Thursday, October 13, 2011

Prakash gets recruited in Army

The year was 1942. World War II was raging. Recruitment for Army was on in a big way.
The government encouraged agents to scout the villages for suitable boys who could be recruited in Army.
Muhammad din, one such agent, was a retired Subedar. He was a Rangad (Muslim Rajput, warrior clan).
He found and persuaded suitable candidates to join the British Army. Reward for this service was a murabba or piece of land.
These newly recruited Jawans were sent to the war front and were literally used as cannon fodder in Burma.
Prakash decided one fine day that he wanted to join the Army (at the ripe age of 14). He went to the recruitment office in Ajnala, a small town near their village.
He found Muhammad din standing outside the recruitment office.
Muhammadin asked him,” Pachheya, bharti hon aaya hain?” (Pachheya (spoilt version of Prakash), have you come to be enlisted in the Army?)
Prakash, the brave and reckless, answered,” Yes”.
Muhammad din took him inside the office to meet the British recruitment officer.
Prakash was asked to remove his shirt as per practice and his chest was measured.
The British officer felt that Prakash was too young to be recruited and asked how old he was. Before he could answer, Muhammad Din said that he was old enough to be recruited and was a strapping lad.
He also suggested that they check and see if he had hair growing in his armpits. Supposedly hair growing in the armpits proved that a boy was past puberty and old enough to be recruited in Army.(!!)
The British officer agreed and Prakash was recruited in the army, then and there.
They put him in a bus with the other recruits.
Meanwhile Baldev, Prakash’s younger brother had rushed home to their village Rokhe on a  borrowed bicycle, to inform their father Aparnath that Prakash had enlisted in the Army and was immediately going to the Army training camp in Ferozpur, about 200 kms away.
Aparnath was shocked at this disturbing news and rushed to the recruitment centre in Ajnala.
 He pleaded with the office staff to let his boy go as he was only 14 years old. He was told that Prakash had enlisted of his own accord and could not be let off without sufficient reason.
Aparnath abused Muhammad Din roundly for having led his boy astray.
 Muhammad din warned,” Panditji, gaalan na kaddo. Tuhada munda aape aayea bharti hon vaste.” (Sir, don’t abuse me. Your son came to be recruited. I did not bring him here.)
Prakash sat dispassionately in the bus and watched his father fretting and fuming. He felt a sense of satisfaction to see that he had caused so much fuss.
 After some time, the bus full of new recruits was driven off to Amritsar railway station en route to Ferozpur. From there they were to be sent to Kasur for further training and placement.
The excited boys out-for- adventure were dropped at the Amritsar railway station, 14 kms away.
It was a winter night. Winters are bitterly cold in Punjab.
Prakash had only the clothes on his back and no luggage. He had enlisted on a whim and had not known that he would be spirited away so quickly.
He was cold and hungry and thought about his home and his loving grandmother.
Then he thought of his six brothers and sisters and how everything was so difficult to come by at home.
He thought of the adventures that he will have, the new places that he will travel too, the new types of food that he will eat, the money that he will earn, and he knew that he had done the right thing.
One needed to move away from the family to earn respect and a standing in society.
Thus fortified with his new resolve he spent the night roaming around on the railway station. He assuaged his hunger with a cup of tea and stood around the fires burning to keep the destitute people warm through the night.
At 4 a.m. the next day, the train left the Amritsar station with the recruits on board and reached Ferozpur at 1 p.m. The recruits were taken to the Army camp, billeted there and issued supplies.
 Supplies consisted of army issue type clothes, mess tin and other necessities. Prakash was excited to have so many new things.
The training cycle began.
The boys were enthusiastic and in good health. Food was plentiful.
They took the hard training in their stride and were learning the ropes to be professional soldiers in the Army Supply Corps.
Meanwhile, Aparnath decided to get his son out of the blasted army no matter what it took. He was not ready to let him die in some foreign land.
He came to meet Prakash in Ferozpur Army camp and asked him if he understood what he had done. He scolded, “Kaka, tu eh ki kitta”?
 Prakash was quiet. His initial enthusiasm to be a fauji (soldier) had abated a bit in the one month that he had been away from home.
 He told his father that they were to be sent to Burma after training, to fight there.
Aparnath wanted to cry because he knew that Burma was the killing field of World war II and his son will not come back alive from there.
He came back to Amritsar and met his sister Wanti’s son Devki Nandan to ask for his help.
 Devki Nandan was a lawyer’s munshi (assistant ) and thus a man of some influence through the good offices of the lawyer.
The good lawyer (name not known) wrote a petition to the deputy commissioner of Amritsar apprising him of the situation and how a 14 year old boy had been recruited into the Army against his father’s wishes. He used the term vargala ke (by false representation or deceit).
This strongly worded petition made its way to the Army channels and ultimately to the commanding officer in Ferozpur army camp.
By then two months had gone by and Prakash was still living the life of a recruit. Running around with the other boys, marching to the commands of left- right- left and eating to his heart’s content in the mess.
One day, a postman brought  a medal to Aparnath’s house in the village.
 Everyone in the family started crying immediately thinking that Prakash was dead and that’s why a medal had been sent home.
The truth was that it was a service medal routinely awarded after a certain time had passed. It had been sent home instead of being handed over to Prakash.
Around this time in Ferozpur, Prakash was very much alive and well. He was being ushered into the presence of his British commanding officer.
The CO asked Prakash, “Kya naam hai?” (What is your name?
“Baap ka naam?” (Father’s name?)
Prakash gave his name and his father’s name.
The CO asked,“Kisne bharti karwaya?” (Who made you enlist in the army?)
Prakash answered,” Muhammad Din ne.”
Vergala ke bharti karwaya?” (Recruited by misrepresentation and coercion.)
 The British officer repeated several times in amazement.
Prakash nodded.
The CO asked,” Do you want to leave the army and go home?”
Prakash replied in the affirmative.
The British officer declared,” Discharged.”
This was all it took for Prakash to be released from the Army.
His friend Sundar asked him,”Kya hua?” (What happened?)
This was because a mere recruit almost never got to see his CO let alone be ushered into his presence.
Prakash said he had not understood completely but he believed that he was being sent home.
He stayed another two days in the camp while his discharge papers were processed. He was given 20 rupees as his wages and put in a train to Amritsar.
He reached Amritsar railway station late at night and spent another night on the platform as the earliest tonga (horse driven carriage) to his village did not leave until mid-morning.
Prakash stopped at the market place outside his village and bought sweet sugar cane worth 50 paise, as a gift for his family.
His mother, grandmother, father and the entire family were overjoyed to see him back home safe and sound.
Muhammad Din visited them after a few days on his ghori (mare).
He exchanged hot words with Aparnath about how they had spoilt his name and his reputation by accusing him of coercing Prakash to join the army.
He had lost the chance to win the murabba that a successful agent was given for his services.
Aparnath asked him to go his way and think about what he had done. He had sent a young 14 year old boy to die. He asked him what he would have done if it had been his son.
Muhammad din went away.
Prakash was saved from this dangerous situation due to the British’s sense of fair play.
In their book, no one could be allowed to do something vergala ke or by misrepresentation.
Simple petitions used to work those days.
Prakash ran away again a few years later and enlisted in British Air force. But that is another story.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

