He was not an ordinary man though he took a lot of pride in being a 'common man'. Yes, everything about him was extra ordinary-his patriotism, his penchant for cleanliness, his regularity for long walks and tennis, his passion for gardening and roses, his open hearted hospitality, his expression of love for his own daughters and for his nephews and nieces and their daughters and sons, his uncompromising love for English language and literature, his boldness to speak and write nothing but the truth without caring for the price it could and did cost, his ability to appreciate and motivate, his positive attitude despite all ordeals that life had laid for him, his firm faith in basic human goodness, his irritability at sullen faces or sulky demeanour, his inability to accept per se any casual or frivolous remark.
His life, thoughts, working, ideas revolved around his country. His commitment to freedom struggle delayed his marriage. He was 32 years old when he did relent for marriage in 1946. He found an equally patriotic and strong willed partner in my mother Shanta Kataria and both of them decided that they would have an issue only after the freedom of the country became a reality. He could never gulp down a n y t h i n g said against the country and he was fierce and fiery in his words spoken and written against the leaders who seemed to let down the system in words or deeds! His heart bled and he cried after reading about the heinous crime of Billa and Ranga in early 1970s. Any grief or hurt would put him off and we could feel him mutter or murmur and invariably, the catharsis would take place only when he had poured his feelings in a letter to either one of his daughters or to the person who caused such fallout.
26th January and 15th August were celebrated with great fervour and enthusiasm in our home. The flag was hoisted on the top most roof (shikhar) followed by singing of the national anthem. Thereafter, the servings of home cooked Halwa Kheer or Krishan halwaee's Laddoos were savoured.
He called himself an atheist but his faith in Bholenath as ameliorator of all deprivation and suffering remained unshaken. He performed no rituals but loved to perform Hawan. His favourite mantra was the Gaytari mantra and Jeevem Sharda Shatam. He did not ever object to my Mother's religious bent and inclination. I feel he was true follower of Dharma and all its ten tenets: Dhirti(patience), Kshama (forgiveness), Dhi(benevolent intelllect) , Dhairya, Dham(sef control), Indriynigrah, Shoucha (cleanliness), Astey(non stealing) , Vidya (knowledge), satyaam (truthfulness), Akrodha(non-anger). His anger was sentient anger against anything he found unjust, unholy, and unpatriotic.
Throughout his life he wore only the white Khadi. Unmatched was his taste for neat, white, well ironed white Khadi shirt and payjama dress and white cotton bedsheets. Synthetic dresses were neither common in those days nor actually acceptable for any of the members in our family.
He embodied an exemplary combination of humility and boldness. As a doting father he took a lot of pains to groom all his daughters as leaders and all rounders. He was a perfectionist when it came to pronunciation and accent in delivery of speech. I can never ever forget how he would make us get up at 4 in the morning and over cups of tea make us rehearse speeches that he dictated after a lot of contemplation. He took a lot of pride when we would deliver well regardless of the prizes won. I vividly remember how I had won a Table Tennis match after a long struggle but it was my opponent who was appreciated by him, as she had indeed played better than me.
He was born with flair for writing. His letters written in beautiful handwriting in Hindi or English or neatly manually typed are cherishable treasures for us. His keen and avid reading made his missives so poetic and literary. Sharing through letters was so personal, intense and open. Indeed, it was a strong bond. And he would not relish any laxity in acknowledgment or a reply and in any such an eventuality, a telegram would follow: WIRE WELFARE. No wonder all of us while studying in Panjab University and residing in Hostels were envied for the letters we received. During my two years’ stay in UK, I missed and missed and missed this sacred medium of sharing with him.
He died the way he wished- silently, in healthy state of body. Even an MI a few years before that had not dampened his spirits nor deterred him from following the regular regime of long walks. It has been thirty-five years that he left us but the legacy of memories is enriching indeed as they exude positivity, enthusiasm for life with inimitable art of living.
Wish you Happy Republic Day, Pitaji.