Saturday, August 25, 2018

Summer on our Rooftops

(published on the Edit Page of the New Indian Express 24-7-2018)

Rooftops during summers were lively places before the high-rises, air-conditioners, television and, a general sense of insecurity did them in. Lying on the cots, gazing at the stars, deciphering their patterns, wondering what lay beyond, it felt ethereal as the light breeze fanned one to sleep. Though it was all (to borrow from Wordsworth) ‘quiet as a Nun, breathless with adoration’, one was encompassed by sounds – sounds which can be heard only when all is still. The chirping of crickets, a cuckoo calling her mate, the waft of an old film song or the crackle of some transistor tuned to Radio Ceylon or the B.B.C News and, the soft voices of a conversing couple or, someone narrating stories to kids, slowly faded away, as the gentle summer breeze, with a whiff of the sweet mild smell of a mango tree in bloom, lulled all to sleep.

Preparations for the nightly slumber began when the Sun went down after its harsh day’s labour. The rooftop floor was drenched with water to cool it down. The  string cots would then be brought out in the open from the shade and, bed sheets  spread on them early enough to make them cool by the time one would lie on them after a couple of hours or so.

As evening set in, the rooftops became a frenzy of activity. The young rendered the evening sky a riot of colours as their kites swirled with excitement or swam with elegance. Released from their day-long confinement, the kids hit the outdoors with a vengeance. Hide and Seek, Vish-Amrit, Chor-Sipahi, Chibbadi or Hopscotch were some of those games for which terraces were ideally suited.

Mango pickles owed themselves to sunny terraces. Whether it were their marinating with salt and turmeric at the beginning, or seasoning them with spices and mustard oil before they finally got ready to eat and also store for a long period, they had to be laid down in the summer Sun.

Those were times of early to bed and early to rise. Fracas and farce, euphemistically called the T.V. News hadn’t taken our fancy then. Families conversed and kids had stories to hear as they went to sleep. Twitter of birds, mooing of a cow somewhere, and the morning Sun’s soft rays woke them up. Our towns hadn’t turned into megalopolises and, the houses did not resemble cells of a honeycomb. Yes, it’s so different today. Closeted with four walls all the day long, we have to wrench ourselves from the communication gadgets to go to sleep amidst the monotonous whirr of the air-conditioners. The word ‘complex’ in the compound word ‘residential complex’ seems so apt. In this context, two great thinkers- Ruskin and Tagore- come to mind. While Ruskin believed that our architecture is an expression of our life and character, Tagore abhorred walls. He wrote- ‘…walls leave their mark deep in the minds of men. They set up a habit of securing all our conquests by fortifying them and separating them from one another…. It breeds in us a strong suspicion of whatever is beyond the barriers we have built, and everything has to fight hard for its entrance into our recognition’.

Some decades back, the roofs of the houses were lively, open and, welcoming as the then life, unlike today, when huge water tanks and dish T.V. antennas are their only adornments. Hasn’t similarly, our then openness and genuine warmth seems to have been replaced by canned emotions and digital expressions?



