After retirement we moved into a small two-bedroom flat in a far suburb of Mumbai; this is as big as the one that I could afford after being an officer in the Navy for close to 37 years. In my last house whilst still in the Navy, my wife and I took months to sort out things and pack. We knew that we had to give away lot of stuff that we had accumulated. This invariably used to happen with our frequent postings in the Navy.
I saw this 1957 Hindi movie with my parents; one of the earliest ones that I saw with them. The movie was named ‘Bhabhi‘ (brother’s wife) starring Balraj Sahni and Nanda. Rajinder Krishan wrote these most appropriate verses:
[lineate]Toone tinaka tinaka chun kar nagri ek basaai,[/lineate][lineate]Baarish mein teri bheegi palken dhoop mein garmi khaai,[/lineate]Gum na kar jo teri mehnat tere kaam na aayi[lineate]Achha hai kuchh le jaane se dekar hi kuchh jaana[/lineate][lineate]Chal udja re panchhi ke ab ye des hua begana[/lineate]
[lineate](O’ bird, twig by twig you picked a complete nest of a world[/lineate][lineate]Rain wet your brow, and sun made you sweat[/lineate][lineate]Don’t rue that you couldn’t enjoy the fruit of your labour.[/lineate][lineate]It is better to give and go then to take and leave[/lineate][lineate]Fly away bird, now this place is not yours anymore)[/lineate]
So, as we move house, what do we finally end up giving away? Most often we give away junk that was only gathering moss, mildew and dirt. This would include all those notes and dockets from the Staff College that I’d assumed I couldn’t ever do without and which, I had never cared to read even once after leaving the Staff College. Then there would be those mementoes of “love and affection” given to me at farewells without any particular emotion other than the relief at seeing me go. However, like the Master Card ad, there would still be a lot of things that we’d wince if we had to give them away; those things that money can’t buy; because there are so many memories attached to them.
It is not my intention to bore you with a list of such things. I know each one of us has a list of such dear and precious things. However, I shall give you some examples of what it means. I gave away the first vehicle that I ever owned: a Yezdi 250 cc mobike. I still remember the number: KEE 438. I bought the mobike in the year 1980 when, as a lieutenant in the Navy, I was undergoing my specialisation course in communications and electronic warfare at Navy’s Signal School in Cochin (now Kochi). My would-be-wife was at Coimbatore and I made many a trip up and down between Cochin and Coimbatore on this bike during its (my?) running-in period. Once, on a long weekend, we went to Coonoor together.
When she visited Bombay where I got posted, we decided to go to Goa on – we called it – our donkey. One officer had named his bike ‘kilometer eater’; but, we were quite happy about calling it donkey for not only carrying our weights but many other things (for example, at one time we carried a complete cooking gas cylinder on it since waiting for the delivery boy would have been too much). What a trip it turned out to be. We returned from the Navy Ball at about 1 AM and suddenly, without any plan, I asked Lyn if she wanted to visit Goa. Knowing my capricious moods, she was fearful of asking me “when” but, I solved that problem for her by saying, “Tomorrow morning”. We got up at 5 AM, hurriedly packed up a rucksack and off we went “for a few days”, which finally turned out to be almost a month.
Oh, to be young again. Love teaches you togetherness and we were not in any hurry to reach anywhere. We clicked pics, admired the scenery and I even tried to teach her driving. Together with our donkey, we owned the world. Here is Lyn on the Bombay-Goa highway as it used to look in 1980 (not that it is better 32 years later):
We reached Belgaum at about 10 PM and that’s the time Lyn asked me if we should finally find a shelter for the night. At about midnight we found the Military Engineering Services Inspection Bungalow (MES IB). The Major-in-Charge saw our blackened faces (with the soot from the lorries), gave us a room and had only one request: “Please have breakfast with us before leaving tomorrow morning.” We were wondering why; but, the mystery was solved over breakfast. Apparently, just before they turned in for the night, the Major’s wife had a debate with her husband that the spirit of adventure was dying down in the armed forces. Just then we landed up.
The three of us: Lyn, donkey and I, had a most adventurous Bombay-to-Goa trip and stay in Goa. On the way back, we loaded our donkey on a ship (for 90 bucks) and returned to Bombay.
