I was right about the turban again! The Sardar sitting next to me was most definitely a fauji! Not for me the Montek Singh turban or the yuppee turbans worn by Vancouver Sardars. No Siree!
The turban standard that I subscribed to was the one and only Bajwa standards. I being a southie and a fauji, Bajwa had, years ago, initiated me into the art of turban wearing. Having helped him set up his turbans on many occasions, sometimes when our ship was rolling and pitching like hell, I was almost a connoisseur on turbans! Also, my vanity prevented me from appreciating any other way a turban is worn.
This was Bajwa Standards, well almost.
‘Hi’, says the Sardar, red turban, red fifty, about sixty years of age, or so I think.
‘I am Vikram Singh’ – Sardar
Now this is where I typically stop. I don’t like too much conversation on flights. I am the quiet, reading, sleeping type. I generally mumble something and pretend to look at a magazine. But this was a fauji after all! This long business class flight from JFK to Dubai could turn out different.
Me-‘Samani, 48 NDA (just on a whim!)’
‘Well, well, well’ says the Sardar, ‘I am from the 22nd course’-Spot on Samani! And the flight starts!
After an unusual bumpy take off, we all get settled down. When the hostess asks for a drink, I choose my usual Jim Beam , soda hoping that the Sardar will also have a drink. But he is different. He chooses orange juice. My first thoughts were ‘This one has turned religious!’ ‘So what do you do in the US?’ asks the Sardar, if just to start a conversation
‘Came for a Board meet’ – me
‘ I came on a holiday to the US’ says the Sardar, looking at me from the corner of his eyes, weighing me. I could almost hear his thoughts. This guy should address me as ‘sir’ is what he is thinking !
‘Good to hear that Sir!’-me.
After leaving the navy 14 years ago, I don’t like to call any one ‘sir’ and also do not like to be called ‘sir’ by any one. But 22nd course is miles senior! After that it is a pretty much one sided conversation, with him talking and I listening.
What a story this turns out to be! ‘ Had an excellent twenty two years in the Army, with Command appointments and the occasional tiff with the bosses initially’ starts the Sardar. ‘ Tiffs got more frequent as I went up in service’. ‘Got married like anyone else, two kids, both sons’ . ‘Left the army as it was strangling me. Couldn’t stand the hierarchy and especially those bureaucrats in Delhi’ ‘liked my old monk soda-too much of it in fact’-Sardar giving me his life story in tweets!
‘Started a small textile business based in Ludhiana initially’ continues the Sardar.’ Slowly grew and established my business first in Delhi and then in Mumbai’. ‘That’s when tragedy stuck’ says he, hoping that I would break my silence at least now.
‘What happened sir’ I dutifully ask, getting slightly muzzled with my second Jim Beam. I might as well confess, I am a two Jim Beam (small) man. Anything more than that, I get high and go to sleep.
‘Well the wife dies on me suddenly’ says the Sardar fully accusing her as if it was her fault.‘So sorry to hear that sir’ I mumble.
‘Blood cancer they said. One minute she was there and another minute she was gone’ continues the Sardar. ‘Tried to give her the best medical attention-no luck’. ‘Worst part was that she was the bridge between me andmy sons or their wives’. ‘You know with these field appointments, you hardly know your sons, especially when they grow up’. ‘Worse still when they get married’. ‘’Their wives were so, well, different’. ‘I think I have two grand sons and three grand daughters’ . ‘Or is it the other way around?’ ‘Not sure’ says the Sardar almost asking me to help him remember.‘But the business went on extremely well’ he continues.
‘Bought a large plot near Gurgaon’ and built a three story house’. ‘Ground floor for me, first floor for the elder son ‘s family and top floor for the younger son’s family’. Elder son to look after the business in Delhi and younger one for Mumbai. I retained overall control and also business expansion into other metros. 33 crores turn over in four years, can you believe that?’ asks the Sardar
‘Wife died in the ground floor. At least she could take part a bit in my success’. ‘Three cars’. Bought the second Sonata in whole of Delhi, would you believe this?’ he continues. Having stayed in Dubai for long, I know for a fact that Hyundai Sonata is a lousy car but I let him bask in his glory. “That was great Sir, I mumbled’ ‘Yes, Sonata for me, Esteem for my sons’ says the Sardar and the meal arrives. I see the Sardar having Asian Jain Vegetarian meal. “This is surely going to end religious ‘ I think ‘See how life changes’ the sardar asks philosophically between mouths full of yucky pasty main course.