School days

Prakash was his grandmother's pet and thus immune to a lot of chastising and house-hold chores.
He had time to spend. He enjoyed reading books variously called Naubatan and Kissse depending on the length of the story.
Naubat was a full length novel and  a kissa was a short story.
In the village school there was a Britsh teacher for English. Urdu was taught by a local master.
There were no other languages taught. So typically all people who went to school in North India in the 1940s or thereabout  can read and write English and Urdu excellently but have no knowledge of the Devnagri script or Gurmukhi (Hindi and Punjabi).
Stories of magic and the exploits of  detectives ( jasoos) abounded, ready to catch impressionable teenagers like Prakash and hold them in their sway, forever and ever.
An interesting tit bit is that mischief makers from the extended family would deliberately press story books into the hands of young boys. Hoping to make them read these and become addicted to them, thus wasting their time and  failing the school exams. All this so that they did not become TOO GOOD for the others. Some logic!
At least the grandmother thought that all were jealous of her handsome strapping grandson and would try to lead him astray.
Lead astray they did but only to land him in the British Army.....that is another story.

Monday, September 19, 2011

A Stolen Horse-ride

The year was 1940, the place was a remote village in Punjab.
 Twelve year old Prakash was roaming around in his fields supposedly guarding them from the stealers of grain.
 He loved riding horses and never gave up an opportunity to beg/borrow/steal a ride on any horse that he found unattended.
His father was sitting on a cot under a tree near the well (Khooh) in the middle of their fields.
 Rak rode up on his newly purchased mare, a sprightly young animal with a shiny new rope. He got down to talk to Prakash’s father and to rest awhile. He tied the rope of the mare to the ‘paind ‘at the foot of the string bed to keep her close and safe. Soon he was lying stretched on the cot and fell asleep.
Prakash saw the opportunity to indulge his passion for speed, stole up to the cot and untied the mare from the paind at the risk of premature discovery and sure- shot thrashing. He  tied a ‘khabbi’ to her mouth and jumped up onto its bare back, riding away even as the owner was startled awake and started shouting,” Pachha ghorhi le gaya” (Prakash has taken my horse away).
His father turned to see him streaking away at a break-neck speed. He shouted to ask him to get back pronto but to no avail.
Prakash rode the horse fast and furious over and across the fields till both he and the horse were breathless with exertion.
He rode back to the well (khooh), and jumped off before the mare had come to a stop.
He ran home and went straight to his grandmother and hid under her bed clothes.
She knew of his penchant to get into trouble and asked him what he had done this time (“ Namea nimia hun ki kar ke aaya hain?”.
He told her about his escapade and that father was hot on his heels to thrash him for having stolen the ride and embarrassed him in front of a village man.
The grandmother promised him protection from her son. She also told him that he should not have done it but now that he had he should tell her about the ride.
Proud grandmother and errant grandson then excitedly shared the story of this adventure, the beauty of the horse and its speed.
She made good her promise and did not let her son thrash him even though he warned her that this trouble maker who had scant respect for propriety will come to grief and it will be due to her encouragement and protection of his wild ways. 
Thus ended one adventure filled day.

