Chapter 2: Old Fashioned

When the policeman pasted the label ‘old fashioned’ on Malkiat, he stared at him surprisingly, observing the superficial smile of the policeman.

He remembered that last year, the head teacher Mr Right had pasted the similar label on him. Caught in despair, he had tried to explain Mr Right that he was not an old-fashioned at all; nor his wife. They appreciate modern views with secular and rational thinking. And then, he had only said this much, “Look! Mr Right, all I say is that children should have some values too, along with academic achievements.”
“What values?” Mr Right had looked askance through his glasses.
“Some values to make them good citizens and an understanding and appreciation of diverse cultures. Such values are essential for a multicultural society, values of mutual understanding, tolerance, love and respect, not denigrating and making fun of each other’s culture. After all, it’s the duty of the schools to instil timeless values in students. The responsibility of the schools is even greater in this respect, when the newly arrived parents are not able to spare enough time, being in the race of work and employment, to meet their domestic needs,” saying this like lodging a complaint, Malkiat expressed his sentiments.

After keeping quite for a moment, Mr Right replied gently, “You may be right to some extent, but the life of the children is their own and independent of course, no longer they are small children, they are grown ups and able to take their own decisions. Secondly, you are no longer in India, and simply are causing confusion for them.”

To Malkiat, Mr Right’s views seemed, bit one sided. Grumblingly, he said, “I may be wrong, but still differ and think that’s why children do not respect their teachers, and parents at home; and seniors at public and work places,.” observing the muteness of Mr Right, he further dared, “A person has already been reduced to a mere machine tool and more over, the selfish thinking of this future nation can cause to turn our sweet homes into houses or hotel like rooms only.  The sentiments of compassion, love, respect and care are essential for a healthy family or society,” thus having given vent to his thoughts, Malkiat had returned home that day.

Though Malkiat was an ordinary worker, yet he was too, an educated person. On his way home from school, he had been thinking about a lot of things. Then he started thinking how the other devils were concerned with his children; if he does not think of them, who else will?  Mr Right has nothing to do with such things, all he is concerned about his job, in other words, his salary. His name should have been, in fact, Mr Wrong instead of Mr Right.
“Never mind, one day when society will loose respect and tolerance; murderous fury will take it’s place, then people like Mr Right would understand why home is the first and foremost educational institution for children. Teenagers may start killing each other; gang culture can spread over our streets. Perhaps, then it will be too late to eradicate the root causes of such problems.” He kept thinking as he was addressing to himself.
 When he approached his house, his neighbour was washing his car and today, he did not even feel saying ‘hello’ to him.

But this happened about a year ago, and was entirely a different story. At that time, he had felt a sense of a sort of victory. But today, like a beaten and defeated man, he went on thinking, sitting quietly in a state of despondency. Instead of a head teacher, he was facing a policeman.

It was nothing serious but now, it had been magnified beyond measure. He was very astonished and in this situation, even making an assessment, seemed to him an impossible task.

…………….The night was passing at its usual pace and the atmosphere at home was very quiet. Every article lying in the room seemed so gloomy. He and his wife, lying in their beds seemed to be quite lifeless, just like dead bodies. They were lying awake yet seeing terrible dreams. They were feeling as if the brick walls of their house were changing into glass. The house of glass can crack at any time….and then….the tragedy of a cracked house got projected on the screen of their minds. Because of this reaction, sleep was blotted out of the night.  

Many a time, Malkiat felt as if he were moving about wearing garments of glass too. God knows when and how, he may stumble and become naked. Then he would think even otherwise, such garments do not cover one’s nakedness.

He realized as if some unexpected accident had happened to them. He remembered every step of the journey up to the date, and then looked back into the days when, in India, living in a simple house, they used to join the warmth of lukewarm sunshine of the winter. And today…..the desire for a better and more prosper life had yielded nothing, but the depression of the cold house of glass.

A sufficient portion of the night had elapsed. The extreme cold weather was accompanied by a furiously raging storm. The shrieking storm was knocking at the windows of their bedroom. A similar storm was raging inside both of them, the sound of which only they could hear.

