Sunday, September 25, 2011


“So you say we discuss the matter today?” asked Koch nervously.
“Yes, unless you want to change your mind!” said Jite mischievously.
“Of course not!” replied Koch rubbing his hands.
After a few minutes of silence, Koch asked “Do your parents know that I am a Qal?”
Jite looked at him and exclaimed impatiently “Yes, they do. Do you think these things matter? My parents are broad minded and are going to be least bothered about this”.
“I suppose these things still matter” said Koch and then muttered under his breath “At one time it was all that mattered”.
Jite grasped his hands tightly and said fiercely “You know I can never marry anyone else”.
“Yes, I love you with all my life too” said Koch, sweeping his fingers over her hair.
“It is time to leave” said Jite “Dad would also be back from the travel agency as well.

They were at Jite’s house within the next 20 minutes. Jite’s parents, Tru Tet and Lola Tet greeted them warmly.
Tru put his hands on Koch’s shoulder and led him in.
“Please be seated” he said to Koch warmly. “Jite has been telling us all about you since quite some time. It is good to finally meet you”.
“My pleasure as well” said Koch politely.
“Son, will you have some tea?” asked Lola.
“No, I am fine” said Koch.
“Well, Mom. Koch drinks lots of tea. So please get him some” said Jite.
“Jite knows you very well already!” laughed Tru.
“Sir, are you generally home by this time every day?” enquired Koch.
“You may know that I attend to customers seeking foreign tours with our travel agency. Yes, I am home quite early always.  All for more time with family” said Tru winking at Lola & Jite.
“Ha, and what about all the years when you were constantly out of home?!” exclaimed Lola.
“Well, that was when Dad was in the armed forces” explained Jite. “He was constantly out of home and travelling”.
“Yes, it wasn’t easy” said Tru. “Also, we tend to forget today that there were troubled times around 15 years back and there a lot of stress then. You may not know much of it, Koch, since you would have been a small boy at that time”.
“Not know much of it….”, whispered Koch to himself slowly.
“What did you say Koch?”, asked Tru.
Koch came out of his thoughts suddenly and said “I was asking what you did in the armed forces, Sir”.
“I was in the air force. I am not sure if you know the mission in which the dreaded militant Xat was killed? I was part of that mission and also received an award from the government for the same” said Tru proudly. “See the trophy there” Tru pointed to the wall cabinet.
Koch stared at the trophy, his mind racing back to the events of that day 15 years back, which he could never forget.

On the Ground (Sarla Town)
“Mom, I hear the sound. I think the planes are here again today as well” cried Koch hugging his mother Rupe tightly.
“Nothing will happen, son. Don’t worry. We are here” said Koch’s father Trup sitting close to both Rupe & Koch.
There was a loud explosion several yards away, and Koch screamed in fear.
“He seems to be getting breathless again” said Rupe looking at Koch in concern.
“Yes, it is an asthmatic attack. Here, give him a puff from the inhaler”, said Trup, worry was writ large on his face as well.
Between gasps, Koch asked his father “Why do the planes come here again and again?”
“That is because there are some bad people nearby. Once they are gone, the planes will not come back again, son”, said Trup.
“Dad, let us go away from here. Somewhere far where these planes will not fire at us”, pleaded Koch.
“Where will we go, son? We have no money to settle somewhere else. Anyway, I am sure all this will end soon, don’t worry” said Trup.
At the sound of another explosion, Rupe stared and whispered to Trup “That was very close”.
Koch looked out the window and shouted “Dad, Mom – look there is a big fire there”.
“We are very far away, son. The fire is at a distance. It is showing up very brightly in the night”, said Rupe.
There were several loud explosions in quick succession. Koch watched in horror as the roof of their hutment collapsed, a beam hitting his Dad and Mom on the head. Koch fell unconscious, as the entire hutment collapsed over them.  He was among the few fortunate children to be moved to a home for orphans about 3 months after his parents died in what came to be referred to as the “Xat raid”.

In the Air (above Sarla town)
“Bingo!” exclaimed the pilot in joy clapping his partner’s hand in joy. “We got Xat!”

