Tilak Rishi's weblog

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Tilak Rishi, born in India, has been working as a career corporate executive, after doing his MBA. Passionately pursuing his hobby for writing, he also remained a regular contributor to newspapers in India and the U.S. Many true happenings and characters he came across in life, including interaction with former president Bill Clinton, inspired Paradise Lost and Found, his first novel. A family saga, it starts from Kashmir, when this paradise on earth is lost for the tourists who thronged in thousands every year to enjoy its scenic splendor. Terrorists have turned it into one of the most dangerous places in the world. The family is not only a witness to the loss of this paradise, but also to another tragedy of much bigger magnitude. In the aftermath of the partition of India, along with millions uprooted from their homes in Pakistan, the family leaves behind all that it has in Lahore. Starting from a scratch on the difficult path to progress, it still has many joyful moments when along the way it makes a difference in many a life. The survival-to-success story climaxes in California where the family finds the paradise that was lost in Kashmir.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

My Wonderful Family - Son

Alok - Son

In one of our annual vacations after our wedding, Sanovar was our dream destination, a very beautiful village in the interiors of Himachal, about sixty miles beyond Simla. After spending a day in Simla, we started our journey to Sanovar on horses, as the motor-able road ended at Kufri, ten miles from Simla. Most part of the journey was along a river that reminded us of the River of No Return. We covered the journey in two days, spending a night on the way in a forest guesthouse, where the waterfall, hitting the stones in the river, produced the perfect beat of the Sound of Music. It was a breathtaking sight when we reached Sanovar. Higher mountains surrounded the small village at a height of ten thousand feet. The natives of the tiny village had added color to the place, with their multi-colored dresses and cute hutment. Their Chieftain's log house had a charm of its own, with beautiful flowers blooming all around. He himself was also a very pleasant person with an impressive personality that commanded respect and reverence of the entire community. He welcomed us to the village on our arrival at the forest guesthouse on the outskirts of the village. And the next day he accompanied us on our walk on trails in the forest, on the way telling us tales revolving life in the mystery land on the mountains. The story that engaged our attention most related to “Chur Peak”, the highest peak in the area at a height of 14,000ft.

The name Chur Peak came from king Chur who once upon a time ruled the entire area on these mountains. He did not have a son to continue his dynasty and felt distressed, especially as he grew older and older. Time was running out for him and the queen to have a child. When they had almost given up hope, the queen dreamt that they climbed to the peak and were struck by the sight; Lord Shiva was sitting there in meditation. They too sat at his feet in prayer. When Lord Shiva opened his eyes, he was pleased to see the king and the queen praying on the peak and blessed them to have a beautiful boy. In the morning she narrated her dream to the king, who immediately decided to climb up to the peak with the queen, even if it was too difficult for their age. With their determination and the elaborate arrangements made for the climb, they arrived at their destination but were disappointed on not finding Lord Shiva there. However, they still sat on the peak and prayed to Lord Shiva for a son. Within a year of the climb, the queen gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. There were huge celebrations and the king also ordered construction of a Shiva temple on the peak. Since then the temple has been attracting thousands of childless couples from far and near, who climb to the peak to pray for a child. Many couples come back to climb the peak again, this time to thank Lord Shiva on having been blessed with a child after they had prayed at the peak.”

We had been married for four years but did not have a child. We had been yearning for one. We thought our trip to Sanovar was a godsend opportunity to pray at the temple on Chur Peak. Next day we started on our climb early in the morning, taking the trails leading to the temple. By mid day we were on top of the world. That was how we felt looking down from the peak. Lord Shiva's statue built, made in stone, stood majestically on the mountaintop. It looked like the Lord was keeping a watch on his creation from Chur Peak. We both prayed to Lord Shiva to bless us with a child, as he had blessed king Chur and his queen, and thousands of devotees who climbed the peak after them. And Lord Shiva blessed us too. Jeet, my wife, was pregnant within weeks after our prayers on the peak. When we looked at the baby boy Jeet gave birth to, we had absolutely no doubt that he truly was a gift of Lord Shiva. As he grew up, his godly qualities of kindness, compassion and caring were quite obvious, and all the more strengthened our belief that Alok, as we named him, truly was God's gift.

Alok was brilliant in studies, but second only to the best boy in the class. Jeet once told him that if he worked a little harder he could easily stand first in the class. His reply was, “I know Mom, but that would make Rohit feel miserable as he is so used to standing first.” Jeet could only wonder at his compassion that motivated him to sacrifice anything to make others happy. As Alok was kind to others, God was kind to him. When he wished to go to USA for higher studies after his school graduation, it was almost impossible to achieve this ambition. The government would not grant permission to send remittances in foreign currency for studies abroad because of very stringent foreign exchange rules. Nothing short of a miracle could help Alok cross this hurdle. And there it was. Jeet had a chance meeting with a Member of Parliament, who happened to be very close to the Finance Minister. He went out of the way to help us get the government permission to send our son's fees in foreign exchange to the University of San Francisco, for his tuition and hostel fees. And Alok left for the United States at the age of seventeen.

Today, Alok is amongst top computer technologists in Silicon Valley and we are happy to have joined him here after our retirement in our respective jobs. The way he cares for us always reminds us of Chur Peak where we were blessed to have him born as the God's Gift.

Nothing in the world makes parents happier than seeing their children make significant progress in life. Within a few years of getting a good career break with a computer giant, our son had a very pleasant surprise for us. Our eyes were moist in those most joyous moments of our lives when he called us to break the news that he had bought a new house and wanted us to come immediately for its formal opening from our hands at the housewarming party he had already fixed after a fortnight. Along with the invitation he sent us our tickets for the flight to USA. He also told us not to bring any gift for the housewarming, as he had already made up his mind what he wanted from us and would tell us when we arrive there.

The housewarming party over and when all the guests were gone, he and our daughter-in-law disclosed what they wanted from us as our most precious gift for the occasion. They earnestly requested us to take early retirement from our respective jobs and join them in the States. This was not the gift we had prepared ourselves to give them. They drove us into the most difficult decision making moment of our life. On the one hand there was too great a temptation to be with our son to let it go, and on the other, we did not want to be amongst those parents who often unknowingly add undue pressure and stress on a young marriage by placing possessive time demands on a son or daughter. At a time when a younger couple is struggling with limited finances, establishing solid relationships, securing a dependable income, and learning to raise children of their own, overbearing parents can add unnecessary stress to a fragile marriage. We firmly believed that parents must do their part to support and strengthen the marriages of their children. Parents should be more concerned with the success and healthy condition of their child's marriage than with their own assumed rights to time with the family.

Keeping in view our above belief, we thought it better to discretely decline our son's request to move to the U.S. to live with him. We pleaded with him pointing to the modern day facilities of cell phones, email, iChat and the rise of social networking like Facebook, which make parents become the extended family over vast distances. Our son was quick to kick out our excuse saying even though technology allows families to keep in touch and share personal milestones more easily, nothing replaces the experience of actually living under the same roof with family. With families dispersed all over, technology helps to bring those families together now more than ever. But it just can't beat a hug or pat on the shoulder.

Our son used all his persuasive power to convince us to come to live with him in USA. His answer to our beliefs was his own firm belief that adult children and their spouses must also realize they have obligations and responsibilities to their elderly parents. This is accomplished through love and respect. As adults, grown children should not only be self-sufficient in meeting their own needs, but they should remove as many of the worries and emotional stresses from their elderly parents as possible. When ageing parents experience failing health, adult children have a responsibility to administer or see that proper care and support is in place. Though nursing homes and elder care facilities may provide helpful and needed resources in caring for invalid parents, institutions should never be looked to as complete solutions to elderly parental care. Love and emotional support expressed through touch and heartfelt conversation is the responsibility of children and family, not employed care providers.

Perhaps, thinking that his point of view might be construed by us as a kind of sacrifice of his privacy and personal life for his parents, which he knew we would not like, he came up with yet another, though entirely, different angle in arguing for us to live with him. If not today, tomorrow he will need us as a great help when he starts his family. Having the support of an extended family can help young parents through many of the tougher times with child raising. Extended families play an important part in assisting with childcare needs. They can come to the rescue when parents cannot see solutions to problems that they face with their children. Many parents suffer through finding babysitters and childcare providers for their small children. When these parents are attached to a strong extended family unit, child care is rarely a problem. Grandparents are only too willing to watch the little ones. Often, permanent childcare solutions can be found within the extended family that will give dependable care at a large monetary savings to young parents. People who cultivate extended family relationships are at an advantage emotionally and are often more successful in their personal lives. Both children and adults benefit from these relationships during times of great stress. They also reap the rewards when joyous events enter their lives. These are the people who will rejoice and be glad with you, as well as sorrow and grieve with you. You really can't lose.

