Aatma in Parmaatma
Rattan…..Self Reliant – Fiercely Independent
Rattan passed away a few days ago, having suffered long-term illnesses. Having gone in for a routine operation, he came out worse off for having caught MRSA at Wexham Hospital, Slough, Berkshire, UK. Subsequently, over the years, he suffered several minor strokes, pneumonia and then a major stroke.
Backdrop: Rattan, like many of that time, grew to adulthood exhibiting an expression of a psyche ennobling personality traits that I have deep empathy with. A Sikh, like the rest from that period, a generation moulded by a sequence of events that made them pragmatic humane-buccaneers, adventurers, explorers, voyagers, entrepreneurs, pioneers, trailblazers and swashbuckling in their mentality and who were proactive communicators. They had liberal ideas coupled with excessive love for life. Playful self promoters, rustic philosophers and unerringly sentimentalist about nature and one’s place in nature.
This generation was one of well-heeled urbanites though their lineage was firmly rooted in a rural past. They were contradictions at many levels, and yet ethical, and they lavished liberal hospitality even on their enemy. They dressed in the custom of the country they endeavored to call their new home. Passionate, faithful, ardent, yet open enough to accommodate the modernity of the times. They were the very opposite of narcissistic love. They came second, putting the other first.
They would scour cinema newsreels, radio or newspaper information about lands yonder the horizon and aim to visit those far off places to live there: what they considered their outer home, as opposed to calling it their other home, distinct and separate from their village home. We read about European adventurers backed by royal funds to explore and chart new worlds. The royal funding was replaced by multiple financial backers with a certificate share in the expedition. Mercenaries seeking financial gain as entrepreneurs or administrators superseded them.
By contrast the north Indian rural adventurers reignited memories of previous journeys from centuries earlier by their ancestors, however this time they sought to visit those far off places for themselves ever since initial contact with western ideology. The outlook of the two mindsets differed. The Indian mindset realised the labourer would remain a labourer, the business owner would continue to manage his own business, while the gentry would find a lifestyle suited to their background.
Very few had the false idea of amassing untold wealth to return to their rural setting. No. Pivotal in their mindset was adventure and new horizons; that something different.
Background: Rattan was born to parents who had lived through the horrors of the first European war 1914-18 in which Sikhs were sought to fight against the Germans.
Then in 1919, the very same English army that beseeched their help mowed down, in an enclosed public garden, several thousand Sikhs (figures fluctuate) in the infamous Amritsar massacre. Angst against the English, and a seething, loathing desire to rid them as unacceptable rulers of India fermented.The days of the Raj were numbered.
Here I have to clarify the following: The Indian mindset is not concerned about who governs so long as fairness, equality, dignity and religious freedom is protected at all costs. Indian mindset accepts that somebody has to govern. They are not concerned if the ruler hails from Mars, as long as certain humane values are protected at all costs. The Indians’ potent weapon is civil disobedience, or mass exodus from an area where governance is dictatorial.
Emperor Napoleon, upon capturing Moscow, famously said when plaudits greeted him, that without people to govern a victory is hollow. Indians have a last resort tactic. They turn their backs on the distasteful governance and walk away. So to them it matters not, and nor does it injure their psyche, if governance is by an outsider race.
Reverting: Champions of the times were the likes of Subash Chandra Bose, to balance the Gandhi-Patil axis. Indians wanted change of rulers.
Rattan was an impressionable child who lived through the horrors of the second European war. This time Sikhs were implored to aid the British fight against the Nazi. Japan had invaded China few years earlier. United States had blockaded Japanese seaports, suffocating the lifeline of Japan. Japan, faced with humiliation, following a barrage of provocations by the Americans, chose to fight its corner. Japan swept through Indo-China and arrived at India’s door. It walked through Singapore, the British stronghold, after the capitulation by the British forces.
The very same British soldiers who had roamed chests puffed as if they were warriors hammered home what most Indians knew internally. The Brits were not warriors. They were mercenaries at best. In the main it was the Gurkha, Sikh and Rajput regiments that checked the Japanese advance into India , and repulsed them. The Armageddon – atomic bombs unleashed on the defeated Japanese army in full retreat – was the final disgust Indians felt for race Europeans. What had those innocent people of Japan done to deserve the ongoing, generational genetic problems…it was an unpalatable reality.
Then followed the ultimate horror of Indian independence in 1947. The senseless butchering of one faith by another, all mismanaged by the British, is the bedrock of emotional and psychological torture of a child who lived, witnessed and experienced it all; and those realities formulated the personalities of the time. What I find remarkable is how balanced each and every one of those Indians became. There is none of the ‘I am unbalanced and society owes me a living because of the trauma suffered’. No, stoically, they picked themselves up, dusted the horror away, and moved on with their lives.
Rattan has to be viewed with that history in mind. I indicate in my talks that you are the sum total of your parents’ psyche. Thus, Rattan born in the mid 1930s, to a north India region parents who were culturally proud and racially dignified people. Although not Sikhs, the honour of bringing up one’s son/s as a fully ordained Sikh was a privilege. A son-Sikh who willingly sacrifices its life to promote freedom from the current regime was an honour.
Additionally, Rattan grew up in a proud tradition of following one’s elders without question, never answering back, nor doubting the indication of the elders. Respect was the cornerstone of one’s life. Intellectual, financially astute, widely educated, a free spirit embedded in Sikh communalism, multilingual several times over including in two European languages, Rattan lost his eldest brother very early on. The eldest brother had several children and Rattan automatically took the responsibility for their welfare.
However, his was a mentality that stopped youngsters from addressing him with the traditional title. Indian family titles indicate responsibility even as a substitute parent. He refused to accept the title but fulfilled his duty of care and protection to his nieces and nephews with territorial zeal. He protected their desire to navigate traditional boundaries, even though at times their expressions sometimes compromised him in the eyes of society. He never once let the children know how he suffered. Yet, he was demanding and strict in other aspects.
He was honest, loyal, truthful. One knew where one stood with him. He had integrity and keen sense of duty. He was street-wise and courageous. Many failed to realise his personality was developed in a time of enormous horror, and that responsibility of looking after his elder brother’s widow and children was paramount in his mind.
Rattan was the older of the two of us. However, he conferred the respect accruing to the elder on me following our first two exchanges on religious, spiritual and philosophical concepts. In all these years he never once overlooked the basis of our relationship. Often he would remind me of my duty to him, by saying that he would willingly stand in the midday sun of India and not move until I indicated. This sentiment is a metaphor of loyalty and respect, and I was always mindful of that.
He is survived by a devoted wife and three children. The four were his very existence. No suffering was too much, in order to deliver whatever his family wanted. They were his life. The essence of his living.
Finally: My dear, dear Rattan. I am going to miss your humour and earthy wit. Above all else, I cannot put into words the gap your absence has already left with me. Until another set of circumstances brings us together, which they will, I wish you peace and calmness. And remember this is not a goodbye. It is au revoir.