Long Time Ago

pardadiji

(My great grandmother)

Words have a way with things: of making them appear as they are, as they were, as they aren’t/weren’t, or creating something altogether new. Every time I start typing, I know it fully that I may not be able to actually put on the page what I initially intended to. It’s an occupational hazard and I have learnt living with it. It’s adventurous too, as “not all those who wander are lost”, said the sage Tolkien. And not all who are lost are worse off, I say. It’s fun, losing oneself, at least occasionally. Not now.

Long time ago, much before my parents were born, and their siblings too, my grandfather had migrated to Kasi from a very long distance. This post is not going to be rich in specifics. It’s more in the vein of history: the ancient Indian variety. I have heard about those ancient times from my elders, that too not as many times as I now realize I should have, in order to put it in a more concrete and satisfactorily accurate format, details wise. Through the mist of time I see my great-grandmother in the narratives of her grandchildren, especially the elder ones. Of all her grandchildren, they had seen her for the longest time. Moreover, they readily talked about her, with love and respect of the contagious kind. The younger siblings were little children when their grandmother had died.

I don’t remember my great-grandmother’s name. I’m sure my uncles must have told me her name a couple of times. I do remember my great-grandfather’s name being mentioned and repeated often, the context being the descendants’ ritual remembrance of the forefathers. It never sounded strange to me. I always took it as something quite natural. In fact, the word natural needs to be defined first because it includes many artificial things nowadays viz. a child’s socialization process renders many cultural softwares as “natural”. So, the traditional Indian patriarchy’s slow, silent and finally spectacular erasure of the fore-mothers from the pages of oral histories took a natural colour. Any kind of questioning of the tradition should neither be encouraged nor discouraged just because it happens to favour of oppose change in the way of the world.

I don’t intend to question any thing here as I have never tackled the bulls (or the more frequently met cows in the galis of Kasi) by their horns. It’s totally unnecessary, inadvisable and may even turn lethal if the animal happens to be in a bad mood. I only want to remember her name, and that of all my family tree, at least for seven generations, including the women in the tree. Seven is not a random number whimsically chosen. They are generally paired in India. And how do I plan to do so? I have already asked my uncles to help me. Actually, it’s me who’ll assist them, for they have the knowledge, hence the power, and I’m just a puny chronicler ready with the pen.

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Love for Life and After

majhle chacha

I got this photograph through email just today and asked for my uncle’s permission to start my post with it. Why the permission? I’ll tell you why. There are very few things left in this world that are sacrosanct and love is definitely one of them. I am not talking about the modern shade of the word in which lie hidden the wavelengths of break-up and re-start. It’s the classic, eternal kind that is so scarce to find these faithless days that I am talking of. Well, the photograph above was taken in 1975 and the gentleman in it is my uncle: my father’s elder brother, my majhle chacha. With him is my majhli chachi.

It’s a strange coincidence that I have spent as many days on the earth as they spent together. Fairy tales end with “and they lived happily ever after”. Let’s put these words somewhere in the middle for a change. Since the very beginning of their life together, they were destined to live happily ever after. He, always caring for her, giving her space and respect, and she, reciprocating it one hundred percent and more. We used to spend weeks together when they used to come home. Thus, as a child I had observed the happy couple frequently and adequately enough to believe in all that my elders told me about it later.

I was told that they were an ideal couple, now it’s very difficult to define the central terms, still, I believe it to be true. I rarely saw my uncle, a very soft spoken and balanced kind of person, angry with anything or anybody. I never saw my uncle raise his voice until he lost control over himself, and that seldom happened in his wife’s presence. I mention it all because his persona and behaviour did not conform to the idea of maleness being equated in his times to the idea of domination. He was way ahead of his times. He did not grant my aunt the equality in relationship grudgingly; he shared it happily with her. He treated her like a princess and got treated like a prince in return. Or, maybe I’m oversimplifying and being partial to my gene line. So, she treated her like a prince and got treated like a princess in return.

