I've been thinking of birthday-present ideas: Rom and his sister Gail turn a year older this week.
The special session of Parliament held earlier this month also reminded me that 60 years ago, Harindranath Chattopadhyaya, Rom's step-grandfather, took his seat in the country's first Lok Sabha as an Independent, representing Vijayawada. That year, Rom was sent to Lawrence School in Ooty.
Besides coping with homesickness, the nine-year-old was subjected to corporal punishment. Rom's parents had never raised their hands against their children, and suddenly becoming a victim of physical violence traumatised him.
Rom was the lone white kid in a 600-strong school, and he felt his teachers took special delight in punishing him at the slightest pretext. If he hadn't stretched the bed sheet taut while making up his bed, out came the cane. His palms were swollen and painful, and angry red welts erupted across his calves from the caning.
Rom wrote letters full of misery to his mother in Bombay, letters she was never to receive. He cried himself to sleep, hurt as much by the public humiliation as the physical pain. His mother wrote to him regularly, never acknowledging his struggles in school. Rom became despondent thinking she had abandoned him to this hell.
When Rom was slumped in depression, Granddaddy Harindranath arrived unannounced. Within minutes, the jovial, fun-loving grandfather turned wrathful. He thundered against the school's child abuse. Promising retribution, he took Breezy, as the family called Rom, back to Bombay.
More than a parliamentarian, Harin is best remembered as a poet. Perhaps his most popular poem is “Rel gaadi, chook chook, chook chook.” When I was thinking of the upcoming birthdays, I recalled a poem Granddaddy Harin wrote 64 years ago.
A Birthday Poem for Gale and Breezy
Two children on their natal day awaken
To find that they are a year older than
They were a year ago...
To them I send my greetings glad and warm,
The poet-father of a grown-up man,
Ramu—who says Breezy and Gale have taken
His heart by storm:
Now, tell me, Gale and Breezy, is that so?
Yes! Warmest greetings from my poet's pen
To Gale who has this day completed nine
Which means, next year, this day, she will be ten,
So, once again this rhyming pen of mine
Will have to write at least another line
Of equally warm greeting...
Now, little girl! Though time be ever fleeting
May everyone around you say: "To Gale
Life always seems a rainbowed fairy tale
Since she has got the knack of lending wings
To the most foolish, ordinary things."
And now, we come to Breezy-Boy, alive
And kicking at the tender age of five.
A favourite pastime with him, I declare,
Is "Come on, Ramu, "trow" me in the air!"
A charming lad who, under a magic wand,
Became a blue-eyed angel-boy - and blonde!
His one desire of all his keen desires
Is just to meddle with electric wires
(which often gives the home a shock or two
Far greater than electric wires do!)
But he himself needs none, the little scamp,
Since he himself is an electric lamp
Self-kindled with a joy that never tires
Without the help of long electric wires!
God bless you both, my loves! God bless you both
And bless your education and - your growth!
Harindranath was the only grandfather Rom really had. He had no contact with his father's family, and after moving to India, he had no physical contact with his mother's parents. By the time he completed school and went to the States to attend university, his maternal grandparents had passed away. Granddaddy Harin taught the kids Tagore songs, narrated nonsensical stories, made up crazy limericks, and indulged them with chocolates and gifts.
What presents to give Rom and Gail on their birthdays? No matter what I think up, I'm sure it will not measure up to this poem.