Sunday, 18 September 2016

Kindred spirits...

Flight 6E-624 probably doesn’t exist, I don’t really know. And to be frank, I no longer remember where I was flying to. It’s been a while. But I do still remember the awe followed by befuddlement and bemusement that I felt that entire night as I waited at the airport to catch the 6 AM flight.

I had reached Delhi late the previous night and chose to just head to the airport instead of checking into a hotel. This way I would save a bit of money as any hotel that’s even half decent can usually end up costing a fair bit, especially if travel plans have been made at the last minute and one is as ignorant of apps and how to use them to find deals as I often am. Plus I would’ve had to wake up in the middle of the night anyway to arrive at the airport in time for pre-flight formalities.

It must’ve been about 11 PM or so when my cab pulled up to the curb at terminal 1D. It was an old fashioned black & yellow taxi that I had hired from the pre-paid counter at New Delhi railway station. Mandeep, the chap driving the taxi, wished me a good journey ahead; I had just made another friend, although it’s fairly unlikely that we’ll run into each other again : which is perfectly fine with me, for who are we to put bounds of time, space and how often we meet someone on connecting with kindred spirits.

I know it’s a cynical world we live in. No one really seems to trust anyone and most people seem to be guarded and a little too obsessed with their “status” all the time. There are of course issues of safety to stay mindful of, and very correctly so. But there’s a tipping point to every consideration and I dread the possibility that one day we might all live isolated lives with lines separating us drawn so firm that the journey would no longer be quite human. And my way to fight this is to make a conscious effort to try and relate with people around me whenever I can, especially with people who supposedly belong to a “lower” social strata. This keeps me reminded that at the end of the day people are just people; higher, lower and the other are just phases, that too dependent on conditions and realities that extend well beyond our “talents”, “capabilities” and any sense of entitlement that we may happen to possess. Of course there have been moments of heartburn, and times when I’ve felt duped, but I’ve chosen to become more aware and alert with time instead of shutting myself off altogether. The upside of this has been that I’ve met and connected with absolute gems of people too!

Mandeep is one such guy and may the blessings of all the divine beings be forever with him.

While whatever I have said above about making a conscious effort to stay connected is certainly true, I do use a sense of judgment in doing so. I look for some indication that makes me feel that the person in front of me is genuine and decent. It could be just a vibe I feel at times. At other times it could be the way a person behaves with others or maybe something they say that catches my attention.

As Mandeep took the taxi out of the parking area at NDLS, I couldn’t help but notice the contrast between his manner of driving and what I usually experience in Delhi. He was patient, concerned about pedestrians and rickshaw pullers, and got us on the road with a polite sense of composure that was really quite appreciable. Once we were on the highway and headed towards the airport he checked with me if I happened to be in any rush to catch a flight. I told him to be at ease from that point of view and just drive as he normally would. And if the way he drove was his normal way of driving, then I reckon a whole lot of drivers in India could learn from him. Followed lane discipline, never honked once without reason, did not allow any rashness in his driving, respected speed breakers whenever we went over one and always overtook other vehicles in the correct manner.

I’ve always maintained that the way one drives can speak volumes about one’s personality and state of mind overall. And Mandeep was certainly making a positive impression. So I took my chance and started a conversation. I’m going to switch to Hindi now as I try and reproduce it to the best of my memory. But I’ve included a translation at the end of the post for my non-Hindi speaking friends.

मैं आपका नाम क्या है?

मंदीप मंदीप Sir |

मैं मैं बृजेश हूँ आपकी ड्राइविंग अच्छी है आप लोगों का ध्यान रखते हुए टैक्सी चला रहे हैं अच्छी  बात है |

Thank you Sir.

घर पे कौन कौन है?

Sir माँ और बाऊजी हैंमेरी पत्नी और तीन बच्चे एक छोटा भाई है उसकी आजकल अमृतसर में पोस्टिंग है | Air force में pilot है Sir |

बहुत अच्छा बच्चे कितने बड़े हैं?

