Anyone who has ever known my grandfather well can attest to the grace of his handwriting. While his aura is more than enough to give one the feeling of being around someone great, and his speech is harmoniously precise, it is his writing that will truly imbibe upon you the grace of his persona. It is the script of a man who cannot be lethargic; the particulars of it cannot be described, only witnessed. Nanaji’s handwriting is never informal.
The weather here in Austin, Texas has always been known to be somewhat sporadic, however as we approach the end of October, the high temperatures finally have begun to fall. It has always been the case that with the approach of cooler weather, there comes a desire to spend more time in warm company. It was on one of these occasions, that our house bustled in the after-glow of a small party. After dinner, I quickly retired to my own room under some pretense, not having any particular desire to socialize with the elders. It was not due to any lack of respect, they were all warm and friendly people. Rather, it was the dull repetition of previous conversations that bored me. I greatly liked and admired my family’s friends, but I did not share a friendship with them as my parents did. There wasn’t much that was new for us to discuss, and their questions of my academic progress did not appeal to me. I knew my mistakes. For this reason, perhaps stubbornly, I preferred solitude, and was reading a book to pass some time, when I heard Nanaji’s steps coming up the stairs. As usual, he wanted to browse the headlines of newspapers around the world via my computer, and I gladly assisted him in his reading. I was always eager to help him, whether by manual labor in the yard or otherwise; being of his service was always my pleasure. The book I was reading still occupied my mind, like the pages of a story slowly falling, trailing their way to the ground. I found myself looking up at my grandfather and wondering more about his character.
I tried to locate the earliest memories of Nanaji; I have always adored and respected him. I think back to the mid-90’s. He had plans to visit our family in Minsk, Belarus where my father’s job had led us. At the time, it didn’t seem like a big deal to me. Before he came, he had sent me a birthday card, which I still have to this day. Being much more introspective than the average 8-year old, it made a huge impression on me. I remember noticing his impeccable handwriting, each letter looking as if a royal typewriter had stamped it, yet with the finesse that can only come from a human hand. I remember making a silly, but very serious, promise to myself to that day to have handwriting just as grand. As Nanaji slowly finished on my computer, I took a new initiative and asked him about his life. It was an open-ended question, with no real intentions or expectations, only a pensive curiosity to know him better. He seemed pleased by my effort, and so with the distinctive clearing of his throat, he began to paint a picture of his youth, more than 80 years ago.
“Now, when I think back, I see a lot of dark spots and also very bright spots in my life.” He starts with a quiet tone. “Well, the beginning is not so bright because I happen to have been born in a family in a very remote village of UP, which did not have a lot of encouraging achievements to start with. In my village there was only an elementary school. After that I had to go away from my village in another town or city, for high school and college on. So that is the sort of start I had to make. The other disquieting feature and which really bogged me down a lot is that I had two parents – one of which never went to school. My mother, I mean; and she did not have the basic elements of giving me education at home. My father, though, having some education, did not have time because he was working in a workshop in a nearby city – Lucknow. He used to go early in the morning, and come late in the evening. By that time I was too tired, and most of the time I was sleeping when he came.” Nanaji pauses here, slowly taking the time to think back on his father. I stay quiet, not wanting to interrupt his thoughts. He continues, “So, that’s how I remember my childhood. These two disquieting features were, I can say, drawbacks – and made a desire in me that I would not have done normally. I had to make my own class, so I decided very early in my childhood to be always thinking ahead, always utilizing my time to the best I could, and that helped me a lot in later years.
“So, to make myself precise, I passed from elementary school education in my village, and then I had to move to another city far away from my village to attend high school. At that time, it was a big thing to get into high school, which I did. And because I had a propensity, and a need, a desire to make up the loss, I jumped TWO classes in one year. I was promoted to the next class, having not even completed the first class in time. I started in the 3rd standard, and the next year I was in 5th. So 3 and 4 I completed in one year, itself.”
