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LIFE IN RUINS

Updated: Feb 15, 2021




How old was I then? Seven? Maybe eight? Well! This was way back in beginning of fifties of last century, 1950 or so. Those days life in small towns was usually of a joint family. Fun life! It was a norm that all able males of the family would be out earning a living for the whole gamut of Bhai, Bhabhi, bhatija, bua and so on. The household would have a grand father and grand mother as the head, then the hierarchy of Bhabhis and their children and many unmarried school- college going children of the Patriarch. Those days children, particularly the younger ones were to be only seen about and not heard. It was so common that both the mother in law and the daughter in law could have a child within weeks and months of each other. The patriarch would look after the farming or the family shop or just about mind his business but stay outdoors for the whole day. The matriarch would strictly control her daughters in law who would toil all day over the wood fired kitchen fire or just sulk around missing their husbands whose whereabouts were not exactly known. But, as a routine a money order would always arrive on time with a foot note for the Patriarch. If the Money order did not arrive on time then the daughter in law would face bitter snippets and the day it did arrive she was the Hero of the day.

Otherwise the place was nice with children running and screaming all over, unmarried girls who had done their graduation or studied till whatever class the family would permit, were initiated into house chores and machine stitching, cooking, general control tactics of the house- just anything so long as they were kept away from the gaze of badmash boys of the neighbour- hood. But they were always a happy lot as they did have their secret tete- tete with one of those badmash boys on the quiet. The unmarried grown up boys too were a happy lot as they roamed free every where and came home to get taunts from the matriarch and once in a while rough handling from the patriarch, a small cost for their private ways.

We children probably were the best off. Dinner was over almost at sun-set and there after only few kerosene lamps or Hurricane lanterns would brighten spots for those who had to study. Rest every thing was in darkness. The Dadi would first gather all the smaller kids and engage them with stories that they had heard a billion times from her. Then she would lie next to the daughters in law and share her domestic expertise with them. This way she could keep away the ladies from their husbands, perhaps a step in the direction of Family planning! The unmarried grown up girls would eves drop and there would be giggles and stifled guffaws. No one slept late and we too were pulled out of a friendly quilt, but then, we would sit with Dadaji and appear to be most wanted in the household. Dadi would bring in glasses of brass filled with Milk. She would quietly mumble that she had put in extra malai in the milk for us boys. Those days there were no newspapers and the elders would loudly ask the grown up children what they did or did not last day. There was always criticism - good or bad from the patriarch and mumblings from the matriarch and that would be that. Milk over, and boys would slip out into our favourite dirt patches with marbles and gilli-danda. We were left undisturbed till the senior ladies had lit the smokey flames and made mounds of parathas. While the daughters in law churned out the hot paratha the matriarch would give it to one of the several hungry mouths around. We could some times hear grumblings from the ladies who cooked and cooked and cooked.

Girls who still were not part of any school also fared well. They pulled out rag dolls and mingled with other similar girls from the neighbourhood


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One such day there just happened to be no other children to play with and I was just without an agenda. Those days there was no tap water and some one would come well before the household woke up and fill several drums, pails and an open water tank with chilled water from a well. After the children’s dining shift the school going boys and girls and office going grown ups had just finished their breakfast and it was time they would dress themselves and leave, each casting the departing salutation to the Dadi. I wandered aimlessly into the Bathroom that had no light but got its illumination from the cut away portion of the narrow door from the bottom. Just then my Anand Chacha who studied for his pre-college class, he looked fondly at me and I obstinately continued to play with water in the drums. He shut the door and lifted me up to kiss me. I had no idea what was to follow. Soon enough, he had stripped me and put me on the floor. I cried out as the cold wetness crept into my naked body. From the kitchen my Mother yelled not to make too much noise. Chacha hushed me up saying that I should not anger anyone. Then he mounted me and I screamed. There were shouts from the kitchen, from Dadi, my mother and the other two ladies but no one came. Then, Chote Chacha peeped inside from the cut-away portion at the bottom the door and promptly the rogue Chacha scolded him, but he kept peering and calling for help as a running commentary of what he was seeing. I passed out and then everything was in the grey.