Sir बड़ा लड़का सुखविंदर पांच साल का है अभी KG से पहली में आया है और हाल ही में twins हुए हैं एक लड़काहरविंदरऔर एक लड़कीहरजोत

अरे वाह बधाई हो |

Thank you Sir.

और तुम्हारी age क्या है अभी?

सत्ताईस साल Sir | 1984 का birth है  मेरा |

यहीं दिल्ली में?

हाँ Sir | वैसे तो हम लोग पंजाब से belong करते हैं लेकिन 1982 में माँ और बाऊजी दिल्ली आ गए थे |

1984 तो बहुत कठिन समय था आपके parents ने आपको बताया होगा |

जी Sir | मेरा birth Mrs. Gandhi की हत्या के हफ़्तों बाद ही हुआ था एक हिन्दू family ने हमें अपने घर पे छुपाया था उन्ही के घर जन्म हुआ था माँ  बताती हैं की अगर उन्होंने हमें अपने घर न रखा होता तो पता नहीं क्या होता उनके जान पहचान के काफी लोग मारे गए थे |

बहुत शर्मनाक समय था शुक्र है आप लोग बच गए बहुत दर्द होगा आपके दिल में आपसे ज्यादा शायद आपके parents के दिल में शायद आप लोग कभी माफ़ नहीं कर पाओगे |

Sir दर्द तो है उनके कितने मित्र मारे गए कितने और अपना सब कुछ खो बैठे पापा  की दुकान भी जला दी गयी थी बहुत समय लगा था वापस normal होने में हम यह भी चाहते हैं कि न्याय हो लेकिन Sir, कड़वाहट नहीं है कम से कम हिन्दुओं के लिए तो नहीं |

I was a bit taken aback with this last statement. Because whatever the Sikh community in India went through after Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984 was truly horrific.

समझा  नहीं |

Sir, हम लोग दिल्ली आये ही इसीलिए थे क्योंकि मेरे parents Khalistan movement से नाराज़ थे | Sir 1984 में जो सिखों के साथ हुआवो बिल्कुल गलत था और उसका न्याय होना चाहिए लेकिन सिखों ने भी पंजाब में बहुत गलतियां की थी उससे पहले मेरे parents के कुछ हिन्दू दोस्त भी मारे गए थे अमृतसर में हमारे पडोसी थे सिख नहीं थे लेकिन पंजाबी थे और उससे भी क्या फरक पड़ता है Sir | यह देश सब का है हर किसी को कहीं भी रहने की freedom होनी चाहिए आज भी parents उनको याद करते हैं एक दिन आँगन में बैठ के साथ साथ dinner किया और अगले दिन सुबह मालुम पड़ा कि रात को उनको मार दिया गया बहुत धक्का लगा था मेरे parents को और फिर 1984 में उनके हिन्दू दोस्तों ने ही बचाया अगर कड़वाहट और गुस्सा है तो उन politicians से जो इस तरह की आग फैलाने में शामिल होते हैं हिंदुओं से नहीं उन्होंने भी बहुत खोया और हमने भी और Sir, जहां तक बात रही Operation Blue Star कीलोग कहते हैं कि Golden Temple, जो एक धर्म का स्थल है  वहां army भेज के भिंडरावाले और उसके साथियों को मारना गलत था लेकिन एक बात बताइये Sir, एक धर्म स्थल में भिंडरावाले और उनके गिरोह का रहनाजिनके कारण पता नहीं कितने ही निर्दोष लोगों की हत्या हुईऔर वहां इतने हथियार इकट्ठे करनायह सब सही थामैं तो नहीं मानता Sir | अगर Operation Blue Star गलत था भीतो उसके पहले जो हो रहा था वो भी गलत था ताली दोनों हाथों से बजी थी Sir | आधे सच से कुछ हासिल नहीं होगा Sir | सबको बैठ कर पूरा सच देखना होगा |