At this revelation of his past, I can’t help but smile, joining him in his memories. I think of telling him that I skipped the very same grade in my youth, but decide not to, as he continues.
“So from then onwards, and as I said before, I did not have much of a basic input from my village. As the change would have it, I was staying with my grandparents. From whom I only remember my grandmother. My grandfather passed away very soon after I arrived there. And once again my grandmother was never educated in a school, so she could not give me any help in the real sense of the word. So, I fell back on my teachers. I used to spend as much time as I could with them, to understand and grasp whatever they were going to tell me and teach me, and help me understand. I did pretty well! And I completed that process of conquering high school, passed out. Then I had to look for college. The college was not in that city at all; it was in another big city, a sort of metropolis. So I had to shift again from the small town, to a bigger city. That is the capital of UP, Lucknow. And there I got admitted in a college nearby to my home. I was always interested to read and understand and grasp as much as possible of the sciences. I had an inbuilt desire to enter a medical profession. So I took biology, along with physics, and chemistry, and English of course, which was compulsory at that time.
“Well, it was not so difficult, and because I did grasp some basic elements of scientific thought, I could do pretty well in those two years of college. I passed out from there also and had to go to a university. And as I understand it now, it was a sort of a wrong move from my side – because I had to get into a medical college. I should have started preparing for that. Instead I jumped into other classes, of zoology, botany, and chemistry. And even at that time I had no parental or grandparental guidance, so I was totally on my own. Getting by with a little tuition, and help from others.”
At this point in our conversation, I could hear someone else coming up the stairs. My aunt, Nanaji’s third child, appeared at the door. To be polite, she waited more than a few minutes to say what she had come to relay, but eventually was drawn into the story and sat on the ground next to me. He continued, “After my interim year, I faced the examination, a combined examination for some medical colleges, and at that time it was pretty hard. Because I did not have that preparation, I could not get through it. So I continued my education in the university, and completed my BSC. It was a not a very smooth sailing because, as I said before, there was a basic disconnect. Normally people who go to college and university always have some sort of atmosphere at home where they have some encouragement or some sort of input and some sort of a arrangement in the home to understand and expand more what they have learned in the class. In my case it was not there, totally not there. So all I could do was sit with some friends or classmates somewhere, if possible, and make as much of the classroom notes as possible.
“I did not do very well, I did not get very good grades in the division in the university, but anyway I passed out again in the given amount of time. And then I was preparing for my next class in zoology, because I always had that urge to go into the medical line. Zoology was one, which could have given me the basic ingredients to enter a medical profession. I hardly had spent even half the time, and then I just saw an advertisement in the papers for a new sort of a career opening up. And since I was my own counsel (I had no other person to guide me) I jumped into that spot and appeared for an interview. Ha! It was again a miracle that I was selected out in that position, to undergo training in Dehradun, far away from my place of residence, and from my place of birth. I had to leave my studies unfinished, and then, without any much of preparation, I moved on to get my basic training in a new cotton industry by the name of sericulture. At that time it was not even properly understood by many people in the state. It was an absolutely new venture and because UP has the advantage of some good climate in the foothills – Dehradun is one, Arizwan is another. So, people in the department thought this could be a very good beginning. And I had the good fortune of being in the very first batch of people who were taken in for training, and later on a successful career in that industry.
“As chance would have it, I was there for only a couple of months. I was staying in a semi-city sort of environment near Dehradun. There was a small farm. I did not know much about it at that time so I was just wandering and understanding, trying to grab as much as possible that I could of that knowledge. So, that is how I started. It was about rearing silk worms inside. That is the type of work I was supposed to be doing.
“I think, just while I was going through that basic course, I mean the field course I should say – I got, through my department, a message that I should be ready to go for higher training, in Japan. Well it was a big surprise and really a message from the blue, because I never could imagine that I would be leaving the country. What to say of my village, or the city. But here it was, since I was selected and since I had the state patronage, I should have, but I could not have said no. So I had to prepare myself for the journey onwards, do my training, and finish at that time.”