Indeed, we could not have overemphasized our son's smartness and sincerity on the issue of extended family v/s nuclear family, and at the end of the day, we agreed to give him the gift of his asking for the housewarming. We made up our mind to join him by moving to USA.

Friday October 11, 2013, our son Alok is taking us for prayers at the grand San Jose Gurdwara and thereafter for a treat at the reputable Sunnyvale Turmeric restaurant. That is how he wants to celebrate his 50th birthday, the glittering golden year of his life.
50 years – how fast the time flies, looks like it just happened the other day only, when we had the joy of hearing the first cry of a very cute baby boy Inderjeet gave birth to, a week before her own birthday. As Alok, or Baba as we called him at home, grew up, his godly qualities of kindness, compassion and caring were quite obvious, and confirmed our belief that he truly was God's gift - God granting our prayers at the majestic Shiva Temple on Chur Peak at the height of 14,00 ft. in the interiors of Himachal Pradesh in Northern India, which we had climbed earlier in one of our tracking excursions during summer vacations.
As Alok was kind to others, God was kind to him. When he wished to go to USA for higher studies after his school graduation, it was almost impossible to achieve this ambition - it was not an easily affordable wish we could fulfill, if somehow we were to manage the money from our compulsory savings in service, the government would not grant permission to send remittances in foreign currency for studies abroad because of very stringent foreign exchange rules, and last but not the least, it was almost impossible to obtain the U.S. visa, specially by a boy who was hardly seventeen then. Nothing short of a miracle could help Alok cross all the three hurdles. And the miracle it must have been: Money – more than the sufficient money we arranged from our savings, it was the timely moral support of my Managing Director's words that worked: “Don't hesitate to send him, I'll see he is never ever stranded there for shortage of funds”; RBI permit: Jeet had a chance meeting with a Member of Parliament, very close to the Finance Minister, who went out of his way for the Reserve Bank to immediately issue the required permit to remit the fees in foreign exchange; U.S. Visa: it was entirely Alok's presence of mind throughout that worked for him while going through the most grilling interview for visa at the U.S. Embassy, especially his masterstroke when asked by the Counsellor that since there was no automation in India why go to the U.S. to study computers - “Some one has to start it in India too, and I want to be the one amongst them”. And Alok left for the U.S. for studies at seventeen.
After we sent Alok to US, it did not take long for our friends to make him the main topic of conversation, some of them skeptical of our step. They thought that we had made a big mistake in sending our only son so far away, and at such a young age. They expressed concern that he might not be able to withstand the cultural explosion he would confront in the U.S., where drugs, drinking and dating started in schools. We did not care much for such comments, though some of the fears our friends expressed stuck in our mind and made us concerned about them. We, therefore, took it as godsend opportunity to see for ourselves how Alok was doing in US when my MD offered us fully paid trip to the U.S. as reward for accomplishing an almost impossible assignment - persuading the central government to allow us to transfer our upcoming new project to Gujarat, although the industrial license was issued for setting up the unit in Rajasthan.
Our most important engagement in the U.S. was to visit University of San Francisco, and meet the Dean, for which Alok had already taken appointment for us. The Dean very emphatically brushed aside all our doubts about students taking to bad habits in American universities. We were not only relieved of all our worries that had arisen out of the fears expressed by our friends, but also felt extremely happy and proud to hear his parting words: “ Alok is not only eligible for merit scholarship on the basis of being included in President's Honor List for the year, but I also consider him a role model for other students for his exemplary conduct”.
Nothing in the world makes parents happier than seeing their children make significant progress in life. Immediately on graduating from the University of San Francisco, Alok got a good career break with Sun Microsystems, a computer giant of the 80s and 90s, to join their Java creative team. Then onwards it was a pure pleasure to watch him progress at Sun for 20+ years as Software Engineer, Principal Engineer, Chief Technologist, Director and Patent Holder for his invention of a system and method for a "debugger Run-Time-Checking for valid memory accesses for multithreaded application programs". We were overwhelmed when Alok took us to the 7th Commencement & Alumni Reception-Carnegie Mellon University - Silicon Valley Campus, where Ray Bareiss, Director of Educational Programs, presented the Dean’s Return on Education Award to Alok with the citation:
Having worked for Sun Microsystems for 19 years, this year’s recipient of the Return on Education Award joined the Carnegie Mellon Software Management program, seeking to ‘step out of his comfort zone.’ Shortly after enrolling in the program, he was able to gain the skills and confidence to begin thinking and behaving like a leader. His actions were clearly recognized by his global peer group of 1,500 engineers at Sun, who nominated him to be Principal Engineer. But he didn’t stop there … he left Sun after nearly 21 years to start Yunteq, a software company developing key enabling technology for Cloud Computing …”
Cloud Computing, of course, was all the rage and passion for Alok till his startup Yunteq became one of the most sought after companies to acquire by the big giants in the computer industry. When he and his team at the Yunteq received an offer that they thought was rewarding enough for their hard work, Alok agreed to the Yunteq merger with Coraid, a well reputed company, that enabled him to move on to explore new trends in software, especially in social networking. Along with his first cousin, Arjun Rishi, they have founded Khaylo Inc., an exclusive social networking site for the sportsmen, that awaits official launching anytime very soon.
While we are anxiously awaiting and wishing rewards for their hard work in this new venture, we are happy to enjoy a very relaxing retirement with Alok and his very accomplished wife Ranjan by our side, both wonderful and very caring. Thanks to their giving us much of their precious time - taking us for a long drive on weekends to quaint little towns along California's most scenic Pacific Ocean Coastline, including us in all the fun on festival holidays they have and being by our side whenever we need - we are having such a blast as never seen before in our life. We are indeed blessed to have Alok as our son, and on his 50th birthday are so happy to go with him to the San Jose gurudwara and pray for his healthy, happy and prosperous long life:

Fifty candles mean you have cast a lot of light in the world.
You have blazed a lot of trails and shown the way for a lot of others who follow behind.
You have done a lot of good, and you're just getting started.
So take pride, and keep on shining.
Happy 50th Birthday, Son!”

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

May Wonderful Family - Wife

Inderjeet - Wife

The fondest memories of my life in Lahore were the moments spent with Indu, my sister's best friend, who lived next door. With her very sweet, sober and sacrificing nature, Indu had also won my mother's heart and became her most favorite amongst all our friends. In fact, the entire family had taken a fancy for her and loved her a lot. I especially felt that a very special bond was beginning to develop between me and Indu, which made life look more beautiful and exciting. She would always stop by to be with me for a while in my room upstairs, whenever she crossed over to our side of the terrace to see my sister. She would be eager to show me her latest painting, while I would be waiting for her to read my new writing. Day by day, and year by year, as we were growing and coming of age, we loved to spend more and more time together, and missed each other when we did not meet any day. It, therefore, came as a big shock when Indu had to move to Karachi, along with her parents, for a long period, where her father, a very flourishing electrical contractor, had got a big government contract for electrification of the harbor in Karachi that would take at least two years to complete. It was indeed a very painful parting.

The Partition was a very big price India paid to attain independence from the British. At least one million men, women and children were killed and over ten million uprooted on both sides of the border, following the religious divide of the country in 1947. Thanks to my best friend Bazal and his brother Aziz, who was an army officer, we were escorted safely across the border into India. My heart started to sink as we left Lahore, thinking of Indu and her family, who were in Karachi, which also, like Lahore, had become part of Pakistan. I could only pray for them, which I kept doing till we arrived in New Delhi, our destination, where my father had decided to start from scratch, after having lost all he had in Lahore.

