My father had to shoulder the responsibilities of our family at a very young age when my grandfather passed away. When I listen to the stories of my father’s early days of struggle I relate the role of GovindJi as that of Bairam Khan who had helped 14 year old Akbar to gain control of the Indian Empire.
GovindJi has his presence even in my earliest of memories. I used to call him Gogia Baba, because his name had syllables which I couldn’t speak, or probably because I had a habit of calling things as per my own dictionary. ‘Chamchi’ for spoon, ‘Tamtam’ for tomato, ‘Puggy’ for bump are some of the other such words I used then.
The reason why I still remember him well is because he was one of those staff members who used to adore me the most. I still remember him taking me for Mr. Pop lollipopor for the local fair in the city. I used to sit in the back seat of his scooter as I tried hard to hold my other hand around his huge belly which actually covered only half of his belly’s circumference. Still the attempt was soo desperate that my head used to get stuck on his back and I could only see half of the road for the rest of the trip. During the ride, every vehicle that he overtook with his speeding scooter made me excited and I had something to cherish.
As one gains more maturity one understands the reasons for everything clearly, which further reduces the excitement in one’s routine life. Does this mean that we grow up and grow old only to understand the futility of everything? If this be true at least make sure that you did actually cover everything including the other side of the road.
I was lying on a charpoy in a Government hospital with a bullet in my skull and I was bleeding at 3-4 other spots because of the damages done by bullets. I was technically outside the building of the hospital as all the private and the general wards were cramped up by the other patients, of which most of them were the victims of the terrorist attacks that took place in the city that day. The doctors were pretty much amazed to see that I was conscious while they could see a bullet butt projecting out of my skull. I overheard one of them saying that they can’t move the bullet as the bullet had blocked the blood. Ironically, had the bullet not been there, blood would have fountained out of my skull and I would have been dead within minutes. I was waiting on the charpoy for my mother to come and see me after my operation who was already present in that chaotic hospital. As I waited on the charpoy, I spoke to the victimized kids who had gathered around me. Most of these kids were lost and had no idea about their parents. I asked them about their homes but they were more interested in listening to my story of the bullet getting in my skull and how I felt then.
I was on the street about a kilometre away from my home on the auspicious day of ShivRatri, the day on which a huge procession is carried out on the streets of Varanasi, as it is the celebrated as the Wedding day of Lord Shiva himself. I was not one of them who were celebrating amongst the mob, in fact I was waiting there for Maulvi Ji, who wanted to share some information about the terrorist activities which he suspected could take place that day. It was only noon and I could notice that the people were already in full mood for the occasion. One could have a fair idea that a lot of them were dosed by Bhang, as it was that special day of Lord Shiva. Then Maulvi Ji arrived with his burka clad wife and an infant. He seemed tensed and in his panting voice he said, “They are coming and they are going to kill me and my family.” I mollified him and asked him to come with me at my home, which was well guarded and was considerably safe.
While we had just started walking we were joined by the mob celebrating the Shiv Barat. Soon, we saw a Jeep cutting its way through the wave of the mob, it had 5 men with long beard and they were dressed in grey and black kurtas and their head covered with jihabs. One of them pointed his finger at the Maulvi Ji. Before I could do anything to save him or warn him, I saw those men with automatic machine guns squirting bullets in our direction. I immediately got down as I thought I could miss a few shots if I stayed low in height. I felt a bullet making a long cut on my forehead as it went past, merely touching my skin. I got my second short on my left bicep. Soon the mob scattered as I was down on the ground partly covered my other dying bodies. I was motionless and pretended to be dead already. Just before the jeep left, one of them decided to give another spray of bullets with his machine gun. That is when the bullet got stuck in my skull.
After the jeep left, I tried to get up to go to my home. I fell on my first attempt as I realized that it was because I couldn’t move my hand. I somehow managed to get up on my feet and I wanted to rush towards my home and didn’t even want to think how much damage those bullets did to me. Suddenly, I heard a shrill cry of the infant who was covered in the black burka cloth of her mom. I held the infant with one arm as I couldn’t move the other. As I took hold of the baby, it cried loud probably because the way I was handling it made it uncomfortable, but I hardly had a choice. As I walked I realized that if I would keep my head parallel to the ground it would hurt less and there would be lesser blood loss. I was trying to make all conscious efforts to increase the chances of my survival.
