Daddy didn’t bother to dwell on this as it was a relief to have someone sympathetic talk to him. He spilled out his story and didn’t feel ashamed to cry. He was consoled and given watermelon which he walloped down. With his hunger and thirst satiated, he expressed his desire to return to his home, worried now that his mother, who loved him very much, would be sick with worry and crying. But the eunuch talked him out of it. Daddy reluctantly acquiesced to what the eunuch said more from a sense of gratitude than conviction. So he quietly went along and they reached Karnal, a town very far from Daddy’s home. Here he was made comfortable in the eunuch’s shack and told to rest as it had been a tiring journey. The eunuch went off to earn his living singing and dancing dressed as a woman.

Back in Daddy’s hometown, his parents were stirring up search parties. Everyone was looking out for him. The news of Daddy’s disappearance reached Melzhar Gilani, who later went on to become a judge, and he swung into action. Fortunately his contacts proved to be excellent detectives and Daddy’s whereabouts were traced to Karnal. Before the day was through Uncle Melzhar drove down to Karnal himself and rescued Dad from the eunuch. Uncle belonged to an influential and rich family and it was enough to warn the eunuch not to try and come anywhere near Daddy again. Contrary to Daddy’s fears, he was received with tears of joy and relief.

One would think he had learned his lesson; he had in a way, but it wasn’t that running away wasn’t the solution. About four years later he ran away again. This time however he knew where he was going and what the purpose of his mission was, and he did carry some money with him. It seems that the lesson he had learned was that running away was fine if one had a destination, plan and constructive purpose for it.

I fancied the adventure and thrill attached to such stories, but I could never be fully convinced that this was the right way to achieve one’s goals. There are other ways, which perhaps might mean confrontation, but they serve to guide you and also provide you with other viewpoints and better options. Maybe that’s why, though I dreamed of running away, and even kept a few of my valuables bundled in a handkerchief, tied to a stick, a la vagabond I never did want to ever leave home that way. Very early in life I learned where to draw the line and also to distinguish which fantasies could be realities and which only made for good play-acting and dreaming.

Daddy didn’t advocate running away, as a means to an end. His mistakes were youthful ones, made in haste and perhaps regretted bitterly in quiet moments. He never admitted it openly but I can safely draw this conclusion from the way he guided me with lessons on perseverance, determination and going through rather than around. His main stress always lay on education as the way to achieve one’s goals.

In the final analysis, Daddy had learned some valuable lessons from his shenanigans and he passed these on to me. What I marvel at is the way he taught me, by recounting tales of his successes and mistakes. He never hid his escapades and neither did he conceal the negative outcomes. He blamed no one for the adverse consequences of his actions and gave credit, where due, for his achievements. He didn’t denounce his actions and didn’t praise them; he left it for me to work out. I had questions which he never fended, answering each honestly. I had to seek my own ‘Truth,’ he only showed me the way to the ultimate truth. From him I have learned to live my life with courage and a firm belief in God.


Friday, March 26, 2010

Khaandaan Ka Paandaan cont.... The RIN and WRINS

“Tell your children some good family stories and you’ll be remembered for generations. Be the story and you will live forever.”...........Joy Clarkson

As I trawled through my memory for stories, incidents and anecdotes that I could add to my collection of “paans & giloris” for Khaandaan Ka Paandaan, my gift to my grandchildren, I wondered about my need to recount here little snippets and snapshots of our family life. I believe it is very important to know, if not all then, most of the people and nuts one’s family tree is full of. But what’s more important is to know how they lived and what ingredients were stirred into their lives that produced characters and lives so varied and diverse that one wouldn’t even know they were related if the family tree didn’t join them. It also helps to know which ancestor to blame for all the quirks you have! I enjoyed listening to the yarns about my parents and older siblings. I also learned a few things; some ‘what to do’ things, some ‘what not to do’ and quite a bit of ‘left to do’ stuff. So was this the reason I was going down memory lane? I mulled a while and the outcome was the quote which opens this chapter.

The Royal Indian Navy and the WRINS

Daddy decided to join the Navy as a sailor to fight the War. He was only seventeen when he made this momentous decision, but more on that later. The British were ruling India so the Naval Force in India was called the Royal Indian Navy. The women’s division was known as the Women’s Royal Indian Navy Services, and the recruits to this wing were generally referred to as WRINS. Having earned his commission in the UK, Daddy returned to India. He was in the signals division, posted at Bombay, now known as Mumbai. He bossed over some WRINS who were stenographers and made up his department. I am referring only to this group in his office because they are important to the development of this narrative.

Daddy was a youth from rural Punjab, with an excellent physique and handsome face. Tall and dark, he fitted the bill to be a Barbara Cartland hero...”tall, dark and handsome.” Needless to say he was much sought after by women including those in his office. He was quite aware of the effect he had on them and enjoyed the attention they lavished on him. The drawer in his table would always be filled with chocolates; just one of the bribes to ensure they didn’t get a rough day at work. No matter how many times I heard this story I never failed to marvel at the stupidity of these WRINS. Why on earth were they giving Daddy chocolates! They should have been receiving them from him!

“Ab woh laa kar rakhte the meri drawer mein , toh main kha leta tha. Unko bola thodi na tha ke mujhe chocolate achchi lagti hai,” he would laugh off my childish contempt.

“Of course you used to ask them to get you chocolates. And when they wouldn’t you’d get angry.” Mummy would be quick to correct him. The jealousy apparently still lurked within.

Daddy would grin and refute that with a silent nod of his head. This was the cue for someone to ask if everyone without exception gave in to this extortion. And of course one of us would oblige.

