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Sunday
, March 10, 2002

Life Ties

When comparisons stunt growth
Taru Bahl

ASHUTOSH was the fourth of seven children. His father, a foreman in the Indian Railways, was always coping with transfers to small towns and railway junctions. He did all he could to tutor and feed his large family. It was enough to see the children study, matriculate and graduate. The ultimate dream was to have the girls married and the boys in suitable afsar jobs. Ashu was average in studies. More than mediocrity, his sluggishness made him different from his active sporty brothers. While his siblings played with children outside, he lounged around, listening to the radio or day-dreaming. As a result, he spent more time hanging around the womenfolk, dabbling in cooking and gossiping.

He never was ambitious. His brothers knew they had to overcome their small-town mentality and the limitations which bogged them down. They knew their father could only do so much for them and no more. They had to break free and make something of themselves rather than wait for miraculous opportunities to drop into their laps. They spent sleepless nights dwelling on career options. Balu, the younger one, studiously cultivated the local magistrateís son and turned him into a good friend. He liked going to his house and seeing the paraphranelia that came with position and authority. Over a period of time, he became a part of their family spending more time in their house than his own. This proved to be a great learning ground for him. The two boys studied together and the intensity with which he held discussions with the father made the senior gentleman see a spark in him. Thanks to his this association, his professional goal was clear. Both studied in a singleminded manner for the services. The friend made it to the Foreign Service and Balu got through the Allied Service. They remained best friends till the end.

 


The third brother Raghu knew he was not cut out for studying. He thrashed alternatives, frantically seeking a career path which was in line with his temperament and allowed him to make money as well. He zeroed in on the Merchant Navy. Taking the initiative, he tracked down a distant relative in Mumbai, made his father write a letter of reference and set out to meet him. He started out as a deck boy with a British trading company. He was not ashamed of doing menial work because he knew this was a stepping-stone. What was a triumph for him was to see the world, broaden his horizons and meet the kind of people he had only seen in movies. He slogged and cleared exams as he moved up the rankings. Interestingly, once he was established he pulled out every unemployed boy in his hometown, offering encouragement and wherewithal. A time came when practically every household had a son in the merchant navy, thanks to Raghu. He was worshipped back home.

What helped both brothers enormously was the partnership they shared with their spouses who complemented them, sharing the same concerns and priorities. Their children reflected the same sense of adventure, pushing themselves to pursue higher goals, taking risks and never shying away from work, however small it may be. Balu and Raghu always told their children that they had come up in life the hard way. They had seen stars on the dimmest nights. Their parents were well meaning but lacked resources and awareness to equip them with skills. They had the huge advantage of having parents who were well read and in sync with the times. While they had stumbled their way through they didnít want their children to lose out just because of ignorance.

While the brothers were busy focusing on their future, Ashu made no effort to move away from the small town he lived in. For the lack of a better goal, he disinterestedly did his B.A and then M.A, finally taking up teaching in a Government school. The thought of giving up the comfort of his paternal home and struggling on his own kept him chained to a life which had no future. His career came to a stand still. He was an infectious cribber whose disgruntled temperament affected people so much that they avoided him unless they wanted to revel in feeling sorry for themselves, in blaming the system or running others down. Each breakthrough his brothers made created a furore in Ashuís mind. He blamed his parents for being partial to them. He cursed his luck and destiny for trapping him in a life he had no escape from. He blamed his wife for not being an asset. He blamed his children for not working hard and doing anything to make him a proud father.

Whenever he heard of any achievement made by his siblings or their children he would get agitated and hyper with his parents and wife asking them why they could have it all and not him. Obviously, he never gave anybody a chance to say anything, so it remained a one-way tirade. With time his brothers got the message. They stopped sharing details of their prosperity, knowing it would upset their eldest brother. Their efforts at helping him were ungraciously rubbished. Finally they realised it was best they kept away.

Strangely, Ashuís anger and jealousy was not just directed at people whom he knew like friends and cousins. It also extended to those he did not remotely know. Even if his neighbour bought a car it bothered him enough to make him rave, rant and accuse him of leading a dishonourable life. He flew into a rage if the person on the end of the street renovated his house. Although he had no contact with him and his affluence did not affect him in the least yet he cursed and ran him down. When in front of family friends he took off on the person who won 50 lakh in KBC, everyone found the situation comical and ridiculous. Ashu cribbed about how KBC was a fraud and everyone who came onto the show a cheat with dubious underworld connections. He was convinced that they were involved in what was a public mockery. Otherwise, how was it that hundreds of his telephone calls had gone without fetching him the coveted ticket to Mumbai more so since he had answered questions on the phone correctly. Since he could not make it, he was sure the entire thing was rigged. Seeing his inflamed passions and rising blood pressure, his well wishers always wondered why he didnít use the same energies in actually doing something to improve his lot, if he really was so miserable.

The worst thing was that his constant cribbing and negativity did not allow the people in his life to break away from the morbidity and sense of futility he had so rigidly transplanted onto them. His wife would have provided him support had he done something in the first place. His children grew up believing they were useless. They were scared of their father, who was never satisfied with what they did. The constant complaining had created a stifling atmosphere forcing them to study but did not translate into results. Ashu neither invested in his children by sending them to good schools nor expose them to hobbies and interests. He only told them to study and do better than X,Y and Z. By drawing comparisons with people, and especially with his own brothers, he had not just made them pessimistic but also blocked avenues for them to seek help. They remained in a shell, sorry for being a disappointment to their father. It wasnít till much later when Raghu came visiting and saw the suffocating environment in which his nephews were choking in that he intervened and forced his brother to let the kids go with him. They had to get away if they had to come into their own and he was not going to let Ashuís whining ring in their ears forever.

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