Dr. Jeevan looked at his watch. The time was 3.10. The young lady had told that she would be coming by three. Dr. Rai was a stickler for punctuality and people who didn’t value it, irritated him. Just then the door bell rang. Dr. Rai got up and opened the door. A young woman of around twenty was standing outside. She was tall and slim with short hair and a pretty face.
“Good afternoon Dr.Rai, I am Anindita Sen from the National Express.”
“Good afternoon, young lady. Please come in,” Dr. Rai said. Anindita followed him into a small room. It was sparsely furnished with a centre table and four cane chairs. What caught her attention was a wall to wall bookshelf which was filled with books. She could make out thick volumes related to medical science as well as books on philosophy and poetry.
Dr. Rai asked her to sit down and went in. He emerged a few minutes later with a tray in which were two mugs and plate with biscuits.
“Dr.Rai you need not have taken the trouble.”
“Young lady you have come to my house for the first time. I may be an old man but I haven’t forgotten how to take care of guests. And don’t you worry I know how to make tea,” Dr. Rai said with a smile.
As they sipped tea Anindita observed her host carefully. He was around sixty five with thick hair which had gone completely white . He was tall and well built, with a broad forehead, sharp nose and kind, gentle eyes. He gave an impression of quiet strength which she found very reassuring.
Anindita was a reporter working for National Express.
To commemorate the golden jubilee of Indian independence the newspaper was bringing out a special supplement which would appear on 15th August . They had decided to do a feature on the sixty plus generation. It would comprise interviews with senior citizens and would seek to focus on their views of India today. Dr.Jeevan Rai’s name had been suggested by her editor. She had rung him up last evening and fixed an appointment for today. This was her first assignment and she was quite nervous. But now after meeting the gentle and calm Dr. Dr. Rai in person she was feeling more at ease.
After they had finished their tea Dr.Rai looked at her and asked, “So Anindita what do you want to know from this old fogy?”
“Dr.Rai, as I explained to you yesterday, we want people of your generation who have actually witnessed the last days of the freedom struggle as well as the euphoria of independence to tell us something about your experiences.”
“I’ll do that but before I commence I want you to stop calling me Dr.Rai. It makes me feel as if I am sitting in my clinic and a young woman has come to me complaining of stomach ache. You can call me Uncle...but I think I am too old for that. Why don’t you call me Baba?
” Dr. Rai, said a mischievous twinkle in his eyes.
“Y..yes Dr. Dr. Rai...I mean Baba.”
“Anindita, during the last days of the freedom struggle I was in my early teens. Though I couldn’t actively participate I had an opportunity to observe closely the happenings of those tumultuous years. Freedom was an emotion, a sentiment, a madness - something which your generation will find it hard to understand. History knows of only a handful of freedom fighters and martyrs but there were thousands of people who gave up everything up for the country. I know of many ordinary people - cobblers, vegetable vendors, coolies, tailors, dhobis, teachers, students who left their professions, their families and friends and plunged headlong into the freedom struggle. Some of them lost their lives, many spent years rotting in jail while others had to give up their careers and property. I remember we had a tailor whose name was Sheikh Hussain. Those day’s Gandhiji’s ‘Quit India Movement’ was gaining momentum. Hussain’s only son, sixteen year old Zakir joined the struggle. One day he was taking part in a procession when the police decided to lathi charge it. Zakir got hit on the head and died on the spot. Another incident which I’ll never forget involved our village postman’s sixty year old father Namdev. Inspired by Bapu’s call, in our village too, meetings and rallies were held. Namdev was addressing one such meeting, defying prohibitory orders. The District Commissioner came to know and ordered the police to fire without warning. Namdev was the first to be hit. His son couldn’t even get his body.”
Dr. Rai stopped speaking and looked intently at his interviewer. “Anindita these were very ordinary people, with ordinary backgrounds, leading ordinary lives. They were neither great leaders nor powerful politicians, nor were they eminent social workers. They lived in obscurity and died in obscurity. But it is these unknown freedom fighters who gave us our freedom which today is taken for granted.”
“Was anyone in your family involved....”
“Yes, my father’s younger brother, my Kaka. His name was Pran and he must have been your age when he joined the freedom movement. My grandfather and father were opposed to him getting involved in what they termed the ‘national madness’. Kaka had been a brilliant student and they wanted him to continue his studies. But he was adamant. He would come home late every night and sometimes for days together he would not be seen. My poor Dadi would worry herself sick. My father would ask him, “Pran, where were you the last four days?” Kaka would just smile enigmatically and reply, “In the service of Mother India.”
