Harkishan Singh Surjeet passed away last week. The veteran Communist leader was different things to different people: king-maker, master strategist, power broker. But I will always remember him as a gruff but amiable Gandalf-like figure from scattered childhood memories.
Born months apart, my paternal grandfather – a fervent grassroots Commie, who moonlighted as a feudal landlord – and “Comrade Surjeet” met in Ludhiana, where he used to come and visit my granddad on a bicycle, and they sporadically kept in touch over the years. My grandfather was what you can call "progressive", not an active hands-on firebrand like his comrade, but more of a logistics, materiel and moral-support provider to the cause. Grandpa was perpetually berating us for being spoilt capitalist brats, to which I responded by haranguing him about all those “fake” Communists with their lavish lifestyles. I did this just to piss him off and this particular Comrade was usually his ace socialist-with-a-soul defense against my wild insinuations.
It was a battle without end and wherever the truth may lie, two incidents stick in my memory. The first was narrated by my dad, and the second I was witness to. Years ago, my father travelled with him to Kolkata by rail and he never tires of narrating as to how “Surjeet Uncle” stepped out at en-route stations to buy guavas and other goodies. Upon arrival, he patiently waited with dad to get a taxi, for well over an hour in the sweltering heat, even though he could have just asked for a party car.
Another time, while he was visiting us in Bareilly, my grandfather had to suddenly leave for the farm, leaving my mother in-charge of making our guest his (obscenely) early morning cuppa. She woke up, horrified at having missed the alarm, and rushed into the kitchen only to find him, on his knees, rummaging through newly bought rations for tea and sugar. He further humbled my deeply apologetic mom by insisting on making her a cup as well.
I have really been missing my grandfather, who passed away this March, merely to rib him about the mayhem in the Left’s ranks, at which I am sure he would have scoffed: “These are not Communists, these are Opportunists!” I somehow get the feeling that he is just waiting up there to pounce on his trusty old friend for some answers of his own. May their souls rest in peace.