CHAPTER – 1
Memories, They Haunt !
Memories play important role in shaping present and future of a individual. Residing deep, under layers of brain, they consciously and most of it , subconsciously shapes perspective and builds up character, behavior and thinking pattern. Most of us do not even realize, whole of our lives- how important role memories plays in shaping “ Us” .
Our main character of this story is Keshu, his full name being Keshav Bhardwaj- even his own full name sometimes looks alien to him, thus Keshu becomes his reality, his own face and his acknowledgment of himself and his existence. Keshu is depressed these days, it seems to him this could be due to grey hairs and reducing sexual impulse. He is married but these days, he has started feeling stinking smells and he just don’t want to sleep with his wife. This change in routine life of years worries him, but also gives him his space and freedom to be awake and explore new world he has started to feel thrilled about “ Facebook “ and blogs are his new found world. Another day, a very young girl who sent her “Friend Request” and as soon as he accepted started asking him questions which even his wife had never bothered to ask.
Questions about his childhood, how he remembers his early days of life. Keshu almost was in shock, where to start from and what not to tell. He thinks for a second to make up some story but he realized that he himself wanted to narrate his truth, for record sake.
His earliest memory was of his first birthday. Keshu remembers and he once told his old man also, which amused him a lot that how he can accurately describe memories of his first birthday but Keshu was speaking truth. He remembers his first birthday with great accuracy. His grandfather was accountant with a English Missionary and this job had changed many things in household. Not only Manners, Etiquettes, Cutlery , Clothes but language and relationships too. Keshu’s father never use foul language, and Keshu have no memories his father using of alcohol or smoking. But whenever he tries to look back through windows of memories in his past years, he remembers his mother crying with pain, weeping and begging her husband not to thrash “her” child.
Some memories creates shivers, chills and Goosebumps too. Keshu remembers how at one such encounter , when his father got angry because his mom fed him porridge twice while his instructions were to feed once. But what to do, a child doesn’t understand rules, specially rules of eating…and her mother, could not tolerate her child’s cries for food, unknowingly gave her porridge second time. This was big big mistake in eyes of senior Bhardwaj who claimed she is spoiling his life and not able to maintain discipline.
Biggest bad moment of the day was, when Keshu’s mom uttered a wrong line after initial 2- 3 blows …” If my child is hungry , what else I could have done than feeding him.” And this was beginning of a catastrophic event which resulted in using a bamboo stick and …Keshu had no memory how many and where he hits her but he remembers when neighbors came running in and a sobbing, crying Keshu’s mom unzip her dress and next moment was a embedded memory in Keshu’s timy brain…his 3 year old brain took picture of woman’s back, all blue and blood oozing out ..it was result of a hit which pushed bra hook inside flesh of his mom. No one dares to talk to his father, Keshu has no memory where was he when people came running. But after sometime, one by one, all started going back. He was left alone with sobbing mother. She saw him terrified, staring at her in silence ..she grabbed him and hugged him tight. Keshu remember smell of her sweat and warm body and her line “ God is with me, God is watching”. It would take years for Keshu to understand what was that fatal line, which used to irritate his father- it was ,” My Child”. Perhaps this challenges his manhood or claim of fatherhood but one thing is sure, as soon as Keshu’s father hear this – his anger shoots up like some hidden volcano ..” It’s mine too” and through all blows and punches he would hisss ” You are making him undisciplined , ruining his life.”
Keshu remember his first birthday – same faces who used to come running with fear and worry whenever his father made her mother and him cry and beg for mercy. Same faces were smiling, they were in joy, smelling so good and at one time Keshu doubts his own memories of pain, fear and hatred deep inside him. All those faces were gleaming today. Senior Bhardwaj, Keshu’s grandfather came in imported car, he was called “Saheb” by most. People speak low and looks towards him with “awe”. Keshu remembers talking to him, he adores Keshu, Proudly announcing “ My First Grand Son ! “
Soon after his firsr birthday, Keshu was sent to hostel. He was three and half and he remembers his mother mumbling ,” He is such a small child, how he will look after himself ?” but was over ruled by loud and harsh voice of his father,” He is getting spoiled here, he will be disciplined there. It’s not a jail, it’s a Catholic convent.”