They spent almost four decades as a happy couple. We, their family of five by sixty one, were all so proud of them and happy for them too. They were always presented as an internal example to be emulated: our very own eighth wonder of the world. We had always associated the idea of them with the idea of eternity, unconsciously and very strongly. So, strongly, in fact, that we had left no space for any other possibility in our mind.

majhli chachi

Before we proceed any further, I must present my uncle and aunt once more: in colour this time. Time passed. I went my way and lost direct and close contact with them. I kept getting updated on whatever was happening in their lives. I also received a couple of calls (seldom used to call those days), but ours was not the close kind of relationship of the good old five by sixty-one days anymore. Keeping family ties intact and strong in the age of expanding world that has contracted in so many ways is becoming very difficult. I was too busy and preoccupied with my personal affairs to look towards our joint past, present and future. I had become short-sighted and I paid the cost.

The family network passed on the news of my aunt’s not being well. Later on, I was told that she was hospitalized. I called a couple of times and talked with my uncle and brother who were with her then. Things were getting better. Her health was improving. We were told that she’d be discharged in a couple of days. Everything was fine. Then, one day I was given the information that my majhlee chachi had passed away. I was shocked with that sudden and unexpected news and it took some time to realize that she was not with us anymore. I was sad, for myself and for my uncle. I knew how deep an impact the event would have on him. Their existences were joined at the core for nearly four decades. I am sure they’d never imagined what life would be without each other. Why would they, anyway? They had to live happily ever after. I could never muster courage to ask him straight. Others keep telling me of my uncle’s love for his life partner, that has stayed with him after her.  The passage of time has not diluted his love for her. For theirs is love for life and after.

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Goswami Tulsidas and Hanumanji

Balmiki-Ramayan    adhyatma_ramayana_sanskrit_text_with_transliteration_ihf022

(http://www.mahavirmandirpatna.org) and (http://www.exoticindia.com)

I don’t remember how, by whom and when I was introduced to the stories of Ramayan. I must have read it the first time in Chandamama. Then, I read the Hindi translation of Adhyatm Ramayan and Valmiki Ramayan. My grandparents were devoutly religious people and they had both the books at home. As they actually read these Ramayans I could also have access to them. I liked them enough to read the complete Hindi part, and kept going back for more. Somehow, I ended up losing both the books most definitely before I had turned fifteen. I don’t know the specifics, but I lost them. Much later in my life, inspired by my eldest uncle’s apt and exact use of couplets from it, I did buy a Ramcharitmanas but could never read it. I still hope and aspire to quote from the Manas.

Before we go any further, a digression must be allowed. I always wanted to be like him. More than that, I always wanted to be as logical, erudite and as good and forceful speaker as him. His grounding in Ramcharitmanas made it possible for him to quote extensively and aptly from it. He could always come up with the right kind of anecdote, or couplet, to prove his point. He used to tell us stories too: stories that had some kind of moral hidden in them. I miss those stories and wish that the greatest story teller in our family finds time and opportunity to read mine.

Maryada Purushottam Ram is the hero of Ramayan. Goswami Tulsidas sang his praise in his Manas that was to become the core religious text of the Hindus of Northern India. It is more than just a religio-spiritual text. Dharm, unlike its equivalent word in English, has never been divorced from the worldly affairs in Hinduism: neither in theory nor in practice. Manas was to provide models for a good society, king, family, man, woman and various social roles one plays in one’s lifetime. It’s an encyclopedia of religion and worldly conduct. In this, as far as the function of the text is concerned, it may be compared to Quran and Hadis combined (pardon my ignorance if I’m wrong, there’s no intention here to hurt anybody’s religious sentiments) as it is a guide for both final salvation and the daily mundane affairs in the sansar that is maya.

I like the story and its hero: it’s his story and both are good. I love Hanumanji. I have always been in love with the idea of the god who symbolizes strength. As a child (in my pre-atheist phase) I used to believe in his anti-ghost powers. It was Goswami Tulsidas who had composed the Hanuman Chaalisa that I used to recite every day and had learnt it by heart in those days. I took the whole text in the Devnagri script from http://hanumanchalisa-hindblogs.blogspot.in/2010/03/hanuman-chalisa-hindi.html and pasted it down.

hanuman3

(http://1.bp.blogspot.com)

हनुमानचालीसा

दोहा

श्रीगुरु चरण सरोज रज, निज मनु मुकुर सुधारी
बराणु रघुवर बिमल जसु, जो दायकु फल चारि

