The lady who had come to see my wife asked if I was in the Air Force. The query has accosted me all my life. Working in Bathinda, I was used to defence personnel in the train, returning after their vacation, asking me, ‘Bhisiana or Cantt?’ Bhisiana is where the Air Force has a base and the Army cantonment there is said to be among the largest in Asia. In the Punjab hinterland, whenever I would speak in Hindi, a frequent question would be, ‘Tussi Cantt te ji?’
In my early years in Delhi, I would take bus number 425 from the ITO for Kalkaji, where my office was. I would wear khaki trousers to work on some days. I realised that the strict Blueline bus conductor was not asking me for ticket. It continued for a few days. Then on one lean day, he came and sat beside me. ‘Which thana are you posted at, Sir,’ he asked. I was confounded. It was then I realised that my khaki pants, moustache and a rather grim visage had made him pop the question. When I replied in the negative, he immediately thrust in my hand a Rs 10 ticket, disappointment writ large on his face.
And it is not as if my better half is not familiar with it. Her family asked for a photograph of the prospective groom. With great difficulty, I selected what I thought was a better photograph. I was later told that my photograph had been dismissed with a smirk, ‘Army ka havildar lagta hai.’
Looks can be deceptive and so her family decided on a physical inspection to ensure I passed the test.
It is not that the desire to join the Army was never there, but the attempt had come a cropper and I returned from a failed attempt at the SSB in Bangalore, where time was spent loitering at MG and Brigade Road. But the effort has endured in the shape of some back-handed compliments.
As early as in my twenties, I was asked at the New Delhi railway station by a youth around my age, ‘Uncle, yeh train kahan jayegi?’ I looked at him in disbelief. Later, I was told that in the Capital, the term merely hinted at a show of courtesy, nothing more. Alas, with increasing strands of silver in the once dense mane, one has now come to accept that term with stoicism, making one recall the song, ‘Aina mujhse meri pehli si surat maange.’
But as they say, there is a silver lining to every dark cloud. About a decade back, I stood in a queue at the Press counter to book my rail ticket and handed over to the lady my identity card, with my typical unsmiling grim visage pasted on it. She had a look at me and then the photograph. ‘Aisa chehra aur aisi photo,’ she said with a chuckle, not only making me blush, but also sending my spirit soaring.
It is said that when moments pass, you rely on memories and it is one compliment I have come to cherish.
Source Link: https://www.tribuneindia.com