A moving Experience

One of the best gifts of journalism is the experiences it offers that leave one inspired and moved.

I encountered one such incident recently while covering the results of Punjab State Education Board 2013 for class tenth. The assignment took me to a village Dhandari Kalan, some 10 kilometers away from the main city of Ludhiana, to meet Deepak Kumar, who had stood third in the state with 96 percent.

I went to his school SGD Grammar Senior Secondary School, standing amid a bustling market. With summer vacations on, the school bore a deserted look, even as a gangly, shy and very disciplined-looking boy dressed in school uniform strolled around the entrance. As I found out soon from the school principal, he was Deepak.

“We called him to congratulate him, even though the celebrations are really a quiet affair given the vacations,” the principal told me. She added that Deepak has been a brilliant and very disciplined student always and with potential to reach great heights.

I thought a photo with Deepak’s family huddled around him would be great, and so I requested him to guide me to his home. He felt reluctant and, when I reached his house, I sensed why.

The humble house laid bare the family’s financial condition, making it as embarrassing for me as for him. A chair was hurriedly arranged for me to sit, his mother began to conceal with a cloth things strewn on the bed, and somebody began to wave a handfan for me. I politely asked her not to as I was very comfortable. To ease the situation, I smiled and began to ask the parents how they felt about their son’s achievement. The father trembled as he answered me and, as I learnt in a few minutes, he was a migrant from Bihar who had shifted to Ludhiana to work as a labourer a decade ago. Now, he ran a small grocery store from the two-room house.

I asked Deepak what he wanted to pursue his career in, and he told me it was his dream to become a Maths lecturer. This was why he had opted for non-medical stream in class eleventh. As I learnt, it was less out of choice and more out of a lack of knowledge for further options; a Maths lecturer was the most accomplished person in the village so far.

From the house, I came to know, Deepak walked to the school daily, negotiating broken paths on the way. Asked about his window to the world of opportunities, Deepak said he watched Discovery channel regularly and had Internet on his cellphone.

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When Power Cuts were welcomed

This piece was first published in Hindustan Times.

Not so long ago, life was simpler. Power cuts raise a sweat today but back then as children we would desperately look forward to the late evening routine in summer. Incredulous as it may sound to some today, but yes we really did. This was years before a run through the friends’ Facebook profiles replaced post-dinner walks in the street outside.

Power cuts were erratic and occurred without notice. Frankly, this only increased their worth in our eyes. We would be eating, and all of a sudden, darkness would engulf us. There would be a rush for candles, matchboxes and even lanterns. At the risk of sounding dated, I admit this would happen even in my twenties. It was before inverters ceased to be a luxury.

We would rush with the remaining food and leap out of the house into the street, leaving it for mother to struggle with the leftovers and dishes in the candle light.

Power Cut

A late evening power cut did for us what a mobile messenger does for kids today – send an instant mass message. As if on cue, an entire gang of children would gather at a point in the neighbourhood, jubilant, ecstatic, and impatient for the fun to begin.

In the dim light of the moon and stars, we would play hide-n-seek, chor-police, pakdam-pakdai, statue, hopscotch and many more of such indigenous and dying outdoor fun games that urgently need documentation. If it was too dark, antakshari was the best bet.

Sometimes, we would huddle around grandmother, a star storyteller in her own right. Looking back, I guess she must have also yearned for power cuts. When the UPS beeped to death and the television was reduced to a mere box, she felt more at home. Her world would come alive.

We would play as long as the cut went on, no questions asked. With no tab on the deadline, we would lose ourselves in grandma’s fables, leaving it for the power department to decide when the fun would end. The moment the power supply returned, a loud cheer would go up. “Aa gayiiii!” we would shout as the houses lit up, all at once. The games, at whichever stage, would stop and we would scurry back home.

“A cut tomorrow evening too,” was our goodnight wish and the power department never failed us, particularly in the peak of summer.

Come to think of it, the power cuts brought us closer as a family, as neighbours and as a community. They forced us to drop the material for a while and handle stillness. They made our thoughts wander and let our imagination fly.

But wait. Am I going too far? Probably not. In the virtual world today, desperate questions on ‘how to survive a power cut’ are all over with saintly suggestions to netizens, including one asking them to “look inwards for happiness”.

As for me, I am the master of the game.