Next memory is a send off. A sob, tears but no sound…her mother hugged him, kissed him ,” May God be with you ! “ and he was in a bus, window seat, watching wall of water flowing in air whenever their bus zooms past through rain water on road. Not much he remembers about school office, but his black trunk was having a lock and his father gave him key like some garland, hanging by his neck. A duplicate key was placed with warden, Keshu had heard father warden was very “strict”.
Religious institutions, be in India or anywhere in the world- have one thing common in them- They are highly disciplined, fanatically organized in almost everything they do. We have to remember that Keshu was just five and half year old when he was dropped in hostel- he was carrying very clear memory of that day whole of his life. He remembers smiling women with long white cloaks- they were warm and friendly, some smiles like his mom. He was happy, at home whenever he was close to them, watching them, listening and understanding- looking into their eyes and their smell …feels like home, like her mom. Men in white cloaks were mostly serious and he didn’t like any of them. His father was of view that he would cry a lot when in evening, he would say good bye. But Keshu was at peace, at peace with himself when his father kissed him – ,” Be a good boy, make me proud of you.” – All he said before turning his back…he watched him disappearing somewhere in out of focus due to mist in his eyes. No, he was not crying.
When he felt sleep, he have no memory. But there was a sharp sound of bell ringing, associated with huge hustle of cloths, whispering, ” Good Morning” – Keshu was in some other world- he didn’t open his eyes but was awake. Someone pulls his sheet ,” Hey ! look at this new kid – he is still in bed.”
,” Hey You ! Get up !! Father would be coming.”
He was able to sense warning and danger – he got up. Now What ? A big , huge guy appeared and this was Daniel- his monitor. Daniel was incharge of Keshu – as being small, he was not able to do many chores. A single signal and Keshu understood- he is supposed to pick up his towel, brush with paste and soap.
,” Follow Me ! .” and next moment he finds himself at tubewell, big and strong wave of water gushing out, big engine sound and everyone was in hurry, speaking loud …it was start of a day. Seniors were inside bathtub, a cemented structure 6′ x 4′ x 4′ which accommodates 3 -4 kids at one time. Growing up kids, with their upcoming muscular bodies were all busy in early morning, shower in nature. When Daniel signalled him to enter in water – he was terrified, it was first time , he was facing that much water, gushing and with terrified force. He obeyed – he already had finished brushing teeth and after initial moments of nervousness, soon he was enjoying in small swimming pool. He forgot he was supposed to rush, he forgot everything…he was just feeling ecstatic in his personal pool and flowing, swimming weightlessly in that small pool. It was a sharp burning feel on his back which brought him to present moment – one more slash of heat and pain and he turned to see a angry father , waving a branch of tree, going to strike third time. Pain had overcome everything he was feeling at that time, all he remembers about that day, that moment was anger in fathers’s eyes and branch going up in air. He raised both hands to defend himself but lash comes faster that his prayer – and this time hits him on arm..he didn’t’ cry ..he walked slowly, carrying his towel, forgetting his brush and feeling of pain and burning on his back, hardly he knows that today, that moment is going to be engraved in his memory , lifelong.
Life moves on, perhaps this is what makes it so challenging, so unpredictable that it is self-sufficient, it always move on. Whatever happened, it can handle , absorb , encourage or discourage…but it moves on. For little Keshu, days merged with days and then into weeks – memory of mother daily brought tears in his eyes, he don’t remember he ever cried or sobbed …but yes, he remember that shooting pain in chest, starting a series of lumps which chokes him, suffocates him and he invented a respite, a way out to be hidden from this world which he could never accept.
A life size statue of Mother Mariam wither blue drape and white shawl, reminds him of his mother and that wild flower bush attracts him too – so he made a routine to sit there, he enjoys that smell of flowers, burning wax and feeling of sitting close to mother . He would weave a garland and this was his tribute, his act of offering through statue of Mother Mary.
