Thursday, May 24, 2012

This for you - David and Jag, my teachers

It was hot and sultry day when I visited Geeta in Panipat covering distance of over fifty miles as she had something important to tell me. She was on a short trip to India from the UK where she was pursuing MA in Community Education and she suggested I too do the same. Had never even dreamt of going abroad for studies but to be honest, I was seized of the idea. 

A brochure followed, an email to David Batchelor fetched quick response , a telephonic  interview was scheduled soon thereafter. It was such a comprehensive interview cum interaction on various subjects, my job here in India, my interests and initially I was so conscious whether or not I would be able to understand and respond to an English accent but I was made to feel so valued and respected and at home. I was asked what single limitation I saw in coming to the UK for studies, I mumbled : my mom's permission. My admission tutor felt touched and he asked me to pay his regards to her and tell her the admission had been granted.

To my surprise, my mom never objected though she did mention her concerns relating to my health and how I should not be careless about it and keep them anxious. All said and done, it was the hardest moment when I touched her feet on airport at almost midnight and with lump in throat I went inside for getting the boarding pass. It was my maiden visit to the IGI Airport ! It was horrifying to realise how I had stuffed my bags which couldn't even be opened incase I had to send some redundant things back to save extra baggage costs!

The very first day I met David in a meeting arranged by the University for  all the international students at Scraptoft Campus. I mentally touched his feet, really shook hands and it was clarified that I was supposed to address even teachers by their first name and not by the epithet 'Sir' !  I was addressed as sumeeda by David and Jag and it sounded quite nice. It felt a bit odd to be seeing David bring a tray containing cups of tea for all the international students-something my 'bhartiyta' to accept but everyone around was perfectly in sync with this . The same day a visit to Shakespeare's birthplace Stratford -Upon -Avon was planned for us by David and I felt wow! it was a dream going to be true!

David would always look straight in your eyes and listen so intently that one could only be honest. It was his initiative to admit international students to this course and he seemed to understand all the personal, social, emotional issues related to their adaptability to the environs of the UK. I learnt from him how even lending a patient ear can heal though the real issues of day to day life might remain unresolved. 

David had an uncanny sense of making you feel respected and valued and specially cared for and I wonder how many of us can make the other person feel thus ! On Christmas he invited all the international students. First, we sang carols in the church in his village and after that it was treat to see him warming the wine himself to serve personally ! At the end of the course too, he invited four of us at his place and we enjoyed his and Caroline, his wife's hospitality. 

All the memories of my stay in the UK have got refreshed with Jag's recent visit to this part of the country. Talking of David,who has since retired from DeMontfort University,Jag said David is larger than life and I could only endorse to his opinion.A  teacher like David Batchelor is an institution in himself.

Some special gestures-the unexpected ones touch us so deeply ! During Jag's recent visit, he connected me to David and it was such a pleasant surprise, my God ! I was shaking with joy and talking to him almost choked me but he was as usual his spirited, caring self  asking about everyone in family and that he was happy to know how I was doing in place of work and that he was proud of me! Thanks Jag, for this special unexpected gesture.

Jag also came to see me in my office before leaving and he sounded so solemn and deeply touched having been to the Saarthak school for the disabled. He said he felt humbled and grateful. He also said that the pain of loss of mom reflected on my face and that I must look within and would get the strength there. And that he was so happy to see my work and suggested I must document it. He asked me a pertinent question as to how I saw myself in five years from hence and how I fumbled with words to explain what I really meant. Am sure he gathered I had no clear reply but he gave me a point to pause and ponder.

During the interaction Jag asked me whether I would like to visit the UK again to work, I instantly replied in the negative and soon became conscious too that I might have sounded rude! He became quiet for a moment and suggested that I must try to look beyond the previous span and all the allied travails or traumas and it made real good sense to me.

On looking back I realise if I weigh the struggle part of those two years and the achievement in terms of meeting outstanding teachers like David, the  latter would definitely weigh heavier. This realisation has spontaneously healed me. Thanks, Jag.

This is what nice people like the teachers I have had do. They enrich the lives, touch them somewhere deep down inside, cause ripples and give us sense of their being there symbolically with us even if literally thousand miles away and they heal and give us the reason to go on, fly, sail and follow the direction of our dreams unabated, untiringly, relentlessly and to say the least with positivity and enthusiasm and the spirit of never -say -die.

 Thanks David and Jag, I am blessed to have been your student.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The two years in the UK

A decade has lapsed ! The other day when my teacher Jag Chouhan, Sr Professor, Youth and Community Studies, DeMontfort University, Leicester visited Kurukshetra did I realise that it has been ten years since I had left for the postgrad course in UK.  

The two years that I remained away from the din and humdrum of my job here were significant in so many ways: it was my maiden visit abroad; an effort to study again after exactly two decades of MA in English at Panjab University; for the first time I was going to be away from home, my mom and family; it was going to be a self sponsored study; I didn't really know much about the friends I was going to stay with; had no idea how the course was going to help me further my commitment for the work I was doing as a civil servant.

