An ‘Engagement’ like none else !

There are two different subjects that i want to write about today.  

Subject No: 2 beckons.  Having picked up a degree of astuteness ( sic) over the years , i am going to stay with Subject No : 1.   

Subject No : 2, can wait. 

I used to read war stories. And so when well meaning relatives came up to me and declared that my ‘engagement’ would happen on a particular day, the guns seemed to boom within ! The Indian army engaged the militants, scream newspapers. And here i was getting engaged too. 

In proper Thamizh tradition, the engagement ceremony, (called Nitchiathartham) is official confirmation that all else is over. I mean, confirmation that the girl and boy are hooked and soon to be married. Over the years, this has morhped into a ring ceremony, where the bride-to-be and groom-to-be, exchange rings.  The first official interaction between the families ! 

So, there i was. In a flowing white Kurta and oversized Reebok sandals. God knows where i got my tastes from.  The ditinct smell of incense, jasmine and multiple perfumes permeated the Madurai air.  Guests strolled in. Cameras clicked with flashes of sound & light that i thought were reserved for missiles from a stealth bomber. 

There was the quintessential video grapher who insisted on shining his arc lights on me in the most inopportune moments. I insist, to deaf years, till date, that it was by design.  His logic It seemed to me that the central idea was to let the world know who the groom was. And that was by shining his video light ! By and large, the crowd understood the importance of light and focus ! 

In a while, my wife to be, in all bridal finery, walked in. And the cameras disowned me like an MP who lost an election. The crowds nodded in approval. Or atleast, thats what i thought. I saw everybody talk. I thought it was about me and my wife to be.  They could have been discussing the weather, the traffic, politics, or match-making for other prospective brides and grooms & such else. For the scared, every shadow is a ghost !  

Other rituals were on,  in a corner. Like background music that interests only music aficionados and not movie goers !  

And then, the time to exchange rings arrived. Nervousness kept me relentless company.  I slipped the ring on to her finger. 

The cameras clicked and for a moment, it felt like a celebrity.  That momentous moment had arrived and slipped by too. The moment seemed fleeting but for the photographers! True to spirit, one photographer shouted ‘once more’ ( He couldn’t get the angle right)  ! 

I think the photographers did that, not once, but thrice. Embarrassing it was. To slip the ring into her finger and then pull it out, only to slip it back in !  I bore it for the greater glory of photography, thrice ! After which i stopped and stood static. My hand holding hers, the slipped ring adorning her finger, posing for the camera. 

From, nowhere a bunch of colleagues who had travelled all the way from Bangalore arrived on stage.  With a clear intent and purposeful action that would put any social activists’ to shame, they lifted me and tossed me into the air.  Engagement Bumps, they said !  

I went up thrice into the air. White Kurta. Reebok sandal. And all else.   Each time i came down, i was filled with fright and images of the open mouthed awe struck Madurai audience. The tapestry of dhotis, sarees, safari suits in ‘shock and awe’ at this turn of the engagement !  

My wife to be stood still.  Her face pale.  Every other conversation in the room seemed to cease. My father-in-law & party to be, looked distraught.  With such raucous colleagues and friends of his son-in-law to be, i guess he (they ) had good reason.  The sole musician playing the Mirudangam stopped. My parents stood still. My brothers grinned. The cameras kept clicking. 

Thankfully, it didn’t go beyond thrice. 

In sometime the buffet was thrown  open.  The Mirudangam player resumed his play . The conversations resumed. My friends went their way. The cameras followed them and their antics.  I stood in a corner. All by myself. A plastered smile, shivering hands and a sweating forehead. Imagining & trying to see meaning of what the signs foretold.  

My last bachelor night was a stiff one.  I tossed and turned in bed. Many times over.  This time all by myself. The next day, i was married.  I havent looked back, ever since !   
And oh yes, Subject No : 2.  

Sept 8th also happens to be The International Literacy Day ! ‘On this day, UNESCO reminds the international community of the status of literacy and adult learning globally. Celebrations take place around the world.’  So says Wikipedia !
Now, Subjects 1 & 2 are two different subjects and have no connections / linkages whatsoever.  I write them in one post for the sake of factual coincidence of date. Nothing else ! 

A dad retires !

After 36 years of service as a professor in an University, my father retired on the 30th of April ’08. We couldn’t be there ( and I will never forgive myself for not being there when my either of my parents retired ), but we got to know that it was a grand affair.

My mom tells me that they gave him a diamond studded ring. Every research scholar who at some point or the other worked with him presented him a shawl. Or a sandal garland. Or a flower decked garland. I am told there was a grand function. And that the function was showcased on a local cable channel was perhaps the icing. After 36 years, well, this must have been one heck of a farewell

I am told that there were visitors at home of all hue. Of people who worked with him in the past. The present. Long ‘lost’ ‘friends’ & ‘colleagues’. People who he got along well with. Who he talked about often. Men who took care of him during his last days of work life. To him they were sons of a different order.

36 years is a long time. These 36 years saw him get married, raise two sons, get them married, fight their wrong attitudes and of course, stretch them, push them and of course, fight Parkinsons. Retired life is not going to be the same for him. I am not sure what kind of turn it is going to take. I only hope it is for the good.

He has been a man of impeccable virtue. His life dotted with simple deeds that gave disproportionately large payoffs for the recepients. His good deeds for others used to come unobturisively. Like a waiter serving you a plate of idlis and moving on to the next table.

If I read Iacocca & Wayn Dyer when other kids of my age were still reading up Amar Chitra Katha & Hardy Boys, a large part of the credit goes to him. At times, he used to stick to his guns. I intensly disliked him when he made me study math. But then, that was a difference, I will never forget being thankful to him for.

I remember him driving me around in the Vijay Super scooter of yesteryears. Ofcourse I recall the Hero Honda CD 100. It was one of the first vehicles in town. The white Ambassdor is a clearer memory. Somewhere inbetween,, he bought me a bicycle. I think it was a brand named ‘Paramount’. I have vague pictures of him buying that for Rs.650, and taught me to ride it too. Ineffect he ran with me and taught me to take my first ride. I have never stopped since.

They say fathers are very special. But this one really was. On my marriage he told me what he has always told me, ‘Health is most important. Safety is most important. You will be a fine young man’. Those words were a mere hiss as he whispered them to me using all of the the energy Parkinsons allowed him to have. I only hope I will live upto it all someday be worthy of it all.

They say a teachers influence never ever stops. Many of his students are now professors and teachers in their own right. And they say they owe it to him. I guess a few more generations will continue to be touched by him and what he stood for.

He was far from being a Perfect Man. He had his faults. Like everybody else. But I deeply admire & love him for what he resolutely stood for, even when he couldn’t stand physically. If words nuclear missiles, what was hurled at him could have wiped off the solar system. From somewhere, he had the resolute courage to wade on.

Now we are grown up men. Me and my brother. We have thoughts that are quite apart from his. We live in much bigger cities and we are chartering our ships in unaccustomed waters. When we look ahead, we look ahead with the strength that comes from the what he put inside us. A strength no storm can blow away.

The love, respect and admiration for him has gone up over the years. I worry for him and think often about him. We have discussed his retirement with him many times, as though it was the global price of petrol. But now that it is here, and here to stay, its time to have a more ‘consequential dialogue’.

As we used to kickstart the bike or as we used to pack our bags to leave home, he used to always tell us, “safety is most important. Health is most important’. Today as he switches off his work engine, those are the words that I would tell him.

Appa: Safety is most important. Health is most important. You will be a fine man. We are with you.