Be the Change that you want to be: Life in Simla of the Sixties

Be the change that you want to be….The first step towards a different tomorrow!!

“Be the change that you want to be”, a very catchy slogan of the millenial age would spark many debates and the pseudo-intellectuals, with a quiver full of  arsenal  defend the adage to substantiate the progressive society we live in. The society that provides all opportunities to you to be the change that you want to be. I laugh in my sleeves, putting on a solemn expression on my face,  and utter a sentence or two of pedantic superficial comments using a verbose style to impress the animated participants. Though physically present at such discussions I am miles away from them in space and time. Brushing off all these are the Millennial generation’s catchy phrases, I travel back to life in Simla of the Sixties.  My thoughts would drift to the past where instead of tokenism, my Bauji implemented and became the change that he wanted to be. He was not a product of a B-school, had not even graduated from the college, which remained his life-long lament, but he was armed with a clear intent and a vision, much ahead of his times!  So when I listen to passionate discussions on “Be the change that you want to be”, I could only laugh at the shallowness of the catchy slogans, tempting phrases and tokenism which have overtaken the genuine and honest intent which I witnessed in my early life in Simla of the Sixties.

Bauji’s dream of being the “change” or the “change agent” started when Amma joined evening classes at the Khanna academy, though bringing untold anxious moments to me, it brought about some changes in the power equation, so much a part of  hierarchical system in our patriarchal society. Bauji, usually, would help Amma in household chores, but these were limited to sitting near the Angithi, and doing small jobs like peeling garlic cloves, cutting coriander leaves which Amma would have cleaned and washed. I think doing these sundry jobs had another purpose…to get companionship as this was the only “we time” they both, as a couple, had! But when Amma revived her studies,  his involvement in household chores, hitherto considered to be the sole domain of women,  started getting his way. This change was not forced down on Bauji by anyone, least of all, by Amma. She would be feeling guilty and make us, the daughters, as well as feel guilty when Bauji would do some chores, meant to be taken care of women in the home. This change came on his own. Sometimes later, when I would critically analyze some feminist therories, I would wonder, where is the need for these theories and debates if everyone starts treating the other equally. 

I saw equality in power relations at my home, the small home in Lower Bazaar. In the evening, Amma would put water in a big pateela on the Angithi to heat it up, before Bauji came back from his 9-5 hectic job at the General Postoffice. Amma would put this hot water in an iron tub wherein Bauji would soak his tired feet. Not only this, sometimes, if she would have time, she would lovingly pour water on his feet with her delicately slim hands as well. I am sure this was their love for one another where nothing came as a coercive action. Her love was udly reciprocated by Bauji, albeit in a different way. He would, on his part, clean the big heavy bhadoo used for cooking mutton on Sundays. He would clean and make it shine like new with his robust hands. What a combination it was, I am amazed. Even our life saw some changes, we learnt to help Amma in her daily chores whenever we would have time as she, too, had to study once the daily jobs were finished. Whole of the household was a changed lot only because Amma, with encouraging support of Bauji, had taken the proverbial First step, out of the four precincts of home. Her first step towards this change brought, as a chain reaction, many small changes in our life.

After an early dinner, though it was called “khana” as we believed that dinner is something which is taken in a hotel, a party or at least on the dining table,  Bauji would sleep early, we would study for some time but as Amma believed in the adage, “early to bed and early to rise” so we all were made to sleep early, though she would sit for some more time with books in her hand. Though  I would decry Amma going to Khanna academy yet I would know how much she was struggling to learn English. She had a pocket-sized booklet having all the important essays etc. with her which she would memorise. I would wonder why does she take so much time to read a small booklet, such a small one that it would come in my palms. I can recall it so easily, even today, as I would not sleep thinking about her memorizing essay like “MY Best Friend” and I wanted so much to help her. Half of my attention would be with Amma and the other half would be waiting for some free entertainment coming our way every night when the lights would be put off. When the news will be over on the AIR,   I would wait to listen to the Vividh Bharti program in the radio blaring in the house of one Mr. Sharma residing above the shop of Shonkhia ironsmith. I would be interested, in particular, in  Hawa Mahal and listen to the play that was aired every day at 9-15 p.m.. It would make me imagine all that was happening and then I would fall asleep thinking of so many things that I had experienced during the day, in my life or the life of the characters real and imaginary, created in my mind! I would fall in sleep with dreams to follow me and Amma would also doze off while studying, sometimes with an open book in her hands. We all would rise early the next morning to have another morning. I had never heard of Sidney Sheldon and his title “Tomorrow is another day” but this was the thought which I slept with every night…waiting for another day…tomorrow morning.  The next day would not be any different, though! But little did I realize at that point in time that “Tomorrow” was surely another day…a new beginning, as Amma and Bauji had taken together the proverbial first step.

So when I listen to debates on“Be the change that you want to be”, I could only laugh at the shallowness of the catchy slogans, tempting phrases and tokenism which have overtaken the genuine and honest intent which I witnessed in my early life in Simla of the Sixties.

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