Thursday, October 17, 2013

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.

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.