*B. L. Dhar
he evening sun was still warm on this summer day in July and the family sat huddled together at the bedside of the head of the family who was taking in each breath with pain and presumably his last would come sooner than expected. The family doctor had told them that the end was near and they better keep the man in his own home rather than shift him to the hospital where no effort could possibly save him. The cancer had spread to all his vital organs and his once handsome face was looking deathly pale and shades of black patches showed all around. He was 64 and at the zenith of his life at a time when the life expectancy was just 52. His wife, two married sons and two married daughters were all there with the grandchildren all around in the house, half of them in their early teens, not all realizing the gravity of the situation. Towards evening the inevitable happened and the old man breathed his last. A cry of anguish escaped the womenfolk and all around the neighborhood the word spread that Tathaji was no more.
Born at the fag end of the 19th century in 1899, Pt. D.N. Koul (Tathaji) had all the traits of a man who would assume a powerful personality one day as he grew up. Habba Kadal was the place where he was born and that is where he breathed his last 64 years later. He studied at the local Government school and his father sent him to Lahore for his higher education where he graduated in Commerce. He returned to Srinagar and his eager parents got him married to a beautiful girl at age 20 when he was not even earning his livelihood. It took him a year to realize that there was more to life than trailing his beautiful wife around town to meet all his and her relatives. And when he got pumped up to do something worthwhile he packed up, left town and went over to the plains in search of his dreams. He least expected he would have to leave his newly married wife back home and pregnant with his first child. He ended up in an institution of higher learning at Bombay and after two years of studies he became a person most sought after by all the fabric business houses. No one knows how he ended up taking to Fabric dying, printing and designing as his subject of study. The cloth Mills at Bombay were progressing at a rapid pace and the British were importing fabric for their ladies as fast as they were prospecting for properties in the country. And Koul was there with all his new and trendy designs. Within four years he was a Corporate Director with a leading textile mill.
His sprawling mansion at Andheri had all the facilities that were accessible at that time and some gadgets were even imported from England to please him. His wife Shobha (Shobhawati) and newborn son joined him at Bombay and his parents often visited during the winter months when it was too cold for comfort in Srinagar. For 25 years life was pretty good and pretty fast for him and he fathered three more children with Shobha. The work kept him busy all through first as a Director and then CEO with the company that it became pretty hard to visit his hometown. He found no time for relatives or friends who had now forsaken him and it was only good for his parents that they turned up there for one health reason or the other and got good medical attention at the best hospitals in Bombay. And when Gandhi and Jinnah decided to part ways in 1947 so did he.
The partition of India was a painful experience for many and it affected Tathaji as well. In November 1947 he returned to Srinagar after he learnt about the brutal killing of his sister and her husband at Baramulla at the hands of tribal raiders (Qabailis) from across the border. He had not seen her or her husband for nearly 25 years but her passing away in this cruel manner was a sudden blow to him and an awakening that made him give up all his comforts and return to his roots. His parents were now too old to care for anything and he took charge of the affairs of his house at Habba Kadal as a dutiful son till the time his parents died. It took him some time to re-establish his contacts with all his relatives and friends and in the process made more friends as time passed by. He had enough money but needed to do something to keep the mental faculties up and running. So he decided to be a teacher and took up an appointment as a professor in a private college teaching students the art of commerce. His teaching methodology was well appreciated and he lectured at other institutions as well where he was promptly invited. Becoming a teacher came naturally to him as his talents were honed in the art of corporate governance where the first hand experience had given him enough leverage over the subject.
“Namaskar Mahara”, were the words with which he was greeted everyday by his students and faculty members and he somehow felt different upon hearing these words. He never said these greetings to any one when he was a student himself, either at the government school or at the college at Lahore and definitely not at the training campus in Bombay. He was not an egoist but this kind of address made him feel more respectable and responsible towards his students and to the community at large. No wonder he realized much later that even his own children had begun to greet him so when they met every morning at breakfast. He realized he had never greeted his own parents like that ever in his life, notwithstanding the fact that he loved and respected them very much. These words had a profound impact on his mind and it transformed his life to the extent that he started greeting everybody with this phrase, no matter who the person was, the status in society, the work or the religion.
Tathaji married his children in good families and they all stood by him in whatever he wished to do for the society at large. His participation in social activities was a routine affair and he was sought after by the politicians in the furtherance of enhancing their vote bank. His views carried weight and his convictions were well known. His house at Habba Kadal was a den of activity, be it social or political and the greetings “Namaskar Mahara” resounded all day at the premises. The sudden illness that descended on him was a bolt from blue for everyone known to him and even the Doctor attending on him was sad to pronounce his verdict of the deadly disease. By slow degrees his situation worsened and his wife Shobha took special care for all his needs. She wondered if this saintly man deserved so bad an attention from the heavens above. After his death he was cremated at the Dewan Bagh crematorium with all the respect and grace he deserved.
A year later his younger son became a father of his second child, a son. As the boy grew up he took on a likeness to Tathaji in looks and behavior, but he would not talk. Doctors found nothing wrong with him. When the boy was a year old and one day playing in his father’s lap he smiled, looked at him and clearly said his first words “Namaskar Mahara”.
B.L. Dhar was born and brought up at Srinagar. He did his Master's Degree in Mathematics. For work he joined the Civil Aviation Department as a Gazzetted Officer and later shifted to a PSU, Airports Authority Of India from where he retired as a General Manager in the year 2000.
Since his retirement he has been writing articles and stories, some of which have appeared in Shehjar on a regular basis. He claims he loves writing right from his college days, but majored in Mathematics instead of English only as a challenge to his talent. He lives in Delhi with his wife, the children having moved over to the USA for work.
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