65 PERCEPTIONS My American Daughter: My Daughter from America - T he TITLE CAME TO ME ON THE WAY back after dropping her at the airport. Twenty years back she had immigrated to USA in search of the elusive pot of Gold at the end of the rainbow, this time she had come searching for an even bigger pot at this end of the rainbow. Having explored Bangalore, Cochin and back waters of Kerela, on a short business trip, she entered the flat, after the evening flight, distraught, confused, elated and disorientated. The next four days of her stay were chaotic, difficult and stressful for all. She now an American citizen, with American values, appeared a bit lost, a some what confused a bit sad and a bit upset. Not knowing what she wanted ,was annoyed because she did not have it. In side the house she was missing her mother, father being no substitute, for the girly talk; unburdening of the soul to each other. Outside the house, possibly diffused by the trauma of her mothers passing, impressions of Delhi/India were not so vivid this time. And India has much changed in the last ten years, since her last visit and so had Delhi and Noida. The Delhi of yore, of her teenage carefree days, had been totally absorbed by the so called progress that had since taken places : the milling crowds, the chaotic traffic, the blaring horns, the daredevils on their, guided missiles the motor cycles, the three wheelers, randomly, weaving in and out of the traffic, the jay walking pedestrians so alien to her eyes and the plethora of Malls, even a metro in Noida. The conflict of culture, now an American National with allegiance to Star and Stripes, the dilemma; to join or not in the community singing of Janaganaman, the explicit and strong business language picked over time still an anathema in the backward Indian house, the ubiquitous Laptop, a barrier to conversation and the unethical Indian businessman with whom she had to deal from USA and lately face to face in India. The unreconciled inner and outer conflict was creating stress and keeping her, most of the time, on short fuse. To make the matters worse, I, still living in the past was not making matters easy all around. REJOINDER - MY INDIAN FATHER: MY FATHER IN INDIA I was elated and excited. I was finally going to see my family. My brother came to pick me up at the airport. He was the same old big bear of a guy with a grin on his face expressing his pleasure at seeing me again. We checked the Virginian into a nearby hotel and drove to my father’s apartment. He met us at the door and I gave him a hug before walking in. I looked around. The last time I was here, was when my mother passed away, 10 years ago. It was a sad home at that time and I realized there was still sadness in the air. It was suddenly very difficult for me to be there. My father was still mourning. Over the next few days I realized that my brother and father lived separate lives. They rattled around the apartment each doing their own thing and sometimes passing each other like silent ships on the sea. Sometimes they took tea with me in the afternoon before they once again went their respective ways. Those were the best times. We talked and talked and talked. Delhi is one big dust bowl now. It has apparently finally “arrived” and is considered one of the big cities of the world. Traffic is now a gigantic snarl instead of just a jam. One evening on my last visit in November 2009, we were on Ring Road close to Red Fort area and were trying to get back to Noida. It was truly frightening to see the mess we almost got into had it not been for the quick thinking of the guy driving who turned off to take a less crowded road. There was a time when Ring Road was the quickest way to get around Delhi. But it has been 20 years since I’ve lived in India and things change. Whether it’s for the better still remains to be seen. On a small scale it is apparent. The electricity does not go off every hour on the hour. There is bottled water. The help have cell phones or mobiles as they call them in India. Better pharmacies. TV offers a better choice of programs some even educational if they can get away from riveting Bollywood. The big picture to me shows a jungle of itty bitty foreign cars that all “scream”. Where do people need to get to in such a hurry? This is noise pollution and as they say in America, “there ought to be a law against it”. Where is my Green Delhi? What happened to the simple life? Well it was “Relatively” simpler. Now there is Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day both very good occasions. But if you love your Mother and if you love your beloved isn’t every day a special day? Capitalism has caught on like a ‘house on fire’. Ugly billboards visible everywhere like weeds in a manicured lawn each one trying to out-do the other. “Look at me, look at me,” they each seem to be shouting. No sense of esthetics. What is the point of high-rises and overpasses and the Metro, all apparent signs of progress, if the idea of “maintenance” is not ingrained and an integral part of progress? I went to Bhikaiji Kama place to see a vacant office space. The inner courtyard of the building and its walls were covered in a sea of red from pan spit. Why does everyone say to me “yeh toh India hai bhai…time moves slowly here”? If that is so where are those "screaming" cars going to then in such a hurry? I realized that it had really been too long since my last meeting with my father. It was easy enough to carry-on a long distance relationship via the telephone with him every week but I was mistaken if I thought it would be just as easy face to face. Right there it morphed into a different story. He does not realize it but he has been living alone for too long and has become set in his ways. This is not so bad if one is an island. But interaction does require a little give and take. I freely admit that I am stubborn too so these are issues we need to work on. We need to probably meet more than once every 10 years. I have asked him to come to America a gazillion times.