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Here I need to introduce the person who was to be the unwilling villain of this sordid affair that rolled on till the next century – till today. This guy was called Father, someone who rarely came home, but, was blessed by all after the arrival of his monthly money order. Even I, as his child got kinder treatment from all around. After the incident some how mother managed to smuggle a high information letter to Father who was duly enraged at the happening. He discontinued his share of money orders and threatened to take the family away as soon as he could find some leave to do so. The whole family was thrown out of gear completely as his was the biggest contribution to the family kitty. With bleak future staring the patriarch in his eye he knew he had to take stern action or be damned. Those days, there were no cell phones and even landline phone connections were expensive and very erratic. Negotiations were undertaken in the form of written letters which took a week to reach the other end. The hornets nest had been shaken well.


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Soon after he assaulted me the rogue Chacha ran away, ably helped by the matriarch who was his mother. Thereafter he would sneak in and receive food and clothes and perhaps some money that the matriarch had stashed away quitely. Patriarch came to know of it and one day waited in hiding. The unsuspecting Chacha arrived for his replenishments and was caught. Dada caught him and tied him with a rope around his waist. We had an open to sky space in the house we called as angan. This space became a spectacle for some fifteen minutes. The old man wielded a big strong stick in his hand and wildly went beating Chacha who ran in great circles to avoid the next contact of the stick on his person. Not only these two were howling away, one in anger, the other in pain, the whole family too were shouting for forgiveness. Then Chacha stumbled and fell down. The beating too stopped. But Dada’s verbal abuses went on, most of those made no sense to me but something he said stuck to my mind. It haunts me even today, he said, “if this guys (pointing at me) father stops his share of money then the family will be forced beg off the streets. You have blackened not just your own face but cast a blemish on the whole family”. Yes, I was too young but this mantra was the bane of my living ever since. Grown up politics.

After afew months Father came home and closeted himself with Dada for a long while. They must have decided that his monthly contributions had to continue, Mother was to stay back and help run the family and it was not possible to throw out his erring son. The net result was that soon me and my elder sister were packed off to my maternal parents place. I wish he had decided to take us as his family to where ever he earned his money and taken a call as to what was to become of his fathers family. Clearly, in those times one looked after his fathers children more than he did for his own.

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Though my elder sister took good care of me in the new house, she had to deal with me as a very angry brother for having been uprooted from what I thought was my home. The new Patriarch and Matriarch were even more old, they were called Nana and Nani respectively. There was no one else in this house and life stared us of gross monotony and boredom. Perhaps I missed my previous life a lot. Nana used to smoke his hukkah and Nani was perpetually busy. Whole day the old man cared after his hukkah and when he got it going, he would suck in and cough over the next five minutes. Then two things would happen, firstly the hukkah fire would go out necessitating a fresh round of activity for Nana and secondly the Nani would curse him louder than anything else. In any case she was Nana’s second wife, recently married and was very aloof. There was neither time at hand for either of them to look after two kids, both below ten years of age nor any genuine concern to do so. After all the burden was thrust upon them. For one year my anger built inside me like a fire in a coal mine. Me, nor my sister could approach any one for love, help or cry to. We both rotted away from the inside. Soon, Nana was at the end of his tether and decided to tell his daughter to take away her uncivilized trouble making children away. The next halt for me was to be in a hostel as Father was still not in favour of keeping his family with him. Perhaps he was still keen to run the expenses for his Fathers family and let his wife take care of chores there. And a new story started here.


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I had so far not received any formal education and I was turning to be almost ten. No school would admit a child of my age in the basic classes. Father tapped his sources and one convent school , miles away from Calcutta, in a place called Chandrnagor offered some hope. The school had been a girls only school and they were adding a boys wing for up to class II. They had added a boarding for boys in an old building which had not been used for a while. There were three halls and each of them had about six cots. One such cot was screened and was reserved for a care taker. This caretaker was a Miss Rosy who working as a peon by day and took on this new role by night. She was largely uneducated so she did not oversee our homework session. For this purpose a senior girl, Patsy , would come down. The other boys were small and most of them were hardly awake till dinner time. Then Ms Rosy supervised us to get into night suits, brush our teeth, say our prayers and then off to bed. Lights out.


Miss Rosy had a soft corner for me and since I was the eldest of the boys, she would often sit on my bed and talk to me. Then one day she lay beside me and felt me all over. I had had a brush with this kind of handling from my Chacha and the feeling returned. The exact sequence of events eludes my memory but after that she would ask me to join her in her screened enclosure. She would get very excited and would have sex with me. I was a quick learner and looked forward to nights. She would share snacks that she would get from her house every Saturday. We went on like this till the end of the academic year and then I had to leave the school as Class III onwards it was a pure girls convent.

