Sunday, March 15, 2015

Panditji : A Real Life Story

When I was a child, there used to be an extremely old Panditji from a nearby temple who frequently visited our home. He had been our family Pandit, much like family doctors. His was a tall and lanky figure who was fond of preaching young kids like me. His long lectures used to irritate me so much that I preferred to hide in the inner room to not confront him when he had come over for puja. Hailing from a very religious Brahman family, hardly a month went without there being a puja at home, which was presided none other by the Panditji. 

The never-ending religious chores and my evergrowing interest in science, logic and rationality had turned me averse to the every little process that was related to God. I became a skeptic first, followed by brief stints at being an atheist, an agnostic to my ultimate state (that I still carry) - indifference to God. My father encouraged me to question traditions, beliefs and he never took my curious questions and extreme opinions as blasphemy. Despite being moderately religious, he entertained my skepticism patiently with logic and had just one advice for me: I am allowed to keep my views as long as I was not hurting anyone's sentiments. I was too young to understand what exactly he meant with the word 'hurting sentiments', so I presumed it to refer to verbal/literal disregard of any religion or religious activity and I carefully avoided them in my conversation. By accepting my non-religious views, my father very had intelligently induced tolerance in me and made sure that I accepted his advice without any further questions. 

We lived in a big three-storeyed house of our great-grandfather in Patna, along with some other relatives. There was a big field around a kilometer away from my place, where I played football everyday. On my way to the field, I used to cross the temple where Panditji lived. I was just 9 at that time. It was summertime, when I was returning in the evening after two hours of my favorite sport, when Panditji called me from inside the temple. Being tired and disinterested, I pretended not to listen to him at first. But he summoned once again, louder. I turned and greeted him. 

'Harsh, everyday I see you crossing the temple, but you never bow in front of Lord of lords, Shiva. You are a Brahman! At least uphold some samskaras that your parents have failed to teach you.'

I was terribly annoyed. Who wants a lecture after an intense football match? I didn't reply.

'Now, bow in front of ...' his monologue was interrupted with his acute coughing, until he caught hold of his breath. I remained mute, exasperated with the ongoing preaching and looked at my maxima watch. 

'Bow to the great Shivling and say sorry to the Lord of the Lords,' he ordered and followed it up with his tender words, 'and take this prasad.'

I bowed with folded hands and a sly smile at the idol, went back to him. He handed me some anardanas with dried-rice(chooda), that I grabbed in my fist and ran away, saying irritably, 'Pranam Panditji.'

Next day, my ankles got sprained in the school and I was bedridden for one long week that implied no football. On the coming Sunday, much like our regular affairs, my mother hosted a puja at home. I went with my father on the car to seek the Panditji from the temple, the thought of his arrival had already vexed me. We were stunned to find that the temple was locked. When my father inquired from the neighbours, they informed us that Panditji was suffering from tuberculosis and had passed away one day ago, in the hospital. I still remember the tears that I saw in my father's eye upon hearing the bad news. He related to me about how Panditji had selflessly served our family for over two generations.

I didn't feel sad. Rather, I felt a little relieved that I was saved from boring lectures. I was too small to feel any remorse. The regular Sunday puja was postponed as my parents went to a bigger Shiva temple along with me to pray for Panditji's soul to rest in peace. I was thoughtless. I remained just a mute skeptical spectator to the proceedings. 

I observed no change in me and soon the much-awaited day arrived when my ankle got completely healed. While returning from the football field all alone in the dusk, that night, I was unconsciously drawn towards the temple and I did something that I could have never imagined myself doing. I entered the temple premises and sincerely bowed. But not to the lifeless Lord of the Lords that resided inside, but to the full-of-life God that resided inside the devoted new Panditji who had took over. When I came out of the temple premises and said, 'Pranam Panditji', my tone carried immense sincerity and for the first time in my life, heartfelt remorse. The dusk had given way to the night and I was glad that no one could have observed my wet cheeks as I strolled back to home.

15 years have passed since then. Even now, I never miss visiting small temples that come in my way. I like to pay my adieu to those who have given their entire lives serving the idols without life with just one firm belief that that little lifeless piece of stone had given them lives.

Written for, watch the embedded video and #StartANewLife like Panditji got me started with.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Go-Getter

The year was 1986. She was 25, a university topper with high ambitions, when she had got married. If she were given a chance, she would have studied more, enrolled herself in a Ph.D. and become a tenured professor. But as her parents and the society desired, she got married.

She moved to her in-laws’ house, two hundred kilometers away, in a big city. A patriarchal house at that, with a joint family of over ten members (including a couple of cousins, IAS aspirants, of her husband). The first day, she was handed over the kitchen; the mother-in-law heaving in respite that now, after all these years, she could relax. Three times a day, she would spend hours in the kitchen, making dal, subzi and over fifty chapatis each time, feeding everyone before she could. It wasn’t the kind of married life she had anticipated for herself. She thought of a more academically stimulating household that encouraged women to go out and chase their dreams. But the society wasn’t so back then.

