A WALK DOWN MEMORY LANE
26th January 1951, India was celebrating its second Republic Day, a day that honours the day when the Constitution of India came into force. There was jubilation and revelry all around the country. A national holiday, this day showed the world how diverse, how enigmatic this nation was. Its struggle for independence was amplified by the celebrations that instilled hope and inspired people to dream for a better life. In North India, in the state of Uttar Pradesh, in a sleepy town of Allahabad, a family of seven children had moved in to stay after the partition. The family patriarch, a tall, lean man with sharp eyes and a keen sense of learning and educating, was waiting patiently for his wife, Shakuntala, to deliver good news. He knew from all his years fighting the British and being a family man at the same time, that tragedy could strike anytime. And yet, losing ones nerve in the time of crisis is never a good thing. So he sat. And waited. His name was Nand Gopal Wadhawan. An educator and then a businessman, he was already a father to seven children, six girls and one boy. His daughters were all excited, already in early twenties and teens, they were all giggling excitedly. It was as if they were all having their baby. They were all eager to meet the newest member of the family. News soon came of a baby boy. With a round face, shining bright eyes, and a smile to kill, Nand Gopal Wadhawan named him Ravi, the sun, the giver of light and the one to show the path of life. In the brightness of Independent India, Ravi would glow, grow and show everyone a new way to life, a child born to independent and free India, he too will be free to live his life on his terms.
Mother’s favourite, sisters’ darling and brother’s companion, he soon became a much loved and pampered kid. He knew his smile could tempt and break every person in his family and so he took advantage. He was naughty, always trying to defy orders, to try new things and always stay out with friends. His father would try to instill in him his ideals, philosophies and a curiosity for knowledge. Once while his father was running his store in Civil Lines, Ravi was helping him and waiting for him to finish. He was sleepy and tired. A young boy, he just wanted to go home, eat and sleep. His father locked up and started walking. Ravi insisted that they take a rickshaw as the house was very far, it was late and he was tired. His father agreed. And stopped one. The demand for price was high. So he walked till the next one. And the next one. And the next one. And the next one. And then they reached home. Ravi was cranky and fighting with his father. His father told him that this was a lesson, to value each penny. It is hard to earn money. To spend it easy. Ravi then decided he would change that for himself. A child still, he was a businessman in the making. His mother tried to discipline him, gave him chores for the house, taking care of his sisters, to instill a sense of being responsible. To reward him, and teach him the meaning of patience and hard work his mother once a year on his birthday would buy him a pair of shoes. Shoes that had to last a whole year before he could have another. His excitement for the gift, the manners in which he could keep the shoes safe for a whole year kept him occupied. And so began his love for shoes,. He would buy himself a pair every year on his birthday to remind himself of his childhood. His mother’s teachings and his father’s discipline were the founding bricks for him. Yet he did stray. Once when his sister was coming back home in a rickshaw some boys on a bike kept following her. She got scared and nervous. She reached home and told her beloved Ravi this, he the protective brother, came out to the road to check who it was. It turned out these boys were his friends. Rajni laughed it off pulling his ears that he better behave. Surrounded by so many women he learnt to respect them and understand them well. He studied only because his father was an educationist. Otherwise he was just one to have fun and enjoy life. He fell in love for the first time when he was fifteen when he had gone to Panipat for a family gathering. He was smitten. He couldn’t take his eyes off. The girl was out of his league, a pretty, smart and well-groomed, all he could do was stare. Then being the curious boy, he gathered courage and finally spoke to her. She giggled and a bond was formed. When the time to part came they both knew it was an impossible love story with a sad ending. Yet they decided to always care for each other. Soon it came time to decide what to do with his life. His first thought of doing well when he was a kid now was being faced with reality. He didn’t have much to go on with. He had spent most of early life enjoying and being pampered. Like most boys of his age he decided to join the army. It was a noble profession especially with his father’s struggle for independence he felt he was correct in his thinking. Encouraged he enrolled. Excited he took the examination and got a date for his physical exam. He thought he should practice. He thought he was young and active so it should be no problem. Still he played a few games of cricket and other sports with friends. When the call came his mother gave him something sweet to eat so he could do well. During the exam he realized he wasn’t focused enough. Looking at other contestants who were much stronger, much more athletic he was like a goldfish. He breathed in deeply. And did his best. He was rejected. Dejected he thought, wondered and planned many things. None of the noble professions of doctor, engineer appealed to him. He wanted now to do something on his own terms. Remembering those days with his father in the shop he realized he had learnt since childhood how to be a businessman. And so he decided to use that skill and joined hands with his brother in his business.
A YOUNG MAN
He wanted to grow fast. He had a never-ending thirst for being and doing more. Soon after joining his brother he wanted to start on his own. He borrowed a sum of Rs. 10,000/- from his oldest sister, a giver of wisdom in his young age she obliged and encouraged him. He took that sum to the bank and asked for a loan. He returned his sister’s money and started his journey as a businessman. Politics too was not far behind. He was optimistic, charismatic, and a leader. He was a good speaker and through his university days he had many followers. His sense of family came from emulating his parents, how they would serve their community, their family and everyone around. This too he learnt and became someone people could turn to. He enjoyed politics thoroughly along with his desire to give back more to society learnt from his parents. He knew that he couldn’t make a living with it. So he continued his business. While he was on his quest for success, his parents wanted him to get married and settle down. He too was not against it. He loved being in love. And he wanted a companion. He met many women, none who he could fall in love with. His criteria for selection of a wife was simple, I should want to love her. Finally a businessman in Chandigarh answered the advertisement for his wife. His father gave the job to inquire and check out the girl to his eldest and most responsible daughter who travelled to meet her. She met the family while the girl was sleeping in her room. Not wanting to disturb her she asked permission just to see her. Lying blissfully asleep with her long hair cascading down she knew this was the woman who could bring her brother eternal happiness. Ravi, discouraged by all the women he had met, agreed to meet her on the condition that they would get to spend some time together. The moment he saw her he too knew he could love her forever. Yet he contained himself. He knew beauty isn’t forever, the real beauty is the person and so he asked permission to spend time together. Soon after, he was married to Aarti.
