Bugbear once, relief now

RS Mehta

Retirement brings in a mini fortune in the form of terminal benefits. Besides there is pension which one can enjoy without tension. However, it also brings along ample free time at one’s disposal, especially if there are no post-retirement stints or engagements. Every day is a Sunday. How to kill time becomes a prime concern. What adds to the agony is that even family members are not ready to see you idling away the entire day. In fact, they are not used to your daylong presence in the house, day after day. Verbal spats can spark out of nothing.

I learnt this the hard way when I retired. My wife, a homemaker, who used to see my back by 8 am on weekdays, was not amused to see me at home all day. Her displeasure stemmed from her perception of my getting into her hair for apparently no reason. There was a visible change in her after my retirement. She appeared to have become impatient with me soon after the novelty of my retirement wore off. I tried to discern the reason, but could not, despite a lot of brooding. Perhaps my permanent presence in the house was in itself an eyesore for her. Maybe she did not want me encroaching upon her turf, which she had zealously guarded for three decades, though I had no such intention.

To my delight, I found that television serials were her way of unwinding herself, both from house-work stress and mood swings. I did not know that mindless serials could keep a woman glued to the screen for hours. Despite seemingly having known her inside out for years, it was a revelation for me. Not only serials, there appeared to be another — talking with relatives and friends on the mobile. I did not know that any topic under the sun, from cooking items of lunch/dinner to gossip, could be worthy of discussions.

I have detested serials and mobile phones all my life. While I find the former a sheer waste of time and electricity, I view mobiles as a nuisance — anyone can disturb you at any time of the day or night. I was dismayed to find both flourishing in my house.

I am free to enjoy my own pastimes like reading, writing and gardening. I shudder to imagine my plight of always being in the cross hairs of my wife, if instead of remaining engrossed in her ventures, she focused all her attention on my perceived innumerable warts that she has persisted with all our married life, but failed to iron out. I never knew that both my anathema — serials and mobiles — would be so crucial for my peaceful retirement life. Thank God for small mercies.

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Labouring to be educated

Roopinder Singh

He carried his eight decades of existence with an ease that was reassuring. He looked strong and his demeanour was of a person who could take care of himself. My mother is the reason I came to know him four decades ago as he had worked with her. Even though the way he recalls her acts of kindness, which she says were simple courtesies, is a bit embarrassing at times, one is always tempted to listen to those anecdotes again!

My impression of him was one of a dedicated and hard-working person. He was sweet to us children. Decades later, after I joined a newspaper, he would call whenever he read anything with my by-line. These included articles published in Log in Tribune, which were about a ‘world’ he cheerfully confessed ignorance of. Still, he would find something encouraging to say, and our conversations would have bits of information about his family — how his children were now accomplished professionals.

When I met him recently, he opened up and told me how he had left his house after confronting a domineering father while he was still in school. “I took up work as a daily wager at Rs 1.50 a day, but I kept studying and finished my schooling. Then I got work as a beldar in an educational institution. I earned my BA degree and learnt typing. A kind senior gave me a job where I could work behind a desk… and thus study more and practice my typing.

“Soon my typing speed became legendary and I got a far better job in the government, where I met my future wife. Even as we raised a family, we continued our studies. I am a double MA and an LLB and she is a PhD. Both of us have worked very hard to better our lives.” He rose high as an administrator, she as an academic.

This reminded me of what a former Editor-in-Chief had told me years ago: “We are where we are because of our education. We would be nowhere without it.” He, too, is from that generation. Post Independence people of Punjab were traumatised by the Partition. Individuals accustomed to riches had lost everything — literally or figuratively. Land yielded barely subsistence-level living and there were no jobs. The quest to improve one’s life lead to educational facilities, and people worked very hard to study.

Nowadays, as I go for my morning walk, I see parents struggling to push reluctant children to school. So often there are demands for grace marks in examinations. Such students may never experience the hunger of knowledge, and consequently never savour the joy of it being satiated.

Meeting this man, made me realise how privileged I was since our only struggle was for a good academic performance. And we cribbed about that too! I felt a little guilty about my relatively easy childhood, and grateful for all that I got on a platter.

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A story in every picture

Miraj Chauhan

The other day while grappling with boredom on a Sunday, I decided to time-travel. I am no experimental investigator to devise a time machine to do so. I have my own paraphernalia which catapults me to my childhood days within the twinkling of an eye. The treasure, comprising photographs of yore, takes me across time. Every photograph has a tale to narrate, going through all the major episodes of life in a jiffy.

The first still arrested my attention as the entire family consisting of 12 members smiled together to be clicked. The expressions were priceless and natural, unlike that of today’s selfie-fans. The shutter sound used to enthrall the posers. The moment I threw my eyes on myself in the picture, I smiled, recalling the antics I was performing during the photography session. With my arms folded and a Colgate smile on my face, I left no chance unexplored to make my brand-new wrist watch register its presence in the picture. Flipping the pages of a wornout album, I came across innumerable people that evoked ambivalent feelings within me.

There was a picture where my elder brother and I were cogitating over a box filled with coins. My brother, very cautiously, put a piece of glass over the box with the help of a towel and boastfully asserted that nobody could steal his money now. At that time, he had learnt about fingerprints and was under the impression that whoever would try to rob him would be caught due to the fingerprints on the glass.

After this bragging session, he retired to his room for a nap. I, on the contrary, fostered an Indian jugaad spirit. I took the same towel and removed the glass and stole the money! I spent the entire lot on eating and making merry. We had a terrible spat after he got to know about the culprit! Those were the days when we were innocent and the world was wise.

In another picture, I spotted my deceased granny. Tears welled up in my eyes remembering the time spent with her and her mesmerising art of story-telling. I miss the didactic tales she used to narrate with a conviction that I could infer something from it. Gone are the days and gone is she.

