Nickname nipped in the bud

Rameshinder Singh Sandhu

The amusing culture of having a nickname continues not only in schools or homes, but also in villages, where the scene is more intriguing, considering that almost every family is branded for some whimsical reason or the other.

My maternal village Butala in Amritsar district, near the historic Baba Bakala shrine, is no exception where many humorous names I have been privy to since childhood. While some make you laugh, some arouse curiosity as there are also many who are known by the names of birds and animals. They may or may not like it but even the streets leading to their homes are commonly identified by some name, and who knows, some letter or courier too might be carrying that imprimatur to lend a helping hand to the village postman. And the names continue, generation after generation. Where was the wedding last night, I once asked a neighbour after a noisy night of celebrations nearby and he replied, “The wedding was in kawan di gali (street of crows) where the DJ went on and on…”

Ask the villagers, why a family living on this street is named after crows, and this is what every tongue with laughter will unfold: “Their elders were more than garrulous — always talking too much, but little does anyone know when the title was bestowed upon them.”

Similarly, there is another street, totyan di gali (street of parrots) for which a majority say their elders always wore parrot-coloured clothes with matching turbans and the story is no different for bugliyan di gali (street of cranes) as their elders mostly wore white clothes.

Not far from the gurdwara is a home called babeyan da ghar (home of priests) as its elders were once priests in the village gurdwara, but then there are also such names that if you take them, you may end up inviting a fight. Better not talk about them, one of them being shurimars (knife-stabbers), for instance.

However, there are also those who take pride in their names. One of them is the Shermar family. As the name suggests, one of their great-grandfathers had killed a lion in some forest and ever since, they have been known by it. Their love for it was evident when just two years back, they constructed a captivating sculpture of a lion even higher than their water tank. Parents with their children would climb rooftops to introduce them to their ‘L for lion’ moment, and many also went for a closer encounter, not forgetting selfies. Of course, it acquired a celebrity status.

But a few months back, as the Shermar family’s young son started falling sick, someone suggested that they bid adieu to the lion for cure, telling them they had taken too much pride in being called shermars. And guess what, it was gone forever as one morning it was handed over to the hammers. It’s been two months but the villagers, especially children, miss their lion. Wish you were still there, gazing daily at the village from high above!

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Goodness of small things

Prabhjit Singh

I was in a tearing hurry, and threw my shirt with a broken button on the bed, cursing myself for running behind schedule and not sorting out the clothes well in advance. Sitting in the balcony, my mother overheard my murmurs and shouted at me: ‘Kya hua?’ There was a distinct tone of irritation, and rightly so.

Not helping out at home is one thing, but asking for help at a moment’s notice and then expecting your work to be completed in a jiffy is quite irresponsible, to say the least.

I felt sheepish. She’s 79 years old and has not been keeping well. I certainly could not ask her to sew it. My father turned 80 last month. Though relishing his paranthas as he frequently cooks when my mother complains of body ache, asking him to fix the button was a bit too much.

I was, however, fixated on wearing that shirt and mustering courage, murmured to my mother whether she could request the house help to quickly do the job as I went to take a bath. ‘No, Neetu does the cleaning job only,’ she shot back. A retired schoolteacher, her classroom discipline remains intact at home.

My father quietly listened to the mother-son conversation, but chose to remain silent, not a word of protest and not chiding his middle-aged son about simple things that I ought to be mindful of. He also had complete understanding of his wife’s helplessness in stitching the button with her virtually trembling fingers. But mother being mother, she smiled and told me: ‘Ho jayega, tu jaa tyar ho.’

A few minutes later, as I came downstairs, my mother had left for her physiotherapy session in the neighbourhood and my father was in the kitchen, inspecting the pickle jars and preparing perhaps for the next meal. And folded neatly, outside, was the shirt — all fixed. He went about the work almost joyously, not expecting a ‘thank you’ note or an embrace — a daughter really would have made sure of doing that, and not for effect. I think we should all agree to this, daughters are something else.