It was here, after few months of this routine, that he started to feel a spiritual connection. For a small child, this was unexplainable and it took him decades to understand what was happening inside him.
While coming from his Hostel to Church, one day he observed Songs coming from sky. This was a magical show – he was not able to see source, but sound was there. For hours he could try to judge, feel, changing his direction, focusing on his ears…but could never locate. It took him almost a year to know that adjacent to school is army camp and army used to play these films songs for entertainment. There were families and kids in that army unit and they regularly have some recreational activity going on.
Keshu could not prove himself a shining student. He was very weak in Math and Drawing and almost daily he was getting lashes of bamboo stick on his palms. Kids were right – Fathers in that convent were very strict. Daniel was doing his best, on Saturdays..he was part of team which makes sure that school and hostel plants are free from garbage and they are watered well. After this exercise, Daniel would take him to Bazar to show him how to buy important articles for survival.
He do not remember any visit of his father. But he learnt how to write letter . He learnt how gum can be extracted from a tree. His letter would start with Cross, and then Dear Father and he would write- ,” I do not want to live here, I miss my mother, come and take me home”. He would shower prayers in last but never wrote “Your’s”
His prayers were never answered – but he was at home in Church. Smell and ambience of Church , Music and heavy sound of Head Father …all takes him to a heavenly, to a spiritual journey. He was at home- this was his heaven.
So far we know that Keshu was escorted to his parents by a convent worker. Memory of seeing his mother after six months was going to be with him for coming years but that day, at that moment, he didn’t knew that- all he could manage was clinging to her, without word, without sob or shedding a tear. He was at home.
Something unusual happened and he was startled , shocked and in this bewilderment, he didn’t knew what to do..it was a cry of a infant. Her mother noticed his reaction , she bend down , both looked into each others eyes and she smiled ,” You have a brother.”
Keshu was not prepared , or anticipated that- he stood there, looking into her eyes, he was noting down her eye lids, eyebrows and her shining teeth…he was in awe, how badly, hoe intense mother – son relationship was.
She grabbed him by his arm and took him inside where a infant , pink skin and black hairs lay awake, looking up , focusing on a hanging toy. As soon he noticed his mother near him – he turned and smiled- in joy he kicked his legs and arms as if he was driving a cycle. That was the moment when something snapped inside Keshu- his mother picked up the child and hugged him close to her chest, on her shoulder and that very moment Keshu felt as something inside him has been divided into two, something snapped and he stood there, silently watching her mother smiling and playing with the infant.
He was a good kid , all fun. Mother allowed Keshu to touch him, talk to him and very soon they were known to each other. He was given a name soon “ Anand Bhardwaj “ and his nickname was “Kaka” – this was the name , the tag her mother would use for years for his younger sibling.
Father had come back, he had a short talk about Keshu with his mother and mostly it was when Keshu came and how. Something has changed, He was talking in low tone and this was something unusual for Keshu- all he could grab by catching up some words was “ Village” – something has happened in village, his father’s native place which has forced his father to do something extraordinary. Days were passing by – Keshu was asked to make a scheduler and glue it over his head. It was heavily dictated by his father, bed in morning was at 6.0 AM and lights were supposed to be off at 10.0 PM. Whole day was having a set timing and chores and there was no scope of error – what error means, was well known to not only Keshu and his mother, but also to neighbors .
Something has changed,but what it was and how it happened , Keshu could not understand till today and this change was decision to take him out from convent. Yes, he was not going back and one Sunday, his fayer brought his aluminium trunk with all his belongings – and that was end of Keshu’s first hand experience of hostel life which gave him scars , scars of memories which stayed with him all his life.