From day one of my enrollment, BD became my best friend in the college. He belonged to a farming family that owned big farmland on the outskirts of Delhi, who had been paid handsome amount of compensation by the government for acquiring their land for rehabilitation of refugees from Pakistan. This made BD one of the most affluent students in the college, the only one then to come to college in a car, and the most popular for generous spending on fellow students for their treats. No wonder, he won the presidential poll in the college union elections overwhelmingly. The victory in the college elections made BD ambitious to stand for the presidential seat of the Delhi University Students Union. The girls' college, where entry of boys was totally prohibited, opened its gates to boys once in a year only, to facilitate campaigning for the university elections. Well equipped with the publicity material, BD and I entered the gates of Indraprastha college for the first time, with a mission to win over majority of the votes from the college. We headed straight for the college union office to seek support of the office bearers in our campaigning. As we entered the open door, I could not believe my eyes when I saw Indu standing there, talking to some other students. At first startled, she screamed with joy finding me in front of her, and instantly gave me a very warm and long hug. It had never happened before in their very conservative college, a girl giving a hug to a boy in the college campus, but Indu could not restrain her spontaneous reaction to my sudden appearance after the fateful Partition and its aftermath, even if it must have caused shock to her companions.
Oh my God, what a surprise! It's so wonderful to be together again!!” She screamed with joy, still clinging to me.

In the four years gap, she had grown into a great looking girl, adding a lot of grace to her beautiful body. I introduced her to BD who was standing speechless at our surprise reunion, and she introduced us to the other three girls, who were all office holders in their college union along with Indu, who was the president. After being greatly relieved to know that all in our both families were safe and fine, I came to the crucial topic that brought us to her college. She assured BD that since no student from her college was contesting for the seat of president in the university elections, she would easily enlist their support for him. BD was overjoyed and was only too happy to give us a ride to my place when Indu expressed her desire to meet my family without any delay. BD eventually won the election.

After graduating from our different colleges, Indu and I studied together in Delhi University for our post graduation. We met everyday and loved to spend most of our free time together. After we had left the university on completing our postgraduate courses, and joined our respective professions, she as a senior teacher in Delhi schools and I as an executive in corporate sector, we still managed to meet almost every evening. We had fallen in love, far more deeply than ever before. For our families and friends we were an inseparable couple. It, therefore, was no surprise for anyone when many years of our courtship culminated into a happy marriage, with no twists and troubles in our love story. Today in California, 5 years after celebrating 50 golden years of our wedding, we still sometimes feel our story has just begun, when I look forward to see Indu's new watercolor painting and she waits for my latest blog, like it all began in Lahore.

Indu took my mother's last words like it was a religious firman which had to be followed, or may be because she herself truly believed in the traditions left by mother, till today she has always kept our door open to happily welcome anyone who came to our house, for her God disguised as a guest. Our open house often has a guest, invited or not. Most come to enjoy Indu's culinary art and our hospitality, but there was one guest, a little girl next door, who came for freedom to move freely which was denied in her own house.

As Principal of a government school, Indu had been allotted official accommodation to which we had shifted recently. She observed that every day when she returned from work in the afternoon, a small girl started to cry from her window next door. She would wave to her smilingly to make her happy, but that did not help. When she saw that it had become a daily routine, she became curious and could not resist knocking at the neighbor's door. An elderly lady opened the door. She was the grandma of the girl, who would tie her leg to the bed so that the girl did not bother her while she was cooking. The girl's mother was a working woman who returned from work in the evening. Indu offered to take her to our place and keep her there till the grandma was free from her kitchen work. The grandma was only too happy to accept the offer. Since that day, Sapna, the little girl, was our daily guest. Indu would pick her up on her way back from work and keep her till her mother came back from work. It continued for days, months and years when Sapna had long passed the age when she needed to be tied to bed by her grandma. Indu helped her get admission in the best school in the area, and she would still spend most of her after school time at our place. Sapna had become an inseparable part of our family, till fate separated her and pulled her back to the period when as a cute toddler she would cry for Indus Help to attain her freedom.

The year was 1984. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her bodyguards belonging to the Sikh community. Fanatics amongst her followers avenged the assassination by killing thousands of Sikhs on the streets of Delhi. It was the most horrible happening in the history of Delhi. Life in Delhi limped back to normalcy in a couple of weeks, but deteriorated for our little guest from the next door. Sapna's parents stopped her from coming to our house because of Indu's Sikh background. They were scared that the Sikhs would now take revenge by killing the Hindus, and since Indu was from a Sikh family, it was risky to leave Sapna with her when she was alone as she might also avenge the killings of her community by harming her. They also tried to brainwash their daughter into believing that it was no longer safe to go to our house or even meet or greet Indu. The innocent seven year old girl did not get even a bit of what all they were talking about. This made Sapna sick, sick of her parents for preventing her to go to her dearest aunty's house, and physically sick too. Her condition kept on worsening and the doctor was worried and puzzled as no pills or injections were working on Sapna. We came to know about it from the doctor who lived in our neighborhood and knew about the bond Sapna had developed with Indu during the last few years. On her advice, Indu immediately went to see Sapna, in spite of her parents' strong objections. On hearing her voice, Sapna opened her eyes and greeted her with a broad smile. It was like a miracle. Her speedy recovery thereafter surprised the doctor. Her parents apologized and sought our forgiveness for the sake of Sapna's health.
Our little guest was once again a regular feature in our family.
The wounds inflicted by the atrocities on the Sikh community in Delhi in the aftermath of Indira Gandhi's assassination were too deep to heal, even long after the disturbances had subsided and the Sikhs had come out of hiding, to carry on with their normal life. Many amongst the Sikh youth, who had lost their relations in the riots, were incited by extremists to join them to avenge the killings. In such an atmosphere of anger and hate, innocent Sikhs, especially the youth, were the worst hit. They were suspected of extremist affiliations, and not trusted for employment. It was during that time, Indu noticed a Sikh youth traveling daily in her bus but going nowhere to work. Once in awhile he would be driving the bus as the substitute driver, when the regular driver did not report on duty. It was a private bus running under contract with Delhi Transport Service. One day she, out of curiosity, asked the young man as to what brought him to the bus every day when he worked as a driver only once in awhile.
Aunty, when one has no work, even a few days' work is fantastic. So that I do not miss the rare chance to work, I must come daily.”
Have you tried for a full time job?”
I tried very hard but did not get any. I have a bachelor's degree and I also know typing, still no jobs. It is a curse to be an unemployed Sikh in the capital, nobody wants to employ him.”
You should try in an establishment owned by a Sikh entrepreneur.”
I did, but it was no different. Even they avoid hiring Sikhs, being scared to lose business from their Hindu clients.”
I will check up with a Sikh friend of ours, who owns a travel agency, if he can help you.”

Pratap, the Sikh youth, got a job with the travel agency the next day. But his bad-luck, he lost it after a few months. The owner, our friend, who gave him the employment, sold the company and migrated to Canada, as many Sikh businessmen were doing those days. The new owner did not take time to sack Pratap, as he did not want to take the risk of employing an “extremist”. Pratap was once again on the road, riding the same bus Indu took to her school. He told her what happened at work. He also informed her that during the time he worked with the travel agency, he was also trained to serve as a tourist guide to meet the rush during tourist season.
How about starting your own tourist service, and take advantage of the training you got?”
No Aunty, it's not that easy. Leave aside the money part that I may be able to arrange from my family, no one will let out premises to me for the purpose.”
I know, but what I have in mind does not need to rent out premises. You only need resources to buy or rent out a cab or a three-wheeler, and then you can operate from your vehicle parked outside any hotel that is popular amongst foreign tourists. I have seen the system working at many tourist places.”

And within a week, Pratap was driving a three-wheeler auto-rickshaw, taking tourists from their hotel to sightseeing places in Delhi. He was making money, but only in the tourist season, which was the shortest of all seasons, hardly a month and a half around Christmas. This was not enough to sustain him for the whole year. What to do? He knew the answer was with his bus-aunty. As soon as the season was off and hardly any tourists were left in the hotel, he came to the bus to consult Indu on the problem he faced. And as he had hoped, she had an answer.
You are a good driver with experience of driving heavy vehicles on Delhi roads. There is a huge demand for truck drivers in the Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. My husband knows someone who recruits drivers and other workers for working in the Middle East. He may be able to help you.”

It took a little over a month, the time taken for obtaining passport and completing other paperwork, for Pratap to be on his flight to Kuwait. A contractor had employed him as a truck driver, through the recruiting agency run by a friend of mine. The contract was for three years with a provision for extension for the same period after its expiry. However, even much before the three year contract was to expire, Pratap's stay in Kuwait was cut short. Iraq had attacked Kuwait and the Gulf War was about to start. Air India evacuated Pratap, along with thousands of other Indians working in Kuwait in one of the biggest airlifts in the world. And there he was, once again without work, to consult Indu, concerning his next occupation. It was Sunday and we were both home.
Thank God, you are back before the war begins. I would have felt guilty all my life for suggesting you to go to Kuwait if something had happened to you there.” Indu was happy to see him return safely.
Thanks to Air India, we were evacuated from Kuwait in time. But it cut short my career in Kuwait, and I am again without work here.” Pratap did not hesitate to straightaway come to the subject of his next employment.
He had helped you get a job in Kuwait, it is now his responsibility to find you a replacement for the one you lost there.” She laughed looking at me.

