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.

Friday, February 26, 2016

All Because Of Bullying At College!

One of the sweetest memories from my school days in pre-partition Lahore relates to my brother Yog, who having won the Best Boy Scout award, remained my role model during all the years we were together in the same school. Four years senior to me, he was so caring that after every period he would come to my class to enquire if I was doing fine. I missed him very much when he moved to the senior school, which was in a separate building some blocks away. He still managed to see me every Saturday during the combined scouts meets of the junior and senior schools after making me enroll as a Boy Scout too. I could not enjoy his company and caring nature when I came to the senior school as he graduated from the school the same year I entered the senior school.

The Government College, Lahore, which Yog joined after schooling was the most prestigious educational institute in the entire province of Punjab. In order to get admission in the college, a student had to have very high marks in the matriculation exam, which Yog did not get. But he got in because of being the Best Boy Scout in the school and the top debater in the district. Students from affluent families, particularly from the rich peasantry of Punjab, made it a prestige issue to make it to the Government College, and most did succeed, not so much on account of their merit as because of money power of their parents to bribe the Board members. And it was this class of students who would bring a bad name to the college by their dubious activities. Their modus operandi was to select some soft targets among fresh students to bully them till they became willing victims of their abuse. Yog was one such target they tried to hit, but with his scouting background he kept them at bay as bravely as he could. And when he knew he no longer had the stemina and the strength to bear their day-to-day bullying, he decided to disappear from the scene, rather than succumbing to their abuse. Perhaps, in order to avoid their pursuing him to our house which was in the vicinity of the college, he did not return home after leaving the college one day. No one in the family or amongst his friends had any clue where he could have vanished. We were extremely worried, all the more because of increasing incidents of kidnapping of good-looking boys, believed to be for abuse by by bad elements that had come to the city from tribal areas of the North West of Punjab. So far all the kidnapped boys were later let off, but Yog did not return home even though several days had passed since his sudden disappearance. My mother's fasting and non-stop prayers at last bore fruit when we received a letter from our cousin residing in Delhi, informing that Yog was fine and safe and was staying with him. He also explained at length the bullying by senior college boys that forced Yog to leave Lahore. My cousin further informed us that he would like Yog to stay on with him and help him at the coaching institute he was running in Delhi. Yog's sudden departure from Lahore and decision to stay on in Delhi was my biggest loss at that point of time which depressed me deeply and I took a while to come out of it.......all because of bullying at college.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Vasant Panchami In Lahore!

It is still very hard to reconcile that I can never return to live in Lahore, the beloved city of my birth. On August 15, 1947, Lahore had become part of Pakistan, the newly created country out of the partition of India, and I along with millions of non-Muslims had to migrate to India. Even though the unfortunate Partition tragedy is history now, and ushering in of the new millennium since then makes it more so, my mind, whether in India or the States, never stops landing back in Lahore, reliving the sweet memories of the first 15 years of my life that I spent in that great city. The sweetest and the most exciting of them is, indeed, of the keenly awaited kite-flying festival of Basant that our entire family celebrated with extraordinary energy and enthusiasm on the fourth floor terrace of our house. The best part of our pleasure was that our father, who never allowed us to distract him from his books on any holiday, would willingly join us to enjoy the festival. It was always a full house on the roof top with our family members, my best friend Bazal and friends of all my brothers gathering in full strength to cheer every time we won the kite-fight in the air by cutting the kite-cord of our adversary, with the bursts of drums and trumpets. My mother and sisters joined in the festivity by making us feast on the most delicious meal for lunch and nonstop supply of snacks throughout the day, all served on the terrace.

