Chapter 5. Roots. Memories a novella.
Written for nanowrimo
The boy’s family moved out from the sprawling traditional house of his grandparents to a spanking new high rise apartment. Boy enjoyed the space to himself, the modern tiled bathrooms with showers and bathtubs and especially the western style toilets, but the most impressive thing was the bird’s eye view of his surroundings.
But he missed his grandfather, who was his constant companion for the last month or so. They went for long walks to the lakes, where Dadu, as Boy called his grandpa, showed off his savant grandson to his cronies.
Boy’s father would bring him illustrated Russian books and tell him about formation of stars, evolution of life, dinosaurs, early man, discovery of fire and other such fascinating stories. Years later, Boy would pay back the debt by telling those stories to his children, with more spice thrown in. Anyway, thus empowered, the boy interacted with his Dadu’s friends.
“What are you studying these days, my child?”
“Darwin’s theory of evolution” was the straight faced reply from this kindergarten student.
Thus the savant reputation took root.
Dadu too was a fund of stories. He was a Civil Servant of the British Raj, often being the first ‘native officer’ to hold many important positions, and had travelled and worked in many remote places. Boy was enthralled by his adventures. Travelling on horseback and boats, living in tents, wearing the sola toupee and khakis, encountering dacoits and wild animals, it all seemed a fairy tale. Boy admired the hunting rifles and service revolver which were showpieces now, but figured prominently in those thrilling tales.
He also told grim tales of the freedom struggle, which Dadu, against his inclinations, had to quell. He had great admiration for the armed daredevils, called terrorists by his employers and freedom fighters by his countrymen, of whom his own nephew was a part. He had scant respect for the congresswallahs, who later usurped power and reaped the bounties of independence, whom he called collaborators.
He however mourned the death of close friends and colleagues assassinated by these very boys, sometimes right in front of his eyes. During the famous ‘Veranda Battle’ he was shot at, but that did not diminish his admiration for those fiery young men. But that is another story.
Memory, as she is wont, is taking off in tangents again, but before we drag her back to the linear model, may we take a little sidestep if you permit?
The boy’s intoxication with stories leading to material deprivation started early. His, babysitter, Eda, had the difficult job of feeding him. This had to be accompanied with stories. To this day, he cannot eat without a book in his hand, unless in entertaining company. Sometimes a screen replaces the book, but the story has to be there. Anyway, going back, Eda was soon out of stock as his repertoire was limited. So he used the simple expedient of eating up the meals himself, and presenting the empty plate to Boy’s mother. Boy never snitched on his close companion, and continued to lose calories in exchange for stories. Later, he would lose grades, job opportunities and dates for this dangerous addiction.
Going back to the story, Boy spent hours peering from this vantage point of a 10th floor balcony. This is from where he saw a bus being burnt, a thief being lynched, and his first communal riot; scenes that would scar him for life. But that comes later. We will go back to his roots.
Boy’s paternal grandfather, whom he called choto dadu for his short stature, was a very jolly gentleman with ever ready wit. He worked in the steel town of Tatanagar. Boy loved his visits there and rides in his ancient Austin. He too, was a treasure trove of stories, mostly funny, and as Boy later realised, sometimes made up.
His family came from a remote backward district, and were landowners in a village there, calling themselves Kings. He called Boy ‘Prince of Wales of Nowhereland’
How they reached there was a typical colonial story. The tribal population there, in order to bring a priest for their temple, had invited this impoverished scholar from a famous Sanskrit college to their village. A few generations later, this Brahmins progeny owned the village.
But by the time Boy’s great grandpa was in charge, Zamindari wasn’t paying much in the arid land. This enterprising gentleman decided on a course considered sacrilege for his class and caste; he started a business. But maybe genes can tell, and soon he was bankrupt.
Now he thought of something even more drastic. For landowners employment was the worst dishonour. But he decided to pick his brightest kid, Boy’s grandfather, to be educated in the city, and choose a profession. Here too, he broke tradition. Gentlemen had liberal education or at worst studied law. Medicine was borderline respectable. But he chose the new fangled discipline of Engineering, and on the completion of his sons intermediate, took him far away to the first Engineering College in the country, in BHU.
More hurdles came up. By the time they reached, admissions were over and session had started. Not willing to take no for an answer, he demanded and received an appointment with the Vice Chancellor of the University himself, the legendary Madan Mohan Malavya. The VC explained to the old man with an analogy he could follow, having come over by rail.
“The train has left the station and nothing more can be done.”
Boy’s great grandpa retorted, “Why, you can always pull the chain to stop the train!”
The old man’s ready wit got Boy’s grandpa the berth, and changed the family fortunes for good.
Next hurdle was financing his education; and was solved by finding a match for the young man where the dowry would be funding his degree and later higher education in England.
The financer of this unique scheme was one of the first Indian Doctors, with a country practice, immensely rich, who had replaced his traditional transport of horse carriage with an imported marvel, a motor car.
Boy’s father remembers his visits to this Doctors mansion especially because of this car, and idolised the chauffer who wore cap and goggles and had the glamour of an airline pilot. When asked what you would like to be when you grow up, he replied “Ram Driver”
Maybe that is what prompted him to drive his own car keeping his chauffer in the back seat when he grew up, and further, what prompted Boy to constantly take off on impromptu road trips when he in turn grew up. In fact, Boy’s first material possession was a car, even before he bought furniture for his one room apartment, after he got married.
The patient reader will eventually hear those stories. Just stick with me.
Copyright (c) soumya mukherjee
Chapter 5. Roots. Memories a novella.