The Train to Life by Pavitra Kavya '09
Experimental Critical Writing 10th December, 2008
Extended Piece of Experimental Critical Writing, Revised Draft
The Train to Life
14th August, 2012
She had always wanted to do this. I remember she would come home from school every day and mock-play with me. I am so proud to see her today!!
9.00pm: Hello! And welcome to our special episode on the eve of the 65th anniversary of our country’s independence. It is not everyday that you get to meet and interview such great people. With me today, as my special guest on the show tonight, is a person who is very close to my heart. Without further ado, let us put our hands together and welcome the one and only…
As I walked into the studio, with applause ringing in from all sides, I felt myself being drawn back into the pages of history. I started thinking about that fateful night, when we received the call.
Thank you so much for coming to the show! So, tell us what has been your motivation in life?
Motivation, I thought to myself, did I ever even have any choice?
St. Mary’s Nursing House
14th August 1947
I was born in the city of Madras. No, to be much more precise, I was born in Madras, in the year 1947. There can be no running away from that for me. That time and that place determined so much of my life. I was born in Dr. Aziz Mirza’s nursing house and what my Ammi remembers of me was that I was a scrawny red baby who rarely cried, so much that they actually thought I must have been still-born. But in the critical last minute, when they had to take a decision, about my existence, I came to and cried and screamed, and basically as Ammi, Abbu, and Didi jaan would put it, screamed the hospital down! Ha-ha. That is so me! I always somehow come to in the last minute! I think my pre-disposition must have been that way! But then, again, I think I can attribute it to my time and place of my birth! Although, I little knew it at that time, my life, and destiny was hardly to be decided by me! Everything has been pre-determined for me! I was born on August 14, 1947 and there has been no running away from that for me! The day when India achieved its freedom and Pakistan came into existence and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru said, “Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom.” At the stroke of midnight, I came into this world. A 3 feet long, black haired, brown eyed, fair-skinned person whose destiny would be decided by fate!
I bow to thee.
Gushing out of the mighty Himalaya,
With determination pure and strong,
Dancing down thro rugged terra,
Creating life with divine bond,
From one to many do you depart?
…. Oh!! Is it really? Wow! He is wearing the same colored shirt he wore that night! I remember
that night so clearly, just as if it had happened yesterday!!
Madras Central Terminal
14th August 1963
Shatabdi Express, Platform No. 12 pe aa chuki hai. Kripiya apna saman lekar sthan grehen kejeye.
I remember, watching this person standing next to me on the platform. The platform was extremely crowded. We bumped into each other as we tried to carry our luggage into the same compartment, Bogey no 14. The numbers, so mystical with my fate. For some reason, even though it was holiday season, the boogey was completely empty. I had gone to visit my family in Madras. Didi jaan had got married and was expecting a child, and there were talks in the family about getting me married off to Mr. Jinnah, my father’s Kathiwadi friend from Lahore! But I wasn’t going to end up with anybody who I didn’t even know. Forget about getting my approval, there were already talks of getting us married the year after I graduate. Apparently this Mr. Jinnah and his family were among a bunch of prominent people in Lahore! Me, Mrs. Jinnah!! NOOOO. The name does not even suit me!
I was taking the train to go back to boarding school near Delhi. I was the top student, head prefect, sports captain at Convent of Jesus and Mary, Delhi! And I was going back a week before, to prepare a leadership seminar for all class prefects! I started thinking about who all I would like to ask to give presentations. Definitely Sir Chakravorthy, he is an articulate speaker. And of course Mam John, she would be offended if I didn’t ask her. The only problem, is she takes too much time, to make one point… Maybe we could ask her to collaborate on her speech!!! I took the seat opposite him. And as the train began to move, I saw the light darkening outside. I took out my book, and a small torch, that Abu jaan had given me as an early birthday present, and began reading!! I didn’t remember how much I read or how long I read, but I remember being woken up with a jolt and the person from the opposite seat standing over my face, putting out the light from my torch and then the person said, “shhhhhh, please be quiet. There are some strange rumors going about that this train has been taken over by Hindu activists, saying they will kill all Muslims. I just saw the name on the title of your book. We need to do something soon, to prevent them from getting to you!” Love, blossoming on a train in the middle of a night! Who would think this possible? But once again, that was my destiny. It was no coincidence that it was again 14th August, the day which is so significant in my life. Once again, my fate had been decided. Happy Birthday!!!
I remember by the time, the activists entered our compartment, to check up on us, I was sitting next to him. Using my red lipstick, I had drawn a small mangh tikka across my forehead! The activist, a small man, with a much bigger belly, came in chewing on some paan with a red streak running down the bottom of his lip, and with a huge group of people standing in the corridor across the train holding torches and lanterns. They all wore saffron colored kurtas and by the dim light coming from their torches, I saw big marks of Om, written across their forehead.
