A Soap That Reminded Me of My Own Early Life
A few days ago, while randomly browsing through Netflix (not something I do often even in these lockdown times), I chanced upon a serial called Zindagi Gulzar Hai. Watching it proved to be moving, reminding me as it did of my own college life, back in the mid-seventies. I couldn’t help seeing a lot of myself in the trials and tribulations of Kashaf, the young protagonist.
In the serial Kashaf is a young girl living in straitened circumstances, cynical about life, especially men, ever since her father virtually abandons her mother to remarry, apparently because she couldn’t give him a son. Her mother, a school teacher, single-handedly raises Kashaf and two other daughters. I saw some parallels, and divergences, between the life of Kashaf and my own as an indigent teenager.
Now where are the parallels between this serial about a young girl in Pakistan and someone like me, a guy who grew up in India in the mid-seventies?
Like Kashif, I secured admission to a prestigious college, most of whose students were well-heeled. I, too, felt like a fish out of water in my cheap clothes. To avoid being questioned by classmates, I built a wall around myself and became pretty adept at deflecting questions about family, something the protagonist in the serial also does. Years later, when I reconnected with my friends, they all mentioned what a quiet guy I had been in college. Now I can laugh and tell them that I was withdrawn because I was ashamed of my circumstances. As an adult, I see that there is no reason to be ashamed of poverty but that is not quite so clear when you are 17 years old!
Again, like Kashaf, I became very cynical about human beings and believed that we are all alone in this universe and it is upto us to solve our problems. I liked to brag that I was hard as nails, though Heaven knows I was desparately hurting inside. I just didn’t believe that anyone could care for me or waste their time on me. I didn’t want to give anyone a chance to hurt me.
After college, I decided to pursue German, which I I had learned as a second language in college and excelled in. There were several girls in my class, some of whom were very sweet and friendly, but I steadfastly stuck to my resolve of not going out of my way to make friends with anyone. When I think back I cannot help but marvel at the innate decency of those girls who sensed my pain and reached out me.
Some time later, when I had become good friends with a girl in my class and a regular visitor at her house, her mother would say: The day you joined the class, my daughter told me there is a new guy in class who is brilliant but proud as Lucifer. After some time, the girls realized the poor guy just doesn’t want to talk.
Again, like Kashaf, a teacher in college befriended me. I was the best student in his class. He spent a lot of time with me and asked me many times about my family, but I evaded direct answers and often nodded non-committally. I couldn’t bring myself to speak of my problems. Now my friends ask: Why didn’t you tell us? We could have done something. But that was out of the question. I hid my sadness, hunger and insecurity behind a facade of superciliousness, often dismissing those I secretly envied for their loving family and home as illiterate morons.
In the first term examination in college, I did well. All of a sudden the teachers took notice of this quiet guy who preferred to fade into the background. On the day he gave us our exam answer books and marks, the English Asst Prof. gingerly asked: Who is ……(my name). I raised my hand somewhat tentatively, because I hated drawing attention to myself. He looked at me and told the class: His performance is truly outstanding. He went on to say: I never noticed him before and was afraid he was one of those who never attend classes. It would hurt my ego if the guy who topped the class was someone who never attended classes, but having seen him, I am glad he is the very picture of propriety.
The similarites with the protagonist in the serial end with regard to family. Kashaf had a loving mother, even though her father was a jerk. Her mother was a great role model for her children and worked hard to provide for them. I had neither parent and lived in circumstances where I was often reminded that I was an unwelcome burden. I stayed put simply because I had nowhere else to go. Oddly, the person who destroyed my self worth so completely would be dependent on me all my working life. On his deathbed he was very remorseful and said he was so ashamed of what he did. I am reminded of Kashaf’s response when her father tries to make amends once she has secured a position of some consequence: Abbu ko boliye ke hum ab udna sikh gaye hain. Translation: Tell dad that I have now learned to fly (and don’t need his help any longer).
Again, like Kashaf, after graduation I secured a good job on merit, based on the results of a competitive exam, though not quite as swiftly as Kashaf (in the space of one episode). Sadly, unlike Kashaf, I had no mother (or father) to counsel me and fell prey to ahankara (ego). I was proud no end that despite so many handicaps I had done exceptionally well. It took me practically a whole life time to realize that I should be grateful for the grace of a higher power and not conceited about what I saw as my accomplishments.
How I wish I had had a loving, wise parent like Kashaf’s mother to counsel me. When I look back at life, it seems to me that God was always with me, telling me in a stage whisper: Don’t worry, kid. I have your back. Had that been clear to me at an early age, the journey of life would have been less stressful.
Unlike Kashaf, I didn’t have to be persuaded to marry. My strong resolve never to go out of my way to talk to a girl went right out of the window when I saw a charming lass at work. I fell for her like a ton of bricks and was one of the first in my batch to marry. Without much delay we had the most angelic daughter.
It was only after I had a family of my own that life seemed worth living. Till then, it seemed a grind you just had to go through. As Steve Jobs said: You cannot connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.