LIFE MOVES ON
Yeah, life moves on. Keshu realized that his father hardly talks to him, or gets angry at him or his mother. There was not much beating and thrashing happening. May be infant is that factor or inclusion of a new baby has made his father bit busy that he almost forgot Keshu’s existence. The
re were some dramatic events happened in those months. Coming out from strict convent upbringing, his father enrolled him in a Arya School. This was Hindu Traditional school which was way comfortable and connected to the ground. Although Keshu was from same religion but much of his upbringing was way different than what his father was trying to do now. Words “Om” “ Bhagwan” “Ishwar” “Devi” “Devta” “Bharat Ma” gave him a new link and a new connection with his fellow students and again he was able to establish a connection , a bond with school, its theology and atmosphere. Keshu was not extraordinary – he faced great difficulty in memorizing but if he understands concept, it was comfortable to learn but mostly he was struggling with methodology of teaching. He was managing well – atleast he was not failing in his classes. Very soon, he found himself in 6th Standard and one fine day, life again changed. He was informed that they are shifting in some village where his mother has got posting and they have been given apartment there. Within a week, Keshu found himself in a modern village where water and sewerage was modernized – they were living in a hospital again. Hospital always reminds him of a faint Dettol smell, people with pain and sadness on their faces and almost daily he would notice people crying or sobbing. He knew doctors m his mother and her colleagues are trying to do their best to treat patients but sometimes there are deaths too. In every early age, he smelled and understood death.
A clear memory of one early morning walk to get fresh milk – Keshu noticed a plastic cover of eye glasses , he picked it up and there he found big notes of 100. His heart was thumping in his ears and he went back home with his find. His mother was of the view that it’s God’s gift so money can be used but his father taught a different lesson, and that lesson, of that day stayed with him for ages. His father spoke to him in kind voice and told him to imagine if this money belongs to some patient- who will suffer and may die. And now he asked Keshu, what he would like to do with this money now ?
It took seconds for Keshu to rise above greed – and he agreed with his father, perhaps first time in his life that they should find real owner and return back that find.
They both walked to residence of Chief Medical Superintendent and informed about Keshu’s find and hand over Keshu’s find.
Keshu almost forgot but one fine day – in school assembly, his name was called. He froze, but head teacher was calling him, he walked with heavy heart and trembling legs, thinking what wrong he has done. There he stands infront of hundreds of students- and Head Teacher was telling them Keshu’s find and what he did with that find. Everyone clapped, Keshu realized sudden glory and good vibes, he felt shy and was not able to look into eyes of teachers and students standing in front of him, looking at him, smiling and happy for him.
Not much of memories of that village except a small garden his father created, he always loved that , perhaps farmer in him or sheer urge of creation but whenever and wherever he got space and opportunity – he always nurtured plants. Time was running and once again, Keshu’s mom got transfer back to city and once again he was back in same city but this time another locality. He never liked that house which was rental, and it leaks in monsoons. Keshu remembers how his mom and dad used to handle those leaks while kids were managed in some safe dry corner. Sometimes, in heavy downpours – his father would climb up and put some material in that section , sometimes this repair works for a season and sometimes for few hours. There was slight decrease in fathers punishments these days – Keshu passed 6th standard and as soon as his result came, along with came a news that he is being enrolled in a distant hostel. Very imagination of going to be separated sank his heart – he was sad for days, even his mother tried to make it up to him but he seized to speak, to exist. Days were running by – preparations and shoppings start. Every shirt was impregnated with his initials. Almost everything was having his initials – his box was repainted and his name along with his city name he belongs to….and then comes last day. Yes, this was last day because after this day, his life was never same, never at peace and never playful. Something inside him died that day and something inside him was created that day.
He remembers, how his father with help of a porter, put his bedroll and big trunk on top of a bus and how he made sure that he had tied it with roof rail of the bus, ensuring that luggage do not move or trip over. They were mostly silent but almost in middle of the travel, his father started in deep voice which Keshu heard perhaps first time. He explained to him, why this decision was taken and what are benefits of studying in hostel and that how we will be able to focus on studies and how he can earn scholarships …
Most of the talk has gone over Keshu’s head – he was still in shock of loosing his mother once again, and his brother who was a great source of play and fun.
