Danger has a new name – smartness !
An Ancestral home is the artery of one’s childhood , oxygenating each memory , each bond of the golden times . My mother late Mrs Ranjit Malhotra often shared moments spent in her father’s in the village Harike Pattan in the State of Punjab in India . As a child I was often taken their on short visits though neither of my maternal grandparents were alive by then . Each time we crossed the bridge on river Beas at Harike Pattan on route Moga where my maternal uncle was posted as a Major in the Indian army ; my mother would point out towards the horizon over the waters showing me the double storied house she so cherished .With love and pride she would say “ Dariya paar Sada ghar ,sab ton ucha ! Our house is the highest in the village ,visible across the river “.This was way back in the 70s when my mother was The Principal in G M Arya Girls High School at Patti and I was still a child .When my mama ji , maternal uncle suddenly succumbed to a heart attack , his family sold the house and our visits to Harike stopped .We too shifted to Amritsar , the city of The Golden Temple but my mummy still talked of the Uchha kotha , High house very wistfully .Then she got cancer as her time drew close ,I and my husband decided to take her to her ancestral village Harike .Her neighbours welcomed us very warmly and she chatted happily with them about her childhood and her parents .She also expressed her desire to visit the house which was located at a little distance from our hosts place . They tried to dissuade us as the house was almost gone with the roof caving in and thieves having stolen a few old articles .But we insisted and they took us. On reaching the dilapidated place my mother said “ This is not my house !” We could not even take her in as with her condition she could not walk over all the rubble. We stepped in ,to my dismay the beautiful verandah she used to play in was turned into an open resting place for Buffaloes ! We clicked pictures anyhow and I found that the massive wooden door and windows were still intact though dirty and faded .I took a decision and stepped out finding my mother very distressed and crying .She only smiled when we took her to The Gurudwara in the village which her father ,my maternal grand pa Subedar Nidhan Singh Dhillon had got made on his land .The place had his photograph displayed there .Since she could not walk on the uneven steps ,we brought the picture to her in the taxi .On reaching Amritsar I called the new owner of my mom’s house at Harike and offered to purchase the old door and windows ,he agreed though later he gave those to us free .The door and window are still with us and my mother had touched those many a times while she still lived , each time with a smile and a memory .For her those were not non living objects but her childhood mates through whom she relived a joyous time even in her trials .
It was December 2006, I was returning home from job after a visit to the bank on the way . Just a few yards before my home, the rickshaw slowed down and I opened my purse to take out the fare. Suddenly someone patted me on the shoulder and I turned around with a smile expecting it to be a neighbour. A huge strange face of a middle aged man on motorbike grinned at me, snatched the open purse in my lap and sped away! All in a few seconds!
Since the police station was just 5 minutes away, I immediately went there to lodge a FIR. Some officer was there and he very assuringly told me not to worry as they would give the snatcher a chase. I was told to lead them to the spot where the snatching took place. So I did but no report was written. Next day on inquiring from the station, we were told that the culprit was not caught. Still the report was not written. When I involved an ex student of mine, a policeman himself, he hinted at offering bribe to get the report written! Then I was informed by a reputed person that I should not insist on the FIR as it would not be lodged. The said police station was already being pulled up by the IG for not being able to check the unabated crime in the area and they avoided putting any new case on record. I was also warned to ward off! When I insisted the SHO offered a haul of stolen phones and asked me to take my pick! Shocked I approached higher authorities in being pulled up the SHO arrived drunken at my door late one night hurling threats! I dropped the idea of FIR!