बुद्धिहीन तनु जानिके, सुमिरौं पवन कुमार
बल बुधि विद्या देहु मोहि, हरहु कलेश विकार

चौपाई

जय हनुमान ज्ञान गुन सागर
जय कपीस तिहुँ लोक उजागर॥१॥

राम दूत अतुलित बल धामा
अंजनि पुत्र पवनसुत नामा॥२॥

महाबीर बिक्रम बजरंगी
कुमति निवार सुमति के संगी॥३॥

कंचन बरन बिराज सुबेसा
कानन कुंडल कुँचित केसा॥४॥

हाथ बज्र अरु ध्वजा बिराजे
काँधे मूँज जनेऊ साजे॥५॥

शंकर सुवन केसरी नंदन
तेज प्रताप महा जगवंदन॥६॥

विद्यावान गुनी अति चातुर
राम काज करिबे को आतुर॥७॥

प्रभु चरित्र सुनिबे को रसिया
राम लखन सीता मनबसिया॥८॥

सूक्ष्म रूप धरि सियहि दिखावा
विकट रूप धरि लंक जरावा॥९॥

भीम रूप धरि असुर सँहारे
रामचंद्र के काज सवाँरे॥१०॥

लाय सजीवन लखन जियाए
श्री रघुबीर हरषि उर लाए॥११॥

रघुपति कीन्ही बहुत बड़ाई
तुम मम प्रिय भरत-हि सम भाई॥१२॥

सहस बदन तुम्हरो जस गावै
अस कहि श्रीपति कंठ लगावै॥१३॥

सनकादिक ब्रह्मादि मुनीसा
नारद सारद सहित अहीसा॥१४॥

जम कुबेर दिगपाल जहाँ ते
कवि कोविद कहि सके कहाँ ते॥१५॥

तुम उपकार सुग्रीवहि कीन्हा
राम मिलाय राज पद दीन्हा॥१६॥

तुम्हरो मंत्र बिभीषण माना
लंकेश्वर भये सब जग जाना॥१७॥

जुग सहस्त्र जोजन पर भानू
लिल्यो ताहि मधुर फ़ल जानू॥१८॥

प्रभु मुद्रिका मेलि मुख माही
जलधि लाँघि गए अचरज नाही॥१९॥

दुर्गम काज जगत के जेते
सुगम अनुग्रह तुम्हरे तेते॥२०॥

राम दुआरे तुम रखवारे
होत ना आज्ञा बिनु पैसारे॥२१॥

सब सुख लहैं तुम्हारी सरना
तुम रक्षक काहु को डरना॥२२॥

आपन तेज सम्हारो आपै
तीनों लोक हाँक तै कापै॥२३॥

भूत पिशाच निकट नहि आवै
महावीर जब नाम सुनावै॥२४॥

नासै रोग हरे सब पीरा
जपत निरंतर हनुमत बीरा॥२५॥

संकट तै हनुमान छुडावै
मन क्रम वचन ध्यान जो लावै॥२६॥

सब पर राम तपस्वी राजा
तिनके काज सकल तुम साजा॥२७॥

और मनोरथ जो कोई लावै
सोई अमित जीवन फल पावै॥२८॥

चारों जुग परताप तुम्हारा
है परसिद्ध जगत उजियारा॥२९॥

साधु संत के तुम रखवारे
असुर निकंदन राम दुलारे॥३०॥

अष्ट सिद्धि नौ निधि के दाता
अस बर दीन जानकी माता॥३१॥

राम रसायन तुम्हरे पासा
सदा रहो रघुपति के दासा॥३२॥

तुम्हरे भजन राम को पावै
जनम जनम के दुख बिसरावै॥३३॥

अंतकाल रघुवरपुर जाई
जहाँ जन्म हरिभक्त कहाई॥३४॥

और देवता चित्त ना धरई
हनुमत सेई सर्व सुख करई॥३५॥

संकट कटै मिटै सब पीरा
जो सुमिरै हनुमत बलबीरा॥३६॥

जै जै जै हनुमान गुसाईँ
कृपा करहु गुरु देव की नाई॥३७॥

जो सत बार पाठ कर कोई
छूटहि बंदि महा सुख होई॥३८॥

जो यह पढ़े हनुमान चालीसा
होय सिद्ध साखी गौरीसा॥३९॥

तुलसीदास सदा हरि चेरा
कीजै नाथ हृदय मह डेरा॥४०॥

दोहा

पवन तनय संकट हरन, मंगल मूरति रूप।
राम लखन सीता सहित, हृदय बसहु सुर भूप॥

I still remember most of it, only a few words go missing (and I strongly feel they used to be different in my version!) At the end we used to say: Siyawar Ramchandra ki jai, Pavansut Hanuman ki jai. There were many lines that had special appeal for a child of twelve. I have italicized those lines in the text above. The chalisa, or the set of forty chaupais, ends with the information that whosoever recites it a hundred times shall be freed of all bondage and be happy. The one who reads the Hanuman Chalisa definitely becomes knowledgeable and gains power. Just before these lines one comes to know that whosoever remembers the strong Hanumanji, his problems and pains will be removed.

The number hundred that appears in there had a special and dual significance for me. It was a definite number and it was definitely a number set on the repetitions that could be achieved. My mother had assured me of the same and I had taken it literally in the beginning. So, I started counting the number of recitations every day. I still remember, although faintly, how exhilarated I used to feel as I inched towards that magic number. I also remember my elation at having completed the prescribed number of repetitions.

