An Archive of Rich Memories: A Portrait of my Dadu from Past for the Present and Future 

Sripriya Singh

© Copyright 2023 by 
Sripriya Singh

Photo by Dinis Bazgutdinov on Unsplash
Photo by Dinis Bazgutdinov on Unsplash
29th September 1938, Uttar Pradesh, India. A small house in village Saunjini. Inside the house, a woman holding a newborn baby – her sixth child and the fourth son. In the garden stand the women of the village, eagerly waiting to see the newest family member.

My grandfather, Shri. Indraj Singh was born to a small family of farmers in what was then British India. The sixth child of eight siblings, life for him was challenging from day one. Earlier, when I used to fight with my siblings over toys and books, he would often narrate the story of how he and his brothers used to fight with each other to get the last roti (Indian flatbread). Inevitably, one of them went to bed half full. Things weren’t so merry for the winner either. According to the rules set by his mother, the child who ate that last roti would also have to sweep the kitchen floor and extinguish the lamp before retiring for the night.

In the distance, one can see a small boy, maybe six years old, walking on a narrow unpaved road. If one looks closely, then, one observes the narrow line that seems to follow him on the sand, created by the foot-long stick he holds in his right hand. An old rugged backpack hangs from his shoulders.

The only school in the village was located twelve kilometers away from my grandfather’s house. To gain access to fundamental elementary education, he used to wake up at four in the morning and go to school on foot every day. Many of his friends and all of his siblings gave up at some point, but my grandfather kept attending the classes. He was the first person from his village to complete his primary education. Higher education was an unachievable dream for the community.

He described life in the village as simple and quaint. When asked about an average day in the village, he often told us stories about his daily life. Through his vivid descriptions, I felt that I, too, was living in Saunjini in the 1940s. It was as if he was reliving his life through the stories he told me. More than fifty years later, I could still hear in his voice the childlike excitement of the annual Baisakhi festival which was celebrated with pomp and grandeur, the joy of breaking sugarcane and eating it straight from the fields and the happiness that can only be derived from playing in the open fields in the rain.

My grandfather told me that he was seventeen when he decided to come to the city. He was discouraged by the village elders. He remembers being threatened by the village sarpanch (chief) who told him that if he decided to move to the city and did not fulfill his duty towards his father by looking after the ancestral land, he would never be allowed to even step foot in the village. But, by then, Dadu (as I fondly called him) had made up his mind. He knew that some big opportunity was out there, waiting for him. Probably his ambitions were more valuable to him than the land he would have to forgo in the village. When I asked him about what made him take such a significant risk, his only reply was that he had asked himself the same question many times but had never been able to come up with an answer. He would laugh out loud and say ‘Ram jaane mere mann mein kya tha’ (Translate: God alone knows what I was thinking).

The village children chase the bullock cart as it makes its way towards the ‘big road.’ The bells tied around the bull’s neck tinkle sweetly. The cart driver holds a whip, in his right hand, occasionally prodding the animals to move. A young boy, his face fresh with the look of youth, is seated at the back of the cart. He holds in his lap a small bundle of clothes. In the distance, tears stream down his mother’s veiled face.

My grandfather made his way to Ghaziabad, a city in Uttar Pradesh, also a part of the National Capital Region of Delhi. The search for jobs was tough. He tried to seek employment in private companies but, unfortunately, couldn’t actively do so. Nobody was ready to offer a job to a skinny young boy who was unfamiliar with the ways of the city. At last, he decided to join the Police force. He sat through numerous exams until his perseverance finally paid off. He would later describe joining the police as the best decision of his life. According to his contemporaries, whom I spoke to much later, the area was fraught with crimes before my grandfather joined the forces. People in the district started looking up to my grandfather in more than one way. His words were like gospel. In fact, soon people started asking for grandfather's permission even before they got their children married or built a new house. The love and respect he received from the people had no bounds.

The bullet seemed to miss as it hit the pillar beside the thief’s leg. But then again, did it miss?

