One Hundred Years

The date was 15th of March. Until a few years ago, it would have called for a celebration. But, this year, it almost went un-noticed. I couldn’t help but wonder if this is what happens to people, long after they’ve left our company. Even more pressing was my desire to get to know a little bit about him, before the memories also fade away.

So I made the out-station call to the one person I could think of. Here’s what he had to say, written in my own words…

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By any standards, he had what you would call, a “hard life”. His father died when he was just 4 years old. A fortnight later, his mother passed away too, leaving behind four orphans.

The 2 brothers and 2 sisters were brought up by a paternal uncle – Santdas Merani. Soon, there came a time when his uncle could no longer afford to spend on his education. He was in the seventh standard when his uncle told him to quit school and take up a job. It was a big blow to him! Until then, he had excelled in his studies, and had nurtured the dream of continuing his education for as long as possible.

When his headmaster learned of his circumstances, he arranged for the school to bear the entire expenses of his remaining tenure, including his food and stay! On hearing this, the uncle was left with no choice but to continue funding his school education – “what will others think?” held more power in those days than it does today.

On passing his matriculation exam, he applied for and secured a job in the North Western Railways for a princely sum of Rs. 12 per month. The year was 1928, and the young man was now a strapping 20-year-old. At the time, he may not have known that 40 years later, he would retire from the services of that same organization, at the ripe old age of 60.

But, many interesting chapters were to unfold in the story of his life, between then and now…

In 1942, Mahatma Gandhi championed the “Quit India” movement, calling upon all Indians in government jobs to resign from their service, in protest of the British Rule. Naturally, he tried to resign too. But, the Railways would not hear of it. “What’s the problem?”, they asked. “Medical reasons”, he answered. “Take as much leave as you’d like, and come back when you’re ready”, they offered!

Wherever he went, people seemed to follow him like a Pied Piper!!!

And so, he took a couple of months off to collect his thoughts, and seek guidance from his spiritual guru at the Halani Darbar Sahib. He was a dedicated follower of the gurus at the Darbar Sahib, and had the good fortune to know several of them in his lifetime. Every major decision he took, he did with the guidance of the spiritual leaders. Every time he wavered in his mind, he sought their advice. Every thing good that ever happened, was thanks to their blessings. His devotion to the higher power was absolute.

Some months later, on the advice of his guru, he re-joined service in the Railways where he would serve until his retirement. But, work at the office was not all there was to his life. Few people may know this, but he was very fond of horse races and playing cards, especially rummy. He made a decent packet thanks to these “hobbies”, whenever he had time to spare.

Legend has it that he was also an excellent cook, particularly of non-vegetarian dishes. At any point in time, there were more than seven women in the house, but his dishes always turned out to be the most scrumptuous!

Last but not the least, he also managed to publish four books in Sindhi. His first published work was borne out of his dedication to preserving the cultural heritage of the Sindhi people – it was a collection of old Sindhi folklore compiled from memory and from vintage gramophone records. In fact, his allegiance to the Sindhi culture and heritage was so strong that he even composed some bhajans, one of which is sung even today as part of the daily rituals of the Halani Darbar Sahib at Ajmer.

Many years later, his eldest son would further the cause, spending all his spare time in the service of the Indian Institute of Sindhology.

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In spite of all the hardships, he seemed to have lived a full life – one rich in experiences, if not wealth. When I think about it all, it seems unfortunate that I did not get the opportunity to get to know him earlier.

His name was Roopchand Merani. He was my maternal grandfather. And, if he were alive, this 15th of March 2008 he would be a hundred years old!

P.S. Thanks, Kishin mama, for all the information. This is perhaps the closest I will ever get to knowing any of my grandparents!

P.P.S. Roopchand was son of Moolchand Daryanomal Merani from TharuShah. I also know next to nothing about my paternal (Bachwani) side. If you have any info, I’d love to hear…

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