Anil’s story-Chapter fourteen: Finally home sweet home-Philippines- 1994 to present.
Source : Google photo of majestic Mayon volcano in the Philippines
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I returned to the Philippines in April of 1994 leaving Sudan and the FAO for good. I had waited for a long time for this day so now I intended to fully enjoy my retirement. But first we had to build our dream house so that we could all stay together. Ashis was in the dormitory at the University for over a year and now Jayanti joined him starting June of 1994. Jasmine had found the team that would build our house, so she got them started by the middle of March.
The building permit was obtained, and money was transferred to a local account. When I arrived from Rome, I found the laborers digging the foundation of our future home in earnest to layout the rooms. Jasmine said that she could not find a house to rent because the local people did not like to rent their houses for less than one year whereas we needed a place only for a few months. We expected our house to be completed in 6 months’ time.
So we drove back to Naga while the work continued in the university town . Jayanti stayed in the dormitory. But in the month of May someone called to say that their house was available for rent for a few months, so we packed quickly, locked up our house in Naga and moved to Laguna. Now I could supervise the construction personally.
We had drawn up the plan ourselves during my previous home leave by playing with Lego set arranging and rearranging the rooms until we got everything right . Jasmine also made many suggestions. It was to be a lovely house of over 345 sq. meters with 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, and huge 20 ft by 40 ft. living room, kitchen and a laundry room. There was to be a 60 ft. long and 8 ft. wide veranda outside shaped like an L and a spacious garage.
We left room in the front for lawn and room all around the house on our 600 sq. meter lot. The whole house was to have only one level and the rooms, and the bathrooms were huge by normal local standards. I decided to spare no expense to build this home. Jasmine and I searched for choice materials, marble, slate stones and beautifully carved Narra doors. We ordered Spanish red colored tiles for the veranda. It took more than 2000 bags of cement and tons and tons of steel bars to build our home.
All the bedrooms were to have parquet floors and the outside veranda walls and the outer fascia were lined with green slate. The roof was an expensive metal tile system called Decrabond that was Spanish red in color. In short it was a house to be proud of. The windows had extra strong grills that were ordered custom made.
So the work progressed speedily and soon the house started to take shape. Jasmine and the kids came from time to time to see the progress and were excited as the house was nearing completion by September. Now the marble floor shined like mirror and the inside of the house was painted and electricals fitted. People marveled at the size of the bedrooms and the bathrooms and became the talk of the University nearby.
Then In September Jasmine and I drove back to Naga and arranged for all furniture and other things to be shipped to our new home the very next day. The huge truck came and loaded everything. The Naga house was again locked up and remained so for a while until one day it was sold later.
We had finished with Naga for good so from now on this small town was to be our home. It was a magnificent home. Within a short time, Jasmine arranged the furniture and the appliances. We had purchased huge beds with very nicely carved headboards. Now Ashis and Jayanti had their big private rooms.
Then on the 8th of September we had our new home blessed. All the laborers and masons who were still working on the finishing outside were invited to their great surprise because in the Philippines they were never invited to the house blessing ceremony anywhere. But we did because they had worked very hard to build us our lovely home, so they deserved to be invited.
They continued to work outside for one more month until the 15th of October when the last of them left. The kids had moved in from their dorms so once again we were one family living together. Now we started planting grass on the lawn and looked for other ornamental plants to fill up the garden. Ashis watered the lawn everyday while Jayanti helped in the garden or decorated her room in her own style. I bought them both 18 speed bicycles, but they preferred to walk to the campus nearby.
We were genuinely happy and forgot all our past bad experiences. At this time, I decided to buy a luxury car. We had already purchased the adjacent lot of 600 sq. meters so now we had a total of 1200 sq. meters of land. Jasmine said that we should build another garage in the next lot where the pick-up could stay and retile the main garage for the arrival of our new car. After several visits to many show rooms in Manila we decided on a Nissan Altima with 2-liter engine and leather upholstery.
It is the top-of-the-line Nissan and is very powerful and roomy. It has power steering, electrical doors and windows and side mirrors, power antenna etc. and is truly a magnificent machine. Now Ashis had the full-time use of the Nissan pick up that I had purchased earlier.
The best part of our home turned out to be the veranda that all visitors liked. It is spacious where we can sit and enjoy the cool breeze coming from the mountains looming nearby, our home is very well ventilated and full of natural light due to extra-large windows. Jasmine soon purchased the curtains to complete the interior decoration.
