“Khamosh bash….Haria raghle” (Stop crying…Haria will come) say Afghan mothers to wailing children. For the Afghans, Haria was a terror; for the Sikhs a warrior who conquered Kabul.
General Hari Singh Nalwa was Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s Commander in Chief. One day during a hunt, a tiger pounced on him. Caught unawares, Hari Singh seized him by the jaw and killed him with his bare hands.
Ace shooter Abhinav Bindra is a descendant of the famed General. His mother, Babli, is Nalwa’s fifth generation. Except Abhinav uses an air rifle instead of a sword and the sporting arena instead of the battlefield. If Abhinav is the proud Indian to have bagged a gold for his country, his ancestor was the one whose name was minted on Punjab’s currency.
Abhinav’s bedtime tales were not legends. His mother fed him on “real stuff” including the tiger story which, of course, Abhinav never believed.
During his practice sessions, Babli would “tag along”. Call it a “mother’s protective instinct” because, as Babli told HT: “I was scared Abhinav would have an accident or suffer an injury. It is a risky game”. At outstation camps, where the food was inedible, she even cooked for him. It is but ironic that when the defining moment came in Beijing, she was not present: “No tickets for the show, no accommodation” she says: “I wanted to be there, to watch him and give him the first hug”. The smile wanes as she fights back tears: “It is a regret with which I will live”.
O boy! It’s a boy...
With Abhinav’s birth, Babli’s pains ended. Literally. Her first born being a girl, the family, husband included, were desperate for a male child. To Babli, it made little difference though. But when the eight pounds “bundle of joy” was delivered, Babli muttered: “Thank God it is a boy and I don’t have to get pregnant again”. She turned over and went off to sleep while the family danced.
Babli wanted her son to be a doctor: “That is because I wanted to be one and could not be. Marriage, family and then children took up all my time”.
She grew up imagining herself with a scalpel till her father advised her against it. She would have flown off to the US to pursue a doctorate in psychology, had marriage not grounded her. She shifted focus and gave up whatever she was good at, including sports, a fact she plays down. Not many know that Kanwarjit Kaur alias Babli led her school and college teams in basketball, table tennis and hockey. She also played for the nationals and has been up on the podium bagging trophies: “It is a different feeling altogether” she says.
Laurels apart, Abhinav’s gold has done one thing for Babli. It has helped her dress up the huge wall across the foyer in their palatial farmhouse. This wall, she had always told herself, was meant for “that one picture”: the picture of her son hugging the trophy. “I knew it would happen but till it did I used the landscape as a stop gap” Babli said. Every time she saw it, a thought nagged her: “When will this ugly landscape be replaced?” That apart, she has plans to gift a Bentley car to her “baba”.
Mama tell papa...
Abhinav has always needed “mama” around. She acts as his buffer. An introvert, Abhinav is sensitive to public gaze or criticism. Consequently reports of his father’s riches or influence unnerve him. Or stories about the grand wedding being planned for the country’s “most eligible bachelor”. Each time there is a hype, Abhinav pleads with Babli: “Mama tell papa… not to…”
Babli is and perhaps will remain Abhinav’s strength in silence. From fetching him from school daily to sobbing silently during his health lows, Babli did not throw in the towel. Nor did she let her son ever do that.
Today the spotlight is on Abhinav. Babli is better known as his mother. What has, however, been given a go-by is the fact that she shaped today’s hero. In the process, she trampled on her dreams and built his…
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