Monday, January 23, 2012

Back in time

Could I have had a loftier ambition for my daughters than a pair of roots and wings?

It has been a pet theme, the thought being that their flight in life will draw upon the depth of their anchor. Unless they had a sense of where they came from, they would never know, with any great sense of clarity as to where they were headed. How could self-actualization come about in a state of truncation? And truncated is the form our kids live in today. There is barely any connection with the past; a perfunctory, brief and indulgent one at best with their immediate grandparents. For the large part, there is no sense of the lives and times and values of their ancestors.

There are invaluable lessons in training the binoculars backwards and I learnt this first hand on a recent trip to 12G Chotti, a tiny hamlet of some thirty homes, twenty five minutes from Sri Ganganagar. It was a bumpy, dusty and emotional ride. We were three generations seated in the car. I sat sandwiched between my Mom and my daughter, gazing at the fields of mustard rushing by. Our host pointed out the several kilometres long path my Mom’s grandmother followed as a young widow, shepherding a single buffalo to escape paucity and harassment in her native village of Kotla.

There were other pointers; the narrow road along the canal that was only twenty odd years old; the spot where a beloved family head had died in an accident with a camel cart; the milestone that said, “12 G Chotti 0 Km”; the canopies in memoriam of village seniors long gone; the pond our ancestors drew water from; the over 100 years old wooden door that was carried in on foot and over the head; the spot where Aqseer’s great-great-grandmother Sant Kaur lay at night, the family camel tethered to one of her cot legs for security!

We tiptoed into the silent and deserted courtyard with a sentiment usually reserved for the ‘Gurudwara’. It was a wonderstruck going back in time. We heard their chatter in the silence of the rooms. There was laughter in the sadness of the leafless tree. A sense of abandonment pervaded the presence of the farm help. We sensed their alone-ness in the crowded kitchen area. We moved around as though underwater, listening to words coming out of lifeless objects. 

There was the main door that had kept our ancestral family secure in their lifetime. There was the VIP ‘chaubara’ upstairs where the sons-in-law were traditionally put up. We saw the ‘chullah’ that had fed and nourished our genetic trace; we photographed the spot where my Mom was born; we kicked sand in the village alley where Sant Kaur made a habit of awaiting her son’s return from the city; we roamed over the farm patch through which my Dad was once dispatched on horseback to attend a family wedding. There were stories of hardship, of deprivation, of courage, of industry, of moving forward, of thrift and growth in resources.

As we tore ourselves from the talking house to drive off in a cloud of dust, there was a reflective silence in the car. I hoped that Aqseer had imbibed a sense of her family’s journey through space and time. I hoped that she saw how we were all milestones in this endless human travel forward. I hoped that she appreciated the perseverance and grit of the generations gone by. I hoped that she acknowledged what she owed her origins. 

My ambition for her was to draw strength from her remarkable past and take the family story of survival forward. 

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