“Koch, where are you? What happened” said Jite shaking his shoulder.
Koch covered his face with his hands, his mind continuing to be tormented by images which would not go away.  He looked at Jite and said softly “I never knew your Dad was earlier in the armed forces”.
“What do you mean?” said Jite.
Nobody spoke for a few minutes and the air was filled with tension. Koch realized that Tru, Lola and Jite were all staring at him.
Koch took a deep breath and then spoke slowly “My parents and me lived in Sarla town till 15 years back. An air force plane dropped a bomb very close to our hutment and it collapsed on my parents killing them. This was the raid which also killed Xat. Everyone remembers it as the successful Xat raid, for me it was something which changed my life for ever”.
“Oh”, cried Jite, her hands covering her mouth.
Koch looked at Tru wearily and spoke “One of the planes in the Xat raid killed my parents”. He paused a moment and then said softly “It may have even been the plane you flew”.
It was a few minutes later than Tru spoke looking Koch in the eye “All of us returned from the Xat mission with the satisfaction that we had eliminated someone who had already been responsible for taking several innocent lives and would have done so in the future as well. I am not sure if the plane I flew actually dropped the bomb which led to your parents’ death. My conscience is clear though that any harm I have caused to any one is totally unintentional. If I was in any way responsible for your parents’ death, I am truly sorry”.
Koch’s voice was strained as he spoke “Sir, it is not that I want you to feel sorry. I don’t know how I can live with this though”.
Jite sat beside Koch and held his hand. She brushed away the tears welling up in the corner of Koch’s eyes and spoke “You know Dad would never have done anything to harm your parents intentionally. Can you trust his and my words for that?”
Koch replied “Yes, you are people of character. It does not take time to understand that”.
He walked over to the window and watched as the night grew dark. He then turned to Tru and Lola and asked “Did you know that I am a Qal?”
“Yes we did”, Tru and Lola replied together.
“I am here today to seek your daughter’s hand in marriage, Mr & Mrs Tet. After what you now know, will you accept me as your son-in-law?” asked Koch.
“Son, it is you who have every right to refuse. As for us, we would be most delighted to have you as part of our family”, said Tru.
Jite sighed in relief and hugged Koch tightly. Koch looked at her and spoke “I love you very much”.

At home later in the night, Koch held his parents photo in his hands, thoughts forming in his mind:-
“Dear Dad & Mom, I will be marrying Jite who I am very fond of. Her father flew one of the planes during the Xat raid. It is strange that today I feel less tormented by the events of that day, though I have actually come face to face with someone who may have been responsible for your death. When I looked at Tru’s eyes, I saw in them the same light of character, which you had taught me to recognize in the eyes of all good people. It is because of that, that I am still going ahead with my marriage with Jite. Bless me and stay with me as you have always done till date”.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Beyond the Sum of All Parts

Vikram turned as his wife Sonam grasped his hand slowly.
She whispered softly, “I am sure everything will be alright. Don't worry”
Vikram watched as the priests chanted the mantras. After an hour, the head priest spoke to Vikram & Sonam, “We have done the pujas for your daughter's well being. I am sure your daughter Sangeeta will be fine now”
“Thanks a lot” said Vikram as he bid farewell to the priests.

Vikram sat on a sofa, holding his five year old daughter tightly as his wife Sonam sat beside him. Sangeeta looked up at her parents and asked “Will I be well now?”
“Of course, Sangee.” said Sonam. “There is nothing wrong with you. We are only doing some pujas for the good of the family.”
“Ok. Will you show me to any more people?” asked Sangeeta. She bit her lip and said “We have seen so many people already. If there is nothing wrong with me, why are we seeing so many people?”
“That will be all, Sangee. Don't worry. No more doctors or anybody else. You are perfectly fine.” said Vikram.

Vikram recalled the first time he had seen his daughter have an attack. She had got up in the middle of the night shivering and mumbling something to herself. She was in a kind of trance, her eyes staring straight ahead and she seemed to not even realize the presence of either him or his wife in the room. It would take a few minutes to pacify her and several minutes before she would return to sleep. After she awakened in the morning, she would have no recollection of the events of the night. Vikram & Sonam had taken her to a few specialists. Though it was a case which could not be clearly explained, the opinion was that since she exhibited some form of speech impairment during such episodes, there may a need to treat her with anti psychotic drugs. However, considering her young age and the fact that such episodes were infrequent and harmless so far, they were advised patience before considering any line of treatment.

After about a month, Sonam nudged Vikram gently. Vikram rubbed his eyes and sat up. He saw Sangeeta sitting up on her bed and mumbling softly to herself. This episode seemed different though than the previous ones and she had held her hands together as if in prayer and was chanting something softly. Vikram and Sonam went and sat next to Sangeeta. Sonam held her close to herself. Sangeeta seemed not to even sense their presence. After about five minutes, Sangeeta lay down on her pillow and surprisingly was asleep immediately.
Sonam looked at Vikram in anguish “What is going on?”.
Vikram looked as disturbed “If only we could do something” he muttered.

After about a fortnight, Sangeeta seemed to have an attack again. As Sonam held her tightly, Vikram whispered to her “Can you make out what she is saying?”
Sonam bent forward, positioning herself close to Sangeeta's mouth. Sangeeta suddenly turned and picked up a piece of paper and her fingers moved furiously as she seemed to write something in a hurry. She then put the paper aside, and lay down on her bed still oblivious of the presence of her parents near her.

Sonam picked up the paper trying to understand what her daughter had written on it. Vikram too peered closely at it. “Seems to some kind of a scribble only” he said.
Sonam looked at him and spoke up “Does it not seem like Hindi?”
“What?!” Vikram exclaimed. “How is that possible? She has not been taught to write Hindi. In fact she cannot yet even write English sentences.”
“No really, look at it closely.” said Sonam still staring at the paper.
“You are just imagining things.” said Vikram dismissively.
Sonam looked at him and said “It seems to read सभी भागों का योग से परे (Sabee Bhagon ka Yog se Pare)
“What did you say?!” Vikram said looking at her in shock.
“It seems to read सभी भागों का योग से परे (Sabee Bhagon ka Yog se Pare)." Sonam repeated. "What can that mean? And how could Sangee have written this?”
Vikram collapsed into a chair shaking his head from side to side and said softly “How is this possible?!”
What are you talking about? What does this phrase mean? What is all this about?” Sonam exclaimed.
“Let us move to the living room.” said Vikram walking out of the bedroom slowly.