I vividly remember when I came out of the British Embassy with a two year visa in my hand, it was only then it registered on my mind that I was really leaving! With only a fortnight left, so many things had to be managed-permission to leave and study leave, shifting of house, packing, shopping etc. etc.

And there I was ! Landed at Birmingham airport and lo! on maiden ascend on the elevator I slipped from the top stair and fell down, the elevator stopped and the staff rushed to see if I was hurt. I escaped unhurt but the trauma of the fall kept me shivering for quite some time. And how awkward I felt to tell My friend's husband Ajay who had come to pick me and take me to Leicester !

Two years is a long time ! It was the time of learning -academically brilliantly, emotionally the hard way, financially the toughest way. I had gone there with an earnest desire to study their systems, their way of doing things and how common man was affected by their laws, bureaucracy, institutions. And I also wanted to see the world, visit places in the UK and other European countries.

Suddenly I had the whole lot of time at my disposal-time to address the issues I had carried along, time to pause and ponder and sort things out, time that had always eluded me with my own spirit of workaholism, time to brood, time to write that I had always yearned for, time in short for everything. But suddenly the question which had never hitherto bothered me ever since I had finished my studies, erupted-the question of survival in this whoopingly expensive country with fees to pay and livelihood to manage.

I needed work and to my utter shock all the degrees and certificates that I was proudly carrying carried no meaning there but I needed to work for sure and so I did- in sandwich factory, care homes for the aged and the vulnerable lung people, in Refuge for the women victims of domestic violence or Homes for the disabled through agencies.

 For the first time I realised how brute and biting the winter wind could be-chiding and ruthless and piercing;how stressful it could be waiting for public transport or walking miles only to save a pound  here or there; how racism was deep rooted in the land of the British and in not just subtle but very clear ways would hit you like a slap on the face from the young and the old alike; how the colour of the skin mattered instantaneously and the content of character much later in normal parlance.

The Sufi music that I was carrying would come so oft to my rescue, to heal me, make me dance and make me cry with pain and elation and I realised the communication with the Almighty became easier, His access more frequent to answer all hordes of questions I was always carrying on the back of my mind. 'Sharnagati' emanated from there-the distant lands proverbially seven seas away.

I realised there in UK how much I loved my family and how much their love mattered for me. I missed them, missed them, missed them but would always wear a bold face while talking to them which I daily did on phone albeit after the call was over, I so often found it hard to stop the tears' deluge; I realised how the work I was doing in India even if it meant sitting under the tree in scorching heat of June to disburse the pensions or a flood relief was much dearer than a few thousand pound job in the alien land; how an almost stranger's care and concern for the well being could touch and heal the bruised heart and soul by the undeserved indifference of so called 'friends'.

I came back after two years with special distinction and recognition of my assignments and appreciation of my dissertation -richer in experience though poorer in coffers. And I do feel I came back a different Sumedha from what then I was when I left for the alien land. The footprints inscribed on the sands of span of two precious years of my life would always bear an indelible mark and after a decade having lapsed I look back upon the memories of those days with empathy and generosity, with fondness and concern-after all it was my major maiden decision in life.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Happy Birthday Dear Mira

My  Meela

It was almost midnight and we had received you and your Mamma dearie and Shanu on airport. You had in your little hands the milk bottle and suddenly you took it out and raised your tiny finger skywards and shouted: Moon! The very moment made you so very special and I can vividly recall the shine in your oh!  so beautiful, wide open eyes!
I do not know how but you looked every bit my daughter and thus you became Meri Meela because you had exquisite way of pronouncing your name with sound 'r' as 'l'. 
Somewhere we gelled well and so very often our eyes would meet with smiles spontaneously on finding some oddity somewhere and I tell you you have always seemed to me as perfect friend to confide in even about the 'experiences' and Shanu made me narrate almost daily before sleep when I happened to stay with you in your German home.
And I have always been awed by your tastes, aesthetics, choice of clothes, jewellery and above all the quickness with which you decide as if you always well nigh know what's needed by you!
You were too small but I remember once your repeated asking as to where I was going (aap kanha ja lane ho?) and I wrote a poem on it later which was included in Amaltas-my first collection of poems with a sketch of your inquisitive eyes and how special you felt-I haven't forgotten that smile,dear,till date.
Your sense of independence, responsibility and discipline towards your studies,your zealousness for reading, your clarity of thought asto what you would like to be and do in life, your choice of quotes appropriately suited to the occasion and thought, your management of things and your fastidiousness, your choice of music-my God! How I appreciate you!
Shall I tell you that we all know if Meela is angry,it can never be unjustified anger. 
We all love you so much and appreciate your prudence, maturity and sense of equanimity. How my heart went out to you when you came to India last year and the first thing you did was giving part of your pocket money for the disabled children!
We have seen you grow and can hardly believe that oh! It's your eighteenth birthday! Our Meela is a young woman today!
I still feel you tell yourself often:how dare you look so beautiful and smart !
Bless you, beta, we are proud of you and quite confident we are that some day we would be known as Mira Upneja's masies and we are quite sure you would continue to be as beautiful rather more beautiful  and mature as ever keeping intact the exquisite simplicity and spontaneity, your humane ness and of course, your love for us who all join to wish you very happy birthday.