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If I can just give to the world more than I take from it, I will be a very happy man. For there is no greater joy in life than to give. Motto : Live, Laugh and Love. You can follow me on Twitter too . My handle is @Raja_Sw.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

My Experiments with Truth : Leaving Home

The year, 1981.

Remembered by some misty-eyed British folk as the “royal wedding” year. When Prince Charles married Diana in what was often claimed to be the wedding to beat all weddings.

Remembered by other equally misty-eyed British folk, but more cricket-inclined, as the year when England pulled off the upset to beat all upsets at Headingley, Leeds and ended up winning the Ashes series against Australia.

Remembered by Wimbledon followers (the tennis, I mean, not the football club) as the year which signaled the end of an era and the beginning of another. When, much like 2008, the reigning king of grass was dethroned and another king was crowned, in what was one of the greatest finals Wimbledon has ever seen.

But, as is my wont, I digress again.

This is not a history lesson or flashback on world events of 1981. This is about Delhi, 1981 and me.

When I left my parents’ home for the first time to explore the big world out there, it was the city of Delhi that became my first stop. I was continuing my education in Delhi and, for the record, was 17-and-a-half at that time.

I can still remember, inspite of twenty-seven summers having passed since, the feeling in my stomach when the Kalinga Express chugged into Hazrat Nizamuddin station at around 12.30 noon that day in end-May 1981.

It was a very warm day (I do not need to elaborate on mid-day May temperatures in Delhi) and, as usually happens when a train finally reaches its destination, there was a hustle-bustle inside my second-class compartment as everybody began dragging his luggage and heading for the door. It had been a long journey for most and everybody was understandably happy to just get off the train as soon as possible. The compartment had already got a sea of red about it as coolies had managed to jump in – as only they can – well before the train had ground to a halt. Some of them approached me but – even with my almost non-existent assertiveness - I managed to brush them away.

I was in a strange mood. Almost lost in my thoughts. Tired ? Maybe a little. Hungry ? I suppose so - I had not had lunch yet and the breakfast I had had was at Jhansi or Gwalior (I do not quite remember now).

No, it was nothing to do with a physical emotion. It was all mental. Till then, I had been “on my way” to Delhi. I had been travelling, I had not got there yet. Inspite of the heat, I had enjoyed the journey – whether it was the previous evening, seeing stations like Bilaspur, Pendra Road (I had lovely “matke mein chai” at the station here), or in the middle of the night, Bina, or the next morning stations like Lalitpur, Jhansi, Gwalior, Dhaulpur, Agra and Mathura. Not to mention parts of the Chambal. I imagined Phoolan Devi, with other dacoits, emerging from those ravines and attacking our train. I love train journeys – and can never really get bored of them.

But now it was over. The journey had ended, the destination had arrived. That sign “HAZRAT NIZAMUDDIN JUNCTION” – in yellow – was much more than a sign. It was a definitive statement that I needed to wake up from my stupor. Because a different – and decidedly less sleepy - life now awaited me.

It was not that I was not looking forward to it. But I do distinctly remember a sort of sick feeling in my stomach. Not caused by hunger. It was everything that was happening around me that instant. The crowds, the noise, the chaos completely shook me. I had never seen so many busy people in one place before. (That everything is relative would be amply demonstrated to me later in life, when I would stand at Churchgate station in Mumbai at rush hour. Many Hazrat Nizamuddins could be consumed in one Churchgate snapshot).

Finally, nudged by a coolie (porter) “Saab, utarna nahin hai kya ?” I ventured to get up and get hold of my luggage. After a bit of bargaining (more to convince myself that I had made an effort rather than any meaningful negotiation), I hired the same guy to carry my luggage for me. I had somebody waiting for me at the end of the platform to take me to my place of stay so there were no further experiences of the type that one tends to have while dealing with the unknown.

