Monday, February 28, 2011

Wielding a Lathi in London

Tilak Raj Sharma, an ex footballer from Punjab had migrated to England years ago. Obviously he went through whatever a strong willed sturdy migrant does in an opportune foreign land. I never asked much as he was a fiercely private person, yet occasionally prone to bouts of bragging, telling bits and pieces of his story.

Sharmaji adored his two well built sons and two perky daughters. The younger son, a budding kick boxer could kick a steep six feet high with a powerful muted cry of Jai Hanuman and would send an imaginary opponent repent his misdeeds forever. By mid eighties, when he was my host in London, a sizable rent from hard earned properties made his life comfortable at fifty plus. But it was not an easy life either, dealing with ever changing shady tenants from various continents. They didn’t mind him paying what he asked, with out being inquisitive.

Further he loved to devote his considerable time and resources to help Indian friends in midst of any serious crisis.

While the boys had freedom to attend late night parties with fast changing girlfriends, the grown up daughters were a constant source of grave worries. He repeatedly asked me to find good matches for them in India fast. I lamely assured him to do just that back in India. But the girls secretly disapproved of his weird plan to get them married to unknown boys from India. Behind his back they requested me not to look for any boys.

“Papa is so impossibly weird and he will never allow us to mix with boys we want to be like any other girls and experience life, don’t want to get married so early, there is so much to see and experience. He controls us so closely… and look...brothers Ronny and Mony have all the freedom they are allowed night outs with girlfriends and we have nothing he is still stuck in some lousy Panjabi village I am friendly with few boys. Can’t help it, its so natural and not a big deal here.”

The rebellious Richa poured her worries when Sharmaji went away early one morning.

“Don’t try to compete with your brothers. We are Indian and have different culture than these corrupt English people.” Mrs. Sharma softly reminded Richa.

“Oh yea different of course I know we are a bunch of horrible hypocrites and what about the many secret affairs of so called honorable Indian couples? Don’t tell me, you don’t know who is sleeping around with whom.”

“None of your business, you have no shame Richa, and we parents know what is good for you, isn’t it Bhaisaab?”

A troubled Mrs. Sharma feebly tried to defend her draconian husband and looked at me for support. I had to a give a small nod but preferred to be silent; devouring tasty butter soaked spiced paranthas.

“He has no right to insult my friends. Patrick only come to see me when I was ill and you know how he was insulted. Its awful and I hate it, my friends think we are weird.”

“He is your father and has every right how many times I have told you not to let any boys visit home. Pratibha knows this and obeys papa, why can’t you be like her?”

Mrs. Sharma tried to reason and seemed quite peeved at her younger daughter discussing her boyfriends in my presence.

“You mean discreet? I am honest and don’t hide and you know she is friendly with few boys too, I know when she lost her virginity and to whom, it’s so natural, but she is a real sissy and terribly afraid of papa.”

“Shut up Richa, that’s enough. How dare you called me dishonest.” An angry Pratibha tried to stop her rebellious sister.

“I didn’t say any thing like that sis…”

“No, you did, horrible bitch…”

The verbal dual fast deteriorated to the extent of the combative girls using forbidden four letter words. A helplessly ashamed Mrs. Sharma was in tears.

“Shut up both of you if your father comes to know about such shameful things he will kill you. I wish you shameless girls were never born but it his own fault to let you both live…”

“And what do exactly mean by...we were never born…haan…tell us mama..” Richa was in tears.

“Just shut up you know what I meant and you are living and hell bent on making me feels so much of shame leave me alone now…”

Richa pushed the chair back violently and rushed upstairs. Pratibha was immobile hiding her face, weeping silently.

I had already lost the appetite and was feeling uncomfortable and uneasy by sudden disclosures of family secrets.

“Bhai sahab, please don’t tell any one these are the hidden torments we suffer here foolish girls. I am so sorry I know they will go away with one of these boys they have no feelings for their father who loves them in his own way. He wont be able to bear.”

I nodded and silently slipped out to avoid further embarrassments.

Oblivious of the simmering discontent and secretes of his dear daughters, Sharmaji along with few equally motivated souls did impossible and dangerous tasks to save the brittle honor of bewildered and helpless Indian parents shocked by elopement of their teenager daughters with those devious Firangs of various back grounds and colors.