Surendra who still worked at IRRI came often to visit. He said he was now handling the IRRI outreach in India and elsewhere so constantly traveled. We sat in our veranda savoring the cool breeze and talked about the old days sipping ice cold beer. This is the life we had dreamed of but now with the help of Jasmine, it was a reality. The music played softly on the stereo, and I could see that Jasmine glowed with contentment. Kids were also happy.
Thus, the years passed. I was contacted by Dr. Singh who was now settled in the United States and wanted me to go to Zambia or Zimbabwe, but I said that I had retired. He was surprised but did not say anything. Then some other people wanted me to go to Madagascar, but I said the same thing. I was not going anywhere anymore.
Then one day our lovely children who were now grownups graduated from college. Ashis got a BS in agricultural economics and Jayanti graduated with a degree in Development communications. Ashis soon started the graduate program in agricultural economics and Jayanti got a job on campus. She had been selected as the beauty queen of the university and won a 10000 pesos award and a crown. She was very popular with everybody.
Ashis is the quiet type, but he too became popular in his department where he was finishing up his Masteral program. He was over 6 feet two inches tall. He then started working with various projects of the university and did so for almost two years but in the year 2004 he announced that he was accepted by two top universities in the United States as a graduate student in Agricultural economics. He chose the University of Pennsylvania where he studied under scholarship and eventually decided to get a second master’s degree in agricultural economics.
Soon after his graduation he was accepted by Monsanto as a trainee in Soda Springs in Idaho and after spending 6 months there as a trainee he was offered a good job in St. Louis, Missouri by the company. While at Penn State he had met a beautiful girl whom he decided to marry. The marriage took place in St. Louis on September 16 th, 2007, that was well attended. Jayanti and Jasmine among many others were present for the happy occasion.
Jayanti after working on campus for a while decided to go to Australia where she was accepted by the University of Canberra in their information technology course of two years leading to a master’s degree. After her graduation she started working in various places until one day she was given a good job by the Australian government where she worked as an IT specialist and business analyst. They also gave her the citizenship. However, she surprised us one day by taking up a job in Phnom Penh, Cambodia as a senior IT specialist and soon left for Zambia for a one-month long assignment. She in the meantime had also attended a MIT organized workshop in Lahore in Pakistan, visited India to take yoga lessons in Rishikesh, attended a meeting in Austin, Texas among other things and seems always on the go somewhere.
Ashis has nicely settled down in Philadelphia with his wife and two children who are growing up fast. He works in New Jersey for an international Company. They soon to became American citizens, so our family is like the UN now.
I wanted my children to see India so we all went to visit Agra, Jaipur and Delhi and later went up to Nainital, Almora and Ranikhet in the hills. We climbed up the steep Himalayan slopes on horseback to reach the Kedar Badrinath temple at 17000 ft. elevation full of snow in April and rowed boats lazily in the lake in Nainital. We saw Jaipur and the fort nearby. They rode elephants and saw snake charmers and even dancing bears.
In Delhi we went to Rajghat to see the memorial of Mahatma Gandhi and others and marveled at the Qutub Minar, the presidential palace and the parliament building then visited the red fort and many such places. The Lotus temple which is a Bahai temple is worth seeing in Delhi. The Taj Mahal, the Agra fort, the mausoleum of Akbar in Sikandara, the ruined and abandoned city of Fatehpur Sikri near Agra, the mausoleum of Sheikh Salim Chisti there were so many places we saw.
During that trip to India in 1996, we had decided to buy a house in Lucknow and finalized the papers. We now had a nice bungalow in a planned city on the out skirts of Lucknow. This is where Annapurna now lives after her retirement from her teaching job in a nearby town. She had chosen not to live in the Sri Rampur house. I also bought a huge 350 cc Royal Enfield motorbike that I kept in our new house so that I could enjoy bike riding once again in India.
But this was the last time we as a whole family would go somewhere. Kids now had their own lives to live in Australia and the United States. I went again to India in 1997 for a short time and returned with Annapurna. This was to be her third and the last visit to the Philippines. She really liked our new home and enjoyed the space and the greenery. We brought her to some touristic places or flower shows.
The sad news came in the year 2001 when Sushmita called one day to say that Ma had died. It was the month of March, and the day was the 8th. I called Sri Ram Pur so Nirmal told me that the funeral rites were to be held after 10 days. I then traveled to Sri Ram Pur to attend the last rites of mom.
