Why was I born?” a young Amitabh Bachchan once angrily asked his father. The latter’s reaction is something the Big B still carries with him.
This is how young Amitabh expresses an experience with his father…
The disciplined regimentation of boarding school has often been replaced by the free spirit of independence as one enters university. Parental control seemingly diminishes. Yes, there is respect and answerability but not as severe.
The campus has a diverse and varied section of alumni. Discussion and debate prevail. The state of the nation, politics, society, morality, existentialism, life — just about every conceivable subject worthy of putting your mind to, is debated.
There is added pressure of the future. Peer pressure puts the responsibility of not just being able to stand on your own feet, but also the responsibility of keeping the rest of the family on your shoulders.
And that is when it happens! Frustration! The avenues and opportunities open to the youth today, in an economically liberated India, were absent in the late 50s and early 60s. After graduation what? Where to find a job? What job? How? When? And the idealism and debate and the coffee-house banter soon converts into anger. The anger of not knowing what to do with ourselves.
You look for answers. You turn to those who may have them. And in one ‘enlightened’ moment you get the answer from a fellow sufferer. “Why were we brought into this world? To suffer.” That’s it! We should never have been brought into this world. Judgment passed.
Angered, frustrated, strengthened and armed with unreasonable thought, I walked into my father’s study one evening and for the first time in my life, with choked emotion, raised my voice at him and screamed: “Aapne hamme paida kyun kiya?”(“Why did you give birth to me?”)
My father, immersed as he always was in his writing, looked up at me with some initial surprise and then settled down to a more understanding posture and remained so for almost eternity. No one spoke. Not him. Not me. Not a sound. Just the measured clicking of the timepiece on his desk — and my unmeasured breathing!
When nothing came across from the parent quarter, I turned and left. It was an uncomfortable night for me. The next morning my father walked into my room, woke me up and handed me a sheet of paper and left. I opened it. It was a poem he had written overnight — titled “Nayi Leek” or “The New Generation”:
Zindagi aur zamane ki kashmakash se
Ghabrakar mere ladke mujhse poochhte hain
‘Hamme paida kyun kiya tha?’
Aur mere paas iske siwa
Koi jawab nahin hai
Ki mere baap ne bhi mujhse bina pooche
Mujhe paida kiya tha
Aur mere baap se bina pooche unke baap ne, unhe,
Aur mere baba se bina pooche unke baap ne, unhe…
Zindagi aur zamane ki kashmakash
Pahle bhi thi ab bhi hai, shayad zyada,
Aage bhi hogi, shayad aur zyada.
Tumhi nayi leek dharana,
Apne beton se poochhkar unhe paida karna!
(“Pulled and torn by the strains of life and living / My sons ask me / ‘Why did you give birth to us?’ / And I do not possess an answer to this / That even my father did not ask me before giving birth to me, / Nor my father was asked by his father / Nor my grandfather was asked by his father before being brought. / The trials and tribulations of life and living / Were there before / And are there now too, perhaps more / And shall be there tomorrow, even greater. / Why don’t you make a new beginning, a new thinking? / Ask your sons before giving birth to them!”)
There are no excuses in life and no blame. Every morning is a fresh challenge. Either you learn to pick up the gauntlet and fight or learn to surrender to it.
So long as there is life, there is struggle! “Jab tak jeevan hai, tab tak sanghursh hai,” said my father, as he lay weak and almost comatose in his bed in Prateeksha.
The room is now adorned by his large framed photograph, exactly where he breathed his last. I dress his portrait with a garland of fresh flowers every day and a diya burns perpetually underneath. A few months ago, he was joined on the side by my mother’s portrait.
Every day and every moment that I pass the room as I climb the staircase to my bedroom or down from it, I stop by the door and look at both of them. And ask for strength.
It is the light of his wisdom that I endeavour to carry each day when I step out!