The First Three Years in Delhi
Pitaji moved from Aligarh to Delhi. He was appointed as a Deputy Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs in the Central Government. Pitaji’s friend, the Nawab of Chatari, who had served as the Governor of Uttar Pradesh, was then a Member of Parliament. Nawab of Chatari had an official residence in Delhi, which was small but was conveniently located. He offered it to Pitaji to move in temporarily on reaching Delhi. The Secretariat was not more than two miles from this place and Connaught Place was also less than a mile from there. I remember its address even today, 14-B, Ferozshah Marg. It became our temporary residence in Delhi pending allotment of a Government quarter to Pitaji.
When I first saw this place I was taken aback. It was far too small compared to the District Collector’s bungalow in Aligarh. Here, there was no peon, no car, no driver, and no servant. Pitaji told us, “We will now live like a cooperative commonwealth”. I asked him what “cooperative commonwealth” meant. He said that it meant that now we would attend to our own work ourselves, for example, polish our own shoes, make our own bed and obey Jiji. This was indeed a challenge for staying in New Delhi.
I vaguely recall that we had reached Delhi in the month of January or possibly February. Sending me, Shachindra and Narendra to a school became a priority for Pitaji. I have a hunch that Pitaji discussed options for our schooling with his friends Shri Parmeshwari Prasadji and Shri S.N. Guptaji. Their sons studied in Harcourt Butler School and Pitaji took three of us for admission to that school. As it was nearing the end of academic year of the school, Shri S. Lal, the Principal of Harcourt Butler School, may have given permission for us to sit in classes without our formal admission. As per my School Leaving Certificate I was not even 12 years of age at that time.
I was not comfortable with sitting in class IX. The main problem was that the medium of instruction in Harcourt Butler School was English. I had started learning English only from Class VI. My three years’ knowledge of English language learnt in the school at Shikohabad was insufficient for studying in an English medium school. Teachers who had taught me English in Shikohabad were student-teachers undergoing Junior Basic Training course and did not know English themselves. Teaching in Harcourt Butler School was through English and I could not follow what was taught.
Harcourt Butler School had two school buses. But the place where we lived was not on their route. We used public bus for going to school. We would board from a stop called the Camp College and go up to Madras Hotel or Scindia House. From there we walked the remaining distance to home. Many times we walked the entire distance from school to home. Pitaji also walked to his office and would often say, “I like to walk to office, as this way I am getting familiar with Delhi roads”.
After sometime, Pitaji was allotted a permanent residence in Chanakyapuri. Government had built new flats there. From Ferozshah Marg we moved into our new flat in the Diplomatic Enclave. Its address was 24 D1, Diplomatic Enclave. Our colony was about one mile from the Ashoka Hotel. The nearest market was in Vinay Nagar (now Sarojini Nagar). The ring railway line divided our colony from Vinay Nagar. There was no bridge above or below the railway line. Going to the Vinay Nagar market involved crossing over the railway line.
After the summer vacation, I was admitted to Class IX in Harcourt Butler School. Shachindra and Narendra, my younger brothers, got admission in the Modern School. To what classes they were admitted, I am unable to recall. Many people asked me the question as to why I did not get admission in the Modern School. The answer was natural and simple. At that time, Harcourt Butler School was rated among the good schools of Delhi. The Principal of Harcourt Butler School, Shri S. Lal, was educated at Oxford University and was B.A. (Oxon). Its mathematics teacher was Shri P.D. Mathur, and the Physics teacher was Shri P.K. Roy. I don’t think there were teachers of their standing in other schools of Delhi at that time. The science laboratories of this school were well equipped and were used effectively for teaching practical classes.
Harcourt Butler School was established by the British Government for education of children of its officials. A branch of this school was also located in Simla. The British Government functioned from Simla during summer months. Its officers along with officials moved from New Delhi to Simla. Children of officials during their Simla stay studied in the branch of Harcourt Butler School there. I am inclined to believe that the present Kendriya Vidyalayas were set up on the model of Harcourt Butler School.