She kept quiet; her tedious routine silently took her dreams away. Two years later, a son was born. Life became busier. Now, with the kitchen, she had to take care of the baby, too. The joint family helped, but soon, her husband was transferred to a rural village in North Bihar, without electricity, without proper water. She accompanied him taking their little son along. The kitchen became smaller now, but the upbringing became difficult. She took it upon herself to teach the kid – read out books and stories to him, taught him alphabets and numbers and readied him for school. By this time, a daughter arrived. The process continued. The husband was transferred back to his sprawling city, just before taking care of the two kids could go out of hand. Two kids and kitchen followed her everywhere she went, until the son turned 17. She worked day and night to assure that her son, who was preparing for the JEE, had proper nourishment and rest. She would make coffee for him at two at night, 6 am breakfast before the school and the 2 pm sumptuous lunch when school got over. Her years of hardwork reaped a result. The son cleared the JEE. All of a sudden, she found something that she never thought she had. Time.

The year was 2007. She was 47, an age where most people comfortably cocoon themselves in the familial comfort zone. However, she had other plans. She resumed her studies, something that she had dreamed of pursuing twenty-two years ago. It took her time and efforts to regain her confidence, to brush off the layers of dust enveloping her prior knowledge and once she did, there was no looking back.

The year is 2014, the son is a graduate from IIT, the daughter is a graduate from DU; however, both of them are pursuing unconventional careers, careers that require one to shun away the comfort zone – one, being a full-time writer; the other, a freelance photographer. On a stuffy summer afternoon of 2014, the son receives a call from their mother, a lecturer now, who has some news to convey. After much jubilation and celebrations, the son changes the mobile contact name of his mother from Ma to Dr. Ma.


This is the story of my mother. For twenty-two years, she gave up on her dreams to fuel mine. She resumed her studies when I entered college. Seven years later, she completes her Ph.D.

Ma, I'm proud of you! Your passion, resilience and determination continue to be my biggest source of hope.

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This story is of my friend Gaurav, who used to race.

‘Give me a reason to live,’ he said.
‘I can’t give you’s something you must find out on your own,’ she said knowing it would never have work for him if she tried to help.
‘This is not fair. Nobody knows me better than you do and at this critical juncture, you can’t leave me alone. Please.’
‘I’m doing it for you, baby. This time, you have to fight it alone,’ she said. He heard receding footsteps disappear into nothingness, followed by the sound of the door shutting.

One month ago, he had lost his vision in a car crash. He had suffered from injuries to his head that sent him to a coma for two weeks. With the crash, his promising career as an F1 racer ended and all his ambitions tied to the sport were crushed head-on. He was one of the youngest racers to have made it to the F1 circuit and his skills were unmatched by any other racer in his country, they said. Five days ago, when he came out of the coma and realized what had happened, he couldn’t accept his fate. When the doctor informed him that his retina was ruptured and he wouldn’t be able to see again, he refused to believe it and strained to disprove it. He whimpered for several hours. The darkness taunted him. The thought of never being able to escape this darkness pressed down on him until he dropped into the chasm of depression.

All throughout the past seventeen days, she remained by his side. She loved him like no-one did and he loved her like no-one could. When he cried in fear, she hugged him tight and cried along with him; when he cursed his fate, she tried to reinforce his faith; when the darkness irked him, she told him stories he could visualize, that could help him see the world as it was before, through his mind’s eye. Or was it her eyes? But despite her love, she couldn’t stop him from falling into that abyss. At first, she tried to conquer his negative thoughts by countering them positively but that didn’t help. She followed it up with motivational stories of people who made it big even after being afflicted with disability, but even that didn’t induce any change. 

He had lost hope. He had lost his determination. And in his last conversation with her, she was dismayed to find that he had even lost interest to live. Upon hearing his words, she realised that it was her persistent care and presence that had made him so negative. It was only when he knew she was around that he would curse his fate – to seek her sympathy. He swore at God to make her stop him from doing that. He ridiculed the stories she read out to him so that she would come up with a new one. Though most of his injuries had healed by then, he didn’t try to walk on his own even once, he didn’t figure out things on his own – he was too used to her help. Although it demanded immense self-control on her part, she saw that the time had come to withdraw herself from him. Come night-time, she would leave him all alone to fight his fears by himself for the first time.

Without her by his side, he lay on his bed still, thinking. He couldn’t believe that she had left him all alone in such a situation. The silence frightened him. He started talking to himself. All alone, cursing his fate didn’t seem like a very entertaining option. He started reciting his favorite poem – Darkness by Lord Byron, which left him awed, for his favourite poem was actually an omen. After reciting it , he exclaimed loudly to himself, ‘I love Darkness like nothing else, thank you Byron,’ and laughed hysterically. It was the first time after the accident that laughter paid a visit by his bed-side. It tickled his bladder and he got up from his bed on his own, and placed his feet on the cold marble floor. He imagined the white of the marble. Carefully, he took guarded steps and grabbed the wall next to him. After knocking against the almirah, hitting his feet against the table’s leg on the way, he finally located the loo and let himself loose. When he came out, his sense of direction got skewed and he failed to locate the bed. Fear captured him once again and he panicked. He started running frantically, hit against furniture and toppled on the ground.

Before he could cry for help, someone pulled him up, with utmost care and took him to bed. He recognized the smell. It was her. She didn’t speak a word. He moved his palms near her face. It was wet.

‘You didn’t leave, did you? You were right here, weren’t you?’ he asked.

‘How could I leave you? I’m so glad to find that in just one hour, my son has started to love darkness,’ she whispered, followed by two tearful smiles.

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