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…

My First Book!

The wife sent an sms: “The courier has come”.

I’d been ordering books home for a while now, and a courier delivery was not an uncommon occurrence.  But, this particular one was much awaited.  I’d anticipated its arrival for quite a few weeks, in fact.  And the entire process had taken nearly a year to come to this stage… The reason?  This was the delivery of a book authored by me!

Yes, after months of searching, I’d found a publisher for my first work!!!

Thanks to the platform provided by IfIWereABook.com, a few publishers had expressed interest in my manuscript.  And, with one of them – Sanbun – I’d managed to take this to completion.

It was in the making for a few months, after we’d first signed on the dotted line.  After all, there was proof reading and editing, designing the cover, finalizing the content, etc. etc. etc.  Unlike perhaps the works of Penguin or Harper Collins, in this case, I was pretty much doing all of it except the actual printing.

Finally, on 5th March 2008, the delivery was made.

This book reproduces many of my blog posts on the subject of “fatherhood”, in a book-friendly format.  It traces the journey of my experience as a parent, from my first child’s birth to the time she reached about three years of age.

It’s a slender little book, all of 48 pages.  It should be available in select stores in India, soon.  It’s priced at Rs. 100.  And, it’s got its own ISBN code! Of course, the royalty cheques haven’t started pouring yet.  But, it’s a start, isn’t it?

The publishers have promised to make it available to their distribution network, and send out some copies to a few wholesale buyers to guage the market potential.  If the initial response is enthusiastic, more print runs will follow…

And, as much as it fulfills my own dream of “publishing a book one day”, this little project is also a means for me to leave behind a little something for my daughter Pumpkin… The story of her life!  I only hope you enjoy reading it, as much I have enjoyed writing it.

Read More: Bundle of Joy

C’est La Vie

John Lennon once remarked, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”  I, for one, couldn’t agree more.  For the last one year or so, this has been the story of my Life…

It all started in February of last year, when we were scheduled to go on our annual vacation.  That trip was of course, cancelled on account of my needing spinal decompression surgery for my prolapsed lumbar discs.  The weeks and months that followed, involved a slow and painful process of getting back on my feet again, which I was determined to do.

BossLady – my wife – was already pregnant with our second child, at the time.  We did not know, however, that only a few months later, we would be facing a difficult time with the pregnancy thanks to the increased probability seen in the triple marker test, warranting a risky procedure called amniocentesis to rule it out completely.  Just like we did not know that, a few months after that, the pregnancy would unfold yet another exciting chapter with an “incompetent os” that would need surgical intervention and complete bed rest for several months!

Finally, after an eventful term, a healthy baby boy was born to us in Oct 2007. Life was beginning to take a turn for the positive… Or was it?

A few months after that, Mom developed a sinus-bronchial infection that would take several months to treat, at the minimum.  According to the ENT specialist, we were lucky to have caught it in time!  The treatment had not yet been completed, but she was making good progress.  The baby was also a healthy four-month-old now.  So it would be a good time to take a much-needed holiday, we thought.

Once again, we planned our annual leave – this time to an exotic coffee estate in South India.  I’d applied for leave well in time, and planned for all my projects to be managed in my absence.  BossLady was already on leave, so that was not a problem.  A week before departure, however, she developed a fever – one that would go from 100 to 104 in just a few days!

I was actually out-of-town on an official trip and had to rush home to attend to that.  Naturally, the annual vacation was cancelled, once again.  In fact, an entire course of antibiotic and antimalarial medication hardly had any effect on the ailment.  A plethora of tests followed, but the fever remained undiagnosed.  Finally, a consulting specialist diagnosed it as Typhoid.

