The Polestar

 The ‘new normal’ that the families are experiencing due to the Corona-virus pandemic is where most parents are working from home and children are staying indoors perennially. While parents must tackle home chores along with work from home challenges, the constant struggle to engage young minds constructively became an add on to the existing list of their workload, as otherwise the kids would resort to over-indulgence of gadgets. After the initial euphoria of getting both her parents all through the day at home had mellowed down, Srinika’s home too mirrored a similar scenario.

“Srinika, why don’t you leave the phone and draw something? I love what you draw and paint.” Meenakshi, her mother, said with a ting of frustration in her tone.

“I am getting bored.” quick came little Srinika’s newfound rant.

“Bored? There are so many things to choose from… you have toys, games, books to read, online music class besides you are getting our presence too. Why don’t you spend your time in these activities rather than sitting with a tablet or mobile phone all the time?” Meenakshi said.

“Will you play with me, Amma?” Srinika said while leaving phone on the sofa.

“Of course, I will. But not now. I have got to finish cooking followed by a couple of meetings with clients. I have a tight schedule in the first half today. But I promise to spend an hour with you in the afternoon. Till then you play and read by yourself.” Meenakshi replied.

On seeing Srinika’s swollen face Meenakshi drew her closer and said lovingly, “Srini, due to lockdown our offices are closed, but our work has not come to a halt. Even though we are at home, but we must deliver the job assigned to us on time. Just remember, Appa and me are around in case if you need something, but we cannot spend all the time with you as we have other commitments to address. My big girl understands this, right?”

To which her daughter jumped with joy and said, “Yes” and went to fetch a drawing book. Meanwhile Meenakshi too went about her chores feeling relieved as she was able to convince Srinika for the time being. But a few concerns still came nagging at her, “Is she getting bored because she has no one of her age at home to spend time with? Or am I not able to give her proper attention due to my work responsibilities?”

Meenakshi tried recollecting her childhood days spent in the temple town of Chidambaram. Being the only girl of her age in the neighbourhood, she had no one to play with. Due to work at home her mother could not stay at her disposal all the time, although she tried her best to shower her with immense love and attention whenever she had time. Surprisingly, Meenakshi did not have so many options to choose from to remain engaged or get entertained as is the case with children of current generation. Yet the word ‘bored’ never really enjoyed a revered position in young Meenakshi’s life. Watching ant trails, getting fascinated at the sight of clusters of earthworm casts in the garden, imitating cuckoo callings, plucking kanagambaram (fire-cracker flower) and jasmine flowers from the garden and sitting on the veranda with mother to make garlands out of them, watching moon wading the silver clouds off its path in the night sky, watching sun setting at the distant horizon, watching stars studded sky for hours and off course walking to the Nataraja temple almost every evening with her mother to pay obeisance to the lord, were some of the memories that she could recall randomly.

“No fancy toys or games to play with, no access to television during the formative years… yet we found something or the other to keep ourselves engaged. These days cell phones and tablets, the new age idiot boxes succeed in keeping the children glued to them, but they leave them with an emptiness instead of enriching them in any way. Hmm… how things changed in just a generation’s time. Gadgets and Internet are crucial in today’s world, but to strike a balance between staying connected when essential and remain disconnect when not required is a challenge and a constant tug of war for all us.” Meenakshi thought to herself while cutting vegetables.

That day, in the afternoon, Meenakshi received a text message from her daughter’s school which stated that the school would start online classes shortly.

“Online school? How is that going to work out?” she asked her husband on getting the message.

“Let us see, with Corona virus riding on a non-stop whirlwind, classroom studies are totally nullified. At least the school thought in these lines. Otherwise we were totally occupied managing our issues.” Raghavan, her husband, replied.

“Yeah, all at once so much workload has fallen on our shoulders that her studies did not cross our mind.” Meenakshi added.

Soon enough, every morning little Srinika, like many other kids, would sit through the class assembly, roll calls, followed by reading current news and stories by turn. Thereafter, they attended combination of live classes and pre-recorded videos. Interestingly, class tests, art, dance and yoga class were also incorporated in their schedule. During live classes, there were two teachers per session, while one of them would teach actively the other would take the supporting role of managing the class or writing answers in the chat box. Srinika’s parents were amazed to see a perfect understanding between the teachers. And the planning that went behind the scenes for a virtual field trip to Rajasthan or the coordination between teachers and students while preparing for skit remotely was quite commendable. Although nothing can replace the excitement of classroom studies, but the school had put tremendous effort to make the whole affair as normal as possible for the kids. Undoubtedly, Srinika’s parents were relieved to see her energy getting channelised in better things in an otherwise gloomy situation. And time and again they were totally astonished to see the zeal with which these unsung heroes left behind classical teaching methods and moulded themselves to jump into the choppy waters of online classes thus fulfilling the demands of the current crisis.

One day during online classes, Srinika came running to her mother while the latter was engrossed in her work.

“Look, Amma, a parent is shouting at our teacher.” she said in a baffled tone while dragging Meenakshi.

“A parent is shouting at your teacher, but why?” Meenakshi repeated anxiously.

“Yes, Amma. You should come.” Srinika said.

On reaching Srinika’s study area, what Meenakshi saw on the laptop screen was a lady sitting on a bed and angrily speaking while repeatedly pointing a finger, “How could you do this? You do not have sense…all the questions were in French. How do you expect the children to understand everything from day one? My child couldn’t submit the answers.” 

Meenakshi’s eyes went to the other half of the screen where a sober lady, supposedly their French language teacher was answering very politely to an otherwise rude and arrogant parent, “Ma’am, please check the question sheets that I have shared recently. The mistake has been rectified.”

“No, no… but, it is such a gross mistake, how could you do this? You don’t have sense.” the parent repeated hysterically.

“Ma’am, please check once. That has been rectified. Now, the previous and the present set of questions have both French and their English translation. The child will not have any problem this time. Please check, Ma’am.” the teacher repeated very calmly.

We have so many things to take care of, don’t expect us to sit with our children and help them with schoolwork.” said the parent with an antagonistic approach.

The teacher started saying, “Ma’am, please…” which was cut short with a rude remark by the parent, “Okay, thank you” before leaving the scene abruptly.

What Meenakshi could gather from their conversation is that the multiple-choice questions that the teacher had shared previously were in French, without any explanatory notes in English which caused some inconvenience. But according to the teacher that has been rectified later.  

This act of insensitivity rendered Meenakshi totally aghast. As she stood still, numerous thoughts raced against one another making her mind cluttered. “How rude of her… she didn’t even wait for the teacher to complete her sentence and abruptly made an exit. Why so much of an arrogance? Why couldn’t she talk to the teacher personally instead of creating a scene publicly? What will her child or rest of the students learn from this incident? And, why did she behave as if she is the only one overloaded with work, whereas the reality is that with lockdown in full operation and no assistance from domestic helps, each and everyone one of us have a lot of workload. Or is she brooding on a misconception that teaching is a less challenging profession?”

Meenakshi’s flow of thoughts were interrupted by the students, who had started asking questions by then and the teacher in turn started clarifying their doubts instantly. To Meenakshi’s surprise, the teacher looked perfectly poised after the storm had faded away.

On realizing this incident could cast a wrong impact on her daughter, Meenakshi quickly got into damage control mode, “It is wrong to talk to a teacher in this manner. You should never behave like this with anyone.” she said.

“Yes, Amma. I know”, quick came Srinika’s reply.

“Carry on with your classes.” Meenakshi said to her daughter and left the room.

Instantly, she felt like calling up the teacher and apologize for the incident.

“But I haven’t been disrespectful towards her, then why do I feel like this?” she questioned herself, “And, why is it that I can feel her pain so deeply?” she thought.

This untoward incident took Meenakshi down the memory lane… when she was subjected to a similar ordeal about thirteen years ago on her first job at an interior designing institute. While she was busy explaining a particular topic to her students somebody from the administration came in banging the door open and started shouting at her, which brought the momentum of the class to a screeching halt. Back then, in all her naivety, she could not do much but stand startled at such a behavior. After the incident had phased out, she found it difficult to face her students. Chocked with embarrassment, she excused herself from the class and rushed out. However, now, while recalling the same incident she neither felt a lump in her throat, nor did she have tears in her eyes as over the years she has been through enough to transform herself into a toughened-up soul, though not compromising on her sensitive side.

“Gold does not get charred after going through fierce and rigorous onslaught of fire instead it shines brighter than before. Similarly, the more one faces challenges the more one acquires strength to withstand critical situations in future. After all, difficulties or painful experiences are the building blocks of a person’s character. Who knows, the teacher must have been through a lot in her life. Perhaps this is the reason why she could cope with the situation so calmly and gracefully.” Meenakshi thought to herself.