I started experiencing learning problems. The first was the medium of instruction. It was English. I was weak in English. The second was the subject of Geometrical and Mechanical Drawing. It was not taught well and I found it uninteresting. My intrinsic abilities in geometry emerged after 55 years. I was fascinated by Escher’s woodcut print called Angels and Devils. I learnt hyperbolic geometry on my own. I wanted to understand the geometry underlying the Esher’s patterns. I made complex geometrical graphics using the hyperbolic geometry. These graphics have been shown on the cover of the book.
Both English and Geometrical and Mechanical drawing became a nightmare. Such learning issues adversely affected my educational progress. Looking back, I realise now that it took me five years to come out of this predicament. My temperament is to solve my problems myself as I do not like to share my problems with others. I neither worried about my future nor shared my problems with Pitaji. Had I shared these problems with Pitaji, probably, he would have found some solution. But I was reluctant to tell Pitaji that I was weak in English. Pitaji held the distinction of obtaining the maximum marks in English in his Class X Board examination. For this achievement his name is on the Honours Roll of the Ahir Degree College, Shikohabad, where he studied.
Mathematics and Physics were my favourite subjects and I was proficient in both. In the colony where we lived, I was known for my ability that I could solve any maths problem. My two classmates, Satish Puri and Suresh Gupta, were staying in the same colony. I became their tutor for mathematics. Both of these classmates were in school’s cricket team. I looked upon them as my heroes because I did not play any outdoor game.
Pitaji arranged to bring his Vauxhall car and his old bicycle from Shikohabad. I have written about the Vauxhall car in the last chapter of my memoirs. I wanted a new bicycle but, alas, I got a 30 years’ old bicycle instead. The handle of this bicycle had already rusted. I got the cycle painted. The painter made a picture of a deer on the bicycle and imprinted “HIND” on it. For me, my bicycle became that of “HIND” brand. I rode my bicycle for going to school. My route for reaching school was Ashoka Hotel, Willington Crescent, Talkatora Garden, and Mandir Marg. I could cover this distance in 45 minutes to one hour. Traffic was light those days. Also, cycle was a normal mode of personal conveyance at that time. The environment of the metropolitan city was peaceful and civilized. No one was fearful of any wrong happening. Even the Government Officers holding high ranks did not have personal drivers. Parents felt at ease in sending their children to school using public transport. Shachindra and Narendra along with their friend, Shekhar, and his younger brother (who was in kindergarten) went by public bus to the Modern School. Today even my domestic help sends her three children to school, less than three kilometres away, in a taxi. Those days were different from the present times.
I used to do shopping for Jiji on my bicycle. I would cross the railway line by lifting my bicycle on my shoulders for going to the Vinay Nagar Market. But for me, it was no big effort even to go to Pahar Ganj on my bicycle for bringing vegetables when Jiji needed them for parties. Expectations from me for household chores were such that I never got time for playing. Physically, I was thin and lean, perhaps, to others I looked weak. I used to bicycle 25-30 kilometres daily. How could I put on weight with this amount of daily exercise? Pitaji became worried about my health and spoke about his concern for me to his friend, Dr. Sharma, who was the Civil Surgeon in Aligarh, the place where Pitaji was posted earlier. Dr. Sharma said to Pitaji, “Send Amar Nath to stay with me for a few days”. I was happy at the possibility of spending some time with Dr. Sharma’s family.