When I narrated the entire story to my aged father, he lapsed into shocked silence. After a few days he shared a very different story with me. Here it is in his own words:
“When I was only 10 years of age, My father was a draftsmen’s in chief Engineer canals office at Montgomery, (Now in Pakistan). I often got fever and was diagnosed to be suffering from Tonsil trouble and a fit case for operation. My father consulted my maternal uncle, Dr. K.C. Khanna who was serving then as a professor in History at Govt. College, Lahore, (Now in Pakistan). Consequensent with my mother to Lahore, near Montgomery. Dr. K.C. Khanna, my uncle took me to colonel Dr. Kaul, a specialist, who after proper Examination got me admitted in the Hospital and fixed a date for the required operation after two days. On my recovery I was discharged from the Hospital and stayed at my uncle’s residence for a few days more. It was then that incident occurred. The other day, my uncle brought 3 pass – tickets of the Drama being played at the club-theatre. It was decided that my Aunt would accompany my mother and me to the theatre. We saw the Drama and enjoyed it. On return, we hired a tonga (House driven-cart) which then used to be the common mode ofconveyance. There was a nip in the air, it being a winter night. I was sitting on the front seat of the tonga. My mother thus made me wear her own costly shawl (wrap around). Reaching home, we all got down and went upstairs. A little while later, my mother enquired about her shawl that I was made to wear in the tonga. I replied that while getting down from the tonga, I had placed it in a corner of the front seat occupied by me. It had been left in the tonga! Hearing this my mother became very sad, because not only that the shawl was very costly, it had been brought by my uncle from abroad and gifted to his sister (my mother) on her birthday. On hearing the whole incident my uncle got upset and worried. He at once occupied the chair near the telephone table. He did not have any sleep that night night and kept on calling different people known and friendly to him, for help and consultation, to find the shawl left in the tonga through my stupid mistake. He found a colleague f who was very intimately known to the S.H.O., incharge thana (police Station ) situated near the club. Theatre, from where the tonga was hired by us. Thorough proper intensive enquiries made by the said SHO and his employees from the incharge tonga station the identity of the tonga man was revealed. He had deposited the shawl in the tonga station shelf to be returned to us the next morning. By sheer courtesy the S.H.O. concerned sent the said shawl to us, through one of his employers, who as far as I remember was of an A.S.I. Rank. My uncle thanked the gentleman and served him tea. Courtesy and honesty were not extinct then. Those were the days!”
Smt Lal Devi, my grandma with my parents at the eternal symbol of love The Taj Mahal, Agra in the 50s
Karwa Chauth is a ritualistic fast in India which the wife keeps for the long life of her husband. She is expected to get up much before sunrise, eat and drink and then fast without food or water till the moonrise. Most Hindu families follow this tradition and the mother-in -law is the pivotal figure here, orchestrising the entire ritual; it being a matter of her beloved son’s long life!
My mother, though herself from a Jat Sikh family, fell in love and married a Hindu. She was very weak in health when she got married. First Karwa Chauth day arrived! Dadi maa, my paternal grandma, though an illiterate woman brought up in an atmosphere of tradition and rituals decided to behave in avcompketely unorthodox way! Knowing my mom’s passion for tea, Dadi maa lied to her that it was allowed to have fruit and tea! My mother was unaware if the nuances of the fast and did not know that it was an entire day fast without food and water! It was only later that she came to know from her sister in law about it! My Grandma had shown amazing kindness to my mom and guts to go against tradition and religious belief!
The second Karwa Chauth my grand ma did not allow my mother to keep the fast but asked my father to keep it for himself! Being a sober husband and a gentleman, he agreed. Since it is almost a 16 hour fast, there is the ritual of Sargi which allows the fasting person to have proper food and water early in the morning before the sunrise. The day my Papa fasted, he did not wake up early to have his meal and hence his fast turned out to be much longer as dinner the previous day was his last meal! Came the third fast and my grandma told both my parents not to keep it! My mom left for heavenly abode in 2014, after a long battle with cancer last year and my father, an old man with sharp memory, still smiles at this memory every year on the fast day. “I didn’t keep the fast for myself, but for her”, he says. When asked why didn’t wake up early to have his meal, he simply says “I forgot!”
” This is Michael Jackson !”, she shouted in excitement and tried to do moon walk .Did not quite succeed, decided to sway her hips a little instead . This time did catch the rhythm and the joy reflected in her eyes. Then she walked to the washroom; the walker supporting her all the way.
This was my 87 year old mother, in 2014, late Mrs Ranjit (A Punjabi name meaning the one who wins a battle), fighting a losing battle with cancer. After Mastectomy at the age of 85, she had developed Myelodysplastic syndrome and had to be hospitalised frequently for blood transfusion. Two bad operations on her broken femur in 2004 and 2006 had already made her dependent on the walker. One eye was useless too as the cornea transplant had given her light only for 10 years.
But she was Ranjit, a perky, die hard spirit who decided to fight cancer with music! For two years s constantly playing on her keyboard, tunes not only familiar but the new ones she heard on my husband’s laptop or TV.
The moon walk attempt was just as we were preparing for another visit to the hospital on August 30, 2014. We didn’t know it was going to be her last. As she got up from her wheel chair to go to the wash room before the taxi’s arrival ; my husband showed her MJ’s video on his phone and she started swaying .
“This is Michael Jackson!” resounds in my ears whenever I hear his music or watch a video of his .
What better tribute to the great star, to music or to life itself .