Monday, February 26, 2018

Musings of a newspaper addict/ The thrill of the morning

Musings of a newspaper addict
published in The Hindu - 08/10/17

How I wait to hear the ‘thud’ of the rolled bundle falling on my terrace! A few minutes late and there I am - perched on the railing, waiting eagerly to catch a glimpse of his cycle turning the corner towards my house. It sure looks fantastic. With a large bundle tied on their handles and carriers laden with another, the bicycles swim in my lane.  The satchel on their handle bars holds some more- the rolled ones. The practiced fingers nimbly pick the exact newspaper from the bundles or the satchel, depending on whether they are to be delivered to a ground floor verandah or, to an upper floor terrace and, the dexterous arm akin to an Olympian javelin thrower sends it to the desired place. All in one seamless action!
I am a confirmed newspaper addict.  Without it the morning seems bland,  the  morning- tea insipid, and, the day morose. They may have been the mornings of  a remote town, Sakti in Chhatisgarh, or a non-descript railway station where my train happened to stop during some journey , the Heathrow airport where the flight to USA took a break , or the cities in USA where I have had  short sojourns, I have gone all out in search for a newspaper. Yes, the printed version- which one can feel and smell and can hold in one’s hands. Having had one, I flip and cursorily make a mental note of the choicest and juiciest topics, and then lay it down on the lap to savour it, to chew and digest it in the celebrated words of Bacon. I even deliberately leave some of the articles unread for the next day, if  the newspaper is not to be available that day on account of  a press holiday.  I cannot let my morning tea be tasteless !
It wasn’t so in the beginning. Those were the days when we children were asked to read newspapers to improve both our language and knowledge, and it was a reluctant compliance of course. The comic strip, the sports page and, the weekly Children’s page were the initial hook-ups. The graduation to the editorial and op-ed pages took some years and the preparation for the civil services exam made it staple. The newspapers then catered to all age groups. They were meant to be read not to be merely seen as some of them now. Page three was just another page in a daily, which usually carried local news. It wasn’t an adjective then. While our teachers and parents insisted that we read the newspapers, I dread asking my kids to do that. Not only have all the well-known newspapers stopped having an exclusive kid’s space on their sheets, some of them have also gone ahead for a blatant display of patent adult stuff on them in the name of life style articles.
 ‘But why is mine so late today?’, I grumble , careening myself as if I would be able to see beyond the road-bend. Well may be some newspaper might have reached the distribution centre late or may be his cycle-tyre got punctured.  I suddenly realize that he must have left his home at the crack of dawn to be there at the newspaper sorting center. The foggiest morning of a crippling winter or,  a monsoonal one, raining hailstones makes no difference to his schedule. So, while we in our blankets, lie warmly ensconced in dreams, he is out there loading grim realities on his handle bar. He cycles dripping wet to get our newspaper dry and crisp as a papadum. I realize that this drudgery is to supplement his paltry income from some low-paid job the rest of the day.
I espy my paper-wala shooting newspaper missiles, bang on targets, of specific balconies and porches, as he speedily cycles towards my house. My reverie breaks. I move a bit back from my perch, take a stance à la Jonty Rhodes and focus my attention to catch the roll of newspapers hurled from below.

                                                        Skand Shukla

Friday, September 29, 2017

Our Primary Level Text books and Social Constructs about Gender (published in the Journal of Women's Studies)

Our Primary Level Text books and Social Constructs about Gender


Text books are not only an expression of the beliefs of the writers who are a part of a particular social milieu, but also a shaper of the belief system of the coming generations. A reading of the primary school text books of various publications, including NCERT, shows that they seem to be guided by many age old social constructs about gender. ‘Social construct’ is an idea that seems to be natural and so obvious that it is accepted unquestionably, but, which in fact, may not represent reality, being actually an invention of a given society. In fact ‘gender’ itself is a social construct. Down the years, gender sensitivity as regards the text books has been limited to an increase in pictorial content depicting women and gender role reversals, but has not questioned the traditional gender power structure.
            This paper intends to present how finely the gender biasness is interwoven in the content of the textbooks and why and how it can be done away with, with a little circumspection.

Our Primary Level Text books and Social Constructs about Gender

It was during the mid-19th century, the period of Victorian England, when Tennyson wrote in his long poem ‘The Princess’-
 ‘…Man for the field and woman for the hearth:
Man for the sword and for the needle she:
 Man with the head and woman with the heart:
Man to command and woman to obey;
All else confusion….’(Part V, lines 427-431)
 The poem raised and explored the question of the male- domination in gender relations, both in work area as in lines cited above and, in sexual relationships as in the lines- ‘We hunt them for the beauty of their skins;/They love us for it, and we ride them down’ (V, 147-50).

The scenario has changed tremendously in the West since then. Changes have not been little even in our part of the world but the moot point is whether the social beliefs have changed to considering the two genders equal (not similar) on a social scale or, is it only that woman have taken to some works in professional area, mostly because of economic necessity, which previously were done only by males. Perhaps it is only the latter and the clearest signs can be found in our text books written for our primary school children. Text books are important indicators because they are not only an expression of the beliefs of the writer who himself is a part of a particular social milieu, but also a shaper of the belief system of the coming generations in society.Browsing through the primary school text books of various publications, including NCERT, makes one feel that the age old social constructs about the male being more  powerful, both in physic and intellect, and hence the natural decision maker, exist in our society till date and are also being perpetuated through them. 