Basant Panchami festival brings the news of advent of spring, where the whole environ baptize in romance. The pleasant cool breeze supersedes the cold winters, the flowers swing in the air in their full youth-- there is air of merriment everywhere. Vasant is the season when nature is at its beautiful and bountiful best. Flowers are in full bloom and trees sprout new shoots. It is a season when nature regenerates and every thing is fresh and new. New life is evident in the woods and fields. Wheat and other crops enliven with new life and vitality. Mustard fields turn into a heady mix of yellow and green as the blossoms add color, poetry and romance to life. Basant Panchami has a specific meaning, Basant means Spring, whereas Panchami means the fifth day of the spring. It falls on Panchami - on the Waxing Moon. The festival lies in the month of January-February. This year it falls on Wednesday January 20.

In Lahore the season of spring started with the Basant carnival, an orgy of kite-flying, rooftop soirees, garden parties and cultural events in which all communities participated with unprecedented unity. Actually the Muslim, more than Hindus, had a special role to play during Basant because it was they who specialized in making the kite-cord and kites. Karbla, a sacred Muslim place in Lahore, was famous for making of the most sturdy cords for which orders had to be placed well in advance. Lahorites and out-of-town enthusiasts would wear glamorous clothes, in the yellow and green of spring flowers blooming citywide, to bid farewell to the frosts and fogs of winter and usher in spring - “Aya Basant Pala Udant”(come spring winter vanishes) - as they would say. Nighttime kite-flying in the walled old quarter around the 16th century Badshahi mosque and Lahore fort opened the festival. Ancient mughal palaces throw open their doors for all-night parties to view the kites, illuminated by spotlights slashing the sky. Stars from the Lahore ( now known as 'Lollywood') film industry performed with classical Qawali musicians at parties in traditional haveli homes. White paper kites shimmered in the night sky, diving and soaring as rival fliers joust in duels marked by battle cries of Pecha! and victory shouts of bo kata!

In post Partition Lahore, when there are no Hindus left there, Basant festival is still celebrated with the same enthsiasm as in the past, before independence. Pakistanis from across the country flock to Lahore for the festival, crowding the Islamabad to Lahore motorway to catch a glimpse of the flying paper fighting kites. Top hotels report full bookings - "It is an event not to be missed," they say. Basant continues to occupy an important part of the culture of the city. Flying kites is a major part of the festival of Basant. This interesting inaugural act of the festival is performed in the walled, old part of the Lahore city. Important historical buildings like the Lahore Fort and the Badshahi Mosque lie at close proximity to this quarter of the city. During this time, most of the palatial buildings of Lahore open their large doors to allow nightlong parties. People of Lahore, who stay abroad, visit their home city at this point of the year to partake in the festivities. Lahore is dressed in an appropriate spring attire, and the festival events include musical performances, art and flower displays, books and handicrafts stalls as well as the Canal Mela (festival) during which decorated and illuminated boats and floats are displayed on Lahore Canal. The most internationally popular event of Pakistan, the Basant festival transforms Lahore skies with a plethora of colorful kites, and has a long tradition of kite tournaments and battles. Tourists from far and near also make it a point to be present in Lahore during the Basant Festival. More than one million people are expected every year to attend the Basant festival, which marks the start of spring. Rooftops are in high demand - rentals for the night have been reported to sky rocket. Organisers work all week to light up an estimated 12,000 rooftops. Residents and revellers crowd into public parks, shopping centers and hotels and on to the rooftops of all big buildings. The festival draws people from as far away as the US and Australia. The festival is also marked with concerts and parties, attracting hundreds of Indians arriving in Lahore, including some of our top film stars. "We love our guests and Lahore is a very safe city," ensures the city's mayor.

In Pakistan, Basant has been seen by some of the hardline Muslim parties as a custom of the Hindus. Islamic clerics have issued edicts each year branding the festival as Hindu in origin. They have often sought to impose ban on Basant. In fact, under their pressure Kite flying had been banned in Pakistan many times since 2005, but the ban has been lifted again and again, especially for the Basant festival. Others see Basat simply as a spring festival, and enjoy the same. Festival enthusiasts call it a rare chance to step out and celebrate in a country riven by Islamic militancy. "Let clerics do their business while we rejoice. It is the only colorful event in the country that Pakistan is proud of, The extremists are a tiny minority in this country, That's what Basant proves," they say. And the festivities go on, as always, during the Basant festival. The only concession some have made to the clerics' anti-Basant cries is to call the festival Jashn-e-Baharan (the festival of spring). The truth is that Lahore boasts of Basant being the biggest festival of the city, and will remain so whether they call it Basant or Jashn-e-Baharan.