But even after these many years a question still lingers with her… why is it that a teacher’s efforts get unnoticed… taken for granted, especially when they constitute the backbone of a society?

“What is the matter? You look disturbed.” Meenakshi was brought back to the present moment by Raghavan.

She narrated the whole incident to him and said, “The essential services professionals are being hailed for their courage and commitment as they are ditching their safe realm to address their call of duty. They deserve to be hailed, no doubt. But there are individuals who may not be at the front line like them but are contributing significantly during this pandemic. For instance, teachers. How quickly they have adapted to the present situation. I am assuming not all of them are tech savvy. Despite this fact they did not shy away from taking the challenge of upgrading their skills.”

“Yes, they did not get much time to learn the nuances of conducting classes on a virtual platform. Instead, they had to approach everything on a war footing. Therefore, their effort becomes quite commendable.” he said.

“And, that too handling things at such a scale.” Meenakshi nodded.

“Yeah”, Raghavan confirmed.

India, the land that has been a witness to a rich culture of gurukul system and guru-shishya parampara (tradition of teacher-student succession) in the past, has remained a silent spectator to a teacher’s plight in recent times. Guru, as the teachers of ancient India were called, were instrumental in removing darkest of ignorance with the torch of knowledge, thus molding impressionable minds. They were highly revered, and they enjoyed the same pedestal as someone’s mother or father. But unfortunately, they are being subjected to such an irresponsible behavior now a days.

“When did this transformation take place in our society?” Meenakshi asked contemplating over the matter.

“The education system has also not been exempted from systemic commercialization that we have witnessed in our country over the past few years and sadly this has given birth to a give and take approach between a teacher and a student as an after-effect. There remains no gratitude in this kind of a relationship. Maybe, due to the colonial influence a change in mind-set has seeped into our system.” He said thoughtfully.

“It is wonderful if new and innovative ideas are inculcated into a system keeping the needs of modern times into consideration, but how sensible is it to discard the very foundation upon which our society had flourished in the past?” she questioned.

At the dinner table that night Srinika asked with excitement, “How do you pronounce, only? Do you say only or onely?”

“What do you think is the correct pronunciation?”, Raghavan asked her.

“I know it is only, but you know… one of my teachers was repeatedly telling onely, onely.” she said giggling.

“Different people pronounce a word differently. They carry an accent based on their mother tongue or the place they come from. If you understand what they are trying to convey, you should not worry much about their accent. It is more important to receive the knowledge being shared with a submissive attitude. It is rude to laugh at someone just because of their accent”, he completed his sentence and looked at his wife. They both understood where this was coming from.

“Repercussion of the incident that took place in the morning.” Meenakshi thought to herself.

“Just remember one thing in life, no one is perfect, and that includes teachers as well. Therefore, instead of finding fault with them or laugh at them… learn, be grateful for what you are getting and move on.” Raghavan added while extending an arm towards Srinika, to which she nodded in affirmation and rushed with open arms towards him.

After dinner, both Srinika and Raghavan stood near the window watching the night sky. Gazing through the window was a ritual that the family had picked up during the ongoing pandemic and they call it “Window time”. Far away from the artificiality of the virtual medium, “Window time” was their only outlet to the world beyond the confinement of four walls. Luckily for them, the sky was clear after days of continuous outpour, thus the extra-terrestrial bodies were clearly visible.

“That, I think is the polestar.” Raghavan said pointing at the northern sky.

“Appa, shall we take out the telescope?” Srinika asked with excitement.

“It will take some time to assemble it… Shall we take that out some other time?” Raghavan said.

“Please, it’s a clear sky tonight, shall we?” Srinika pleaded.

“Okay, let’s see!” He sighed and went to fetch the telescope reluctantly as he was tired after a tough day’s work. The telescope was an old one which he had bought on his tour to the Unites States many years ago, which needed to be assembled and dis-mantled every time they used it.

Meenakshi was overhearing their conversation while winding up things for the day. When she came near the window, her daughter exclaimed with her eyes fixed on the horizon. “Amma, look at that… the pole star! Appa is assembling the telescope!” Srinika said jumping with excitement. 

Meenakshi looked at the tiny blob in the northern sky for some time and then asked her daughter lovingly, “Polaris, it is neither the brightest amongst the stars nor does it have a striking colour like so many other stars but still it stands out. Do you know its speciality?”

“Yes, Amma… it never changes its position”, Srinika answered.

“Correct, it maintains the same position in the sky while the entire northern sky moves around it. As a result, it had become an ideal star to help with directions. In ancient times the sailors and travellers would depend largely on the polestar to navigate”, Raghavan said while bending to adjust the telescope.

While looking at the distant horizon Meenakshi said, “Don’t you think our teachers are also quite like the polestar?”

“How, Amma?”, Srinika asked with curiosity.

“Just as the polestar remains static allowing the northern sky to rotate around it, similarly teachers take the burden of holding everything together while guiding us to find the purpose of our life and gives us a direction to reach our goal. Think it over”, Meenakshi said softly keeping her eyes fixed on the polestar.

When the world around us makes relations based upon calculated moves, in a way it rubs off on to us as well. But some relationships are such that they should be kept out of the equation of mere give and take, profit and loss. A Guru-Shishya (teacher-student) bond is one such relationship. If we do not protect the dignity of this relationship now, then the coming generations would never realize the sanctity of it.

– Aradhana Basu Das

Children born in paradise

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Many years ago while sitting thousands of kilometers away and quite unaware of the ground reality in Jammu and Kashmir, I came across this famous quote by the Mughal Emperor Jahangir “Gar firdaus bar-rue zamin ast, hami asto, hamin asto, hamin ast” (“If there is a heaven on earth, it’s here, it’s here, it’s here”). There is no denying the fact that these words were instrumental in arousing my curiosity for this place. The visuals of Dal lake with floating houseboats, snow clad Himalayas, the breathtaking glaciers, gardens neatly manicured with chinar trees, the mighty Jhelem gushing through the valley and beautiful people showcasing their unique culture, made such an enchanting panorama in my mind that at times I used to feel envious of those blessed people who lived there. But ironically, little did I know that a place as serene as a paradise had long been infected with deadly viruses such as insurgency and terrorism. When, how and why this blessing became a curse is a point to introspect for all of us as humans. Jahangir’s Kashmir resembled a beautiful damsel blushing in hues of red aptly mirroring the chinar leaves of autumn. Whereas the Kashmir that we have seen in recent times is a reflection of a helpless vagrant. Though she is still smitten in crimson, but unfortunately with blood oozing out from her burned and bruised self. As an aftermath of prolonged armed conflict, the place which should have been cheerful and vibrant with constant footfalls of tourists has now become deserted and forlorn. The sad truth about this fiasco is that fear, distrust, uncertainty and gloom has crept in the society… hindering its survival and growth. As a result of growing up in a conflict zone the children are subjected to constant trauma such as anxiety of separation and death. We also get to hear a lot about mental health issues that has cropped up in the region. Unfortunately, the youngsters are the worst affected in the whole process as they are robbed off their innocence far too early in their lives something that no child should be deprived off. As children have a tendency to imitate what they perceive from the world around them it becomes all the more difficult for them to avoid getting influenced by untoward incidents that take place around them. Moreover, the day to day discussions of these impressionable minds are also quite different unlike the children growing up in a more peaceful place. With schools being closed due to curfew every now and then and minimal constructive engagement some of these kids indulge in meaningless discussions and activities.

Interestingly, a place doesn’t determine the talent quotient of its inhabitants instead it decides how equipped it is to nurture their talent and help them evolve. God bestows upon each of his creations the power to excel but how do we utilize that power is up to our free will. However, amidst heart wrenching stories of youth being swayed by radical thinking and thereby engaging in anti-social activities in Jammu and Kashmir, we also hear about individuals who have made their mark in spite of all odds. For instance, the phenomenal story of child prodigy Tajamul Islam winning world kick boxing championship for India or the achievements of television sensations like Shaheer Sheikh and Hina Khan. Or, for that matter the success story of Athar Amir-ul-Shafi Khan, an officer in Indian Administrative Service, acts as a silver lining on an otherwise dark and gloomy cloud. Thinking about  Athar’s journey… from Anantnag to Indian Institute of Technology, Mandi and from there to Lal Bahadur Shastri Academy for Administration, Mussoorie has been exemplary. Similarly, other known and unknown faces from the region have also dared to defy all odds and dream differently. Their success depicts the true nature of the human race, i.e. a strong instinct to survive in the face of elimination. Perhaps, we are designed in such a way that we are in a constant pursuit of opportunities that would take us to a better situation than the existing one. After all, nobody wants to remain stuck in a deep and dark den eternally, therefore we tend to get attracted to even a small flickering light that we find because it could be a sign of a possible way out to a brighter future ahead. In such cases, the parent’s role becomes all the more significant as they anchor the puzzled child to take a detour while tactfully avoiding the roadblocks so that their children are able to reach their destination. No doubt, these known or unknown achievers pose as a role model for many… as the youngsters watch every move that they make and get inspired to follow the trails that these idols lay along the way.