As I saw them, as I saw the sign on their forehead, I felt as if someone had contracted my chest and I could barely move! I was in a train compartment, in the middle of the night, with 50 men, who would have willingly killed me, had they known where I came from, and one person, who I did not even know but on whom I had decided to place my trust. I felt him put his arm around me and give my hand a squeeze. Mr. Red Lips came in and started questioning us, who are you? Where are you coming? Where are you going?
The person next to me, just stood up and said, this is me and my wife. How dare you come into our private cabin and disturb us. We just got married three days ago! Please leave now! Mr. Red Lips, kind of got taken back, by the tone, but still said in an arrogant and loud voice, show us proof that you’re a Hindu!! The person immediately took a long thread around his neck and showed it to Mr. Red Lips. Mr. Red Lips instantly took a deep breath and gave a friendly clap to the person. He said something in a nice and friendly tone to the 50 people standing outside and left. The person took in a deep breath and said, “That was one exciting night.” He then asked me to relax. I sat as if in a stupor on the same seat again. In 30 minutes, my life had changed and it would never be the same again. August 14, the magic of the day had once again repeated itself. As I sat there and looked out of the window at the passing scenery, I saw small houses in the distant twilight and I remember asking myself, would I ever have a house of my own? Would I ever get married? I had committed one of the biggest sacrileges of my faith. I had accepted a Hindu as my husband. And now, I was falling in love with him. I was falling in love with the man who saved me. I was falling in love with the man who in one instant had given so much meaning to my life. I was falling in love with Gangadhar Mani, the architect from Madras, settled in Delhi. I was falling in love with Gangadhar Mani, who even though I did not know it as the time, would be the man to marry me. I was falling in love with the man, who told me later on our 25th anniversary, that he had fallen in love with me at 18.00 hrs on 14th August, 1963, when due to the mistake of a coolie on the station, I had tripped, and at that most embarrassing moment of my life, he had made the decision to fall in love with me and marry me.
Challenges, I thought to myself, did I lack any?
Your eternal flow starts,
But from a single droplet,
So joyful your childhood,
With no time to brood,
Do you grow gathering others.
You spend your time sight seeing,
Rishikesh, Haridwar, Varanasi,
Ringing bells of joy and happiness,
To a multitude.
Lutyens Colony, Bungalow No. 14
14th August 1980
Chutki was turning 15. Her Appa decided to send her to summer school. That was the first summer of my separation from Chutki. Till, then I had not known what it would mean to me if chutki would be taken away from me! I stood at the foot of the stairs, leading into the living room, waiting to say good-bye to her. She came down the stairs and as she stood their, something overcame me. I remembered that night!! That fateful night when we received the phone call. By now, I could have easily guessed that something mystical would take place, as long as the day was August 14. Chutki was 7, and her Appa had been gone to London this past week, for a project. I was alone in the house, and I was in an extreme euphoric mood. I had just been to see Dr. Mrs. Rose, my gynecologist, who was very happy with the progress of my child, oh! If I forgot to mention, I was 6 months pregnant with our second child. Also, Chutki, had been awarded star student of the week. So, we were celebrating that evening. I had baled a small chocolate cake with walnut filling, Chutki’s favorite. I remember I had just checked up on the cake in the oven, it was coming about nicely. And then I remember the phone rang. I rushed to pick it up. It was Chutki’s Appa from London calling to wish me a Happy Birthday. And just as he said that, I saw Chutki trip and throwing the phone aside, I rushed to try and protect her, and as I moved toward her, I tripped at the top of the stairs and fell, an entire flight of stairs. All I remember from that moment, is faint cries of “Amma!! Amma!!!” And then I remember being woken up in the hospital with an empty feeling of loss and seeing Chutki’s Appa there! And he was crying and holding my hand. He told me that we had lost our child. Once again, August 14, had shown its magic. Chutki and me were very close from that point on. I remember after coming back from the hospital and going into Chutki’s room, I saw a drawing above her bed, of her Appa, me, herself and a little baby sister. That would no longer happen. Seeing the picture of my imagined unborn child, I broke down, and cried and cried, “Oh! Allah! Allah! Why my child!” So that evening, when I saw Chutki leaving me to go to summer school, I remembered the night I lost my child and the times that followed. I was never able to conceive again, but Chutki’s Appa was the best about it. He never lamented that we could not have a second child. He never questioned me on why we could never have a boy child! He never questioned me and he always protected me from our relatives, who would criticize me a lot because I could not have a child, a boy child. That day, the day I received the phone call, I lost a lot of things. But I also gained. I gained myself a husband, who never doubted me. I gained myself the most beautiful, dutiful and patient daughter in the world and I gained a new me. And I gained myself a loving and beautiful family. Over the years, many things happened. Both good and bad, but we always had each other. And so, when I saw Chutki going to summer school, for two months, I re-felt the sense of loss and I began remembering and reminiscing about the past!!!