I suggested to Pratap to try walk-in-interviews for drivers-cum-salesmen, the position advertised by Pepsi in the paper the same day, which had attracted my attention just before Pratap came. The interviews were scheduled to start the same day and Pratap thanked us and rushed to reach the company to take a chance in Pepsi. Next day a big Pepsi truck stopped in front of our house from which Pratap stepped out carrying a crate of Pepsi. It was his first day of service in Pepsi. He put the crate on the floor, touched our feet, trying to find words to express his gratitude.
I thought it would be the most auspicious start to my career in Pepsi if you agree to be my first customer. How blessed I am because of you is beyond anybody's imagination, not even of my parents.”
Of course, we would be the happiest to be your first customer . God bless you.” Indu said putting her hand on his head.

Pratap continued his career in Pepsi, working hard to go up the ladder of success, step by step. For us, that was the most precious crate of Pepsi we ever bought. We, especially Indu, always cherished it for the joy of making a difference in Pratap's life.

In our spare time, while Indu did watercolor painting, I decided to do what I always wanted to do since my school days when I used to write a couple of columns in my school magazine. I started to edit and publish my own weekly paper, The Priceless, not as a full time profession or business, but purely as a pastime. It was a weekly paper of ads with a sprinkling of popular features like film reviews, food recipes from Indu's kitchen, fortune forecasts for the week from Zodiac books etc., and was distributed free with the weekend edition of daily newspapers. It was then a new concept that instantly clicked. Neighborhood shops and commercial establishments, which could not afford expensive advertisements in the national newspapers, advertised in The Priceless, paying a very affordable price. With its increasing popularity, Indu's involvement in its production also increased, and besides contributing the recipe column, she also booked ads and attended to calls from the readers and the advertisers. She could give more time as her school job gave her many more spare hours than my office timings.

Though The Priceless was not a newspaper, by a twist of fate, it became the biggest news story of the mainstream newspapers. It could do what the police failed to do, tracing a teenage girl in Delhi, who had disappeared from her home in Singapore. The girl's mother pursuing a clue, a postcard from her daughter with a Delhi postal marking, had come to Delhi in search of her missing daughter. She sought the help of Delhi police, but in the city with a population of seventy million then, it was too difficult to trace her daughter without any definite leads. As was its routine in such a case of suspected kidnapping, the police raided the 'Red Light' area, in case the girl was a victim of traffickers who might have sold her for prostitution. But it was of no avail. When all efforts by the police to trace her daughter in Delhi failed, the mother decided to go back to Singapore, disappointed and distressed. However, prior to leaving Delhi, she advertised in the newspapers about her missing daughter, offering a handsome reward for any help in finding her. As soon as Indu saw the ad, describing the missing girl as a Montessori school teacher in Singapore, something struck her mind.
I have a hunch that the missing girl might be traced at the new school in our neighborhood, which has been advertising in our paper for the last several weeks announcing its opening.” She said excitedly on seeing the ad.
What makes you think that the girl would have run away from her home in Singapore to join a starter school like this one?” I was curious to know the clue she had in her mind.
Because the Principal/owner of the school called the other day to add this line in their regular ad, 'Kindergarten classes taken by a foreign trained Montessori teacher.' I cannot say why, but I'm quite certain that this foreign trained teacher must be the same missing girl from Singapore.” And she immediately called the number given in the ad about the missing girl, and asked the excited mother to come over to our place to pursue a vital clue she had on her daughter's whereabouts.

Indu told the mother, who had rushed to reach our house by a taxi from her hotel, that she suspected that her daughter might be working at the new school in our neighborhood, which had publicized in our weekly paper the addition of a foreign trained teacher. And she took her to the school, not far from our house. To the mother's most joyous moment, Mona, her missing daughter, was very much there. Mona, though momentarily shocked to see her mother at the school, was overjoyed to be reunited with her. It turned out that Mona had left home as she could not cope with her step father's continuing misbehavior with her. She came to Delhi because she only knew this city other than Singapore, having visited it many times with her mother. She had been planning secretly for some time to leave Singapore, and kept looking for a suitable job, scanning classifieds in a Delhi paper, available in her school library. Responding to an ad of the school, requiring a Montessori teacher, she flew to Delhi without informing anyone. She straight went to the school and met the Principal, who not only gave her the job but also helped her getting a paying guest accommodation with a lady teacher in the same school.

Mainstream newspapers, which were following the story of the missing girl from Singapore, came out next day with the details how the case had closed with a happy ending. They had especially praised Indu's role in reuniting the mother and the daughter, connecting the two ads and her refusal to accept any reward for this from the mother. The mother, though very happy to have found her daughter, returned to Singapore without her. She had acceded to her daughter's request to let her continue with her job at the school, only when my wife persuaded her in view of Mona's plight and agreed to be her local guardian in Delhi.

National Association for the Blind (NAB) is the primary Non Government Service Organization for the blind in India. Founded in Mumbai in 1952 with the motto “Tamso Ma Jyotir Gamaya” (From darkness lead unto light) that emerged as its guiding principle, the NAB, through its 18 State Branches in different parts of the country, its 7 institutions and over a dozen activities, provides services such as support for integrated education, braille production, talking book library, home for aged blind, special program for multiple disabled persons, prevention of blindness, vocational training, technology development & training, industrial employment, and orientation & mobility training all over India.

My wife and I devoted much of our spare time to volunteer service to the blind at the NAB in New Delhi. I published a souvenir to raise funds for building hostel of the school for the blind, through advertisements from big business houses, while my wife helped by organizing runs in Delhi schools in aid of the blind. I also assisted the voluntary organization in its expansion to the rural areas of Delhi by starting training programs in varied vocations right in the villages where the blind lived. On weekends and holidays my wife would accompany me to oversee the training arrangements and make suggestions based on her experience in running such programs in schools. In one of our visits to a training camp in a village, we spotted a blind boy, singing devotional songs in the compound of the village temple.

What a melodious voice this young man has. If groomed by a professional musician, he can be a great singer,” my wife said while walking towards him.
You sing beautifully. Where did you learn to sing?” She asked Bhola, the blind young man.
Just by listening to professional singers who performed at the temple during festivals. I spend whole day singing at the temple, and this gives me a good practice. Sometimes they allow me to sing with them on the stage too,” he said with some pride.

Seeing the potential in his singing, my wife suggested that she could arrange to train him under her school music teacher, who was also a radio artist and might help him in his audition for singing on the radio.
It is a terrific idea. I can arrange his stay in the blind school hostel where he can take lessons from your music teacher.” I greeted her suggestion with great enthusiasm.

Bhola's parents were too poor to look after their blind son and had practically abandoned him, to live at the mercy of others, at the temple. They were only too happy to see their son taken to the city to live in the hostel for the blind, where he would get food and all other amenities free of cost. The music teacher, whom my wife had given his first break when he had just come from a small town looking for a job, was very happy to have Bhola as his pupil. On the suggestion of the blind school administrator, the winner of the “Best Volunteer of the Year” national award, the music teacher also agreed to train a blind student of the school, who too was a good singer. They both learnt fast and within a short period passed the audition test of the national radio and TV. After their very first opportunity to perform together on the TV, they received offer from a renowned music studio, to make an album of their devotional duos. Their first album was immensely liked by lovers of devotional songs, and then onwards, there was no looking back. They both became a popular singing pair and star attraction at religious gatherings and 'Jagratas”.

Thanks to my wife's match making skills, and blind school administrator's blessings, Bhola and Veena, his blind singing partner, apart from their successful singing career, were soon leading a happy married life. They had truly experienced Blind Love, the basic and the most beautiful form of love.

