Bertram Wallace Korn, Jr., from Philadelphia, United States, was somewhat peculiar by Indian standard. He was my classmate in a university of repute in New Delhi, India.
During late 1970s, Korn used to come riding a bi-cycle from South Avenue to R.K. Puram (Sector-III), a distance of about eight kilometres, to attend postgraduate classes in our university – summer or winter hardly mattered. But, don’t worry, he used to secure “A+” grade in most of his papers; and everybody in the university recognized him as an extraordinary student. I often saw him with a pretty American girl and always wondered if she did not have some Red Indian blood in her lineage.
Be that as it may, once Korn came to my hostel room in a hot summer afternoon. Seeing him was a good surprise especially at a time when we all were preparing for end semester examinations. For me, seeing him at that moment was also a pleasant break from the usual examination pressure.
Korn entered into my room, coolly kept his leather bag on the table, and lay down relaxingly on my bed which I always used to keep neatly covered with a white bed sheet. His feet full of dirt gathered since morning found a nice place to make their presence felt – much against my mental discomfiture. But, being a true Indian, I could keep my cool displaying instead a great sense of hospitality for which we are well known!
He pulled out a pack of “Red & White” and a lighter from his pocket and offered me a cigarette. We both started smoking gradually filling the room with smells of light smokes.
“So, how come you are here at this time, Korn?” – I asked.
“Yeah, my girlfriend has gone to the library, and I preferred to be in a lighter environment” – he replied.
Taking advantage of the situation, I thought of getting some information out of him – which I kept on piling for long.
“She is your girlfriend? I thought she was your wife!” – I told him.
“Yeah, she is my girlfriend” – he replied.
“But, where do you stay in the South Avenue?” – I asked.
“B-a-r-s-a-t-i” – he replied with his typical American accent.
I understood that they lived in a one-room set on the terrace of a quarters meant for Members of Parliament (M.P.); and, immediately after, my mind started swimming in a pool of imagination to realize as to what made these two youngsters to stay away from a society of opulence located at such a great distance and live like the way they were doing. And that forced my feelings out spontaneously, when I said – “What made you two to come all the way to India and live like this?”
“Well, more than me, it was my girlfriend’s interests” – he replied.
“But, then you are doing a postgraduate course here with us?” – I told him.
“Yeah, this is because I have nothing else to do and this is also helping me to understand people like you!” – he replied with a smile.
“But, then how do you so easily secure better grades in most of the papers?” – I now raised the question which I was thinking to ask him for long.
“Well, most of these things I studied while doing my undergraduate programme, and the standard in my country in this matter is very high” – he replied.
Yeah, I got a mild bump but then also partially got the long awaited answer about his extraordinary studentship in our university. And I had already the other part of answer to this question with me, as by then I was also well versed about the intellectual, political and economical prowess of the Jewish community in the United States, especially in terms of their strategic prevalence in the Wall Street, Broadcasting Corporations, University Professoriate, and national labour conglomerate ( the AFL-CIO).
Being satisfied, I now wanted to go back and know that great “interest” which made him and his girlfriend to come to India.
“O.K… O.K… What about your girlfriend? What is she doing?” – I asked.
“ Well, she is publishing a children’s magazine” – he replied.
“ Children’s magazine? What is the name of this magazine?” – I asked.
“How?” – he replied.
“H..o..w?” – I murmured, and tried my level best to remember if I even vaguely heard about this kind of a magazine.
“H..o..w?… Did you say, H..o..w?… What is this actually?.. I am not getting your point.” – I asked him again.
“Kh-a-a-i-s-e” – he replied with his typical American accent which made the reply more unintelligible for me.
“Kh-a-a-i-s-e?.. What is Kh-a-a-i-s-e?” – I responded quite astonishingly, feeling for a moment everything about to be going above my head!
The guy now got it. He tried to clarify me by saying “Kh-a-a-i-s-e….. Kh-a-a-i-s-e….. How?…. How?” “Oh! K-a-a-i-s-e… How?.. O.K…. O.K…. I got it… I got it.” – I replied laughingly.
And, then the next question cropped up in my mind.
“ Well, now tell me what kind of a magazine is this?…. And why it is named, `How’ ?” – I asked.
Now, I got the next real bump for which honestly I was never prepared. That is the crux of this story a la real experience; and you listen to what Korn told me on the subject and enjoy yourself!
“In your country, when a toddler cries, the mother usually says …..sleep baby… sleep, otherwise the Ghost will come and take you away…… That most effectively works and the toddler calms down and tries to sleep with the highest sense of security by creeping further into his/her mother’s chest.
But, in our country, you cannot do so. You will invite a real trouble. Because, the toddler will start asking you a lot of odd questions like – How the Ghost looks like? Where does the Ghost live? Can he/she be shown the Ghost one day? And, such questions will be nagging till you show the Ghost which you know you cannot. Would anybody like to make life miserable by talking about the Ghost to a crying American toddler?
But, then this is due to differences in upbringing of children in the two countries. In America, from our very childhood, the social environment makes us inquisitive to ask questions about things around; and words like “What”, “Who”, “When”, “How”, “Why” etc., are integral parts of our ways of living; and these as we understand go well with a healthy democratic society.
And, my girlfriend’s objective is to ignite this spirit of inquisitive thought process among your children so that the Indian society can also reap the same benefits as we do. It is a very effective, although small, effort to do something good in life; and, as you may be able to appreciate, I consider it as my moral duty and also feel great to standby her in this great endeavor”.
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