Half-dressed in a handkerchief-size pink towel, a tearful Jimmy successfully manipulates his mother into kissing him. He has mastered the art of persuasion within his first few days on the planet. Such power he wields within the family since his arrival that the poor father, after a long day at work, is left with no choice but to sing lullabies in his breach-skinned-drum voice to calm him down, while he merrily throws his tiny arms around to invite his gushing grandfather to dance to his latest tune. Everyone, including the yellow toy duck dangling from a rope for drying clothes on rainy days, dances. This is Jimmy’s first taste of success, which he expresses in his self-composed song—unsullied by trends, devoid of language.
Jimmy has a couple of tricks up his sleeve to get whatever he wants. Crying his lungs out is one of his closely guarded secrets. The universe indeed gets him whatever he wishes for: a quick trip to the nearby park at any unearthly hour, a fresh homemade diaper, the yummy milk, the luxurious bathe on a steel pan, the grandfather’s funny expressions, the friendly neighbor’s cuddles. He is proud of cajoling everyone into buying his innocence.
The copious supply of attention dwindles as fiercely competitive babies start fighting for a fair share of the cuteness market in Karol Bagh. Bamboozled by and disappointed with Mommy’s splurging cuddles on Honey Atwal, the newly arrived baby girl at the “Jai Ambe” house near Sharma Sweets, Jimmy stops expecting much. With a heavy heart, he accepts his family for showering love on devils disguised as babies. Reluctantly, he grows up. From drinking milk to sipping milkshakes. From diapers to elastic half-pants.
A mature kindergarten kid now, he starts a thrilling journey of cuddling a plastic apple to learn A and throwing a sponge ball up in the air to symbolize B. Miss Rosie, the English teacher, huffs and puffs by the time the class utters in chorus—Z for Zebra! The Zebra, along with the slim elephant, holds its head high on the last page of the book authored by Miss Rosie. His enthusiasm levels, however, disappear in a humdrum routine of memorizing the “Twinkle Twinkle” and “Jack and Jill” poems. The artificial stars on the ceiling of the classroom refuse to twinkle. Jimmy, unfazed by the ennui induced by poetry, finds new tricks to stay inspired.
He sketches blue stars and mountains through Daddy’s used carbon papers on his drawing book. Those stars with eyes twinkle at him; he giggles in return. Though the stars look similar to the mountains, he never fails in putting his undivided attention. He makes bows and arrows out of the long midribs of slender coconut leaves and eons of thread from the Usha sewing machine, and emulates the posture of Lord Rama from the hit television serial Ramayana. With clenched teeth forced out by closed eyes, he visualizes the address of the evil Ravana and shoots an arrow to kill him. Mommy pulls him out of the daze of his fantasy world. The bows and arrows are safely preserved by Grandfather for the next ferocious battle.
Mommy won’t allow him to have his favorite Gems chocolate unless he recites the poem “Humpty Dumpty” in front of Parminder aunty. Mommy occasionally threatens to lock the fridge, to hide the keys. So, he learns the poem by heart, and, at times, pretends to learn. He remembers how Bindu aunty chuckled the last time when he froze in fear after uttering the title of the poem.
Jimmy is pretty busy savoring his kindergarten life, simultaneously rescuing Sita from the clutches of Ravana. He honors Daddy with the prestigious role of Sita, while poor Grandfather has to be the Ravana and die daily on the red tiles of the bathroom. Daddy’s repeated plea to play the role of Laxmana goes unheard. Mommy grunts. She isn’t even a consideration for any role, after repeatedly mouthing all the Hindi dialogues in a thick Punjabi accent in front of the in-house cast.
Jimmy is the Lord Rama of his colony, thanks to his brand manager—Grandfather. Aloo-paratha-eating, Humpty-Dumpty-forgetting, minus-Laxmana Rama.