We had lost track of time, and despite having sat for the better part of an hour, I felt as if his story had come to an abrupt stop. Naniji, my grandmother, had been calling for us downstairs, and I helped to see them out. I was very much still in the trance of my grandfather’s tale. I have never once stopped respecting the man that he is, but the story I heard tonight that told of his youth, his inspirations, and his determinations, made it all too clear. His voice was not very different from the one that is in my own conscience – telling me what is right and wrong, telling me never to give up, telling me to stand up for what I believe in, and to relentlessly go after what I want.
It was my own voice that kept quiet, these past three years. I did not waste most of that time; in fact I spent most of it working extremely hard. A full-time job at a high-end resort as a valet, room-service attendant, and bellman kept me very busy, and very well paid. In the evenings I would take all the cash I had made and spend lavishly in the lifestyle I had chosen. No, those years were not a mistake – how could they be? I learned many lessons, made many strong friendships, and even paid off most of my debts. However, I was living a lie. I lied to many people about my situation, but the gravest mistake was lying to myself – convincing my own mind that there was nothing to worry about. I had gone to San Antonio to pursue an education, a bachelor’s degree at the University – and so I foolishly kept my enrollment. I wasted thousands of dollars in tuition, while racking up a considerable number of F’s. My deceit to myself, that none of it really mattered, was ignorant and stupid. For that instance in time, I had convinced myself that what I wanted out of life had nothing to do with my transcript. I was so far from my potential; in retrospect, I silently cursed my stubbornly narcissistic nature.
It is hard for me to imagine Nanaji in his village, travestying the dusty roads to get places. I picture the lush greenery that must have surrounded him, and how he must have found motivation to be more than what he was born into. He said he had always wanted to be a doctor, I never knew that! I imagine him with his friends in Lucknow, what did they do for fun? Suddenly I realize I have never seen Nanaji without a full-grown beard, as far back as I can remember. As I pack my bags for the next day, I laugh, thinking of him without one. It just seems unnatural. I smile, as an earlier memory resurfaces in my mind, with Nanaji tickling me with the rough bristles of his chin.
“I remember now, as I look back, there was another conflict that I had to factor at that time. In that very early stage of my training, or start of a career, I also was, uh, trying to know more of a girl in the same place. And I wanted to be more, sort of a, person around her, at that time.” Sitting at the foot of his couch, 4 blocks away from my own home, I silently smile at his careful choice of words. This time my grandmother, Naniji, is sitting along for the story as well, but it doesn’t seem to have any affect on Nanaji. He continues, as if it were just the two of us. “I wanted to be spending as much time as possible, that also was cut short – because I had to leave that place altogether, for many months. So it was another complication. But nevertheless, the orders of the department stated that I had to go and I had no other excuse to offer. So leaving Dehradun again, I went to my village to tell my parents that I am going to be away for a couple of months.” He pauses here for a second, and I look up from my notes. “It was a very strange circumstance because I had never before been trained or guided, or even told, that I will be making a journey outside of the country – but that was not the point. The point was that I had to move, and move fast, because there was a team of people going from all states. UP was one of the states, Punjab was another, and Assam was another going to Japan for training. I was one of them. And they all left; because these were people who had a lot of experience in this industry. I was just at the beginning of the process.” He pauses again. “But again I had no other choice, so,” he laughs, “without a passport, without any knowledge of a country I’m going to be in – I wanted to take some time, but time was not much.
“There was a very short time at my disposal. And the funny thing is that when I got ready, with my small trunk, I was at that time having no other baggage. Just a trunk, a steel trunk, a small trunk. I was taking it with me, it was a funny arrangement. But that was the fact of life. I had no passport. So I told the person who was my superior that I have no passport, I can’t go. He said no, no, no, don’t worry. He made a call to somebody, and then – because he was the secretary of the UP department, a big shot. He was very much respected, and complied with. So the other guy made my passport then and there, gave it to me. He took one day. And again, because the team had left, I had to hurry up to Calcutta, from where I was asked to take the flight. I was in Lucknow, stuck there, getting my passport.
