26 April, 2016

to kymaia: getting to know abhijit chacha

when you were born, it was already 11 years since abhijit chacha died. it is twice as unfortunate that neither you got to know this loving man, nor did he get to know the bundle of joy that is you. i wish you had met; i wish you had felt his firm handshake and his soft hugs; i wish you had known his life, and his loves; i wish you had had the opportunity to go stay with him in his squadron and see him take off into the blue skies; i wish you had seen him fly...and i wish he was alive to see you do the same; i wish...

but never mind...he is gone, but his memory remains, as do the lessons he would have taught you. of course, since he isn't here, it falls upon me to teach you those..and the best way to do that is to narrate some incidents of his life to you, hoping you will take something away from them...something precious, something valuable, something that will help you grow wings and find your way to the blue skies yourself. so, without further ado, here goes:

the first thing i want to teach you is about his love for adventure and his unique vision that allowed him to see things differently...that allowed him to see adventure and opportunity for adventure where "normal" people like me did not. he would never want to do the same old, boring things in the same old, boring ways. i remember us coming home from school one day and finding the gate closed. for me, it was a simple issue of opening it by reaching over and flipping the latch. but that day was different. he had a model airplane in his hands and was playing with it the whole way from school. he refused to let me unlock the gate and insisted that we climb over...because, "when we have a plane, we can fly, can't we, bade bhaiyya?" yes indeed. when you have a plane, why walk? who'd be so stupid as to choose to walk when they have wings? it is so unfortunate that so many of us have either refused to grow wings, or for those that have them, have chosen to let them rot. my little kym: grow wings, and fly...like your abhijit chacha

the next incident i remember was about his loyalty. when we were in school, i was quite a weak and timid boy, interested only in academics, not because i was any good at it (i was) but because i was scared of people...scared of socialising, fearful of physical confrontation, and wary of disagreements, even of the slightest kind. that meant i was picked on and bullied by the "hip" boys...until abhijit found out. he was two years younger than my classmates (and when you are in school, that's a lot of age difference, you will know). he was shorter than them, and he was alone (you don't know yet how kids gang up in school, since you are still a good 5 years away, but trust me on this...they do). but the moment he found out that someone is harrassing "bade bhaiyya", he jumped on this gang of teenage boys (i think there were 3 or 4 of them) and fought like a tiger. you see kym, mark twain (a great american writer...you will read him when you are older) quipped, "it's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog"...and your abhijit chacha proved it in action to me that day. he took them all on, and he took them all down...all because they touched his brother. he was like my protector in school throughout...looking out for me in any physical fights i got into (or he imagined i got into!), making me virtually untouchable by the bullies in all the schools we went to (and we went to a LOT!). in return, of course, he got his homework done, his clothes ironed, shoes polished, schoolbag packed, and of course, protection from the wrath of his parents for bad grades! but here is what you can take away: loyalty is a deeply emotional sentiment. it has no rationale except for your conviction that someone or something is worth protecting, worth fighting for, and worth dying for. his career in the indian air force later in his life was a manifestation of his intense sense of loyalty: to his family, his unit, his mates, his aircraft, and his country. this is something you seem to have in your genes already, passed from your great-grandfather (nana) to your grandfather (ajoba) to your chacha...it is upto you to nurture it, water it, and protect it...let me warn you: it is an expensive emotion to have, but as anyone in the gadgil family will vouch for, worth every drop of blood

lastly, let me tell you about something you will not hear in civilian life: officer like qualities (or OLQs). these are big in the uniformed forces, for they expect their officers to be gentlemen too (by the time you grow up, women would be fully integrated in the armed forces, and if you so choose, you could be part of them...but in his times, it was just men, and hence "gentlemen"). your abhijit chacha had OLQs since as long as i can remember. the forces only polished them, but he was born with these. a small, but significant, incident that comes to mind was how he got his pet-name "आमटी " in fergusson college. this story is recounted by his friends, for i wasn't on the scene. it happened that while sitting in a restaurant (i was told it was the venerable "Vaishali" opposite the college main gate), a waiter tripped behind where he sat, and spilled a large bowl of steaming hot sambhar on him. as his friends watched in horror (for they knew his temper and physicality), he turned around and smiled at the waiter while asking him gently for some paper napkins to clean himself. he then excused himself and went to the basin, where he washed the stain off as best as he could, and rejoined the table. remember that this isn't about a minor accident, but about how he handled it. his treatment of people, regardless of their perceived station in life, was even-handed and full of grace...that word there: grace...you will find that if you are graceful in your thoughts and actions, you will automatically find people being graceful in return. your abhijit chacha knew this, practiced it, but unlike me (perhaps not half as graceful at my best as he was on his bad day), he never preached it...he just did his thing and carried on. if there is one lesson you can learn from your abhijit chacha, make it this: be graceful. all else follows. 'nuff said

when you grow up listening to these stories, you may wonder why he had to leave so early. truth is that i do not know...but here's a hypothesis: he was always in a hurry. i think he wanted to do everything yesterday, and do more today! perhaps he just used up all his life in the first 27 years...doing things that people like your baba may take 60, if he's lucky...you see, kym, he was one of those who filled his years with so much life that he lived a hundred years in his 27. that's the way to live, isn't it?

by the way, the three incidents above aren't all i remember...there are so many other, equally interesting, stories about him that i would like to tell you when you are a bit older, but i think these three should suffice for now...today is 26 april 2016...your abhijit chacha would have turned 42. i just thought we can both wish him a happy birthday...so, what say partner? shall we? here we go:

happy birthday to you
happy birthday to you
happy birthday to dear abhijit chacha
happy birthday to you!!!