There could have been another name in the above list of achievers – Zaira Wasim. The way she thumped her way with her remarkably flawless acting skill into mainstream hindi cinema is simply mind blowing. But quite recently, she gave a jolt to the whole nation by announcing to quit cinema. Who could have imagined that the gifted girl who made the whole country awestruck with each outing at the box office would make such a decision. For many of us who live far away from the shambles that Jammu and Kashmir deals with, it resembles a maze full of Rashomon effect, where one could easily get disillusioned and lost because at every juncture it presents a different version of the same story. I often wonder, what could have been the real reason behind her exit or rather what made her to crack-up? No doubt, the entertainment industry comes with its own share of stress and pressure which could possibly pose as a huge burden on a young shoulder. Besides, time and again she has also been subjected to extra scrutiny and grinding than what was called-for. Right from the beginning of her stint in cinema there have been instances where separatists did not take things that she did or the people that she met in a good light. Therefore, Zaira had to endure their constant verbal lashing. During those days, it was hard for me to comprehend her fearful, apologetic and calculated behavior. But gradually, I realized how difficult life must have been for her and numerous children like her who grow up in the backyard of terror. Let’s not forget that years of living in fear and being oppressed takes a huge toll on the psyche of an individual. 

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Even Though, I genuinely wish Zaira is able to deal with her inner turmoil and figure out the real purpose of her life so that she lives a contented life but deep within… I still can’t lose hope that someday she might realize the fact that she has been gifted with a wonderful talent by the almighty which should not go in vain. I still can’t understand how a profession can become a hindrance to one’s faith and religion (as stated by her before quitting acting)? Personally, I feel one can serve God by performing one’s occupational duties well. Haven’t we heard of artists being closer to God? By being part of meaningful projects she could have been closer to the creator as well and his creations. But presuming her decision was governed by external factors, for instance if she was scared of becoming an outcast in the eyes of fundamentalists and society or perhaps a threat to her family’s life then it is a matter of concern. In that case it would be shameful for all of us as that would mean that  we have failed in protecting the interests of our children. This reminds me of an African saying, “It takes an entire village to raise a child.” The society as a whole has a responsibility to take care of and protect the children. Interestingly, a society not just comprises of only ordinary people from all walks of life instead it also includes politicians, fundamentalists and separatist alike. These people possess within themselves the power to influence people. And unfortunately, this could be a colossal problem for any society as its so-called stalwarts fail to understand that due to their squabbling over fringy and petty matters the development of innocent souls get hampered. Moreover, living in such a melancholic environment affects the mental well being of the people. In the past we have witnessed incidents where children and young adults were mobilized to participate in stone pelting activity or take up arms. I wonder if the people who instigate the youth to indulge in such things encourage their own children to participate in them? Or, do they conveniently play with the fate of others children while tactfully shielding their own progeny with security cover? It is so pathetic to see the inability in refraining from double standards, by the same people who holds a responsible position in the society. 

In the present scenario with Jammu and Kashmir becoming a union territory of India, I hope it brings dawn of a new era in this region. While the world has its eyes glued on this part of the country, it is up to all of us to show maturity and sensitivity in handling this issue. And gradually, help it to re-discover and prepare itself to come face to face with Jahangir’s idea of ‘heaven on earth’. No doubt, as of now it might be limping or rather clawing back to normalcy but with proper vision, support and patience from all quarters it could stand on its feet and this could be a turning point for the residents of Jammu and Kashmir and for the whole country. The real achievement for us would be when Kashmiri society regains its vigor and come into the mainstream. This could happen when their youth get to enjoy equal opportunities just like their peers from other parts of the country. Moreover, when there is none with vested interest to manipulate their sentiments and beliefs, that is when they would march towards a brighter future without having an iota of fear or doubt . After all, just like every child on earth they too are entitled to feel happy, free, secured and most importantly… to dream.

– By Aradhana Basu Das

Break free from the shackles

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As memories of my past experience with Sanskrit are still fresh in my mind, advertisements regarding crash courses offered in different languages often made me  wonder how can someone learn a language in such a short span. As ironic as it may sound in spite of having Sanskrit as a third language at the school (for four years) this could not make me to construct even simple sentences, let alone speak the language fluently. However, as days went by instead of having a regret for not being able to learn this ancient Indian language the question of its utility in modern times often came to my mind. But as fate took its course, I landed up in an introductory session for spoken Sanskrit classes which was conducted in our society by Samskrita Bharati. It’s a non profit organization which has been working relentlessly towards reviving Sanskrit to its past glory. They conduct ten days capsule classes for two-hours duration for basic Sanskrit conversational skill and that too without charging anything from students. They have designed an unique and effective method of teaching this ancient language which is also known as ‘Deva Bhasha’. Though I wasn’t expecting to continue beyond a session, to my surprise our ever smiling and energetic teacher Deepika presented before us an unconventional approach of teaching by using toys, chart papers, gestures. She had created an interactive and inclusive environment compared to what we were introduced at the school. That day I realized that Sanskrit is not tough but the curriculum that were designed for schools in India were faulty. I was also astonished to find out about few of the striking benefits of speaking in Sanskrit. For instance, Sanskrit improves and expands the brain, our tongue muscles are fully utilized while we speak in this language and of course it is one of the most structured and computer friendly languages the world has known so far.

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Sometime during those ten days I got to know about Panini, who is considered as father of linguistics, a great Sanskrit philologist, a revered grammarian from ancient India. So, on coming back home that day I tried collecting more information about Panini. While digging deep into his life I came across a very interesting story. Though, I don’t know about its authenticity but found it extremely inspiring. Thus thought of sharing.

In around 500-600 BC, there lived a great scholar by the name of Pani near the bank of river Indus. Pani and his wife Dakshi were blessed with a son known as Panini. Panini was an active, little boy and was loved by his parents very dearly. One day, an old friend of Pani who also happened to be a great scholar, an astrologer and a palmist had payed him a visit. He enjoyed great hospitality at Pani’s place. Just after lunch while both the friends were relaxing, Pani’s scholarly friend he noticed little Panini. Obediently, Panini sat near him and showed him his palm on being asked to do so. While he took time and meticulously studied the lines of Panini’s palm, Pani watched the whole process patiently. Pani noticed that slowly his learned friend’s face which looked joyful initially had started to embody grave concern. He asked his friend what was bothering him. The scholarly man looked at Pani with great sympathy in his eyes and said, “Oh my dear friend! Ultimately, we are all puppets in the hands of fate. On one hand you have acquired so much knowledge that people come seeking your advice from places far and wide but on the other hand your son is destined remain illiterate all his life.”

“I don’t doubt your knowledge but could you please check one more time?”, Pani requested while still in shock.

The friend looked at horror stricken Pani and softly assured him in a comforting voice, “I have checked several times but the line of education could not be found. It is certain for him to remain illiterate.” Pani closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

All this while Panini was listening to their conversation very carefully and very politely requested the learned man, “ Could you please let me know where exactly the line of education would have been had it been there on my palm?”

Pani and his friend looked sympathetically at the little boy. The latter showed Panini the area on palm where the line of education should have been. Panini quickly ran out of the room leaving both the men bewildered. After sometime he came back and put his palm forward saying, “Now that I have a line right there on my palm… will I become a scholar when I grow up?”

Both the men were shocked to see Panini’s palm, for it was oozing with blood. The conversation between both the men had made such an impact on little Panini’s mind that he had etched a line with a stone on his palm, the line run down his palm at the same place where the line of education should have been there. This act of Panini left both the wise men absolutely speechless.

But somewhere down the line as a father Pani could not accept this as absolute truth. As days went by Pani witnessed unquenchable desire to acquire knowledge in his young son. That’s when he took the responsibility upon himself to teach young Panini all that he could. Moreover, in order to get more knowledge Pani used to meditate on Lord Shiva. Interestingly, it is believed that Panini is the one who has formulated Sanskrit morphology, syntax and semantics in 3959 sutras called Ashtadhyayi, the foundation of the grammatical branch of Vedanga. His verses influenced many scholars of that time to engage in bhashyas (commentaries).