“When I got the passport, I had to make a decision how to reach Calcutta. And the flights are only on some days, not every day. I was told clearly that if you don’t show up on that date at that time, then you can’t go! It was a very difficult situation, absolutely frustrating. But then, as I say, I have no person to guide me. So, my father only told me to not go by train because there’s no time. It takes two days for a train to reach Calcutta from Lucknow. You can only do one thing, you can only fly. Take an airplane, and go, and reach in time for the flight to be sure. Then I purchased a ticket from Lucknow to Calcutta. Dum-Dum Airport, that was the name of the airport at the time. So I landed in Dum-Dum. And the thing I remember now is that the flight was almost ready to leave when I reached the airport. Well, I boarded the flight. I still remember that I got a seat next to an American lady who was very senior in age. I was very junior in age at that time. But we started talking, and I could relate to her some things, which I wanted to boast about. Well, she was laughing all the time.
“Now, the flight had to be short because there it was a bad weather, and it was Hong Kong where we landed. And there was no other flight at that time, it was a bad weather! So they put me in a hotel. The hotel was a big, very luxurious hotel. Well, I never saw even a big city – what to say of a hotel. And there were all the other people. All the other passengers, like me, were there. I was given a big room with a lot of furniture and very fancy equipment, toiletries and everything else.” Nanaji pauses here, and laughs at the absurdity of the situation. I can see him remembering back through the years, and sit quietly, afraid to break his train of thought. “I couldn’t make much use of it,” he says, “but anyway I spent the night there. Afterwards I got a haircut there, because I never had time to get my hair cut in Lucknow. So the next morning I boarded another plane, this time from Hong Kong to Tokyo. The weather was still bad, but anyway the captain took off, and it was a good flight. No problem.
“The next thing I remember is landing in Tokyo airport. Haneda Airport is the name of the place I had to land in. Now the story is becoming more funny, and more tragic. I’m in a land where I have no idea about; I have no currency of that land. I never bothered to take the currency in time, I was running around. In my port of entry, I just had some Indian Rupees. But in Japan, no one cares about Indian Rupees, no one wants them! So my Rupees were useless. And now I am going to be in Japan so I should have Yen, I don’t have any Yen! And that day was a Sunday, I could not expect to be talking to anybody. The embassy was even closed at that time. Now it is a real hazard. A real trouble, because I have no Japanese currency, I don’t know the language, I don’t know the place, and I am just stuck. But there is a message and they played the message on the speaker system, that ‘Mr. C.L. Verma, coming from Calcutta, should proceed to the Tokyo YMCA. Arrangements for his stay have been made there.’ So there was my tip. Now how to reach Tokyo YMCA from the airport, I had no idea.
