This post is dedicated to the memory of my Bauji. In India, the word Bauji is used for the father or an equivalent elder, usually the head of the house, whose decision is often considered the final word. I was fourteen years old when my bauji passed away. Although I was a young boy when he left the world, I have vivid memories of him.
I remember going to the cremation ground, following the crowd, half understanding what was happening. Getting an exposure to the ultimate truth of life at that young age made me question the very purpose of living. After that, I fell sick for long bouts, unable to fathom why my Bauji had to leave us and go. I also contemplated giving up the world but did not know where I would go.
My father, Bakshi Tirath Ram Segon, was born in 1901. He had an imposing personality with a blemish-free face, sharp features and light brown eyes. I remember him as well dressed, with a particular fondness for white clothes. He mostly dressed in white trousers and a white shirt, well tucked in. It was 1950's, and whites were considered a fashion statement.
In summers, he would wear a white-coloured half-sleeve shirt. There were steel buckles on both sides of his trousers to tighten them. They gleamed when light fell on them. His dressing had one exception. He would only wear cross-strapped Peshawari sandals, the favourite footwear of most refugees from Pakistan. Perhaps it held nostalgic value for him.
My Bauji worked for the British as an administrative superintendent in Peshawar and other parts of north-west province, now called Balochistan. It was a position of power and responsibility. During the 1947 riots, the Muslims set our house on fire. His British friends helped him escape and put him on a flight to India. He landed at Safdarjung airport. Bauji was rehabilitated as section officer in Union Agriculture Ministry at Krishi Bhavan, near Boat Club. We were also given official accommodation in Lodhi Colony.
Bauji was matriculate and considered well educated by standards of those days. My Bauji's father, Bakshi Baisakhi Ram Segon, was a well-respected head teacher in Dariyala, a village in west Pakistan, where the Saigon Brahims lived. He held a position of authority and power. He made sure his son studied well.
Since Bauji worked for the British, he had become very English in his manners. On Saturdays, he used to go to office in white shorts, just like his fellow Englishmen. He always wore a sun proof sola topi (hat) in summers as protection against the sun.
In the evening, after reaching home, Bauji changed into his lungi and vest and relaxed by going through newspapers of the day. Once he settled in, I would pick up my cycle and go to the market to fetch fizz soda and ice for his milk soda. This was the only luxury which we could afford since we were a big household with ten children and single income. Since I was the youngest, I would get a small glass of milk soda everyday, which I could drink with him.
My Matti (mother) would sit next to him and tell him about the day's happenings. I would listen intently and often nod my head like an adult. Bauji would only listen and speak if absolutely necessary. He was a man of few words.
When I look back, I often think that all these conversations between Matti and Bauji, instilled in me the importance of responsibility from a very young age. All my life, I have carried this value and my acts have followed suit.
My Matti (mother), Janaki Devi, was married to Bauji when she was 18 years old. It was concluded by her father that she had crossed her age of marriage, which was considered 15 years at the most. She was his second wife and ten years younger to him. While Bauji was calm and a man of limited words, Matti was an extrovert, giving and a happy soul. Her family was from Rawalpindi. She came from a well-to-do family. My maternal grandfather was very fond of music, which my mother received in her DNA. My mother told me that my grandfather used to travel to Lahore to hear KL Sehgal sing live. She was brought up in a house where arts and culture was abundantly endorsed.
Matti, all of 18 years, received two children ( a boy of 10 years and a girl of 8 years) as a responsibility in marriage from Bauji. She bore him 8 more children. I remember my mother constantly working through the day, late into the night. Considering she was so young, I was often amazed at her ability to give. She loved all her children equally and was always concerned about our health. The only time I remember my Matti and Bauji disagreeing was about the provides for the family. She wanted ghee, milk, eggs and fruits occasionally for her children. My father had a limited income, hardly enough to feed 12 mouths. For him, these extra things were beyond his means. Bauji was strictly against borrowing.
My father's death at 58 years of age left the responsibility of the whole family on my mother, who was 48.
**more to follow in the next blog.