I had the confidence to travel independently and reached Aligarh by rail on my own. The younger son of Dr. Sharma was of my age. He had a twin sister, Neelu. She was jovial and beautiful. I was 13 years of age at that time. It must have been the Christmas time because one day I went to the hospital where Dr. Sharma worked, accompanying his son, to listen to Christmas chorals. This was on the invitation of the Chief Nurse of the hospital. Like now, in those days Nurses from Kerala worked all over India, including Aligarh. Ten days passed in no time. We passed our time listening to film songs on the radio. The most liked programme those days was “Binaca Geet Mala”. I did not touch Pitaji’s radio. While returning from Aligarh, Dr. Sahib prescribed a diet chart for me. He suggested that I should eat eggs every day. When Babaji came to know of this, he reacted, “Amar Nath will not eat eggs”. Pitaji, however, liked eggs. I did not eat eggs while I was with my parents in Delhi. But in Simla when Jiji was away from home, all the children along with Pitaji took eggs for breakfast, and enjoyed the same.
Children would go to school, Pitaji would go to office and Jiji would play host to guests at home, who were invariably in good numbers. With passage of time our life in Delhi had become normal and routine. I would next tell some new situations that come to my memory.
Babaji invited Jiji to accompany him on an all India pilgrimage. During Jiji’s absence for two months, children became Pitaji’s responsibility. But, every now and then Pitaji went out of station on tour. The younger son of a colleague of Pitaji, whom we addressed as Nigam Bhaisaheb, came to stay with us. Nigam Bhaisaheb was working at Safdarjung Airport. Perhaps he was a Maintenance Engineer there. Nigam Bhaisaheb was a good-natured person and liked all three of us. We felt comfortable in his company.
One day Shachindra found a new cricket ball on the road. He was very happy. He showed the ball to Nigam Bhaisaheb by swinging round his hand in bowling action. The ball fell on the centre table in the drawing room and its glass was smashed. Pitaji was out of town on tour that day. Nigam Bhaisaheb got the smashed glass replaced with a new one. After Pitaji returned from tour, Shachindra showed the cricket ball to Pitaji in much the same action he had used for showing it to Nigam Bhaisaheb. The ball escaped his hand and once again the glass on the table was smashed. Pitaji, controlling his anger, said “This ball is not a good omen; you leave this at the same place from where you found it”. Shachindra did not understand what good omen or bad omen meant for a ball, but he had to bid good-bye to a new cricket ball.
When Jiji was away Narendra’s birthday and my birthday were celebrated. On birthdays Nigam Bhaisaheb took us to Kashmiri Gate to a sports goods shop. The birthday boy could buy the cricket bat and ball of his choice. On Narendra’s birthday, the elder son of Gupta ji, Rajendra Bhaisaheb, gifted him a Baby-Browny Camera, which was elegant and beautiful. Now we had a camera to share amongst us. The kind of memorable pictures I took with this camera, I will narrate sometime later.
Jiji-Pitaji were of religious bent of mind. But they did not practise formal worship at home, nor were we taken to temples. Jiji-Pitaji remained in contact with saints. When saints visited our home Satsang Kirtan (devotional congregation) were held. Of the three saints, whom I met at home, Swami Shantanandaji’s name comes to my mind the most. Once during Swami Shantanandji’s visit, Mataji’s younger daughter Snigdha Buaji (Pishi Maa) also came from Calcutta. Snigdha Buaji used to sing Bhajans (devotional songs) to the accompaniment of Taanpura (a stringed instrument like a sitar). Amongst the disciples of Swami Ji, there were many well known people of the country. One evening, there was a satsang at the residence of the Home Minister, Shri Gulzari Lal Nanda, another evening, the satsang was held at the residence of Rashtrapati, Shri Rajendra Prasad Ji. I remember that we three children attended both these satsangs. I do not recall the sermons given by Swami Ji but the devotional songs sung by Snigdha Buaji still ring sweet in my ears.
The second saint, I remember, was Baba Neem Karoli, who would appear before his devotees uninformed. He had no planned itinerary of either coming or going. His disciples were of the view that the Baba appeared and disappeared at his will. I do not know the truth of such a belief. When Baba reached the house of one of the disciples, others were contacted on phone and they assembled to see him. Baba had disciples of all faiths. I have seen Shri and Shrimati Chitsi, friends of Pitaji, among Baba’s disciples. Baba did not give sermons. He talked to his disciples as an elderly person would talk to his children. Whenever Baba blessed by touching with his hands a disciple’s head, the person would enter into Samadhi (in a transcendental state). I have seen this happen. One day Baba touched with his hands Amit’s head. He instantly went into Samadhi. After sometime, Baba took Amit out of his Samadhi.