“I remember, one night, it was past twelve, there was a loud knock on the door. We all got up. My father opened the door. One of my Kaka’s friends, or comrades as he called them, was standing outside.
“Bhai Saheb, I have got bad news. Pran has been caught by the Police. They have kept him in the Town Jail. You must meet him tomorrow. He doesn’t have much time. They will probably hang him in a day or two.” “H...hang him! But what has he done?”
“He has killed Eric Smith, the DSP who had ordered his men to fire on a procession of women and children last month.”
The next day Dada, Dadi, Babuji and I went to the Town Jail to see Kaka. Babuji didn’t want to take me. But on my insistence Dadi convinced him.
“Pran will be happy to see Jeevan,” she said.
After we entered the Jail compound we were taken to small room. Five minutes later Kaka was brought. Dadi clung to him and cried her heart out.
“Amma, why are you crying? You should be happy and proud. I am lucky God has given me an opportunity to serve my motherland.”
I stared at my Kaka mesmerized. He didn’t have a very impressive personality but that day he looked magnificent. There was a bright sparkle in his eyes and his face was radiating a kind of brilliance which I can’t quite describe.
After the hanging his body was brought home. As my Kaka lay on the ground I couldn’t take my eyes off him. His eyes were closed and his face had a calm and serene expression. It was as if he had achieved everything in life and was at complete peace with himself.
Two years later India got its independence. On that memorable night of 14th august my father took me to New Delhi. There in front of the Parliament House, at the stroke of midnight as Pandit Nehru unfurled the national flag, my Kaka’s face kept flashing in front of my eyes. How happy he would have been to witness this glorious scene.
‘Kaka wherever you are I am sure you must be proud that your sacrifice has not gone a waste,” I whispered looking up at the heavens.
My Kaka had a tremendous influence on me. I decided to emulate him in my own small way. I had read somewhere an anecdote about Swami Vivekananda which had made a deep impression on me. Once a young man had gone to Swamiji and asked him,
“Swamiji, I want to serve my country. Tell me how can I best do that.”
“What is your profession?” the Swamiji had in turn asked him.
“I am a student.”
“Well then the best way of serving the country for you would be to study with dedication and sincerity. The ideal way for each one of us to serve the country is to do his or her duty with utmost devotion and sincerity.”
I worked very hard and became a doctor. I could have opted for private practice and earned lots of money. Instead I joined a Government Hospital even thought the pay was quite low and the facilities were far from adequate. My objective was to serve the people. I knew, while the rich could get the best treatment by throwing money, for the poor the only option was a Government Hospital. As a result these hospitals which were woefully short of good doctors attracted huge crowds. All my career I worked in different Government Hospitals. After retirement I started a small dispensary where I give free consultation and charge only for the medicine.”
Anindita was quite moved by Dr. Rai’s words.
“Baba, you must now be very happy that India is celebrating the Golden Jubilee of its independence,”
“No, Anindita. Actually I am not. When my Kaka’s generation fought for freedom they had a dream, a vision of India. We too grew up with the same ideal. We felt that for the first time India would be free from the shackles of foreign rule. After centuries of bondage India would finally be ruled by its own people. Freedom would bring peace and prosperity. There would be equal opportunities and equal rights. We would live together like one happy family. But now when I look around I feel completely disillusioned. The dreams lie in fragments. The word freedom has become a misnomer. Nothing seems to have changed.
The foreign tyrants have been replaced by domestic despots. Only the color of the skin has changed. It is said people get the leaders they deserve. In our case it couldn’t have been truer. Why point a finger only at the rulers? We are all to blame. But more than anyone else I would blame those who were born in a free India. It is this generation, now ruling us, which is to a great extent responsible for the present state of affairs. My Kaka’s generation and to a lesser degree my generation was the ‘We’and ‘Us’ generation. We always thought in terms of the country, the society and the family. But my son’s generation and your generation, young lady is the ‘I’generation. You cannot see beyond the ‘I ’, ‘Me’ and ‘Myself’.