He kept one well oiled Lathi in each of his four cars to confront any miscreants in his not so honorable neighborhood and elsewhere. His limp came handy in explaining presence of the weapon to any curious policeman, as it also doubled as his walking stick.

“This is my late grand father’s hundred year old walking stick and through it I feel him nearby, any problems about that, officer?”

The suspicious policeman would nod, force an understanding smile, wave and turn away.

“You see this is the way to deal with these foolish

Englishmen. Give them emotional and historical garbage and they turn soft but not all, some are really mean bastards too happy to trouble us endlessly.”

His popularity and respect cut across among the regionally and linguistically divided Indians of the city. He some times did give me exclusive permission of witnessing some of his not so legal activities. That made me roam through markets, pubs and take nap in his parked car for hours, while he was busy helping Indians in difficult situations. He and his gang of young Indian boys would keep an eye and thrash any miscreants during community Diwali and Holi celebrations.

A south Indian doctor couple was in tears explaining how much they trusted their daughter, pursuing doctorate in anthropology and how they were deceived by her. She went missing with her African boy friend and had not even bothered to inform them. May be it was their misfortune to have a daughter in this permissive land of butter and honey and to experience the horrible trauma she had just subjected her unsuspecting loving parents.

Sharmaji was furious and severely reprimanded them for allowing an unholy friendship to grow with an African and now bothering him with their misery

The couple repeatedly appealed with folded hands, touched his feet and begged for the help, as the police would not interfere in the matters concerning two consenting adults.

Sharmaji asked me to be on my own as he went about discharging his responsibility with zeal of a true savior of Indian honor. After few days the girl was back with her parents after the adventurous African was suitably thrashed to repent his folly of seducing a demure Indian girl. A proud Sharmaji later told me how he had used his well oiled Lathi to overpower the well built suitor. His son was helpful in delivering a hard kick to the unsuspecting African and the girl was freed with out much trouble.

For Sharmaji and his gang, dealing with the demure African with an expired visa was a cake walk. He happily described the events in great details enabling me to visualize few important scenes. The African, a scholarly loner not having any links with gangs of his tribe was petrified by threats of him being linked with dreaded drug trafficking.

The gusty tall girl threatened Sharmaji with dire consequences as she would report the matter to the police.

“You fucking dog asshole. How dare you?”

An angry Sharmaji sprang up and gave her few hard slaps.

“This is shameful, a girl abusing elders, I will kill my daughters if they utter such filthy worlds.”

Sharmaji was livid with anger as the couple begged him to forgive the stupid girl.

“Don’t forget to keep an eye on and marry her off fast. You have only one day, better you hurry up and take next flight to India.”

“I hate you guys, how could you allow this brute?”

The girl stopped speaking as Sharmaji raised his bony hand again to hit her. He brazenly brushed off girl’s threats and asked the parents to keep her locked in a room with out a phone and arrange to marry her off fast before she would bring more dishonor to them. The relieved couple thanked him for his help.

I secretly despised what he did to that girl and many others before her, but could not even dare to stop or discourage him at all. Any such foolish attempts of mine would have surely invited his deep anger laced with volley of choicest Panjabi gaalis. I also dreaded as a consequence, the sure termination of his much needed comfortable hospitality in a foreign land. The small window he provided to view life of some of the Indian Diasporas was also of great value. So I willfully resigned myself to being a silent privileged witness.

When I asked wasn’t it dangerous to use strong arm tactics in this law abiding country, his answer was typically Indian: Jiski Lathi Uski Bhains.

He practiced this universal truth and his good connections within the police saw him through these small problems.

The girl was some how cajoled, persuaded to get over her infatuation, drugged and transported to madras to be married off to a New York based green card.

Later she divorced the green card and joined her lover in Canada. They lived together for few years and gradually parted away.

True to her independent spirits Richa, dated and married her Shri Lankan classmate. Sharmaji was deeply hurt but gradually manage to forgive her. Pratibha didn’t mind an arranged marriage with a bright Panjabi doctor, produced by her loving father.

Last I heard of Sharmaji, he was in some real deep trouble with the British police.

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