What it takes to be a saviour

Rajan Kapoor

The other day, my college organised a seminar on Bhagat Puran Singh. Speaker after speaker heaped praise on the great saint who dedicated his body and soul in the service of the destitute. The audience listened to them with rapt attention. When the seminar came to an end, students of my class asked a volley of questions to the experts on Bhagat Puran’s life. They happily obliged the students.

The next day, a student asked me: ‘What makes a man give up everything for others, and that too in the prime of his life?’ It was not a difficult question, but it was certainly a tricky one. I attempted to answer it, but failed to satisfy the student. To pull myself out of the embarrassing situation, I immediately started reading the poem Somebody’s Mother to the class. I explained the poem in detail, and also the compassionate act of the boy who helps an old and infirm woman cross a busy road on a chilly winter day. When I finished my lecture, the same student again put the same question to me. This time, I felt a bit angry, but controlled myself. To deflect his salvo, I aggressively recited a couplet of an Urdu poem. This gave the whole class the jitters. The student who put the question was also confused. I felt strangely victorious and started gloating over my win.

Days passed on. But off and on, I tried to read the mood of the student. Every time, I found that his quest for a proper answer was not yet over. After a few days, something strange happened. The student whose query I tried to dodge by throwing an intellectual googly came to me along with a group of five friends. His shirt was soiled with bloodstains. He took me to a corner in the staff room and asked for a donation of a few rupees. His friends started talking to my colleagues. When I asked him why he was collecting donation, what he told me, made my heart swell with pride.

‘Sir, a five-year-old child of a migrant labour of my locality has been taken ill. I took him to a doctor. After examination, the doctor advised an operation. Hearing about it, the poor parents of the child broke down. Tears also welled up in my eyes. I immediately rung up my friends and sought their help, which they promised. So, here we are, collecting money for the treatment of that boy.’

I patted him on his back and also gave him some money. Before leaving, he also told me that he had got the answer to the question he had put to me twice the other day.

‘What is that?’ I asked innocently.

‘Sir, a Samaritan has no age. It takes two things to be a saviour of the needy. First, a challenging situation, and second, a heart that beats for others.’

That day, I also learnt how to attain Samaritan-hood.

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The girl who became ‘beta’

Apoorva Sharma

It is indeed not easy to break down the cliches of our society, and its rigid mindset. It becomes rather tough for a girl to accomplish such a task. Every individual fosters a free spirit that wants to scale new heights and carve its niche.

Hailing from a small border town, it kindled within me the same raw spirit. But being part of a conservative setting, I always felt muzzled. The only escape from the restrictions at home was school hours. The co-ed institute made me experience different hues of life.

Carrying the burden of hackneyed approach on my fragile shoulders, I took to devising ways to overcome the situation and pave my own path. It amuses me now… the time spent at school. I had an aversion to long skirts. But short dresses would have tarnished the ‘honour’ of my family. How ironical! The Indian traditional dress, sari, is approved, considered graceful, even when it bares the midriff. But shorts are disapproved of.

Being on the other side of the biological fence, I was castigated even at the mere thought of wearing such an attire. However, by the time I used to reach school, some friends and I would fold our skirts such that they reached above the knee. It pricked my conscience a couple of times, but I sought comfort in the thought that the times were changing. Before I would reach home, the skirt would readjust itself to suit the mindset of my parents!

The same was the case with my schoolmates. I was tomboyish in school and had a lot of male friends. Had my parents known about it, I would have been in hot water.

This made me feel miserable at times, because my brother’s girl friends used to visit him often and it was acceptable, but in my case, it was deemed no less than a sin.

Many a time, I slept sobbing, complaining about the prejudice. But to my dismay, there was no one to lend me a shoulder to cry upon. No one understood. I decided to put up a fight against this rudimentary mindset. I laboured and kept topping the charts in my school and college, successfully completing engineering. It was not a cakewalk. I had to put my foot down on many occasions for pursuing my studies and turning down marriage proposals. There were times when I had to bear the wrath of my family too. When I took up my first job and shifted to a metropolis, my life registered a paradigm shift.