Hanumanji played a very central role in the narrative of Ramayan. It was he who had come to ascertain whether the two warrior brothers roaming in the forest were friends or enemies of Sugreev. It was he who then took his lord to his king and thus started a long fruitful relationship. It was he to whom Ram gave his signet to prove his identity to Sita, as he knew that his greatest devotee would surely reach his wife. Then he went across the ocean keeping the ring in his mouth, underwent many adventures and finally reached Sita and burnt the whole city in which she was kept prisoner. He then played a very central role during the epic Ram-Ravan battle.

WhylordRamaiscalledMaryada-Epitomeoftruthanddiscipline8.png

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There’s one chaupai about Hanumanji‘s bringing the life giving herb to save Laxman after Meghnaad had used the lethal Shakti on him. In a way he had saved his lord Ram on that day too, as he had neither hope nor will left to live after that. I had always liked his image that shows him carrying the whole hill upon which Sushen had told him the herb would be. His inability to locate the herb was due to demon magic, and not because any lack of intelligence, because he is the ocean of knowledge and qualities, as is mentioned in the opening chaupai of the chalisa.

blogspot com

(blogspot.com)

One part of a chaupai mentions his taking a gigantic form while killing the demons. He is the font of strength and devotion, and, the most important thing is that he is a celibate. This makes him the guardian deity of wrestlers and bodybuilders of north India. Jai Bajrang Bali is the most popular cry that comes out of akhadas and gyms, especially when someone is trying something beyond their power or skills. They call upon their faith in the font of strength and draw strength from its font. One more digression is rising its head here. It’s about faith, its loss and its need. In a talk with a colleague of mine, I mentioned my loss of faith. He returned with his personal anecdote linked with Hanumanji. There’s a Hanuman Temple just outside the campus of Lucknow University, by river Gomti. He told me with surety and honesty that he had felt the need of asking for something only thrice in the days that he spent in Lucknow, and he got what he needed all the three times. This bolstered his faith in Hanumanji in particular and in faith in general.

His faith and mine (while it lasted) have a definite relation to the poet and social engineer: Goswami Tulsidas. He played a very seminal role in strengthening the Ram Bhakti cult in the Medieval Northern India. Devotion to Hanumanji was an implied and central factor in the cult. The edifice of devotion to these incarnations of Vishnu and Shiv respectively was raised on the foundation that he had laid.

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Life in Photographs IV

paapa

My existence in the extended family I’ve been writing about in the last three posts is due to only one person’s being member of that family: my father. All my life, my friends and acquaintances have been telling repeatedly me how handsome he is/was, not always explicitly mentioning the contrast they intended to and implied, and I won’t insert my image beside his image above to add you to the long list of contrastors (my usage). UTN 3129 was the number of his Vijay Super and all my friends had the number by heart. This served two purposes. They could inform me when he was around and they could stay at a safe distance too. We used to maintain a safe distance from the fathers of our friends, on principle. I remember those occasions when familiarity with the family bred risk for friends. To save them required inexhaustible resourcefulness, elaborate planning and intense efforts – that too, with no guarantees.