At the JFK International airport in New York, we had to wait for our flight for almost the whole day, arriving at nine in the morning, for a flight to New Delhi at seven in the evening. This was the most economical option for us on our last day of the trip to the U.S., when we had already exhausted whatever little foreign exchange that was allowed by our government for travels abroad. After sitting for sometime in the airport lobby we realized the time literally stopped if you kept looking at the clock, so we started to look around. As soon as we did that, the time started flying with every flight that took off from the airport. It was interesting to watch passengers arriving to take their planes, some in such a hurry as if testing their great athletic fitness by running to reach the flight gates, and some others like us, who found airport lounge a fine place to pass their time in leisure. The young girl sitting next to us seemed to be of the second type. She was already there when we came and had been consuming cigarette after cigarette since then. My wife initiated a conversation with her, while I wondered how she took so long to do that.
“Are you also waiting to take a flight?”
“No, I'm waiting for my boy friend. I arrived earlier from Rome and he was expected to receive me at the airport.”
“You had gone there on vacation?”
“No, I'm coming here on vacation. I'm from Italy and studying in Rome. My boyfriend is American and lives in New York. We met when he came to Rome last year as a tourist. This year he invited me to spend my holidays with him in New York....” And she went on and on, talking about her boy friend, about herself, and all their plans in life together. While she was talking, she also went on admiringly touching and looking at my wife's Bengal-crafted bangles.
“I love the bangles you are wearing.” She said after exhausting all the information she had stored about herself. And my wife responded instantly by removing both the bangles she was wearing in one hand.
“Take them, these are for you.”

As my wife was giving her the bangles, another woman who was watching them, came over.
“Are you selling these bangles?”
“Oh no, just giving as a gift. You like to have?”
“I would love to, but not without paying the price.”
“These are not expensive at all. Please accept these as a present.” And she started to remove bangles from her other hand.
“These are beautiful bangles and look quite expensive. I cannot take them unless you accept to take the cost. Anyway, I am in a hurry to see off someone, and would be back with you soon.” And she rushed to another lady who was entering the lobby. At the same time the other girl's boyfriend had come and she left thanking my wife for the wonderful gift.

After a while, the other woman came back.
“Now I have all the time to talk to you. Your beautiful silk suit says you are from India.”
“Yes, we are. And you?”
“I am from Italy. I have visited India many times. I love your country. What time's your flight?”
“At seven in the evening.”
“Then why are you so early at the airport?”
My wife told her about our visit to the U.S., sending our son to University of San Francisco, and spending all our dollars on the trip without saving for a day's trip to see New York city. As soon as my wife completed the last sentence, the woman immediately took out a hundred dollar bill from her bag and wanted to give her.
“Since you have not seen New York and you still have plenty of time, go and see at least some parts of the city.”
When she did not accept it in spite of her insisting, the lady said let that be towards cost of the bangles, which in the meanwhile my wife had given her as gift.
“Ok, take it as a loan, and return it when I visit India next time.”
“No, we really don't need the money. But do meet us and stay with us when you visit New Delhi.”

They gave each other their addresses, and promising to see us in India she left, but not without leaving the hundred-dollar bill on my wife's lap.
“I will need it when I am in India. And thanks for the priceless bangles.”

Traveling is a great experience. You come across people, meet them momentarily, and remember some for ever. We could never forget the Italian lady, even long after our first visit to USA.

The lives you live as wives, moms and homemakers, while going out to work - where can you, as women, get the greatest fulfillment? Ask my wife, and she will at-once answer, nowhere else than in a warm loving home in a joint family? She was lucky to have been married at a time when joint family was not history, but still struggling to survive the onslaught of the fast moving metro life, which disrupted families. She was doubly fortunate to have her mother-in-law as her best friend. Parents' presence in the house was not only a blessing, but also a big support to us, the working couple. It indeed helped us through many of the tougher times with child raising and childcare needs. Unlike many parents who may suffer through finding babysitters and childcare providers for their small children, we never had any such problem. Our parents were only too willing to watch our little one. In short, my wife had it all – nice fulfilling job, great kid, a comfortable home and much of the credit for it goes to her compatibility with in-laws who lived with her under the same roof. So, any career woman, when ready to marry, would be very lucky if she can join a loving joint family after marriage.

All good things must come to an end. Our only child was hardly four years when for the first time my wife faced the hard realities of coping with the responsibilities of a mother and a career woman, without the help of my parents, who had moved to another city to be with my elder brother. She soon realized that motherhood was not all a bed of roses, especially if you happen to be a career woman. She now had to strive to make it successful, which she succeeded doing wonderfully well. First thing she did was to thank God for having teaching as her career, which was then not as paying as the career in a company. But now as a mother she found it paid off exceedingly well by giving her ample time to raise our child. Incidentally, she saw the sense in so many matrimonial classifieds then, clamoring for brides from teaching profession. Her working hours were best suited to devote the rest of the day after school to bring up our boy and fulfill his needs. Then there were so many vacations – autumn, winter and the long summer – coinciding with our son's school holidays, she never was short of time for our child, although a working woman. So, lucky is the working woman who has a job that complements, not clash, with her home life. There is nothing worse than having a lousy job that leaves you drained at the end of the day and ill-prepared to face your family when you get home.

People are amazed that my wife can be a good mother, a good wife and a good principal at the same time. Indeed, it is not easy for a woman to work as well as manage her family, and this is where support from husband highly matters. I was pretty sure that working women cannot be good mothers, unless they are blessed with a family willing to do their part in ensuring her success at home and work. And although the family may feel happy having Mom handle all the cooking, washing, and cleaning, it is an unrealistic expectation when her paycheck is required to keep the bills paid. Just as a working man depends on his wife to allow him time to work and be with his children, so should he return the favor. Household chores should be shared equally by the husband and wife if they both work full time away from home. The choice is clear - we can spend our time whining about the impossibility of the situation or we can work together to make it workable situation for all. With my absolute belief that we as parents would greatly benefit from joining together and sharing the trials and tribulations of parenthood, supporting each other, learning from each other, and lending loving advice and helping hand, I sincerely strive to play my part as a husband who is helpful. Let me elaborate my role by relating to an amusing anecdote: Our son was still in his elementary school when he upset his teacher by being adamant on answering incorrectly, which as per his teacher, was a very simple question of social studies. After she had taught the class the basics of our daily life from a lesson in the book, wherein it was clearly stated that in the family, the father goes out to work and the mother does the household, she asked our son, “Who makes breakfast for you everyday?” To which he replied, “My father makes breakfast for me everyday.” And repeatedly gave the the same answer in spite of being corrected by the teacher. We had to explain to the teacher that this was the only truth he knew. While his mother went to work early in the morning, I fixed breakfast for him and tiffin for the school, saw him off when the school bus came, and then went to office.

In order to get along in the world today, a woman must work, to earn a decent household income. I have always thought my wife is a remarkable woman because she has successfully raised our brilliant boy, kept our house running by supplementing the household income substantially, and remained a respected school principal for 30 years till retirement. She really is a good role model who is worth emulating by aspiring working mothers. Dream big and grab those opportunities that come along. No path to success is strewn with roses. But the going gets lot easy if the loved ones extend a helping hand.

The very topic of public schools (private schools in USA) vs government schools (public schools in USA), takes me back to the fond memories of my dear friend, a very honest and hardworking income-tax consultant, whose death was very sad, sudden and untimely, due to heart failure. He succumbed to the severe shock of a prominent public school refusing admission to his five year old son. May God give peace to his soul, and strength to all others to bear such a disappointment when their ward is denied admission in a public school. May I request them not to take such a refusal too seriously, as this certainly is not the end of the world for them or their ward. Year after year, there has been so much improvement in government schools' infrastructure, education and administration that they are getting as good as public schools. In fact, some government schools are even better than many of the so called public schools in providing better facilities and staff salaries.

In India, due to the British influence, the term "public schools" implied non-governmental, historically elite educational institutions, often modeled on British public schools. However, more recently the term 'public' has been used much more loosely and can refer to any type of schools that take pride in publicizing themselves as English medium schools, and are affiliated to the Central Board of Secondary Education(CBSE). One of the supreme ironies, of course, is that even sixty years after securing independence from the British, we are still slave of the English education system, which has divided our society into two parts, the elite and the ordinary. Those who can afford to send their children to public schools are considered to come from the elite part of the society, and the rest, of course, are the ordinary folks. And yet another irony is that the middle class, who may not be able to afford the exorbitant price of public schools, still try their best for admission of their children into those schools, even if they have to suffer severe financial strain for being included amongst the elite. Unless the government starts to show some serious thinking on the subject, we will be stuck with a system which cripples state education, preserves the class structure and permits a few thousand frightening, retentive educational institutions to rule over us, and extract as much as they can from the poor parents.