तुम बहुत गहरी सोच रखते हो अच्छा है कम लोग हैं जो इतनी maturity रख सकते हैं |

जी Sir | (With a little laugh) और काफी लोग नाराज़ भी हो जाते हैं अगर ऐसे बात की जाए |

वो तो है |

Sir आप ही बताइये, महाराष्ट्र में कुछ लोग बोलते हैं कि यहां सिर्फ मराठी लोग रहें कल बंगाल में कहेंगे यहाँ सिर्फ बंगाली रहेंगे परसों केरल में सिर्फ मलयाली यह भी कोई सोचने का तरीका हैइतनी मुश्किल से तो 1947 में आज़ादी हासिल की थी कितना sacrifice किया था कितने लोगों ने भगत सिंहचंद्रशेखर आज़ादसुखदेव … और हम फिर लग गए देश के टुकड़े करने और अगर मैं यह सब गलत मानता हूँ तो मुझे Khalistan movement को भी गलत मानना होगा सर हिन्दूसिखमुसलमानईसाईतमिलबंगालीमराठीपंजाबी … क्या यह सब लोग आज हमारी सेना में नहीं हैंइनमे से कौन है जो इस देश की आज़ादी और सुरक्षा के लिए गोली खाने के लिए तैयार नहीं हैतो फिर मतलब क्या बनता है अलग अलग होने की बात करने काइतना बढ़िया देश है सर सब मिलके रहेंखुश रहें ये सब कमली बातें हैं और कमले काम हैं Sir | अमेरिका को देखो Sir, नाम भी यूनाइटेड स्टेट्स ऑफ़ अमेरिका है और वो हैं भी यूनाइटेड और हमें देखोकोई हद नहीं छोड़ते डिवाइडेड स्टेट्स ऑफ़ इंडिया बनने में 

Sir धर्म के नाम पे लड़ाई बिलकुल बेमतलब की लड़ाई है उसका कोई सर पैर नहीं है |

I was smiling now. It was eerie how closely Mandeep’s thoughts were echoing mine. I let him continue.

Sir आप ही बताओ मैं सिख हूँ गुरु ग्रन्थ साहब जी के अलावा किसी को नहीं मानता और ना ही किसी और के सामने अपना सर झुकाता हूँ गुरूद्वारे जाता हूँसेवा करता हूँअपनी family के साथ खुश हूँ अब मुझे क्या मिलेगा यह सोच के कि आपका धर्म क्या हैआप आस्तिक हो या नास्तिकमंदिर जाते हो या मस्जिद या चर्चया कहीं भी नहीं आप अगर मेरी life में दखल नहीं देते तो मैं आपकी life में दखल क्यों दूंउससे किसी को क्या मिलता है?

मंदीपअगर इतनी सी बात सबके समझ में आ जाए तो हमारे कितने झगड़े ऐसे ही ख़तम हो जाएँ और हमें कोई कभी धर्म के नाम पे अलग अलग करके फ़ायदा भी नहीं उठा पायेगा |

जी Sir | Sir मैं आपसे एक सवाल पूछूँ?

हाँबिल्कुल पूछो |

Sir आपके caste system के बारे मैं क्या विचार हैं?

I laughed… बेवकूफ़ी है मंदीपऔर क्या कोई अपने जन्म के basis पे ऊपर या नीचे कैसे हो सकता हैमेरा तो यह मानना है कि बहुत शोषण हुआ हैबहुत अन्याय हुआ हैऔर शायद यह हिन्दू धर्म की सबसे बड़ी गलती रही है |

तो Sir क्या reservations के माध्यम से यह ठीक हो जाएगा?