            To put it simply, a ‘social construct’ is an idea or notion that seems to be natural and obvious to people who accept it unquestionably, but, which in fact, may or may not represent reality. Thus it is largely an invention of a given society. In fact ‘gender’ itself is a social construct. Gender, as distinguished from sex, is the assigning of masculine or feminine behavior and roles based on the genitalia. Some of the social constructs about gender are- girls are feminine i.e. are characterized by being shy, soft spoken, sensitive, self-effacing, compliant, emotional and subjective; boys have masculine traits and are out-going, aggressive, achievement oriented and objective. These constructs become the basis of stereotypes in other fields as well. For instance, in the field of education, it is widely believed that girls are less adept in mathematics vis-à-vis boys, drawn perhaps from the notion that girls are emotional while boys are rational. Similarly, in reference to marital life, it seems to be a given that woman are best suited for household chores while men for works outside the house.

 The assigning of softness and emotionality, down the ages, to one of the two genders has automatically resulted in the acquiring of a dominant role by the other gender. It would however be interesting to think overas to why this assigning traverses time and space.Fiona Tolan writes- ‘The Second Sex argued that there was no such thing as ‘feminist nature’. There was no physical or psychological reason why women should be inferior to men…Biological differences do not provide a causal explanation for women’s oppression, however their reproductive function has placed women at a disadvantage by tying them to the domestic sphere…’ (Waugh 321-322).Without going into a debate over the question of the two genders being psychologically or emotionally differentfrom each other, this writer’s guess too is that since it has been the woman who bore child, she automatically got bound within a boundary for rearing and, as a corollary, got stamped over time with the attribute of emotional and a weaker gender vis-à-vis man.

            These social constructs can easily be seen to be false if we just observe the world around- a woman laborer giving as much output as a man at a construction site and also taking care of her child, lady scientists in one of the most intellectually demanding organizations as ISRO, ladies climbing high mountains – even an amputee like Arunima Sinha, ladies heading big corporates and; men too breaking down in times of distress, even tough sportsmen as the South Cricket team players on losing a world cup match. But, the question is- can we observe objectively? Perhaps not. The reason is that we all - men and women- have been bred amid gender discriminatory social constructs. Content and images in our text books have only gone to reinforce, unawares, our impressionable minds with the gender stereotypes. No wonder socially prescribed, practiced and believed in gender roles and behavior do not strike us as odd. No wonder statements like, ‘it’s the cow which is tied to a peg, not the bull’, are sometimes issued by the boy’s apologists when his inappropriate behavior towards a girl is asked to be restrained.No wonder,a criminalseems to echo Tennyson’s words cited abovewhen justifying his heinous act of violation of the girl Nirbhaya-"Housework and housekeeping is for girls…’       

Besides the typical images of boys playing outdoor games and girls playing with dolls with which our primary school text books are replete with, there are more gender related seemingly innocuous contents, which on a deeper analysis, are not really so. Down the years, gender sensitivity as regards the text books has been limited to an increase in pictorial content depicting women and gender role reversals, but has continued situating her within domesticity and, not questioning the traditional gender power structure. A few examples from books published by India’s premier educational organization, the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT),   below will show how finely the gender biasness is interwoven in the content of the textbooks–

1)      ‘His mother and sister have to walk a longer distance to fetch water… While walking on the hot sand their feet burn and blisters just cannot be avoided. When the train carrying water comes they are very happy. Madho’s father goes to fetch water in his camel-cart’. (Chapter 20 ‘Drop By Drop’, Environmental Studies book Looking Around).

The text above and the picture of ladies trudging to fetch water in this chapter on water conservation reinforces in the young minds  that the job of fetching water is of women alone. Moreover, it goes on to assert that, when a man does so (the chapter makes clear that it is ‘not often’) he goes not on foot, but on a cart, , unlike Madho’s ‘mother and sister!