A similar kind of policy was in force among us cousins and siblings too. I remember how the three brothers and two sisters of my father, along with their spouses and children, used to come to five by sixty one in various vacations and on various occasions. There never was any shortage of space, not exactly spatially, but in hearts. Despite the danger that the long stretch of time that separates the child’s experience and the adult’s reminiscence may alter the real colour of the world (that the Indian philosophy calls maya: illusion), I believe that I do remember it clearly how we used to keep to our own small world.

DSC02816

There used to be a couple of places where we, the children of the family, used to assemble at different times of the day. Mornings, late afternoons and early evenings saw us on our parapeted flat roof. The wall behind the potted plants in the image above used to double as one long stool for us. During the hours of furious sun rays, we used to stay indoors: either in the front room at the ground floor or Lal Chabutra: the red coloured terrace in the first storey. The space between the two drawers of the huge wooden almirah in the room attached to it used to double as a make shift swing for us. The drawers had interesting things and we were not allowed to open them.

The prohibition had made their contents mysterious and coveted for us. Another thing more coveted was my grandfather’s huge Bhagwatpuran that he used to keep safely in the wall almirah. He would carefully drape it in red cloth reserved for such purposes after having read it and then place it safely in the almirah. That used to increase our covetousness. No, we could never lay our hands on it. It remained safe in his life time. After him, when the almirah was opened, termites had completely destroyed it. I could never read even one page from it: not then, neither afterwards from any other copy. The two books my grandfather owned, that I remember having read, are Adhaytm Ramayan and Valmiki Ramayan they’ll become the subject of the next post.

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Life in Photographs III

It’s always been difficult to write about one’s family. More so, when one writes about a person one’s always seen from a distance: of age, and of the literal kind also. Remember the uncle of mine who took his younger brother for the entrance test: my father’s elder brother, my majhle chahcha? He is nearly two years older than my father so he got the respect from him that an elder brother deserves. They grew up together and were of the same age group. That made them the best of friends too.

Growing up in the old house of ours, I used to hear stories of their camaraderie. It was the unassigned job of the elder one to calm down the more impetuous younger brother, for theirs were the violent days and their stories told me that they used to live in the wild wild west. They went to the same school and to the same University where there used to be a gap of one year between them. Thir student years gave birth to many stories of their shared past that they used to regale us with in huge family reunions. My uncle was unique among his brothers. He used to do desi exercise and drink the family cow Gauri‘s milk straight from the udder. As a result (or cause?) he was the most solidly built among his brothers.

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In the old family album at my place, I found an old photograph, taken around the year 1975. There is a happy nuclear family in that photograph: a family that was a part of our extended family whose kernel was (and still is) at house number five by sixty-one (it’s known by that name in our family circle). It’s my uncle looking at my brother (technically cousin, but I never called him that) Mayank carried by his mother, my majhlee chachi. They were an exemplary couple and it was known and acknowledged in our family. I remember the various times I had enjoyed their return to five by sixty-one.

My uncle was (and is) a very soft spoken gentleman. Although we children used to stay away from the elders instinctively, I do not remember my uncle’s ever raising his voice or punishing a child. Only once did he raise his voice, asking who it was that jumped at the terrace while their grandmother was taking rest downstairs, with memorable effects. The culprit (because he was caught and we had fled from the scene) was my younger brother of around three years age. My uncle could not speak a word after looking at his state, he could only laugh.

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Life in Photographs II

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Not very long time ago, in the age of joint and extended families, when regular reunions acted as refreshers to the memory of the young and old alike, we used to call our grandfather’s brother’s daughter’s son bhaiya, and used to get an elder brother’s affection from him. No, it’s not a village I am talking about. Urban and densely built and populated riverside muhallas of Kasi were made of units that used to be joint families back then. Although half the sons of our family were away working, their link with their home and city remained intact. We are talking about the second generation of immigrants whose grandmother came and settled down in a holy city. They were all born and brought up in Kasi and all but one had to emigrate for employment.