Lahore - My Birthplace On Passport!

It was hard to believe that Lahore was now beyond our reach and we would never be able to return to the beloved city of my birth. On August 15, 1947, Lahore had become part of Pakistan, the newly created country out of the partition of India. As our plane took off from Srinagar for New Delhi, the capital of India, my mind started to fly back to Lahore with sweet memories of the first 15 years of my life that I spent in that great city.

There was a saying in Punjab, “Jinhe Lahore nahin dekhya, o jamaya hi nahin” (One who has not seen Lahore is like not born), and so true. Lahore was a very modern and clean city, with most of the areas street-cleaned every morning, and kept cool in summer months by mobile sprinklers of the municipality. Shining tongas, driven by well-fed and trained horses, were a pride of their owners and pleasure for the passengers. Anarkali Bazar, all the time bustling with browsers and shoppers, had the biggest and the most beautiful shops no other city could boast of. This also made it the star attraction for visitors and locals alike. Lahore was also an important historical place with many landmarks and monuments of the Mogul times, such as the Shalimar Gardens, built by the Mogul Emperor Shah Jehan, and the Fort where Emperor Akbar had his court for fourteen years. The museum, the Mall, Lawrence gardens and the zoo were other attractions where people liked to go again and again.

Lahore was the cultural, intellectual and educational center of not only the Punjab province, but also the entire country. No other city in India had so many schools, colleges, cultural centers and institutions of higher learning as Lahore. The fondest memories of my life in Lahore were, of course, from my school days. Indeed, I was very proud of going to D.A.V. High school, the most prestigious school in Punjab, which topped in studies as well as sports every year. The school had the biggest library, located in a separate building within the school compound, the most modern gymnasium, a great swimming pool and large play grounds, apart from the top ranking faculty no other school could afford. The sweetest memory from my school days related to the most enjoyable time spent with my friends, especially Bazal, my best friend and next door neighbor. The Government College, considered the greatest institution for higher studies in the entire province of Punjab, was in our neighborhood. Apart from all the top class facilities and faculties there, the college was known for its large tournament standard swimming pool, where I, along with Bazal, would spend most of our summer evenings, thanks to Bazal's father who was a faculty member, and got us permission to use the swimming pool.

Bazal and I were so close that there was hardly a day when he was not at our place or vice-versa, though most of the time it was he who would be at our place. Everyone in the family loved him, particularly my mother who pampered him all the more ever since the day he had a miraculous escape from what could have been a fatal fall from our terrace to the street, three stories down. It was the day when everyone in Lahore would be on the terrace, looking at the sky that was covered with colorful kites of all sorts and sizes, large and small, round and square. One and all, Hindus, Moslems, Sikhs, young and old, celebrated the Hindu festival of Basant, at the beginning of spring, as the festival of kite flying. As usual with all festivals, whether the Hindu Deepavali or the Moslem Eid, Bazal was celebrating Basant at our place by flying kites from our terrace. As he was totally engrossed in a match with a rival kite-flyer from another terrace, he suddenly slipped over the low fence and lost control. A split-second move by my brother to hold Bazal, saved his life.