To add to his impressive credentials, Jimmy is the most popular kid after winning the 50-meter frog race recently, though no one followed the rules of the game. He is some sort of a celebrity in his kindergarten class. Honey Atwal, in her red-ribbon-laced braid, smiles at Jimmy.
Daddy proudly, regularly announces like the newsreader Ms. Nalini Singh of Aankhon Dekhi fame on Doordarshan, in a sensational voice, the glorious updates of his son to the Batra family hooked to their black-and-white Beltek TV.
Today is different.
Jimmy doesn’t have an inkling of what breaking news is on Daddy’s primetime. Daddy gifts him an airplane in the morning—a vintage model from Chourasia’s “recent” collections—which Jimmy unsuspectedly flies on the verandah at an ear-splitting hissssss noise. While running diagonally across the marble-floor verandah. While running like a sinusoidal curve through the parallel wooden pillars holding the slanted roof. As soon as Jimmy enters the living room, grim expressions invite him to the dining table, where a round table conference just concluded. The teacups untouched. The bread toasts cold. A thin stream of egg-yellow-mixed oil from the toasts carves a thick line on the steel plate on which they are kept. It is unusual for the Batra family to be quiet. Daddy finally breaks the silence lurking between the teacups splitting onto the otherwise loud and bubbly Batras, as they exchange glances with each other.
Turns out, it is over. The kindergarten days. Daddy reads the news scribbled on the palm of his left hand. He speaks with a glimpse of pain in his smile. Grandfather describes the castle that Jimmy’s soon-to-be school is. Mommy makes a promise that she will let Jimmy, the Rama, watch Tom and Jerry, if he eats the fruits she will pack in his red tiffin-box, which has seven butterflies flying in blue air on its cover. Which is a family legacy. Which is a symbol of Batra pride. Which is made of the best plastic in Delhi. She will also let him play with the twins, Guddu and Dabbu, in the evening. She will buy him a new pair of colorful flower-printed socks with numbered toes if he doesn’t spoil his clothes. Sunny, the distant cousin on a special mission to break the news to Jimmy, promises to share his most-prized possessions—the cricket bat and the gloves—with Jimmy. The vows are made. The family celebrates with glasses of whiskey. Glasses that Mommy brought from Grandpa’s house, bundled with a fridge, a double bed with boxes to store utensils and clothes, and a dining table coated with clear glass.
No signs of gloom. Vows are vows.
Jimmy runs into Mommy’s bedroom, draws a thin mustache above his upper lip. With Mommy’s mascara. The sharp ends of the mascara prick his delicate skin. This marks the beginning of a new Jimmy.
Class I. Section B.
Roll No. 13.
Jimmy, the Rama, reads and writes. He sits with Guddu, Dabbu, and Honey in the last row of the school bus with insides of seats jutting out through the torn, cheap leather layer. Jasvinder, the good boy, the carrier of a mini suitcase on his tender back, completes all the homework before time. Every day.
And one day, when Mommy sells her earrings to run the family kitchen. That day, Daddy abuses his old Daddy for not sending him to college. One day, when the family business of wholesale pulses runs into heavy losses. That day, Jimmy, the Rama, Jasvinder, the good boy, realizes that he needs to study for his own future.
He, by now, knows why Gambhir uncle is so proud of his son, Munna bhaiyya—a Chartered Accountant and the sole proud owner of a Bajaj Scooter in the colony. Now Mommy and Daddy keeps on pestering Jimmy to go out, play cricket with Sunny, and watch The Jungle Book.
Jungle Jungle baat chali hai pata chala hai…
Arre chaddi pehen ke phool khila hai phool khila hai…
He doesn’t have time to pay much attention to their requests. The fridge isn’t locked anymore. The key hangs on the rusted lock, like a dead bat on an electric line. The chocolates rest inside the whiskey-smelling fridge, untouched. Undesired. Like a cold, burnt chapati.