As I wore the shirt, I felt a sense of huge embarrassment for having put my parents through a needless exercise, but also huge pride in being a witness and soaking in such selfless and deep love. It is universal, I guess, the lifelong parental affection and a true treasure and measure of any family. I feel blessed every day. To anyone who says small things do not matter, I would answer that small is big, the goodness of small things stands out.

There is also a lesson perhaps in how my father’s silence aesthetically prevails over his orderly wife: do your bit without fail, it gets noticed every time even if not wholeheartedly acknowledged.

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One-of-a-kind ride to Xmas party

NJ Ravi Chander

The fag-end of the year is always a time for Christmas cheer and merriment. My maternal uncle, MD Umapathi, vividly recalls his date with Christmas in Bengaluru in the early 1940s. Back then, there was a small military train operated by the Madras Sappers and Miners which ran a few kilometres on a narrow-gauge line in the cantonment. On Christmas, the train ferried families of defence personnel belonging to the Royal Indian Engineers, also called Madras Sappers, from the MEG Officers’ Mess, Fraser Town, to the end of the Training Battalion near Cox Town, and back to the mess for a few hours of party and fun. My uncle’s father and my maternal grandfather, a Lieutenant, would accompany his children. Family members would be picked up in a military jeep from their quarters at Jalahalli, herded into a truck and taken to the venue for a joyride on the military rail.

The train would meander its way past vineyards and defence lands. Bengaluru was a one-horse town back then, with big open spaces and empty streets. Though the ride was short, travelling in the open train and taking in the sights, sounds and sunshine on the way was a thrilling experience for the kids. Even the adults looked forward to the ride with childlike enthusiasm.

The passengers would hop off the train at the Officers’ Mess to join the revellers at the Christmas celebrations hosted by the Army unit. The locomotive would terminate at the Sappers’ Workshop, further up the road. It was a gala event; the venue appeared resplendent with colourful balloons hanging from the ceiling. The lush green cover inside the campus and the troop of monkeys on the treetops amused the children.

The Christmas tree, grandly decorated, and a big star illuminated in the evening, would greet visitors. When the evening was still young, a soldier decked up as Santa Claus would surprise the kids with gifts. My uncle recollects his gift in the form of four miniature aeroplane toys of various hues, with the names of countries embossed on them. My mother held on dearly to the adorable doll presented to her. The guests gorged on cakes and goodies, specially made for the festive occasion. The military band that played music on the sidelines was a unique attraction. After the celebrations concluded, and it was time to leave, the kids bade farewell reluctantly!

The grand old locomotive runs no more, but stands on the MEG campus as a reminder of a bygone era. As a tiny tot, I recount seeing a metal bridge atop the tracks on the Artillery Road in Fraser Town, which enabled the foot-borne Sappers, affectionately called thambis (younger brothers in Tamil) to criss-cross from the MEG maidan to the mess. These markers of history have long since disappeared along with the track.

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Pain of losing childhood home

Col HP Singh (retd)

I am selling the house,’ said my cousin hesitantly. It took some time for the meaning to sink in. There was a surge of emotions so strong that before I could respond, a lump came to my throat, interrupting our conversation. ‘As it is, I cannot live there given its vintage, congested locality and the effort required to maintain it. I am getting a reasonable price,’ he continued as I tried to reconcile with the enormity of his decision.

Built by our grandfather, this was my first home after birth. With both parents working, the responsibility of looking after me devolved upon my doting grandparents under whose tutelage I spent my formative years. Time may not be irretrievable, but the moments etched in time remain a part of us. Fond memories took me back to those days of a cherished childhood with plentiful playmates, profuse camaraderie of neighbourhood and simplicity of life.

I have fond memories of flying kites, racing across rooftops to catch hold of the ‘downed’ one in a dogfight. Berries plucked from the neighbour’s tree, whose branches intruded into our airspace, have been the sweetest I’ve ever tasted. It was fun watching the milking of our cow and see grandma churn madhani to produce butter. Meals were served besides the chullah, whose fire was kept alive by adding wood and cow-dung cakes. We would take turns to draw water from the hand pump, a more reliable source of water than the tap. Sleeping on an open terrace counting stars in summers, playing in flooded streets during monsoon and sitting next to the fireplace in winters was something we looked forward to each year.

