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Sunday, November 30, 2008

An Unforgettable Journey

Let me tell you a story.

Some orthodox Indian families do not whole-heartedly welcome the birth of a girl-child for reasons best known to them. This sort of tendency exists even today, often to an exaggerated extent in some pockets of our country. However, long time back, a family in Northern part of India did exactly the opposite; they were overjoyed when a girl-child was born to them. She was the youngest amongst three elder brothers and a sister. We are talking about the pre-Independence era, that’s nearly more than half a century ago.

She, as any other kid, enjoyed her schooling days and was extremely pampered as she was the youngest of the lot. Time flew and soon, she was done with her primary and secondary schooling. Many of her batch-mates left studies soon after that – to move onto a completely different chapter in their lives. Most of them were married off and some just helped their mothers in the kitchen back home. Financial crunch was probably responsible for eating away their careers. Maybe it was just a part of the tradition. Obviously, very few girls accompanied her to junior college and fewer to Degree College; probably just two-three of them. They had parents who were willing to sacrifice everything for them, much beyond the capacity of an ‘average’ parent, so to speak.

Soon, the little kid grew up to be a young, smart lady with a degree in arts. She did not stop at that, but completed her post graduation as well. Another two years down the line, she was done with her dissertation and was soon awarded doctorate in Hindi literature by the University – a great achievement by a ‘girl-child’ in peri-Independence India.

It was time for her to start a family as well and was soon married to a brilliant, tall, smart and rather soft-spoken barrister. He was unlike the ‘conventional’ lawyers – he did not take up false cases or fabricated suits. His honesty was well-known amongst locals. Soon, he became the youngest president of the Bar (Association of Lawyers) in a small princely town of Rajasthan. He was respected all over the state, his name and fame grew, but not his wealth. The reason was simple; he used to spend a lot of money in charity, lending it to people, some he didn’t even recognise. When he was at the peak of his career, he developed a chronic disease that affected his kidneys. Slowly, the disease deteriorated his health, and he was bedridden in about a year’s time.

She was widowed at a young age of 30-35.

Imagine a young 30-something woman with two school-going daughters facing the world with just despair to give her company. Resilience is just too little a word to be used here. It must have taken a mammoth amount of courage for her to start afresh. The PhD earned her the post of a lecturer in girls’ degree college. She worked very hard to make both ends meet. Within a span of two years, she was the dean of Binani Girls’ Degree College, Bikaner and also the dean of Maharani Girls’ College, Bikaner. These are two premier institutes imparting education in a small princely town of Rajasthan.

Apart from that, she was one of the founder-member of Arya Samaj, Bikaner – a socio-religious institute propagating good values and striving to bring an end to superstitions. People of this town (Bikaner) regularly tuned into her interviews aired on All India Radio and Vividhbharati. She was the only dean in the state of Rajasthan who was granted permission by the then Maharaj Karni Singh to order elephants from the palace (Lal Garh) for the annual day celebrations in the college. She was invited every year by the Chief Minister of Rajasthan for various governmental felicitation programmes.

Above all, she gave her young daughters the best of education – one became a doctor and the other obtained a PhD. They soon got married and left for their new homes. She was all alone once again.

After her daughters were married off, she began reading hundreds of books and spent most of her time in the college office. College work was her priority and her love for sitar and harmonium took a backseat. She lived alone all these years, struggling day-in and day-out so that students of her college excel in studies as well as sports. She ignored her own health, suffered mild heart attacks twice, but continued working relentlessly, selflessly.

At the age of 78, her body had taken enough and she was diagnosed with a rare tumour of the thyroid (Hurthle Cell Cancer). Like all good stories come to an end, she was soon bedridden. Her muscles became useless and her joints were all worn off. She could hardly get up from the bed and move about. Somehow, her courage and determination drove her along. She used to knit and read books in order to pass time.

One day, she suffered from a massive paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia (heart damage) and soon the beautiful story came to an end. The world changed within seconds; curtains were drawn on a radiant fable.

If you ask me where I was on the 24th of November, 2008, I won’t be able to hold back my tears. Well, I was with my mom and dad, giving this woman, my grandmother, cardio-pulmonary resuscitation.

We tried our best to keep the fable going, but the author had already put the full stop.