My children, my grandchildren, I love them all a lot. Seeing them achieve their goals and their dreams has been a way of forgetting what I could not achieve. The prices I paid for my dreams, they did not have to do so. But didn’t they have sacrifice a lot just like I did?
Your youth is spent in the plains of weariness,
Collecting dirt and grime,
You dirty yourself but purify others,
But not a grumble do we hear,
So Hip! Hip! Hurrah! We cheer.
May you never get old,
Remaining pure as gold,
Message of sacrifice do you impart,
From this earth may you never depart?
A-2/106, Safdarjung Enclave, New Delhi
14th August 2004
In the morning, she was going to the airport. I saw her from my bedroom window. She looked so bright and shiny. She was wearing the new Green Jacket, I had got her for her 16th birthday. Considering all that I had seen and gone through in life, I was so happy to see that my blood would be traveling. She would be traveling all the way across the seven seas. Something I had never done and might never get the chance to do, considering I had been diagnosed with the disease 5 years ago. I had just got a surgery last week, and so couldn’t move. But she had come to say Good bye to me and take my Ashriwad before she left. She was always one of my favorites. And then as I saw her pull her luggage out of the house and the car drive in, the dent in the car brought back some grave memories. Two years ago, on the eve of Navrattri Puja, all of us, went for some Diwali shopping. Chutki forced me to come, so I could get out a little bit and interact with everyone. Ever since I had contracted the disease three years ago, I had not been able to go out a lot. So, that Diwali we went out shopping together to Sarojini Nagar Market. On the way, we decided to stop and buy some fruits for dinner. Chutki was really wanting to go to Natwarlal’s. But I remember how her Appa used to love fruits from Haldiram’s. So we decided to go there instead. Just as we entered Haldiram, we heard a huge noise, as if someone had let off 100 fire-crackers at the same time. We looked outside and all we could see was black smoke, and a lot of bodies scattered around, like rag-dolls. Suddenly we found ourselves being rushed about, amidst a huge crowd of people. Both Chutki and me started searching frantically for her. We found her at the entrance of the store. We got back to our car and rushed home. But our lives had been altered forever. People cannot come by such an event and pass through unnoticed. It truly affected our lives. She was supposed to leave for college that fall. She began applying with much more vigor. We kept seeing images on TV, talking about the attack. Different people kept blaming different parties. Some said it was the LCF, some said it was PCB. The letters kept changing, but one fact remained constant. Human beings had tried to kill human beings. And we kept asking ourselves, why us? Why did we have to watch this? But I knew, the mystical day, August 14, always comes by my life, with excitement, each time changing the course of my life forever. But this time, it had affected her the most. Later on, I found out, that one of her friends had passed away in the attack. Shivani, was her name. Her best friend, since first grade. I too loved Shivani. Countless nights, when they had a stay-over, Shivani would ask me to bake her a cherry cake, one of my specialties’. Now there would be no one to bake a cherry cake for. Though, even if I wanted to, I might not be able to, considering the disease. But as I saw her, that morning, getting ready to leave for college, I was filled with a sense of pride. I was happy that she had overcome all of that, to still keep her dream alive, and move on. Dreams are important. Without dreams, we cannot move on. Without dreams, I would not have moved on!! So that bright shinny morning, I was really happy to see her leaving for college to the land beyond the seven seas!! The land of dreams!! My blood will travel to the land of dreams! I felt like I had traveled. And just as I was feeling so happy, my eyes fell on my journal. As I opened it, it fell on the pages from last summer!! And I began to read:
And just then I realized that even she has struggled so much. The attach, the dismissal, but she was a fighter. She fought for her right. And so have we all. We have all fought for ourselves, our families, and our future. Have we paid enough price for our country’s freedom?
10.1 pm: Thank you, so much for coming. We really had a great time discussing and talking about your life with you!! Thank you so much, audience for staying with us, this past one hour. Please watch the end credits to know additional information about our speaker today! Thank You. And JAI HIND!
• India got partitioned the night I was born! Most of my life was decided by the partition!!
• The train was raided by Hindu activists the night, I was traveling to Delhi.
• There was an earthquake on a 7.0 Richter scale that morning. The morning, I lost my unborn child.
• I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease five years before. It has affected my speech.
• There was a bomb blast, the evening we went shopping. And she lost her best-friend. The blast killed people, but not their dreams.
• She got dismissed during the summer after freshmen year at high school. But along with her, our journey that summer, became one of the best moments of our lives.
“I am Ruksana. Or to be more precise, my name after marriage became Rukmini! I am still the same me.
Her name is Ranjani. As a child, we called her Chutki. She is my daughter.
She is Radhika. This was her first interview as a journalist. And she has made me proud. She is
A TRIBUTE TO MY Grandmother!!!
- A woman who struggled and dedicated her entire life for a cause, a family, a belief.