Next to Mumbai and Kolkata, Lahore was the largest movie making center in India. Besides two big studios, Pancholi Arts and Shorie Pictures, that boasted of many super-hit movies, there were a large number of smaller units, which too had quite a few hit films to their credit. Many of the mainstream stars started their career in movies that were made in Lahore, and later moved to Mumbai where they became some of the biggest stars of Indian cinema. Lahore also had a large number of movie theaters where “House Full” sign was a usual sight, especially on Sundays and holidays. Wednesday matinees were reserved for women, when it was the “Ladies Only” show in all theaters at half the normal rates. My mother, a great fan of Hindi films, made it a must every Wednesday to watch the new release of the week, and I was her constant companion till I was twelve years old, the age limit for allowing boys in “Ladies Only” shows, if accompanied by a lady. That is how I became a movie addict, right from the time I was a toddler in Lahore till date.

Lahore always remained a living example of religious harmony where Hindus, Moslems, Sikhs and Christians lived in absolute peace till around the partition of India when communal tension started to spread throughout the city. It was then that my father decided to send the family to Srinagar (Kashmir) though he himself along with one of my brothers continued to stay in Lahore for quite sometime after the formation of Pakistan. My father firmly believed that sooner or later the atmosphere would calm down and life would be normal when the new Pakistan government settled down. But his logic proved irrelevant at that period of time, when mobs of fanatic Moslems attacked our house. He had a miraculous escape when Bazal and his brother, an army officer in the Pakistan army, not only saved their lives but also escorted them to airport for taking a flight to New Delhi. The brothers, Bazal and Aziz, truly represented the spirit of Lahore - the spirit of brotherhood.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

My Brother's 100th Birthday!

Today I was thrilled to receive the following message from my niece Dolly, living in London with her Dad, Bodh Rishi:

“Hi Uncle, Dad is 99 on Friday the 12th Feb., would love to hear from you. Love. Dolly.”

Dolly is like the real life Piku, working woman with a very good career in British Airways, who sacrificed her personal comforts of life for the sake of her father to be constantly by his side and take care of all his needs ever since her mother, an officer in the Indian High Commission in London, died many years ago due to cancer. Hats off to her and all such Pikus on the planet.

As far as my brother is concerned, I do not remember much of him from my growing years in Lahore as I was still in school when he had already done his B.Com and taken job in a bank with posting in its Delhi branch. Like most mothers, my mother was always worried that away from home my brother must be missing the delicious meals she would cook to his taste and took the first opportunity to visit him in Delhi when the summer vacations in schools started and she could afford to be away for sometime entrusting her household responsibilities to my two sisters, specially Satya Behn, the elder one, who was doing her M.A., but was very attached to mother and always ready to help her in kitchen and otherwise. So, mother left for Delhi but not without me, her youngest child and the dearest one too. That was the only time I came close to my brother in my early years and he did his best to make our stay with him the most memorable. Seems he was determined to see that he made up for the missed opportunity in Lahore to love and pamper his youngest sibling where he was too busy with his studies and later in looking for good career break. While my mother was most delighted to cook for him his favorite dishes and also invite his friends and colleagues to enjoy her expert cooking, my brother was happy to take us around on weekends to see Delhi's famous tourist spots like the Kutub Minar, Red Fort, Old Fort, Birla Mandir and so many other sightseeing places. I will always cherish the memory of this wonderful visit to my brother, which provided the first opportunity to see Delhi of the pre-freedom era.

