Everyday when I climb up to the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, I keep awaiting for the sight of majestic Indian Tricolour flying high atop, higher than the insignias of the British Raj, carved in timeless stone!
This sight makes my day! I wonder at the amount of sacrifice that has gone into realising this dream of the multitude of Indians for whom watching tricolour on Viceregal Lodge, if not unattainable, was difficult to attain. I stand admiring the courage and valour of those Indians whose unfailing faith in human audacity made it possible.
And the fact that I stand watching the Indian Tricolour as a Fellow of the Institute makes me doubly believe in the possibilities of realizing what seems, at one time, a difficult dream. I have learnt the importance of dreaming big! Though honestly speaking, it was not even a dream as I never acknowledged even to myself that such a dream could be a reality for me! The whole saga seems like a fairytale come true to me. At the resent point in time when I can reflect back on many happenings of my life with a detached objectivity, I can see the importance of even a small unintentional idea that infiltrates our psyche though we never know of its existence. I never knew that I carried the seed of a stray idea that my little brain carried for such a long time till it became a reality!
During the early seventies when my father joined as a postmaster at the Chaura Maidan Post office in Shimla, the new residence on the upper storey of the Chaura Maidan Post office building brought so many changes in our life. Having shifted from the congested but lively and bubbling-with-life Lower Bazaar neighbourhood, where I had lived for seventeen years of my life, the new residence was a blissfully spacious and peaceful abode. Far from the maddening crowds of the Lower Bazaar, the spacious accommodation filled my life with more of vacant space as I sought human company which sadly this accommodation failed to provide as there was no neighbourhood to talk of. My only pastime used to be gazing at persons who would walk through the road in front of my new home! To compensate for the lack of human companionship I would sometimes overhear some of them talking while standing outside the Post-office building. So much so that I had come to recognise many persons only by watching them from behind the windows. The funniest part was that these people would never know that they were being watched and overheard!
As I am talking of an era which can best be described as the post era as connectivity to other places for sending messages was only through the epistles and post-office was an important and happening institution in the life of all. I would watch the visitors to the Post-office and would weave stories about them in my imagination. There was one such person who would come quite often to the post-office. She was a very graceful middle aged woman, with a pleasant countenance and confident looks. Who could be she? A Woman coming regularly to Post-office was not a very common sight in the early seventies! “Who is the graceful woman who comes so often to the Post-office?” I asked my father one day. “She is a Fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study!” said my father in awe. His voice full of admiration, regard and genuine respect made me think that whatever she does must be something of great import which has earned such admiration from my father. “What does she do at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study?” I asked in genuine bewilderment. “She writes” and added, “she does advanced research”, looking at me with a wistful strange gaze. I was seventeen years of age and had recently started college life. I was too naive to have seen the dream in his eyes which he never even put in words. As a college dropout, because of family circumstances , he had carried many a unfulfilled dreams in him and nurtured many dreams for us as well. But this dream was too big for him to have even put into words!
I forgot about this small talk but the image of a very graceful elderly woman struck in my memory for ever. Life took its toll and I went on swimming along the currents most of the times and against the currents sometime. I was now Fifty Two years of age and comfortably settled in teaching profession. I had the usual middle-age problems and challenges to tackle. It was during this time that I saw an advertisement inviting applications for Fellowship at IIAS. The little talk that I had with my father some thirty five years ago reverberated in my ears and the image of that elderly graceful Fellow flashed in front of my eyes. I realized to my astonishment that I had forgotten nothing. All details were fresh in my memory. I was able to decipher the strange look in the eyes of my father when he talked about that elderly graceful lady. I could understand the dream that he nourished! I applied for the award of Fellowship at the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies.
Watching the tricolour flying high on the top of the building I think of my father when he was talking to his seventeen years old daughter some thirty five years ago. Today I can see the dream in his eyes that he never put into words. His dream, too, was fulfilled as was the dream of multitude of Indians to see the Tricolour fly high on the top of this building that was symbol of Raj! My eyes were filled with tears at his memory as he had died some twenty years back never even speaking of the dream he cherished.
Today, when I stood admiring at the majestic building of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study and the blue sky, dotted with clouds, overhead, I could see faintly my fathers’ benevolent face smiling at me—his ‘little one’– a Fellow at this prestigious Institute.