This was a Christian Convent Hostel again, a old missionary building and a tongue wagging hostel warden. Somehow, Keshu could not like him, he generates fear and he speak loud and harsh. There was lot to do – he got a cupboard , he had brought lock, everything was placed inside and locked. His bed was made by his father and when everything was completed – it was time to say Good-Bye. Keshu walked with his father to bus stand which was almost 2 kms away – his father had obtained permission for that. He remembers that walk for years and also, how in middle of that send- off , his father stopped at a shop, in corner of school ground and arranged ONE GLASS OF MILK everyday for him.
They had again a conversation and in same deep tone, bus started to roll and his father gave him a hurried kiss on his cheeks and ran to board rolling bus. He still remember that void, that lump which stayed with him for years- he never liked send-offs and Good Byes in his entire life.
Life in hostel was not boring but something was lacking, a miss , which never let him enjoy his day in school. Keshu could never come up with loss of his family, a deep feeling of abandoned and loneliness. All his sports achievements, his love for books, his school grades ..was a cover to hide his sensitive bruised soul. It was a different life in school where day scholars and hostlers was mixture of two different worlds. School was not heavy on his nerves, his life starts after final bell rings. His walk back to hostel was through tall Eucalyptus trees, he always loved that smell. And among these tress was a old woman who used to roast various grains. Keshu always loved to spend some moment there – stopping in his track, he used to observe old lady. Her wrinkled face, and the way she keep fire alive by blowing in a pipe, and again dry leaves of Eucalyptus …further makes whole environment, a unique mystic place. Sometimes, he buys from her and his pockets were filled with roasted corn or wheat – this was his treats !
Holidays, Sundays in winters were something like a party. All students takes their blankets,mattresses up on roof and stretching whole day on these warm and cozy softness ends when shadows from big mango trees leaps on them.
Gossips, songs and studying novels, magazines…life is beautiful, Keshu was getting in tune with freedom, responsibility and shadowing his personal tragedy with this cover up. During one such sunny afternoon, he heard a unbelievable incident, a story and this mystery remained with him. Sometimes, he declared to himself ,” Timing, may be he was so quick to react and managed to come out.” and many times he found himself wondering and confused that he kicked this thought, this memory out – ” Stop ! No use of thinking about it.”
And that incident, that memory was .. two young boys were traveling on top of a train coach [ This is still a normal, acceptable menace in over populated India and its railways.] when it got involved in a collision. It was such a jolt that one of the boy, in his teens, got himself right into the open steam opening of Engine- and landed on red hot coal. He managed to come out from that intense heat by grabbing some pipe and pulling himself up. It took months for Keshu to be face to face with that teen, who was now a youngman in his early twenties and when kids asked him about that incident- he showed them his arm and leg…where skin was shrunken ..twitched and disfigured. There was no doubt in Keshu’s mind about authenticity of that incident, specially after watching those huge injuries …but how this could be possible, he could never comes to accepting or imagining that scene. Same black steam engine, pulling passenger trains, crosses his hostel twice a day. One train in morning and then one in evening. Some special days in a year, he would see people sitting on top – and he would imagine consequences of such foolishness. He was also witness to headless body- the man got hit by something while sitting on top of coach…may be low clearance bridge or something- but for years seeing a dead body headless and dripping of blood, would make a life long memory.
Day were turning into months, he was doing good in studies and his Warden report was also good. He almost read every interesting book in library. He was part of stage act, christmas play and he was playing basketball in school team..Keshu was doing good- he should have been happy but in real, he was not. He always had a strong feeling of loneliness and being abandoned. He always felt as he was worthless, not required, a burden…and he would feel warm tears swelling up, remembering his mother. He would wonder, how is she, and his little brother.
Keshu spent two years in this convent. A strict Christian value and discipline. He didn’t knew any woman except BUA JI.