They used to return regularly to their city in the first decade of their service. Gradually, the frequency of their return went down. I know it for a fact that three of them still love their parent city and wish to keep coming back. How can they de-root themselves? Their roots lie in the soil of Kasi. The galis, ghats and Gangaji will always beckon them. They lived their formative and first one-third of their lives where they were born and the place left its marks on them. They are all Banarsis and kasiphiles.

My uncles love banarsi paan very much. They are stereotypical Banarsis in many ways. The love for paan being a central trait of the Banarsi (they would never approve of my staying away from paan). Remember Mr. Bacchan in khaike paan Banaras wala? There’s another stereotype that comes to mind when one mentions Kasi: the stereotype of the swearing Banarsi. The question that logically follows is: do they? Now, do they? What if they don’t? And what if they do? Well, I can’t reveal that without taking the permission of the gentlemen. You can see one of my uncles in the image below.

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Meet one of my role models. He did his Masters in Geology. I wanted to be like him, so I had planned to take the same subject in my B Sc. The only two things that prevented that from happening were that majestic green house that you may see below, and my getting through the entrance test of the Institute of Agricultural Sciences.

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Enough of me, let’s focus on him instead. As you can see in the image, he is receiving an award. I don’t know whether it’s the same one, but I think he got it after standing first in his board class (10 or 12). Back then, and even in my time, the U. P. Board exams used to be the acid test for scholars. Amol mama had told me that my uncle was the star student of his school. He was my uncle’s junior and admired him for his qualities. Had there been the student of the year award in our school (all the three of us from the same school!), he’d definitely have got it. There was none, and he received none, but one of his juniors remembers him with respect and he generally tells no lies. That should compensate.

There’s an anecdote about his admission in the sixth grade (or was it fifth?) that he had told me himself the last time he came to my place. Central Hindu School was the school in which all his brothers and sisters had received education. So, it was to be his school too. There used to be (and still is) a tough entrance test then. My aunt, his elder sister, prepared him for the crucial test and my uncle, his brother elder to my father was to carry him to the school for the test. Just when they were about to leave (on a bicycle I think, those were the golden years of bicycles), the elder brother asked the younger sister: ” Have you taught him writing his name in English?”

The question does not seem right today, especially when being asked about a student of fifth standard (there is no typing mistake either). Back then, many schools started offering English as a subject in class six. It still happens in many schools in many parts of India. So, to his dismay, he found out the young one did not know how to write his name in the alien language. There was nothing that could be done then. Although not very positive about a positive outcome, he took his younger brother for the test, and the young one did get admission there. Later he had to leave C.H.S. to take the subjects of his choice in another school: my school.

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Life in Photographs

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I went on a search for the photographs of my family’s collective past, and returned with a really very valuable set of very few photographs. I am away from my paternal house. So, all I had with me was an old album with black and white photographs of my family. My grandfather’s photograph above came from there. I had salvaged this album last year from the old almirah of my house upon which termites had already made a couple of attacks. I had lost a few valuable books of mine due to those attacks; an irreparable loss. No, I’m not talking about the wooden almirahs or the ones set in the wall. The contents of those almirahs was totally destroyed. It was from the steel almirah that I had rescued the sole family album. Most of the photographs in the album belong to 1970’s: as I have worked out from the age of my family members in them (and none of them has my younger brother who was born in ’81).

There were a couple of framed family photographs hanging on the walls of our house, along with many framed Kalyan pictures of gods and goddesses, for as long as I remember. The damp walls have eaten many of them. The last time I was there, I saw that all the photographs from the bed room walls were gone. Only my great-grandmother’s framed sketch was left. I took it with me to the place I now live at. There were photographs of my three uncles and an aunt, and a very old framed collection of around eight photographs, on the walls of the drawing room. They were in a better condition. The few photo frames in the room of the third storey were all gone too. Thus we had lost a large part of our family history: nobody wrote it, neither was it preserved in images.

My life post-2004 has been comparatively well preserved in images. Then came the digital camera in my life. Now, I have more than 100 GB of my family moments with back up in the form of images. It’s not adequate. Neither is it complete. But, in comparison to what I have from my past, it is much better. What do I do of the lost past then: the past that I only faintly remember and can never revisit? Even more important than that, how do I come to know of the past, our past, before I was born?