I started supporting my dad in his finances and fulfilled all the responsibilities of a son. I cannot forget the day when my father embraced me and said, “Tu to hamara beta hai”. He had tears of repentance in his eyes. My heart melted and I hugged him back tightly, saying,’ “Dad, it is never too late to change.”

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Hitting the mark for less

Maj Gen SPS Narang (retd)

Post superannuation, after serving glorious 38 years in the Army, I got the job of a professor in a domain-specific university in Dehradun. I was assigned to teach MBA (Aviation Management) students. It took them about a fortnight to accept me as their well-wisher, though it took me only a week to like my 56 students. To me, they were like my own children, deserving of care, respect and understanding. I knew that with each passing day, the guru-shishya relationship would blossom.

As part of mandatory internal evaluation, I was required to conduct surprise tests, quizzes, classroom presentations and so on. After almost six weeks of interaction, I announced the surprise test. Understandably, there were mild protests. But there was no going back. The paper was for 50 marks, and duration 30 minutes. The test commenced and after about 10 minutes I was called by the Dean. I left, announcing that I would return shortly. I added, ‘Those who finish can leave their answer scripts on my table. Please ensure that this is your own effort.’ The meeting finished in about 10 minutes and I walked back to the class. The door, with translucent glass, was closed. To my disbelief, I found most of them indulging in verbal and non-verbal communication.

On entering, I did not say a word, and collected the papers. The next day, I returned the evaluated scripts, and showed them the register in which their marks were recorded. I told them that these marks could not be altered, and would be submitted to the HoD, as was the practice. However, I followed it up saying, ‘My friends, you can keep these answer scripts with you, but before sleeping today, replay what you did during the test, and tomorrow morning return the same, having endorsed in hand how many marks you did not deserve.’ I added, ‘Most of you have eroded my hopes to transform you into outstanding humans.’ I walked off. They knew they had betrayed my trust.

The next day — the one I rate the best of my teaching profession — almost all students with deducted marks, ranging from two to 15, returned the sheets. Seeing what they had done, I knew the guru-shishya relationship was at its best. However, one student wrote, ‘No change, Sir’. I believed her because she was actually capable of getting full marks. But the following day, before I could open my cabin, I found her, all teary-eyed. ‘Sir, I have not been able to sleep. I am guilty of not deducting four marks. Please forgive me.’ I blessed her, telling her that she would excel in life. Lest it remains unstated, she finished her doctorate in Australia and is doing extremely well.

In fact, all my students are doing well because they are fantastic humans. They overcame temptation.

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A leaf out of cheat sheet

Col DS Cheema (Retd)

Every year before March, students and their parents start preparing for oncoming examinations. I recall my days when I was forced by my parents and siblings to concentrate only on studies. Most students of my generation burnt the midnight oil, but there was a miniscule minority for whom preparation meant finding out names of the superintendent of the exam centre and invigilators and develop contacts with them; and writing parchis.

Temptation to cheat, which is as old as examination itself, is one to which many have fallen. New technologies have thrown up many new options and cheaters of today are smarter and sharper. Some cheats of my generation were very innovative. One I knew used a novel technique to get through an engineering examination.

The Emergency Commission in the Army after the 1962 War, opened floodgates for some who became Emergency Commissioned Officers. Most of them were past 25 years of age and were already earning their livelihood. Only a few were still in college or studying in a professional institution. Though all aspirants had to go through preliminary weaning and two Service Selection Boards, many candidates resorted to cheating and were granted Permanent Commission.

A particular cheat was over 26 years old when he underwent the mandatory three-year engineering course. He soon realised that the course was too much for his mental faculties. Every student was putting in his best effort on the night before the external examination we all dreaded. But not him.

