Friday, August 20, 2010

Some of My Fellow BootanMandians

From the Memory Lane

Bootan Mandi is my native place in Jalandhar district of Punjab. It is situated on Nakodar Road, now renamed as Dr. Ambedkar Marg, near the posh Teg Bahadur Nagar on one side and other good locality Model House on the other side.Guru Ravidass Chowk and the Guru Ravidass Dham are the current landmarks of Bootan Mandi besides Bawa Skin Company and Pioneer Sports as the old business houses. The 99% or may be 100 % residents of the locality are dalits (mainly Chamars) who are basically engaged in leather business. They are doing well and are economically better as compared to their dalit brethren in the region. The scene is changing fast. The traditional aspect of the business has undergone change and the younger generation of the business people perhaps could not sense and prepare themselves for the new requirements. The traditional leather business is difficult to sustain though some old business houses are trying to adjust and continue. It is quite curious to mention that the word ' Seth ' is suffixed to the names of most of the well to do people of Bootan Mandi as a honorific. Sometimes, it seems odd and self gratifying.

Bootan Mandi, because of its economic and commercial position, remained the nerve centre of dalit politics and social struggle for almost 7-8 decades. Guru Ravidass Jayanti celebrations is celebrated with gaiety and enthusiasm. The annual event by now has taken the form of a big Mela and festive occasion in the city of Jalandhar. With this background, I come to the theme of this blog i.e. some famous and worthy sons of Bootan Mandi.

The first name which comes to my mind is of Seth Kishan Dass. I saw him in Bootan Mandi when he was already a senior citizen. I did not have the chance to meet and speak to him. I heard a lot about him from my father. Seth Kishan Dass was a politician and a social activist. He was a close associate of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. His business base was in Calcutta ( now Kolkatta )and as such he played an important role in getting Dr. Ambedkar elected to the Constituent Assembly from Bengal. Had Dr. Ambedkar not come to the Constituent Assembly, the contemporary history of India and the story of the dalits would have been different. Sethji was a Member of the Legislative Assembly of the undivided Punjab before the partition of India. Seth Kishan Dass was instrumental in bring Dr. Ambedkar to Punjab and hosting him at his residence at Bootan Mandi in 1952. My father told me that the public meeting at Bootan Mandi to welcome Ambedkar was the turning point in the dalit politics of Punjab. Dr. Ambedkar's thought provoking lecture on democracy at the D.A.V. College Jalandhar , my alma mater, during that visit is as relevant today as it was in the early years of India's tryst with democracy. Seth Kishan Dass and his family continued to be active in politics. Following the foot steps of Sethji, his grand son Shri Avinash Chander is a Member of the Punjab Legislative Assembly from the Kartarpur constituency and is currently the Chief Parliamentary Secretary in the Government of Punjab. The family is one of prominent families of Bootan Mandi engaged in leather business. I understand, by now, the family has a fair share in the services also. The younger lot, two of grand daughters of Seth Kishan Dass ( daughter and daughter in law of Seth Mool Raj ) are the Punjab Civil Service (PCS) officers and are holding important and responsible positions in the Punjab Government. Pritam Ramdasspuri, a famous and erudite Urdu poet, who was also a worthy son of Bootan Mandi, also belonged to the same family and was one of the nephews of Seth Kishan Dass. Bootan Mandi shall be proud of Seth Kishan Dass and the family. Personally, I feel that Seth Kishan Dass and his family should have done and contributed more for the educational upliftment of the society which is still a crying need.

Seth Khushi Ram comes next. I understand his father Seth Sunder Dass was an honourable man with a good social standing. Seth Khushi Ram was an active politician and social activist. He belonged to the Congress Party and aligned himself with Babu Jagjivan Ram as opposed to Seth Kishan Dass who was an Ambedkarite. It appears to me that Seth Khushi Ram loved to be near power or would be power. I remember, as a youngman, the leaders like Partap Singh Kairon,
Prithvi Singh Azad, Master Gurbanta Singh, Sardar Swaran Singh and many more would come to Seth Khushi Ram's Chubara ( a double storey building) often touring their tour of the area. Seth Khushi Ram was in the forefront to start and run the Guru Ravidass Primary School in Bootan Mandi in the Gurudawara. I also had my primary education in that school. Seth Khushi Ram remained the Vice Chairman of the Jalandhar Municipal Council and also, if my memory does not fail me, one of the Vice Presidents of the Congress Party in Punjab. His sons did not follow him in politics and social life and are engaged in leather business in Bootan Mandi. Seth Khushi Ram's contribution and role in making and keeping Bootan Mandi in the scheme of things of the dalits of the region was substantial.

