Wednesday, March 10, 2010

How much do you care for your child

Recently, during an informal chat session among a few of my friends, we're discussing about the greatest assets that India has. One of my friends pointed out that the family value system is perhaps one of the greatest assets of our country. By family value system he meant a simple thing like the sacrifice that we, as parents, still make for our children. Somehow I felt that he indeed spoke something very fundamental. When I came back home and thought over it I really found out, yes, that's indeed one of the rarest and biggest assets, which we ourselves tend to overlook. It's this care and affection that we show to our children, it's this responsibility that we take for our children, it's the sacrifice that we make throughout our lives for our children, that make our children grow with the thousands-years-old cultural heritage of India. Perhaps this upbringing is something that's passing the Indian culture through the generations.

I remembered a small incident that happened some 25 years back. My parents wanted me to study at the Ramakrishna Mission Vidyapith in Purulia, a very backward district in West Bengal, adjoining Jharkhand. Purulia used to be a torturous one night journey from Calcutta by train and then on cycle rickshaw pushed by rickety people along hilly tracks of narrow roads. Coming from Calcutta the abundance of poverty everywhere struck me shockingly. I don't remember if I'd seen such scenes before in my life. Every where the people seemed to be so poor. I was barely 11-12 years old. But still I was filled with melancholy at the first site.

My father took me to the school so that I could like or dislike the place before getting admitted there. It was a residential school and hence it was important that I liked the place.

We stayed in the guest house. After lunch to returned to the guest house for a nap. That's when we noticed an old man, sitting alone at a corner of the room where we're supposed to stay. The guest house was like dormitory with 5-6 beds placed haphazardly in each room. We'd occupied two beds in one of the rooms. The old person was sitting in another bed, at the corner of the room. At the first sight I thought him to be a servant or a worker at the Mission and hence felt irritated about his presence. The person would have sensed what was going on inside my mind and hence he also seemed to feel a little uneasy. My father came from a very humble background and hence he was better off in not being so judgmental like me. He went ahead and sat on the same bed as the person. That's when I gave a close glance on him. He didn't appear to be that old as I'd thought initially. But it didn't need much brain or vision to understand that he was indeed poor, rather very poor. He was wearing a torn and very dirty dhoti, which was not much more than an ugly loin cloth. His pair of shoes didn't have any further space to put the next patch for repair, if needed ever in future. The color of the shoes could have been black in some remote past, but the layers of dust and dirt made it a tough proposition to decipher that. His dhoti ended little above his knees making portions of his long underwear visible. His shirt didn't have any button anywhere - just a few safety pins at the erstwhile holes meant for the buttons. The over bulging small pocket was packed with a world of stuff like a small note book, some small papers - might be some old bills or bus or tickets, a leaking fountain pen that had made its presence felt in the multiple blue stains on the pocket, some lose currencies of one rupee notes and many other things. The person was sitting like an arch, with a curved back - I figured out later that he couldn't even stand erect. His face had unshaven beards. His eyes had a pair of typical black specs with high power.

When my father went and sat besides him, he stood up, as if he was not entitled to sit alongside my father. My father requested him to sit down. He sat with a bewildered look mixed with respect and gratitude, as if allowing him to sit itself was a great favor shown. My father asked him whether he had come to meet someone at the school. That's when he told that his elder son was appearing for the Madhyamik (secondary) exams the next year (1985) and he had come to see him. So it was clear that he was not a servant. I could see regards in my fathers eyes. He started talking to him. My father, himself a victim of the partition of India, having lived a life like refugees on aids and public and private benevolence and finally being able to get a foot after completing his engineering, has very high regards for people who struggle and put everything at stake just for the sake of acquiring a good education. Unlike me or my brother, the only asset that my father had was his education without which he would have been a non entity in this world. I could understand very well that he was seeing in that person a shade of my uncle, with whom my father stayed after fleeing from Bangladesh and who had struggled so much just to give a basic education to him. My father asked the person about his job. He told that he was a primary school teacher. He also told my father that he wanted his son to study medicine in Calcutta. That's when my father couldn't resist to ask if he could bear all the expenses of his son's studies. He stared at my father for some time and then spoke gently, "Won't the 500 rupees a month I get as salary be sufficient?". My father kept silent for sometime and then asked hesitantly if he gave his entire salary for his son's education then what they would eat at home. The person replied very casually that they would somehow manage with the little vegetables that grow in their small plot of land.

I could see tears in my father's eyes. He rose, held the person's hands and told, "I'm saying you today, I don't know what's there for my son in future, but there's no doubt that your son would become an established doctor for sure. That's my conviction. We all try to give our children the best possible education, but I can't ever think of spending my entire salary for it".

That was the time my father didn't have a job. He had a sun stroke sometime in 1982 and lost his job. After recovering, he couldn't take the strain of working in factories and hence had to sit at home for a few years. Our household used to run on my mother's job. Though I was quite young still I knew that my parents did face financial problems during those few years, specially with the loan on our newly build house. I somehow still recall how much calculations my parents would do to make sure that I and my brother never felt any pinch. When my father was speaking those words to the person I could feel the pain in his voice. I knew that he was going out of his way to make sure that I got into a good school and had all the luxuries in life at home. But all his sacrifices seemed so silly in front of this person who was ready to sacrifice everything for this son's education. It's his vision and faith that education and education alone would change their fortune is something has stayed in my mind for ever.

Coming back to where I started, I think there's no doubt that such instances of extreme sacrifices that Indian parents do for their children is really one of our greatest assets.

By the way, the person's son did become a doctor finally. His name is most probably Aurobindo Hembram!! He studied in Calcutta Medical College, off course with scholarships. My father's conviction did come true!!

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