Munna bhaiyya is Jimmy’s role model now. Jasvinder, the good boy, is determined to be one of the top scorers in the board exams to earn a seat at St. Stephens College or Shri Ram College of Commerce. Rama at Shri Ram. He is motivated to live a future that his Daddy couldn’t attain—of a comfortable house with a small garden at the entrance and a red car sufficient for four people. He dreams of buying Mommy the best of anarkali suits that she craves for while watching the melodramatic soaps on television. All the characters in those non-stop soaps, regardless of the situation, turn their heads or utters a word thrice.
Kya! Kya? Kya!?
Jimmy fails to understand why thrice. He motivates his yearnings to fulfill his family’s unspoken dreams.
Jimmy scores high, but not enough, and corners a seat at the Economics department of Hindu College. He is downhearted with his first failure in life. He isn’t ready to give up and looks forward to a fresh beginning with new people, new promises. He is motivated to prove his mettle by standing out in the crowd. He holds on to his long-cherished dreams of the trip to Agra with his family in his own red car. The desire to buy a house with a reading room and three bedrooms: one for Mommy and Daddy, one for Grandfather, and one for himself and his would-be wife. The house will be filled with works of modern art and shining new furniture from Khan Market.
In the narrow stair that leads to the college canteen, Jimmy makes a mental dough of the insipid and interesting lectures. A close brush with economics reinforces his lack of faith in predictions made by chest-thumping academicians. No one seems to get the growth rate right. His secret affair with literature in the ignored alleys of the library flavors his imagination with the spices of life. Jane Austen seems to know a thing or two about love.
“To be fond of dancing was a certain step towards falling in love.”
“I love him. Indeed, he has no improper pride. He is perfectly amiable. You do not know what he really is; then pray do not pain me by speaking of him in such terms.”
In his mental football match between FC Economics and Literature United, the latter team led by William Shakespeare swiftly defeats the former captained by John Maynard Keynes. English versus English.
Sandwiched between Philips Curve and King Lear, Jasvinder Batra bakes constructs of his future. On the last day of college, words caked with a stoic resignation pours themselves spontaneously on his diary:
Sat idle I
Tapped my feet
My thoughts discreet
Down with six cups of tea
I wanted to flee
Wanted to shut down my brain
And refrain from its bleak strain.
Jimmy knows that he doesn’t hate number-crunching. In fact, he is brilliant with numbers. Still he believes that there is a difference between what one ought to be and what one wants to be. It might so be that one isn’t good enough at what one would love to do in life. Ought doesn’t need to be mightier than might. The self-constructed images of the red car—the brand irrelevant—keep on hovering in his mind. Between poetry and numbers, he chooses the latter.
FC Economics wins.
He lands a job in a tax firm as a research analyst and loves it on day one. Day two, three, four. He still loves his work. The red car first; it would require five years’ savings as per his calculations. He works extra hours when his colleagues pop pricey popcorns in theaters. He is quite impressed by the rush-rush life of the torchbearers of business busyness. The luxury cars carry speed, the pleated trousers wear wealth. Probably this is what life should be like—one meeting to another; the Blackberry and the glass cabins; the busy people and the difficulty to decide who is busier or the busiest. He is motivated, once again, to work harder so as to have a busy schedule enough to make the fat money busy, bulky, bald people make. From the cubicle he shares with his four ambitionless team members to that glass cabin. And a pretentious secretary with a small notebook.
A month or two, all motivation goes for a bumpy ride. The job becomes gravely monotonous. Not that he has complaints like “My job sucks,” or “I hate my job,” or “My boss is a jerk.” As a matter of fact, the firm Jimmy has been working with for the last nine months gives him enough flexibility to experiment with ideas. He gets to meet the VIPs carrying slick VIP suitcases to and from Delhi Airport. He has learned quite a bit about why, in closed circles, the Human Resource folks are called Horrible Resources.