“Oh no, everyone wouldn’t. There was this small Burmese who refused to comply,” he’d say, his eyes twinkling. We’d all turn to look at Mummy who’d be blushing and smiling shyly; another cue for more questions which we would supply.

“Why didn’t you bring chocolates?”
“Did you get a rough day at work?”
“Didn’t you like Daddy?”
“How many girlfriends did he have?”
“Were you jealous?”

The same old questions were repeated; the same old answers were given. But the interest was always fresh on both sides of the table. Just as Mum and Dad retained the timeless joy of their courtship even though they had been married for “donkey’s years,” we listened and marvelled at the love that had bound these two very different people, with renewed interest. For every wrinkle, every grey hair that was added with the passage of time, made it more amazing that the story could still evoke the same feelings that youthful romance had embedded in their hearts forever.

I’m not even remotely suggesting that life was Utopia for them. They had their squabbles and bitter fights. As I mentioned earlier they were poles apart in all things. And that’s what makes it unbelievable. My father doted on my mother even though she drove him mad at times...most times. And she remained forever jealous and possessive of him till she died.

Theirs might not be an ideal love story as love stories go, but it had all the ingredients of which legendary romances are made. Boss and steno, rich-poor divide, North-South chasm, Urban-rural culture chasm, language barriers, (mom was a Burmese brought up in a city in the South, and knew only South Indian languages and English) whirlwind courtship, parental objection, elopement, alienation; they did it all and survived all the tests. I’m talking about a long time back. They were married in July, 1947 in a small conservative town in Punjab.

I still smile when I picture Daddy teasing ma, obviously savouring those long gone moments. He’d look lovingly at Mummy who’d be as shy as a new bride as she smiled and glanced at him with apparent adulation. Yes, they sure had something special between them.


“Paans & Giloris......... Paan is betel leaf with areca nut and other things added to it. Chewing paan is an age-old practice and is deeply rooted in India.Gilori is also a small paan.

Khaandaan ka..........the family's

Paandaan..........The container used to keep the betel leaf and other condiments used to make the paan.

“Ab woh laa kar rakhte the meri drawer mein , toh main kha leta tha. Unko bola thodi na tha ke mujhe chocolate achchi lagti hai,”.........."They would put the chocolates in my drawer and I used to eat them. I never told them I liked chocolates."


Friday, March 19, 2010

"Go to foreign countries and you will get to know the good things one possesses at home." - Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

I've been through some harrowing experiences ever since I came to Chile one month ago. I've learnt what a terramotto (big earthquake) really is. I've managed to stay sane if not brave, through an almost continual flow of aftershocks. I've been on the streets running away, God knows where, from a tsunami alert with no idea of where I was going nor any knowledge of the local language.I can't sleep and my nerves are jangled. I suppose the predominant feeling at this time should be one of fear. But surprisingly it isn't so. What I feel so much all the time is gratefulness.

Nothing can be taken for granted. Even a glass of clean drinking water or a simple thing like hot water in the taps or gas to cook your food, or even for a slice of bread.I've been grateful for a bathroom, even though nine other people were using it and the flushing system of the WC wasn't working. Not a very long time back,this would have been reason enough to throw a mammoth fit. I would get upset over things which seem so trivial to me today.

I'm being brief here about the difficult situation I'm facing. Creature comforts and luxury of home life in India enlarge the discomfort in a foreign land especially when the place is shaken by natural disasters and one spends a day and night on the streets.Yes,I came here as a creature a bit too fastidious. Well, I admit I'm not a saint yet but though life in Chile is not exactly honky-dory, I've learnt to appreciate the little things of life and feel grateful for the small acts of kindness I encounter every day. I've experienced what it means when we speak about the presence of God and his grace. Yes,I'm grateful.

"No one is as capable of gratitude as one who has emerged from the kingdom of night." -Elie Wiesel


Monday, March 15, 2010

Khaandaan Ka Paandaan ....cont..

Mummy does a Vanishing Act

Mummy was all of 4’8” tall. That should be more like ‘short’ than tall, but for all her pint-size stature she packed a giant image and not once did I ever perceive her as short, as long as I was a kid.

Mummy got tickled very easily. Even the silliest of jokes would get her in splits. And so it was only natural that any kind of goof-up, even some one tripping and falling or tumbling would make her laugh first and help later. She always helped, with tears rolling down her cheeks….well so what if they were squeezed out by laughter! So it only stands to reason that all of us kids also have the same foible. I wonder if foibles are contagious! Let’s not digress and get along with the tale.

So this happened in Delhi. We were in Moti Bagh. One day we decided to take the short-cut to the taxi stand. Jasper and I were walking ahead and as we came to the rather wide and deep gutter, which thankfully isn’t there today, we jumped over it effortlessly, without interrupting our conversation. A few steps later, I turned to look for Mummy and she was nowhere to be seen. In typical little girl fashion I panicked. Where had she vanished? Kidnapped!

We ran back and there getting up inside the gutter was our mother. The relief had a huge comic effect to it and I burst out laughing. Jasper, the good old soul that he is, stopped his mirth to stoop to give her a hand up.

“Stupid tailor,” she grumbled, “stitched my petticoat so narrow, I couldn’t span the width of the gutter.”

The sermon I got did not rankle but it did prompt me to retort that she laughed too whenever I fell, but I didn’t mind since I laughed too, harder than any one else. However, the sermon served its purpose eventually, as I don’t find it funny when some one falls any more. Maybe later, when one is brushed and dusted, and no physical or egoistic injuries have been sustained, a little laughter is ok.