“Now I understand there a lot of choices, people travel by train, they go by busses which are cheaper. Instead, I just happened to get into a taxi, a very big taxi. I had not much luggage. Just a small tin box, that’s all. So, the Japanese driver, I think did not want to talk to me because his language was not what I could understand. My language he could not understand either. In Japan they don’t speak much English much, at that time it was like that. So, he took me all the way and dropped me at the YMCA gate, and just, uh, showed his meter, that this is the meter reading. You have to pay this amount of money – in Yen, of course, in Japanese Yen. I had no Yen at that time! Now this is a really, very, very tense situation. I’m supposed to be paying him, I can’t refuse to pay him, I rode his taxi! This is a genuine demand from him that he has to pay! But my situation is that I don’t have money to pay! All the money I have is not usable here. So when I entered the gate of the YMCA and wanted to look around, I saw a fellow. A Sardar was his name, he later became my colleague and partner. At that time he was moving in the yard with only a loincloth, nothing else. I wanted to talk to him, but he said ‘No, no, no! Don’t talk to me! I’m already in trouble! We’re all in trouble here in Tokyo! Don’t talk! Don’t talk!’ Ohhh, that was the real shock. I can’t talk to him, I can’t talk to anybody, I don’t know anybody here. At that time I was absolutely at my wit’s end. I could not imagine what to do, I could not think of any alternative or anything better to do. I stood there like a statue, for some time. Then a Chinese fellow came, I don’t remember his name now. At that time I saw him just a good person coming and he said, ‘What is the problem?’ I said the problem is that I don’t have the Yen to pay this Japanese driver right away. He said, ‘So? You don’t have Yen?’ I said, no I don’t. He says, ‘You should have thought about this before getting into the taxi, but never mind.’ He just made some talk, small talk, with the receptionist of the YMCA, who was Chinese again. And that girl immediately paid me some Yen, enough to pay the taxi fare. So that was the end of the story – the first part, the most un-thought, unchartered, unscheduled, unplanned, unexpected chapter.”
Walking home, I realize I have never thought of my grandparents romancing each other, and the thought of it surprisingly doesn’t shock me. Even though I had always assumed they had had an arranged marriage, I find I’m happy to know it was more than that. I think of the young lady that I myself am ‘trying to be around.’ I don’t know whether to pin the similarities of the two situations to the natural habits of women worldwide, or the parallels between my grandfather and myself. This time, I take my time strolling through my neighborhood, and I think on what it must have been like to take an adventure as Nanaji did at his age. Ironically, I am the same age as he was when he left his country – what have I done to be proud of today? I’m disappointed to not have an answer for myself. I travelled extensively as a kid, but that was only due to my father’s employment with the Indian consulate. As I get home and settle down for dinner with my parents, my thoughts are still somewhere between Lucknow and Tokyo. Nanaji kept saying he was immature, but despite being inexperienced, in a new industry, and leaving his home for the first time, he had accomplished so much at his age. In fact, I only have him to thank for where I am today. My parents go about their nightly chores, and I realize that they too have so much to thank him for. He was the one of the first among our family to migrate to Austin, and eventually sponsor my mom and our family to join the family here. I silently make a promise to myself to make strides just as great as his, so that my own spawn can proudly look back too, and say with confidence that their father was a great man. I hope I have better progress with this promise than the one about my handwriting.
The next day, Nanaji continues, “The next thing I remember there, being in Tokyo for so many months, is that I made some friends, good friends. There was a German – forest officer – who was undergoing some training in Japan for forestry. And he was a smart guy! He said that he doesn’t want to eat outside because it is costly. Tokyo is always very costly. Whether it is home prices, or food prices, it is always very costly. So he said ‘I don’t want to waste any money here in this country, so I bring my food, mostly some non-veg. Chicken, and lamb, and beef, whatever, and I cook in my own room.’ I was not going down that path, so I had to go to the nearest eatery for my meals. And then we started going around the project of training – sometimes in Tokyo, sometimes outside Tokyo.
“All those things I can just only remember now. But one thing is there, at that time, I had some very good friends in the batch I was a member of. One was Mr. Thakral from Punjab. He was a nice guy, very senior in age. But he was jovial, very jovial. Another, of course, was my ex-teacher, B.B. Roy. I had been his student when I was training in Calcutta, so I knew him. And there was another guy, Dr. Chatterjee – no, Chaudhry. Rai Chaudhry, who I also met while I was in training in Bahrampur. So that made me quite comfortable.” Nanaji is lost in his thoughts of the past, and I don’t dare disturb him. I just sit back and thoroughly enjoy his recollections of the past.
“Company was good, we used to move in a hired vehicle all the time. You would be surprised to know that in Japan they know English. They understand English, they read English, make a good grade in English, but they don’t speak English. They speak only in Japanese. So we are at the mercy of interpreters. And in my team, there were two interpreters. And we always moved, and they will always come with us. Because everywhere, in a shop or factory, or hall, they have to translate our things to the people, and they have to translate their thoughts back to us. It was not too bad. It was pretty good, actually speaking. And every morning we are ready to go, to some place. Most of the time it is an office, or a hall, or a factory.
