During my college days in the early 1990s, I visited my maternal grandparents’ place at a village near Pehowa in Haryana. It was my uncle’s marriage. After the ceremony was over, two of my uncles and four of us cousins decided to visit Mussoorie.
Having had our share of the fun at the hill station, we were driving past Dehradun when one of the uncles thought of meeting an acquaintance at Clement Town, a military area on the outskirts of the city. My cousin turned the Maruti van into the air force area. It was a familiar territory as some time ago, I had failed here in the Service Selection Board (SSB) interview for entry into the National Defence Academy.
Soon, we stopped at a small hut and were warmly greeted by an elderly gentleman. My uncle introduced us to RS Sodhi, a retired senior armed forces officer. I wondered what he was doing there in the modest hut. As we sat outside and started talking, it became clear that the man from a well-off family lived there alone of his own accord.
I found that he was the father-in-law of film actor Joy Mukherjee as his daughter Neelam was married to the ‘Love in Simla’ actor. The two had met at a book store at The Oberoi hotel in Delhi in 1965 and their interest in books had brought them together. The man told us that he was in touch with his family and often received letters from his maternal grandson, Boy Mukherjee, who was soon to star in a forthcoming film. Presently, he went inside the hut and fetched a few letters and photographs of Boy’s and showed them to us.
I marvelled at the unassuming man who came from an illustrious family but had no airs. I told him that I went to a school with a defence background and had appeared at the SSB. He asked me to take a shot at the Combined Defence Services after college, adding that he would be only too glad to help me in any way, including putting in a word with the officers concerned.
As we chatted, we couldn’t help being impressed by the man who had voluntarily decided to live the life of a virtual ascetic, having successfully shouldered his household responsibilities. We didn’t know how time passed in the company of this genial man and soon it was time to say goodbye.
It has been more than two decades since I left the place completely floored by the man, never to meet him again, but his parting shot still reverberates in my ears. He asked us to remain in touch, and in case we found his name, RS Sodhi, hard to recollect, we were free to simplify it by associating R with Railway and S with Station. To this day, I can’t forget how effortlessly Mr ‘Railway Station’ Sodhi had walked into our hearts at Dehradun that October afternoon.