‘This happens one day, after my wife’s death, when I was about sixty one years old’ he says
‘My elder daughter in law comes to me and says, “Papa why don’t you spend more time with the grand kids?”
‘Now this is the first time she has spoken to me in months’ continues the Sardar, ‘I thought she was being extremely nice and cares about me’ ‘Sure Beta, what do you want me to do?’ I asked.
‘Why don’t you drop them to school daily in the Sonata?’ says Rupali, ‘well that’s her name’
‘Sure Beta’ I say, wholeheartedly thinking that I should spend more time with the grandkids; especially since I did not spend time with my kids
‘This routine starts and actually I started enjoying it myself. The kids like the Sonata. Well they were spoiling it a bit but that was OK’
‘After a few months’ continues the Sardar, it was the younger daughter in law’s turn. She comes and asks ‘Papa, can you get us some grocery?’
‘What do you need Beta’ I ask and she gives me a long list. ‘So I dutifully get it, using my credit card for god’s sake!’
This goes on for a while and slowly but steadily I start doing a lot of house hold work. Of course we had maids etc but I am soon helping with kids’ homework.
On my sixty third birthday, my younger son comes to me and says ’ papa, I have a surprise gift for you!’. He takes me outside and shows me a brand new Alto all 800 cc of it. Couldn’t make out whether it is a second hand car. I mumbled ‘thanks’
‘Suddenly from next day, the driver drops me and the kids to school in the Alto. Elder son has gone on a visit to his in laws in the Sonata.
I still did not feel anything amiss’. The sardar stops to see if I am listening or have I dozed off. He doesn’t know that I am all ears now and in fact my heart is palpitating.
Then one day during holi, we have a family dinner. Now this is one tradition which the wife has established, god bless her soul. Come hell or high water, holi dinner was taboo. That’s when I make an announcement
“Beta logon, I have a surprise gift for you!”
“What’s it papa, asks the elder son’
‘I have arranged a family holiday for all you for 45 days to the US during the summer!’. ‘I think you all looked after me so well that I felt you needed the break’ “all business class, five star stay in both west and east coast’
‘But papa, how about the business?’-younger son
‘All taken care of. Shyam Gupta ( our manager for a long time) and I will handle this in your absence. As such business is dull during summer and I so want you to go and enjoy!’.
“The wives were pleased whilst the sons, I was not so sure’. “Grand kids yell-whoopie’
‘That was a great gesture’ I say, munching a sandwich
‘But what was greater was yet to come’ says the sardar. ‘Just like the appreciation exercises we did in staff college, I had’ appreciated the situation and situated the appreciation’ he continues, the only hint of humour during our entire conversation during the long flight.
Then comes a burst of gunfire from the Sardar
Just after Holi
‘1. I place an ad in the Times of India Matrimony asking for a soul mate
2. I place another ad for selling my house
3. Yet another ad for selling my business
4. last ad for selling my cars, except the Sonata
‘When the family duly went on the holiday, I sold the house, my business and cars. And do you know, also found a soul mate in a Bengali professor, teaching in JNU!’. I shifted to DSOI and here I am back from my holiday! My wife had some business in New York and she is coming back after a week. She doesn’t like meat eaters or drinkers and that’s why I decided to give up both.
In the bargain my weight has come down and my medical test reports have all come to near normal.
‘A success story wouldn’t you say?’ asks the Sardar when the flight is about to land in Dubai. ’ And you know what, ‘ he continues,’ when I land in Delhi, the Sonata will pick me up to take me to DSOI!’
I am not a hugging person. But this was one occasion I almost got up,
(screw the seat belt sign) and hugged the man!
With best wishes