Is there any way to save our government school system? Yes . First and foremost, the government must demolish the division in the school system by moving forward with uniform, national standardized testing for all schools, government and public, under one central board of education. Along with this we need to establish solid and uniform academic standards for grade promotion and graduation in all schools. Next, we need to better attune education in government schools to the experiences, interests, and aptitudes of today's young people. We know that the chance of success is limited for a child that comes from a home where the parents are unable to afford time and environment for education of their children. Although requiring parents to be actively involved in their children's education is a thorny issue, government school systems should require school administrators to have conferences and even workshops with parents whenever their children run into academic or disciplinary problems.

Here is an example of a principal of a government school, if followed by other principals, I am certain government schools will prove no less than any private school in imparting good education. This principal was so perfect in her profession that whichever school she was transferred to, amongst hundreds of schools under Delhi Administration, she turned it into the best school in the district. The administration very often shifted her to one of the weakest schools with the objective of improving its ratings, and the posting invariably proved rewarding for the school. Once they transferred her to a school that no principal ever wanted to put her foot in, as it was sure to bring her a bad name, and no one wanted to blemish his or her career by being in that school. As was expected of her, she accepted the challenge very cheerfully, and began to work in right earnest to bring up the school. It was located in poorest of the neighborhoods, where living conditions did not allow the students to study at home, even to do their homework. She had to work very hard on that school, meeting every parent to personally persuade them to improve the environment for studies at home, and to dissuade them from forcing their wards to work for a living while they needed to work hard on their studies for a better life ahead. In one year she had made so much difference that it was difficult for the officers in the education directorate to believe the school's results that took the top ranking amongst all the schools in the district. The community started worshipping the Principal and would not let her leave when the administration again wanted to transfer her to improve another weak school after some time. The entire community, hundreds of men and women marched to the administration office in procession to protest the transfer and to plead for the principal to stay in the school. It was for the first time in the history of Delhi schools when the parents went that far to force the administration to cancel transfer orders of a principal.

There is no dearth of dedicated principals and teachers in government schools. If only the government gives them their due recognition and encouragement, there is no way the government schools would be left behind even the best of public schools, and do not succeed in demolishing the division of the society, born out of the existing school system, into the elite and the ordinary.

September 5, is the birthday of Shri Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, philosopher, statesman and above all a great teacher. When he became President of India (1962-1967), principals of some schools and colleges approached him to allow them to celebrate his birthday in educational institutions all over india, he replied: “Instead of celebrating my birthday, it would be my proud privilege if September 5 is celebrated as Teachers' Day”. Then onwards, the day is observed as Teacher's' Day in India, when teachers are specially honored and remembered for their great contribution to the society and the country. On this day, traveling back to memory lane of Lahore days, I particularly remember and pay my regards to my Maths Teacher in high school:

On that fateful day, when the pre-partition communal riots flared up for the first time in Lahore, I was at our Maths-teacher's place, along with some other students, taking last minute coaching prior to the ensuing final exams, when we got the scary news that the city was in the grip of communal violence. Our teacher, though a Hindu, lived in Bhati Gate in the the old city, which was predominantly a Muslim area. Till then it did not matter at all, Muslims living in Hindu areas or vice-versa. But all of a sudden that Saturday it mattered a lot. For the first time we felt that we were insecure, being Hindus, in that Muslim area. Even our teacher, who had been living in that area all his life, got nervous when there was some unusual commotion outside his house. He was not sure how safe it was to escort us out of the area to our respective houses. As we were passing through those most anxious moments of our lives and praying for our safe return to our homes, Bazal, my next door neighbor and best friend, and his brother Aziz, an army officer, appeared, like angels came to save our lives. My mother had immediately contacted them on learning about the communal flare-up and sought their help to bring me back home from our teacher's house, whose address she knew. They had arranged police escort to take us all out from the area to our homes safely.

There was an unusual commotion and quietness at the school when we arrived there the next Monday. As soon as we assembled for the Morning Prayer, our Principal gave the shocking news of the tragic death of our Maths-teacher late in the evening on Saturday. The police believed the miscreants had bolted his house from outside before torching it and the teacher was brutally burnt in the house on fire. The school was closed for the day after many teachers paid tributes to their colleague and two minutes silence was observed to mourn the tragic loss, when we all prayed for peace to the departed soul. It was only then that we, the students, who were at our teacher's house that evening, realized that we really were facing a life and death situation last Saturday at his house, and might have met the same fate if we had not been rescued out of the area in time that evening.

Fast forward to over 10 years later:

Inderjeet and I both loved nature and headed for Nainital, the beautiful hill-station on the Himalayan mountains, for our honeymoon. We enjoyed boat ride in the big and lovely lake, but what we loved most was long walks on the trails in the mountainous terrain. It was during one such walk, when we were coming back after enjoying breathtaking views of the snow covered Himalayan peaks from a famous peak near Nainital, I was shocked to see a man whom I definitely knew to have died long back in Lahore. He was standing at the gate of his gorgeous looking log house and greeted us warmly when we came near him. He invited us inside for a cup of tea, and we accepted his invitation with great pleasure. Apart from giving us the much needed mid-way break, it would provide me the opportunity to know the man who was still a mystery to me.

On entering the house, he introduced us to his wife, a very pleasant and warm person, who insisted that we have breakfast with them, and without waiting for acceptance she ordered the servant to make something special for us. The man was equally warm and made us feel at home by engaging us into interesting conversation that mainly covered his and his wife's hobbies. He was a painter and spent much of his time painting, while his wife was good at growing vegetables, fruits and flowers in their backyard. But all the time, question on the man's identity kept troubling my mind, particularly after knowing that he was a painter. The dead man who came to my mind instantly on seeing that man, had not only the same face and figure, but also the same hobby, painting. As this mind boggling question kept bothering my mind, the man himself came to my help with the answer, when Inderjeet and his wife were in the backyard exchanging notes on their knowledge of gardening.

I know what must have been troubling your mind ever since you saw me here. I'm surprised you did not ask the obvious question that crossed your mind on seeing me alive. Yes, I'm your same Maths Teacher and still alive. I did not die in the fire in my house on that horrible evening in Lahore. Well, here is the true happening that had remained hidden from the rest of the world so far.

One of the social programs that I was pursuing relentlessly aimed at rescuing helpless women of Hira Mandi, the 'Red Light' area in my neighborhood, who had been forced into prostitution after having been kidnapped by bad characters and sold to the brothels there. My wife is one of the women I had rescued, and was in my house waiting to be taken to her village at the opportune time, when there was a knock at my door at dead of night. It was the pimp of the prostitute from whose place she had run away. He forcibly intruded into the house to take her back and attacked me with a knife on my refusal to hand her over to him. But before he could do me any harm, she pounced on him with a sharp edged garden tool she had grabbed from my backyard, and he

succumbed to the serious wound she had inflicted on him. I was too shocked by the incident to know what to do. After weighing various options I thought the best would be to first take her out to a safer place, if possible to her parents, and then report to the police. However, she was not going to let me take the blame for the incident for which she was responsible. She came up with an idea that she had read in a novel.

The pimp, who was killed, had more or less the same physique as mine. We made his body look like mine by putting on it my clothes, slippers and glasses, and then torched the room so that the body was burnt beyond recognition. We escaped from the house with all my valuables and cash, after putting the house on fire too. We went straight to the railway station and took the earliest train to go to her native village in the hills near Nainital. After handing her over to parents, I stayed on in their house for some days when they insisted on it. Although I could have remained in that remote village indefinitely without anyone ever knowing my whereabouts, my conscience did not allow me to take that course. I decided that I must go back to Lahore and inform the police all about the incident, but leaving her out of the picture. But she was absolutely against my going to Lahore and admit to a crime that I had not committed. She was adamant on it and I had to postpone my return till she relented. In the meantime, Partition came making Lahore part of Pakistan and beyond my reach. While there, I found that her parents were extremely perturbed by the situation their daughter had put them in. They knew nobody would marry her after knowing that she had been rescued from the 'Red Light' area of Lahore. I offered to marry her, not so much to please her parents, which they were, as for our own happiness. We had fallen in love, right from the moment she ran into me in Lahore, requesting to rescue her. We did not say it in so many words, but all our actions thereafter reflected our deepest feelings of love for each other. After our marriage we shifted to this peaceful place for our permanent stay. Today I am feeling a great relief after revealing the truth to someone who knew me from Lahore. I did not want to die with the secret disturbing my soul”

We celebrated surprise meeting with my most respected and adored Maths Teacher with the excellent food his wife served us. On Teachers' Day every year, I cannot but commemorate survival of my Maths teacher on that fateful day in Lahore.