MY LIFE IS IMPORTANT TO ME
Thursday, October 17, 2013
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
TERMINALLY ILL A S RANJIT, WHO HAS DRIVEN ME TO Unitec Towers, presses the bell on the 19th floor flat of Major Saldana in Tower Four, a slew of disturbing thoughts pass through my mind: how does one greet a terminally ill friend that too after a long gap in time. He had rung me up the other day, ‘I am bedridden’ he had said when I asked ‘How are you? That Saldana was terminally ill I had learnt from an e- mail in circulation. The slider on the grill door moved to one side and it is opened by, as learned later, by his submariner son, visiting on the long weekend. As it happened the difficult moment is held back for some more time, as we are asked to sit in the largish sitting cum dining room, too bright with 17th floor light streaming in from the large glass windows, I move from chair to chair trying to locate a perch, with the site more, comfortable to my recently cataract operated eyes. Glass of water politely declined, the glass Juice left on the side table after a few sips, as we are ushered in Saldana’s bed room, he covered with a sheet up to his shoulders, looking frail and a wane smile on his continence. I extend my hand, he extends his and we hold the soft hold for some time. I introduce Ranjit, take a seat and hand over my book, ‘A Solder’s Journey’ containing a chapter on Kalimpong where we were together in 19 70-71. He accepts the so called gift and places it on the side table. We find comfort and manage to overcome the difficult moment for both of us in talking of the past and the days spent together. He talks about his three sons, with pride, eldest in the Navy, next in Corps of Signals and the youngest in America. Also about his elder daughter- in- law being a sky diver. There is no talk about his wife; I also lacked courage to ask about her, especially with the state he was in. Slowly his already low voice sinks further, I realise that he is getting tired with the effort of keeping a brave face and the conversation going. We don’t talk about his illness, a few more words; I hold his hand, whisper a get- well and shuffle out of the room with Ranjit in tow. As I sip the Juice from the glass earlier left on the side table and ask his son about his affliction. It transpires that it is Cancer of the Prostrate, the expensive chemotherapy which not only was ineffective in controlling the Cancer but in the process damaged his liver thus shortening his life span. With there own litany of woes uppermost in my mind I refrain from loading them by unfolding my experience with cancer and chemotherapy as it effected the near and dear ones in the family. In sober mood we took the lift to ground 19th floors down and with little talk among us drove back home.