Logic meets mind and gets into a heated debate. Is it a car? Is it a house? Is it money? Peace of mind? Or, is it happiness? It becomes difficult to make choices. Choices become more a subject of social acceptance around. Little by little, the confluence of reason and mind signs a treaty of hate and love. He starts loving himself, at times, for his choice of career path and chides himself for the same when reality strikes hard. Overwork and boredom, both are equally arduous to handle. The median dissolves in a haze. There are, however, responsibilities to take care of. Responsibilities of being a son, of the pact with self, of living up to the expectations, of owning his own future, of not being unjust to his own life that brings a smile on Grandfather’s roasted lips.
The motivation factor is ransacked and rummaged between 1 and 1,28,995 search results for inspiring articles on the Internet. Motivation becomes Jasvinder’s drug. It gets him high and leaves him on standby. He craves for the drug, tries to find it everywhere. In a quick jog, back in time to the older days. Parminder aunty, and Tom and Jerry. The white-and-green school uniform. The motivation to run at full speed—brooooom brooooom—to be the first in the queue for the school prayer. Miss Rosie’s thin elephant.
The photo of him with Swati, near Vishwa Vidyalaya Metro Station, drinking coconut water. Swati Koul’s kohl-black eyes. Beautiful! He has not been able to tell her why he would get down at Kashmere Gate every day. Just to coyly watch her leave on the escalator till she would disappear. He would then catch another train to Central Secretariat. The longing to see, again and again, and the one-hour bus ride from the Central Secretariat to Katwaria Sarai would soon fly by in a fairy-tale, mushy world of Chiffon-clad romance on icy mountains. He changes the desktop wallpaper to a snap of Mommy and Daddy holding hands on the Palolem beach. Is he motivated to fall in love again? To love unconditionally?
To love like Mommy and Daddy? Fighting, loving. Loving, fighting.
All those anxious hours spent on self-questioning. That addictive dose of motivation. He puts together all those hours and calculates how much of his life he has already wasted.
“When, after all, would I value my life?” Jimmy, the Rama, asks Jasvinder, the good boy, in the bathroom mirror fogged up by dried toothpaste bubbles.
Concentration and focus play a hide-and-seek game with every effort to gain control over them, gradually losing grip of. A feeling of being unsettled creeps in, explores the territory of mind, and commands its kingdom.
How to keep going? The elixir once discussed in one of the accounting classes is recalled. “Do what you would truly like to do, Beta,” Professor Manchanda in a deep voice told in class, his Adam’s apple poking out of his loose skin as he spoke from his gut beneath a half-sleeve green sweater. Reminds him of how Mommy is still doing today what she has been doing for so many years. She is never tired of arranging the plates on the table and haggling over the price of pattagobi with the vegetable vendor. Is this why she never complains about her work? Is the mantra to love doing what one is doing or is it to do things that one loves to do? Ought to love or love to love? Mommy does both, with equal honesty. Too many questions and too few answers!
Is this how life is going to be? Motivation being inversely proportional to age?
Is it possible to find that inspiration inside oneself? In those small victories? Like delivering much better performance than those expensive, incompetent graduates from top business schools? Like a pat from Mr. Gujral on the back for a job well done? Motivation from the moments lived so far with the loud Batras and the jolly, jokey Guddus from Karol Bagh? With the carefree colleagues in Gurgaon? Motivation from the daily efforts to do better?
Why not access the voice inside oneself? One may find a purpose so strong that one forgets how to fear.
What is the purpose of Jimmy, the Rama, and Jasvinder, the good boy?
Literature. Words. Humpty Dumpty to King Lear.
Journalism is a good place to start. But he doesn’t know anyone in the field of journalism.
Professor Manchanda’s voice. His kind eyes. His wooden stick. His gentle gait.
So, he quits.
Jimmy, the Rama, doesn’t know whether he would be successful in journalism, whether journalism can afford the red car. But Jasvinder, the good boy, is glad that he won’t regret his decision.
Mommy and Daddy are proud of Jimmy. Waheguru.
Whiskey bottle at 13/39 Karol Bagh. And, Daddy’s news channel.