Here was a man who defied and scripted the course of his own destiny with dedication and hard work. Moreover, Pani’s role as a father is exemplary as he was able to break free from the shackles of fear, self pity and doubt and identified the spark in little Panini thus supported him all along. The father and son duo must have channelized their energy and enjoyed the whole process of evolving rather than dwelling too much on the uncertainties of future. I wonder how much Panini could have achieved had his father not believed in his abilities. This story serves as an important lesson for me, not just as an individual but also as a parent. As I understand that raising a child could be rough sailing at times. We have to accept that our children don’t come into our lives served in a silver platter. Instead they come tagged with their own set of abilities as well as challenges. It is up to us to tab their potential and channelize their energy towards that which they are good at. So that they too can act to their full potential and write the script of their life their way.

– By Aradhana Basu Das

The lifeline – in Peril

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Nitin sat in the car with a promise in his heart to come back soon. As it drove away, every time he looked through the window he saw his loved ones standing at the gateway. With every mile that he covered, the image of them become all the more blurred to him. It was difficult to leave behind the people who had all the time in this world to shower unconditional love upon him. While swallowing a lump in his throat he looked vaguely at things that were crossing by. On reaching the river bank, the newly planted saplings caught his attention. While watching them sway happily in gentle breeze off the Ganges, Nitin couldn’t believe that in a way he had played a stellar role in placing the newbies in their current location. He was imagining them in full bloom executing the role that has been assigned to them when their time comes. He felt happy to be able to deal with the herculean task of mitigating threats from different quarters and bringing everyone on one page with a lot of tact and perseverance. As a result, not just Ajit but a few more land owners and their sharecroppers had also agreed to grow fruits in their land near the river bank. During this time Nitin came across this aspect of human nature wherein one realizes one’s true potential only if pushed to a brink, left with no other choice but to stand up and deliver. But he was surprised to realize how his grandpa was confident about his abilities while he himself felt standing on a shaky ground.

He thought to himself, “What a phenomenal journey it was! My initial plan was so different from what it finally shaped up. Ironically, no matter how much one feels sure about future or plans for it, ultimately one has to toe in line with the designs of God. About three months ago, when my previous project was on the verge of completion, I was weighing between the two overseas prospects that I had, one in Egypt and the other in Cambridge as they seemed more challenging. But accepting an offer nearer to home wasn’t even in the race”, Nitin thought to himself. He leaned back on his seat and made himself comfortable in preparation for his travel back to the state capital. From there he has to leave for Varanasi as he had chosen to join Banaras Hindu University as a visiting faculty. Keeping his eyes closed, he sat introspecting over the chain of events that took place in the past which contributed largely in choosing to stay back in India for sometime, over going overseas. As the car approached airport Nitin felt very nostalgic as memories come flashing back because this is where it had all begun.  

 

About three months ago…

…As soon as the flight touched down the runway at Patna airport, Nitin’s heart skipped a beat. His excitement knew no bounds as this family reunion was long awaited. After collecting his luggage, he tried getting in touch with Sankar who has been their driver since a long time. Shankar was supposed to pick him up from the airport and take him to Simariya, to his grandparents’ home. Nitin had already started thinking about meeting his family. Especially his grandpa, who has been a friend, mentor and his greatest support since childhood. The urge to meet him was all the more significant after his recent brush with success, his first major accomplishment as an archaeologist. Failed attempts to get in touch with Shankar was making Nitin all the more restless. Strange are the ways of human emotions, for they signal the mind to act differently at different circumstances. Ironically, on one hand he had managed to stay away from his loved ones for years in order to respect his work commitments. But on the other hand now that he has come so near, he didn’t have the patience to wait for three more hours. How he wished to reach there right away.

He called his mother to know Shankar’s whereabouts. “Hello Maa! Where is Shankar bhaiya?”

“Nitin, he is with us. I tried getting in touch with you but your phone was switched off. We are on our way to Patna…with grandfather.” Nitin’s mother, Gauri answered in a hurry.

“Why, what’s the matter? What’s happened to grandpa?” Nitin bombarded a series of questions.

“This morning he was so excited and happy, he was really looking forward to meet you but about two hours ago he became senseless.” Gauri said.

“Oh!” Nitin couldn’t say a word beyond this.

“I think, we should be at our nursing home within an hour.” she continued, “In the meantime, why don’t you go home, freshen up and eat something. The journey must have been quite tiring for you.” Gauri said.

“No, that’s okay, I am coming straight away.” Nitin said, dismissing his mother’s suggestion.

“Is it serious? Will he became alright?” he asked with apprehension.

“Let’s hope for the best” Gauri answered quickly.

His mother’s words left him speechless as deep inside he could make out the gravity of the situation. Without wasting much time he hired a cab and proceeded towards his new destination – Lifeline nursing home. After so many years he was visiting the city where he grew up. As the cab took twists and turns through roads and by-lanes, the city presented before him its more developed and vibrant version, but unfortunately he seemed to register nothing. For sometime he was totally engulfed by his own thoughts so much that he couldn’t even notice that the cab had already arrived at the nursing home. He heard a voice repeatedly calling him.

“Sahab, sahab, your destination has come.” said the cab driver.

“Hmm, what?” Nitin said confused.

“Lifeline nursing home” the cab driver said pointing out his finger.
“Oh… okay” Nitin said getting back from a trance that he got into. “Sorry, I didn’t notice”, saying which he paid the cabbie and got out of the car.

Nitin looked around and thought to himself, “In my wildest of dreams, did I ever imagine that I would have to meet grandpa here, in this manner?”

Just then, he heard the sound of an ambulance siren, which gradually become louder and louder as the vehicle approached the nursing home. The sound pierced his heart making it to palpitate faster and he thought to himself, “Is grandpa in that ambulance or are they bringing him in a car?”

Very soon the ambulance zoomed inside and a car raced behind it. As soon as the ambulance halted near the emergency department, porter boys and nurses rushed towards the ambulance. After seeing his grandmother inside the car he immediately rushed towards it. Nitin opened the rear door and helped his grandmother to come out. He wiped her teary eyes and embraced her tightly and reassured her, “He’ll be fine.”

“Good that you are here, Nitin.” Lata, Nitin’s grandmother almost choked while she said.

In the meanwhile, his parents with the help of hospital staff brought Amarendra, his grandfather out of the ambulance. For a fraction of seconds, Nitin stood motionless on seeing his grandfather lying on a stretcher with a oxygen mask on. It was unthinkable for him to see his once robust grandfather in that condition. While they wheeled him off to the emergency unit, Nitin noticed his grandmother’s anxiety in leaving her husband’s side.

He quickly came forward and held her to say, “Grandma, let’s wait outside.” She gave him a confused look and blurted out, “But I think I should be around! What if he needs me… needs anything?”

“This is a critical moment, the medical team shouldn’t get disturbed. Isn’t it, Grandma?” Nitin said politely to which she nodded her head in affirmation. They both sat in the waiting area just near the emergency unit. He felt nervous as he had never faced such a situation before, where a loved one is hanging between life and death. Even though he wanted to break the silence and comfort Lata, he fell short of words. After sometime Shankar came there with some tea.

“Shankar bhaiya, what really had happened? I thought he was recovering.” Nitin asked while sipping tea.

“He was recovering no doubt, but… he was exerting a bit too much.” Shankar added.

“Exerting a bit too much?” Nitin repeated in a surprised tone as if to ask what does that mean.

“Quite recently, a team of social workers had come and approached dadaji to help them in their mission to save Ganges from depletion.”

“Oh! So, now the Ganges…” Nitin wondered. Instantly, his thoughts went back to the recently concluded project on the decline of Indus valley civilization of which he was a part.

“And how has grandpa been affected by all this?” Nitin inquired.

“He has been going around with those people, meeting different agencies in an quest for a change for better. And in this process he neglected his health.” Shankar said.

“And ever since the result of your research came out he got all the more motivated with this mission. Whenever I used to ask him why was he exerting so much as he had fully not recovered, he would say ‘Look, how Indus valley civilization declined. Aren’t we too sitting on a time bomb ticking slowly, leading us all to a catastrophe?’ This is not for me, this is for our future generations.” Grandmother added.

Meanwhile, every now and then Nitin was peeping inside the emergency unit from the small glass window that was fixed on the door in an attempt to evaluate the situation. Inside, the atmosphere looked quite intense and sombre. The medical team went about their course of action with a great sense of urgency.

After sometime, Mahesh his father, came out to talk to them.

“How is he, papa? Is he out of danger?” Nitin inquired.

Mahesh nodded. He looked quite tensed.

“Can pneumonia be fatal?” Nitin whispered.

“It can be life threatening for an elderly person, as they have other ailments too… so that makes things all the more difficult. Anyways, we have to keep him under observation before taking any decision.” Mahesh said.

“What do you need to decide?” Nitin asked in a confused tone.