SMILES TEARS AND HEART BREAKS IT WAS NOW TIME TO PART. ROSY, UNESCORTED BY any member of her family had spent the day with us, mostly with me. The rest of her family members had joined us only for tea and were now leaving. Papa ji , Rosy’s, autocratic, father, as he was called, after a perfunctory ‘Sat Sri Akal’; impatient, already in the driver’s seat, Mama lingered a bit, slightly bent with both hands folded while taking her leave. Rosy casting a long and lingering look at me took her seat along with Ruby in the car, who also gave me a parting smile. Bang, bang the car doors closed, the engine started and revved up with the clutch released the rear wheels spun and slipped on the gravel, finally bit and the beige coloured Fiat 1100D shot out of the gate on to the Circular Road. And we turned towards the main house each one wearing a smile for different reason: my brother for a difficult meeting gone on smoothly, my sister in law for having retrieved a difficult situation by her quick and deft thinking by bringing Rosy from her home for us to meet and me with my head swimming in Dopamine with a dopes smile plastered on my face in a hurry to place a LP on the turn table, jack up the volume of the amplifier to share with the world my feelings. On the other side as the car speeded up on the narrow roads of Dalanwala with Rosy’s miffed father keeping the accelerator pressed to the floor, Circular road, Lakshami road and it only when the car hit the slightly broader East Canal road that the three occupants of the car gave a sigh of relief. Mama found her voice; “Sardar Ji” that is how she addressed him, “How did you like the boy. She enquired. “Silence.” “Han Ji.’ she prompted. “How could you approve of him, he has no manners, no respect for elders. Haven’t they taught him to respect elders?” He hissed. “He is unfit to marry my daughter.” He decreed with anger written on his face. The charged atmosphere in the car ignited and exploded leaving every one stunned. Rosy seeing her new world collapsing even before it had seen the first dawn, broke in to silent tears. Ruby, had acquiesced to the relationship, trying to hold on to her status of the decision maker of the family who did not know how to react. Mama, though taken aback, well aware of her husbands pressure points started planning the strategy as how to mollify his hurt feelings and bruised ego. E C Road, Eucalyptus road, and Rajpur road finally the car turned in to the gate of their house, breaking hard he brought it to a screeching halt. Banged his door he hurried towards his room, with mama meekly following, to his bottle of rum, with the other two characters scurrying to their own corners with their own confused thoughts. It was a clash of culture feudal versus urban and rural: one still tied to the past the other trying to break from the past. The whole crisis was due to the fact that I had not touched his feet: De rigour in their family and a taboo with us. He took to his bottle, his incoherent ramblings, growing with each glass that he downed, that only Mama could follow and understand. Her pleadings and cajoling were to no avail nor did her streaming tears have any effect. He calmed down only when she agreed to gain some time, to break the engagement. Rosy could not sleep, twisting and turning in the bed, struggling with the storm brewing inside her. Was it a mirage, she wondered? It was unsettling and confusing to her young mind: the positive impression I had created on her, the know each other stage was yet come, the mild attraction combined with the rising desire for my company was a strange new feeling difficult to cope with, love was yet to bloom but not too far away. All these new unfamiliar and strange feelings combined with the fear of the whole dream collapsing, especially being aware as to how difficult and resolute her father was, creating havoc inside her. Some how, the mother and the daughter prevailed and assuaged the hurt feelings of the old man and cajoled him to give-up his opposition to the proposal. But that is a different story, sad and sordid better left untold. Unawares of what had transpired on the other side of Dehra Dun in the last 24 hours every thing appeared normal to us when we landed at their place the next afternoon: even Rosy came and sat next to me, proud of her new status. I still shudder to think as to what would have happened to me if the wish of the peeved father had prevailed. Possibly no tears would have shed by me but I would have been saddled, without doubt with a permanently un-mandible broken heart.
Saturday, June 4, 2011
8 September: The Day the Balloon went up
PEKING REJECTS INDAIA'S TERMS FOR TALKS\
The Hindustan Times Delhi 8 September 1962
IT WAS 8TH OF SEPTEMBER, A SATURDAY, a weekend, a legacy left by the British. In bracing cold, Towang at 10,000 feet plus, was basking in bright sunshine. A clear day with the greens of the meadows, the deep blues of the sky, the silver of the river Towang Chu, flowing deep in the valley, the browns and reds of houses of the Towang village. The majesty of the Towang Monastery, visible not far away, was over powering. Not too cold not too hot, it was just pleasant, a tourist’s delight. However, there were no tourists in Towang those days except VIP brass who choppered occasionally, to stay for lunch, give sermons, talk in platitudes and fly back again to civilisation in plains of Tezpur, Lucknow or Delhi. In any case it was too quiet and peaceful to resemble a noisy and bustling tourists resort. The Brigade HQ equally quiet. There was no officer present in the HQ except Lt Sharma, the Brigade Ordnance Officer, the duty-officer of the day; all others had gone off to attend a Barakhana in one of the battalions.
