Early Years (1/2) – In Quest of the Last Victory

Coming into Existence 3
begin trying to decipher anything and everything, the nurse quickly
hangs the dirty me by my feet and pats my back to make me begin
my fi rst cry. I, to be called and identifi ed later as ‘Navin Gulia’, am
here, ready to face all the probabilities, possibilities, certainties and
uncertainties that life has to offer. Would I be able to stand the test
of time in this ruthless, chaotic and ever-changing world? Would I
have the fi nal say or would circumstances prevail?
Early Years
As a small delicate baby I was wrapped up very comfortably in a white
sheet with only my face visible and tucked properly in bed. Most
of the time was spent cuddling up to sleep—in deep, thoughtless,
heavenly, peaceful sleep with partly open lips, broken at rare times
when the restlessness of hunger or an uncomfortable position would
make me cry; and with eyes barely and rarely opening, smiling spon-
taneously at some sounds and touches. My body and mind were
developing fast and coming to terms with being alive.
When awake, I lay there on the bed, slowly and carefully learning
and discovering how to clasp and unclasp my fi ngers looking at them
and kicking my legs in a jerky way, making shrieking sounds that I
could make. My eyes would try to focus on images which seemed
to move in front of me and my brain would work continuously on
discovering how to make sense of it all. Each muscle of my body and
every cell of my brain was gradually discovering its abilities and the
role it was supposed to play in my very being.
By the time I had reached the age of one and a half, the heavy and
lethargic me had been forced to get on my feet and made to learn how
to walk, although with fumbling and unsteady steps. (I have been told
that I was a heavy and lazy child and that I learnt to walk very late.)
4 In Quest of the Last Victory
As a toddler, I am told and from what I can remember, I was lethargic
and slow, never in a hurry or eagerness to learn. Maybe the peace
that comes from not knowing things that were behind me was not
allowing me to go ahead into the chaos of knowing things, or maybe
I was just a lazy child, or maybe, both. I remember myself as a toddler
sitting in the sand or dust and drawing random shapes with my
ngers, playing with some pebbles, moving them around in sand.
The way the grains of sand fell to the sides when I moved the pebble
or my fi ngers through it was somehow very interesting to watch.
I remember playing and running with other children. Usually
being the follower of the group, being the smaller and weaker, I was
hardly able to understand anything. Very often I found myself at the
receiving end of jokes and pranks by other kids. This initial phase in
my life saw a part of me develop a kind of inferiority complex, seeing
myself weaker, shorter and less intelligent as compared to other kids.
I remember I used to see the older kids wearing a school uniform,
taking a school bag and going to school in a school bus. I used to
wait for the day when I would also go with them. Finally, in 1978,
the day came when I was made to wear a uniform and go to school.
As I approached the school bus I felt unsure and insecure. I turned
back and clung to the person accompanying me. I had to be coaxed
and cajoled a lot before I could leave the fi nger of the person
accompanying me and hold the fi nger of the conductor who led me
up the steps, one at a time, into the bus. I was sent to a small convent
school, in a small place in the hills called Sidhbari. It is very close
to Macleodganj, Dharamshala, which is the capital in exile of His
Holiness, The Dalai Lama. The world knows him as the spiritual
leader of Tibetan people.
This place in the hills, that we lived in, had forest trails that we
explored. There were a couple of mountain streams that we crossed,
jumping from one stone to other. At times, we fell into the water
Coming into Existence 5
wetting our clothes in the process. There were times we chased a
oating shoe/slipper down the stream. There were foot tracks through
the bushes and jungles that we walked on, hunting for mysterious
creatures with hand-made bows and arrows. The bows were made by
bending thin strips of bamboo into a bow. The canes from the cane
bushes served as arrows. The straightest part of the cane was to be cut
off to make a good arrow. The string of the bow was a controversy.
We tried different kinds of wires and strings. Some worked well and
some did not. Finally we would manage to scrape out some charcoal
from the road, make it into a small ball and use it to stick a big thorn
from a particular bush to the tip of the arrow. The bow and arrow
that I made for myself would never work well. I didn’t know why. It
was not that I tried too hard to fi nd out the reason either. While the
other kids’ arrows went high in the sky, the best I could do was to
request them to let me shoot from their bow once, which someone
would allow very rarely and that too after a lot of persuasion.