“Whether to shift him to intensive care unit or a private room.” Mahesh replied while keeping his eyes fixed on his mother who seemed to be soaked in her own thoughts. He then went and sat next to her silently holding her hand. His touch made her to startle and question, “Oh, you! How is he?’’

“Maa, you don’t worry.” Mahesh said with a sigh and continued. “He’ll be fine, we are…” That’s when someone came to call him from the emergency unit. Mahesh quickly left the scene. His bewildered mother looked at Nitin with lot of questions in her eyes. Nitin overheard their conversation about grandpa’s deteriorating condition and their discussions regarding shifting him to the intensive care unit. But he choose to refrain himself from disclosing about this to his grandmother immediately. Deep within, Nitin was experiencing a cocktail of emotions, bubbling up to the brim but he had to keep them bottled up in order to portray a brave face and provide solace to his grandmother.

“He’ll recover, grandma.” Nitin said in a reassuring tone.

“Yeah. He has to… He can’t be leaving so soon.” Her eyes sparkled with tears but her voice had undeterred conviction.

Meanwhile, after evaluating his father’s condition Mahesh inferred that uncertainty loomed large. Therefore, he tried to convince his mother not to stay there, as the wait could turn out to be endless. But she didn’t budge to any of the logical suggestions that he made. To Nitin’s surprise, neither he saw her agreeing to visit her husband twice a day nor he saw any interest from her side to get preferential treatment in the nursing home.

“I am not leaving this place without him.” she said adamantly .

“What strength of character… I never knew that she was gritty.” Nitin thought to himself.

While Nitin watched his otherwise timid looking grandmother in admiration, Mahesh looked aghast at her firmness. In order to avoid an obvious tussle between both of them, Nitin looked at his father in persuasion to leave things to him.

“Grandma, people are there to take care of him.” Nitin tried to convince her.

“And how much do you think do they know him?” She asked right away. All his attempts to convince her were foiled by her rigidity. He couldn’t really understand her but choose to respect her stand.

The next few days were very critical for Amarendra as he walked a tightrope between hope and despair. Time and again Nitin was astonished to see that it wasn’t just the medical team who were helping the septuagenarian to come out of this ordeal, but there was someone else as well… his soulmate, his wife. Many a times when it seemed extremely difficult for Amarendra to survive this phase, she would sit next to him holding his hand or caressing his forehead gently, and immediately his vitals showed positive signs. It was as if her silent prayers, her resilience were steering their relationship through the tempest which had become hell bound to wreck their partnership of nearly five decades. Nitin was amazed to see how their contrasting personalities did not come in the way to the camaraderie that they shared. Instead, with time that made a way for them to develop into each other’s strength. He now understood why she was reluctant to leave her husband’s side.

During those difficult days, well wishers would often flock in from Simariya. It was from them that Nitin got the details of Amarendra’s involvement in the mission to save the Ganges. He believed that if his grandfather has put his hand in this work then there must be something about it. Since then, amidst his grandfather’s recovery concerns and running around at the hospital, he started gathering more and more information related to this topic as his mind constantly hovered around a thought… he feared that what ever happened with Indus valley civilization could become the fate of settlements in the Gangetic plains too. From the insight that he gained, he could make out that in a way the Indian subcontinent is blessed, because from her womb originates numerous rivers. These lifelines have made the soil fertile. As a result agriculture based economy could thrive, paving a way for it to become a cradle for many ancient but advanced settlements. After the downfall of Indus valley civilization, people migrated towards the Gangetic plains, slowly populating it along the flow of the river. Gradually, Vedic culture evolved followed by numerous empires emerging in the ancient cities situated near the banks of the very same river. Finally, making this land prosperous to the extent that it was known as the “Golden sparrow” the world over. In a way these perennial rivers flowing through the subcontinent were instrumental in elevating it to the level it had attained. Unfortunately, unable to withstand the backlash of mankind, these lifelines are depleting day by day.

“These assets might not be available eternally if not cared for.” Nitin would often think to himself. He could comprehend the power that a river possess. On one hand if it has an ability of a nurturer, the same river could create havoc for those it had nurtured once.

Finally, after days of playing cat and mouse with death, Amarendra regained his consciousness. On getting the good news his dear ones including Nitin came and surrounded him.

He smiled at Nitin and exclaimed, “Nitin! You have come! You are here?” he said with a tinge of disbelieve.

“Yes, grandpa” Nitin answered holding his needle pricked hand tenderly.

“When did you come?” Amarendra asked.

“Few days back” Nitin replied.

“And, since when am I here?” Amarendra asked looking here and there. He had a streak of restless as if his eyes were searching for someone in particular.

“I’ll go and find Grandma.” Nitin said hurriedly after sensing that it could be her that Amarendra was looking for.

As Nitin turned, he saw her coming in. Calm and composed, she walked towards Amerandra while the latter’s eyes firmly fixed on her.

“Indeed, he was searching for her…” Nitin thought to himself. They smiled at each other.

“Do you feel better now?” she asked fondly. To which Amarendra nodded his head slightly.

For most of them it went unnoticed but Nitin saw that his grandfather looked peaceful now. All these years Nitin didn’t have a clue that it is actually his low profile grandmother who has been a constant source of strength to his gigantically dynamic grandfather. Now, having observed them closely, he had some idea about the depth of his grandparents’ relationship. He realized that just because it is not displayed, real love doesn’t ceases to exist. On the contrary, with time it stops floating on the shallow waters which skirts the shores. Instead, with maturity it ventures further, diving deep into the sea.

Very soon Amarendra was shifted to a private room. Nitin felt nostalgic getting inside that room. Many years ago, after he had undergone an operation for appendicitis, he was recovering in the very same room. He was taken aback to see that the view from the window had changed drastically. It had once overlooked the Ganges but sadly now only a small portion of the river could be seen amid modern day jungle… buildings of concrete. Next couple of days that Nitin spent with his grandparents was unique as he was experiencing a complete role reversal. The smart and energetic man who had once helped young Nitin to put his shirt buttons correctly was being helped by the latter to put a shirt on his fragile body. Many a times, after failed attempts to get up from the bed Amarendra would stretch his hand towards Nitin who would quickly hold him tight and help to lift his body. During those moments, in a flash, memories of childhood days would pop in Nitin’s mind. Years ago when little Nitin was learning to ride a cycle he would invariably see a hand after falling from the cycle, it was the same hand that he was holding now. Those days of course those hands were strong enough to pull Nitin in one go. Fortunately, Nitin was able to witness this part of the life’s wheel as well.

While watching the morning sun popping out behind the high rises, three of them would often talk about things closer to their heart. One such narration made a lasting impact on Nitin. Years ago, just after Amarendra and Lata had got married the whole family along with the newly weds went for a pilgrimage to Varanasi. Back in their days, honeymoon was a western concept and had not caught up with the Indians. Instead, coming from the land of spirituality, they preferred religious tourism. Surprisingly, neither did they travel by roadways nor by railways. As the road-cum-rail bridge which stands erect across the river Ganges had still not come up.Those days waterways use to be an important mode of transport. Boat rides for as short a distance as attending a school across the river to as long a distance like sailing on a ferry boat from Kolkata to Allahabad was the norm.They had boarded a ferry from Simariya and for next couple of days sailed on the Ganges before reaching Varanasi. They started their life together on the very same journey which was an experience of a lifetime, especially for Lata as she had not ventured out of her village before.

“We sailed for days with only water all around, watching the sky touching down the river at the distant horizon, watching the celestial bodies paint hues on the clouds and water as they rise and set, the rhythmic sound of the oar as it rowed, freshness in the breeze, coupled with soulful food. It was… it was nothing but pure bliss.” Lata’s face beamed with excitement as she narrated. It was as if she was reliving those moments all over again.

“Was the water sufficient enough for a cruise to sail like that?” Nitin asked.

“Oh yes! We had enough water in the Ganges. Besides it was considerably clean and pure, hence we drank the same water.” Amarendra said.

“What? Without treating the water?” Nitin blurted in utter dismay. “These days Ganges has become so contaminated that it is not advisable to to take a holy dip in the river, let alone drink that water.” he lamented.

“But that was not the case in olden days. If you compare the lifeless water that you keep on gulping out of these bottles with Ganges water of yesteryear, the former wouldn’t stand a chance.” Lata said pointing at the plastic mineral water bottle.

Simultaneously Amarendra laughed out loud and said “From time immemorial we have believed in the purity of water of Ganga. This faith, of Ganges having cleansing and medicinal properties has been handed over to us by our sages and scriptures and now it has been scientifically proven that it demonstrates bactericidal properties.” After a pause he continued, “I remember hearing… the British voyagers would carry gallons of Ganges water to be consumed on their way back to England as it didn’t rot so easily. It is very unfortunate that out of ignorance we have taken this river for granted, abusing it to its current state. Calling it a mother or worshiping it is not enough… we have to care for it. The sad truth is that it’s depleting and we are not doing much.”

