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Wednesday, October 23, 2019


Ode to my family


“understand the things i say / don’t turn away from me / ’cause i spent half my life out there…”
TSI | Issue Dated: May 13, 2007
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Ode to my family No looking back

The Cranberries’ song would sound, at best, like yet another of the many half truths that define this age of convenience relationships and calculated courtesies. For, TSI felt close to the Vedic wisdom of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ when the octogenarian at the old-age home chose to wait for his soul to depart there, than go back to his indifferent children, or when the now clean addict claimed to feel better at the rehab centre than his own home just eight kms away. Whoever said bloodlines make a family?

“This place is my temple”, his brows raised self-assuredly, he honestly holds forth on his past of lies, thefts, imprisonment and the root of all – drug abuse, that landed him in Astha Kripa De-Addiction & Rehabilitation Centre, West Delhi. Sukhen (name changed), 31, is now a training counsellor who helps inmates with their 12-by-12 program central to the addicts’ rehabilitation curriculum. Away from home (Kolkata) since the age of 13 in Delhi, Sukhen blames ‘emotional insecurity’ for taking fancy to the ‘flower child’ idea and giving in to the high jinks. Today, with 16 months in rehab behind him, Sukhen maintains that the bonds here were stronger than ones to be seen in a family – his own not a long way off.

As Haider, a volunteer just past his six-month course, served us tea, Suresh Pillay, the chief counsellor explained the day’s routine that began with Yoga in the morning. After the routine Therapeutic Duty Assignment (TDA) chores of mopping, dusting or cooking etc., there followed an hour’s Input Session, where members studied the 12 steps, the first of which teaches one to own up to powerlessness and confront the fact of one’s unmanageable life until then. In the Reading Session, members read empathetic and inspiring tales of abuse recoveries. Before lunch, there is a Writing Session and later, Group Sharing when members talk, before the day ends with meditation. Says Pillay, himself a ‘graduate’ from Pune Kripa for alcoholism, “Some call me ‘sir’, others ‘uncle’… our common past binds us together.” With a working wife and two well-settled children, who’ve turned their backs on him – Pillay is completely at home in the rehab atmosphere.

Awaiting his family, though, for the weekly family counselling session that was about to begin was Col. Shergill, also into his recovery. “I’m grateful for the change in my life”, he says while adding that the quarantine and the training here is nothing compared to the drill in the army! Proud recipient of many a military honour, including the Yudh Seva Medal, he jokes, “Most ‘candidates’ here have similar qualifications – PHD: Poor Hopeless Drinker or CHP: Chemically Dependent Person!” Of equivalent eligibility was Founder and Managing Trustee, Anil Bhandoola, who set up the Delhi branch of Kripa in ‘95. “It remains my first passion”, says Bhandoola, having left his drug-abused ordeal 20 years behind. In self-motivated perseverance, as he and the others at Kripa put their worst behind them, the credo of a family was writ large over the place – making it through together. Ode to my family True better half

“It’s been nine years now?” they hesitantly state in near chorus, looking at each other for re-confirmation of their marriage years. They are a couple with a difference, as Mahender, the husband points out – they don’t fight! The legalities consummated in a court, Mahender wedded Shama, a eunuch, much to the discomfort of many a relative and acquaintance. “My family has more than accepted her now; in fact, she can stake claim to the credit of marrying off my two sisters”, Mahender proudly proclaims.

Dressed in a bright orange salwar kameez, Shama is an unusually soft-spoken eunuch who is up to what most in her community do – collect badhaai (gift cash) from houses in her ilaaka (territory) on occasions like newborn arrivals. Hers being the posh Jor Bagh and Lodhi Colony areas, she indulges in some name dropping as she mentions the Nanda daughter-in-law having given her Rs 31,000 for her brother’s wedding, referring to The Marriage that had many a Bollywood insider complaining about not being invited!

“The likes of us (eunuchs) were blessed by Lord Ram himself. He declared that we’ll reign in Kal Yug”, reminded Shama in gently exaggerated gesticulation. Tracing the couple down in the bylanes of Old Delhi where the two had come over for a visit to her sister’s place, there was such striking harmony in all they chose to talk about that it was like a rendezvous with another regular couple but for what was there before our sexist eyes to see. “Ultimately, it’s a matter of companionship; loneliness would have got to me like any other ‘normal’ mortal… It’s a blessing to have him beside me. Even if he’s out of town, I eagerly await his return,” says Shama coyly. Mahender, an erstwhile army cook who now attends to smalltime catering, is quick to reciprocate the affection. “In our colony, she is the favourite of all women and children. In fact, there are times when she is busy and I’ve gone ahead and collected badhaai on her behalf. I’ve never had qualms.”

On children, the two have a consensus yet again. With no plans to adopt, neither is missing kids in their lives, for they are more than happy with the many little ones from the neighbourhood who flock to them during playtime. “I have over 2000 marbles that I’ve won over from kids; not that they must’ve scored a number any less!” he laughs. “We often take our nephews and nieces to the Pir-e-Kaliyar Dargah and on our way back, even go to Haridwar.” A Mohammedan by birth, Shama blesses people with the ‘Om Namo Narayanay’ chant. “If we were to be bothered about religion, with what face would I walk in to collect badhaai of a Hindu or a Sikh child?” Shama asks rhetorically. “I pity those squabbling over temples and mosques… don’t they realise that one day, one’s name alone will remain on earth; good or bad is for us to conduct”, she makes a point with both words and actions.

Not religion, not sex – neither looks good enough to suggest trouble for the happily married Mahender and Shama. May it never for any couple, they seemed to bless…
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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017