Two other incidents of Baba come to my mind. Baba once said to Tauji and Taiji, “Bhola (my father’s short name) is like your son”. Hearing this, I got an excuse of teasing Amit by calling him Chacha (uncle). I once accompanied Tauji -Taiji to attend a congregation of Baba Neem Karoli at the residence of Pitaji’s friend, Shri R.K. Trivedi. When I went to Baba Neem Karoli to offer my salutations, he said “Are you Bhola’s son? You are good in studies”. I have read in the biography of Steve Job that he came to India to receive benediction of Baba Neem Karoli. But by the time, Steve Job reached Neem Karoli’s Ashram (hermitage) at Kenchi, Baba had already left for his heavenly abode.
The third saint with whom Pitaji remained in contact was Brahmrishi Balanand. He had made many barefoot pilgrimages to Kailash Mansarover when there were no travel restrictions to Tibet. Some years later I also came in his contact. If I am able to extend narration of my life’s journey to the circumstances of my marriage, I will write about Brahmrishi Balanand.
Jiji-Pitaji were devotees of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. They had sent my elder sister Radha, in her young age, to the Aurobindo Ashram’s school in Pondicherry. We went to Pondicherry twice from Delhi to meet Radha Jiji. Once in the Janta Train to Madras only five of us were in a small train compartment. The journey took more than two days. But I enjoyed every minute of the long train journey. In Pondicherry, Shri Ganpatram Ji had made arrangements of our stay in a house which was located near the sea. Shri Ganpatram Ji was a sadhak (ascetic) in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram and was the warden of Radha Jiji’s hostel. There were many churches near the place where we stayed. Every Sunday the church bells would resound in the entire environment of the place. We used to call Shri Ganpatram Ji, Bade Bhaiji (elder brother). He left an indelible impression on me. I have referred subsequently to this, in some segment of the journey of my life.
We lived in a two bed-room flat. Only Jiji-Pitaji would know how they managed to accommodate many guests in it. I remember, once to see the Republic Day Parade, Dr. Naval Kishore, along with his wife, and another couple, came from Agra and stayed with us. Jiji had no help of a servant at that time, but the responsibility of the host was performed. We children also accompanied the guests to see the parade. I had the Baby-Browny Camera with me. Without being stopped I went to the enclosure from which Rashtrapati took the salute. The security guards did not stop me. I seem to recall that I had taken pictures of the Rashtrapati and of Prince Phillip. I have found from the internet that the Queen of England was the chief guest of the Republic Day parade in 1961. I had not gone to see the parade that year. However, I did go to see the programme of “Beating the Retreat”. I sat in the front row along with other children. Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru came to attend the event. I extended my hand to him, Pandit Nehru held my hand. This is the sweetest memory of my life.
Dr. Ram Karan Singh played a significant role in my life. I first came in his contact when I was 14 or 15 years old. He was an educationist. He had studied in Harvard University in the decade of 1930s and got his D.Phil degree from there. Dr. R.K. Singh was the Principal of Balwant Rajput College, Agra. Dr. R.K. Singh had come on deputation to Delhi as a Deputy Educational Advisor to the Ministry of Education. Shrimati Suraj Singh did her M.Ed studies during Dr. Singh’s Delhi stay. He was allotted a quarter in our colony. He was happy to meet me. His son, Kiran, and I were nearly of the same age. Family relationships apart, I used to go to their residence to play with Kiran. I enjoyed shooting with Kiran’s air gun and discovered to my pleasure that I was a good shot. Writing at this stage of my narration the role Dr. R.K. Singh played in my life would be to unfold my future now itself. All the same I recall here what Dr. Singh, whom I called Uncle, shared with me, when I met him in Gary, Indiana, in 1966. Pitaji was concerned about Radha Jiji’s future as he wanted to recall her from Pondicherry at the end of her school stage. He consulted Dr. R. K. Singh on this matter. Dr. Singh’s suggested to Pitaji, “Maheshwari, forget about your worry about the marriage of your daughter. Educate her and help her complete her graduation”. .
