Photograph of Anil Chawla

My Personal Bhopal

Author - Anil Chawla

This is about some personal friends of the author. May everyone be blessed with such friends! And, the city where one has such good friends is truly livable and lovely.

A view of lake of Bhopal

Bhopal is a city of lakes – That is how a tourist sees the city. For someone who lives in a city for years and decades, the city is not as described in the brochures on the counters of tourist offices. Consciousness, experience and mental images of one’s city are shaped by the persons with whom one interacts as one steps out of one’s home and family. So for each one, the city is different. One may say that there is one city which is impersonal and out-there, while there is one city which is intensely personal and lives in the memories of each one who lives in the city.

I came to Bhopal in August 1982. My parents had just moved to Bhopal and I knew absolutely no one else in the city. On the train from Jalgaon to Bhopal, my bag had been pilfered. I landed in Bhopal empty-handed with just a sheet on my shoulders. I moved to Bhopal permanently in January 1983.

From 1983 to 2009 is a long journey. In 1983, I had no intentions of settling down in this city even though it appeared beautiful. At that time I wanted to settle in either Chennai or Pune or some other city. One and a half decades later, I came to a point when there was no way that I could earn my bread and butter in Bhopal. Yet I was not willing to leave Bhopal. No, it was neither the lakes nor any stupid Bhawan. I had fallen in love neither with the greenery of Bhopal nor with the blue waters of lakes nor with the grey concretes of imposing government buildings. I had fallen in love with something that was only mine. I had fallen in love with my personal Bhopal – all my close friends and well-wishers.

I have been extremely fortunate to have as friends some of the best people in the world. These are the people who make my personal Bhopal. None of them is featured on the national media. But each one of them is unique and has contributed to making my city more livable for me at least. Let me describe a few of my friends to you. The purpose is to let you have a glimpse of the kaleidoscope that is Bhopal.

Let me start with AR. He graduated from IIT Bombay and then moved to USA for post-graduation. From USA he came back to Bhopal to join his father’s sick industrial unit. At that time the unit was almost on the deathbed with bank trying to get the last bit of flesh into its claws. Hats off to AR! He developed new products for the ailing company and revived it. Now the company’s name is taken with respect in power sector not only in India but in many other countries.

AR’s story will be incomplete without mentioning his wife M – a post-graduate in law from University of California. She has lived through all the bad times of the family while teaching law for a pittance at an institute in Bhopal. I love to meet M and AR since they are an essential part of my private universe giving me strength and hope.

Talking of strength and hope, let me mention about BA. He is a graduate of IIT Kharagpur and has an MBA from University of Florida. He works at a senior position in BHEL. He has been operated twice for hip replacement. The steel hip joint that was put last time has moved away from the bones and doctors cannot operate a third time. So, my friend has difficulty walking or even getting up from bed. At times he has to use a wheel-chair, while at other times he can manage with two walking sticks. But that does not dampen his spirits. It is always a pleasure to meet him and his wife AA – both bubbling with enthusiasm and youthful chirpiness. They have a son – naturally born – who is studying at IIT Delhi. In addition, they have adopted a daughter. When they adopted the girl, they knew she had some vision problems. They have struggled for years, visiting Chennai every year to get her vision problems corrected. Of course, I must also mention that AA was a Bank Officer (PO) before she decided to quit for taking care of her husband and family.

Most of us think that bank officers receive fat salaries and no one in his right mind will give up a bank officer position. But that is not true. While the lady (AA) kicked bank officer’s position for family, another friend refused to become one. SA joined Bank of India as a clerk. When offered a promotion he refused because he had better things to do in his life. He spent his days at the bank working for the trade union while simultaneously writing satires, painting beautiful realistic pictures and also creating some of the best collages that I have ever seen. A few years back, he took voluntary retirement from the bank to take up writing, painting and such creative activities on a fulltime basis. Yes, SA has never made huge amounts of money. But he has lived his life happily and enjoyed every moment of it.

There are many of that type in my private Bhopal – the people who have given up pursuit of money for some higher purpose whether it be living a good life or serving the society or doing something worthwhile.

I am fortunate to be extremely close to a full-time politician who is now a Member of Parliament. Even when he was well-known as a senior functionary of the state unit of the party, his son worked in my factory as a casual worker. I know everything about the financial status of the family even today and know how the family manages day-to-day expenses with a tight hand. Whenever someone talks to me about corruption in politics, I tell about RS. Yes, he is an exception in the murky world of politics. But in my private world he is a key pillar.

In a private world, one does not have to be a public figure to occupy a key position. Small favors, touching gestures and eyes full of love mean much more than full page headlines in this private universe. So I am always indebted to SP. A few years back I asked him to come with me to Vadodara on an assignment where I expected to make good money. I had promised SP a decent per day rate for his labors. He spent almost a fortnight working with me. Unfortunately, the client was a scoundrel and I lost money. We returned with bitterness. I had no money to pay SP. I told him so. He smiled and accepted what I said with magnanimity and grace. When I think of Bhopal I think of SP and I know that as long as I have friends like him I need have no fears.

I can never kick myself enough for putting my friends into all sorts of trouble. YP had the misfortune of becoming my co-accused in a false criminal case lodged by a party at Bhiwandi. We had to travel to Bhiwandi to face the case there. It was horrible and I hated it. She traveled with me whenever it was needed without ever complaining. She stood with me at a time when everything seemed to have been going wrong in my life. Years later, she faced serious troubles in her own life. There was nothing that I could do to help her. What however impressed me was the quiet strength with which she faced it all. I do not know whether the lakes of Bhopal have anything to do with it, but most of those who constitute my personal Bhopal have a deep inner strength that can only be felt by someone close.

Of course, there are a few who are known for their public display of courage, aggressiveness and dare-devil attitude. Some of them can inflict a thousand wounds with one stroke of their tongue / pen (nowadays strokes on the keyboard). For them positions do not matter. They can call a Chief Minister by his first name in full public view and the poor CM can only stand wagging his tail meekly. The world dreads such people, but many of them are key blocks of my personal universe. I never fear them. In fact they give me strength and help me be strong and righteous by hitting me when I am wrong and standing by me when I am right.

Sometimes I imagine what I would be all alone without my personal Bhopal at my side. That thought scares me more than even death. May my personal Bhopal live with me to my last breath!

5 November 2009

Please write to me your comments about the above article.

ANIL CHAWLA is an engineer (and now a lawyer too) by qualification but a philosopher by vocation and a management consultant by profession.

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