‘In Retrospect’, published in 2014, is based on my experiences. Having grown up in an industrial colony in a small mining town, I often find myself longing for that life as I now battle the daily struggles of a metropolitan city. Any news, mention, or picture of the place I grew up in, on social media, fills me with nostalgia. This book is an attempt to relive those days. I am happy that many who have lived in industrial townships have been able to relive their lives through this book.
The book is an attempt at depicting that life, with closely knit society, slower pace of life untouched by current consumerism, a subtle sensitivity, competition that was as fierce as innocent, and an environment that was more relaxed and happier.
Many of us from Bihar were obsessed with getting into civil services in the pre liberalization era. The book relates that journey beautifully. The book delves into human psychology and explores how one becomes a reason for limiting one’s own self. It goes on to explain how unjustified these fears are and makes a compelling case to all that these fears are most of the times a figment of one’s own imagination.
‘In Retrospect’ is my story, but it could just be yours.
Rajiv and I spoke Maithili at home, which is a language spoken in North Bihar and now justly included in the list of scheduled languages in India. Sattu spoke Punjabi while Arindam spoke Bengali at home. We were getting used to speaking in Hindi outside of our homes and English was still alien as a language of conversation. We were told that one had to pay fine if he was caught speaking in any language but English in De Nobili. Our ability to get through the admission procedure of De Nobili looked unlikely.
It was decided that we go through a rigorous training at our respective homes and then be presented in front of Bunny’s mother, for her to assess our level of preparedness.
In another two weeks, we were in front of Kapoor Aunty, Bunny’s mother.
It was decided that Sattu would be the first person to be tested by Kapoor Aunty. He was expecting to be asked the colour of blood and had the answer at the tip of his tongue, even before the question was put forth.
Kapoor Aunty cleared her throat and asked, ‘What is the colour of your nails?’
I could see Sattu retract his smile, raise his hand, look at his nails, and look confused. I do not know why but all of us had a few black dots on our nails in childhood. And then there was the Sardar blood flowing under the nails making it look pink. Was it white, black, or pink? I could relate to Sattu’s dilemma. Our preparation had made us abundantly familiar to the colour red, and Sattu thought that to be the safest answer.
So red it was.
Subho told us with a tone of regret, ‘Even I did not know a lot of things!’
‘Not even Subho?’ I wondered. ‘This must be something very special that Subho has learnt.’
Subho sat on the concrete, while we were standing in a semicircle in front of him. He said in a soft tone, ‘Do you know boys and girls have a special feeling for each other which is called love?’ My mother always told me she loved me. He continued, ‘Girls and boys are meant to be together and every boy has a girl for him in this world that he needs to spend his life with.’
Now this had to be different from the love that my mother said she had for me. I could relate to this since my mother had been saying for the past few months that they were trying to find out the girl meant for my uncle. Subho added, ‘Love is a beautiful feeling and needs to be experienced.’ And then in whispers, he said, ‘Bina is in love.’
I had never met or seen Bina, but by this time I had started feeling as if she was one of us. ‘With whom is she in love with?’ I asked with anxiety. Subho dismissed my question by saying that silly kids like me need not poke their nose into the affairs of seniors like him. I should have known this.
We jumped into the car and asked the driver to speed up since we were ten minutes late. We did not have to find the manager’s cabin; he was there at the gate waiting for us.
‘Sirs, please come. We are all waiting for you. People are getting impatient and we need to start the movie.’ The manager sounded worried.
Sir! I looked around puzzled to realise that it was used to address us.
There was a box room with sofa sets arranged. It was evident that it was normally not where people sat to watch movies. Either it was placed just then or was used for some rare occasions.
As soon as we sat and the movie started, we were served soft drinks. During the interval, it was another round of cold drink accompanied by samosas. Every half an hour we had someone come and ask us if we were comfortable and needed anything. We were being treated like a royal.
I wondered, ‘If the minister’s sons and nephew are treated like this, what would happen if the king himself was here.’
I was clear; I wanted to be a king.
I had two ambitions from that moment:
To be like Yogesh.
To be an IAS officer.
When I came back from vacation, the ghosts were already there.
‘So what have you decided?’ They did not even wait for me to enter the room.
‘What do you mean?’
‘You know what we mean.’
‘I have been clear on mechanical engineering and physics.’
‘Do you think you will be as good as candidates who would be doing graduation and post-graduation in physics?’
‘I will study as per the syllabus. That should be enough,’ I countered.
‘Did you enjoy physics classes in the first year? We saw you more outside the class than inside.’
It was true that I skipped a few classes, but if it was because of my lack of interest in the subject, I was not sure. Did I enjoy the subject a lot? I was not sure.
‘Did you see Mahesh’s cousin? He was so full of determination of making it with the same subjects as mine.’ I had to say something.
‘Do you actually believe that he will get through, studying from Muzzafarpur Institute of Technology? Do you think he will be able to compete with physics against students who have studied physics as a subject in their graduation or post-graduation?’
I was not prepared for this offensive.
The ghosts went away leaving me in deep thought.
In a few days, all of us boarded the bus to town to buy books for the next year. My friends bought books of engineering and I bought books of public administration.
‘But I have a job now.’ This seemed unusual, I was surprised.
‘When I did not have a job offer, there were so many proposals for marriage, and when I have a job now, none.’ I was full of questions.
My uncle who was sitting next to us watching TV turned towards me and said, ‘The word has spread that you would be joining a private sector firm.’ He seemed upset with my decision.
I seemed to have lost the respect that I had earned in the family with a seat in engineering by my decision to work in a private sector firm.
I was narrating this incident to my cousin that evening. He told me that he was very keen to marry within the community but then not many were willing to offer their daughter’s hand in marriage to him. And then one day a girl’s father came to his house.
‘What do you do?’ He was asked by the father of the girl.
‘I work in a hotel.’
‘Do you own that hotel?’
‘Are you a waiter?’
‘Then what do you do?’
‘I am a chef specializing in Japanese cuisine.’
‘Cook!’ the father exclaimed. The mother of the girl, who had been silent till then, joined the chorus.
My cousin waited for a marriage proposal for a few years, then fell in love with someone working in the same hotel and married her.
Like everything around us, Bihar too has changed in the way people think now. I see blue chip software companies full of people from Bihar. I see people opting for jobs that were termed unconventional those days and everyone refrained from. When I check in a hotel and I interact with a staff, I find many young people from Bihar, in all functions, be it housekeeping, front desk, or kitchen. I see people starting their own businesses in various parts of the country.
I feel happy seeing this change. I feel happy that many of them are girls. And I feel happier that amongst those young boys and girls are kids who were born after I left Jitpur Colony for my under graduation.
‘What will you do now?’ The ghosts were back.
‘I will write.’ I was defiant.
‘And how will you expand on the content? You seem to have run out of ideas.’
‘I will build stories on my own experiences.’
‘And who do you think will read your book?’
‘Maybe only I,’ I replied.
All of us laughed. The ghosts laughed to mock me. And I laughed, because I genuinely felt like laughing. I seemed to be gaining back my lost sense of abandon.
I have not only been defiant to the ghosts to my own surprise, but I have also been learning to take them less seriously.
I continue with the book. The ghosts have not stopped visiting me and I have not stopped laughing at their mocking me. The laughs have only become more and more relaxed.
I have continued writing amidst all this.
I am not sure if I will be able to finish this book, if this book will reach you or will I succumb to the onslaught of the ghosts, like so many times before. In case it reaches you and is in your hands, I have won my battle against the ghosts.
But then I am aware that one battle is not the full war. The war will continue and I am confident that if one battle is won so will be the war.
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