After a while, Malkiat, started feeling a sort of cold. God knows, whether the temperature on account of increasing cold outside, or his own blood had started cooling down. They heard the sound of a barking dog form a house, few doors away. It was not the barking of the dog; it was the sound of its wailing. Perhaps, he too was crying due to the cold. He, too, felt like weeping. But how can he do so? He was making every effort to stop the clouds of his depression and helplessness, from condensing into tears.

He could not cry freely and aloud, like his wife, Suprit or like that dog. He was overwhelmed by the desire of giving a proof of his being a man. When everything is available to him, at what privation or deprivation should he cry?
Where is the excuse for it? When there is no scarcity or want? He had a beautiful house, and excellent car and a profitable business.

It has been more than two decades since he came to England. He had come here to earn money and to make the life more prosperous; to be called a well-off and a respectable person, in his village back home. There is no doubt that he has earned a lot of money. He has purchased fifteen acres of land, back home at a black market rate. He had got a well furnished newly built bungalow, beside the circular road of his village. And now, since he had lost his service, his shop was running well, and he considered himself not less than any king. As soon as his son reached his height, he bought him a new car. Now they were having golden dreams of handing over the business to his son and making regular trips to India.

Malkiat’s son was admired by everyone. He was, as good as gold, who was extremely obedient. But call it the irony of the fate, the same boy took no time in changing. No one is to blame except his company. Suddenly, he became a stranger to his parents and got married to a white girl, quitting his parental home. No parental consul proved effective. They entreated him hard, but all in vain. Having come to England for a better future financially, they lost their offspring. But it was no use regretting it now, and both of them, openly and honestly admitted that it was their own fault as they could not spare enough time for their children.

From the chirping of the sparrows, he guessed the day was about to dawn. He had passed the entire night awake and in distress. He turned his side very gently, least Surjit who had gone to sleep, after taking sleeping pills, should wake up. He gently got out of his bed and came down in the lounge. The central heating running on time switch had now warmed up the house.

Willy-nilly, he rang the police in a state of great despair and begged for help to search for his daughter and in addition, he requested them to keep the matter secret.

It must be about ten o’ clock in the morning. They had just finished their cup of tea when a police car halted in front of their door. Coming of the police in uniform, in this way, deeply pinched them as if they had wanted deliberately, to humiliate them in their local fraternity.

After writing the report and putting two photographs of Renu in their file, one of the policemen said to Malkiat, “look here, Mr Singh you need not worry so much on this account. She is over sixteen and entitled to take her own decisions. Like everybody else, she has a right to live according to her choice…”

Malkiat was enraged and interrupting the policeman, said “Sir, are you not able to appreciate a small request of mine? I do not like your policy about children of ‘do what you like’; to you, it may be a very ordinary matter but for us, it is a question of not one life, but many lives. It is a question of the future and honour of the whole family. For God’s sake……it is a matter of one’s prestige and some timeless values are always vital, no matter it is India, America or any other land.”

Before Malkiat could have his complete say, the policeman interrupted “You must give liberty to your children in accordance with the lifestyle of this country. You should not be so old fashioned. Your statements are merely childish and ridiculous”

Malkiat felt like giving a forceful slap on the face of that constable who was sitting in front of him, and do away with the cunning smile on his lips. But he could never materialise his anger; he was not in a position to do so.

…..The policeman got up and went away but he did notice the fire of anger and desperation raging inside Malkiat, and by pretending ignorance, he added fuel to the fire.

Malkiat did not realise when his wrathfully raised slap struck his own face.

For a long time, he kept contemplating over the phrases, ‘old fashioned’; another word for an ‘old fool’.
Then he stood up vigorously uttering ‘Nothing to worry about man, everything would be alright; consider both sides equally and positively, and never ever accept a defeat. Life is full of challenges, and one needs confidence and determination to face them. Learn to change with the time without losing timeless values. ”

He walked through his rear door into the back garden and stretched himself raising both arms as if he were trying to throw away his despondency, like an old shirt from his body to wear a new one.