Inderjeet, my wife, hardly ever wished something for herself, but I know whenever she wanted something, she got it without her asking, no matter the thing she wanted was important or insignificant. At times it was amusing to see her wishing for very small favors from God and He granting them all the same. We had been recently married when one weekend, after dining at a restaurant in Connaught Place, she expressed her desire to see the newly released Ganga Jamuna, running at the Regal theatre. I was surprised because going to movie was the last thing she ever got into a mood to do. May be, she wanted to make me happy, as she knew that my most favorite film star, Dilip Kumar, was in it. As we expected on the opening weekend of a big blockbuster, a huge “House Full” sign greeted us at the gate.

Oh no, how can it happen that the very first time I want to see a film and we cannot. There must be someway we can see the movie.” She really seemed eager to see the movie.

No way, even the black marketers seemed to have gone away after quickly making a big buck. Let us go home.” I said feeling equally disappointed.

No, let us wait a little while more, who knows some surprise help may come, and we may be able to see the movie,” she said as if actually expecting someone to show up and lead us into the hall. And there that someone was, as soon as she completed her sentence. It was no one else but the manager of the theatre himself. He offered to give us the tickets which he had kept for a couple, who had just called to inform they would not be able to come.

I could not believe it, even if it could just be a coincidence. But in another case what happened could not be explained by any logic. A very famous Guru, having a huge following in India and abroad, had come to Delhi for the first time at the request of her devotees. After reading a beautiful write up on her in the newspaper, Inderjeet expressed her desire to see her personally. We went to attend her discourse, being held the same day in the Modern School auditorium in New Delhi. Although we went very early to have seats near the dais, we were disappointed to find that the auditorium was already full and no further admissions were allowed. Even the lawn outside the auditorium, where they had installed a TV, was almost filled up, and we got seats towards the end of the lawn from where we could not get a good view of the TV screen.

I had wished to see Guruma but not like this. On TV we could have seen at home, watching news coverage of the event.” As she was complaining, we saw a female volunteer of foreign origin coming towards our direction from the distant corner of the compound. Crossing through the entire lawn, she came straight to Inderjeet and said, “There is a seat for you in the auditorium, please come with me.” I could hardly trust my eyes when I was watching the discourse on the TV; she was sitting just in front of Guruma, in the very first row.

The most amusing wish that inderjeet must have made in her life was when it was raining heavily one Sunday morning and she had a craving for 'jalebis'.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if somebody brought us warm jalebis in this wet weather?” She gave went to her wishful thinking, when there was a soft knock on our door. As I opened the door, we were delighted to see Ahluwalia's, our dear friends and the sweetest couple we had known in our life. The husband had a packet in his hand which he passed on to Inderjeet. “Here are some jalebis for you. As we got down from the bus we saw a vendor frying them, and thought there could be nothing better to enjoy in this weather than eating warm jalebis.”

As I kept counting in my mind the countless such instances, major and minor, amazing and amusing, when she got whatever she wished, I was getting more and more confident that this time too her wish would be granted. I had asked her to pray that the book I had almost finished writing would be published in USA, where we were moving to join our son, settled there. I knew how hard and tedious task it was for a new author to have his book accepted for publication. Even before our plane touched down at San Francisco airport, I had made up my mind how to go about it. Immediately after arriving in the U.S., I would go to the nearest library, study all the guide books on the subject, get the names of prominent publishers and agents, particularly those who were known for encouraging new writers, write to them about my book and so on.

As it happened, more than my efforts, it must have been my wife's prayer that paid off. It did not take long to receive a positive response to my query letter from a renowned publisher. They desired to see my manuscript, which they liked immensely and accepted it for publication. Our son, who had prepared me to be patient for a long wait as his friend had been waiting for his first book to be published for many years, did not believe it until he saw the publisher's letter of acceptance. He said it was a miracle that within months of landing in USA I had my first book published. “How did it happen?”, he asked. In reply I could only point to his Mom, “She must have wished so.” I knew that was the truth.

Columbus Stole My “American Visa”!

While working with a reputed company in New Delhi, I also passionately pursued my hobby for writing whenever the time permitted. I started with writing “Letters to the Editor” in Hindustan Times, which very soon became a regular feature of the column. At that time the paper used to publish writer's address too under his name, and I started receiving a lot of letters from the readers, some as rejoinders but generally in appreciation. One day I was pleasantly surprised to receive a letter from a publisher. He had been reading all my letters and was very much impressed by my style of writing, and offered to publish a book that I had already written or would like to write.

The publisher's letter proved the biggest motivation for me to write the book that was already in my mind. Ever since our son went to the U.S. to pursue higher studies, after going through tough grilling in the interview with the visa officer at the U.S. embassy, I had been wanting to write a book for the benefit of all, especially the students, who aspired to go to the U.S. for studies or economic advancement. I had sufficient material stored in my memory from our own travels to the U.S. and the talks I had with many Indians who had settled there. I started writing the book in right earnest, my wife helping me in the project with her recollection of interesting experiences and anecdotes in the U.S., which could provide a good source of guidance to the readers in coping with the cultural explosion and other initial difficulties they might be confronted with on arriving in the U.S. With both of us working overtime, we were able to complete the manuscript in two months, and ready to approach the publisher who had earlier offered to publish my book.

The publisher responded promptly and invited me to meet him with the manuscript. As he was glancing through the introductory pages, I could see an expression of appreciation and enthusiasm on his face.
“I'm sure it is going to be a great book when it is published. With millions of people aspiring to settle in the U.S. and students dreaming to go there for studies, the book will be like a bible for them, their best guide on Mission America. We would be only too happy to publish the book, but before committing or finalizing on the contract, I will have to send the manuscript to our acquisition editor for his approval. It is the normal procedure before accepting a book for publishing. I hope you will not mind leaving the manuscript with us for the purpose.”

I was more than thrilled to leave the manuscript of my book “American Visa” with the publisher. I was so overwhelmed after meeting the publisher that I started to fantasize my first book becoming a bestseller after it was published. I even began dreaming of my next book, “My India”, based on my memories of travels throughout the Country. As time passed, days looked longer and month like many months, without a word from the publisher. I got worried and gave a call to the publisher.
“The manuscript is still with the editor. He has taken it with him to go through it while on vacation to a hill station. I will call you as soon as he returns.”

I was relieved by the publisher's response, but only momentarily, as even after three months had passed the editor did not return from his unusually long vacation. At last, after nearly four months the publisher called to convey that the editor had returned and I could come whenever convenient. He sounded so much different from when I met him first time. Definitely not as enthusiastic or encouraging. I decided to go immediately, as I could not wait to end my anxiety. I felt like the student who knew he must have failed, but went all the same to see his result, expecting a miracle to happen. But miracle was only a mirage, it did not happen. It did not happen with my manuscript too.
“I'm sorry to inform you that it would not be possible for us to publish your book. Our editor has returned the manuscript with the remarks that we had only recently published a book on a similar subject and it was not advisable to publish another book on the same topic so soon after the publication of the first book. I'll be only too pleased to publish any other book you write that is on a different subject, as I really admire your writing.”