She was a wonderful mom but now she was gone. They said that she had a heart attack and expired suddenly. She was 92. She had lived a long life. The Hindu tradition says that the body must be cremated soon after death, but they hold the funeral rites after ten days when the sons have to shave their head and attend to the Vedic rites with of course the guidance of a priest,
I did all that was required and gave Nirmal some money. They shaved my head, and I went to the Ganga to perform some ritual ceremonies. The 14 Brahmins were fed and given gifts as was required but finally it was over, and I soon returned to the Philippines. The sad part was that now Annapurna and the Sri Ram Pur folks did not get along at all so she did not attend the last rites of mother. She did all the pooja with the help of a priest in Lucknow. Sushmita also did not come to Sri Ram Pur and performed the rites in Meerut.
We were no longer a family of brothers and sisters and so soon after the death of our beloved mother. That was the shocking part. Devjani came and was surprised to know that mom had left her and Parvati her remaining money. Mother thought of everyone up to her last moment on earth.
I had during this trip brought home my grandfather’s handwritten diary in which he had written down the family history that my father had continued. It was very dilapidated, but I had it photocopied and began the translation in earnest now. The notes I had taken from the conversation I had with mom were now transcribed and one day I completed the document that included the family tree of both sides. It was a more complete document than the original.
I also had found quite accidentally my father’s silver medal that the British had given him for his services in Waziristan which is now part of Pakistan. This medal was minted in London with my father’s name inscribed on it and has the bust of King George fifth on it so I brought it home along with another gold-plated medal that he had received from the seven sisters during that prank he had played in Sri Ram Pur so long ago. I also found his Parker pen. I brought these things to the Philippines and framed them along with his photo in our living room. I brought the old photo of mom when she was only 11 years old and framed that too along with her latest photo.
Our last trip to India was in the year 2003 when I brought Jasmine to South India to visit many places there. We landed in Kolkata where we visited the Adya Peeth Kali temple for a pilgrimage and paid some money to them to fix a marble slab with the names of my father, mother and Kamal chiseled on it. This slab will now be there forever in their memory. I had previously asked them to fix such a slab so there were two of them.
Then we took the train to Chennai where we booked a guided tour of south India for 14 days. We visited many sites in Chennai like the snake farm, the deer park, the Thiruvalluvar memorial, the museum, the aquarium and the famous beach called marina. We visited a famous temple and the silk market where we purchased very nice silk saris for Jayanti and Jasmine. We bought expensive shirts for Ashis there as well.
Then we took the bus trip to the hills of Kodai Kanal . The guided tour of the south India started on October 1 and took us to Hosur, Bangalore, Mysore city, palace of Tipu Sultan and his fort , the Vrindavan gardens, the Hills of Ootacamund, the Madhumalli game reserve, the Guru Vayur temples in Kerala, Cochin, the waterways of Alleppy, Kanyakumari and the shrines of Swami Vivekananda and Thiruvalluvar there, the temples of Rameswaram, Madurai, Thanjavur, Mahabali Puram, Pondicherry ashram of Aurobindo, the Kanchipuram silk weaving center, the Tirupati temple in Andhra Pradesh and many more such places .
Jasmine visited the famous and holy Hindu temples and offered pooja and money at each of them. The priests put vermillion powder on her forehead as a symbol of piety. She was blessed by the elephants in Thanjavur and other places. We rode in boats through the scenic waterways of Kerala and climbed to the top of a hill in a cable car to visit a temple that had its dome completely covered in gold plates. The trip to Tirupati was in itself wonderful and I think Jasmine enjoyed the richness of Indian culture and the beauty of the south.
We then visited Secunderabad and saw the famous Golkonda fort, the Birla temple and the zoo among many other sites one whole day and proceeded to Aurangabad where we visited the Ajanta cave temples and the Ellora temples, the Bibi ka Makbara, the grave of Aurangzeb who was the son of Shahjahan and emperor of India. He was buried in a simple grave of soil with a carved marble screen protecting the grave in the open.
One can write volumes about the Ajanta and Ellora caves but this is not the place for it so I will skip it. It was an exhaustive trip covering many states and thousands of kilometers by bus and train but finally we arrived in Sri Ram Pur and after a day there went to Lucknow to visit Annapurna. Then it was back to Kolkata and Manila via Brunei.
