On Sunday 29 Sep 1918, the Allied Forces of World War 1 scored a decisive breakthrough of the Hindenburg Line which was the beginning of the end of Germany. On the very same day in an unrelated event thousands of mile away a boy was born in a small village Kharouth of Palampur , Himachal Pradesh in the house of the village purohit (the Padas as the family was called).
Today is the birth centenary of my father, (Late) Shri Ram Prasad Sharma and I could not help but pen down a few random musings about him.
This baby boy of Kharouth, grew up in the village, took school education in neighbouring towns (the village had no school) and subsequently moved to Lahore in 1939-40 in search of a job. After trying his hand at various jobs including clerical, Air Force & HAL he joined Indian National Airways as an aircraft technician, subsequently switching over to the Dept. of Aeronautical Inspection. He had an early marriage, in fact a child marriage, and at 36 years of age fathered me the second youngest of his seven children.
Thinking of him always leaves me in awe of the sacrifices & privations he underwent for his siblings & children. Not only was he head of a large family but, being the first born, simultaneously shouldered the responsibility of nurturing his five siblings through their childhood and marriage. An upright, plain speaking & honest to a fault person he deprived himself of all indulgences to ensure that all his children were broughtup and educated in the best traditions. He retired as Controller of Aeronautical Inspection and it is a wonder of financial management that with the salary of a middle level Central Govt Employee, he afforded to send all five of us to convent/public schools till we reached Higher Secondary classes and thereafter ensured that all had professional qualifications, be it B.Ed, MBBS or B.Tech, before even thinking of our marriage.
He was a chip of the old block, the strict patriarch who had all the love and care for his children but did not believe in pampering his children with overt affection or appreciation. We never felt wanting of necessities and life essentials regardless of what the cost. He would never tolerate any complaint or criticism of his kids from friends or neighbours, regardless of who was to blame. However when he was convinced that punishment was warranted he never hesitated to do justice to that either. My memories of conversations with him are of only saying ‘Yes, No or Okay’ to his questions or listening to his monologues. He was a passionate Chess and Bridge player and the best part of my weekends used to be when he was busy playing either of these games.
A patriot and nationalist to the core, he never failed to hoist the National Flag at our home on Republic & Independence days. He very fondly used to narrate about the period 1943-44 when in the pre- independence days he was sent to UK for training. The Quit India movement was gathering momentum and had not left him untouched. In London my father had his housekeeping services including shoe polishing done by white men and the sight of them working for him, an Indian, gave him acute pleasure and national pride. It was my father who taught us all to stand ram-rod straight when the National Anthem is played and never to criticise our motherland. Terms like ‘India is going to dogs’ or ‘There is no redemption for India’ are to this day anathema to me, all thanks to the values my father inculcated in all of us.
My dad was a deeply spiritual and religious person but had no patience for people steeped in rituals and tantric practices. At the same time, his nature being what it was he never conveyed his displeasure to the ritual practitioners and gave it philosophical shrug as if to say “Everyone to his own. You believe it you do it, just don’t ask me to do it”
Dad knew only struggle throughout life. First it was looking after his siblings and my grand father which was followed by looking after his wife and children. In fact when he retired I still did not have a job and my younger sister was still studying. Add to that the fact that he did not have even a roof over his head. So after retirement he took employment with Bharat Air and was still serving with them when he died at a relatively young age of 66 years due to a heart attack. We were enroute to see the movie ‘Hip Hip Hurray’ on 4th Oct 1984 which was a holiday for Dussehra. As we reached Sangam Cinema in RK Puram, he complained of chest pain and was evacuated by us to Safdarjung Hospital where he breathed his last. As in life so in death, he was a burden to no one and had a swift end to his journey on earth while in full control of his mental and physical faculties.
God be with you daddy!