That was in early 40s, perhaps 1942 or 3. My next visit to Bodh Brother was in 1947 when he was the Manager in bank's Srinagar (Kashmir) branch and living happily with his loving wife and two very sweet children, Georgy and Dolly. This visit too was the most unforgettable but for the wrong reasons. Partition of the country was already decided when India was to become independent on August 15, 1947 and it had been declared that Lahore would become part of Pakistan, the new country to be formed after the Partition. Communal tension between Hindus and Moslems was increasing in Lahore and stray incidents of stabbing and arson were rising by the day making it less and less safe on the streets of Lahore. Students specially, enjoying their summer vacations moving about in the main markets were more vulnerable victims of attacks by the fanatic communal elements. Under such a situation my father decided to send the family away to Srinagar to live with my brother till condition in Lahore came back to normal after the new government settled down. We were warmly welcomed by Bodh Brother and his wife and looked after well in a separate apartment he had rented for us in the same building he was living in. However, as soon as we were settled down for a long stay in Srinagar till peace returned to Lahore, Kashmir was attacked by Moslem tribals with the help of Pakistan forces who in the absence of any resistance from Maharaja's army had reached the outskirts of Srinagar. They had cut off water supply and power to the city but before they could capture the airport Indian army arrived by planes and repulsed the attack. The army helped evacuate visitors and all who wanted to leave the city in their planes, which included us as well as my brother and his family. Unfortunately for my brother, as soon as he reported the sequence of events to his bosses at the bank's headquarters, he was dismissed from service for closing the branch and leaving the city without permission. As they say when one door closes God opens another one for the faithful. When my father's boss at the Oxford University Press in London came to know that my father had lost everything in Lahore including his job as Chief Representative of OUP, he immediately contacted father and offered to help him whatever way he needed. My father asked for a job for my brother who had recently lost it in Kashmir turmoil, and he got it. Bodh Brother left for London to serve Oxford University Press till his retirement and has been happily settled there since then with his children.


Sunday, February 07, 2016

Life's 84th Year !

Life's 84th Year!

Belated thanks to all my friends on Facebook, EF on Amitabh Bachchan's Official Blog and others, who greeted and wished me on my 84th birthday on Jan 25. I could not respond in time because on the day I was flying back to USA after our extended trip to India for over two years and thereafter the extra long jetlag. God bless them all.

When I was getting their greetings I was reminded of the similar occasion about 10 years ago when I called my dearest brother Prith in Washington D.C. to wish him on his 84th birthday. His spontaneous response really made me speechless for a few moments - “Thank you Tilak but you know what the statistics say, most elderly people passed away at the age of 84 years.” And he started giving examples of some well known global celebrities who died during their 84th year. I cannot recall all the names he then counted from a long list of such people but as far as my memory goes they did include Thomas A. Edison – inventor, Gloria Swanson – actress, Greta Garbo – actress, Red Skelton – actor, George Montgomery – actor, Tony Randall – actor, Pope John Paul II – Pontiff and Andy Williams – musician. As soon as I gathered myself to continue the ongoing conversation after being overwhelmingly shocked by his response, I replied, “Oh brother, by no stretch of imagination you can include yourself amongst the people you just named because none of them could ever match your physic you have always been proud of and you are definitely not going to die in your 84th year or even many many years thereafter. My brother did survive his 84th year hale and hearty and died eight years later at the age of 92 years, when he was still healthy and in very high spirits. Remembering him today, I know for certain that his response was just a reflection of his style of speaking which made the other person simply surprised or sometimes even shocked and not from fear of any untoward happening in his 84th year. He was never scared of death and kept smiling till the last moments of his life. Only a day before his death he sent me email congratulating me on release of my book “Bless You Bollywood!” This email is the most precious parting gift from my great brother, who was always my most favorite amongst the five of them, all elder to me.

“No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet, death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it, and that is how it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It's life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.”
- Steve Jobs

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Back On Line!

Back On Line!

After our prolonged trip to India for a period of over two years we are back in California to live the life everyone is expected to live today – On Line! Before leaving for India we had decided to do away with internet during this trip and live the natural life we lived all our life. And what a thrilling experience it was to be with old friends and family members back home who had never felt the need of social networking to nurture their old and everlasting relationships. We let all human emotions flow freely not letting the present day 'on line' life rushing us through our reunions with old relationships. We soon realized that it was no waste of time to seek personal touch simply on the possibility that as many more contacts can be created and maintained keeping oneself on line.

