In the college
After scraping through the matriculation examination it was time to seek admission in the only college we had. My mother was keen that I took Science with Biology for preparation to ger into a medical college. She thought, and she was probably right that a science graduate or an engineer or a doctor had greater chances of landing a job or earning good money for a decent living. She obviously had a better appreciation of the then job market. For an ordinary Arts graduate or a post graduate, there was nothing other than try and get a clerical job unless one qualified in a competitive examination. She had no confidence in my capabilities and the results that I brought in would in no way have changed her assessment about me.
Despite my protestations I was forced to take admission in Science Biology stream. I knew it was going to end up in failure. I had realized that I had no brain or aptitude for Science and Mathematics and wherever there were formulae and equations I was all at sea. Physics was particularly difficult and howsoever I tried I couldn’t get the hang of things. I inevitably flunked to the great disappointment of mother.
When the time for admissions came I quietly filled a form for admission in Arts. Ma blew her top; she wanted me to try again the Science and Biology stream so that I could become a doctor. That was then not possible as the die had been cast – by none other than me. I was sad to have flunked in the first year of my college career and didn’t want to face that ignominy again.
Besides, there was uncertainty ahead, too, as father was retiring later in the session. In those days the retirement age used to be 55. Fortunately for him and for us he was asked by the Minister of Education of the newly formed state of Madhya Bharat to take up the assignment of heading a new private college that was being opened in the badlands of Morena. His salary was greater than what he retired at and he was assured of a place to stay on the premises. The Minister was somehow very impressed by father as the latter had helped him in resolving the students’ agitation. Father spent 10 years in Morena before he retired at the age of 65.
Things progressively eased a little for us. In the following year the eldest brother qualified for the IAS and the second brother went away on a scholarship to Frankfurt in West Germany which was still under (post War) US occupation. The parents were a little relaxed now as the financial pressure on them had eased up a bit. But, as I look back and think I find it amazing that there were no savings and yet they did not seem to have any worry.
True, the landlord, a very decent trader, had told him that we could stay in the house for as long as we wanted. It was due to sheer respect for father. Those days were different as there was tremendous respect for an educated man even if he had no money; and a teacher living on rent in one’s house was a matter of honour. Such men and their elevated standards of thinking are all dead and gone, and what we are left with is crass materialism. Respect and honour for people of learning and character have largely become things of the past. Even then father never seemed to have thought of a roof over the head of his family although there was no paternal property to fall back on. My grandfathers’ properties from both sides were unavailable, the one from father’s side being lost to Pakistan with the partition of the country. Probably, there was no craze fifty years ago of building or acquiring a house like we have these days. Perhaps, one thought one could get by by spending one’s life in a rented accommodation
As I changed over and joined the new stream I lost some of the friends who were very dear to me. One of them was Pramod Jhawar who went on to become a reputed general surgeon at the Bombay Hospital in Mumbai. He, unfortunately, became a victim of cancer and died prematurely; it was an unlikely end of a bright mind. In the new class I met some old school friends and acquired some new ones. Among them were Chandrakant Bhonsle, Sharad Paranjpe and Anand Bamroo. Hari Nandan Sahai was also there, a friend from the DAV School. Four of us would stick together inside or outside the class rooms.
In those days the system of terminal (half yearly) examinations in the month of December was still in existence. I realized that these were taken very seriously by the faculty only when one day the head of the department of Economics came to take the class. He had a bundle of answer scripts with him. As he sat down he called my name. I squirmed in my seat and I did not know where to hide. The Professor was a friend of my father and he knew me from childhood. Shaking on my legs I stood up. That is when he told the class I was the topper with as many as 62 marks. Later in the Civics class the Professor was effusive in praising the language in which I had written my answers. These two incidents were kind of a watershed and the feeling that I was good-for-nothing slowly started dissipating.
It was Anand Bamroo who was instrumental in giving Hari and I a flight for free. Some outfit had hired a single=engine plane, probably a Piper Cub, and was offering joy rides at Rs.5/- for a 10-minute flight. The pilot was none other than Anand’s cousin who was staying with the Bamroo family. On Anand’s suggestion we bunked classes and went to that great open ground in Gwalior known as the Nau Lakha Parade. It is no longer there, it has since come under the sweep of urbanization and has been built over and a new township has been erected on it. It used to be a huge ground with hardly any tree; perhaps all the trees were felled.. Anand’s cousin came to the ground in a jeep after lunch for the afternoon flights. Anand introduced us to him whose name, perhaps, was Kichlew. He offered us a free flight saying we could accompany him on a test flight for which nothing needed to be paid.
Apart from the pilot’s seat the plane had two other seats behind the pilot’s. With what appeared to be makeshift doors it was cramped inside. As Kichlew worked the throttle it started taxiing and I felt as if we were in a jallopy; it rattled so much with its wheels running on rough ground. It took off and we realized it only when we saw its shadow progressively getting smaller. It soon gathered height and was flying over the Fort, then on and over the town, close to the College and then made the landing run. We were in the air for 10 minutes or so but were very excited, I was though a little sad that I couldn’t locate my house in that jungle of houses. I thought looking like ants from up above people were really so small and insignificant.
I cleared the first year pretty comfortably topping the class even in the final examinations. The next year was the Intermediate Examinations of the Board of secondary education. I, unfortunately, went down with typhoid just before the examinations. As a special case I was allowed to write the examinations laid up on a bed in a room while my father sat outside the holding a flask of fruit juice. This happened on two successive days for first two papers that were of English. I did very well in all the other papers and would have qualified for I Class but for those two English papers. Later I came to know that those very papers had been set by my father but he never gave any inkling of that to me. Such were the men of those days or rather that era – so different from ours.