Auto-vaale Uncle

I still remember going to school on an auto-rickshaw, the rickety vehicle also known as a three-wheeler. With seating meant for 3-5 people, it would actually be filled with 12-15 kids, all barely awake up at 6 am in the morning.

During the rainy season, we would cheer as the auto-rickshaw made its way through deep trenches of water on the road, splashing muddy water on to one of us. Mondays were especially hard during the monsoons, since we wore the white ‘PT’ dress. Rain splashes were no badge of honour in the school assembly.

I have so many memories associated with my auto-rickshaw. The many dawns I’ve seen while sitting on the ‘side’. The smell of flowers early in the morning. The cool breeze as we approached the outskirts of the city. The friends, the fights, the innocence…

Yet, this blog post is not about these memories. It is about our auto-vaale-uncle ji (driver of the auto-rickshaw). I was about to go off to sleep today, when a thought about him passed through the memory lanes. The fat, friendly gentleman who would ring our bell at 6 am in the morning without fail. Who would pick up our bags, help us settle in to the rickshaw, resolve our fights, ensure that we sat safely. He was not very educated, but he helped educate tens of kids. At a salary of about 2 thousand rupees per month (~40 dollars), 10-15 years ago.

I have never thought of this man all these years, and yet this sudden memory fills me with emotions. Feelings of gratitude towards a man whose name I do not remember, but without whom I would have not made it safely to school, or resolved the countless fights with other kids, or enjoyed the morning breeze. Somewhere deep inside my heart, is a feeling of guilt. I am guilty of having lost contact with him through all these years, resigning these memories to the unimportant/trivial in life…

Here’s hoping that I get to meet him the next time I visit Amritsar.

Here’s hoping that we can all pause to remember the individuals in our lives who have helped shape who we are, and who must not be forgotten as we sail through the seas of life.

Manveen Ma’am!!!

Why?

Why?

Why?

The news of Manveen ma’am and Dr. Sandhu’s demise is beyond shocking.

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From an earlier post:
I can never think of my school days without gratitude towards the most remarkable lady I have ever met – Mrs. Manveen Sandhu. Manveen ma’am, the principal of our school, virtually held my finger to give me direction. She taught me how to pronounce properly; she guided me how to give a speech, by example. And most of all, she gave me a sense of self-belief and confidence. Thanks!
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It is hard to write now.

A Special Story

Meerowal,
Zila Shekhpura,
Station: Mehta-Sujja,
Punjab, Pakistan.
22 August, 1947. 

It was amidst the scary sound of raindrops on the roof, that Dwarka heard the Sarpanch’s voice on the loudspeaker – “Safety has become an issue, and we have decided that all Hindus must leave this place by tomorrow. Their early departure will make this area more safe, and also ensure the safety of Hindu ladies and children”. As his beeji and papaji collected all jewelery, money and foodstuff at one place, the 13-year-old Dwarka packed his schoolbag with the hope that he would come back home and attend school whenever the situation improved.

That was never to happen. In the kafila that traveled from Meerowal to Ajnala, his mom and dad were hit by a barcha (a long wooden stick, with a pointed iron tip at the end) on their heads. Master Mangal Singh, the best teacher in school, was killed by a Muslim bandook. He had been Dwarka’s favorite teacher. Overcome with anger and frustration, Dwarka told his elder brother – who was 18 years old – that he could no longer keep walking.

As the kafila came to a halt near the Ravi river, Dwarka looked at the wild currents of water, occasionally hitting strong rocks and then dying out. His elder brother threw the gathri (the knot of cotton cloth which they had been carrying) in to the river. It had all the jewelery of their mother, and 10 rupees which their father had given them. “Better to throw it here than let it go in to the hands of Muslims.” Many other people threw their gathris, gold-coins, and sometimes, even food.

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When he reached Amritsar, Dwarka barely had a pair of clothes left. Penniless and hungry, he found temporary respite at the langar in Khalsa College.

Life was to quickly take a new turn. He searched vacated Muslim homes for utencils and stole fruits from Skathri Bagh, which he would later sell in streets – an anna for each item. There were days when no one would buy, and those when he’d have to do mazdoori for 10 hours to earn two rupees. He pulled a rickshaw for Seth Bhagwan Dass, who would pay 8 rupees for a ride of 20 kms. He saved money to rent a rehdi, and eventually bought a fruit-shop of his own. He educated 6 children, all of whom are decently settled in life now. And today, at the age of 73, he goes daily to the local mandi to earn a living, simply because he loves doing it. He’s someone whom I greatly admire. He is a hero. He is my grandfather.

Meet Dwarka Nath Madaan, the most cheerful man I have ever known in my life. Even with just 10 rupees in his pocket, he is the kind of person who feels like the king of the world. His grandchildren call him paaji (Punjabi for ‘elder brother’), and he is younger at heart than most people you will ever meet.

His is the story of hundreds of thousands of people who had to leave their homes, and start all over again in a new place. And yet, I have never heard him complain about any misgivings that life may have dealt him with. In his evergreen smile and youthful energy, he reminds me of words from Rudyard Kipling’s If:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;

His is the story that shows how happiness can come shooting out even from black holes of despair. His is the story that is ordinary, like transparent air, and yet so extra-ordinarily powerful like a tornado. His is the story that I cannot capture in a 3-hour-long phone-call to India, nor in one blog post here …

A Message to Treasure

One of my role-models in life is the principal of my school. I studied at the Spring Dale Senior School, Amritsar. And our principal is a brilliant lady who virtually transformed garage classes in to one of the best schools in Punjab (if you ask me, one of the best in the world!). Without digressing in to how much I admire her vision and qualities, I have to share a message she sent me a few days ago. It is an answer to queries from a student to a teacher. The teacher’s response came from the vision, experience and wisdom of several successful years. I have to share this brilliant message, and also my commitment to live by the ideas of my teacher.

Mrs. Manveen Sandhu

Dear Saurabh,
Thank you for such a lovely mail. …

Let me share a few important things that I learnt in the last 20 years.

The road to success is actually paved with small obstacles that need to be overcome on a day to day basis. If not sorted they get magnetically bonded to form a big boulder that obstructs your passage beyond redemption.

Dream big but think small.

When you set your target on small goals even the bigger mission starts falling in place.

Whenever you are undecided about a task think-Does this harm me or anyone else? If not- do it. Don’t ask-Does it benefit me or not?

And the last golden rule:
Essentially you are alone in this world. Never have expectations from anyone else but yourself. Everything is transient. Change is the only constant. What you want today you might outgrow tomorrow but don’t deny yourself today because only then shall you outgrow tomorrow.

To come into the real world rather than the philosophical one. Money is very important. Earn it the right way- it will always be enough. Earn it the wrong way- it will never be enough. First earn it and invest it, then spend it and share it. If you use it wisely you shall be its master but if you squander it you will always be its slave. So part one “Earn it and invest it” should be your plan one where in you provide for yourself and your family. The second part that will probably come 20 years later “Spend it and share it” will be your time for philanthropy and social responsibility. Yes, it is better not to depend on external avenues because you will have to do what you are asked to do and not what you want to do.

Keep in touch constantly.
With lots of love and best wishes
Manveen

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Precious words, which I will always treasure…