BUA JI was always clad in white. Keshu didn’t knew much about her, only hearsay that she is second marriage of warden Prem Masih. Her husband stands six feet, bulky, muscular body with a broad , heavy face with popped up eyes which hardly smiles. She was tiny, frail and always clad in white. She was opposite in nature – she would call him and other kids and would give them some sweets, candies or cakes. She was only woman Keshu knew in these two years. Once when his mother came to see him, she stayed with BUA JI for two days. Those two days become a memory which stayed with him whole of his life. They would go to bazaar to buy new cloths and it was here, he was introduced to Pastries.Later, this would become a obsession for decades to come !
This so happened that after exams of 8th class – Keshu packed his box for vocations and bedroll was deposited at warden’s place. His father was there to take him home. It was March, warm and sunny days when he landed back, to be with her mom and brother.
His early days, back in his home were full of confusion as his routine and life style was changed, and he found himself alien in coping up with almost everything new.
He would wake up early at 5.0 AM and would lay awake, thinking what to do. By twilight, he would wear his tracksuit and go out – this was beginning of his self teaching in running and exercise. He started jogging and very soon, he was reported running alongside a canal, on outskirts of city. Someone reported to his father, and he stopped his early morning excursion citing big snakes are found canal side. Keshu started visiting a school ground early in morning – and his routine gets set, and he become popular among local athletes and sports people.
His father realized very soon that he doesn’t take his commands, and he complained that this rude and arrogant behaviour. Keshu’s mother , somehow managed to mutter and argue that boy is growing up and he should be under wings of his father now. Keshu stand 5′.10″ tall the day he measured his height, which comes few cms higher than his father. Although he could never cope up with width and pure muscular frame of father, which remained unchallenged through out of their lives.
One Saturday, his father boarded bus to get school leaving certificate, his bedroll and that was end of Keshu’s Christian convent exposure.
Back home, he was having good time but he was labelled as non-obedient , full of argument because he asked questions and do not take commands as they were thrown at him.Couple of times, he got hard punishments but it had become his nature, his persona – to speak up, to say what he wants to say. His biggest war started with Bible, theory of origin and he had his own questions. He also challenged some miracles, depicted in Old Testament.
One fine day, his father took him to a famous school, it was Sanatan Hindu School, famous for it’s high results. He has had no objection, or reservations but very air of school was way different than what he was used to. He was taken in – and very soon he was shopping for books, copies and other material. His father was shocked to see his 44″ long pants …he was shaping up in a handsome youngman !
Keshu was studying in Sanatan Hindu School , but he was at peace with himself. Never, ever he realized difference in religious ambiance. He was rather happy and “at home” – from morning prayer to visiting hall,with all paintings of Vivekananda and Sages,Freedom Fighters ..he was able to relate with them. He realized that methods of teaching are different – and all of a sudden he found himself sitting with his father, earning Maths and English …and from here, a long routine of ordeal started. His father was a renowned teacher of Maths and English for private tuitions, students cycle to come as early as 4.30 AM from distant villages, in good and bad weather. And here was his son, struggling and confused in Math.
Remembering those days -he would still recall how his father was up late night , trying to solve math equations, algebra and all exercises which were later more confusing for his student son, because teacher in school was teaching something else. While father was adamant on his methods and “simplicity” – son find himself being crushed in between both personalities , one at home and one at school. He failed in maths- and that deficit was never to recover. Maths was not only thing which manages a ever deepening divide between father and son..there were more factors contributing to this relationships which was becoming soar day by day. Physical torture of his mother , himself and his siblings was not enough, he was also being stopped from participating in sports in which he was making a niche for himself and this further suffocates a growing up boy, while his father could never ever would see- what his thought process of parenting is resulting in.
Keshu managed to pass but his life was going to take a sharp turn. His father applied for a distant Christian College which was rated as institution of reputation. There was a call letter soon and one day they traveled to Baring Union Christian College, Batala which was close to INDo-PAK border. College was a dream world for him – he was amused, shocked to see gorgeous girls in color full attires and many of them coming from western countries. At interview – he was selected, not due to being good in studies but due to his standings in sports. Yes, his credentials in Badminton helped him in getting a seat in that prestigious college and with this, one chapter of his life turn and opens up a chapter of new life – with all new dimensions and with almost no guide, help or friend to talk to.