“The silk industry of Japan is very advanced, very organized, very many things I had to understand in the first instance and then grasp the meaning. I have a lot of experiences and a lot of memories of that period, and then we are also taken out, off and on to small villages, where they are actually rearing the silk worms in their own homes. The thing I remember today is the amount of attention they give to their industry. Unlike our country, where people are mostly callous and sometimes they are careless, sometimes they are just ignorant.” He says this with a furrowed brow. I realize he is coming to a sensitive subject that he has given much thought on. “In Japan, people who do this sort of practice in their homes are very, very careful. They are absolutely attentive and very organized. So they don’t fail in their task. The crops always yield good harvest. In our country, on the other hand, till today, there have been a lot of failures. Almost every state, whether it is Mysore, or whether it is west Bengal, there have been a lot of failures. So, now you can imagine, you can understand, the attention and the importance it was given. In the royal palace of Tokyo, the Emperor himself, used to pay visits to a small room where they are rearing silk worms. Not because he is a farmer, or he is good, no! Just to make it respectable, and to make it look that it deserves attention. He was very meticulous to have a small portion of his big palace devoted and given to silk worm rearing. That was the most revealing factor, astonishing I could say! But that was the fact! The other thing I remember about that country and the people is that they are always talking about exporting something. Always talking about export.” The mood lightens here, and Nanaji laughs to himself. “In my state, there is no question of export, because we are just starting to know what sericulture is all about. And we had no machinery or anything else. But those guys never missed a chance to speak about export. Wherever it was, whether a party or function or a classroom, exports always came up.
“So, about the training…about 6 months I spent there. Not a small time. And I had experience of very hot weather in August, and very cold weather in December, January, and February. The most curious part is that I never had it before in India, but there I cultivated a particular passion for photography. I was always taking pictures, all the time. I have a lot of pictures in my albums, of that place and the people around.” At this, I notice that Naniji has been rummaging around for something, and she pulls out an aged photograph, and shows it to me with a smile. There is Nanaji, standing at the Tokyo zoo next to a striped Tiger in his cage. He looks much younger, with a larger frame and very handsome. His beard is completely black and much thicker. I realize I’ve been staring at the picture, and turn back to the man next to me. He continues. “And, uh, let me mention here, again, as I said before, in a little interruption that I was talking and spending time with a girl in Dehradun, I still continued to correspond in my own way, and in my own leisure, and I used to receive letters from her also, sometimes. Well, time flew like anything.
“From August till February, it was a very hurried assignment, from place to place to place to place. Some things I still remember, a lot of things I forgot. What I remember, till today, is a very candid and a very heart warming episode. When I was staying in YMCA, I used to eat out because YMCA eating canteen was not good for me. There was a lot of beef. I don’t eat beef, and they didn’t have much else to offer. So I used to go to a nearby eatery, a very small place. I was the only one who was going there, the others did not go. There in that small eatery, I made a friendly contact with one girl. I don’t remember her name now, but she was really very good and smart.” I feel a bit uncomfortable at this point, but only because I don’t know how I am supposed to feel. I’ve never been in this situation before, and especially never with my grandparents! I wonder what it would have been like back then, and if the situation was not so different than one I have had with my own lady. Naniji doesn’t seem to be bothered by it at all, so I turn back to Nanaji. He reveals, “And she became sort of interested in me. When I went to Tokyo, I mean Kyoto, a far away place in the south, for training, she went there alone, on her own, to join me there in my stay in Kyoto. It was a very awkward situation! It was winter. And uh, it was pretty cold. Kyushu is the state in which Kyoto is an important town. Kyushu is not very cold, but pretty cold. It is in the south, extreme south. Well living there for some days, and the girl arrives there. I was simply surprised to see her, but because I knew her before, and I didn’t know what she wanted to do. But perhaps she had some free time, and found some time and money to come to Kyoto, from Tokyo! A long distance! She stayed two nights there, I think. Then I had to hurry back to Tokyo for my next assignment. Of course she came with me, in the same compartment. And uh, we talked from, I don’t remember much. But we did talk about all those things. So that thing I still remember. It was a very unplanned development, but that’s how it all happened.