Nothing remains of those carefree days of an undemanding life. My grandparents are long gone, and so are my uncles. My cousin’s job keeps him away and a caretaker now resides in the world that was once ours. As the neighbours climbed up the economic ladder, they left the mohalla one by one for greener pastures. The cow and kites are history, and so is the open-air kitchen. The receding water table has made the hand pump redundant, which stands as a relic of an era gone by. The walls along the terrace of all houses have been raised, leaving little maneuvering space for transgression. My heart mourns the passing away of a way of life which was so simple, pure and naive.

I visited the house to have one last look before it changed hands. While my memories are sweet, there was little left there to connect with. I felt like a stranger in the neighbourhood where almost every house has been renovated. The only living being which connects my past with the present is the berry tree, dwarfed into insignificance fearing its own impending slaughter. My eyes welled up, seeing the once-vibrant letterbox, and I wonder whether I will ever revisit my childhood castle. The ache of my heart stops me from making any commitment.

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Quite alone in a world full of people

Anirudh Dhanda

Knowledge today is being circulated freely to one and all. There is enough and more for all to satisfy their insatiable hunger. Once upon a time, while meeting over drinks, everyone would talk about stories read by all in that morning’s papers or in popular weekly magazines or the latest issue of Reader’s Digest. No more. People are not even sharing jokes. They just forward them. The art of storytelling and ingenuity of the ‘joker’ is dead.

Sanjeev Kapoor is bringing newer recipes to desi kitchens. Many different diet patterns and exercise schedules — all said to have been recommended by experts, approved by the WHO and being used by many in the world — are being sent to you. Art and music abound all households. All are getting entertained. All national and international issues have spiritual answers. Morning walk is not boring anymore — ab nahi sahna padega akelepan ka dard. You can receive God’s words right into your ears, anywhere and anytime. You just have to pull the wires up to your ears and all the useless chirpings of birds, birth of fresh plumes of life on trees and good mornings of fellow walkers are drowned into nothingness.

The globe has further shrunk — to the size of the smartphone. All are connected 24/7. Brothers, sisters, lovers, et al. Each one knows where the other is, in real time. Even information about what he/she ate in the yonder world, continents apart, is at a fingertip’s distance. The world has become the hitherto forgotten village where everyone was for everyone else and everyone’s life the others’ concern. Earlier people loathed that. Today, people love it. All is being told by everyone to everyone else. All respond through beautiful drawings of hands and emojis. The aim of human life seems within reach. No physical material world, you live in the all-encompassing space. You are alone, but not lonely.

The age-old axiom, ignorance is bliss, is real. God bless social media for providing the easy route. Bliss is all pervasive. Students and teachers of political science, who are yet to digest the full import of the Preamble of the Constitution, are debating Article 370 and CAA. Others are busy shouting at them. Advice on financial investments is available even if not asking for it. Medical arena tops the charts. You go to a doctor only for confirmation of diagnosis by Google.

There is a spurt in educated illiterates. They have degrees from colleges and universities, and are now getting actual education online. The most wonderful aspect of social media is that you are a student and a teacher, entertained and entertainer, reader and debater, learner and instructor, all at the same time. You receive and you immediately share. Who could have thought of such prakram in the past?

The grip of the smartphone is strong. No free moment for you… Carry on the responsibility of not being missed, not being late in sharing. And laughing out loud (lol) but alas … alone!

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Empty nest syndrome and abuse

Chetana Vaishnavi

She has taken away my son to Ireland!’ The woman in front of me cribbed. I tried to give her solace in my small ways. I knew she was stressed and depressed. There was a feeling of grief and loneliness. She was suffering from the empty nest syndrome. She was a working woman, and felt there was no purpose left in her life. She felt that she had been rejected by her own son. I requested her to take the help of a psychiatrist. She said she had. ‘Is your son on talking terms with you?’ I asked. She nodded. ‘Then why are you grieving?’ She cried sadly, ‘In this wide world now, where is my standing?’ I said I could not understand what she meant. She looked surprised, and said the doctor, too, had told her the same thing.