Actually, with this kind of friendship I felt it as a balm to my perpetual anger or whatever it was which I had picked up ever since I had to leave everything and move most unceremoniously to my Matriarchal Grandparents home. She had a nice way to express love towards me, not as a lover, not as a grown up and not as a caretaker. I saw her as a true friend and spent many hours wondering how to get back to her. My heart would genuinely pine for her. But in the early years time moves fast, very fast.


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This time I moved in with my father for the first time. For the first time my parents and two sisters were together, I thought we would live as a happy family as my friends used to describe. Visions of this new life were planted by several friends who enjoyed recollecting their days during Christmas Holidays and Durga Puja vacations. But there was a big snag here of which I was totally unawares. After the attack on me by the Chacha things had gone horribly wrong between my Father and his Father’s family. There was great bit of unhappiness and I was considered to be at the root of all the misery. I could no longer be kept away from either family and was someone whose presence had to be tolerated. My Father openly sided and played with my two sisters, his two doggies and a host of friends who would descend to our house for cards and drinks. I became an icon of a discord. My sisters would get to be amongst the guests but I would be sent to the servants quarters to play. I get the sense that Fathers friends too knew I was an untouchable.

Father put me in a Marwari school in Calcutta this time as no other school would take me in without a proper school leaving certificate. We stayed some 15 miles from the city of Calcutta. The school journey was to reach local railway station by rickshaw, then one hour journey to call by a local train pulled by a steam engine that often broke down. Then, from Sialdah terminal to lower Chitarpur road by bus and then either walk it down or go by tram to school. Each time after school it would take a journey of over two and a half hours. Plus school, there was no time for anything else. For my father it must have been the best way to keep me away from his gaze. Those days Calcutta had too many mosquitoes and Malaria was a common occurrence. I would be down with fever often and my frequent falling sick was another irritant to my father. Many times I would wonder why my mother did not help reduce the friction between my father and me. I did not find a solution till she died a few years ago.

For some queer reason he thought he would brush me up on arithmetic and obtained a copy of Chakravarty authored thick volume. He would teach a few times and ask me to solve all the questions at the end of the chapter. As I said I barely got time to do my homework from school due to the journey time. Initially I tried to cope up, hoping to please him but the next time he would check on me he would beat me with a stick for not having done the homework he had given me. Later, seeing this to be inescapable, I just gave up and accepted the beating. He enjoyed letting steam out on me. One day he overdid it. He beat me up with a thorny stick from the garden and my entire back bore clear marks of the cane. Next day at school the Headmaster saw me crying and took me to his office. I broke down and showed him the blue and black marks on my back. He gave me a letter and told me to come to school with my Father next day or not to come at all. Father knew he had exceeded his clout and that was end of that school too. Over the years I had become 16 years of age and Calcutta had no place for me any longer.


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With Father’s standing badly damaged by my expulsion from school there really could be no question of staying with him any longer. This time he not only got rid of me but the whole family, including a surviving dog. He hired a storm room (Barsati) which people built in North India at roof level to store unwanted stuff in the house. This was in an undeveloped area of ever expanding Delhi. It was a single 12 x 12 foot room and had a kitchen and a shed built at some distance. We were lodged on the fourth floor of a three floor building. When rains came water would flow in from one end and flow out of the other. Since our personal items too were kept in this room, there was no furniture, well, not even a stool. He managed my admission to a school with his contacts and I was ushered into class Nine which at that time was a Board class to decide the stream the successful students would take and failures would often drop out. Very crucial.

If my Father had been angered with my circumstances, I was livid with him for the maltreatment I was getting on account of deeds of his family. Mutually our relation ship became of a Master and a Flogging Horse. I always prayed that he would stick to Calcutta while we faced our fate in Delhi. At the time when Board exams were on, Father joined the family for the first time. This set aflame my inner feelings for him, I simply did not appear for one paper in the exam

I had dressed for school as usual and carried all exam material, but I did not go to school. I wasted time in the sprawling maidan in front of Red Fort. It is a treeless open are and the beating sun made me look sick. By the time I reached home, I actually had fever. I went home and announced that I had missed exam as I was sick. I was surprised that this time my action hit Bull’s Eye. There was no whipping, no kicking , not even shouting. Father realised that I had done this on purpose in response to his atrocities. This brought out our cold war in public eyes and even the land-lord, a Mr Mehra who was about sixty or seventy or whatever.

