Sunset boulevard: When a bird flies away and another doesn’t
All of us wing-mates were hard working and studious. On graduation we had scholarships to universities in the US and our parting handshakes were, “Till we meet up again in the US”.punjab Updated: May 19, 2018 22:44 IST
At IIT-Kharagpur, I had a wing mate; very handsome and tall, a stylish left hand cricketer, hence named “Bats”. He was from Calcutta, had a Sikh mother and Punjabi Hindu father. Bats was from a very affluent family. He did try to underplay it, and was not an exhibitionist. There were no calculators those days and the numerical calculations were done using a slide rule. I had a German one, a Faber Castell. Still have it, as a memento to the hard work put during those sleepless nights at IIT. Maybe these small things which I tend to cling on to are my pearls of memories, which I keep on trying to string.
Bats lost his slide rule in the second semester, but never asked for money from home for a new one. He stopped smoking and eating out to save. He shared my slide rule. All of us wing-mates were hard working and studious. On graduation we had scholarships to universities in the US and our parting handshakes were, “Till we meet up again in the US”.
On passing out, Bats called me over to his house. We took a train to Howrah, then a taxi to his house. I saw a fleet of Mercedes, BMWs, Chevrolets, and Fords in the foyer. There was a pretty looking lady swimming in the pool. On seeing us she came out of the water and said, “Chick Surd!” It was Bats’s mother. She appeared to know about me. I was called “Chick Surd” because before me, there had never been a Sikh boy without a beard, at 15 years of age at IIT.
During lunch I said, “Auntie! We knew you were very well off, but I just couldn’t have imagined so rich”. Her story was equally fascinating. “We were originally from Burma. Uncle (Bats’s father) had a roaring business there. When the Burmese threw out the Indians, we moved to Calcutta like refugees. We could not afford to pay his bus fare to school. Uncle re-established himself, but Bats’ childhood impressions stayed”.
When I was to leave their house, auntie said, “Beta, tu sari zindagi yahin par tou nahin khara rahega, aage zaroor badhega. Aur jis din tu aage barh gaya, kabhi peechay murh kar naa dekhna, peechay apni parchayee hee nazar aayegi, aur yeh parchayeeyan tujhe hamesha peeche kheechaingi. Zindagi mein apna sar jitna upar chahay kar lena, par apne paer hamesha zameen par rakhna, aur chor jana apne kadmon ke nishan, yeh duniya tujhe tere kadmon ke nishanon se pehchanegi. Son, you are not going to stand here and will definitely move forward. And the day you do so, don’t look behind, because all that you’ll see will be your shadow and it will pull you back. No matter how high you lift your head, keep your feet on the ground and leave your footprints behind because the world will recognise you by these footprints.”
I left for my home journey ‘Back home’; it was to be Chandigarh, and not beyond.
My batch-mates went off to the US; I somehow could not make it. We lost contact and I went into hibernation and stopped communicating with them. When the internet happened, I got a message in my in-box, “Hi Chick Surd, what are you doing in India? You were supposed to be at Caltech”. It was from Bats.
I wrote back, explaining what my compulsions were and why I could not make it to USA. He was more angry than shocked.
He wrote back, “Chick Surd, kabhi is yaar ko apni majboorian bataa deta, airfare ke paise udhaar le leta, aur mein tera woh slide rule ka karz adaa kar deta. (Chick Surd, you should have told this friend about your compulsions, taken a loan from me for the airfare and I would have then repaid the slide rule debt). But I know you would have never spelt out your compulsions, you were too upright, Mahavir”.
During my visit to the US, I met up with Bats. I could make out from his huge house that he had made it in life. He was always articulate and class personified, but with a subtle sense of subdued polish in his mannerisms and living style. He told me his life story…… His father wanted him to join his business after an MBA; but Bats never came back. His relationship with his father became sour to the extent that he stopped communicating with him and never visited India.
I went to meet his parents in Calcutta. Time seemed to have come to a standstill in that house since the 1970s. They seemed to have lost their very purpose of life. As I went up to auntie and touched her feet, she said “Chick Surd, kahaan tak pahuncha zindagi mein? (Where have you reached in life?).” I told her my life story. She was pleased, but said, “Puttar, mainu ik waar keh denda, ki majburi si teri, shayaad meinu apna dusra munda wi mil janda (If you’d told me once about your compulsion I would have perhaps found my second son”.
It felt very nice, par kuch zyada der ho gayi thi (perhaps it was a little late).
On my next visit to the US, I took his parents along. Bats was at the arrival lounge; I stepped aside and asked his parents to move forward. What an emotional moment it was! The parents were meeting their only child after 25 years, but the time gap seemed to have been filled in a single moment of re-union.
(The writer is a Chandigarh-based freelance contributor and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)