(to continue...)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


Without Comment -

1) Somebody wrote in the FACEBOOK on August 18, 2010


Love All - Whenever you see love coming; welcome it; open your arms and embrace it and let it enter you. People will say you are in love. Say love is in me.


2) Excerpt from the just released book ' Absolute Khuswant: The Low Down on Life, Death and Most Things in-Between ' written jointly by renowned Columnists Khuswant Singh and Humra Qurashi


He (Rahul Gandhi) is not being patronising; he is highlighting a shameful reality in our country. Even in the 21st century, there are untouchables in our society and they live wretched lives.


Sunday, August 15, 2010


India celebrates its 64th Independence Day today the August 15. President of India addressed the nation yesterday, on the eve of the National Day. Prime Minister of India spoke to the nation from the historic Red Fort in the morning of today. The Day is being observed with all solemnity and gaiety not only on India but through out the world. The message is getting clear that India has come a long way since Independence in August 1947 but still it has to go a long way to eradicate poverty and under development from the face of a large chunk of the masses. Democracy yes but equality is the hallmark of freedom. Independence will have no meaning for the socially suppressed and oppressed millions unless a caste less society is established.

We are celebrating the Independence Day in Minsk (Belarus) to in the evening. His Excellency the Minister of Industry of the Republic of Belarus is joining us as The Chief Guest. The local talent, young Belarusian girls regale the audience with the classical and Bollywood dance and music. I (Ambassador of India to Belarus) spoke to the Media at the National Press Centre in Minsk on the eve of the Independence Day to greet our Belarusian hosts and give the mood of the nation on the occasion of the Independence Day.

I greet and congratulate all my country men and friends of India on the Independence Day of India, August 15. Let me conclude with a poetic quote:

आ गैरिअत के परदे इक बार फिर उठा देन ;
बिश्डों को फिर मिलन देन नक्शे दुई मिटा देन !
सूनी पड़ी हुई है मुदत से दिल की बस्ती ;
इक नया शिवालय इस देश में बना देन !

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Our Kitchen Garden - Some Reflections

I am a Punjabi with an ordinary background. Though my up-bringing happened to be in a down town sub-urban place called Bootan Mandi in Jalandhar yet most of our relations belonged to rural periphery of Jalandhar. I occasionally visited those villages for social interaction particularly for marriages or other social events like melas (festivals) etc. Bootan Mandi was not a good residential area, in fact was almost a slum ( now the things are much better ), I always liked to be in a village for a good change. In the process, I found some of the activities like gud (jaggery) making quite fascinating. I liked fresh sugar cane, fresh challi (bhutta), fresh vegetables like radish, carrot, green chillies fresh tomatoes etc. for salad. I particularly liked freshly roasted green grams - ( chanas - holan ). Of course, the sag and makki di roti ( bread of corn flour and freshly cooked mustard greens ) is a recognised delicacy which I relished. Since my family was not engaged in agriculture and we did not have access to these rural savouries, some of our relations would even gift occasionally all these things to us. It helped us maintain our taste and liking and in a way rural tradition and culture. I feel good in writing and cherishing the memory of those days in Jalandhar. I am happy to say that I still maintain my sense of belonging to the Punjabi rural set up, in spite of the fact my living and work in the metropolitan cultures and societies in the capital cities all over make it somewhat difficult. Nevertheless we try. In this regard, our kitchen garden, where ever possible, came handy and kept me and my wife Vidya engaged both for the sake of some exercise and also to satisfy our rural and ordinary traits. That s why, I felt like writing on our kitchen gardens.

