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Celebrating Independence

By Usha Madhuranathan

14 Aug 2007
It was night. 80 year old Mukunda lay on his cot, watching the hands of his Grandfather’s clock slowly inch towards the bewitching hour. 
60 years ago, at this time, Jawaharlal Nehru was getting ready to deliver his historic speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort. Mukunda had been one of the millions who had danced the night away in joy.
Today, as the clock struck 12, Mukunda’s thoughts zoomed back to his childhood days. 

1942 A.D.
15 year old Mukunda of Chikkabalapura, who had recently witnessed Gandhiji address a large gathering at Nandi Hills, was drawn to the concept of freedom to India through non-violence.
School did not interest Mukunda. Yakshagana performances of Garadi Krishna Iyengar, his teacher for this art these past few years, interested him more. He would often accompany the troupe to different villages and enact the part of Satyabhama very effectively.
Iyengar had guided him to Lakshmasaani, an erstwhile dancer in the court of Mysore Maharaja. A dignified middle-aged woman, she now lived in this small town, teaching Bharatanatyam to a few people.
From her Mukunda learnt the nuances of this beautiful art form. He started giving performances too. He soon became popular enough to warrant the local newspapers carrying a brief article (with photographs!) about his performances every now and then. These articles were lovingly preserved by Lakshmassani.
Despite having been in a questionable profession, Lakshmasaani was an example of confidence, compassion and humility. From her, Mukunda learnt to respect women. She in turn treated Mukunda as the son she had never had.
Mukunda’s father Venkatachari, a village clerk with many children, did not have the time or the inclination to remonstrate his young son about his non-conventional activities.
Mukunda soon joined the local Congress party as a volunteer. He was assigned the task of distributing anti-British literature to people of the various villages he travelled to while performing. He carried out this activity on the sly for months. He had long given up studying after he had barely managed to scrape through his Intermediate exams.
1945 A.D.
Mukunda was captured one evening while distributing pamphlets in Doddabalapur. After a trial that lasted for all of 10 minutes, he and a few others were declared ‘dangerous to society’ and sent to Bangalore Central Jail. Mukunda was imprisoned there for over a year.
In jail, Mukunda set about learning Yogasana and Bhagavad Gita from Guru Shivashankar Shastri and Hindi from Khan Saab – his fellow cell mates in jail. He also mastered the art of spinning yarn from the Charka.
Once released, Mukunda went back to Chikkabalapura and continued working for India’s freedom.
1947 A.D.
India had been declared free. Mukunda’s joy knew no bounds. From the midnight of 14th August 1947 till sunrise the following day, he along with Garadi Krishna Iyengar’s troupe performed the Ramayana at the village square.
It was the first day of free India, and the very air that all were breathing was filled with joy, victory and a sense of achievement.
The euphoria lasted for a few days.
And then, reality crept in.
India had become free. But most of the problems faced by people had not disappeared. Poverty and anarchy still existed. Added to that was now disillusionment faced by the common man.
Leaders who till then had been fighting the Britishers were now fighting each other for privileged posts and postings. All and sundry – even those who till then had opposed the freedom struggle – wanted a piece of the pie.
During the freedom struggle, many had given up their schooling or jobs. It was now a struggle to even get a decent job which would help them clothe and feed their families.
Mukunda too had to face this reality.
His father had passed away a few weeks ago. The responsibility of taking care of his entire family (paternal grandmother, mother, widowed aunt, 3 younger brothers, a couple of yet-to-be married sisters, and a few other relatives) was now that of his eldest brother Keshava, and himself.
The family, like many others in their village, decided to move to Bangalore for better opportunities.
20 year old Mukunda managed to get the job of a gumastha (clerk) in a small trading firm. The pay was minimal. Mukunda took to teaching yogasana at a gymkhana in the mornings and Hindi at the nearby school in the evenings. He also wrote letters for those who sought his help in this area.
Dance, Yakshagana and theatre took a back seat.
Over the next 10 years, Mukunda helped his brother educate their siblings and ensured that they settled in decent jobs.  Their sisters too were married into respectable families. The ‘delivery’ of their nephews and nieces too were attended to by the brothers. Keshava married their cousin Soumyanayaki and settled into the role of head of the family.