I was staying at a place which had a caretaker to not just take care of the place but now also to take care of me. Or rather, more importantly, my food needs. This caretaker was a boy about my age. He was from Rajasthan (Nagaur district, he told me later). His name was Shankar (though he pronounced it, in what I later learnt to be a typical Rajasthani accent, as Sannnnnnnkar). ,

On that first afternoon, Shankar – mindful of the fact that I would come tired from the station - had made me a sumptuous lunch. Garm-a-garam soft rotis, daal, alu-gobi, another sabzi, excellent dahi. And lassi to top it off. I love North Indian food – and by then I was really hungry – so I think I had no problem keeping Sankar busy making the rotis. Finally when I could eat no more, I said “bas, bahut ho gaya, Shankar”. All he said was “Saabji, aur lo na. Aur banaata hoon main. Aap ne to kuchh khaaya hi nahin. Theek nahin hai kya ? Ye hamaari type ka humne banaaya hai – aapke liye kuchh alag banana ho to boliye”.

I looked at him. What had I done to deserve a guy like this ? I told him “Bahut hi achha hai, Shankar…par main itna hi khaata hoon…isse zyaada nahin”.

I relaxed for the rest of the evening , had a somewhat light dinner (much to Shankar’s disappointment but I was still heavy from the lunch) and actually turned in quite early.

It was when I woke up the next morning that it really hit me.

I looked up at the ceiling – and jumped up. My first reaction was - this is a strange place, this is not home. I suddenly longed for that familiar ceiling at home.

I almost instinctively realized - yes, this is not home anymore. This is the big city. Delhi. Where I would now have new experiences in my life. Hopefully good ones – but in any case, the type that I would never get in my sheltered life in Orissa.

It was just about 7.30 or so in the morning but I could already hear the noise on the streets, the hustle-bustle of city life.

There was a knock on my door.

Saabji, chai banaoon ?”. Shankar must have heard me getting up.

Haan yaar, chai banao…aur aaj ka paper mil sakta hai ? idhar nahin hai to dukaan se la sakte ho ? Koi English paper…Yahan Dilli mein Hindustan Times chalta hai na ?

“Sab milega, saabji…abhi laata hoon…chai mein kitni shakkar lenge aap ?”

I suddenly felt very good about everything. How stupidly I had been behaving ! I had everything going for me in my life – I had a good place to stay, I had somebody to take care of my food, somebody who actually cared that I felt at home – and I was in Delhi for a good reason. To further my studies. So what was I moaning about ?

Today, all these years later, my mind suddenly goes back to that time in May 1981. And Shankar. His ever-smiling face is as if in front of my eyes even now.

(Wherever you are, Shankar, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking such good care of me at that time. It meant a lot to me – and though I know you will not be reading this, I still want to say that I can never forget how cheerfully you went about making those many sabzis, rotis and parathas for me. Not to mention chai every morning and evening.)

My life in Delhi had just begun. I would have different experiences – some good, some not-so-good. But I believe I am much the richer in life for these experiences.

For what is life without experiences ? Just a number of minutes of existence. That is all.


squarecut.atul said...

I liked this post of yours. Going back int past and describing what was a just a train journey for many, but was an important journey in life for you, where you left the comforts of home and were on your own for the first time.

These are the defining moments in our lives that determine which way we finally go.

The stations that you have described are very much the stations around me, and I am very much familiar with them. I do not think Gondia would have come en route, if your train passed through Pendra Road and Katni.

To get someone like Sankar at Delhi to care for you- you were surely lucky. Delhi people do not have time to care for others. The fact that he was from a place in Rajasthan where people care, may have made him to care for you.

Meeting people like Sankar and interacting with them, meeting with kids, seeing how they enjoy life without any worries, these small pleasures that is what makes one's life enjoyable, in my opinion.

It is a lovely read. Keep such posts flowing.

brightsoul said...

Oh this was so moving!All of us go through some form of change from our childhood to adulthood! I will soon face this with my own kids!As of now my eldest son (17yrs old)is on a holiday to India, and I feel lost!What when he goes abroad to study! Eww! I dont know how it will be!But exciting for him I'm sure!

Nandini Vishwanath said...

:) My mom's baby brother going to Delhi all alone - boy, have I heard this story or what?!

Corinne Rodrigues said...

I really enjoyed this one...I could almost picture Shankar in my mind. It's amazing how when we think we're alone, someone is 'sent' to take care of us!
Truly a lovely post.