I took many photos during this and other trips which I now burned into a CD and gave the kids a copy each. I turned thousands of photos and slides into photo CD so that the kids can have their copies.
I had to make one more trip to India in September of 2006 to settle a long-standing issue. I had decided to donate my house in Lucknow to the Ramakrishna Mission, so this is what I ended up doing. Annapurna was allowed to stay there by the mission, but I could tell that she did not like my idea at all. My short visit to Sri Ram Pur once again was to see Nirmal again and convince him to visit us in the Philippines. However, this was not to be. I understood that his wife did not support the idea, but I had to try anyway.
He looked old and frail and told me that he could not climb stairs or do anything strenuous because of palpitations. His food was severely restricted now and he spent most of his time either with his rosary beads or prayer rituals and had lost all interest in worldly affairs or so it seemed to me. He made no comments about my deed of gift to the Rama Krishna Mission or my wish that my share of the proceeds of the ancestral home should be donated to charitable missions.
I saw a few of my old acquaintances but they all griped about how hard it was to live in India, how corrupt the society, how polluted the atmosphere, how no one cared about anyone or how there was so little to be cheerful about. Listening to them made me depressed as well.
It is true that India had changed dramatically since I first left I 1967 but many of the changes were negative in nature. I did not feel like visiting my alma mater anymore because there was no one there who knew me. The old professors had died or retired and there was no such thing as alumni in our system. The batch mates once graduate left the campus for good never to be found again.
I could see the old Sri Rampur vanishing under the new development that brought more traffic and pollution to the once placid city. There was a new bridge over the river that was a feat of ingenuous engineering, but it added to the traffic than to solve it. The Durga Pooja that I attended was now a commercialized, lack luster affair that brought nostalgic memories of the time when Pooja was truly a community affair. Our whole family participated then. Now I saw only ghosts of the past.
I longed to get back to the Philippines. I was surprised when Nirmal who seldom saw me off insisted to accompany me to the train station. He looked sad and forlorn. He so much wanted me to stay in the ancestral home, but this was not to be. The past could never be erased but we had learned to live with it and move on.
It seems only yesterday but so many years have gone and so many changes have taken place. Ma is no more. Dad had died a long time ago. Now sisters look only to their self-interest and had nothing to say to me and I to them. The next generation is already aloof and drifting apart. That is perhaps inevitable but still lamentable just the same.
In Delhi Surendra was waiting for me because we had planned to visit our old friend Laksman Lal in Hissar where he was now a professor. I had not seen him since 1975 so one day we drove to Hissar. Laksman Lal had aged as we had all but he looked frail and limped due to an accident he had suffered awhile back. Still, it was good to see him after such a long time and we reminisced until wee hours. I do not know if I will ever see him again.
Surendra still comes once in a while to our home. He is now based in Delhi and no longer works for IRRI. He plans to build a beautiful home right next to ours so that we can grow old together. Dr. Singh still works in the United States where he is settled. Subroto has now retired as the vice chancellor of an agricultural university in Bengal.
Dr. De la Cruz has died. Suranjeet I heard has also died. Robert Springstein is now a professor of agricultural economics in a famous university in the United States.
Ramesh who was my classmate at the Institute in Sri Ram Pur now stays in Delhi and works as a consultant after his retirement from the Fertilizer company. Susanto has also retired as an undersecretary in the ministry of agriculture of Bengal. He had visited me in our new home a few years ago. There is no news of Abhit who used to work as a block development officer in Bengal the last time I heard. My mentor and professor Dr. Chowdhury of Sri Ram Pur has died.
The news from India has died down. I know that my two sisters died, and Annapurna died of cancer only two years ago. The money I sent them should be useful at a time like this, but they all have stopped writing. Nirmal who had heart surgery, lives in Delhi and has cut off all contacts with us so there is not much I can do.
Very few people from the Vietnam era or Algeria keep in touch with me but that too is expected. People of my age are in their Eighties now. This is the time when the health problems start to crop up, family ties loosen and perhaps break apart resulting in divorce or worse, children grow up and leave etc. All these factors make people less social and more of introverts. I am not complaining.
My life has been rich in experience. Now I must stop here. I am happy and contented with life because Jasmine is by my side. We live in the big house in a peaceful area. Our life now is peaceful and without excitement as it should be at this age.
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Originally published at http://aumolc.wordpress.com on March 25, 2023.