There was a time when my grandfather could recall every single encounter he had with thieves and petty rogues. My father tells me that in his childhood, Grandfather often narrated stories about his days in the police. Dadu’s favorite story to share would perhaps have to be the one in which he caught a man who had taken money from the local sweet shop owner and then was refusing to return it. Not only did Grandfather get the money back, but as a punishment, he also got him to shave off his mustache, which stretched to his ears and was the source of his pride and joy. Though these tales now make me laugh, I also often marvel at his wit and bravery.

From what I have heard from other people, my grandfather was one of the most reputed police officers in the land. His bravery and courage were unmatchable. The mention of his name sent shivers down the spines of those who had ever had the misfortune of facing his anger. I have found letters dating back to the 1970s. They are mostly letters from people praising and thanking my grandfather for helping them in their time of need. While I was going through the letters, one particular letter caught my eye. It was written by a former dacoit who expressed his gratitude towards my grandfather for reforming his life and helping him deviate from the path of sin and crime in his letter. Some letters also contained poems in praise of grandfather written by the villagers in their local language. Some village folk credit my grandfather for giving them the courage to break the rigid molds of tradition and inspiring them to better their lives by stepping out of the village.

The temple is decorated with bright orange marigold flowers. The family of the bride waits eagerly for the groom to arrive at the venue.

My grandfather was 33 years old when he decided to get married. My father is the youngest of five siblings. I have never met my grandmother. She passed away when my father was five months old. That is when my grandfather decided to quit the police force. He realized that his children needed him, and if he continued his service in the police, then he would not be able to devote adequate time to his children. He then started a small business of finance, leasing, and hire purchases. Again with his prudence, perseverance, and dedication, the business flourished. Every year, he donated a substantial part of his income to orphanages and hospitals.

When I was about a year old, my grandfather was diagnosed with mouth cancer. Again in 2011, he was diagnosed with cancer in his abdomen. He attributed his recovery to his strenuous fitness regime and simple lifestyle, which had become a part of life while serving in the police. His strength of will, resilience, and optimism also perhaps helped him overcome the fatal disease, not once but twice.

My grandfather always believed that whatever situation one finds himself in, one must always be grateful. One day my mother asked him- “Why are you so thankful to the almighty despite all the hardships you have faced?”. He replied by saying “Why shouldn’t I be grateful? Despite all the hardships in my life I am standing here at the age of eighty-one. My children are happy and settled. I have a loving family. What more could I want? Always be grateful.”

My grandfather passed away in June 2020 amid the global pandemic. Not a day goes by when I don’t think of him. My grandfather’s stories and experiences touched my life in a way that perhaps cannot be effectively articulated in language. Throughout my childhood, he was my friend, confidant, and guide. Today, I miss him beyond what words can describe, but I know that I will always have the memories of the precious moments I spent with him with me. This repository of vibrant memories and chronicles has become my source of inspiration, my light in moments of darkness.


Hailing from India, Sripriya Singh is a Grade 12 student at Delhi Public School, R. K. Puram, where she studies English, Economics, Mathematics, Psychology, and History, and serves as the student council president. With an ardent passion for reshaping the present-day social realities rooted in deep-seated fissures and hierarchies, she is deeply intrigued by the interdisciplinary possibilities of tapping into the infinite questions around gender in modern times. A budding researcher and writer, Sripriya finds power in not being bound by the traditional boundaries of disciplines and genres and explores her creative interests across forms and genres: all informed and illuminated by her avid interest in psychology, history, and literature. 

So far, Sripriya’s earnest efforts to enhance and sharpen her writing interests—both creatively and focusing on the area of psychology, have led to her active participation in multiple essay and creative writing competitions. She emerged as the winner of the 2022 Franklin Essay Prize, the regional winner of South and Southeast Asia in the creative writing category of the Harvard Crimson Global Essay Competition 2022, and received the Bronze Award at the Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition 2021. Outside the classroom, apart from researching and writing, Sripriya can be found performing Kathak—which she has been mastering since 2011, playing the keyboard and working on Click Foundation—a women’s social digital literacy project she founded in the winter of 2021. Sripriya’s goal is to use the endless possibilities and the power of writing to foster a better future for our planet. 

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