A friend and I were studying when the man hurriedly parked his scooter with a screech in front of my room. He was puffing with excitement and bolted the door immediately after entering. For obvious reasons, we wanted to get rid of him as early as possible. He told us in a hushed tone that he had something very important to share with us and he started removing his shirt. We could hardly expect the midnight spectacle. He removed his vest and spread it on the table in front of us. It was smeared with ink all over. He asked us to decipher the smudged impression and construct the questions. Since we knew the subject well, we were able to understand four of eight questions. He asked us to mark the answers of those four questions in the thick book he was carrying. When we asked him how he could get the print of the question paper on his vest, he revealed that he had tied up with the peon whose duty was to get the question paper cyclostyled. He bribed the peon to put the wet paper on his vest and walked out of the basement where the confidential work was being carried out at night. Needless to say, he passed the tough examination.

Now, whenever I see the man who is still in harness, I feel ashamed that I could not resist the temptation, took advantage of the situation and was part of the shameful episode.

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Lessons learnt by fluke

DC Sharma

SEEING politicians using gimmicks and jumlas today, I get nostalgic. During my youth, only a few people would make use of tukka, tikdam and ghugi. Tukka or guesswork may work, or may land you in trouble. Tikdam is a cunning scheme which some people use to grind their own axe. And ghugi is simply putting your initials instead of taking the trouble of putting your full signatures. I have had a bitter experience with all three.

I was in BA-I, when my teacher of economics, a learned professor, naively told us how to get good marks. ‘Answers on Indian economy, particularly about why farming is backward, could bring good marks when you pack in more points….’ ‘But, Sir, if I forget to put more points, is there some other remedy?’ I humbly enquired. ‘Yes, you may easily make use of tukka! While writing points up to 15, you may miss a point here and there — writing up to five and then eight, nine, and then 11, 12… Examiners generally take evaluation work like the harvesting of a crop. They rarely go through all points. They only note the number of points and award marks.’ When the results were declared, I was expecting 80 per cent, but could barely reach 60. The use of tukka had dealt me a hard blow.

After completing MA in English, I tried to make use of tikdam. The job of a lecturer in English was vacant at a college in a border town of Punjab. A friend took me to a politician who promised to help me, provided I taught his daughter grammar. I took a room on rent there, and started coaching her. Thank God, the girl who basically knew nothing was brought on track. I was hopeful the tikdam would click in my favour. As per the interview date, I approached the politician, who at once lifted his phone, and rang up: “Hello, principal… he must be put on probation… mind it….’ And he put the receiver with a thud.

Elated, I tried to impress upon the principal just before the interview was to start: ‘Sir, I am the one about whom you had received the telephone call this morning!’ ‘What? I have just returned from Delhi and you talk of a call in the morning!’ he rebuffed me.

I had heard a lot about the lure of ghugi. When I brought the subject of Communicative English for the first time in Himachal from the Central Institute of English and Foreign Languages, Hyderabad, in 1995, I had to work more hard as students had to be prepared for practical exams in English too.

Being awfully busy, I had little time to even sign their practical notebooks. Finding it convenient, I had started applying the rule of ghugi, simply putting my initials instead of my full signatures. While conducting the exams, I observed that a student had himself put my initials in his notebook. Though the initials seemed exactly like mine, he had erred to note that I would only use a fountain pen.

That day onward, forget about tukka or tikdam, I never even used ghugi; thanks to the lessons I learnt at a price!

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Enter the dragon

Sandeep Sinha

The only time I had heard of Punjab’s China connection was when I came across the term Sino-Ludhianvi dishes. The term described the Punjabified Chinese food in India like the triple Schezwan rice and was a take on how all food that goes as Chinese in India is not authentic. My first brush with a Sino-Ludhianvi dish was not in Macau, but in Moga, where famished after a day’s work, I gorged on a noodle-burger.

It came as a surprise therefore when I read about the recent announcement by CM Amarinder Singh that Mandarin will be offered as an optional subject in senior secondary classes in Punjab schools. The language will initially be offered in one school in each district and students will have to appear in an annual exam.

