My grandparents shifted from Ichapur to Kanpur when they were in their thirties. The reason for this relocation was my grandfather’s transfer to the ordnance factory. My father was born and grew up at Kanpur.
I am told Baba was among the brightest students in his school. Thanks to my grandma, the atmosphere in the house was mostly musical with a sense of happiness all around. Visits from our relatives from Kolkata were a regular feature adding to the joyous mood. The joyous atmosphere peaked during the Durga Puja days. Those few days, and the days preceding them were altogether different.
My grandfather used to be totally into Durga Puja preparations. The cultural aspects of the Durga Puja celebration used to be taken care of by my grandmother. In short, Durga Puja in Armapur was incomplete without my grandparents. I wasn’t even born then. I have heard all these stories innumerable times from various people.
The untimely demise of my grandfather was a big jolt for everyone. The happiness which was part of our home just went away. My father could not complete his studies. It is not exactly right to say that he could not complete his studies. He did complete his education, but not what he wanted to or was capable of. In spite of getting all India Rank of 361 in the IIT’s Joint Entrance Examination (JEE), my father could not take admission at IIT due to financial constraints that emerged from the sudden passing away of my grandfather. With a heavy heart, my father completed graduation with Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics, and then Masters in Chemistry. After doing M.Sc. he got a job in the government laboratory as a chemist. After two years into his job, he got married to Ma. I came into their lives two years hence.
My grandfather was certain about one thing. He knew that his son will make him proud one day. My grandfather’s untimely death changed the whole spectrum of the household. No man can be stronger than his destiny. With this thought my grandma used to shed a silent tear, but kept herself strong. My father has never been able to forget that he could not study in the IIT. He used to draw solace and build an expectation by seeing me. He saw his unfulfilled dream getting its due in me.
There are some who start preparing for their daughter’s marriage as soon as they are born. My father did not possess this mentality, but in my case, it would take somewhat similar shape. His sole mission of life was to prepare me for the IIT JEE. He just saw to it that the right atmosphere at home is available to me to achieve the end goal, and that was my admission to IIT.
Cutting down on all frivolous expenses were one such thing. I was put into a good school. The school fee was beyond my father’s capacity. No expense for my education was either beyond his reach, or considered frivolous.
Ma and grandma were mere spectators. All decisions regarding me were taken only by my father. Both ma and grandma were allowed to pamper and love me, as long as it did not become an obstruction to my studies.
The world of Baba centered around me. He would go to work and come back home. He had no friend. He did not want to disturb my schedule due to their visits to our place. I felt baffled at times that neither ma nor grandma ever felt bad about all that was happening to me as well as them. Baba had no time for ma. Probably he felt it was a sheer wastage of time. I guess, ma told herself when the time is appropriate Baba would give time to her. By then it might be too late, she must also have thought.
Right from my younger days, I did not allow my father’s faith and trust in me to waver. I passed tenth class with good marks. Baba was happy with my progress. Was I happy? I don’t know. And how does it matter, whether I was happy or not. No one ever asked me what I wanted in life. I was supposed to fulfill my father’s dream. Honestly, I did not even know what I wanted.
When I came to eleventh class, I felt as if I am preparing myself to be a part of a big battle. There are two things one need to know before engaging oneself for a battle. One is his strength, physical as well as mental and secondly correct judgment about the opponent. I started preparing myself for the impending battle that lay in front. What lay ahead was daunting. I was told to increase my vigour and preparedness for the battle.
During the preparation stage, I had to let go off a few things that were close to my heart, like meeting friends, watching movies, playing cricket, and listening to music. I was told that instead of focusing on getting high scores in twelfth class, it was wiser to concentrate on getting a high rank in IIT JEE. I was told that the tricks of cracking JEE were not taught in school. For learning them one needed to enrol in a coaching institution. I was told it is important to win the war. As they say, everything is fair in love and war. My experience with love was limited, rather non-existent. I experienced war almost every day.
For instance, absence from school was justified as long as it was fruitfully utilized by spending the same time in a coaching institution. My school assured me that my absence from school would not work as a deterrent to my scholastic success. I was by then totally under the tutelage of my coaching institution. Soon after my twelfth class exams got over, I got myself totally immersed to my preparation for the upcoming JEE.
Being an introvert, I seldom heard Baba speak, unless necessary. His silence grew with each passing day. He took leave from his office so that he can be by my side, even when he was not able to give me all that was needed to reach the end goal. He did not want to leave any stone unturned for me to achieve the goal. Amidst this gruelling phase I appeared for my JEE.