I had managed to stay back. I hated these events, although these were the only entertainment providers at that far-away outpost. We had no TV, no cinema and a total of two radios in the Brigade HQ, one small table model in the mess and a National Transistor with the Commander in his hut. I was a vegetarian, and a teetotaler on top of it. I had no interest in the sex starved jokes flying around, or looking at the young soldiers dressed as girls singing folk songs and dancing to popular tunes.
To top it all, we were passing through a bit of anti-climax phase after the hectic activity of the previous few days. The Brigade Operational Order, which was based on the premise that the Chinese could not mount a major offensive till the railway line from Peking to Lhasa was operational, had to be finalised before the Commander could proceed on annual leave. Brig Dalvi had duly left for Tezpur en-route to his leave station at Meerut on 1st September.
Even a layman not conversant with military tactics would see that we though deployed forward, were actually organised for peaceful co-existence with China.
IT WAS MY PRACTICE TO GO FOR A WALK in the afternoon. I was reluctant to go out on this day, with no one in the Bde HQ. However, Lt Sharma insisted, even though he was the duty officer. We had been lulled to the extent that even the duty officer was willing to leave his post, with firm faith that nothing could happen especially in our Brigade Sector. We left via the Signal Centre, as was my practice. It was all quiet-there, nothing on the air or line. I had no inkling at that time that it was the proverbial lull before the storm. We may have been away from the HQ at the most for an hour. However, as we approached it, we could feel a tension in the air, resulting in quickening of our pace. The scene had completely changed. It was getting dark and gloomy and there was unease in the atmosphere. Some thing was wrong, very wrong.
Wondering as to what had happened to bring about the sudden change, both of us, gingerly, trooped in to BM’s room, apprehensive and expecting a rocket for our absence from the HQ, where in every one seemed to have gathered. No one took notice of our entry. Kharbanda, a bit worse for wear, due to some extra beer, incoherent, his eyes- bleary, red and watering, but a soldier to core - was all decked up in full battle gear, with his large-pack ready for move.
It transpired that Bingo, the Assam Rifles post, on the tri junction of India, Bhutan and Tibet had been surrounded by more than 600 Chinese earlier in the day. This was according to a message received in a round about manner late in the evening; that is how the communication system was functioning those days. Kharbanda, as we could see was all set to relieve the Assam Rifles post single-handed. All of us were more worried about him, desperately trying to hold him back, than the Chinese or Bingo. The scene would have definitely appeared a bit comical to an outsider: ideal for a sequence in the war movies being produced in Bombay.
It so happened that Bingo was established, though in disputed territory, near the tri-junction of India, Bhutan and Tibet, some times back under ‘Op Onkar, the move forward policy of the Indian Government. The post, under the Brigade’s operational responsibility, did not have direct communication link to the Bde HQ, all due to ego problems and petty inter-service rivalries. We of the Signals, me in particular, were blamed for any delay in passage of information, even when we had no role in its passage.
Kharbanda’s small room, the telephone ringing continuously, with incoming and out going calls to Tezpur, where all of us of the Bde HQ had gathered, resembled an ad hoc Operational Room.
With so many of us crowding around, the air had become charged with combined energy of diverse emotions; excitement, apprehension, uncertainty and even fear of the unknown, all adding to the whole in various
proportions. depending on the attitude of the particular individual.
With The BM being out of action, TK Gupta, the IO away with Commander, with access to the Top Secret Operation files only Pereira, the DQ, the only possible link with the Commander at Tezpur, and possibly
me the Signals officer had a role to play, others, apart from the mess staff providing unending supply of mugs of coffee and tea, were just hanging around trying to look involved and useful, not unlike friends and relations holding vigil outside the Operating Theatre, with some near and dear one on the surgeon’s table inside.