“Yeah, indeed it is depleting. From past couple of days I have been reading a lot about these things. It seems over the years, the garbage that have been dumped, starting from domestic sewage to municipal wastes to industrial effluents to temple wastes in plastic bags… the endless list of pollutants are choking the Ganges and other rivers to death. Besides, population explosion, urbanization and climate also has a role to play in rendering our perennial rivers a seasonal one.” Nitin said.

“Yes, we are now aware how the ancient civilization of Indus valley perished due to climatic changes, a repercussion of river Indus changing its course. Keeping that into consideration, now it could be Gangetic plains next.” Amarendra added.

“Alas! the river Ganges, life-line to millions of Indians has become an endangered river!” Lata sighed.

There prevailed a momentary silence in the room as they sat contemplating.

“Grandpa, so how is this problem being dealt here?” Nitin asked.

Apparently, there are issues in this regard to work upon. In order to cater the state’s development processes, the construction industry is growing in leaps and bounds. Therefore on one hand sand mining has become a regular feature near the bank of the river and on the other forest covers are fast reducing. Moreover, being a industrial hub of the state, this place boasts of many large and small scale industries. Effluents from nearby industries get discharged into the river.” Amarendra added.

“Primarily, food crops are grown on our land. Your grandpa is talking to Ajit, about growing local varieties of fruits instead of seasonal crops… Ajit is not quite convinced though.” Lata added. They have acres of land in their native village, which has been handed over to them from generations but they are not involved in farming directly instead they give the responsibility to Ajit, their sharecropper. The profit is of course shared between both the parties latter.

“Why? I mean… what’s wrong with cereals?” Nitin asked.

“It is not the question of cereals, but floods. This region is prone to floods. You must be knowing that Ganges is partially glacier fed and partially forest fed river, so ecological changes like global warming and deforestation along with other factors like pollution, sand mining produces a cascading effect on the health of the river. Trees are helpful in retaining excess rainwater, reduce the damage from floods and mitigate drought.” Amarendra clarified and then added, “If left to me, I could grow a forest because my family is not dependent on agriculture for livelihood, but Ajit’s is… commercially it wouldn’t be a viable option for him. That’s why I suggested growing fruits.”

By evening of the very same day, Dr Bhoomi, Dr Satish and Rajesh, the force behind Ganges conservation in this region paid them a visit. While Amarendra was overjoyed to see them and Lata approved their presence too, but Mahesh did not feel comfortable when they had walked in. He disapproved their presence, maybe because he was considering them responsible for his father’s ill health. Before falling severely ill, Amarendra was helping them relentlessly.

Amarendra asked them with a child-like excitement, “How are things proceeding?”

“Umm, Don’t think about anything else before recovering fully”, Dr Bhoomi said.

“No, but.. I am all right now.” Amarendra said in an upbeat mood.

But the way they looked at each other, Amarendra got a cue that things are not progressing smoothly at their end.

“Tell me what is it.” Amarendra insisted upon being told.

“Good news is, couple of farmers and landowners are showing interest in fruit plantation. Besides, our researchers are trying to figure out if Miyawaki technique could be used by the villagers as forest grows faster using this method or if inter-cropping could be more beneficial as it would be commercially more viable for the farmers.” Dr Bhoomi said diplomatically avoiding to discuss the negative proceedings.

“What’s Miyawaki technique?” Nitin asked with curiosity, finally breaking his silence.

“It’s a technique by which forests could be grown in a short period of time using indigenous trees. It was developed by Akira Miyawaki, a Japanese botanist.”, Dr Bhoomi replied.

Amarendra could see beyond what Dr Bhoomi was revealing so he asked her calmly, “Now tell me, what is it that you are not feeling good about.”

While Dr Bhoomi hesitated to speak Rajesh babbled out, “Even though a few industries have realized the necessity of an onsite effluent treatment plant, but it is difficult for them comply due to funds. So…” he continued, “And it is difficult to check sand mining along the bank of the river. They are using their clout to get away with things.”

“Hmm… Of Course, of all the factors that we are dealing with this is the toughest. Is this all that is bothering you?” Amarendra said, “When can I go back home?” he asked his son

“You have to stay here for sometime as you haven’t fully recovered yet.” Mahesh replied.

Thereafter, they sat silently. Amarendra seemed to be in a deep thought, “Nitin, for how many days are you still here? Where are you heading next?” he broke his silence with these questions.

“I have a few offers from various places… I am yet to finalize anything. I have roughly… fifty days before leaving, I guess.” Nitin replied.

For the first time during the whole conversation Mahesh looked really interested in something. Like any other Indian middle class father, he was not able to hide his exuberance he felt for his son’s success hence he asked smiling, “Oh! So, what are those offers?”

“I have…” Nitin was about to answer him when Amarendra interrupted by saying, ”Can you go with them and assist them in their work?”

“Me, Grandpa?” Nitin fumbled.

“Yes, you. Can you?” Amarendra asked again.

“What are you saying? Do you want my son to leave his flourishing career for your meaningless campaigns? How safe it is to get into all this? Ganges is depleting… what shall I do if it is depleting? How is it our concern?” Mahesh asked in a furious tone.

“No, no. He need not join us. I think we should leave”, Dr Bhoomi said, getting up quickly in order to stop the discussion.

“Mahesh, you are being rude to your father.” Lata said, displeased over her son’s behaviour.

Mahesh continued hysterically “And why do you want to grow fruits on our land now? None of us are coming back to the village to stay. Why do you still hold on to…?”

Amarendra looked at the visitors and said firmly, “No wait. You need not go anywhere.” then turned to Mahesh to reply very calmly, “Mahesh, try to look beyond the four walls of your nursing home. What kind of life are you leading? You don’t even have some spare time to think where are you heading or what is the purpose of this life…”

“Should we make a move?” Dr Satish said looking at his colleagues. They were all feeling awkward sitting there.

To which Amarendra signaled them to wait while he continued speaking to Mahesh, “If it has not bothered you before, then start thinking about it now. As per predictions, by the year 2030 India could face a major water scarcity. Around five hundred million people are still dependent on the Ganges… the river is drying during summers due to the decline of groundwater inflow. Interestingly during monsoons, a flood-like situation arises as there are scarce trees to help rainwater to seep into the ground properly. In future, these could affect food production and availability of water drastically. Think over this scenario, Mahesh. And, don’t dwell under an impression that you and your family won’t be affected by this.”

“Look back in the past, if an agriculture based economy like Indus valley civilization could crumble due to climatic changes and river changing its course, then this could happen with Gangetic civilization as well.” Nitin added.

“And, Ganges is not just depleting but changing its course too. We need trees near the banks of rivers in order to negate erosion and flooding. Unfortunately, this is the case with most of the rivers in India… they are in a pathetic state. I know, we can’t keep everything aside and jump into the cause but we shouldn’t miss an opportunity to do something which is well within our reach.” Amarendra said softly.

That night, Nitin stayed back with his grandfather. They both tossed and turned on their respective beds as deep introspection eroded sleep from their eyes and a strange silence prevailed in the room. Separately, they both were thinking about the episode that occurred in the evening. Even though Amarendra didn’t admit, but he felt disheartened at Mahesh’s behavior. On the other hand Nitin was pained to see his grandfather’s helplessness.

“In the past he has always stood by me like a rock, removing as many obstacles as possible that came my way. I know I can never repay that back but still… it’s my turn now ”, Nitin thought to himself. Nitin tried evaluating the prospects of going to Simariya even though he felt skeptical about his ability to contribute to the cause but he had blind trust on Amarendra’s conviction.

After ages, that night, he tried recalling a long forgotten poem ‘Manjil Dur Nahi Hai’ written by Ramdhari Singh Dinkar, the national poet of India. Hailing from the same village as the revolutionary poet Dinkar, the stalwart and his poems created a huge impact on the personality of Amarendra. Nitin had lot of boyhood memories associated with this poem. Many a times Amarendra would quote the first few line of Dinkar’s verse when he saw Nitin demoralized in order to uplift the latter’s battered spirits. Nitin quickly went to his grandfather’s side and called out, “Grandpa, grandpa… are you awake?”

Amarendra turned towards Nitin to find him recite the poem.

“Vah Pradeep Jo Dikh Raha Hai Jhilmil, Dur Nahi Hai

Thak Kar Baith Gayae Kui Bhai, Manzil Dur Nahi hai…”

(The lamp that you see shining is not very far away; my brother, why do sit feeling dejected! the destination is not quite far away…)

Amarendra hurriedly got out of the bed and joined him in reciting the poem. After they had finished reciting those lines, tears rolled down Amarendra’s cheeks as he was overpowered with emotions. Nitin embraced him tightly and said, “I am leaving for Simariya tomorrow morning. See you soon, Grandpa.”