Our donkey instinctively understood us and never gave us any anxious moments. When Arjun, our elder son was born in 1984, that was the first vehicle he rode, perched up between Lyn and me. For one year after Arun was born in end 1986, we still managed on donkey with Arun held in her arms by Lyn and Arjun sitting on the fuel tank. God always gave us enough; in the year 1988 I was sent to Spain on duty and I returned with enough money to buy a car. Good bye, donkey. He went for 3500 rupees. All of us were saddened to see him go and the children even cried. I took solace in Sahir Ludhianvi’s lyrics:
[lineate]Jiyo to aise jiyo jaise sab tumhaara hai;[/lineate] [lineate]maro to aise ke jaise tumhaara kuchh bhi nahin.[/lineate]
(Live in such a way as if everything belongs to you; but die as with nothing belonging to you)
During our days there used to be a song by Trini Lopez with the title: ‘What have I got of my own?’ In the end, life and particularly life in the navy with its frequent transfers has taught me how true are these words:
Then there was this playpen we got for Arjun. He was never alone there; he was there with his cat and toys. It was large, painted lavender and Lyn even made a mosquito-net for it. The front side could be slid down for helping the baby in and out and, though large, it even had wheels to move it around. Arjun used to love being inside it; the problem was that Lyn and I hadn’t made peace about not having him with us on our own bed. The Friday movies on the doordarshan and Benjamin Spock had prompted us to spend Rupees 1000 in getting this cot cum playpen. Arjun, in the vein of most babies who won’t be neglected, knew when exactly to wail endlessly during our watching the movie on doordarshan that used to start at 7:30 PM. Once evening, when a repeat of Rajesh Khanna’s Anand was to be aired, we planned to play with him in the afternoons so much so that at the appointed hour, Arjun would be fast asleep in the cot-cum-playpen. The movie began and we watched about 30 minutes of it without any interruptions from Arjun. However, both of us knew that our minds were elsewhere. Finally, I uttered what Lyn wanted to hear all the while, “Go and get Arjun; it is no fun watching the movie without him keeping us from watching it.” We moved to Delhi in 1987 and the cot went with us. Arun couldn’t use it initially because we didn’t have a house; we lived in one room with all our baggage lying around us in unopened boxes. When we finally got a big enough house to open the cot-cum-playpen for Arun, it was time for posting; this time for undergoing Staff Course in Coonoor (Nilgiris). We finally had to give it away without Arun using it much. However, we still wistfully remember the fun it used to be to put first Arjun and then Arun there in the first world that was entirely their own:
In the meantime, when it wasn’t possible to open the cot, we had to buy a smaller one for the smaller one. Lo and behold, even the elder one used to like me taking them for a ride in this cot-cum-pram-cum-swing (it had a stand from where it could be hung and the baby rocked to sleep). This was even greater fun for them than the playpen since they could put their toys in it and push it around the house. It was sad to see it go. But, then the relief was that the children didn’t require it anymore.
What a lot of fun they had on this cycle for a few years. Arjun felt like a big boy taking his younger brother around and telling him reassuringly, “Don’t worry; I am a safe driver”.
It was nice to see Arjun grow into a boy on this cycle from an infant. But, our heart was in our mouths when we had to give it away:
I remember giving away my complete collection of Hemant Kumar’s songs on audio cassettes, my PG Wodehouse Books, my collection of Readers Digests, flower pots that had started looking deliciously verdant just when the transfer orders came, photo frames and even paintings each one of those had a story to tell. Would the new owner have guessed how much we paid in terms of minutes of our lives (and not money) in maintaining them, cherishing them and looking after them?
Curiously, there were also things that we didn’t feel a thing about losing; electronic stuff, eg, music systems, televisions, fridges, clothes, shoes and the like. This only goes to prove that things acquire life of their own because of priceless memories attached to them and not because of their money-value. I still miss our first telly: Dyanora 14″ B&W portable, though.
The other day I read a story by a fellow blogger Anupam Patra who writes very imaginatively. In the story a man gave away his eyes to his killer’s son. That got me thinking how can giving away anything inanimate be so hard or difficult?
As Elton John sang in ‘Talking Old Soldiers’:
[lineate]Just ignore all the others;[/lineate] [lineate]you got your memories….[/lineate]
Finally, the pictures – both in the sepia and on the mind’s screen – are still with me; the memories are never given away. I can still relive even my own childhood without any of the material things associated with it let alone that of my children.
Mujhe ab bhi yaad hai kitana ameer tha main…..jab paani mein mere jahaz chalte the (I still remember how rich I was then….when my ships used to ply in the waters):
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