Carrying many a storm in our hearts : The Tribune India

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Carrying many a storm in our hearts

Carrying many a storm in our hearts

Photo for representational purpose only. iStock file photo

Shumita Didi Sandhu

“Moam ki moorat kabhi hai

Sanngdil qaatil kabhi..

Zindagi... phir zindagi hai,

Iss se hum ghabraayein kya...”

(As soft as a figure of molten wax

Rock hard as a killer’s cold heart

Yet, why should we fear it so

Life is but just what it is... Life!) 

                 — Madan Lal Didi

His couplets often nudge me gently to face life head-on with a modicum of acceptance. The 100th birth anniversary of my late father, Comrade Madan Lal Didi, a poet-politician, was celebrated in Chandigarh recently.

The strains of his mellifluous flute would wake us some days as he practised a raga virtuously explained to him by our mother — the singer, political activist and lawyer Sheila Didi. Other days, we heard his vibrant oration at a jalsa or visited him at a hunger strike where his comrades would pamper us with ice-creams or lemonade as they sat hungry in protest for some cause. The longest strike lasted 40 days. “After the first three days, it becomes easier to fast,” our mathematics graduate father told my sister Poonam.

Whenever, wherever I saw red flags in a procession with lively slogans, I as a little child would run fearlessly into that moving mass of humanity and ask any of the vigorous walkers to lift me high on their shoulders so that I too could hold a flag and shout, ‘Zindabad!’

“Hum mukhalif hawaaon ke paale huay... Laakh toofaan dilon mein sambhaale huay...” (We who have been raised by opposing winds... We carry many a storm in our hearts...)

Mehfils (soirees) at our home were a weekly affair. Sher-o-shayari and songs ranging from revolutionary fervour to everlasting or unrequited love resounded in our tender ears. We didn’t quite understand the importance of silence for these baithaks, but today, my appreciation for music and poetry and that of my siblings stems from these mehfils and IPTA programmes. We were often chorus singers singing amongst others the famous peace anthem: “Aman ke hum rakhwaale sab ek hain ek hain... Hum zulm se ladne waale sab ek hain ek hain...” (We the safe-keepers of peace are one, are one... We who fight cruel atrocities... are one, are one).

Life was, however, not a bed of roses. Although there was a stream of wonderful, warm people flowing in and out of our home, more often than not, there was a paucity of money to pay even the rent. There would be outstanding accounts with shopkeepers and I for one grew up feeling that it was very important to have a house of one’s own. It’s a childhood insecurity I still chase.

My brother Rahul was drawn to the field of finance in the US after a degree in engineering from Moscow, while Poonam become the editor of Punjabi heritage magazine Preetlari.

Our father would sportingly accept hand-me-downs from our well-to-do uncles from Kenya. In fact, he used to distribute their largesse to colleagues, who would suddenly appear in a dapper safari suit at a rally!

The fiery trade unionist had a soft heart and a twinkle in his eyes. He also had a ferocious temper. At 65, Papa said he had finally outgrown his teenage! He said men take a long time to grow up in our culture as they are so pampered as children, and that women were the first slaves that man made. There was a contradiction there when he would tell me that marriage as an institution, as he had seen it growing up, was more about curtailing women into certain roles, yet he was impatient for me to get married.

I saw Papa evolve. He was painfully truthful. Admitting to being enamoured of a muse or to his proclivity to binge drink, he went at my suggestion to therapists and proudly joined a community of recovering addicts in his seventies.

He would come in a bus from remote parts of Punjab even during the days of terrorism to be home every night to tend to his aged mother, Biji Preeto. His taqiya qalaam (favourite phrase) was “ chalega”, or one step ahead, “daurega”.

Once a sweeper’s daughter, just about my age, was caught stealing from Biji. As I launched into a high-pitched tirade, my father arrived and it was I who faced his wrath. He said had I not been born in our house, I too might have had to clean people’s homes and could have landed in a similar situation. I was admonished whilst she was let off gently. I have never forgotten this lesson.

Papa was respected for his amiable personality, uncompromising integrity and remembered for his quick wit, generosity and wisdom. His words resonate: “Khoobsoorat shaam hai, khushiyaan manaao dosto... Din ke tarkash mein na jaane kis tarah ke teer hain...” (Celebrate this beautiful evening now friends... for you know not what stinging arrows the day’s quiver may hold).

— The writer is an artist & filmmaker

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