What is your basic objective in life - the pursuit of pleasure. And if pleasure is the end than the means is money. So naturally everyone is busy making money as fast as he can and any which way he can. There was a time when joining the defence services was a matter of great pride. Now it is viewed like any other career - simply a means to earn money. The Government now has to issue ads and sell the concept of serving one’s country like one would sell a soap or a toothpaste. The youth have to be enticed with offers of foreign tours and mobile phones to join the defence services. Isn’t it quite shameful? Even the other so called ‘noble’ professions like teaching and medicine have been reduced to money making avenues. Why should I blame others? In my own house money has become the presiding deity. My son Umesh was a very bright student. I wanted him to do law and he did. He topped the University and won a gold medal. I hoped he would use his brilliance to fight for the poor and the exploited. Instead he chose to do exactly the opposite. He is now one of the leading lawyers of our State. He defends hard core criminals, corrupt politicians and unscrupulous businessmen and earns pots of money. That is why I stay away from my only son and his family in this little flat all by myself,” Dr.Rai paused and looked at Anindita.
His eyes had a sad and vacant look. Suddenly he looked vulnerable and Anindita reached out to hold his hand.
“Baba, is ...is there no hope for India?”
“Of course there is, my child. Our country is too great to wither away so easily. It cannot be destroyed by the selfishness of a generation or two. What it needs is another movement, another revolution. Earlier, we fought the British. Now we have to fight the enemy within us. He is the three headed monster of selfishness, greed and hatred who is devouring the vitals of our society and our country.”
“But Baba, how do we fight this monster?”
“By discovering the Gandhi in each and every one of us. Bapu stood for the ideals of selflessness, love and contentment. It is these values which will save us. They will lead us from ignorance to knowledge and darkness to light,”
Dr. Rai paused and taking the young woman’s hand in his said, “My dear Anindita, the time has come for us to invoke the Gandhi within. We should start another satyagraha and fight for a new freedom. A freedom which will finally usher in an era of peace and prosperity, of love and contentment.”
The Triumph of Truth
Sujata opened the door. Pooja rushed in, chucked her school bag in one corner, threw herself on the sofa and burst into tears.
"What happened Pooja? Have you spoilt your exam?"
"No ma, I answered everything."
"Why are you crying then?"
"That fellow Sanjay - he was copying from my paper."
"You should have told your teacher."
"How could I ma? It was she who told Sanjay to copy."
"What? But why?"
"Because she is his mother. I told you that day ma that Veena Puri, the new Hindi teacher, is my classmate Sanjay's mother. She joined three months back. Today Sanjay didn't know the answer to a question. He asked Veena maam. She too didn't know. She then asked me whether I had answered the question. When I nodded she told Sanjay, who was sitting next to me, to copy from me."
"Veena Puri shouldn't have done that. Anyway why should you feel bad? You have done nothing wrong. If Sanjay is getting into the habit of cheating he will surely pay for it."
Later Sujata kept thinking about the incident. She even discussed it with her husband Dinesh.
"I think you should complain to the Principal."
"There's no point Dinesh. What is the proof that Veena Puri asked Sanjay to copy from Pooja. It is Pooja's word against her teacher's. And moreover even if we are able to prove something it will only make matters worse for Pooja."
"After her final exams Pooja will be moving to class three. And Veena Puri is the Hindi teacher of class three. She will definitely try to take revenge on Pooja. And as you know Hindi is the only subject in which Pooja is rather weak. I think it is best to keep quiet."
From the next day onwards Pooja would come home daily complaining that Sanjay was merrily copying from her under the guidance of his mother. Sujata would try her best to console and counsel her.
"Pooja don't get upset or distracted by what Sanjay is doing or you'll end up spoiling your exams. Just concentrate on your paper."
Pooja was a very good student and invariably stood second or third in her class. Sanjay on the other hand lagged way behind, his rank lurking in the twenties.
A week after the exams the results were declared. Pooja had slipped to fourth position while Sanjay had stood third. Pooja was shattered.
"See ma, you keep telling me that cheating is bad and now look what's happened. I worked so hard and yet I managed only the 4th rank while Sanjay coolly copied from me and bagged the third position.
"Pooja I agree that Sanjay has beaten you once. But believe me a cheater never prospers for long. His gains are always short term. In the long run it is always hard work and honesty which comes on top. Remember, truth always triumphs."
Three months later the final exams commenced. This time too Veena Puri managed to bag the invigilation duty of class two. The first day Sanjay and Pooja were seated in different rows. Next day Veena altered the seating arrangement so that Sanjay was sitting on the same bench as Pooja.