मुझे तो नहीं लगता मंदीप | Problem हैउसका हल भी निकालना हैलेकिन मुझे नहीं लगता कि reservations से problem solve होगी अगर कोई मुझसे पूछेतो मेरी नीति यह होगी:

१ हर ऐसे नागरिक के लिए जिसकी आर्थिक व्यवस्था एक level से नीचे हो, चाहे वह किसी भी जाती या धर्म का हो, उसे बारहवीं कक्षा में दस परसेंटेज ग्रेस मार्कस एक्स्ट्रा दिये जाएं जो वह अपने अंडरग्रेजुएट कॉलेज एडमिशन के लिए उपयोग कर सके |  साथ ही उसकी अंडरग्रेजुएट डिग्री प्राप्त हो जाने तक की सारी पढ़ाई लिखाई बिल्कुल free हो | मेरे हिसाब से इतनी सहायता पर्याप्त है | अंडरग्रेजुएट डिग्री के बाद कोई एक्स्ट्रा ग्रेस मार्कस और नहीं | उसके आगे या तो जॉब पाने के लिए या फिर आगे पढ़ने के लिए सिर्फ परफॉरमेंस ही देखी जाए |

और साथ ही एक कानून हो कि कोई भी स्कूल या कॉलेज जाती या धर्म के basis पे किसी को admission मना न कर सके सब लोगचाहे अमीर या गरीबचाहे किसी भी जाति या धर्म के होंसाथ बैठ कर पढ़ें |

किसी को भी पढाई में extra help चाहिए होउनके लिए शाम को extra classes रखी जाएँ और इसमें भी caste, अमीरी या गरीबी से फरक नहीं पड़ना चाहिए जिसको भी extra help चाहिएउसे दो और इसके लिए अगर extra teacher चाहिए हों तो extra teachers को hire किया जाए और यह सुविधा गाँव गाँव तक पहुंचनी चाहिए पढाई लिखाई का माहौल बन जाएगा पूरे देश में |

हर education level के अंत पे एकदम fair और transparent exam होंया तो अगले education level में admission के लिए या फिर नौकरी के लिए | Fees की मदद मिलेजहाँ पढाई लिखाई में extra help चाहिएमिले इसके बाद अपनी मेहनत के basis पे exam clear कर के लोग आगे बढ़ें मेरे हिसाब से तो यही सही है |

और जो लोग बहुत ही गरीब हैंचाहे किसी भी जाती के क्यों न होंउन्हें अपना कोई छोटा business शुरू करने के लिए सरकार कुछ पैसे दे और साथ में उनको थोड़ी बहुत guidance भी दे अपना business चलाने में |

इस सब में खर्च तो होगा लेकिन अगर अच्छे से किया जाए तो मुझे लगता है कि कुछ ही समय में बदलाव आएगा और हम जाति भाव से ऊपर उठ कर साथ साथ आगे बढ़ पाएंगे तुम्हे क्या लगता है?

Sir पहले इस दिशा में सोचा नहीं है आपकी बात पे गौर करूंगा Sir |

We were just about entering the airport premises now. There was a very calm understanding silence between us. We were kindred spirits. I asked him one last question:

मंदीपतुम कहाँ तक पढ़े?

Sir, 12th के बाद father के साथ काम करने लग गया था घर पे मुश्किल थी लेकिन अभी साल पहले ही correspondence course से पंजाबी में B.A. की है | M.A. भी करूंगा |

This is just about when he pulled up to the curb.

लीजिये Sir, आ गए airport |

बहुत अच्छा लगा मंदीप तुमसे बातें करके आशा है तुम और तुम्हारी सारी family खुश रहेगी अगर फिर मिलेंगे तो ज़रूर पूछुंगा तुम्हारी M.A. की पढ़ाई के बारे में |

Mandeep responded with a genuine smile: जी सरज़रूर | Happy journey sir. रब का आशीर्वाद हमेशा आपके साथ रहे |

Thanks Mandeep! Good luck and goodbye!

And he drove off. Leaving me in utter awe of the depth of humanity and wisdom this simple soul possessed.

(to be continued... Link)

Translation of my conversation with Mandeep:

Me: What's your good name?