Ours was a big house (not area wise, when I look at it with the eyes of an adult) full of people. I remember growing up in the house with my grandparents, uncles, aunts, brothers and sisters. My grandparents used to tell me stories from the lives of our family tree. That was before they passed away, more than two decades ago. No one was left then, to pass on the sense of belonging and to impart the element of our extended family into my identity. My uncles and aunts all went their separate ways about the same time. Family reunions in our house used to be regular and pleasant events till my grandparents were there. After them, they gradually ceased.

No, it’s not about my family only. These things happened to many urban joint families in the age when family included one’s grandparents, uncles and aunts and brothers and sisters (all the siblings and cousins). Employment was the reason behind it all, and modernization was behind the concentration of the employment opportunities in certain urban pockets. Change of this sort was not only inevitable, but also a desirable social process, they would have us believe. Well, it becomes believable after having internalized all such theories and ready-made wisdom. A child does not understand it. For him only pain is real, and bewilderment.

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The Diesel King: Beyond the End

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There are times when stories get their own life and grow beyond their end. The Diesel King’s story must have ended in the last post. It did not. How could it, when I had to mention that there’s something rotten in the kernel of life; not only the King’s life, but also mine and Rishi’s? We have met a couple of times in last five years and keep talking on our mobiles. We admit to one another that the surface is not all. Life seems complete and ambitions fulfilled in their cases, but we know what the truth is. We admit it too.

The King always wanted to get a government job as a school teacher, and Rishi always wanted to just go to the US. They got more than what they had asked for. One left his three years old job and returned, and the other says that something is missing, that he now knows that he had not reached there yet. What are they looking for? Nothing? Something? Don’t know, can’t say. What do they want? What do I want? What do you want? And then, do you really want what you think you do?

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The Diesel King Goes On

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The Diesel King’s English, or our suspicion about it, grew proportionately with the passage of time. Rishi was okay with few moments of misery thinking about the growing gap because he had ways of stifling the stifling feeling. I had no such option, so I went another way. But this is not my story. Right. We’ll focus on the King who went to the second year of his M. A. It was the final year and the final stage or his victory lap, and he was more than just prepared. He was born to do what he was doing, like fish are born to swim (some can fly too). Our confidence in his abilities were absolute as we knew that he was a natural and adept user of the language he was studying. What disturbed us very much was his percentage in the first year. It was an indictment of the faulty system, and actually confirmed our faith in the blindness of the whole evaluation machinery in the universities of India. That was 2003. It took more than a decade for the government bodies and big universities to recognize and make amends.

We were in volatile rage: ready to organize group of protestors against the injustice and meet the head or dean kind of things. Some of us did meet the head and the professor who had checked the sheets for some of the papers for first year. They defended their system and refused any kind of rethinking. As far as the knowledge of the texts in the prescribed syllabus was concerned, I knew that he was good enough on that front to score well. He could put on paper, in decent language style and without errors, what he knew. These two factors combined logically lead to the conclusion that he would score very good marks. His actual marks did not meet our expectations and I still feel some kind of rage against the injustice done, not just because it was done to a friend, but also because it was totally wrong and completely impossible.

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We could not do anything then. The King started teaching English in a school, no need to mention the particulars (the King is the hero, not the school). I left my city and could not return for many years. We were not in touch for four years. When we met for the first time after a long gap, he filled the long blank with information. He had more than just vindicated himself and us by joining another M. A. in the same university and scoring the highest percentage in his class. He had achieved the dream, his and that of most of the middle class Indians of our generation: of getting a government job. Not only that, he had hit some kind of jackpot if the content eyes and his pride in the object of his affection are taken into account. He had found the right girl and had married her.Jumping a couple of years takes us to a proud father and owner of a property in Varanasi. I can’t help but insert a full paragraph on my god daughter here. I’ll put the inserted section in an italicized block that may be skipped without any loss if one wants to read about the King only.