“At the end of my 6-month period, I was able to find a place to stay in someone’s home. That is not a part of the training but I wanted to know how the people live there, how they do their things in such an orderly way. So I chose a small family, not a very big family, who had a small house in Tokyo. Just like any other place in Japan, it was a very congested living. They don’t have big homes, like Americans. They are always very small homes. And they make use of that room for two or three things! So, I stayed there in a home and there were small children, and old ladies, everything like any normal family. With my broken Japanese, I had learned some Japanese also, by the way, here and there, so we could pull on – good times. So that is the short rendering of the story of my deportation, and my training in Japan.
“When I came back, because I had to, my time was over, they wouldn’t pay me anymore. You’ll be surprised to know, that with a small amount of 28 dollars per day – it is the situation in 1954, ’55. That is the time. I went in ’54 August, came back in ’55. So, I had to come back.” At this point, Naniji looks up with a smile, and interjects with a comment. Nanaji laughs. “Oh, yes that is another foolishness, as always. I had so much luggage. I had acquired so many things in Japan, with that small amount I could save money, and make purchases. Lot of purchases. Some things I could bring with me, some I could not. The big things, I could not bring by aircraft, so they had to come by sea. So first I reached Calcutta. Then I was put again in a very big hotel, a grand hotel, absolutely a 5-star hotel. Of course it is an Indian setting, so I knew the faces, and I did not have any trouble moving around, as it is. The next day I caught a train ticket to Dehradun, and it was a nice trip.”
He clears his throat, and continues, “Now, reaching Dehradun, as I have said before in a brief statement, the girl was still there, waiting for me. So I had to make my self visible, and because it was a long wait, so it was again a very cold time. There was cold weather in Dehradun at that time. I remember I was wearing a long coat. And when I went to their house, I was wearing that long coat.” Now all three of us in the room have wide smiles on our faces, and Nanaji laughs as he continues, “Yeah. And the girl was there, I could reach her, and explain some things, lot of things I could not. Then life became again, normal.
“Now, coming back to my official work… As I went out for training I was an inspector, only an inspector. And trained in Japan also, that was an addition qualification I acquired. Then for some months, I continued as inspector. I don’t know, as it happened everywhere, promotions are there. So I was promoted to the next step of the hierarchy, and that is the superintendent of sericulture, again, a pretty good shot. At that time, there was only that much of an opening, not much. It was still a scheme in UP, no department, just a scheme. The government wanted to run this scheme for some time and see, if we can do it, if we can be popular, if it can be productive, if it is going to be feasible in that climate and that situation. So it was only a scheme. So, I continued there as a superintendent.” He chuckles, “Now, I’ll tell you something again, very funny. After the trip to Japan, I was supposed to be writing a report, about my experiences, the things I learned, and the things I’d like to implement here in this country. That report should have been sent with a due date, I did not do that. I fell short of that, and I got one, two, three telegraphs – that you have to hurry up! Send the report! And because I was uh, not so accomplished at that time, and I didn’t have much time also, in that time in my life, I did not sit down and write that report. The things became so complicated, that even my superiors in my department told me bluntly: ‘Hey, why don’t you write some bloody abuses in that paper and throw it out! Because they are pressing me, and I can’t justify you’re silence!’” Nanaji laughs, “So, I hurriedly started writing, and I wrote about 100 pages. I always do. Even now. My letters are always long, not small. That was it, I never heard back what they wanted to tell me. This is how it is, bureaucracy, anywhere, everywhere. They only want the paper to be received, that’s all. ‘Has it come? Yes, then its ok. No? Remind him! Thrash him out! Why isn’t he sending?’ So, that was that. So, more clearly things I remember now, although lot of time has passed, is that I wanted to absolve some of the methods I learned there, though it was not proper, it was not possible, it was never encouraged they didn’t want to do it that way. Because here things are complicated, and there is so much wastage in everything we do, as the government, useless I should say. But that is the way things are going.