Mandeep: Mandeep Sir.

Me: I'm Brijesh. Your driving's good. You are taking care of people around you. That's a good thing to do.

Mandeep: Thank you Sir.

Who all are in your family?

Sir, My Mother and Father, wife and three kids. One younger brother who is a pilot in the Air Force and is currently posted in Amritsar.

Very nice. And how old are the kids?

Sir my elder son Sukhvinder is five years old. He's just moved from kindergarten to first. Then we've recently had twins: one son, Harvinder, and a daughter, Harjot.

That's great! Congrats!

Thank you Sir.

And how old are you?

27 Sir. I was born in 1984.

Here in Delhi itself?

Yes Sir. As such we're from Punjab. But my parents moved here in 1982.

1984 was a difficult year. Your parents must have told you.

Yes Sir. I was born about two weeks after Mrs. Gandhi's assassination. A Hindu family had kept us hidden at their home. I was born at their home itself. My Mother tells me that if they hadn't hidden us in their home there's no saying what may have happened. A lot of my parents acquaintances and friends were killed.

That was a very shameful time. I'm glad you folks escaped. You must carry a lot of pain in your heart. Your parents perhaps more than you. I don't know if you will ever be able to forgive.

Sir, there is certainly pain. So many of their friends were killed. So many others lost everything they possessed. Father's shop was also burnt down. It took a long time for us to get back to normalcy. We also want that there should be justice for what happened. But we are not bitter Sir, at least not towards Hindus.

I was a bit taken aback with this last statement. Because whatever the Sikh community in India went through after Mrs. Indira Gandhi's assassination in 1984 was truly horrific.

I don't understand.

Sir, we had in fact relocated to Delhi because my parents were not in support of the Khalistan movement. Whatever happened with the Sikhs in 1984 was certainly wrong. And there needs to be justice. But its also a fact that many Sikhs had gone wrong in Punjab before that. Some of my parents' Hindu friends were also killed during that period of militancy. They were our neighbors in Amritsar. Not Sikhs, but they were Punjabis. And how does even that matter Sir? This country belongs to everyone and people should have the freedom to live wherever they wish to. Even today my parents remember them. They had dinner together in our courtyard one evening. And the next morning my parents found that their friends had been killed during the night. This hurt and distressed my parents very deeply. Then again in 1984, it was their Hindu friends who saved them. If we are bitter and angry today, it is with those politicians who stoke communal fires. Not with the Hindu community per se. They also lost a lot just as we did. And as far as Operation Blue Star goes, many people say that it was wrong for the army to storm the Golden Temple, which is a sacred place of worship for the Sikhs, and kill Bhindrawale and his friends. But tell me Sir, was it right for Bhindrawale and his group, who were responsible for the murder of so many innocent people, to hide and stock up arms and ammunition in the Golden Temple in the first place? I don't think so Sir. If Operation Blue Star was wrong then so was whatever preceded that. It takes two hands to clap Sir. Half truths won't lead us anywhere. Everyone will need to sit together and face the whole truth.

You are speaking with depth Mandeep. Not everyone displays this level of maturity.

Thanks Sir. (With a laugh...) And many people take offense when one speaks in this manner.

That's quite true.

Sir, think about it, some people in Maharashtra say that only Marathis should stay there, tomorrow people in Bengal will say that only Bengalis should stay there, day after tomorrow it will be about only Malyaalis staying in Kerela... Is this any way to think? We had obtained independence with so much difficulty in 1947. It took such immense sacrifice from so many : Bhagat Singh, Chandrasekhar Azad, Sukhdev ... and we are already back to breaking the country into pieces. And if I feel all this is wrong then I also have to accept that the Khalistan movement was wrong. Sir, today aren't there Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, Christians, Tamilians, Bengalis, Marathis, Punjabis, ... all of them ... in our army? And who among these is unwilling to take a bullet to safeguard this country? What sense does it make then to even talk about breaking up into pieces? It's such a wonderful country Sir. Everyone can live together, be happy. These are all mindless words and acts Sir. Take a look at America Sir. The name's United States of America and they actually are united. And look at us, we spare no effort to become the Divided States of India.