Instead of me, Baba was waiting for my results. I had a sense of inner tranquil. A crust ate in peace is better than a banquet partaken in anxiety. The realization that the fight was over was the biggest relief that I felt. I was ready to accept what lay ahead irrespective of their consequences.
For a few days after the exam, I completely forgot all about JEE. I felt relieved. The war preparation made me a different species. I was again becoming myself. There was no change in Baba. He remained what he was, tense. I did well in my class twelfth class examination. Baba was keenly waiting for my JEE result.
Finally, the D-day came. I got reasonably good rank; 165, not bad. Baba seemed satisfied and happy as I did better than him. I am not sure if I did better than him. Ma distributed sweets to all our neighbours. Grandma organized Satyanarayan Katha. Baba was fighting my battle. He always felt it was his battle more than mine. He wanted to prove a point. As if he got back what he lost years ago. Winning the battle meant so much to him.
Baba did not say much. He possibly did not want to share his happiness with us. He wanted to share it with his father. I saw Baba standing in front of my grandfather’s picture. Probably, he was saying, “Don’t be disappointed Baba. So what if your son could not study in IIT, your grandson would. Shower your blessings on him.”
I saw tears trickling down Baba’s eyes. He was feeling a little embarrassed. He did not want anyone to see that he is crying. This of course was my mind’s projection. Perhaps I could read his mind correctly. I was standing just behind him. I quietly left him. I did not want to embarrass him more by seeing him crying. I left him to himself. I let him cry.
Our principal came home that day to congratulate my father. He told my father that I was the pride of the school. He complimented my father for the success of his son. The interim time, that is between the declaration of result and opening of IIT, was one of the most enjoyable times of my life. In this journey of ours, the sacrifice of two people remained practically subdued. They suffered silently. Then the time came for me to leave home.
I was leaving home for the first time. I felt Baba would now be able to give some time to ma and grandma. Ma started preparing me for my stint at the hostel. In fact, she was preparing herself more.
I will always remember my first day at IIT. Both Baba and Ma came to leave me to the hostel. We had lunch together at the dining hall of the hostel canteen. There was no class in the afternoon. We spent the whole afternoon together. As the sun started to set in, it was time for them to go home. They would not want to, but had to. Grandma was waiting impatiently to listen how the day went. She wanted to know if I missed her.
My hostel was ten km away from our home. That day a distance of ten km seemed huge to me. I had never before realized that there was so much to discuss with the people who are with us all the time but are not available. We take them for granted.
My roommate in the hostel was from Kanpur. Since his house was closer to our campus, he went home that night with his parents. He said he will start staying in the hostel from the next day. There was no one in the room. For the first time, I understood the difference between loneliness and being alone. I did not feel the need to be hesitant to cry in front of anyone. I simply cried unhesitatingly. I felt much lighter after that. I felt a strange sensation of happiness, the happiness for a new beginning, the happiness to break away from the bondage.
It was a feeling of freedom. If I have to go anywhere anytime of the day, I don’t have to ask anyone. I don’t have to tell when I will be back. I don’t have to clarify whom I am going to meet. If I have to ask anyone, it is me. I was my own master. I had brought my cycle with me to the hostel. It was 2:30 in the morning. I took my cycle to go around the campus.
When a bird is freed from its cage, it takes a while to fly again. It doesn’t happen automatically; it takes a while for the bird to get accustomed to its new-found freedom. My situation was also somewhat similar. I walked along with my cycle for a while.
I crossed one hostel after another. There was a sense of elation. After some time, I hopped onto my cycle, and started flying. This freedom taught me how to dream about my future. My inner self started speaking to me incessantly. There was so much to say, but there was no one to listen.
It was going to be morning. I started returning to my hostel. Seeing Baba so early in the morning in front of my hostel room gave me the shock of my life. The first thing that crossed my mind was—I hope everything was fine back home.
Baba was also worried seeing my room locked at such an early hour. He asked me where I was. I said I had gone for morning cycling. Our smiles said it all.
I was wrong when I said that there was no one hearing my inner self. Baba heard it. Even he didn’t sleep that night. He could not wait for the morning to arrive. He couldn’t wait for the sun to rise. I did not ask him why he came so early in the morning. He, nevertheless, started telling me that he came to find out how my first night in the hostel went. I would have understood even if he had not said anything. His eyes said it all. They said how hard he was trying to hide his emotions.
That day both of us saw together the sun rise. It did not occur to me before that sun rise can be so beautiful. The sun has no darkness in it. It is eternal righteousness.
That day did Baba see only one sun rising?