That night I wanted to end all this. After dark as the family was preparing for dinner in hushed silence, I went out on the roof. I removed all my clothes except the Khaki school shorts and climbed up on the parapet. As I reflected for a few moments before I would leap I saw Mr. Mehra standing near the gate and looking up at me. His hands were folded and I saw his eyes pleading for me to reconsider. I asked him to move away, but he lay down prostrate, his hands still folded. I stepped off the parapet. No one spoke of this again. I sat down and began to cry.

What ever was the realization, Father swung it some how and we moved into a proper type IV Government quarters in Kaka Nagar. The next three years were the smoothest time I had and Managed to pass the Higher Secondary with reasonable marks. I sensed it was a lull and had tried to be nice to all, even to Father. Then I ran around and IIT Delhi had come up with an Electronics Engineering course, I applied. Those days all students who elected for Engineering degrees were interested in Civil, mechanical or Electrical streams, no one wanted to experiment with Electronics.

Meanwhile Father received his Posting orders to Pune. I requested that I be permitted to stay on and complete the course but nothing came out of it. We moved to Pune.

For some reason my electing for the course reignited the hate between us. There were more showdowns between us and I thought if I repeated the Class ten exam drop, I might have my way, after all I was past eighteen then. But that didn’t work out and began squirm in my skin to get away from the family. The 1962 Goa Action had happened and 11965 Pakistan war scenario was building up. I secretly applied for selection to Air Force and was selected. There was another round of debates, arguments and counter arguments. But at last, I was on the train to Coimbatore to join the initial training. Time passed and we lived happily, I away from the Father and the Father away from me.

Cadets Passing out is perhaps the biggest event where a lad becomes a man, an Officer in The armed forces. The Air Force invited the parents of the Cadets to this prestigious Landmark in ones life. Father too got his invitation and he even confirmed his willingness. But as we marched into the Dawn of a Carrier and assembled as Officers, my eyes kept searching for my Father. He never came. The distance of all these years now became so much that it appeared like Heaven and Earth- the twain shall never meet! I blamed the Chacha even more and some-how softened towards my Father for his queer behaviour. The next six years went eventless as I was in my Posting Place in Assam and he in Delhi. There were no interactions and communications were in form of letters between Mother and self. I was neither invited for family get togethers nor I got news of any eventualities. The news of my Maternal grandfather came to me on the first day of the 1971 war, leave was out of question.

Six years of peaceful living were probably the best time I had, but soon there was a pressure to get me married and soon after the war I got my posting orders to Delhi. Delhi, where Father was already posted. I booked in to the Air Force mess and did not plan to stay with them. They had a huge Bungalow in Lodhi Estate with five bed-rooms. This caused some tension and I adopted maunvrata towards their calls on phone. Then two things happened in quick succession, one that Father got a heart attack and soon after Mother was diagnosed with stomach ailment that needed surgery.

I was 28 years old by now and felt the need for a wife too. I responded to a matrimonial in the Newspaper and landed up in Moradabad to finalise my wedding. Side by side, wedding efforts were on in my Father’s house and was convinced that I see another girl in Aligarh. I conceded and went there with my younger sister with the aim that I will say ‘No’. This was a Godly desire and I blurted ‘Yes’. In the next 15 days I was married to her.

One day before the marriage, Mother was admitted to the Hospital and she did not attend the marriage. At the wedding site, Father proposed that I stay with them after marriage and other relatives too intervened. I submitted another, ‘Yes’.

On the tenth day Father produced a register of expenses and asked me to pay up. This surprised me but I paid up. His next bomb-shell was to order that I look for accommodation elsewhere and leave within a week. My newly wedded wife had no idea what she had landed in. I joined back office and moved to a Government quarters. I was now closeted with a brand new wife, no money and a household yet to be set up. I must praise my wife, she somehow set up things and we were soon living happily. Then came our first child and then a posting to Assam. The unpleasantness of our marriage times never subsided though it became less intense.

Years later, I met Father again with my family as I was posted to Delhi a second time. This time Father insulted my Father in law in front of my wife and there was a huge decision for me to take. I confronted Father and told him to apologise, He threw me out of his house. Period. He categorically told me that he severed relations with me from himself and the rest of the family. I obliged to stay away and gave in writing that I wanted no part of his wealth.

I am deliberately ending this story abruptly as then the effect of my Father’s ire was never cast om family. Even though I was present at the crematorium I did not perform his last rites. I never came to know when Mother too died. Then in 2006 I lost my wife and I………

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