      This section is about my god daughter Anahita. It’s the name of the old Persian goddess of river/waters. She was a very powerful deity and was widely worshipped in Iran. I suggested this name to my friend, the King, for his princess. I also appointed myself as her godfather. She is known by some other names too, but this name that I chose for her has been finalized and formally established too. It’s been a great honour. I did not think it’d happen, because names are not kept casually in India. It’s done after consulting the horoscope and names are generally suggested by the family elders and finalized in a joint (real or virtual) assembly of the maternal and paternal sides. Still, “as luck would have it”, the name stayed on, along with my self appointed godfatherhood.

Anahita

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Statue_of_Anahita_in_Maragha.jpg)

What else could he ask for? What else could he be granted? His dreams are more than just fulfilled. He has a secure job and future with pension benefits (correct me if I am wrong) and property in his hometown, a complete family, friends who are great (some even greater than ….) and has established himself in his school and among the people of its locality. His students love him and his bosses can’t live without him. He has a very bright future to look ahead at. He is happy as a horse and fit as the summer sun. That’s how stories should end.

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The Diesel King

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Before we launch into the main story, we must deal with the problems of nomenclature. I had mentioned in the previous post the provisional nature of the name of the protagonist dlw: “he may be called dlw (we change this name on his first objection)”. Well, the objection did come – in an oblique and mild manner. The bhadralok informed me about his “no objection” on his being named anew, and dropped the news that he felt that he was much more than just that. Ah, the advantages of writing on a protagonist alive, who can actually be kicking as soon as you slip, or your pen does. So, let’s call him plain and simple: Diesel King. That obstacle cleared, actually it threatened to become a full scale Mt. Everest, we may enter the story zone.

Long time ago there used to be two prototypical postcolonial subject entities who used to practice their skills in the language most respected in India on the cement steps under a hot tin shed on an empty playground in the scorching heat of the North Indian Summer. “Loo” (not to be confused with the more universal one), that used to torment all the other normal human beings, had no kind of deterring effect on these two. One was your humble servant, the narrator, and the other: the Diesel King. Their methods were older than those employed even in the Dark Ages. They would take randomly something viz. Mac Flecknoe or Paradise Lost lying in the study area of the Diesel King and then would read the thing aloud, tormenting the cows and crows who dared to stay under the shed after having seen the two of them coming. Their Smilesian objective was – to improve. The assumption behind their employing such a method was some sort of equation with improvement on one side and better English language skills on the other. How much did they improve? I find it very difficult to judge myself and my friend (old ones who remain still), as I fear being either over protective and full of praise or over critical.

The easier questions to deal with would be: Why did they want to improve? Or, how did they find something like Mac Flecknoe or Paradise Lost “lying” in their study area? Let’s take the fact based second question for answering. All these books were from the M. A. English syllabus of Kasi Vidyapeeth where the Diesel King was a student. And how did he reach there? I have forgotten the seed reason of his leaving his alma mater after his Bachelor degree. It had something to do  with pride and prejudice (not by Austen, but his).

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(Photo: i.istockimg.com)

On an average silent and empty-shed day, while we were practicing our combined English language skills, I don’t remember how, our conversation turned towards his doing an M A from MGKV. Now, it would seem very improbable to those who know our protagonist, but we began at the spur of moment, took our bicycles and went there. It would seem strange because he is self-avowedly lazy and prefers to stay at one place. In those days he used to hold his court at two or three places in DLW: at his uncle’s quarters, at the empty stadium that used to be crowded in the evenings and while roaming in the campus. The useless and work-plan-less people like the narrator and Rishi used to go to DLW to meet the Diesel King. Why do I keep throwing in Rishi? Well how do I tell the story of the Diesel King without reporting the presence of his nemesis? After all, their love-hate relationship is to get attention in time to come.

The clerk at the form and fee counter told us that we had reached there on the very last date for submitting the form. As it was nearly the end of the month, the King did not have cash in hand.  He arranged the money from a friend and filled up the form on that day. And that’s how started the chain of events that culminated in his study room flashing books from his first year syllabus before our eyes while we searched for something to read for practice under the shed. Rishi and I used to envy the King because between us we strongly suspected that his English was becoming far superior than (wrong, “to” should be used here) ours. We’d go to his place, look at the pile of his core English books and exchange glances that meant: “Look, he eats and digests this mush of healthy food while we squander our time eating sand”.

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