When I first arrived in Delhi in 1973, I stayed in Greater Kailash, which even then was one of the posh areas of Delhi, with my cousins. The ground floor of the house in which we stayed was a shop. We stayed right above the market. The first and second floors were rented out by the owner for residential purposes. We were living on the second floor. Delhi was an enigma to me then (and it still is). Unfamiliar people, language, dress codes, habits, huge cars – everything related to Delhi was like a fairy tale to me. Coming from a small non-electrified village (the nearest motorable road was about half a kilometre away from my house then), I felt like a frog out of the deep well for the first time in its life. (Now, of course, the whole village has been electrified and a car can come up to our courtyard.)
It was a week-end, a week after my arrival in Delhi. Some of cousins’ friends visited us. After some time they arranged a small table and some chairs on the large terrace, along with some plates and glasses. I soon realised, to my horror, that they were preparing to drink. I could never even in my wildest of dreams imagine that my cousins took alcoholic drinks. I had the feeling that taking alcohol and consuming non-vegetarian food were the most heinous of ethical crimes which should never be committed by a Brahmin. And here are my cousins enjoying alcoholic drinks! I felt as if my world has turned upside down. The shock was unimaginable. I didn’t know what to do, whom to turn to for help. Those who should have been helping me are actually the ones who make me seek help.
After some worried thinking (I actually went and sat in a corner and cried for a long time) I decided that I should shift out of the house as soon as possible. I believed if I stayed with them I would also become a drunkard and an outcast. But I didn’t want to take such an important decision on my own. So the same night while cousins were enjoying the party I wrote a letter to my brother who was serving in the Indian Air Force (since retired and settled at Indirapuram, UP). Telephones were not very common those days, and we didn’t have one at our home. Letters by post (what we now call ‘snail mail’) was the only method through which messages used to be conveyed. Inland letter cards were the most common instruments used then. I wrote in detail what was going on and my fear that I would become a drunkard if I continued to stay there with cousins. I sought his permission to shift out of the house. I was not even seeking his advice, but permission to act according to the decision I had already taken!
Brother was very prompt in responding. His response came fast, maybe within a week. He began the letter by telling me that I should not even think of shifting out and staying away from cousins.
I was disappointed, very disappointed indeed. I had described everything in detail, and yet … Oh, brother! Why are you writing thus? He had written that when I did not know what was what and who was who in Delhi, it was absolutely unwise to shift out and start staying on my own. I was very unfamiliar with Hindi, the most common language spoken in Delhi. And I didn’t speak English well, too. I was also completely unfamiliar with everything around me, except the cousins. So I should not shift. Simple.
He also advised me to become stronger. He wrote, “When people around you are about to drown, you should be there to extend a helping hand. Be stronger, you should be able to do it.”
He further wrote, “I shall tell you a secret. After taking bath every day, while combing your hair, look into the mirror and fix a smile on your face. Make sure that the smile remains there the whole day. You will become stronger and stronger every day. Nothing will be able to break your will.”
He assured me that nothing would happen to me. I would not become a drunkard. I would not do anything which would hurt our parents.
After reading the letter (several times), I felt stronger. Very stronger, indeed. I decided that I would continue staying with them, but without being affected by anything that I should not indulge in. Later there were many parties in the house. After each drinking session, by not taking part in them, I was becoming more and more confident and stronger, just like brother had written. He had foreseen it, my dear brother! He knew me better than myself! He had more confidence in me than myself!
Once Mr Ramakrishnan, one of cousins’ friends, compelled me to join them during a drinking session.
He said, “See, Jayanthan, you cannot escape from this when you stay in Delhi. You may have to join such parties today or tomorrow.”
He even cited an instance. He argued, “Suppose you are working in a company in a responsible position and you have an important business meeting with a client where drinks are served. If you don’t join them, they will feel offended, and maybe even the business you are discussing with them may not be awarded to your company.”
I said smilingly, “See, Ramakrishnan, I completely agree with you. I know I may have to do this tomorrow or the day after. But that is when I am in such a situation. Isn’t it? Maybe I shall do it then. But why now?”
Forty years have passed since this conversation. To this day I have remained a teetotaller, thanks to my brother’s and parents’ unstinted faith in me. (Maybe also because I never needed to partake in a party where my drinking depended on a contract!)
But what about tomorrow or the day after? Well, let the occasion arrive. It is then.
I feel it is meaningless to blame others for our mistakes and misfortunes. There is no point in saying, “See, I had bad friends who influenced me very much, so I acquired all bad habits.”
Why blame them, when we did not even try not to acquire such avoidable habits? Why blame God, friends, relatives, or fate for our misfortunes? We have a habit of blaming everybody and everything around us, but not ourselves. Not even once do we try to look within ourselves where indeed lies the actual reason for what we do and why we do that.