“So, most of the time the things we’re of no avail, absolutely of no use. That six-month period I spent there did not take me anywhere. I kept running the department to the best of my capacity, and then because I was so new, and because I was so young, and immature, I should say. The department did not trust me, a lot. And sometimes they didn’t even like my approach, my ideas. Because I was saying something, which was new to them, they didn’t understand. They didn’t want to be disturbed and rattled! So they thrust another fellow, from somewhere, another department, another sort of discipline, not sericulture, not sericulture, not at all. It was a woolen industry department; they found a man, and thrust him upon us. He was the ADI. So he came. His name was Dhondian. A hill man. He did not know anything about sericulture, not a damned thing. But, he became the ADI anyway. So he was calling the shots. It went on topsy-turvy for a couple of years. Not one or two months, about three years he dragged on like that! Then finally people in the higher positions realized that this is a waste, total waste and nothing is coming out properly. The government is spending money; they are not getting results, all those things. So they then discovered,” Nanaji says this with a smile, “that, well, the fellow is there, why don’t we try him out? And as the chance would have it, I came back in ’55, and it was ’58, three years had already passed, in the month of August on the 11th August 1958, that I had been made the ADI, Assistant Director of Industries. They promoted me, so the other fellow was not anymore there. He could not do anything. This date was very important because this is the date my second child was born, in Delhi. That is Babli. And, I was in Dehradun, my wife was in Delhi. She can’t come to rejoice in my promotion, but then, that is how life goes. Ah, yes. So, now things look very odd and out of place, but in my case, they were very important. I had been given this position because I was sent out, and I learned these things, and in that exact place, I came out on top.”
Nanaji stops here, and the room is silent for a few seconds. There is so much that I never knew of this man, but his stories paint a picture that is not far from what I had imagined. He remains, sitting on his throne, in peace and still happily thinking of his past glorious years. He is the embodiment of what I want to be, a strong, confident, and successful man with more than a few twinkles in his eye and his beard. Naniji gets up to start doing some work around the house but I stay seated, not quite yet wanting to leave. I am not sure what to say, but I am eager to document the body of knowledge he has bestowed upon me through his stories. I am positive that he could go on about many more episodes of his life in which he prevailed, but I will save that for another day. His promotion to one of the topmost positions in a department on the day of my own mother’s birth will do for now. I want to make more promises to myself to be more like him, I want to learn more from him, and mold my outlook on life after him, but I know that I can’t lose myself in the past. I have to take his story and instill it in me, but live in the present.
As we slowly make our way to the door, Nanaji turns to me and says, “Srajan, you have made some mistakes. It’s perfectly ok! Everyone makes mistakes, I myself made many mistakes. The important thing is to learn from it, and grow from it! I know you have seen a few hardships, which is ok too, since you were occupied in other things – you have suffered. But see, that is the beauty of the matter! You can only go up from here, think about it! Ok?” I nod my head in agreement, and try not to get too emotional. I know I’ve made more than just a few mistakes, and my grandfather’s love for me is palpable in the way that he encourages me to be stronger, despite those foolish choices. I make a prayer for God to mold me after him, and I swear to not let him down, to not let myself down. Gathering my things I step out into the cool night, and slip on my shoes. He only told me about three or four years of his youth, but I walk away feeling a much stronger connection to my grandfather. Feeling better equipped to live my own life, I pick up the pace, eager for the journey ahead of me.
Originally written in December, 2011