There were big rocks too that we used to climb on and slide over,
ending up with holes torn into our clothes.
Our school buses were modifi ed trucks with a snout-shaped front.
The buses were named Red bus, Green bus, Yellow bus and Blue bus.
These school buses used to race on those hill tracks to try and reach
the school fi rst, and we cheered and booed at each other as the buses
raced. Sometimes our bus won, sometimes our bus lost. The teachers/
sisters at the convent seemed to have come from a different world.
Most of them wore a nun’s white uniform and carried a thin long
strip of bamboo, which, when hit on the calves, after neatly raising
the trouser, caused a real burning pain and instigated a desperate
desire to rub vigorously at the point of impact. As I remember, most
of the times I wasn’t even aware of the reason for the caning. I think
I had taken it as a ritual to be observed from time to time. I remember
most of the time the child, while rubbing his calf with one hand,
6 In Quest of the Last Victory
would be looking up at the teacher with a ‘Why on earth did you do
that?’ kind of look. Such expression of one particular child is stuck
into my memory. The presence of the ‘sisters’, as we called them,
used to scare us into a quick hushed silence.
Once, ‘eight fastest children’ of my class, and of course I was not
one of them, had been picked from the class to run in a school race
on the annual sports day, with balloons tied to their wrists. Now
this seemed to be a dream assignment for me and I badly wanted to
be one of them. On the day and at the time of the run, I lingered
around and with my great fortune one of the selected children was
missing. I was scared to occupy his spot lest I be caught. To my good
fortune, one of the staff conducting the event pushed me into the
empty spot. Balloons were tied to my wrist too and we were taken to
the starting line. There was a well-organized audience sitting in chairs
under colourful canopies, along the length of the fi eld watching
the event. The race began and I ran fast. I was astonished how
everyone else was so ahead of me in a moment. I came last by a vast
margin. There was laughter from the crowd as I completed the last
stretch of my run, far behind others.
I could not run faster than the other kids. While playing with a
ball, I could not catch a ball. My hands would become shaky when
someone threw a ball to me. I could not even throw the ball well. I
could not rotate a top. I could not get a kite to take off the ground
however hard I tried. I could not hit one marble with another. These
were things other kids could easily do. I was never kept in the playing
team of any game except in rare cases when no one else was there to
occupy all the spots. I remember kids fi ghting over not wanting me
in their team. I was not even intelligent. And no one hesitated in tell-
ing that to me enough number of times. Yes, I wasn’t good at things
and, yes, I wasn’t intelligent. I was lazy, slow at understanding and
Coming into Existence 7
a shabby child. But I too wanted the same love, affection, praise and
attention that the other ‘intelligent’ and ‘able’ kids around were get-
ting at school, home and the neighbourhood. If not praise, at least I
should have got acceptance. It seemed that everyone derived pleasure
from my being inferior.
This made me want attention, appreciation and acceptance even
more. Sometimes I cooked up small lies to get affection from people
and to turn their attention towards me, at times successfully but most
of the times only to be laughed at. Everyone else appeared intelligent
and good. I felt I wasn’t good, I felt inferior. Even others seemed
more than eager to feel so about me and to make me feel so. I vividly
remember imagining that one day suddenly the whole world would
start loving me and respecting me. I did not know for what they
would do so but that they would was what I fantasized.
Around this time, I came across some stories of so-called great
people and mythological characters and I suddenly wanted to be
great like them. I wanted to be nice and good. Looking back, I think
the reason to get attracted to these stories might have been the ad-
miration these heroic and legendary characters received and that was
what I wanted so much. To get the much-needed acceptance and
appreciation I had to be good. I wanted to be good. However, I did
not know how to be good. Therefore, I accepted whatever defi nition
other people gave to ‘good’. The moment someone would say ‘You
are a good boy, so don’t do this’, I would give up whatever I was
doing. And if someone said “You are a good boy, do this’, I would
do it. This wanting to be good made me make sacrifi ces and com-
promises with a joyous childhood. I could never say ‘no’. I ended up
doing a lot of things I did not want to do and I ended up giving up
a lot of things that I liked. It made me suffer in silence with com-
promised decisions.