The kitchen garden, big or small, remained in my routine past time, where ever possible. In Beijing, we lived in a flat but the Chancery was not far off. The Security Guards were living on the premises of the Chancery. We used to play volleyball and badminton in the evening. Some Indian essentials like mint, coriander and green chillies were grown by the Guards. I tended to pick up some of these fresh things just to satisfy my traits though these things were available in the market. In Sanaa also we were living in a flat. Our association and friendship with a local Arab family provided us an opportunity to go the rural areas and sit and enjoy in their orchards of grapes. It was a fascinating experience. We moved to Kandy in Sri Lanka and lived in a spacious villa with a good garden/lawns. We had avocados, papaya, mangoes and we made a small kitchen garden too and grew mint, lady finger (bhindi) coriander and green chillies. The weather in Kandy was excellent. It was not difficult to maintain a small garden with the help a part time help and our children whom we made them involved in the process. It was difficult to pursue the interest in Delhi. The only consolation was our occasional visits to Jalandhar and to the rural areas particularly the village Nawan Pind near Nakodar, the native placeof my wife. My only special request during these visits used to be sag and makki di roti, fresh radish, fresh challi (bhutta) and sometimes freshly roasted groundnut (moongfali). Master Sat Paul, the co-brother ( Sandu) of my brother Paramjit lives in the nearby village Allewal. We will visit them and invariably they will serve the freshly roasted groundnuts. We still cherish those days. For a year or so we lived in a good villa with an extensive garden in Taby in Stockholm (Sweden). Generally, there is no much help available to maintain these facilities in Europe and one has to do personally. We had apples, berries, etc. We made a small patch as our kitchen garden with green chillies, mint and coriander. My wife made friends with Salma and Salim, a family of Pakistan origin, and found a public source of sarson da sag ( green mustard). It was a good find for us to satisfy our Punjabi taste. Even in a flat in Sollentuna, we grew in the terrace some greens. We moved to Kampala (Uganda) Our residential villa was on the slope of a green hillock. We made a nice little kitchen garden with chillies, tomatoes, mint and coriander. We had papaya and the famous fruit creepers of passion fruit, a healthy and delicious source of juice. The weather was moderate and land was fertile. It was easy to maintain. It was difficult to undertake this activity in Tokyo. We tried to grow some chillies and mint etc. in flower pots in the small balcony of our flat but could not succeed. Our kitchen garden in Prague (Czech Republic) was good. In the garden, we had a tree of walnuts. Our gardening local help Lucas was a good young man. Not only he would grow some good flowers in the summer but will help us growing seasonal vegetables like radish, spinach, beans, coriander, mint etc. The lawns were well maintained. We moved to Edinburgh (Scotland). The residence had a large garden with majestic, more than 100 years old, trees and nicely done and maintained beds of roses of different colours. As usual, we wanted to have a small kitchen garden but we could not succeed. Even in summer, the weather was not favourable. Our attempts to grow cucumber failed. We could manage to grow mustard but not fully. But mint came up very well. Now for the last two summers, we are in Minsk (Belarus). The 'India House', our residence has a good garden with cherry, apricot trees. Our gardening help Anatoly was good but he retired last year. Anatoly made a small Green House in one corner of the lawns and grew cucumber, chillies, etc. Outside, we had radish, mint, beans, green peas, tomato, coriander, blue berries, etc. We try to maintain the kitchen garden even this summer.

My local driver told me when we were purchasing the seeds for our kitchen garden that sir, these radish, cucumber etc. will be cheap in season and you may not take the trouble of planting and wasting your time and energy. But I feel the other way. It is not to save money. The sense of fulfillment and success and also creation is great when the crop is ready. Now when we pick up some green chillies, cucumber, tomatoes, onion etc for the salad on our dinning table, i feel some
sort of satisfaction which is difficult to explain. I even take pride in telling our guests on the table that some of these things have come right from our kitchen garden. They generally appreciate and some of them even feel like seeing the small garden. It further makes me happy. I think that internal sense of contentment and a sense of achievement go a long way in bringing about happiness in life which is of utmost value in these days of stress and strife.