Eighteenth chapter of Gita

Gita is the compilation of Arjuna’s questions and Krishna’s answers in the battlefield of Mahabharta.
It is the distillation of spirituality and answers basic questions about the cycle of life and death and the hidden logic behind seemingly illogical nature.
The reading of Gita is supposed to wash away all sins and lead to peace and enlightenment.
Daddy is reading Gita, in an Urdu version published some 50 years ago by Chatur singh of Mai sewa Bazar, Amritsar.
It begins by introducing the dramatis personae and how God appeared to destroy ‘Adharma’ in Dwapar Yug. It then tells the story of Krishna’s birth and times.
The other day he read the eighteenth chapter of Gita that is widely believed to be the sure shot way to attain Moksha after this life is complete.
He formally dedicated the fruit of this reading to his wife, my mother.
Did you notice I said, ‘when life is complete..’?
This is how Death is described in Punjab. “Poori ho gayi hai” literally means,” she is complete”. This means she has passed away/died/expired/ is no longer alive.
This is profound. What a simple way to describe the inevitable. The Universal truth of death.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Life after ....

Life is cruel so that it can be kind.
It makes sure you get hungry and have other pressing things happening around the space where you are mourning. This ensures you don't sit and grieve to the exclusion of everything else.
There are guests in the house who have come to be a part of the last rites. They have to be housed and fed.
There are helpers and servants who have to be supervised so that the normalcy of a running household is restored.
All of this makes you think about what you have to do and moves you away from the deep, heart breaking hurt that you have.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Some pics

My Mommy

My mummy was/is/will/ always be larger than life.
Well, I am sure all kids feel the same way. So what is new.
Just that I loved her very very much and never ever wanted her to die and leave me feeling like this.
 See I am talking about how I was worried about how I will feel. Typically like a kid who wants his/her mommy to always be there because this makes the entire world right.
All worries, tensions fears are soothed by a mother's loving hand on the head, light touch on the back. She says, " Go on. Go on now. It is all right" and this makes us bold and ready to take on the world.
She celebrated her 66th marriage anniversary a day before she succumbed to the massive heart attack on August 31, 2011.
Every time I had parted from her, in the recent years I left her with, "Mummy marna mat" (Mummy don't die).
Macabre though it was, I wanted to see her again and meet her, hug her one more time and thought that she will always be there.
Well this time she was not.
We spent a wonderful seven days together just two weeks ago. My sister and I (sans husbands) with our parents, in our parental house. Sibling rivalry and all. It was back to our childhood with me the Miss Two goodie shoes (as my daughter enlightened me later). It was no holds barred. I had to be the favourite child (period) by hook or by crook. 
Yesterday, I hugged her for the last time and kissed her knowing full well that I will never be able to do this again.
I have so much to write about her but don't know what to say and what to keep back. so till I am more sorted,  "Mommie I did not want you to go. Why did you? Couldn't you have lived forever?"

Friday, August 26, 2011

Life in the cyber lane

Life in the cyber lane is pretty exciting.
Each fresh thought is tweeted instantaneously. This online pouring of 'spontaneous emotion' soon joins the flood and rises and moves forward at the speed of lightning.
Strangers share and discuss things they will never dream of doing with people they know.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Techno-fusion at work

An example: A news channel reported that Arvind Kejriwal had tweeted something.
He announced from the stage at Ramlila Maidan (Anna Hazare's fast for the implementation of Jan Lokpal bill) that he did not even have a Twitter account and someone was using his name to say whatever he wanted.
This was soon reflected in the twitter world with people castigating the unknown imposter. All of this happened within a few minutes.
Kiran Bedi tweeted that in foreign countries important events had news shows that were hosted from the location.
NDTV took the suggestion and held its news show from the Ramlila maidan the same day.
Techno fusion at work.