An academician, a poet, a novelist, a critic and a commentator, Ravi Dhar has many more hidden facets to talk about. Split over two parts, he spoke to us about his childhood, touched upon his life and indulged about Kashmir.
He was shortlisted for this interview way back when www.thecherrytree.in portal was launched about three years ago. If he would have been interviewed then, probably we would not have got the opportunity to talk to him at length, not just about this career, but also about his experience of life & time over the last few years. We would have missed out on his book also.
A wise man once said, ‘things will happen, when they are supposed to happen’. This is the right time with Ravi Dhar.
Excerpts from an interaction with Rajesh Prothi
Tucked away in a small village, what memories do you have of your childhood?
In those days, the teachers in schools, especially those in villages, were not highly qualified. But, they were sincere and hard taskmasters. If any one of the students had not done his homework or memorized answers to questions, the teacher would either subject that student to canning or to whacking with stinging nettle. We all used to dread that. So, everyone would do his work religiously. But many a time, out of fear, students would forget what they had memorized and get punished in the process. I had a Muslim friend who knew a pir. He would often carry a talisman from him in his pocket to aid him in not forgetting answers. As I was his friend, he had given one to me as well. Seeing this, others too sought him for this help. It boosted our confidence and we would never falter while reciting the lesson.
The influence of the family plays a very important role in ones future growth. What has been your story on this front?
My father was in the Indian Army. So even though, we hailed from the village of Zainapore, I spent a good part of my early childhood in Srinagar. I still feel nostalgic about our Badami Bagh Cantt accommodation. Every time I visit Kashmir and climb up the Shankaracharya Hill, I can’t help peering over its boundary wall. The Cantonment buildings are visible in the distance.
I am told that these were pulled down later to make way for multi-story apartments to accommodate the increasing numbers of officers, JCOs and NCOs posted at Badami Bagh. In those days, there were no television sets. On Sunday evenings, a movie would be screened in the Gole Ground, which was a distance away from our quarter. We would all rush there with urgent steps to watch the movie. The excitement and the fun of watching movies like Do Bheega Zameen and Upkar over there was unparalleled and remain indelibly marked on my mind.
When we went down to the village after my father’s retirement, we were one of a kind in the village, like a souvenir in a Curio Shop. Our life style was a matter of curiosity for all. In the village, people would have tea and bakery products like the crunchy kulcha or a homemade roti. We were used to a full-scale Punjabi style breakfast that included paranthas, vegetables, curd and milk/tea. As we had already been tutored at home in English, we stood out from the rest of the students in the class in the village school. So, we invariably attracted attention from our teachers and peers.
You did schooling from Sainik School at Nagrota. How did you manage the change from a school in Kashmir to a school based on discipline?
From the very beginning, I had this urge to be different, not a faceless nondescript person in the crowd. For this, I needed to go to a good school. The Government School at Sadar Bazaar, Badami Bagh Cantt Srinagar, was more of a circus than a school. The teachers there were busier with their personal work than with teaching the kids. The Government School in my native village was better that way. But it too did not satisfy me. I wanted to get out, go to some place where I could learn about the big wide world beyond the hills.
As fate would have it, such an opportunity landed right in my lap just after I had passed the 5th class. I was returning home from school, when my sister informed me about a new school that was coming up at Nagrota in Jammu. The description she gave of the school fascinated me. It was exactly what I had been waiting for. By the time I reached home, I had already made up my mind to go. So, when my father asked me if I was willing to give up the comfort of my home to go to study at a boarding school at Jammu, I lost no time in blurting out an emphatic yes. My mother reasoned with me if I was sure as I was too young to go so far. But, I stood my ground. So, at last she gave up. That decision was a turning point in my life. It carried me away from a cool and protected environment to a totally unknown one, where was laid the foundation of my future development.
The demographic and cultural must have undergone a radical transformation during your school days.
Life at Sainik School Nagrota was cast in an entirely different mould. Whether it was the dress, the language, the food, or the surroundings, everything was different. For those of us who came from the valley, it was a total cultural disconnect. Most of us missed Kashmiri haakh/ collard greens the most. But, as time passed, we got initiated in the new food habits. The hills around served as a link with Kashmir. But the tropical vegetation was much too prickly to soothe the longing for home. The Spartan vegetative cover looked like someone had scalped the green cover off the face of the earth. River Tawi, which flowed by the School, was however a great hit with all the students. It evoked in me memories of the river in my native village.
Some wise man has said that you may nest up anywhere, but the memories of the place you were born never fade away. How true is this statement in your case?
That is true. I come from a place called Zainapore. I remember it to be a very quiet village. Most of the Kashmiri Pundit houses were in the bowl of the valley with just a few on the hilltop. Nearby was Babapora, which had the houses of the Kashmiri Muslims. A road passed by. It came from Bijbehara and headed for Shopian. The High School was right beneath this road. There was a rudimentary Medical Centre, with one Mr. Chuni Lal acting as both the doctor and the compounder. There was no Post Office, though there was a very quaint Postman, Mr. Thokur Kaak. He was a very interesting person. It was rumoured that he would often read the letters of the people before he would hand them over to the right recipient. At times, he would even burn the letters. An ideal fictive character, indeed!
Any memories of home?
In those days, there was no electricity. Evenings would plunge the house into darkness. The oil-wick lanterns were too miserly to light up the surroundings in the room or the corridor. There were no gas stoves. Not even the angithi. Food had to be cooked on the smoky traditional chulha. In Kashmiri Pundit houses, there was an unwritten rule you could not step into the kitchen with your outdoor footwear on. You had to put on the wooden footwear with the straps of woven hay before you could cross over the barricade to enter the kitchen. Life was tough for women. From morning to evening they worked on and on until it was time to go to bed. As kids, we enjoyed frolicking in the river in summer and in snow in winter.
What have been the two most touching moments in your life?
I can still recall vividly two incidents from my childhood, when I felt the power of human relations. The first incident refers back to the time when I was about to get admitted to Sainik School Nagrota, Jammu. As long as I was with my father going through the grind of various medical tests at SMGS Hospital, Jammu, to be declared medically fit for joining Sainik School Nagrota, I was my normal self, full of hopes fluttering like butterflies in my stomach. Once the tests were over and I boarded the 3-ton Army truck that was to take us all to School, I suddenly realized that now I was going to be parted from my family for a very long time. Looking out, I saw my father smiling and waving to me. But, I did not have the heart to wave back. My heart was sinking and tears stood on end at the fringes of my eyes. I did not want my father to see me crying and here I was holding fast the deluge of tears. As the Army truck skidded and rolled away, I struggled to wave back at my father. No sooner was he out of my sight than I burst into tears. I was alone, ‘all alone’, like Coleridge’s mysterious mariner.
The second incident also pertains to my School days. At School, we were allowed to go home on the second Saturday of the month for the weekend. We had to return early Monday morning to be in time for the Morning Assembly. It so happened that on one of these weekends I happened to overstay at home. This invited the punishment of the withdrawal of this facility. My elder brother who used to come to collect me on these weekends was not aware of this. So, he came as usual the next month too. It was Friday evening. My House Master, Mr. Kumar, informed him that he could not take me home as I had been debarred from visiting home this weekend. Hearing this, my brother stood rooted, his face creased with disappointment. For a long time, there was a hush. No one knew what to say. Sensing my brother’s deep dismay, Mr. Kumar relented. ‘Alright, take him. But, take care that you do so discreetly. Or else I will be in an embarrassing position.’ At this my brother’s face lit up with joy. That day, I realized how deeply my brother loved me.
to be continued…