To be or not to be: by Ratna Rao

‘To be or not to be ‘perturbed Hamlet and ‘To be happy or not to be ‘ is my dilemma. Happiness actually cannot be bought anywhere. Buying lots of jewellery can make you happy –may be for sometime filling up your wardrobe with the latest make! May be not. Caring for your loved ones make you happy? Partially yes. But I personally feel it’s a state of mind – something that you have, maybe in your genes – that you are happy and content in which ever circumstances you are in.

Ratna Rao Proud Indian WomanThe 10th of May 1952 was the day I was born. My father was in the Royal Air Force and my mom typically a beautiful bong housewife educated and musically inclined. I was their first born and my mom’s pet. Then my siblings came into the world but my babooji never thought us girls to be liability – on the contrary he used to say my daughters are the starts of my life.

It was in Jamnagar that we first went to school. My father put us in St.Josephs convent there. Seeing my mom’s behavior sister superior offered Ma a job. But my father politely refused saying my mom had to care for the other children and him.

Then I did my schooling from different schools in places where my babooji was posted. Those days there were no CBSE curriculum and hence I had to catch up with different syllabus. But never did we complain about it, on the contrary it was fun speaking words of Gujarati,Rajasthani,Oriya and Syleti.Finally I completed my 11th from Jodhpur. Simultaneously we became apt in various classical dance forms. Those days only few forms were prevalent – we learnt Bharatnatyam,Khatak of both Jaipur and lucknow gharanas and Manipur,Kathakali we learnt very less. We learnt various folk dances to perform on stage – those days there were no bollywood dancing and classical had to be learnt to understand the correct posture and steps hence one had to know the grammar of dancing to perform on stages. We became quite famous as “Rana sisters”.

College was real fun and government college Hosiarpur was my first college then my father was posted to Chandigarh and I started my graduation in Sri.Guru Govind Singh college .Then a co-ed with English honours.The boys there were loud hefty and rustic and girls moved in groups. Some groups were very mod – with skirts and jeans ,some moderately in suits but English speaking and some Punjabi speaking – boys used to call them “bhenji party”.

We were about 15 students in English honors’ class.A Sikh boy named Jasbir Khanna changed my perception of Sikhs –contrary to the loud boys ,here was a one , a gentlemen in the making. Soft spoken ,polite and very intelligent – very soon we became friends. Another boy Waman Rao – whom later I got married to- was a smart guy ,having knowledge of the library and a sportsman. So the three of us became friends – The Trio – sharing jokes, copying lectures and going back home together – we all had bicycles those days. But we could not meet in our college canteen together because the canteen was divided – one side for boys, the other side for girls.

Life was so simple and fun. Attending lectures going for camps, preparing for competitions and final exams. Every annual day, we three got prizes either for academics or dramatics or sports. Waman was a good rifle shooter and body builder. He won the title of Mr. Chandigarh for three consecutive years but we never went to any restaurant for a victory treat outside college hours. In those days it was not the done thing and yet we were best of pals.

In the final year of Graduation, Waman left us to join the Army. Our principal Mr.Gurbax Singh Shergill was very proud of him and gave a grand speech in his honour.

Waman went off to OTS – officers training school in Madras now called Chennai. In our times, even Graduates were invited for convocation and everyone was given the degree by the Chief guest and this was a big occasion. Waman missed out this opportunity cause he was in his training during our final exam. We did miss him .However I joined the masters degree in English literature from Punjab University. Khanna joined the Law Faculty. In our times the Law Department was known as the “Gunda Dept” for all the rowdy boys would be there. However Khanna would finish his class and walk over to English dept and wait for me every day to share all that happened that day. We would walk up to the Coffee house of our university – a spectacular glass building from where one could have a complete view of the campus.

Waman used to write letters to everyone of his friends but no one really bothered to reply but I used to reply regularly giving him updates of the college. My mom often admonished me saying there is no need to reply to your friend who’s left college, so regularly, after all he was just a friend! Paying little heed to my mom, I continued writing and one fine day while he was home during his leave, he proposed to me. I was confused – of course he was no stranger yet spending the rest of my life with someone of a different caste, different community, different mother tongue and different rituals made me apprehensive.

Of course I continued my studies and he continued coaxing me. Meanwhile I finished my masters with a first class and won a scholarship for my PhD from North Bengal University.

After five years of persuasion, I agreed to marry Waman. By this time, he was a Captain in the Indian Army and posted to Dharamshala – a beautiful hill station in Himachal. We were married in Bengali ritual and left for Agra – my in-laws house then. Slowly I realized, my in laws were not very happy at their son’s choice but my husband never let me know all this before. I went back to my hostel to complete my thesis. It was here that  either I choose my professional life and become a lecturer in the university which was not difficult or I choose to live the life of an army soldier’s wife and tag along with him all over the country.

I chose the latter and joined him in Dharamshala. My husband was the camp commander of the Brigade there and Brigadier Sood – the commanding officer nick named me as the “Bride of the Brigade”. Soon I won everyone’s heart by my simplicity, singing ,dancing and acting in various get-togethers. Alongside I also noted how courageous our soldiers ,JCO’s and officers are. I got inspired by their discipline, their fitness regime and their sense of brotherhood. To die for their motherland is the only motive – either Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or Christians.

Now I had a big family of three sons and understood my importance .I became their inspiration- they would look up to me for all their needs- in happiness or in pain.

Sometimes while admitting my kids to school, I also got a job and was happy being a teacher though it was tough managing school and home. But I learnt education never is a wastage – its gain all along whether financially or developing your personality – or making a better you. I continue being in different roles that of a wife, a mother, a friend and a listener all rolled into one and enjoy every bit of it.

Why I don’t regret?

Looking back I don’t regret working outside home while I had lots of opportunities but I still relish my child’s first step taken, his first calling me ‘Ma’ and winning his first ever prize in school. Teaching them, listening to their school talks and learning from them was a real learning experience for me. Even today I like to listen to their views which is so different than our age yet I can understand and have changed my viewpoint, for change is the law of nature. With three grown up sons, two daughters-in law, and a lovely grandson, my life revolves around their happiness and well being and their lies my happiness- my secret of ‘to be or not to be happy.’


  1. Moumita Roy June 15, 2017
  2. Akash July 14, 2017
  3. Krishna July 15, 2017
  4. Roopa Somasundaran October 3, 2017

Add Comment