Vikram sat on the sofa, quiet for a few minutes. Sonam looked at him expectedly.
Vikram looked up “I cannot make sense of this myself.” he said, his hand on his head. “This phrase सभी भागों का योग से परे (Sabee Bhagon ka Yog se Pare) literally means Beyond the Sum of All Parts. This is the name of a prayer song composed by my grandmother long back. I remember when I was young, she used to say that chanting the song would give peace and strength. She insisted on all of us singing it together every morning. She explained the meaning of the song as an invocation to God who is greater than the sum of all the parts of the universe. I understand that the song was actually adopted as a morning prayer by a few people who were family friends.”
But I have never heard it!” said Sonam
“Well” continued Vikram looking guilty “I stopped chanting it after I went away to college.”
“But then how can Sangee know about this?! And also how could she write it on a paper when she does not even know how to write.”
“I cannot explain it myself! Maybe either my parents or grandfather might have mentioned it to her when we visited them.”
Sonam said “But Sangee has never mentioned this to us before. Also if you watch her it is as if she is in a trance of some kind.”
“I know. I cannot explain this either.”
Sonam's hands moved to her mouth “Do you think Sangee...? But I cannot believe this..”
“Hang on.” said Vikram sharply. “There has to be some explanation for this. Let us visit our parents place tomorrow.”
“But your parents are away to the US”, exclaimed Sonam.
“Well my grandfather is there. Let us speak to him.”

The next morning Vikram, Sonam and Sangeeta went over to meet their grandfather in their village which was 80 kms away.

Once they reached, they sent Sangeeta away to the garden. They explained the entire sequence of events to Vikram's 85 year old grandfather.
Vikram then asked him “Grandpa, did either you or my parents speak about this prayer song to Sangee.”
His grandfather looking puzzled. “She is so young. How could she understand even we were to tell her?”
He then put his shoulder and said to Vikram “There is nothing to worry. It is all for the good. You should all start chanting the prayer every morning. Do you remember how your grandmother had made chanting it a part of our everyday routine?”
“Yes, I know”, said Vikram, looking guilty again.
Sonam spoke up “Can you tell me more about this prayer song and how grandma composed it?”
“Well, it all happened very quickly.” said grandfather speaking slowly “I found Vikram's grandma Gayatri up late one night sitting on the floor with her eyes closed. I asked her if she was feeling unwell. She simply shook her head and started writing in a small notebook bound with string. She wrote all the 16 lines very quickly. Only when she was done she spoke to me and told me that the words for the prayer were forming in her mind and she wanted to write it immediately before she would forget.

She started chanting it from the next day onwards and I joined her. We both used to feel at peace after we chanted. She told other friends and neighbours about it and encouraged them to join us. It was unusual for women to lead such activities in those days and some hesitated. However, close friends did join us and soon a small group was formed. Gayatri explained the meaning of the key phrase of the song सभी भागों का योग से परे (Sabee Bhagon ka Yog se Pare) as the need for each person to look beyond the visible and the known to understand God who is manifested in but beyond and greater than the sum of all parts of the universe. She used to say that there were many truths in life each of which are not readily apparent but need to be visualized and understood. This is similar to our needing to understand what eclipses are even if we have not seen one, earth's rotation around the sun though we don't feel it. She used to say that the pursuit of truth was ultimately the aim in life. She was also a great supporter of science since it was also a search for truth and in fact encouraged Vikram to take up science.”

We as a small group used to discuss many aspects of life and religion together and she used to lead the way. “

Grandpa paused to drink some water and then continued “Think of this as a message from grandma. Her blessings are with us again. It is important you resume your daily prayer routine at the earliest”.
“We will certainly do that”, said Sonam.
“Ok let me get our little princess back from the garden” said Grandpa “You should leave shortly after having some tea so that you can reach before it is dark.

Grandpa walked over into the garden where Sangeeta was playing with a ball. She looked up and smiled at him. Grandpa hugged her and whispered “It will be our secret!”. Though the girl's act did worry him, he was happy that the family tradition would be revived. He still remembered the time when Sangeeta had stayed over with him and Vikram's parents for a month. He had chanted the prayer song and explained the meaning to her telling her to memorize it and say it every morning when she grew up and encourage her parents to do the same. He was surprised at how the girl had been able to write in Hindi though just by looking the text he had shown her. But kids learn very fast.

In Sangeeta's hand was a plate and she was drumming a tune by tapping on it. Vikram's grandfather looked at Sangeeta open mouthed. He was the only one who had heard this tune 40 years back from his wife Gayatri of a new song she had started to compose but never completed.