You were on my mind

This morning I went to INA market. For the uninitiated, INA is probably Delhi's treasure trove for food, and a cornucopia of pleasures for the senses in every way possible. The abundance of colour, fragrances and aromas make it a sensorial delight. You can amble for hours feasting your eyes on the beautifully arranged vegetables, the mounds of assorted spices, the stalls of fish and meat and so much more. For me INA has become a kind of pilgrimage since the day my father breathed his last, as it has he who made me discover this unbelievable place. So today, his 20th death anniversary I found myself amidst fish and vegetables, remembering the man I so loved. Ram was not just my father. He was so much more: my friend, mentor, guide, my confidante, my first and perhaps last true love and even my partner in crime. He taught me so many things, actually most of what I know today. Ram was larger than life. A master in the art of living on the one hand, and in diplomacy on the other. One of the youngest recipient of the coveted MBE, but also a Commander of the Wine tasters. With him I rubbed shoulders with the high and mighty and dined at the finest tables. Thanks to him I discovered the pleasure of reading and was primed in to every art form possible. It is Ram who also took me to every corner of the countries we lived in and imbibed me with many cultures.

But that was just one side of Ram, probably the lesser one. What he truly taught me was the art of looking with one's heart. Our visits de the INA did not end with impersonal shopping sorties. Far from that. Most of the shopkeepers he frequented were known to him at a personal level. For many he had provided pro bono legal help. He knew about their families, their problems, their achievements. To them he was topi wala sahib, the men in a hat, as he always wore some kind of head gear. So every trip to INA was never a short one. True we came back laden with baskets of fish and poultry, fruits and vegetables and often a warm treat for Mom  who shunned food shopping. But we also came pack with precious human stories that made the experience unique. When he died, many of the INA shopkeepers closed their shop to attend his funeral. And when I gathered the courage to go back to INA after his death, I was overwhelmed by the number of persons who stopped me to say: Topi wale sahib bahut yaad aate hain - we miss the man in the hat so very much. And the bonds remained as once when I went to Papa's preferred meat shop to get some meat for a party, I was shocked and rather annoyed when the owner ignored me whilst attending to another customer. The mystery was solved when the customer left and Abdul Bhai turned to me and said with a broad smile: the meat is not good enough for you! And though I came back empty handed, having just got a cup of warm syrupy tea, the moment was one to be cherished as it brought memories of Ram in abundance. So imagine my surprise when today, after 20 years I found the meat shop owner at his shop, a rare occurrence as he has aged and now leaves his sons to run the business. For me it was a boon: an occasion once again to reminisce about the topi wala over yet another cup of luke warm over sweetened tea!

This truly special moment made me realise what my true legacy from Ram was. It was not just Ram who taught me about life but also topi wala - for want of a better name! If Ram initiated me to the high end of life experiences it was topi wala who taught me about life itself. From the pleasures of caviar laced with non alcoholic bubbly to the delight of a rustic roti eaten with mustard oil and salt, he made me discover the true meaning of things. From the pleasures of the intellect via books and art to the soothing lull of a bhojpuri berceuse, from dining with royalty to sharing the table of the house staff, he ensured that I remain grounded in reality at every given moment.

He taught me to always keep an open mind; he taught me to learn from the smallest and the humblest, as that is were one found the truly inspirational stories and real values. When he left this world I was to say the least shattered. I mourned him for many years and simply gave up on everything. Life simply seemed to have lost all meaning. I was rudderless and lost. In hindsight I feel terribly ashamed of the time I lost. It is not what he would have wanted me to do. But I needed time to pick up the pieces and rebuild myself into something that would appear whole. I know if he were here he would have given me a kick in my butt and told me it was time to put all the lessons learnt to the test. But I am not as strong as he was, or he thought I was. I needed time to process the loss and reinvent myself. It took 8 long years: from November 1992  to June 2000 when I met Manu. I wonder today if Manu was not sent by an exasperated Topiwala ! The bottom line is that something happened that day. It was as if I had finally awoken from a long slumber. The rest is history and there for all to see.

Sometimes people wonder why I taken on every challenge that comes my way be it opening a new class or mending a broken heart. You see, for me it is honouring Ram's memory in every way possible. He for one would not have wanted me to chicken out of any situation and I intend to agree. So the road ahead is long and filled with challenges. I will walk because I knowRam walks by my side!