The hardest part of it all was communicating to an innocent four-year-old that we will not be going on the much-awaited vacation.  We always prepare Pumpkin for what’s coming, and had spent quite a few days building up hype for the upcoming trip.  Naturally, she was looking forward to the entire experience of going to a coffee estate, especially since she’s not even permitted to drink coffee!  Alas, her vacation would have to wait for another day…

Even today, 11 days after the first bout of fever, the recovery has only just begun.  She still gets a fever every 5-6 hours, but is slowly… very slowly… gaining back some of her strength.  A microorganism that’s one millionth our size is presently controlling how we live.  And, if what I understand is correct, typhoid is an ailment that can take 4-5 weeks to recover from.

We are, of course, hopeful of a full recovery.  And, can only hope that things take a different turn, this March onwards.  Only, I won’t be making any plans to that effect.

Heaven on Earth?

A link from Atanu’s blog led me to some fascinating facts about a place I’d known of for quite a while…

  • World’s first democracy: the first in which all women joined men in having the vote for Government: 1893.
  • Has long since virtually eliminated poverty.
  • One of the world pioneers (since mid-1930s) of the welfare state, along with Sweden and Norway.
  • From about 1938 to early 1970s, 100 per cent full employment. Even now, national unemployment well under 4 per cent.
  • (Has a) robust grassroots democracy. Every school, public and private, is elected by the school’s parents, with minority board-posts elected by teachers, and, in high schools, by students too… General election turnouts for most of the last half century have regularly topped 90 per cent, although have dropped slightly below that in some recent years.
  • In the mid-part of the 20th century, consistently in the world’s top five countries to lead the world in productivity.
  • Among the world’s top-book-buying and reading nations.

What an impressive set of indicators for an outstanding quality of Life, wouldn’t you agree?  No wonder, I’ve been wanting to move to New Zealand, for as long as I’ve known of it!  (Thanks for the reinforcement, Atanu)

Read the complete list here.

Nano Reality

The last few days have been nothing short of historic, for the great nation of India: At the biggest Auto Expo of the country, Tata Motors finally unveiled the much-awaited “one-lakh” car – the Nano.

As promised, the Tata Nano is priced at Rs. 100,000… or, as some folks in the media have so eloquently noted, a car that costs the equivalent of a DVD player in a Lexus or the side mirrors of an E class Mercedes!

According to the Times of India, on prices adjusted to 2007 US$, this is how the Nano fares, as compared to other legendary advances in the world of affordable automobiles:

1. Model-T Ford | 1908 | $ 19,700
2. VW Beetle | 1956 | $ 11,333
3. Mini Cooper | 1961 | $ 11,700 and
4. Tata Nano | 2008 | $ 2,500  (approx. Rs. 100,000)

The car was always intended to provide a safe, comfortable and elegant means of transport for the masses of India.  According to Ratan Tata, his inspiration behind the project was the vision of “a man on a two-wheeler with a child standing in front, his wife sitting behind, add to that the wet roads — a family in potential danger.”  Even when he first announced the ambitious goal, there was no shortage of those who said it couldn’t be done… it shouldn’t be done!

Today, and in spite of all the odds faced throughout its development, that dream has turned into a reality.  It does not compromise on quality or style or engineering.  It does not cost the earth in running costs or maintenance.  It’s not an apology, it’s a car.

And, already, it has received more than a fair share of criticism from all quarters… Large metropolitan cities do not have any roads on which to accomodate more cars.  Where will all the new cars be parked?  More cars on our roads will mean more pollution in the environment… Even its brand name is being touted as unsuitable for the target audience it is aimed at (semi urban, rural markets and two wheeler owners with a family of four)!

Sure, some of these arguments are valid.  But, so are the dreams of the common man.  I have experienced, first hand, the perils faced by two wheelers on our cities roads, and always wished there was a better alternative.  Now, there is.  And it’s called the Nano.

Doesn’t that count for something?  Not to mention the remarkable feat of engineering in ensuring such a project sees the light of day in a road-worthy automobile?!

Yet again, I am reminded of Albert Einstein’s famous remark: “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.”  Good luck, Mr. Tata.  And, thank you!

Read More : | Tata Nano | Coverage: | NY Times | MSNBC | Reuters | Google Blog Search |