Willy-nilly, the Brigade HQ swung into action, Maj Pereira took charge of the situation. Commander was located in the guest room of the Mahar Regiment at the Tezpur airfield, next door to the air -strip from which his IAC plane was to take off early next morning, carrying him thousands of miles away to Meerut in North India. The plane did take off the next morning. However, his seat was unoccupied. He took another seat but in a helicopter back to Towang.
The night had been hectic, I do not think anyone slept, including the mess staff, kept busy passing around mugs of tea and coffee. The loving care we had bestowed on the Radio Transmitter /Receiver station paid off. We had telephone quality speech with Tezpur. The Commander on remote, couple of miles away from Divisional HQ, kept asking for Kharbanda whom we had put to sleep to recover from the after-effects of beer. Pereira, who was fully in picture and better equipped to hold his drinks, kept taking and passing on instructions: Op Leghorn had commenced as far as we were concerned.
In hind sight, I feel it could have been more appropriately christened Op Lame Duck.
Brigadier Lakshman Singh , VSM (Retired)
Saturday, January 29, 2011
Us and Them
Us and Them
TO BEAT THE COLD, I move to the small balcony of my third floor flat and occupy the folding chair, fighting for space with the LG washing machine the fordable press table the two crates of empty soft- drink glass bottles not forgetting Ranjit’s Golf set. However, to me what matters is the sensual pleasure of the slowly seeping in warmth, radiating from the low in sky sun and the warm, mild breeze caressing my exposed face and the fingers of the hand as I write.
My avuncular eyes scan the large span of green grass down below and feast on the spectacle of the tiny tots playing, tumbling, falling, giggling and indulging in every other antics they are capable of, under the watchful eyes of the young mothers, otherwise, engaged in gossip with each other, when not engaged with the cell.
Slowly, as then evening advances the mothers and the toddlers move in, most probably to prepare for the arrival of the husbands from work: I can already hear the occasional beep from the stream of returning cars.
The now vacant ground, down under, is soon invaded by a gaggle of a few preteens. Irritatingly, the pleasant to the ear, giggling of the toddlers gets replaced by the ear piercing shouts, cries and aimless chatter of the intruders; to them a part of their game or what ever they are indulging in and forces me to think of moving in, in any case with the sun sinking behind the building blocks in the distance, the temperature has also dropped a few degrees.
I add a few extra woolens, to those already covering me, to brace the cold outside and decide to take a walk, picking up some well needed body warmth.
I have recently moved in the AWHO Township at Greater Noida, replete with all the modern facilities, Army Club, swimming pool, market, shopping centre, community hall, and what have you , some already up others coming.
As I cut across the ground towards the under construction cluster of phase III of the project, I notice, for the first time, a sprawling shanty township, bang in the middle ,built and inhibited by the labour-force employed, the, same who had built the palaces for us and for themselves the hovels to live in , shanties constructed from corrugated iron sheets; ovens in summer and ice boxes in winters, lying cheek and jowl with each other: no privacy, no sanitation, no personal safety. How they live and survive and what goes-on in there I shudders to think
To my utter horror, I notice a group of youngsters, six to eight years of age, playing for money, with small stones, with amazing hand and eye coordination, hitting or missing the indicated one from a cluster of three: budding professional gamblers, exchanging the winnings and losings nonchalantly.
As I can for see,their future may not be secure but it is certain, the character in formation for the police and law to deal with a few years hence
Lucky is the girl child, working as domestic help, parents fully aware of the legal consequences, who does bring some money to keep the home fires burning, unlike the vagabonds with nothing to occupy there time, already stealing, from home or outside to indulge their passion.
What about there Right to Education, a safe childhood, security, basic sanitation, clean drinking water, and enough food to fill the belly?
Who is to blame for this sad state of affairs, the builder or some one else?
On the flip side, we,those residing in our spic and span flats, with our ostrich like closed eyes, totally blind to the fact that the help entering our portals, to wash, clean and cook is accompanied with germs, microbes, viruses to which she may have become immune, but not we nor our children, for sure.