He was doing well in is business, his political ambitions were taking shape and he was happy. He travelled around the world, his exposure only taught him more. His family was also growing. He became a father to three children, Shiffali, Raghav and Prerna. Happy times though don’t last forever and he was soon to discover. His wife fell ill and became hypo-glycemic. She went into the state of coma. She was only 32 years of age. And he 36. He went from doctor to doctor, expert-to-expert, country to country to make her well. All he wished was for her to recover. He had amassed enough wealth to do whatever needed to be done. Yet, he could do nothing. He was advised to pull the plug. It was a hard decision, one he just couldn’t take. He had promised this woman everything, promised to love and cherish her forever, how could he be the one to somewhat kill her. He felt till she was breathing there was hope. So, he converted the first house they ever lived in, into a mini hospital, providing twenty four hour care. The weight of his responsibilities and the loss of his love weighed heavily on him. His three children felt lost. He didn’t know how to and what to do. And yet he succeeded in bringing them up with all that he could. He changed his work timings, his work place and prioritized and re-ordered his life. His wife had been planning a holiday for the family to Switzerland. He decided he will carry on her tradition of yearly holidays and took his children. Alone, he didn’t know how to navigate simple childish questions, their fears and their joys. He didn’t know how to discipline and how to pamper them equally. Parenting is a shared job, yet he decided to do his best. He was an optimist. He looked forward and he vowed to give his children everything they deserved and more. For this first he had to fight with himself and solidify his heart because the only way his son would grow up to be a good man would be to be out of Allahabad where he couldn’t come under wrong influences and under the guidance of a mother, his sister, who willingly offered to care for him and teach him rightly. He decided on a good school in London and packed his son up. He always talked about how one has to be strong to face this world. This was a journey Raghav had to take alone, not just to travel by an airplane alone but also to navigate his new life in a foreign land away from his parents and family. If this was tough for Raghav, it was tougher for Ravi. While saying goodbye at the airport his two sisters were crying throughout, and Raghav with a tiny voice was also shedding tears. Ravi, wiped his tears and told him just one thing, “there’s nothing to fear. You can do whatever you want,” and pushed him away to move forward. Raghav looked behind with a teary face, Ravi just told him to go on, quietly blinking his wet eyes to not show weakness and instill strength in his children.
He was a firm believer of moving on and striving ahead for a better future and a better world. He met with many hurdles and yet he didn’t let any one of them to tie him down. He went on to achieve his career dreams. He was the youngest mayor of Allahabad, aged 42 years, on 27th September 1993, who won with the single largest majority. He brought about many positive changes to the city. His singular achievement has to be to increase the efficiency of Nagar Nigam, he also launched the Self Assessment Scheme for house tax along with many other tasks that helped people of Allahabad. His term has been publicly hailed as the “Golden Mayoral term” (as written by Kailash Narain). He conceived the idea for what we today know as Film City, NOIDA. He has been a help to many people, stood by what was right and feared doing what was wrong. This could be the reason for his professional success both in business and politics.
In 2001, having already gotten his eldest child Shiffali married, he sent his younger daughter Prerna to study abroad with his son. He, after a long time was free, though not of responsibility but immediate caretaking. In his words to me, he felt young again for a few years. A few years went by and he seemed content with life. His three children were alright each in their own way. Shiffali, his eldest daughter, had blessed him with a grandchild, Ehsaas in 2004. He on the occasion was thrilled and yet imparted wisdom in his own style. By writing a letter. Beautifully written he imparted words of wisdom that had inspired him in his young age that till today is saved by her.
In 2013 he conspired to have his youngest son married. He had been on a secret quest to find his son a good girl to partner with him for life. His criteria for selection were simple. They should be able to love and to laugh together. He conspired and insisted that Raghav fly to India immediately. His reason was simple. He was missing him. Which in parts was the truth. Raghav flew down to Mumbai where the entire family was gathered. And a surprise was waiting. Unknown to the entire family he had secretly arranged for the girl, Amrita to fly down with her parents and meet him. A meeting was arranged after which Ravi was the happiest man. His son had decided to get married. It was a double bonanza. His daughter, Prerna was getting married too so he decided to arrange for both weddings a week apart. February 2014 was the celebratory month. That perhaps was one of the best weeks he’d had his whole life. All his family, his sisters, brothers, cousins, nieces, nephews, children, grandchildren were around him. He was ensconced in a protective lair with all he loved.
In the same year his children decided to come down for Diwali and celebrate together as not a family totaling four but eight. Again, every member, every relative, every friend gathered around the house for the festivities and he reveled in the attention, the love showered on him.
And once all his children left, he decided to bid adieu to the world. Driving early in the morning from Delhi to Allahabad, not half an hour in his journey he met a fatal accident leaving behind a rich heritage of love and friendship, shocking everyone who loved or even knew him.
He has always taught us to stay strong and move ahead for a better future. He envisioned a happy life for all of us. We are happy. I only wished he could see all his dreams for us come true.
Happy Birthday Dad.