Sir, fights in the name of religion are absolutely baseless. There's no head or tail at all to those fights.

I was smiling now. It was eerie how closely Mandeep's thoughts were echoing mine. I let him continue.

Sir you tell me, I am a Sikh : I do not believe in anyone except the Guru Granth Sahib (the sacred text of the Sikhs), and neither do I bow my head in front of anyone else. I go to the Gurudwara, I do sewa, and live happily with my family. Now what will I gain by worrying about what your religion is, whether you are a theist or an atheist, whether you go to the temple or mosque or church, or maybe nowhere. If you don't interfere with my life, why should I interfere with yours? What does anyone get from doing all this?

Mandeep, if this simple little matter was so clear to everyone so many of our fights would just stop by themselves. And no one would ever be able to derive advantage from dividing us in the name of religion.

Right Sir. Sir, can I ask you a question?

Of course, please do.

Sir what are your views on the caste system?

I laughed... It is stupidity Mandeep, what else? How can anyone be higher or lower just on the basis of their birth? I believe that much exploitation and injustice has happened because of this caste system and this has perhaps been the Hindus' biggest mistake.

Sir do you think things will become alright through caste based reservations?

I don't think so Mandeep. Yes, there is a problem and it has to be solved. But I don't think the answer lies in reservations. If someone were to ask me, I would suggest the following strategy:

1) Let everyone below a certain economic cutoff (regardless of their caste, religion, gender, etc.) : (a) get an additional ten percentage points in their twelfth class marks for admission into undergraduate programs and (b) receive absolutely free education till the end of their undergraduate program. According to me, this much assistance is enough. Beyond undergraduate level education: No additional grace percentage points and performance the only criterion for either securing a job or admission into postgraduate programs.

Plus let there be a law that ensures that no school / college / university can deny admission to anyone based on caste / religion / gender considerations. Everyone, whether rich or poor and irrespective of caste or religion should sit and study together.

2) If anyone needs any extra help with their studies, it should be provided and extra classes in the evening should be held for this purpose. Caste and economic status should play no role in this. Whoever needs extra help, give it to them. If it becomes necessary to hire extra teachers for this purpose, then that should be done. And this facility should reach every village. This will lead to an atmosphere of sincere education across the whole country.

3) There should be fair and transparent exams at the end of every education level; either for admission into the next level of education or for getting a job. Help should be provided with fees wherever needed, extra help should be provided with studies wherever needed, and then everyone should make progress based on hard work and performing well in exams. That's the right way as per my thinking.

4) For those people who are very poor, some financial assistance should be provided by the government to start a small business along with some guidance on how to run their businesses effectively.

A fair amount of investment will be necessary to make this happen. But if done properly, I think we would see change fairly soon and we will be able to rise above caste lines and move forward together. What do you think?

Sir, I have not thought along these lines earlier. I'll think about what you are saying.

We were just about entering the airport premises now. There was a very calm understanding silence between us. We were kindred spirits. I asked him one last question:

Mandeep, till where have you studied?

Sir I had started working with my father after 12th as conditions at home were not so great then. But just two years ago I completed my B.A. in Punjabi through a correspondence course. I'll also do a M.A.

This is just about when he pulled up to the curb.

Here we are Sir, we've arrived at the airport.

It was really good talking with you Mandeep. I hope that you and your entire family will have happy times ahead. And if we meet again I'll be sure to ask you about your M.A. studies.

Mandeep responded with a genuine smile: Absolutely Sir. Have a happy journey. May God's blessings always be with you.

Thanks Mandeep! Good luck and goodbye!

And he drove off. Leaving me in utter awe of the depth of humanity and wisdom this simple soul possessed.

(to be continued... Link)

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