I muse and brood helplessly, as I trudge slowly back to my cold, lonely now so uninviting flat. arriving to nothing.
Friday, January 28, 2011
LIFE AFTER DEATH
When the Hospitals give up the doctors takeover, when the doctors give-up the Gods takeover, when the Gods too give-up the Pandit takeover, when the Pandit give-up, the Dom (the keeper of the cremation ground) take-over, when the Dom gives up the Panda (at Hardwar) takes over when the Panda give-up the Pandit once again take-over.
It all, the handing- taking over, happening in a short span of four days, one activity merging in the other seamlessly; visitors, relatives, friends: some crying others embracing, all touching, consoling, reassuring, advising ; life moves in a whirl.
And when every one gives up the memories takeover to fill the vacuum. That is the truth of life after death
Monday, January 10, 2011
As I sit on the corner of the first floor of the Octagonal Atrium of the Polyclinic, the focus of the eye keeps shifting from the number on the display on the dental surgery, my number is 13, it currently shows 6, I recon I will have to wait for another hour or so, to the multitude of visitors down below the pattern change at every shift of the eye.
I look down at the latest issue of TIME, Asian Heroes of the 50 years, the lead article; it is more to keep the boredom of aimless waiting and no of visits to the Dental surgery, I have been snared in a process called ‘Root canal’ where is the root and where is the canal, what it means I don’t know , The Dental surgeon, a man of few words also has not bothered to throw any light all I know that every time I lie-down on the Dental chair, an annoying exercise starts, to say the least, a number of instruments of torture are pocked in the cavity of my tooth one after another, and then I am told to come again after a few days, a process repeated again and again for the last so many days
Coming back once again to the ever changing scene down below, the actors like the pawns of chess moving from one square to another; reception to pickup the token, with the serial no in the queue, to the plastic chair, all the time looking at the number on display, on being called for registration, to the Doctor and then if referred to the specialist and back to the window for further referral to a hospital, each stage referring one, to some one else.
I wonder why so many; are they really sick, some now familiar faces, remembered from earlier visits for the root canal.
They all come to get the aging body machine repaired-some, mostly, with minor scratches and dents others for major overhaul and refurbishing of major assemblies.
The Noida Polyclinic is also a club, a place to come to in the forenoon, the time well-spent meeting old friends and making new ones, also a chance to describe in detail, to the captive audience, sitting next to one, awaiting their turn, with one eye on the display and half a ear to the speaker, listening with disinterest to the litany of woes, along list of ailments also the trouble some in-laws the senile parents or the uncaring children.
A chance to criticze the inefficient system, the government of the day, the political parties, the new generation, corruption, even being a willing or unwilling part of it and of course the past glorious deed in the face of the enemy or the superiors.
The dialogue mostly cut in mid sentence with the no of the speaker or the listener suddenly flashing on the board
I also see with some fascination, the steel contraption, Angled at exactly 45* steeply rising from the floor
of the atrium, to the first floor of the Polyclinic that acts as a prism does to light separating the multitude of the patients visiting in various categories by age, by weight, by size, seriousness of the ailment, by the style of its use, albeit a serious threat to limb and life, an accident waiting to happen, a cardiac arrest, a fatal fall, a slip disc or a broken neck all very much a possibility.
The young, brimming with energy of youth, rushing up and down, totally ignorant of and with the disdain of danger, the recently retired Generals, rushing down : the General self impressed, with his latent energy and deceptive youthful looks, young in mind but aging in the body, ignorant of what damage he could self-inflict in his exuberance, the severely oboes matron puffing her way up and up, one tortured step at a time, breathless and about to collapse in the process, tearing further the already damaged heart muscles.
The contraption was erected, in the early days, a short cut, for the medical staff and not for the patients. It is surprising and beyond comprehension that no one has thought of barring it at least for the patients. Possibly the administration is too busy doing what administrators do to administer.
Observed and written some time back. Things may have change, I have been lucky in not needing to visit the clinic since long God has been Kind.