My Wonderful Family
The fondest memories of my father are from his days in Lahore, the political, educational and cultural capital of pre-independence Punjab province in India. His typical day in Lahore was much longer than most other working men of his time. It started at eight in the morning and ended past midnight, most of it consumed in concentrating on his two jobs with passion and pleasure, so that he could provide a luxurious life to his large family. His primary post was of Vice-principal and senior teacher of English language in 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. I felt specially honored to be a student of the Middle school of the same institution because of my father's position in the High school, even though it was in a different building at some distance from my father's school. The over pampering by my class teachers sometimes was embarrassing but all the same enjoyable. At times the whole class profited by the special treatment I received from the teachers, because they too escaped punishment for making some collective mischief, when my presence softened the teachers to serve us all with a warning only, instead of the severe punishment of caning they were accustomed to give.
My father was also the Chief Representative of the Oxford University Press, the world famous publishers, for Northern India. When at home, he would be seen most of the time engrossed in his book, the latest publication of The Oxford University Press. Although it would have been enough for anyone in his place to just go through introduction pages of a book in order to promote it, as their Chief Representative for Northern India, but for my father it was essential to read the full text before talking about it to anyone. He could not imagine how someone could promote a book without having thoroughly gone through the book and formed his opinion on different aspects of each chapter there in. An interesting example was when he received the Oxford Encyclopedia, one of its earliest editions, for promoting it in colleges. He not only went through the entire volume from beginning to the end, but also marked many portions with noting on the margin, indicating what according to him could be a more appropriate meaning or elaboration of the particular words. He had received several letters of appreciation from his bosses in London for bringing to their knowledge the grammatical or factual flaws that he found in the books, which they would correct in the subsequent editions. Sitting on his classic easy cane chair with hookah on his side, kept alive by frequent refilling with burning charcoal by the old family servant, he would be engrossed in the new arrival from the publishers till past midnight, when the rest of the family would be fast asleep. His library in our large living, spread subject-wise in over a dozen glass-paned cabinets was the instant attraction for visitors, especially my brothers' college friends, who would also borrow books of their interest which they would invariably forget to return. Father's library was the force behind founding a library of our own, The Boys' Own Library, along with my classmate Ravi, when we were still in our fourth grade. Hazarilal, employed by father for maintenance of his library and other miscellaneous jobs and errands, would pass on to us the books that he knew were surplus and also suitable for our library, mostly story books and ovels for school-age children. The idea attracted everyone's attention, including our teachers and made us the most popular students in the middle school.
My father was a very busy person, with hardly any time for us during the day. But his absence was well compensated by our mother's omnipresent company and great devotion every minute of our growing years. However, on his part in parenting us, our father made it a priority to be with the family at dinner time every day without fail. In fact, he had made it mandatory for everyone in the family to be together at the dinner table. Mealtime at night was a ritual in our family which must not be missed by anyone. Apart from the family members, anyone around the dinner table was family, most often a friend of one or the other sibling. Father would generally jump-start the family conversation by asking questions like, "What did you like most about your day?" or "What was the best part of your day?" He would suggest slow down and savor the food, not so much to inculcate a healthy habit, as to give more time to enjoy mealtime conversation before clean up began. Indeed, this used to be the best quality time for the family in a day, the important elements being family cohesion and family communication. The atmosphere was essentially kept fun-filled, non-confrontational and stress-free by focusing on fun topics. Interestingly, Sunday evenings were an exception to the rule when there were no mealtime family meetings. Every one was free to come at anytime, or even eat out. It was an evening off for the cook as well as for our mother from the kitchen duty. We looked forward to the weekly off to go to watch a movie or to freak out with friends. Parents would take the opportunity to make social calls on friends and relations. The basic idea was family flexibility. But believe me sir, our best time was always the dinner time when parents enthusiatically participated in our day's activities that motivated us to do something really worth mentioning at the dinner table.
With school holidays underway, our family's annual summer travel ritual began. The family would head for the hills, most of the time for Srinagar, Kashmir, where our uncle was settled. This was a great way for the family to have some of that special time together, and a great way to get away too. Whether it was around the dinner table, or enjoying our vacations on the hills, we really had a wonderful family-time together.
August 15, 1947, my father was still in Lahore which was now a part of Pakistan. He had continued to stay in Lahore for quite some time after the Partition. Father firmly believed that sooner or later the atmosphere would calm down and people would settle peacefully, well protected by the new Pakistan administration. His logic was that if the Hindus and Muslims could live amicably in Lahore under the British rule, a foreign power, why couldn't the two communities live together in Lahore under the Pakistan government, which was controlled by our own countrymen. But his logic proved irrelevant at that particular time, when mobs of fanatic Muslims were roaming on the roads of Lahore, vowing not to let a single Hindu or Sikh live in Lahore. They were on a killing spree and it was a miraculous escape for my father when they forced their entry into our house on learning that he was still living there. Our wonderful Muslim friends living next door helped him escape by crossing over to their house from the terrace and later escorting him across the border to India. And thus ended my father's Lahore days, leaving behind whatever he had in Lahore, including his two jobs.