If you have a problem, fix it. But train yourself not to worry, worry fixes nothing. - Ernest Hemingway

Thursday, 28 November 2013

We won’t let you go

Bengaluru has changed inexorably since I first went there in the 1970s. From a sleepy quiet town with empty wide roads canopied by arrays of evergreen trees, it has become a metropolis with monstrously huge buildings, fly-overs, under-passes, and perpetually choked roads on which flashy cars crawl like caterpillars. And of course, eateries and shopping malls. Bengaluru is also the public persona of modern India, it’s main IT hub, a city where millions of young Indians make a living. But for my wife and me, the chief attractions of the city are our two grandkids: five-year old Haroun, and Toto, who packs quite a punch in his two-foot frame. 
We were about to leave Bengaluru for Kolkata after two weeks of holiday. The children and their parents had come down to say goodbye. By the time we put the bags in the boot, the brothers had been right in the middle of the rear seat of the cab. They had decided to accompany us to Kolkata! We tried to reason, ‘You are going to visit us in just two months’ time. You ARE coming to Kolkata with your parents.’
‘We’ll come back with then. Till then, we’ll be with you.’
More reasoning: ‘But we don’t have tickets for you.’
Very graciously, Haroun said, ‘We’ll wait; you go upstairs and get the tickets.’ For him, tickets are always bought from a laptop. 
No amount of cajoling would make them change their mind. We were getting late for the flight, but the boys refused to budge. Ultimately, their parents had to resort to what newspapers would describe as a “mild lathi charge” to clear the way. 
Haroun loves to be with lots of people. And his younger brother loves whatever he loves. Once earlier, when we were leaving them with their parents, Haroun asked, ‘How can I live with so few people?’ 
He finds it strange that all the people he loves do not live together. He doesn’t believe any offspring should be separated from their parents, like his parents are now. On another occasion, he asked me seriously, ‘Tell me why it is like this? Why do children live in Bangalore but their parents in Kolkata?’
I didn’t have an answer to his question. But I certainly know this: He has just started going to school and in a few years, he will have been trained not to ask such questions.
Why do we grow up?

Kolkata / November 27, 2013

Saturday, 16 November 2013

An unsung hero

There are three stages in a man’s life. As a young boy, he believes, ‘My dad knows everything.’ Then a time comes when he says, ‘My dad? He knows nothing!’ But inevitably, at some point, he starts telling you, ‘My father used to say ….’

Old proverbs are tiny urns carrying gigantic truths. Had my old man been alive, he would have been hundred this year, and yesterday was his thirty-third death anniversary. I still think of him. In fact, these days, I think of him more often and reflect on the bitter-sweet relationship we shared. Everyone is like Salvador Dali, no one dies entirely when they die. My father is alive in my mind, and in the minds of a few others.

My dad, who always wore khadi and smoked with a religious fervour, didn’t do anything extraordinary in life that would justify telling his story to you. Yet, I write this with a touch of pride because given the odds, the mere fact that he survived was extraordinary.

He had a tough childhood after losing his father at the age of twelve. Moving to Kolkata, he had to pay for college and university education himself. While still a student, he did everything from managing boarding houses to making rubber-stamps to drafting legal documents for businessmen to eke out a living. His boat continued to sail on choppy waters after the Second World War and Partition, which made things even worse. And as he fought a grim battle all his life, he had his moments of joy, but suffered terrible failures and indignities too. For as long as he lived, he lived with financial uncertainties.

But every evening, yes, every evening after supper, he would put his problems aside, retire to his study, and read until two in the morning. He used to read everything that came between two covers, except, fiction. For example, for a brief period, he got seriously interested in paleobotany. And he was always interested in the English language. Long ago when I didn’t know it, somehow, he managed to kindle an interest in English in my mind. If I am making a living by teaching English now, it is because of him. But sometimes I wish that instead, he had kindled in me an interest in making money!

Many a time I heard my baba quote these lines from Thomas Gray:
Full many a gem of purest ray serene
The dark unfathom'd caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.
 Did he know that he too was an unsung hero?