2)      The stage directions in chapter 8 of the Hindi textbook for class 3 , Rimjhim, for  a skit of the famous parable of a monkey eating the whole bread being fought over by two cats are worded thus- ‘ 7-8 baraskaladkabandar ban saktahaiaur 5-6 baraskiladkiyaanbilli ban saktihain.’(a boy of 7-8 years of age can become the monkey and girls of 5-6 years can play the parts of the cats).A dialogue spoken by the monkey is so expressed- “roti kiski? Mai iskafaisalakaroonga. Chalokachehry, mere peechhepeechheaao.” (Whose bread? I will decide it. Come to the court, come behind me) The stage directions then say-‘ bandardono se chheenkar roti apnehaathmeilekarchaltahai, donobilliyaanpeechhe-peechheaatihain’. (the monkey snatches the bread from both of them and with it in its hands begins to walk while the two cats follow )

The stage directions specifying the gender of the actors for the role of the monkey and the cats, the dialogues and, the accompanying picture of the monkey sitting on a pedestal while the cribbing cats look above to him for justice reinforce the notion of maleness essential for decision making and females given to stupidly fighting over small things.
In both the above examples, a little circumspection could have made the content gender neutral. In the first, the distinction between men and women could have been avoided and, men too could have been shown partaking in the domestic works. In the second, the specifying of gender for role play could have been avoided or even provided that a girl could be the monkey-judge and a boy and a girl can play the roles of the cats.

3)      Some of the seemingly innocuous pictures of children playing are like bas-relief in the way they subtly put forth the distinction between the two genders even when the two are shown to be performing the same activity. The chapter ‘ Nobody’s Friends’ in  Unit 8 of class 5 English text-book juxtaposes in one picture a girl-child with a doll with a boy-child on a tricycle. Again, a picture of  three children playing basketball in Chapter ‘Teamwork’ (page 20) in Class 5 English book shows  two boys leaping high in the air, touching the ball while the lone girl’s feet are on the ground, the ball quite beyond her reach.

Besides the NCERT books, which are supposed to set standards for other publications, here are some examples from other reputed publications-

1)      In the Social Studies book for class 4, TREK (Oxford University Press, 2013),there are five pictures of different seasons being enjoyed by a child and not one is of a girl-child in chapter 6- ‘The Climate of India’. The chapter 8 of this book- ‘Natural Resources’- has a picture of children enjoying themselves in a pond and, all of them are boys.Chapter 7- ‘Organizations that help us’- has five different pictures of various professionals helping us  the police, doctor, army personnel, workers in a post office and none of them has a woman Chapter 10- ‘Our Industries’- has a picture of people working in an automobile industry and all of them are men. However there is a chapter, chapter 11- ‘Our Heritage’- which has pictures in which there only women, and interestingly they all are depictions of dances of various kinds.

2)      The book Environmental Studies , Viva Publications , written for class 2 has pictures of 12 professionals in the chapter 11- ‘We Need Them’- and none of them has a woman while, in the same chapter, the sub section ‘People who entertain us’ has the only picture of a woman and,again interestingly,it is of a dancer !

            The above are only a few samples of the gendered content existing subtly in our primary level textbooks of various reputed publications. These examples give a fair idea of the fact that our text book writers have to get out of the time warp of antiquity as far as the gender constructs are concerned.
In their essay ‘Inclusive Education in India: The Struggle for Quality in Consonance with Equity’, NidhiSingal and Roger Jeffery remark that- ‘Efforts aimed at developing inclusive education have been largely framed by the distributive paradigm of social justice’ (Artiles, Kozleski and Waitoller, 181). The distributive view of justice, as thought of by Rawls, has relevance only to an extent. It is useful in that it focuses on access and provision of resources like free books, uniform, and even bicycles and money sometimes, and thus ensures the availability of basic essentials for education to girls but, it stops short of realizing the roles that are played by social structures and institutional contexts in upholding the gender inequalities.Access does not automatically ensure equality. In fact, if the curriculum and the content are not examined in the light of gender equity, the gender inequalities of socialization and social control will only be perpetuated. As Lewis advises to ‘remember the ‘education’ in inclusive education’ (qtd in Artiles, Kozleski and Waitoller, 182), inclusion is not enough in itself and attains worth only with the imparting of an education that helps to create a just and equal society.