Then there was this other woman who cribbed that her son got married and settled in Australia. ‘He has deceived me,’ she complained to me several times. I felt sorry for her. With children flying away to achieve their dreams, the emotionally drained elderly parents are left to fend for themselves. And many times, children do not even achieve their dreams abroad. They end up as cheap labour in restaurants, gas pumps, public toilets or become taxi drivers.

But young children do not understand that there are several advantages of remaining in a joint family. Both the elders and the children get one another’s support. The grandchildren are raised up with more love and guidance, and do not fall into bad habits and bad friendships. The presence of more members in the household helps the children to be active socially. In joint families, there is a decreased chance of kidnapping and human trafficking and plenty of support is available in times of difficulties. Financially also, joint families are better, as rents on houses can be saved and festivals can be enjoyed together.

Now the times are changing. The strong joint family system has crumbled, giving rise to weak nuclear families, because the modern generation does not want to bear the burden of the elderly. Children desire everything to be served on a platter, without working hard. They are in a hurry to inherit their parents’ properties, built with great love for their future use. Consequently, they often bring about financial pressure, enforce time constraints and create an abundance of household duties on the elders. Thus the elders are subjected to all kinds of abuse — financial, emotional, physical and mental.

My dear woman, where do you stand now in this wide world? Let me tell you — you stand in your own home and that too with dignity! Pursue your own dreams now, which you had sacrificed for them. Ireland or Australia, never mind; be brave! For an empty nest is far, far better than constantly suffering from abuse.

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Question Hour: Humour to rancour

Pawan Kumar Bansal

HEARING Minister of Health Harsh Vardhan read out in extenso, not answering a parliamentary question, but accusing the questioner, Rahul Gandhi, of nothing short of blasphemy against the PM at a rally and seeking apology the moment he asked his question, flashed across my mind many instances of lively and informative Question Hour I sat through, beginning 1984.

It is a testing time. Fifteen questions seeking information from the government on subjects under its jurisdiction are selected through ballot. The rest, subject to a two-fold limit, viz. total number of 160 questions and not more than five for a member, are listed as Unstarred Questions. Supplementaries to the answer in response to a Starred Question may elicit a wide range of questions. Officers of the ministry prepare a note on all possible questions that might be asked and brief the minister concerned. A minister with good knowledge of the subject is well placed to take googlies while another may face a difficult time — to the merriment of members.

A serious question-answer session, at times, also throws up a jibe, greeted by hearty laughter and thumping of desks. There are occasions when an answer may enliven the atmosphere. Once, when a senior, feisty and portly member, known for his humour, asked the woman Deputy Chairperson of the Rajya Sabha on her first day of elevation what liberty he could take with her, pat came the reply, ‘The chair is too small for you to take any liberty.’ The House was in peals of laughter. In another case, a new minister of state, to his embarrassment but boisterous hilarity in the House, said ‘orgasm’ instead of ‘organism’. In one instance, the editing staff substituted the word ‘tinnitus’ (a hearing impairment) by the word ‘tetanus’ and ‘choes’ by ‘chaos’.

There are many such instances, though over the years such jovial occasions have become few and far between. In an environment of competitive politics, banter gives way to acrimony, with accusations flying across the benches, thanks to a morbid sense of humour which leads to misunderstanding and indignation. Remember Shashi Tharoor’s ‘cattle class’ tweet?

Ministers have a right to submit that a particular supplementary does not arise out of the main question, or that it does not seek information but is only an observation or suggestion for action. Subject to these exceptions, a minister cannot decline to answer a question.

However, a history of sorts was created in the Lok Sabha when the Minister for Health came armed, not to answer the question, but to blast the member who had to ask one. When Rahul Gandhi put his question, the minister took the easy course to read out an unrelated statement. This had the desired effect of throwing the House into turmoil. It catapulted his act to the front pages of newspapers, but the Lok Sabha suffered a blow where the minister got away with not answering a query. Parliament’s right to know was undoubtedly compromised.

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