Independence day has come and gone.It was a few days before the 15th August that I remembered him again. I wanted to write this on that august day, the feelings were too strong to write objectively. Now that the day has gone,the feelings a trifle dulled and thoughts more objective, but can one divorce feelings from thoughts when one thinks of a super hero who gave his all for his country. It is difficult to be objective when that hero is your own uncle.
I first saw Mamu in Delhi on our holiday at Chahchji's house. Television broadcasting had just begun here, watching tv was a novelty, we were watching a movie in a language which we did not understand, Mamu and us kids on chairs and all the other children sitting cross legged, all of us enraptured by the images on the screen, without understanding a word of what was happening. At some point in the film there was a funny scene and Mamu made it even more by his comment and action. I was floored by this tall man with his humor who had all of us rolling with laughter at a film which was gibberish.
The second time I met him was in Bundi,a small town in Rajasthan where my much older cousin was to be married and all the family had gathered for the occasion. A familiar face when we arrived and who told his daughters, my cousins to accompany us to where we were to stay across the road. Instant friendship ensued,with just a years difference between me and the younger one. One morning we went to inspect the place where the baratis were to stay.... it was a palace not very far away, the baraat was to arrive the next day and we had to see that all the arrangements were in order and be ready to receive them the next evening. Normally when the baraat arrives they are greeted by some of the people from the bride's family with a daawat which is called amad ki daawat or the greeting on the arrival. We were waiting for them to arrive for quite a while when Mamu declared ... HERE THEY COME... all of us ran out to the porch and there was nothing...HERE THEY ARE..THE SAMOSAS HAVE COME!!! Laughter all around before we got down to more serious business.
For children weddings are a twenty four hour party . No responsibilities, just try and find the coca cola crates and guzzle as many as possible, watch the festivities enjoy the moments of fun with adults, look at the peacocks which came very close,walk down the shaded roads when there is a lull, dress up during the functions,an idyllic holiday.Mamu was there with us,sometimes, as a playmate in some of our silly games.
We came to the then Bombay in 1971 and I soon joined my new school.It was the start of the new school year and my first day there. My parents had told me to come back home by the school bus. It was a half day at school which I was not expecting, all the girls seemed to know where to go... I too went towards the bus but there were so many of them, I did not know which one to get on to, so I decided to walk home. I was vaguely familiar with the route, asked people on the road for directions and reached home at two thirty in the afternoon much to Mom's surprise and later horror when I told her that I had walked home. That evening Mamu and Mami came over to meet us, my father still a bit upset with my 'bold' behaviour, told him what I had done and Mamu looked at me and said... she's a lioness.. SHERNI HAI!I loved this tall uncle of mine with my life. My cousins were in boarding school and Mamu and Mami would come often.. I would wait for his Renault to arrive with anticipation, he would often join my brother and me in our games.
This idyll lasted but seven months. In December of that year a war broke out with a neighboring country. One night the sirens rang out loud and tracer bullets went streaming through the sky, I thought we were being attacked and the tracers were bullets going in the direction of the harbor. I screamed with fright thinking of my uncle.He left soon for battle soon after that day,set sail to protect our territory. He did not return. The call came on one dark night.. the ship had sunk, torpedoed by an enemy submarine and we knew that this was the end.
The newspapers were full of the stories the next day and for many days after, in all languages talking about the brave captain who went down with his ship. The sailors who were rescued told my aunt about how he had saved some of them, one who was afraid to jump in the waters was given a peremptory kick on his behind, another who could not find his life jacket was given the one which Mamu himself was wearing, while roaring out orders for all to leave the ship into the safer waters. Many saw him then go back, this brave man sat on his captain's chair calmly and went down with the ship. In the best tradition of the navy, with honor and pride.
He left behind a young beautiful widow and two daughters shattered but as strong as him in their bereavement.
My mother went to see films over again just to see the documentary film which was made about him and the event which led to his sacrifice.
I mourned quietly for my beloved uncle who had made me once feel brave.
A life well lived.
On days like these I remember my special super hero, with his small smile and large heart, his humor and bonhomie.When the flag flies high I think of him with pride. We take our safety for granted, conduct our businesses with ease, do we ever think of all those whose job is our security. Their valour is exemplary.
I SALUTE THEM!