We should also remember that it’s not only about girls. ‘Femininity’ cannot exist by itself, therefore masculinity and its effects on boys and menneeds to be sensitively understood and addressed too.The Position Paper of the National Focus Group on Gender Issues in Education expressly says-‘Boys and men also suffer from the stereotyping that exists in a patriarchal culture. Boys are discouraged from being emotional, gentle and caring or from admitting to being weak or fearful. They are thrust into the role of breadwinners, protectors, warriors. Most men cannot live up to the notion of hegemonic masculinity. They are ridiculed for being effeminate if they are not aggressive. Gentle boys are pushed around and sexually exploited by stronger, macho men. An excessive emphasis on virility, male sexual prowess and performance leads to tremendous insecurities and anxiety in men.’ (NCERT, 24)

What is required is a massive rethink on our definitions, language and concepts to create gender non-discriminatory knowledge for our children.The Position Paper of the National Focus Group on Gender Issues in Education suggested construction of ‘alternative gendered frameworks of knowledge that equally reflect the life worlds of both men and women and carry within them the seeds of a just social transformation.’ (NCERT, 32). These alternative frameworks will have to go beyond merely making woman visible in the text books, situating them within domestic boundaries (even while discussing historical figures like Rani Jhansi and Razia Sultan) or, at best, supplementing income of the family in her outdoor life. It also suggests to seek new definitions of ‘strength’ as the existing definitions only lead to a false perception of women being weak. It says-‘Strength is usually measured in terms of who runs faster, jumps higher, carries heavier loads. Physicalstamina, thresholds of pain, and longevity, are rarely taken to be indicators of strength.’

The fact is that we have to move even beyond gender and think in terms of intersectionality, i.e. multiple disadvantages of some sections of society, to ensure inclusiveness in our thoughts. Thus, instead of a picture of man mountaineer in the text book, we have to have the picture of that woman amputee mountaineer who successfully climbed Mount Everest.   

            Learning imparted at the impressionable age of primary schooling remains forever and, it is imbibed both from the texts as well as the images. It is hence, of utmost importance that the material presented before children is such which is empowering for girls in the sense of making them realise their potential, frees the boys from the bondage of stereotype male-hood of aggressiveness and curbing of emotions, and thus, raise a generation that is not conformist but critically evaluative and constructive and capable of expanding its capacities to the utmost and contribute to the making of a just and compassionate society.


11-      Artiles, Alfredo J. , Elizabeth B. Kozeleski and Federico R. Waitoller. Inclusive Education, Harvard Education Press, Cambridge, MA, 2011. Print.
22-      Environmental Studies , Viva Publications, New Delhi, 2014. Print
33-      Gutek, Gerald L. Philosophical and Ideological Voices in Education, Pearson, USA, 2006. Print.
44-      NCERT.  Marigold, Web (8/5/2015)
55-       NCERT. Looking Around, (8/5/2015)
66-      NCERT. Rimjhim, Web (8/5/2015)
77-       NCERT. The Position Paperof the National Focus Group on Gender Issues in Education. 2006. Print

                                                                                                                   Dr Skand Shukla
(Officer of the U.P. Education Services and was recently a visiting fellow at the Arizona State University, U.S.A)

Profile of the writer- An officer of the Provincial Educational Services of Uttar Pradesh, did post-graduation in English Literature with a gold medal and was awarded the degree of D.Phil. on his thesis on Tagore’s philosophy of education by the University of Allahabad. Articles related to academics and other issues have found place in newspapers like The Hindu, The Economic Times, The Times of India and the Hindustan Times. He was also a visiting fellow at the Arizona State University, U.S.A.
E-mail id- ; Phone number- 09415254692

