(As told to Himani Pande by Dr JC Pant)
“I felt a connection in the brief meeting when you came to see me,” she revealed years after we first met.
After marriage as I travelled and moved for work, she stayed back in Dehradun looking after my parents with unparalleled love and care. We stayed in touch through letters and phone calls, meeting only three times in a year. She joined me only after my parents’ demise. I was, by that time, starting out on my journey as an educationist in Bulandshahr as the Founder Principal of DPS.
An anarchic setting
Bulandshahr was a remote village then. An educated mind-set was missing, people held arms, and crime was rampant. I knew my new work wasn’t going to be easy and expected opposition from the conservative social landscape of the region. I recalled the question that I had asked my ‘to-be’ wife 33 years ago, “Will you help me make a choice with my moments?” To which she’d confidently replied, “I’ll hold the doorknob to your study room and not let anyone interrupt your work. Your family, school, children, roti and coffee will all be my responsibility.” How could I have been so lucky? So now when things were looking difficult ahead, I asked her if she was ready to face the challenges.
The villagers couldn’t accept that a woman had arrived to bring about a change. The ghunghat covered women weren’t used to a lady coming and telling them about the merits of discipline and equal educational opportunities for the girl and boy child. We knew a women’s brigade led by an armed lady ‘Pradhan’ with rifled male escorts would be pitted against her.
Work to be done
I took over as principal in a rather rundown building, in the middle of overgrown fields. The adventures had just begun. The students took entrance exams in our home, the new staff and their families had to be under our aegis, the orphan children roaming around definitely couldn’t be left to grow up on their own. Life involved heavy travelling and meetings. Far from being upset, she was happy when I drove the staff around for errands so they could be safe. The evenings in Bulandshahr had a beautiful peach-pink hue and we spent many such evenings waiting for the imposing block of structures, auditorium, trimmed lawns that exist today.
The challenges continued. Stakeholders insisted on a picture postcard construction, while builders changed the blueprint features for convenience. The land deal for the school brought me life threats. Sometimes influential locals and gun toting politicians would demand free or preferred admissions. My wife on such occasions would firmly retort to the gun bearers and the Pradhan that if she or anyone else was shot, the DPS Society would not spare them.
Finally, they bowed down to her courage, listened to her reasoning and gave up their arms and offensive behaviour.
Even bullets couldn’t stop them
One night, returning from one of my official trips, I was shot at by an adversary. It was dark and my driver was at the steering wheel. The guys, three to four people who came to shoot me, were on bikes. The bullet grazed my shoulder. They wanted to kill me but then people started arriving at the scene and the shooters fled. I was saved, but was concerned about how my wife would react. But that day she completely stole my thunder. She didn’t ask me to resign or seek a transfer. As always, she stood by me. I managed to stand my ground because she was with me, beside me.
Related reading: “I became a writer because of my wife” – Ashwin Sanghi
In time, our good intentions were understood and the people of the region whole-heartedly welcomed us and the DPS fraternity; and so the adventures continued. The missus was the hands on the clock, managing my office schedule and the resident campus family-bonding time. She provided home meals for years to the teacher recruits (new kids on the block), oversaw the pooling of funds for cancer treatment of a staff family member and got employees with grave health conditions admitted to their hometown hospitals until full recovery.
You need a big heart
We learnt together then that with marginal resources it’s possible to achieve a lot, it’s the heart that should be big.
We didn’t enjoy a breezy ghazal night or a movie; but together we created a priceless set of memories.
I tell her sometimes that she is my ‘pineal gland’- also known as the ‘third eye’, as she helps me take intuitive and balanced decisions. She, in turn, calls me a super ‘life coach with the strength of an eagle’.
Twenty years later, we are now retiring. I know I couldn’t have lived my live and done my job with the integrity that I did, without her devoted support. The best part is the numerous children we raised alongside our own two. And somewhere along the way I know our love has turned spiritual.