– By Aradhana Basu Das

The lifeline – lost and found

riverntrees

It was late in the evening when Nitin came out of the lab, after spending hours analyzing samples that were collected during excavation. He was in an upbeat mood, eager to share his excitement with the team as the outcome of analysis was positive. Nitin is an archeologist who is working in an international project, consisting of specialists from interdisciplinary fields. They are studying the actual cause of decline of Indus valley civilization. While he hurried towards the Jeep, his phone started vibrating. He slipped his hand into the side pocket of his jeans to take the phone out. It was a call from his father Mahesh.

Nitin called out, “Hello, Papa”.

“How are you, Nitin?”, Mahesh inquired.

“I’m Good”, Nitin replied, but sensed something amiss. “What has happened? You don’t sound okay”.

“Yeah… actually from sometime now, your grandfather has not been keeping well. No matter how much he was cajoled to come and stay with us, he showed reluctance to do so. You see, a persistent cough that has taken a shape of pneumonia”, Mahesh informed.

“Okay, so now…”, Nitin said pensively.

“Even though he was taking medicines… but grandma had called up to inform us that he has been experiencing breathlessness from a week.” Mahesh was interrupted by Nitin. “What? breathlessness…”

“Yes, hearing which, we rushed to Simariya. After a brief stay at a hospital he is back to home now”, Mahesh added.

“How is he… now?”, Nitin asked.

“He is recovering slowly”, Mahesh became silent.

Nitin asked in desperation, unable to bear the silence, “Is there anything that you are hiding from me?”

“Well… he wants to meet you, spend a few days with you. Can you make that possible, Nitin?” Mahesh asked with hesitation.

“No Papa, I can’t come now. I mean…”, Nitin said immediately.

Mahesh could sense that his son was getting disturbed by this conversation. As a result he quickly said,“That’s okay son, I can understand that you have work commitments”.

And then he changed the topic and asked, “How is your work going on?”

“Good, it is at a critical juncture. You could expect to hear from us anytime soon”, Nitin said.

“Oh! That’s wonderful”, Mahesh exclaimed.

“Papa, I can’t miss this opportunity. I have been waiting for this moment for years”, Nitin said with a tinge of guilt in his voice.

“Don’t think about it much and remain focused. Grandpa would understand”, Mahesh said. “Give him a call sometime, he’ll feel better”, he suggested.

“Sure, I will…”, Nitin replied.

After this conversation, Nitin drove to the place where the whole team was put up.That night the whole team had their dinner amidst discussions on the day’s development and next plan of action and speculations. In the archaeological world, the actual cause of decline of this civilization has always been regarded as a final frontier. Something at this scale have never been done before. They were all charged up as they could see a possibility of a landmark discovery, something for which they have been working hard for almost five years now.

After dinner, everyone dispersed to their respective rooms, except for Nitin. While he was walking through the corridor, he could feel the cold breeze, caressing and ruffling him. As if to compel him to linger there before calling it a night. Watching the spectacular star studded sky, he was reminded of a childhood memory. Every summer vacation during his visits to grandparent’s home, on hot summer nights they would sleep on the terrace. While laying on separate charpoys, watching millions of stars twinkling in the sky, feeling the breeze blowing from the Ganges, they would talk for hours before slowly falling asleep. He felt nostalgic, a strange familiarity in this ambience. But ironically, for him this moment was far from peaceful as he felt a tempest within him.

Meanwhile, Akshay, a fellow archeologist and a good friend of Nitin saw him from his window. Wondering what was Nitin doing there on a cold desert night, he proceeded towards him. Nitin was too engrossed in his thought processes and hence couldn’t feel his presence.

“Hey buddy! All good?” Akshay asked, almost startling him.

“Oh, hi Akshay”, He responded.

“ I… I hope everything is okay?”, Akshay asked with hesitation.

Nitin forced himself to smile and said, “Yeah”.

Akshay looked at Nitin, he seemed to be in deep thought and somewhat disturbed.

After a bit of silence, Nitin spoke out, “My grandfather is not keeping well”.

“Oh! ”, Akshay exclaimed. With curiosity in his eyes he watched Nitin quietly, expecting more to come.

“He is interested to meet me”, Nitin said.

“I see”, Akshay sighed. After a pause.

“All my fond childhood memories are with my grandparents and not with my parents. My parents used to be busy with their patients… they hardly had any time left for us. Papa was busy building his career. But on the contrary, my grandfather had different priorities in life. After graduating from medical college, my grandfather chose to go back to his native place and serve his people as their was a dearth of doctors there. He led a very simple and peaceful life there.” Nitin said.

“Where do they live? You had mentioned once, but I forgot”, Akshay inquired.

“Simariya, a peaceful village in Bihar near the banks of river Ganges”, Nitin said.

“I am trying to imagine… it must have been wonderful”, Akshay said smiling.

“Yeah, those moments were so beautiful. I vividly remember… those early morning walks down the river bank, sitting there comfortably for hours, watching the sunrise, the breeze forming ripples in the water, small boats sailing and their oars making rhythmic sounds in the water, men and women taking a dip in the holy Ganges.”

“Hmm, enchanting!”, Akshay exclaimed.

“Yes, we used to discuss about historical events, ancient Indian history during those moments. I was introduced to Harappan culture, Maurya, Vijayanagara, Mughal and Maratha empires long before I had studied about them at the school”, Nitin said.

“Oh, so he introduced you to these things!” Akshay exclaimed.

“Yes, you could say so. I still remember my first visit to the ruins of Nalanda University with him. I was about ten at that time. That visit changed my life for ever. Both of us had got engrossed in those ruins. Luckily, during that time we happened to meet a couple of field archaeologists working at the site. And I had said to my grandfather, “This is what I want to become when I grow up”. With belief and pride he told me,“Whatever you wish”.

“And… what was his equation with his other grandchildren?”, Akshay asked inquisitively.

“I have always been very special to him. Maybe because with me he could experience grandparenthood in a true sense. We lived in Patna, a few hours drive from him. But others lived in distant places. As a result he didn’t get to spend much time with them”, Nitin sighed and silently drifted into his thoughts.

Now, slowly things were falling in place for Akshay. He could make out what was bothering Nitin so much. He understood that his friend’s emotions were playing a tug of war, trying to pull him on either sides. On one side, thoughts of his grandpa’s ill health, the fact that he wanted to meet him so badly was pulling Nitin and on the other hand his impending project was rendering him helpless. “What can he do, his hands are tied up…”, Akshay thought to himself.

For five years they had toiled hard, confronting challenges at every front and finally they seem to have arrived at a conclusive position where they were about to realign the history of one of the oldest ancient civilizations of the world – The Indus valley civilization. Initially, coordinating with different agencies in order to raise funds was an uphill task. Thereafter, bringing on board scientists from various interdisciplinary fields such as archeology, mathematics, geology and geomorphology and then working in a perfect synchrony with each other for these many  years. This, off course, needed a single-minded approach from the entire crew and a lot of sacrifices at every front. They had erratic work schedules. For instance, during hot summer months, they would work from dawn till lunch in order to avoid extreme heat. Sometimes, they would work at the site for twelve days at a stretch and then take a break of about three days or maybe spend time at the lab analysing things for couple of days.

With the help of advanced technology, they were able to achieve that which their counterparts of yesteryears could not. By combining satellite pictures with topographic data, maps of landforms built by Indus and neighboring rivers were prepared. Which were then drilled and dug manually. Samples that were collected from these trenches were studied to determine the source of sediments there. As a result the researchers were able to form a chronology of the landscape changes in the area.

For the next sixteen days, they worked day and night. For most of them, these were the moments they had always dreamt of living. They were able to conclude that the actual reason for decline of Indus valley civilization was not the Aryan invasion as was assumed by earlier scholars but a shift in the course of rivers and natural disasters like drought and floods.  They also found evidence of a mighty river that no longer exists. The fall in the average rainfall lead to the increase in aridity. As a result, agriculture, upon which most of the trades were dependent also declined. The people gradually shifted to other places, abandoning what is known as an epitome of an advanced early civilization.

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As from time to time the findings were being published in different journals, a lot of hype had been created around this. The press across the world had its eyes glued, keeping a close watch at the proceedings there. After the mission got accomplished, interviews and press conferences were conducted. Their achievements were hailed far and wide as they had made history.

During one such press conference, Jayanthi – a geologist, was asked by one of the reporters, “How did you choose such an unconventional profession such as geology?”