Sunday, September 17, 2017

हैप्पी बर्थडे- कादम्बिनी मई 2017 अंक में प्रकाशित

हैप्पी बर्थडे

अरे ये क्या! आज तो 24 जनवरी है। तो क्या? हुआ करे, मेरी बला से। चलूं उठूँ । सुबह के छः बज गये है! दो ही दिन तो हुए है जॉगिंग शुरू किये, अलसियाना ठीक नहीं  लेकिन ये इसकी याद क्यों आ गयी, अचानक? वर्षों हो गये बातचीत हुए, या सच बताऊं, तो ख्याल ही आये। हद है! पचास वर्ष की उम्र में उसका सपने में दिख जाना! उन दिनो तो कभी मेरे सपने में आयी नहीं जब घंटो साथ बीतते थे। हाँ वो कभी कभी छेड़ने के लिए अवश्य  पूछती थी कि यार मैं कभी तुम्हारे सपने वपने में आती हूँ की नहीं, और मैं तुनक के कहता था कि भाई दिन भर का तो साथ रहता है अब कम से  कम नींद में तो चैन से रहने दो । अरे! उठूं भी- ये सब क्या सोचने लगा? अच्छा एक करवट और, बस दो मिनट। तो आज वो सपने में क्यो आ गयी? क्या टेलिपाथी जैसा तो कुछ नहीं हुआ होगा  कि मैं भी उसके ख्यालों में आया होऊंगा? सोच कर अच्छा लगा अरे खाक आया होऊंगा! ये सब टेलिपाथी-वेलापाथी किताबी चीजें हैं।  और वैसे भी, इस सपने में कुछ ऐसा रोमान्टिक तो था नहीं। इस उम्र में, जीवन के यथार्थों से प्रतिक्षण रूबरू होते होते,  ढेरों जिम्मेदारियों के बोझ तले, अब तो सपने भी रूटीन हो गये है। सपने में तो हम झगड़ रहे थे, बहस कर रहे थे- कीट्स के ओड्स पर और अचानक हैमलेट के दर्शन के सार पर। हैमलेट मेरा पसन्दीदा चरित्र था- अनिर्णय से परिपूर्ण और और भविष्य के लिए आशंकित । अन्त में शेक्सपीयर ने कह ही तो दिया था कि आप कुछ नहीं करते, सब कुछ वो ऊपर वाली,  वो सर्वशक्तिमान अदृश्य शक्ति ही करती कराती है। व्यक्ति तो मात्र निमित्त है और सब कुछ उसके जीवन में पूर्व –निर्धारित - ‘There’s a divinity that shapes our ends. । और वो, हैमलेट के अनिर्णय वाले चरित्र की निंदक।

