Living at Constance Lodge——Part 6
Remembering Father 18th September 2021
18th September was my father’s death anniversary, so let me write some more of what I remember about him. After listening to the morning news bulletin, he would start getting ready for going to the office. His office was hardly fifteen minutes by walk from where we lived. Since everyone walked to anywhere one had to go in those days, there were no traffic jams and since he was in government service, he wasn’t hard pressed for time either. But he was a very conscientious and principled man and he took his job very seriously. Every year, his accrued leave lapsed because he wouldn’t take any day off from work.
His distinct morning routines that stand out in my memory to this day, besides listening to the news are, one- Morning shaving session and second- his daily saying of the prayers or daily “paatth” as it was called. His shaving tool kit was kept in one empty tin container of sweets. Those containers have a sweet history to tell. In those days Morten sweets were sold in boxes made from thin metal sheet. It was customary for the relatives visiting us to bring a box of Morten sweets. Maybe that was the best they could afford and justify free accommodation and food during their stay at Shimla.
It must be so with other families too, I don’t know. In middle class society staying at a hotel when your relative lived in the town was akin to throwing insult at him but then the mathematics of costs which is the very basic to all human interactions has to be intelligently put in use for the best results.
The empty container were not discarded but used for keeping small things together, as they were very durable and industrial development had not reached a stage where such things could be manufactured at affordable price and sold to thrifty people. His container of shaving things must be from the gifts he might have received at his marriage. I don’t remember the picture on it but they always had pretty glossy pictures with themes drawn from Hindu mythology.
His box contained a soap cake, a Gillette razor, a shaving brush, a packet of blades, a small scissors, an empty case of shaving cake, an alum block and a looking glass with a swivel stand. He would sit cross legged on “Navari Palang.” Navar was about 2 inch. broad flat strip woven from a thick cotton thread. I will write more about how the cot was woven with it later. Palang was a cot higher and bigger than a “manji.” Manji or charpai in it’s traditional form is still used in the Indian villages. It was then woven by a twine fashioned out of a special type of grass called baan.
He would then open his magic box and set the mirror before him and ask for lukewarm water. One of us would get it for him from the mother in the kitchen. He would spread a towel across his thighs. The Gillette razor had a set of curved fixed and removable tops in which a blade was sandwiched. The blades had two parallel edges and it could be reversed and used too. So, in all there were four usable sides of each blade.
Gillette blades could be used many times over. They were not thrown away after their edges became less sharp for giving a close shave but were employed for myriad other useful purposes like clipping nails, cutting pictures from the books and sharpening the pencils for example. The skill of using them was not directly taught by the parents but had to be acquired by merely observing them using the blades.
A barrage of questions about how dangerous it was for the children to use the blades were answered with severe instructions against using them. But the children must try their hands on all things prohibited, so practicing to acquire the skill had to be done secretly. It was therefore one of those secrets which the siblings often discovered and threatened to divulge later while pawning to extract the maximum gains during battles over turfs and possessions. Even today, I can use these blades for nail clipping and whittling the pencil with enviable skill, but I am not sure if the blades are still available in the market for demonstrating the dexterity.
After shaving he used to wet the alum block in lukewarm water and rub it on his face. Alum is a natural mineral having excellent antiseptic and astringent properties. It does take care of small nits and cuts and for deeper cuts he had small bottle of Dettol in his box.
He would then take a bath or wash his face and sit down for his morning patth. Major part of it was reading out a few Chaupais (quatrain verse) from Ramcharit Manas by Goswami Tulsidas. In fact he used to sing those in his beautiful stentorian voice. Though tape recorders had been invented in 1950s, they weren’t yet available to public. But even forty years after that when they were, I didn’t make any effort to preserve the recordings of his pleasing renditions because they were not music to my ears then.
Such is life. My children and my wife have never read what I write. Maybe tomorrow they will miss me if sometime, someone, somewhere will speak of having read something written by me. You could see the pleasure he would get out of those as a sparkle in his eyes and beatific smile on his face constantly adorning his countenance throughout the performance.
After reading a few chaupais, he would close the book with due respect, wrap it in a red cloth and keep it away.
He would then recall the name of all deities and pay his obeisance to them in a definite order of hierarchy.
Then he would sing out loud a few of his favourite Bhajans (devotional hymns).
Jai Jai pita param anand data
Jagdadi Kaaran, Mukti pradata
Eesh tumhin, jagdeesh tumhin, mumsheesh tumhin mum nain hamaro- (I will be really grateful if someone can get me complete lyrics of this. I am unable to get any result on my search on Google.
And then he would break out in a song
Ab chhod diya is jeevan ka sab bhar tumhare haathon mein..sing a few lines and then
He would continue to hum some lines or say a couplet of Kabir or some other spiritual poet.
Mali awat dekh ke, kaliyan karein pukar
phooli, phooli chun liyein
Aur kal hi hamari bar.
I rarely heard him sing lines from a Hindi or a Punjabi song. He used to comb his hair with strokes running from front to back. He would then press down the wet mass about two inches from the centre towards the front of his head. This would form a tuft which was very unique to his hair style. Mom would say that he didn’t know how to comb his hair when they got married and she taught him this hair style, he wore.
We lost him 18th September 1992. I started writing this piece for his death anniversary. It has been twenty years since then. I am three years older than sixty-six, the age when he passed away and I think I have yet many years to live. He was an epitome of perfect health, discipline and good habits and I have none to speak of.
While writing this I am wondering if there’s something I can count or count on but I don’t find anything worth mentioning. Except for the philosophy of baggage of Karma, that has come to me from my Hindu beliefs given to me by my parents, I have no convincing argument in support of my conviction that there will be tomorrow for me, even though it isn’t promised.
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