On the day of the mathematics exam, at around eleven, Sujata was in the kitchen when the phone rang. It was Pooja and she was sobbing.
"What happened Pooja? Why are you crying?"
"I... ma....," she was finding it difficult to speak.
"Come on Pooja get hold of yourself. Tell me what happened."
"Ma...I... I have been thrown out of the exam hall?"
"What! But why?"
"Sanjay was copying from me when our Principal entered the room. One of my answer sheets was with Sanjay. On seeing the Principal approaching Sanjay panicked and dropped the answer sheet. I bend down to retrieve it. Seeing the confusion, the Principal asked Sanjay what the matter was."
"Sir, Pooja has given me her answer sheet and is asking me to write for her," Sanjay coolly replied.
"Ma I was so shocked by this lie that I could hardly utter a word. At that point Veena maam came up to the Principal and whispered something to him."
"The Principal looked at me and said, 'I am ashamed of you. A little girl like you cheating . It is shocking. Please leave the class. You will not be allowed to sit for this exam. You ask your parents to meet me tomorrow."
Sujata was too stunned to utter a word. Finally she managed to stammer, "Li...listen Pooja. I am coming to your school. Let me talk to the Principal. He can't do this to you."
Half an hour later Sujata was sitting in the Principal's chamber telling him Pooja's side of the story.
The Principal Mr. P.N. Sinha was a tall, lanky man with a stern demeanour.
"Mrs. Dutta, if what you say is true than it is really shocking. But can you prove it?"
"How can I Mr.Sinha? It is my child's word against her teacher's. But you can see from Pooja's record. She is an excellent student and has always been doing very well in her exams. Sanjay on the other hand....."
"But I have been told that in the last exam Sanjay did rather well."
"That is because the last time too he copied from Pooja."
"But then, why didn't you tell me?"
"You would have again asked me for proof. I was also scared that Veena Puri might take spite on the child. But now since things have gone too far I have been forced to come out with the truth."
Mr.Sinha thought for some time and then said, "Okay, Mrs. Dutta I have one idea. This afternoon a mathematics exams will be conducted for both Pooja and Sanjay. I, personally will set the paper. The children will answer the paper in my chamber, in my presence and I will do the evaluation. We'll then know which one is genuinely a good student and which one is a cheat."
Sharp at two the exam commenced. At four the papers were collected by Mr. Sinha. He called Sujata to his chamber at 4.30 p.m. When she entered he was sitting behind his imposing desk, his serious face looking even more grave.
"Mrs. Dutta who do you feel will do better in this test?"
"Are you sure?"
"Well, " he paused and looked at Sujata, a stern expression on his face. Her heart skipped a beat.
"Pooja...did Pooja spoil ....." she stuttered.
Mr. Sinha's grave face softened and with a smile he handed her Pooja's paper.
"Congratulations Mrs. Dutta. You were absolutely right. Pooja is truly brilliant. The paper I had set was a rather tough one. And yet, as you can see, she has got hundred out of hundred."
Sujata looked at the paper with a feeling of relief, happiness and pride.
"Mrs Dutta , one more thing. This morning the poor child could not complete her mathematics paper. I have decided that the marks of the test conducted by me will be taken into account."
"Sir, what about Sanjay?"
"He got 56. It just proves that he is a parasite totally dependent on Pooja. I am firing that woman Veena Puri, she doesn't deserve to be a teacher in our school. We expect teachers to serve as role models worthy of emulation. The kids look upto them, learn from them and follow their example. We can't have teachers who encourage cheating in our school," Mr. Sinha paused and asked Sujata, "Madam what should I do with Sanjay? Should I expel him?"
"No, Sir. It was not his fault. He was only following instructions of his mother and practicing what has probably been taught to him. He is too small to know the difference between right and wrong, moral and immoral."
"I think you are right. Why should I punish the child for the crime committed by his mother. I'll let him be. Actually, Mrs. Dutta I feel sorry for him. His mother is turning him into a mental cripple by making him dependent on others."
That evening Pooja was preparing for her science exam which was the next day. Her mother came up to her and placing her hand gently on Pooja's head asked,
"So Pooja now do you agree with me?"
Pooja got up and hugged her mother.
"Yes ma, you were right. Finally, it is truth which triumphs."