Hearing this question, Nitin felt a strange tug at his heart. He thought to himself, “It was not easy for me, without grandpa’s support…”

Nitin recalled the moment when he had called up his grandfather to tell him that he had a heated argument with his parents. Coming from a state which is obsessed with more orthodox professions like medical, engineering and administrative services and also being a son of cardiologists, it was not easy for Nitin to choose a road not taken much. Mahesh, Nitin’s father dreamt of sending him to a medical school so that Nitin could hold the reins of their nursing home, but the son wanted to study history. It was astonishing to see how within a few hours of phone call grandfather was by Nitin’s side.

When Nitin had thanked him for coming, his grandfather had said, “I will always be there for you, as long as you need me.”

And when Mahesh had asked with apprehension, “So, what might be his future if he goes for subjects like history?”

To this Nitin’s grandfather gave a pat on Nitin’s back and looked at him confidently and said, “Remember one thing, there is always vacancy at the top. It is up to you, whatever path you wish to choose. But don’t forget to put your heart and soul to excel in the chosen field.”

As time passed, he became extremely busy in his life. As a result, the frequent phone calls to his grandparents had drastically reduced. Especially during his doctoral research, while he was shuttling between Mesopotamia and Indus Valley regions, studying similarities between the ancient civilizations that evolved in these places. It is not that they meant nothing to him any more. But his priorities had changed a bit.

He was brought back to the present when he heard his name being called repeatedly.

“I am sorry, I didn’t hear you. Could you please repeat the question?”, He blurted out to the reporter.

The reporter repeated his question again, “Do you feel the society faced regression after whatever happened?”

“Yeah… of course. For almost a century, Indus valley civilization has been a subject of muse for many a scholars, since it was the oldest urban civilization in the world. It had a well developed trade system, cities, metallurgy, sewerage system, script and many other achievements. But still, this urban society witnessed slow regression when they had to deal with the changing climate. For instance, when from urban settlers living in big cities they became rural settlers in many small villages, they no longer needed large granaries as they had to cater only to the needs of smaller units. Trade relations with Mesopotamia and Egypt which they once had, stopped completely. There could be a possibility that they no longer needed to write in their new life, as a result the script was completely forgotten”, Nitin said.

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Cristina, a Romanian geomorphologist was asked by another reporter, “Is this situation a thing of a past or can we face similar problems in future?”

“Yes, there could be a possibility of a similar situation in future too. One thing we can’t forget is that we are still dependent on rivers, they are our lifeline. Even today, we can see them changing their course, decrease in their flow. The perennial rivers in many places are becoming seasonal and also flood like situation is seen during the monsoons. This gradual change is even more dangerous than a sudden event. A sudden change gives us a jolt compelling us to act immediately but a gradual change takes a lot of time to manifest an impact so it is late by the time we start taking it seriously. Agriculture based economy thrived on the fertile soils of Indus and its tributaries but over a period of time the same land got converted into a desert”, Cristina answered.

Soon after the conference Nitin called up his grandfather, “Hello grandpa! How are you?”

“Nitin, I am fine. I saw you on the television and also your father has read a newspaper article for me. It was about your achievements in this project”, Grandfather said with a childlike excitement.

“I am sorry”, Nitin said.

“Sorry, but why?” grandfather asked in a surprised tone.

“Whenever I needed you, you have always been there for me. But I couldn’t reciprocate the same. I couldn’t rush to your side immediately after hearing about your health”, he said.

“No, Nitin. Please don’t feel sorry for anything. I didn’t feel bad, my child”.

“Thank you, grandpa”, Nitin said almost choked.

“For what? It is you who have made us all proud”, grandfather said.

After composing himself, Nitin said, “You have been a great support. I couldn’t have reached here without you.Thank you for loving me unconditionally and having faith in me”. After a pause, Nitin added “I am coming home to see you.”

to be continued…

– By Aradhana Basu Das

Other Side of the Fence

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While returning home after dropping her daughter Naina at guitar class, Megha noticed that the area near her society was developing at a fast pace. At a few places, shops have been demolished and the area has been converted into a supermarket. A couple of huge gated communities are also coming up. Her thoughts went back to a day, roughly an year back, when she and her husband Manas were driving through the same marketplace. They had just moved into the neighbourhood and she had looked pensive while looking at those sleepy and outdated grocery shops. Manas could quickly make out what was going on in her mind.

He immediately patted her shoulder and said, “Don’t worry, we’ll watch this area transform and develop too, as we have witnessed Mohanpur developing into a plush suburb.”

Hearing which, Megha had laughed out loud at his optimism. She understood that even though he loved living in outskirts, away from the hustle and bustle that a concrete jungle guarantees, he had said this to cheer her up and establish hope for a brighter future.

Now she thought to herself, “At that time, Manas was not wrong in speculating this…”

She hurriedly came back home as she had to draft a mail to be send to a client immediately. Megha is a freelance graphic designer working from home. After she had sent the mail, she made herself a cup of tea and went to the spot which has become her constant companion for sometime now – the window in her bedroom, with view of the green carpet of the golf course at a distance and a commanding view of the western horizon. While placing the cup on the coffee table which is placed near the window, Megha looked at the sky. The sun was setting down bit by bit into the dense canopy of gulmohar trees. The sun rays, hopping from one cotton like fluffy cloud to the other, creating mesmerising hues on the western sky. At a distance a temple could be seen on a small hill top. While taking a sip of hot tea, Megha made herself comfortable on the chair. The sound of wild and boundless wind made her to feel as if she was sitting near a seashore. She closed her eyes to feel the gushing wind on her face and her entire being was wrapped into its embrace.

Instantly her soul whispered, “What a spectacle. So beautiful, an absolute bliss… It is indeed a blessing to experience this moment.” 

Manas’s words came ringing in her ears, “Do we really need to go to a resort, our home is no less than a resort. Isn’t it?” He would say this each time Megha came up with the idea of spending a few days relaxing and rejuvenating in a resort. What she was realizing now, he had understood long before.

Megha was brought back to the present, with the beeping sound of the phone. She stretched her hand towards the bed side table to pick it up. It was a message from Manas, “Left for home”.

Megha got up from the chair and stood near the window. The cowshed which could also be seen from her window caught her attention. She could see busy farm workers; cows and buffaloes munching on fodder. In a corner, piled up cow dung could also be seen. All these months, while Megha admired the view of the distant golf course, the cowshed in the near view (which is destined to fade away in a few months of time as the land has been sold) dampened her spirits every time her eyes went there. Ironically, except for the cowshed all other attributes of the place were quite good but unfortunately Megha either didn’t notice or ignored them till this moment.

Megha looked back at her phone to check the time. It was already 6:45 pm.

“It’s time to pick up Naina from her class”, She thought.

That evening at the dinner table she was quietly having her food, with minimal exchange of words. Years of sharing their lives together made them capable enough to read each other’s silence too. Manas could make out that Megha was in deep thought.

“What’s the matter? What are you thinking so deeply?” he asked.

After a brief silence Megha spoke out, “Why do we complicate life?”

“Why? What happened?”, Manas asked in a confused tone.

“I don’t know… Why in life we always look at the greener pasture on the other side of the fence rather than concentrating on the positives that we have on our side?” Megha said thoughtfully.

Manas looked at her silently, without blinking his eyelids, expecting more to come.

“I was there at the window today evening watching the sunset… taking in the hues on the sky… it felt so good.”, Megha said.

After a pause Megha continued, “All these months I didn’t realize that we have been blessed to live in the lap of nature, but only complained about the cowshed. And that too when I knew from the beginning that it won’t stay for long”.

“ Yeah… if we want to lead a content life, we need to embrace it with all its flaws in the same manner in which we celebrate the perfections in life.” Manas said.

Manas continued to quote Nida Fazli’s famous lines, “Kabhi kisi ko mukammal jahan nahi milta, kahin zameen to kahin aasman nahi milta” (No one ever gets the entire universe, somewhere the earth and somewhere the sky is missing).

After around an hour, Megha entered the bedroom with two cups of milk. Manas stood near the same window watching the moonlit sky. Megha went to the same spot and passed on one of the cups and stood beside him. Silently they admired the serenity of the moment.

Manas broke the silence, “Human wants are unlimited, but we can’t get everything in life. We are granted what we need and not what we want”.

Megha smiled and added, “Yeah…  true. And we take so much time to realize this simple fact”.

Megha finished her cup and sat on the bed. She could feel soft breeze blowing. The full moon sometimes hiding behind the clouds, its light sneaking in through the window and falling on the bed. In that mystic moment, Megha slowly lay herself down on the bed, adjusting her head comfortably on the pillow and whispered, “Life is beautiful only if we seek to see its beauty. Instead of admiring the greener pasture on the other side of the fence, can’t we focus on the greenery on our side?”

– Aradhana Basu Das