  विश्वविद्यालय की लाइब्रेरी का वो रीडिंग रूम और बड़ी सी ओवल आकार की टेबल। हम पढ़ रहे थे।  ‘‘ए सुनो,  तुम मुझसे प्रेम तो नहीं करने लगे’’ अचानक उसने छेड़ने के अंदाज़ में पूछा। मैं चौंक उठा, “क्यों? बिल्कुल नहीं”। ‘‘अच्छा मान लो हमारा विवाह हो गया तो’’? पुनः प्रश्न। “तो फिर क्या? पटेगी नहीं एक दिन भी”, मैने कहा। “विवाह की सफलता के लिए, दो अनजान लोगों को करीब आने के लिए, रोमांस आवश्यक है ; और रोमांस आता है नोवेल्टी से, इमैजिनेशन से, इमोशन्स आदि, आदि से। वो हमारे बीच होगा नहीं क्योंकि लगता ही  नहीं  कि इस प्रगाढ़ मैत्री के कारण एक दुसरे के मन के बारे में कुछ डिस्कवर करना बचा है । वैवाहिक सम्बन्ध में पटने के लिए कुछ सीक्रेट्स चाहिए दो लोगो के बीच में- और यहाँ  हम दोनो के बीच वहीं नहीं है- एकदम खुली पुस्तक हैं  हम दोनो एक दूसरे के लिए”। “हुम्म”, उसने धीमे से कहा। “और ये मित्रता क्या होती  है ?” उसने पूछा । “और ये प्रेम, और रोमांस”? मेरे शब्दों के मीमांसा करने के गुण से वो इतना परिचित जो थी । “क्या मालूम भाई ,” मैंने कहा । “प्रेम हुआ हो तब तो बताऊँ । और रोमांस ? मेरे जैसे भावना शून्य , इमोशनलेस  व्यक्ति के लिए तो उसका अनुभव असंभव ही है । आई ऍम अ पर्सन ऑफ़ रीज़न नॉट ऑफ़ इमोशन्स, यू नो सो वेल। लेकिन अब तुमने विषय छेड़ ही दिया है तो मेरे ख्याल से यह कहा जा सकता है कि ‘प्रेम’ बस होता है, बिना भावाभिव्यक्ति के भी उसका अस्तित्व है 'रोमांस' में उसका परिलक्षण , उसकी अभिव्यक्ति होती है; और यह प्रकटन, यह अभिव्यक्ति किसी व्यक्ति की केवल कल्पनाओं से ही सीमांकित हो सकती है - लिमिटेड ओनली बाई वन्स इमेजिनेशन , यू नो” । “मैं समझी नहीं”। "एक उदाहरण देता हूँ । शॉ की ‘कैंडिडा’ पढ़ा है न तुमने ?  पति-पत्नी प्रेम तो करते हैं एक दूसरे से पर जब कभी वो एक्सप्रेस किया जाता है शब्दों में , ऐक्शन्स में – जैसे कोई सरप्राइज गिफ्ट , कैंडल लाइट डिनर – तब रोमांस का प्रवेश होता है । रोमांटिक लम्हा उस अनिर्वचनीय प्रेम को महसूस करा जाता है । प्रेम आपके वातावरण में रचा बसा तो रहता है परन्तु आप उस से अनभिज्ञ रहते हैं। कुछ वैसे ही जैसे पढ़ाई में डूबे रहने पर कमरे में बज रहे रेडियो कि उपस्थिति का एहसास तब तक नहीं होता जब तक की कोई उसे बंद न कर दे या, उसके ट्यून में परिवर्तन- व्हिच एक्चुअली जोल्ट्स यू तो कॉन्शअस्नेस ऑफ़ इट्स बीइंग” । “और मैत्री ?” उसने पूछा। “प्रेम पोजेसिव होता है , मित्रता नहीं । मैत्री वहाँ है जहां हम अपने सभी मनोभावों को बिना किसी वर्जना के, हिचकिचाहट के और, शर्म के दुसरे के समक्ष प्रकट कर सकें , शेयर कर सकें।  प्रेमी यह रिस्क नहीं मोल सकता कि उसके किसी वाक्य से, किसी कृत्य से प्रेम मंद पड़ जाय । मैत्री ऐसी किसी आशंका से मुक्त रहती है” । लेकिन प्रेम के लिए तो कवियों ने इतने कसीदे गढ़े हैं सदैव से”? “कवियों ने न? क्योंकि वो दिल से सोचते हैं । लेकिन मालूम है अगाथा क्रिस्टी जैसी क्राइम पर लिखने वाली लेखिका ने क्या कहा है ‘नेमेसिस’ में – 'Love! One of the most frightening words there is in the world. Love...' “, मैंने मुस्कराते हुए कहा  “यहाँ तक कि आचार्य रामचंद्र शुक्ल ने भी अपने निबंध में यह माना है कि समर्पण श्रद्धालु की विशेषता है, प्रेमी की नहीं” ‘‘पता नहीं यार, ये तुम्हारे टर्म्स और व्याख्या ! इमोशन्स, प्रेम, मैत्री, रोमान्स...! साहित्य और समालोचना पढ़ते पढ़ते तुम्हारा दिमाग खराब हो गया है – चलो चला जाये , हो गयी आज यहाँ की पढाई’’

  अरे! ये क्या, साढ़े छः बज गये, अब तो उठूं। आखिर ठीक होगा आज उसको विश करना? उन वर्षों में तो मध्यरात्रि  पर ही विश कर दिया करता था। परन्तु आज इतने वर्षों बाद! वो तो इस फेसबुक, ह्वाट्सऐप के जमाने में अचानक दो तीन वर्षों पहले पता लगा कि कहाँ है,  कितने बड़े बच्चे है, नानी दादी तो नहीं बन गयी है, वरना कहाँ  मालूम चलता। फिर उसका नम्बर भी तो तभी मिल गया था परन्तु  तब भी शायद दो चार बार ही तो संदेशों का आदान प्रदान हुआ था – नितांत औपचारिक , जैसे नव वर्ष पर या किसी त्यौहार पर बधाई। तब ये आज अचानक यह याद क्यों? विश करूं या न करू? अरे यह तो हैमलेट की वो soliloquy हो गयी- &^^to be or not to be विश करूं और कोई रिस्पान्स भी न आये तो बहुत अखरेगा। उस दिन के बाद तो कभी इस तरह अपनेपन से विश किया भी नहीं। ^^Wish you a lovely wedding** ही तो थी वो अंतिम परितप्त विश।