The last picture was of Grade IX, days before I was to shift to a new city with my family. It was quite difficult for me to part with my friends with whom I had spent 12 years of my life. But looking at the picture, the realisation dawned upon me that I had come a long way since.

These motionless pictures may seem mere things to many, but in reality, they are a treasure worth treasuring. Nobody can turn back the pages of life, but photographs help you revisit places and meet people who are no longer the same in terms of age, looks and disposition.

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Cold courage and an ice-wall

Maj Gen Raj Mehta (retd)

Trivandrum is a verdant, emerald-green capital city. The salt-laden sea breeze carries heavenly smells of asafoetida, sambar, dosa and seafood. It has an ancient culture that once linked the Malabar Coast via Malacca to China for lucrative spice-silk trade. Europeans, sensing a business opportunity, muscled in and the British stayed on till Gandhi, salt, a walking stick and a bit more freed us.

Travel through the old-new city with low-rise colonial structures and dignified modernity through litter-and-noise-free streets to its quaint Pangode Military Station and you come face to face with disciplined, right-angled intersections, rain forest greenery, buff barracks and ace heroism. The Veer Madrassis have been around since the French first harvested their guts, grit and soldiering skills in 1731 and are as relevant today as the city’s cultural and trading heritage.

It takes some imagination to soar from fertile sea-coast cities and well-laid-out military stations to Himalayan snows, but it helps when you have a driven young, qualified-for-Staff-College Major telling you why heroism is never irrelevant. He should know: he was there when an avalanche struck Sonam Post overlooking the vital Bilafond La at 19,600 ft; a world-class tale of heroism — 40-ft-deep and minus 60 degree blue-ice slab debris had been tunnelled and 10 Veer Madrassis dug out with their weapons; one of them miraculously alive….

This was the kind of grit that led the future victor at Waterloo, where Napoleon was defeated (the iconic Duke of Wellington, Maj Gen Arthur Wellesley) to tell the world with oft-repeated, pride about the Veer Madrassis on the killing fields of Assaye on September 23, 1803, and say: ‘For your tomorrow they gave their today — and with a smile; they are the best troops I have commanded.’ Mauled by marauding Maratha Cavalry and brilliantly exploited Maratha cannon, the brave but baffled 74th Highlanders had the Veer Madrassis and the 78th Highlanders charge the Maratha cannon and Cavalry with their 17-inch bayonets and cold courage led by the inspirational Duke and win, but at a cost.

This DNA resurfaced at Siachen at 5 am on February 3, 2016, when the 400-ft-high, Bana ice-wall collapsed on the 10 Veer Madrassis of 19 Madras (including a nursing assistant). Led by braveheart CO, Col Om Gurung, Maj Vipin Kumar and his team armed with avalanche experts, dogs, Xavar radars snow-cutters and guts dug tunnels through tougher-than-steel ice slabs, driven by radio calls from the buried men.

Eureka moment happened at 1610 hrs on February 8. Post-mortem revealed that two men had died an hour before rescue, hanging on grimly, even as they reported hearing rescue-machinery sounds. What was stunning for the rescuers and the alpine/medical world was that L/Naik Hanumanthappa Koppad was alive when dug out. He died of multi-organ failure on February 11, and was posthumously awarded the SM.

How did the Unit respond in their grief? They immediately rebuilt Sonam Post, occupying it with gritty Veer Madrassis. Their DNA is like that — Assaye class, even when quartered in snow.

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Girls welcome… only for Durga Puja

Arsh Sharma

Please send her to my house for puja as soon as she wakes up,’ I heard someone talking to my mom in the other room. I tried to look at the time; it was 7 am. I dozed off again. After a few minutes, I heard the neighbour talking to my mother. ‘At mother’s place, you are entitled to sleep for as long as you want, no matter if you are a kid or have kids!’ The waft of desi ghee drew my attention — it was Durga Ashtmi. Mom was cooking kaale chane and halwa. She told me half of the neighbourhood had already come to invite my daughter for kanjak, the younger form of Goddess Durga.

We were performing puja when suddenly the doorbell rang and someone came with another invitation. I gleefully agreed to send my daughter for puja. It was the first time for her to attend such festivity at someone else’s house. She enjoyed all the attention and had fun with the other girls. One of the neighbours came to invite both my daughters. Durga Ashtmi requires nine young girls, who represent the nine forms of Goddess Durga, and one young boy, representing Lord Hanuman.

I was happy to see my child enjoying the day, but deep inside, I still remembered all the scathing remarks of people when she was born. The pity in their voice when they congratulated me half-heartedly was still fresh in memory. Their words that girls were not less than boys seemed insulting to me. Born in a liberal family, no one ever differentiated between me and my male cousins. I never felt I was less than a boy in any way.

It was painful to see the hypocrisy of us Indians. We want a girl for Durga Puja, the only condition is that the girl should belong to someone else. It’s not only the uneducated people, the educated, so-called upper class has similar beliefs. A state, famous for producing female wrestlers, is also infamous for its skewed sex ratio. The land where the Gurus gave a stature to a woman above the kings, leads the country in foeticide.

It is traumatic to read news of rapes, molestations, acid attacks on a daily basis. It is an irony that in the land where goddesses are worshipped, women do not have any safety, or free will. Why as a society we cannot see the female and male as two humans, each deserving of love, respect and dignity? Why is a boy preferred over a girl?

Watching my girls play with gifts they got during the puja, my heart wept for all those girls who were not even allowed to be born, and the ones who were deprived of all the love and affection which is given to boys in their families.

I just hope that someday the new-generation parents will understand the importance of both males and females for society, and we will be able to give a better and safe world to the coming generations of our girls.

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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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