The Make in India and Smart City initiatives of the Modi government have Chinese companies, strong in infrastructure development, eyeing business prospects. With a number of cities in Punjab vying for the ‘smart’ tag, the prospect appears to be sound. Already, the Banawali thermal power plant near Talwandi Sabo has been built with Chinese assistance in terms of engineering, procurement and construction.

The timing of the move is also significant for a paramilitary force like the ITBP, which is teaching its recruits Chinese. Home Minister Rajnath Singh, addressing ITBP personnel on their 56th Raising Day, asked them to learn Mandarin to communicate better with the Chinese. With border skirmishes like in Doklam, the advice is sound. The Punjabi movie Subedar Joginder Singh, released recently, is about a hero who attained martyrdom in the 1962 China war.

Punjab has been hosting Chinese students, who come here to study subjects ranging from yoga to English and information technology to biotechnology. Less distance between the two countries and cost-effective education prompts them to opt for India. In fact, a place like Bathinda has students from Thailand studying in schools there.

The Chinese, curious about the country of Buddha, have been visiting this part of the country since the days of King Kanishka and his Kushan successors who controlled parts of Punjab. Only now, they visit the state for educational and business purposes. The love for foreign shores among the Punjabis is well-known. If they can buy land in distant Georgia, why not explore Guangzhou?

The silver lining is that a state that takes pride in its language and culture — sadda Punjab, saddi shaan —is willing to promote learning of a foreign language. Harkishan Singh Surjit might have served as an ideological link to communist China, but it has been mostly Westward Ho for Punjabis and not a Look East policy. Amarinder himself is known more to head for Dubai than Beijing. The development, hence, is interesting.

Did I hear someone say, ‘Ni Hao, Captain saheb!’

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The parting kick

Vikramdeep Johal

Hope you won’t dispose it of as scrap,” I asked him pleadingly. “No, no, I’ll use it myself. Need it to transport all kinds of material,” the scrap dealer replied. We were talking about my 17-year-old scooter, which I had finally decided to sell — with a heavy heart.

Despite his assurance, I couldn’t help imagining him tearing it apart as if it was just another aged machine. Only I knew it had a heart that kept beating in rhythm with my own for years, until the allure of the automobile made me cold-shoulder an old companion. And only I knew how it had sulked over being cruelly ignored by its master.

The buyer tried to kick-start the vehicle, but it refused to cooperate. Was that a sign for me? Did it want to stay on for old times’ sake? No matter what was on its “mind”, I couldn’t afford to be in a dilemma now. There was just too much traffic on the city roads. Driving a two-wheeler amid the rampaging MUVs and SUVs was like going out for a walk in a minefield. You never knew which “terrorist on wheels” would knock the living daylights out of you. No wonder my father had shunned the scooter like the plague after a close shave in a hit-and-run.

I volunteered to make my Chetak get going, but my kicks, too, didn’t work. I was well aware of its tantrums. Having suffered neglect in recent times, it had developed a nasty habit of testing my patience to the hilt. Sensing my exasperation, the man wiped sweat off his brow and made a fresh attempt. This time, the engine sputtered to life as if a dormant volcano had become active again, unleashing a fiery jet of smoke in my direction. I couldn’t suppress a pang of jealousy at this change of loyalties. Perhaps this was its way of getting back at me for switching over to the four-wheeler, which was safer but by no means invincible.

As the vehicle’s new owner got ready to depart, I felt a lump in my throat. A flood of memories inundated my mindscape. I’d purchased it soon after bagging a full-time job with a princely four-figure salary. Work or leisure, this once-prized possession had dutifully taken me to my destination — with or without partners — and often on a near-empty fuel tank. The deceptively inanimate thing had been privy to my most intimate thoughts, thoughts that were too outrageous to be shared with any person. Riding it was like writing a personal diary in motion.

“Take good care of it,” I felt like telling him, but quickly reminded myself that he wasn’t my son-in-law and this wasn’t my daughter’s doli moment. And as it went out of sight, a piece of me was taken away forever, leaving me richer by a few thousand bucks but infinitely poorer.

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