On the way back I stopped by a bookstore to see if such a book was really published or the publisher had made it up as an excuse to reject and return my manuscript. I did not have to enquire about the book, as a book titled “How to go to America” was prominently displayed near the front desk amongst “New Arrivals”. The writer of the book was Columbus, obviously a fictitious name, and the publisher was the same, which proved he did not lie to me. I bought the book out of curiosity about its contents. As I went through the book before going to bed, I found to my utter disbelief that the book was nothing but the abridged version of my own manuscript. Same subject, same style and even the same text, only made shorter and simpler, like they turned lengthy textbooks into the so called “Keys” for students, which they found very helpful in preparing for their examinations. It was an outright theft from my manuscript. Fighting a long legal battle with the publisher was out of question, because of lack of time and resources. Though anguished and perturbed, I tried to pacify myself with the thought that after all it was no petty thief but Columbus himself, who stole my “American Visa”. I bought the book and was back home, visibly a very sad person.
“I know you are very disappointed, but don't get disheartened. You have written a good book that was also appreciated by the publisher. You can approach another publisher who may like to publish it. There are always so many books on the same subject, though not from the same publisher. Let's forget about this publisher and move forward and meet others in the industry.”
Jeet looked equally sad but tried to console me so that I did not lose my cool and peace of mind. But she did not know then that a still bigger shock was in store for me. As I went through the book before going to bed, I found to my utter disbelief that the book was nothing but an abridged version of my own manuscript. Same subject, same style, even the same text, only made smaller and simpler, like they turned lengthy textbooks into the so called 'Keys' for students, which they found very helpful in revising their courses before the examinations. It was an outright theft of my manuscript by the publisher, but I could not take any action to punish him. I was too trusting to take any precautions, like having a copyright before handing over the manuscript to the publisher. Even if I had done that, I did not have the resources and time for a lengthy legal battle that could have gone on beyond my life. Though anguished and very perturbed, I had no other option but to heed to Jeet's advice to forget about it and move forward.
I needed time to overcome the shock of intellectual theft I suffered, and did not have the strength to straightaway start working on the second book that was very much on my mind, a guide book on India. Instead, I continued contributing to the national newspaper, now concentrating more on writing articles rather than 'Letters to the Editor'. My first article, “Era of the Singing Stars”, published in the Hindustan Times magazine section, was much appreciated by the editorial staff of the paper and my readers alike. It revived memories of the early era of Indian Cinema when every lead player in the movies was expected to sing in his or her own voice, and some of them sang all time hit songs that remained popular for a long period, even after the stars had passed away. Jeet suggested that I send clipping of the article to a famous film producer, who had also made very successful documentaries and serials telecast on Doordarshan, the national television. She said the article had the most appropriate material for making a mini series on the singing stars of the bygone era. I knew it was Jeet's way of appreciating my writings, but all the same I sent a clipping to the producer, not expecting a reply from such a reputed and busy producer. But to my pleasant surprise, I received a prompt reply from him:
“It is a beautiful article that takes us back to the golden era of of the great singing stars. I am amazed at your memory in recollecting title lines of all the hit songs and names of the related movies. There is no doubt that based on the article a beautiful documentary can be made on the singing stars of the bygone era. But it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to collect all the relevant clippings from the very old films of that period, and therefore, it was not feasible to implement the proposal.”
Jeet and I had almost forgotten about the article, as many more articles of mine on different topics had appeared in the paper thereafter, when we were rudely reminded of it  while watching the TV one day. A beautifully documented film on the bygone era of the great singing stars was being telecast. It had the same concept, the same contents, though with a different commentary, as was my article on the subject. And it could not have been coincidental that the same producer, to whom I had sent clipping of my article had made it.
I had been cheated twice, and that was the end of it. There won’t be another chance for anyone to cheat me again. I would rather not write than be robbed of my writings. What would happen to my dream to be a writer? I did not know the answer. All that I knew was that it was a shattered dream, at least at that particular point of time. But before Jeet’s well reasoned and inspiring words I could not remain adamant on my decision and decided to write again:
“Don’t ignore the fact that the first book you wrote was instantly accepted for publishing and was published too, though the publisher cheated you of what might have been your most cherished work.I know what happened was a horrible incident of intellectual robbery, but no one can rob you of your intellect and talent to write. It’s like someone stealing your first pay check, but that doesn’t stop you for going to work, because your ability to work remains intact.”
And I sat down to write the book I had been working on in my mind for a long time. I continuously kept writing the book without a break or block of any kind. Every now and then Jeet would ask me the ‘score’, like a cricket match was on and her most favorite batsman was on the crease. And she would be happy to hear the latest score - the number of pages I had finished writing. We were racing against time, the deadline to complete the book being our day of departure for the U.S., where we had decided to move to after our retirement to be with our son Alok, our only child, which I accomplished by writing the last page on the day we left for the U.S..
I knew how hard and tedious task it was for a new author to have his book accepted for publication. Alok often talked about his very learned friend who had been trying for a long time to get his first book published and had still not succeeded. Even before our plane touched down at San Francisco airport, I had made up my mind never to give up, whatever the hurdles, and how to go about it.Immediately after arriving in the U.S., I would go to the nearest library, study all the guide books on the subject, get the names of prominent publishers and agents, particularly those who were known for encouraging new authors, approach them and so on. I followed it up it  with full determination that resulted in  not taking too long to get a positive response to my query letter from a publisher of repute. He desired to see my manuscript start to last page, which he liked immensely and accepted it for publication. I realized, that more than anything else, it was my total belief in the the following quote, that made the miracle happen and helped me reach a new milestone in my life:
“Persistence And Determination alone are omnipotent”!

One of the assignments in my job was to appoint dealers in all the district towns in every state for sale of cassette players and stereos. The products were made for the first time in India in a factory set up near Delhi. The great train journey started, with my wife wishing me safe and successful travel and I wishing if only she was traveling with me. But she could not take such a long vacation, especially after her summer vacations which had just ended. I would spend an extra day in all the cities which had places of tourist attractions, explore those places and take notes for a book on India that had been on my mind to write for a long time. I was feeling great that side-by-side of completing the assignment, I had collected enough material for the book, when I got a big jolt and my further journey came to a sudden halt. An intruder in my compartment robbed me of all my belongings on gun point, including my most precious diary. I was left with only a sleeping suit, which I was wearing. I did not know what to do next. I had only seen such train robberies in movies, but there they would focus on the thrilling chase scene after the robbery, leaving the victims as clueless as I was then.

As soon as the train stopped at the next station, I contacted the conductor and told him about the happening. He took it casually as if it was an ordinary occurrence that happened every other day. He advised me to get down and go to the Railway Protection Force office on the platform, to report the robbery. Within minutes the train moved out of the station leaving me alone on the platform in my pajama suit in the middle of the night. As I started to walk, barefoot and without baggage, trying to locate the RPF office, a security guard standing at some distance shouted at me to stop or he would shoot me. It was obvious that he had mistaken me for a miscreant awaiting my next victim on the platform. I stood still, pitying my own condition, while the guard closed in, the gun still pointing at me. He seemed disappointed to discover that I was not the prize catch he was hoping to be awarded for, but a victim of train robbery. He took me to the RPF office and handed me over to one of the six officers standing before another, apparently their boss. After hearing from me the detailed account of what had happened and where it happened, the senior officer asked me to wait in the adjoining room while they would be working on the case to trace and catch the culprit. After about fifteen minutes the officer called me to his room.

“We are on the move to apprehend the robber. The officer in charge of the RPF at the station nearest to the scene of incident will need your help to identify the robber as well as your goods, as soon as the culprit is caught, which could be in a day or so. My man will take you there and will make necessary arrangement for your stay at our guest house.”

I hardly had some sleep in the guest house when the concerned officer came.

“Congratulations. We have caught the robber and recovered most of your stuff from him. We shall approach the court today for arranging the identification parade urgently so that you can return home.”

Admiring him for the speedy action in apprehending the culprit, I told the officer that I might not be able to identify the robber as he was wearing a mask when he robbed me.

“You need not worry, I'll take care of that.”

The officer quietly passed on to me the photograph of the culprit much before the identification parade in which I was to identify him from amongst twenty criminals in the presence of a magistrate. In order to doubly ensure that I pointed to the right person, the officer told me that the robber would be placed as the third person in the right hand row at the parade. With so many clues there was no way I could have made any mistake in identifying the robber. The magistrate was satisfied and he also gave permission to return my two bags that were recovered from the robber. Some clothes, a cassette player and my diary were missing, but not the money that my wife had hidden inside a pack of newspapers.

Before taking the train back to Delhi, I, of course, profusely praised the officer for the amazing speed with which he caught the culprit, “I have been wondering how you were able to achieve it within hours of the happening.”

“For this you must thank your friend, our Director General. He himself called me in the middle of the night and asked me to go after the robber right then. We in the police force keep track of all such criminals and know where they reside and run to after robbing passengers in the trains. We can easily catch them there, though we do not do that all the time, at least not with this speed. Since in your case the DG was personally interested to solve it, I immediately drove to the village where all these robbers reside and caught the man without much difficulty.”

It was obvious from what the officer said that he had been all the time mistaking me as a close friend of his DG, whom I had never known earlier in my life. Apparently, the officer whom I first reported the robbery must be the DG whose presence at the RPF office at that late hour was coincidental, though the concerned Inspector thought that the DG must have come specially for me, and surmised that I must be a close friend of the DG.