I am happy to recall some unforgettable memories associated with Jiji-Pitaji from this period. One evening, they had to go for dinner to their friend, Chishti Sahib, who also lived in the neighbourhood. Generally, whenever they went out, they locked the house from outside, but that day, they said “Amar Nath, close the door from inside”. So, I closed the door from inside. It was winter times. I and my two brothers shared one of the two bed rooms in the flat. We slept and studied together on a broad wooden cot that occupied the small room. I closed the main door securely and also closed the door of the room where we slept. The door bell was in the passage outside our room. After sometime, Jiji-Pitaji returned from the dinner and pressed the call bell. But all of us were in the deep sleep of Kumbhakarana (a brother of Ravana, who slept undisturbed at a stretch for six months!). Jiji-Pitaji spent the whole night sitting on the steps of the door. Jiji took an assurance from Pitaji that he would neither scold nor punish the children. In the morning around 5.00 a.m., they rang the call bell again. This time I woke up and opened the door. I told Pitaji that he had a long party! Pitaji must have been angry, but he only said, “Amar Nath, you are no longer a small boy. Be responsible”.
I am happy to recall the other unforgettable memory associated with Pitaji. He used to go for a morning walk with his cane to Shanti Path. While leaving for his morning walk, he would wake us up so that we could do our studies. One night, while we were in deep sleep, Pitaji woke us up. Sensing his intentions, we kept books in our lap, but we started dozing off. Perhaps, Pitaji did not meet his morning walk companions on the road. He checked the time in his watch in the pole light and found that it was 1 o’clock at night. Pitaji returned home and asked us to go to sleep. We lost no time in obeying him and went back to sleep.
One or two other things connected with Pitaji also come to my mind. Pitaji was a member of the Flying Club. He used to go to the Safdarjung Airport near our house for gliding. Pitaji would get his hair cut at the Plaza Saloon in Connaught Place. He used to keep his moustache trimmed and before leaving the house every day, he had a habit of looking into the mirror, wearing a smile on his face, as if to promise to keep it on him the whole day.
Our Vauxhall car moved with loud rattling noise. But a new road had been constructed in Delhi, perhaps it could be the Ring Road, on which even our car became quiet. Pitaji would take us out on drive several times for us to enjoy the experience of smooth and silent driving. There was no need for us to go on drive for this experience when Pitaji purchased a new car. This car was beautiful, white in colour, and was known as “Baby Hindustan”. This car did not remain with us for long as Pitaji was transferred to Simla where he had no need for maintaining a personal car.
Our next door neighbour was Bhatia Sahib. His son, Kamal, and I were in the same class but studied in different schools. Kamal studied in the Anglo Arabic School. We would chat and gossip with each other. We did not play any outdoor game together but enjoyed playing book-cricket.
The three years of our stay in Delhi passed without our realising it. Pitaji left for Simla. Jiji did not accompany him and took upon herself the responsibility of looking after me as my Board examinations were drawing near. My examination centre was in a school in Pahar Ganj. I used to reach the examination centre on my cycle. It took me one hour each way to cover the distance. The night preceding the examination of English subject, Kamal tried to reach me on telephone. He wanted to tell me the topic on which essay was to be written in the examination next day. But Jiji told Kamal that I had gone to sleep. Even if I had known the subject of the essay, I was in no position to prepare for it. I neither worried about the outcome of my performance in the examination nor about my future.
By the end of the first three years in Delhi I had matured both physically and mentally. When I look back at my life I come to the conclusion that these three years of my boyhood were my most important formative period. I was now ready for higher education.