1957 – 2007
While teaching Hindi at the school, Mukunda met Girija. A strong-willed independent and intelligent woman, Girija was the sister of a fellow freedom fighter. Mukunda liked her and proposed marriage to her one day. He was surprised when she accepted.
With little fanfare, and despite being from different castes, Mukunda and Girija got married in 1957. A couple of years later, their son Vedanta, was born.
The couple decided to have no more children. They instead focused on bringing up Vedanta as an exemplary citizen.  Girija continued to teach at the school while Mukunda continued working with the trading firm he had joined in 1947.
Vedanta was an intelligent child. It was as such but natural that he joined the recently started and prestigious IIT.
Upon graduating, Vedanta decided to go to USA to pursue higher studies. By then, disillusioned at the manner in which free India had failed the freedom fighters and citizens in many departments, Mukunda and Girija agreed to this decision.
Vedanta flew to the US in 1982. Needless to say, he excelled in his studies and soon got enough scholarships to successfully complete his PhD in Atomic Science. He thereafter joined NASA as a Scientist.
Any hopes of Vedanta returning to India were soon shattered. Mukunda and Girija had to concede that somewhere along the way, they had turned their son into a marks fetching machine – he was now driven to succeed in his chosen field to the exclusion of everything else, including relationships.
Vedanta met and married Margret, a fellow scientist at NASA, in 1988. A now practical (and resigned) Mukunda and Girija blessed the union. Adi Vincent Vedanta was born in 1989.
Mukunda and Girija had retired from active service by then. Most of the money they had earned had been spent on family obligations and in educating Vedanta. Mukunda had somehow managed to purchase his father’s house in Chikkabalapura – he now lived in the hope that he would go back and live in that house some day.
The couple visited America to see their grandson but declined Vedanta’s suggestion that they make their home there.
On his part, Vedanta realized that, in pursuing his dreams, he had, somewhere along the way, let down his parents. Neither of them had ever accused him of any such thing.
Though clear that he would not return to India in the near future, Vedanta renovated his grandfather’s house in Chikkabalapura. It was his gift to his father on the latter’s 70th birthday.
Girija and Mukunda shifted to Chikkabalapura in 1998. It was a home-coming for Mukunda though he had been away from this place for nearly 5 decades. Shambu, the 30 year old son of Lakshmasaani’s brother, who had been looking after Venkatachari’s small piece of farming land there, was glad to have them back. He soon became Mukunda’s right hand man.
2007 A.D.
“We want Vincent to learn about Indian culture and tradition. We would be very happy if you could have him stay with you while he pursues his degree in Medicine at Bangalore. Love, Ved”
This letter, received in January, had come as a total surprise to Mukunda and Girija. Unable to say no to their only child, they had communicated their acceptance – with a lot of trepidation though.
Today, with ambivalent feelings they waited at the airport entrance to receive Vincent.
Their concern only increased when they saw Vincent after nearly a decade. Dressed in Bermudas and a bright T-shirt, with hair longer than most girls and a silver ear ring winking from his eyebrow, Vincent was the quintessential American Born Desi Indian.
Silently sharing a look of utter despair with Girija, Mukunda could not help a shudder of distress when Vincent greeted him saying, “Hi Old Man. How are you and the old lady doing?”
Very sure that nothing could be done to reform Vincent, Mukunda and Girija took him under their wings and tried to do their best to give him a near normal ‘Indian’ life.
Having heard many of their friends moan about uncaring children and stubborn grandchildren, they did not attempt to spend too much time with Vincent. The latter did not appear too keen either. He was happy exploring the now developed Chikkabalapura, making friends, chatting with god-knows-who for endless hours on the phone and ‘working?’ on his laptop the rest of the time.
Girija passed away in her sleep one summer night that year.
A bereft Mukunda stoically continued being his grandson’s guardian. He was unaware of the instructions of love Vedanta had given his son before returning to the US after completing all the ceremonies related to his mother’s demise.
Short story - Celebrating Independence Continued here..