   कितने खटाश के दिन थे। गलती भी मेरी ही थी शायद- नौकरी की रेस में बारम्बार असफलताओं से उत्पन्न अवसाद शायद मैत्री पर भारी पड़ रहा था। और फिर उसका विवाह का तय हो जाना। यद्यपि वो अप्रत्याशित भी नहीं था। आखिर उसके पसंद से वह विवाह हो रहा था और मैं उस से अनजान भी नहीं था । परन्तु यह अचानक ही क्यों सब खराब लगाने लगा? लगा कि एक मित्र खो रहा हूँ। ऐसा क्यों लगा? मैत्री तो स्वार्थ रहित होती है। वो पोजेसिव तो होती नहीं। हाँ  प्रेम अवश्य पोजेसिव  होता है। वो नहीं चाहता बांटना।  उसे चिन्ता होती है कि वह हर न लिया जाय। तो क्या यह मैत्री नहीं थी? क्या इसलिए उसका जाना खराब लग रहा था- इतना खराब कि वर्षों की मैत्री मुझे खट्टी, बल्कि कसैली लगने लगी थी। घर आना जाना भी कम हो रहा था, साथ घूमना भी। विभिन्न विषयों पर गर्म बहसें, जो कभी झगड़े जैसा रूप ले लेती थीं , रुक गयी थी । फोन पर घंटों कि जगह मिनटों ने ले ली थी। यद्यपि आज सोचता हूँ तो लगता है कि यह परिवर्तन एक तरफ़ा ही था, वो तो पहले की तरह ही थी – प्रतिदिन की छोटी–छोटी बातों को साझा करना, सिविल सर्विसेज के आगामी साक्षात्कार के लिए टिप्स देते रहना और, पढाई के लिए डांटते रहना। परन्तु, मेरे व्यवहार और शब्दों में ताने और उलाहने परिलक्षित होने लगे थे-अनायास। या फिर यों कहें कि वह सब कहना और करना जो अब तक सरल हास्य और विनोदपूर्ण लगा करता था एकाएक व्यंग और कटाक्ष सा  प्रतीत होने लगा । आखिर शब्द और क्रिया की प्रकृति या अर्थ  संबंधों के परिप्रेक्ष्य में ही तो निर्धारित होता है ।

खैर, लेकिन आज क्यो? उठूं भी, अब आज तो हो चुकी जॉगिंग, इस स्वप्न और गतिमान दिवास्वप्न के चक्कर में। क्या सोचेगी मुझे इतने वर्षों बाद विश करने पर। मैत्री सम्बन्ध तोड़ने में मैं ही मुख्य दोषी था- अब लगता था। लेकिन क्या करूं शायद परिस्थितियां ही ऐसी थी। यदि विश के रिस्पान्स में धन्यवाद भी न दिया उसने तो बहुत बुरा लगेगा। सम्बन्ध समाप्त हो गये है- इस तथ्य पर मुहर लग जायेगी- जीवन के इस मुकाम पर। लेकिन यह भी तो सत्य है कि जीवन ही अब कितना बचा है? कुछ वर्षों में सेवानिवृत्ति , सुबह-शाम की सैर और, पौत्र पौत्री की चक्कलस। कुछ ही सम्बन्ध तो बनते हैं जीवन में जो लगता है स्वार्थ रहित थे- निश्छल थे, उन्हें एकनॉलेज करने में हर्ज क्या। ‘‘ अरे उठना नहीं है”, पत्नी ने रजाई खीचते हुए कहा और,  हो गयी जॉगिंग!’’ के प्रेमासिक्त ताने  के साथ बगल की टेबल पर  चाय का कप और अखबार रखा । हाथ में ये फोन लेकर सोये थे क्या आज”? ‘‘अरे कुछ नहीं, एक पुराने मित्र को बर्थडे विश करने जा रहा था। और मैं ह्वाट्सऐप पर टाइप करने लगा- हैप्पी बर्थडे’ - इस इन्तजार के साथ कि प्रेषण के बाद जल्द वो दो टिक नीले हो जाये।
                                           डॉ स्कन्द शुक्ल