Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Unlucky Man

Mukund was traveling from Jamnagar to Bombay (as Mumbai was called back then) in a third class compartment with 2 letters, a matriculation certificate, a pair of clothes and almost no money. The year was 1942, and India was in midst of turmoil with the struggle for freedom against the British Empire, and the world was involved in the World War.

Mukund was always thought of to be unlucky. He was born on Amavaysa (No Moon Night), considered extremely inauspicious. In Brahmin families those days, it seemed that your fate was written, depending on the position of planets at the time you were born. With a inauspicious horoscope, this poor boy was pitied on by relatives and neighbours for having now future.
Nor was he extremely bright boy at school. He failed his Matriculation examinations (in English and Mathematics no less). But that year the Queen of Jamnagar delivered a son (and an heir to the throne of the princely state under the British Raj) - and all students appearing for the exams were declared pass with grace marks, including Mukund.

Mukund was married off to another Brahmin girl, and the reason his father-in-law had agreed to accept him as a groom for his daughter was that he had graduated from high school. (Apparently no one mentioned that his passing the examination was under special circumstances, and so was the exact nature of his "inauspicious" time of birth)

A year post his marriage, Mukund continued to remain unemployed, and lived of his fathers income. His wife lost their first child to illness (in a time when infant mortality was common). Then tragedy struck again, when his father die of tuberculosis, leaving Mukund to fend for his family (his wife, his mother, 3 younger brothers and a sister). Everyone blamed it on his stars.
Unable to find a job in Jamnagar, an older relative suggested, he go to the metropolis of Bombay, to try out his luck there. It was said, anyone who was willing to work could find employment there.

Mukund was sent to Bombay, with some money, and a one way train ticket. He was travelling to a city 1000 km away, where he knew no one. He was also carrying two letters, which were written by a the relative. One was addressed to a distant relative, saying that Mukund was a Brahmin from a good family, and please provide him with lodging and boarding for a short while, till he finds a job. The other was to some one working in Scindia Steam Navigation, saying that the bearer of the letter had passed his High School Matriculation examination (albeit with grace marks) Please provide him employment of any suitable nature.

Relatives, neighbours and acquaintances all thought it would be worthless. Anyways Mukund was unlucky. He couldn't find a job at home, how would he fend for himself alone far away?

Fortunately, some one at Scindia Steam Navigation pitied him, gave him a job as a clerk at Victoria Dock. While things were going smoothly there, on April 14, 1944 there was a huge blast in the docks. [See ]
SS Fort Stikine, which was carrying gold, cotton and explosives had caught fire. The explosion resulted in gold bars flying around. Mukund was trapped in debris in the godown of the dock, and unable to wiggle out to collect the gold. (again he cursed his luck). The luckier colleagues all ran outside to pick up gold bars, when the second and more powerful blast killed most of them.
Mukund survived the blast, since he was unlucky.

This changed his outlook in life. He stopped feeling unlucky. He believed that destiny had saved him now. Destiny had made him pass his examinations. Luck was on his side as he got a job and place to live with ease. The stars and horoscope was all humbug, and though you couldnt choose the cards dealt to you, it was all upto you to play your cards accordingly.

Now had this been a Hindi movie, he would've participated in the freedom struggle, and build a massive business empire. But he did none of that.
He worked in Scindia Steam Navigation till his retirement in 1981 as a diligent (but never a smart) employee. He and his wife raised 4 children. And he lived to be nearly 89.

And he retold this story many times over to his oldest grandchild. That's me.

He took me to see my first live cricket match, at Wankhede Stadium in 1993, where India beat England. (Anil Kumble took 6 wickets and Vinod Kambli scored a double hundred). He also taught me how to board a running mumbai local train to catch a window seat. (he was 71 and I was 11).

If he were alive, today would have been his 90th birthday.
He wasnt the one to believe in rituals, he demanded in his will that his body be donated for medical research.
So though he isnt there any more, may be his body is dissected in the Anatomy Department of Lokmanya Tilak Medical Hospital in Sion, Mumbai.

Happy Birthday Bapu-ji.