Sunday, August 31, 2008


In a paper written and published in the American Journal of Psychiatry many years ago on Eating Disorders in India, we had argued that the need to do well in education is a stress for young students and their families, and in some vulnerable young girls and boys, it may lead to some psychopathology. The point we wanted to make was that education remains a very important means for upward mobility in Independent India.

For nearly two decades now, I have patronized Harish, a fruitwallah, in Kotla. Kotla is a versatile market for all household necessities in South Delhi known for its wholesale prices. It is not in the league of nearby up-scale markets of South Delhi like South Ex or Defense Colony. Harish has a ramshackle kiosk and specializes in some select fruits and sells full boxes only. I like to go there because he stocks fruits like mango, apple, grapes, oranges etc that I like to buy in bulk for our use and share with friends. When I went to him yesterday, he asked me if I could make a medical certificate for his child. Though I never told him, but he has seen the sticker on my car announcing the place where I work. I thought he must be wanting a med cert for his child studying in school and must have been missing his school on account of truancy. I told him that my certificate would not work in the school, but was curious to know the school where his child was studying. No, not for school, it was the Australian embassy which was demanding such a certificate. I could barely manage to hide my shock – I knew Australian embassy demands med cert only if the applicant is applying for a long term visa, like immigration or for studies. I asked him why he was going to Australia. His son had obtained admission in the Univ for studying Computer course. Harish would be spending Rs 25 lakh on his education.
More shocks were to follow. His son no. 2 is already in Sydney studying for his Masters. He supports himself by doing part time teaching in the Univ itself. His son no. 1 is in Bangaluru and works for an MNC, Accenture. He is coming back to Delhi on transfer with a package of Rs 2.5 lakh a month.
I thought I had enough shocks that early morning for the entire day. But I was extremely happy. Though I managed to conceal my shock, I did not try to conceal my happiness. I expressed my desire to meet his sons. Harish said in a very matter of fact manner, and may be with a sense of pride that all his life when he was working hard, he never allowed his sons to come to the shop or to extend help. Harish’s hard work and sacrifice has worked so well for his children, who did not disappoint him.


Mampi said...

Thanks so much for sharing Sudhir.
He has led a brave life.
Please convey my best wishes to him. And do tell him that there are people who rate him at 10/10 in his life struggle.

Anonymous said...

Just before putting this story on the blog, I had shared it with some of my friends. I am putting their comments:

Tantrikclimber said: Incredible!! What an amazing story. Your association with the Kotla market is long indeed. I’m just relieved that we (Vasu and I) never had that kind of pressure to succeed / deliver in our studies  I can’t begin to imagine the sacrifices the family must have made. Also, goes on to say that fruit/veggie sellers are better off than one might think. This story belongs in your blog as well, along with Harish and a photo of his cart!
CA said: Do you think that the sons will support their parents in their old age?
I have seen examples of parents struggling so their children
succeed, only to see the successful children later abandoning their
Curiously, I recall having to study a story along these lines during
my schooldays. Was it a story by Tagore?

SCM said: where can i meet him? whereabouts pl.

Vasuman said: great story. To think of it, some difference has been made in India’s economic conditions, with under privileged getting fruits of success in terms of material wealth.

SB said: Of course, the sons are less likely to support their parents because they have not witnessed such caring as they grew up. Many of us, of older generation are not doing it. Perhaps the sense of responsibility of caring for and sharing with others is in general is rare to find today. But consider the following three scenes which I saw in the supposedly uncivilized Bihar-
Scene 1- It was in a pilgrimage site but I do not remember where exactly it was- a frail and old mother being carried piggy back by her son
Scene 2- A panda from Baijdham (a famous pilgrimage site in Bihar) obviously poor, who had come to visit his younger brother whom he had admitted in the mental hospital. As he was leaving, the patient complained of lack of adequate clothes for him in the hospital and the brother took of his own dirty shirt, gave it to him and proceeded for the journey back home in cold winter evening in a tattered banian.
Scene 3- An illiterate Bihari old man, who came to admit a young boy in the hospital, wanted to see inside the hospital before deciding on admission. He later explained that the young boy was his nephew (brother's son) and his brother was not alive. The man wanted to make sure that the hospital where he was admitting the boy was not some place he would be beaten up or ill treated.
All these are instances of deep sense of responsibility for others in the family and I feel originated from a sense of inner directedness. We are less and less likely to witness these scenes in future. While early individuation and separation from the family is also apparently a feature in western- particularly American society, it is accompanied with a strong sense of responsibility for the whole community. Unfortunately, in India the old family values are being erased without substitution with anything of value- except perhaps empty ritualistic religion, without any spirituality.

AD said: I gave up my permanent job overseas since my mother couldn’t tolerate the weather there.
But I know children do abandon their parents .They are taught since childhood to go to US and that’s where they go. It is the parents fault to a great extent.

psychblogger said...

Hats off to Harish for rasing his children so well! We should also give credit to the mother, who must have been equally supportive and balanced the family budget. I hope these children realise the efforts of their parents and give them due respect!

Unknown said...

Waiting for a trip report from your recent sojourn to Dharan (Nepal).



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