When we took the flight to India it was for our usual trip to spend some time on the sacred soil we had spent most of our life with so many beautiful memories all around. We had never thought it would turn into a prolonged trip for over two years which we could not curtail as things kept happening on which we had no control. As soon as we arrived in India we got the news that our best friend, MD Sb as we call him, living in Jaipur was critically ill. He was the one who actually made me move to Alwar from New Delhi in the eighties to manage the most modern foundry he was setting up as a joint sector project with Rajasthan government in Alwar. It took him many months for doctors to declare him out of danger and it took us all this time to be concerned for him and concentrate on all that we could do to see him out of his serious health condition, mainly praying for him at many temples in which we had faith. Thank God, ours as well as his family members' prayers were heard and the miracle happened. We were happy to leave our dear friend driving on the fast lane to recovery and recouping. I may mention here that ours is a unique relationship which started purely on professional basis, he as my boss being MD of the company and I reporting to him as GM. The company did wonderfully well in the initial years and the factory was fully occupied executing orders for tractor engine parts with 300 workers and over a dozen engineers working three shifts a day. But the good times did not last long and it all came to a stand still with 100 percent power cuts for the factory due to failure of the atomic power plant at Kota which was the only source of energy to the industrial area of Alwar where the factory was set up. The nuclear power plant never revived nor did our factory come to life again. The company closed down and all parted company, engineers as well as workers, except two of us, me and my MD. During the few years we worked together we had developed such a relationship that both our families had become the best of friends and come closer and closer for over 40 years since the closure of the factory and there is no doubt whatsoever that we will remain close for ever.

We were now ready to receive our most favorite and ever smiling niece, from my wife's side, to spend some exciting time with us at Alwar which she was always the first to do during our every trip. Her visit this time was first delayed because we were busy dealing with our dear friend's serious health condition and thereafter due to her daughter's marriage which we had to miss for the same reason. Now when all the wedding ceremonies were over and we too were free, we were expecting her call any moment to inform us when she was arriving to give us the lightest moments of our life with the inbuilt laughing machine her beautiful body was made of. The expected call came without making us wait much but from her husband - “Bittoo cannot come, she passed away last evening while going through surgery....”. The rest of the call could not be heard properly partly because it was drowned in her husband's cries at the other end and mostly because Jeet, my wife, was too shocked to hear any more of the message. It turned out that our dearest niece had been suffering from some severe kidney problem for some time but had asked his family to keep it a secret from us till the surgery was over to avoid spoiling our trip. She had rushed through her daughter's wedding ahead of the scheduled date to oversee the ceremonies before going for surgery. Such was our Bittoo who would never want to upset anyone whatever the cost to her, even if it was her life as it happened at last. We are sure she must have changed the mood in heaven with her infectious smile and ever happy spirits.

The above are just two examples from the many incidents that took place during our trip which prolonged our stay in India beyond the plans. Elaborating on all other incidents may become too boring so I would like to conclude here my feedback on the trip but not before making mention of the finest lady we were lucky to befriend towards the last few weeks of our trip. We met her for the first time in November last year around Guru Nanak's birthday. Mr. Gill, who had recently retired as senior bank manager and was now managing the neighborhood Gurdwara, introduced her as his wife. Mr. Gill knew us since Baisakhi celebrations at the Gurdwara last year when we made big donation for the Langar on the occasion. Jeet was instantly attracted by her simplicity and sincerity and they both bonded like they had been life long friends. She soon brought her beautiful daughter Priyanka to meet us. She was studying in Noida and and had come home to spend winter vacations. Mrs. Gill's selfless love and affection was so obviously visible when we both became bed ridden being victims of some virus that had spread in the city. Mrs. Gill not only visited us everyday to render whatever help we needed but also would feed us daily with her delicious home made meals which she cooked keeping in mind our health condition. This continued for more than a fortnight till we were fit enough to take flight to USA. The mother daughter combo even came with us to New Delhi to see us off at the airport. We will always remember Mrs. Gill as a God sent angel who suddenly appeared in our life to see that we left India fit and fine to be with our children in America. God bless her.

All said about the wonderful experience in India living life without the internet, the best thing is we are back with Alok and Ranjan, our most loving and caring son and daughter-in-law and, of course, that I am back 'On Line'!Back On Line!