My mother was already in the balcony looking for me. She must have got to know about the terrorist attack by those in the mob who had managed to run away. She screamed when she saw me and immediately 4-5 people came for my help as I was still some distance away from my home. I handed the baby to the first one to come for my help and told him that its Maulvi Ji’s baby who is already shot dead, I hoped that he would take the baby safely to Maulvi Ji’s family and also convey them the message. Then my mother inspected me as she cried with agony. I assured her, “I am fine!” That didn’t help much and her groan didn’t stop since then. There was a lot of blood on my body and everyone around me was amazed to see me walking with the infant with my head in the horizontal position. They didn’t realize that a great portion of the blood that was on my jeans and shirt was of someone else, beneath whom I was hiding and pretending to be dead.
I soon got into the car to be taken to the nearest government hospital. When I first saw my face in the mirror I was myself horror-stuck. My face was dripping with blood and I knew it was all mine. I kept my head down (horizontal) for the rest of the journey as I didn’t want to see my face again in that condition. Someone tied a piece of cloth on my bicep tightly to prevent blood loss. I held a towel pressing against my forehead to stop the bleeding and I didn’t allow anyone to touch or inspect my skull, as I realized that the bullet is still popping out of my skull.
As we were travelling I observed that our car never slowed down, considering that traffic jams were common in Varanasi, unless we reached close to the hospital. Probably the city was silenced by these terror attacks. One of our men knew someone in the hospital and had called him to make pre-arrangements for my operation. Despite the huge array of patients in the hospital they managed to get a surgeon, a charpoy and the other basics required for this sort of an operation on an urgent basis. I walk with my men through the pushy crowd to reach the hospital’s garden where my charpoy was kept. This was the place where my operation was to be carried out.
After the operation, I could still feel that cold piece of steel popping out of my head. The surgeon didn’t dare touch it. After spending some time with the kids in the hospital, I realized that my dad and mom have come to see me and they are near my bed. I heard the surgeon tell my parents that I was lucky that the bullet got stuck and had it gone a few centimetres ahead I would have been dead on the spot. To this I said, “It was my hair. Someone got me a helmet made out of my hair to prevent me from such an attack.” (Ref. to the hairstyle in the image below) The gag was supposed to reduce my parent’s stress. As I tried to raise my head to see my dad, the doctor snapped immediately, “Keep your head horizontal and sleep you are not supposed to take much stress.”
The anaesthetics were heavy and when I opened my eyes after a nap I realized that I was not on the hospital charpoy, I was on my bed and it was probably the most horrifying nightmare I ever had. Luckily, all this was just a dream. I then realized why my head was horizontal though most part of this incident as I was laying on my bed with my head in the horizontal position. After a while, I felt good as I got to do some bravery in my dream and more importantly it was an amazing experience to have that bullet in my skull!
In this short passage the author describes a Varanasi based shopkeeper. The description is based on more than a decade old memories of his childhood when the author was about 13 years old.
A tall, fair, middle aged man who had lips always painted with pan stains. A big black mole on his cheek and the most pleasing smile were his prominent trademarks. How can I forget this shopkeeper, I had all my undergarments, thermals, socks, etc. purchased from his shop in my school days. Not only that I remember my mom making all such purchases for my family of four from his shop. His sugar coated words, apt appreciation of his products and his seemingly generous deals were always good enough to convince my mom. I remember that shopkeeper sitting in a slacken posture with his eyes glaring at every potential customer walking on the street. As soon as he sees a customer entering his shop he would immediately spit the pan and hold hands over his huge belly and with the most embracing smile he would say, “Namaste Bhabhiji, kaisi hai?” Mostly his customers were ladies who were alone responsible for most of the household shopping like my mom.
But, the question is, why would a 13 year old kid hate such a shopkeeper? There was a very peculiar thing about his shop, very shaky for the young lad. All the walls of his shops were covered with posters of lingerie girls. An aberrant sight for a teenager who had the curiosity to have a good glimpse of one of those posters while his mom and sister didn’t notice him staring.
The shopkeeper was indubitably a gentleman but those posters in his shop depicted something which was assumed evil by the kid. A mature person would say that the gentleman had those posters perfectly placed as per the marketing guidelines given by the company whose products he used to sell. At times people tend to judge by the outer appearance/actions which they themselves find intimidating without taking into account the reasons behind; this is what separates a mature person and a kid!