I am a sad man today. My good friend Kishan Chand died.
The winter of 1963 our family spent a couple of months in Dehra Doon, just down the hill from our home in Mussoorie. It was at that time we met a young man in his early twenties who was a mechanic at the garage just up the street. Being boys we were interested in anything with an engine, or wheels, and preferably both. Kishan let us watch him work—he had a winning personality, an infectious laugh, and brought us into his life
He eventually started his own repair shop with Ravish Puri, who has also become a life-long friend. These two were somewhat mismatched but formed a dynamic, complementary partnership. By the time I was 13 years old Kishan had taught me to ride a scooter ( both Vespa and Lambretta) and the best part of being around his shop was when we would take something out on a “test drive”. Riding behind Kishan on a scooter beat anything Disney World has to offer. Riding beside him in a car on a test drive was equally thrilling (remember, no seat belts in those days).
Kishan started working on the various mission jeeps and vehicles and we began to see him regularly up in Mussoorie. He was a frequent guest in our home. And he returned the favor and we boys were his guests in Dehra. Every morning at 6AM he would bring us a cup of extremely hot tea and a chapatti. The early hour was ameliorated by his laugh, the hot tea, and the fact that here was an adult who was a friend.
And it was Kishan who introduced us to some interesting cuisine….like karora (boiled goats hooves, rather tasty in fact). He would also remind us not to use our left hands when eating, and that a meal could be made from a single order of dal fry and chapattis. If we had retained everything we learned we would have become good Indians.
The bond grew. We took trips together (Kashmir was memorable). I graduated from high school and moved to the U.S.. He moved to Delhi. And he got married to Kamala. On my first visit to their modest flat in Delhi (which he bought for cash after working several years in Saudi Arabia as a driver) I was welcomed as a son. And Kamala became Bhabiji—sister-in-law.
And each time I visited India I would make the pilgrimage to his shop over on Patelnagar Road. It was just a hole in the wall and most all of the work was done outside. Sometimes I would show up without letting him know in advance. Here is what would happen. One of his workers would see me approaching, and say to him, “Are Kishan, dekle, Stevie bhaia agaya.” (Hey Kishan, look, Steve brother has come.” He would get up off his haunches (or out from under a car), smiling broadly in my direction and grab me in a bear hug. The problem was he wouldn’t let go. After a minute, maybe two he would let go and begin crying. That always got me. I would too.
Tea, hot tea, would arrive. We would get caught up—my family, his family, our friends. And then Kishan would say to everyone standing around, “Gal surn…” and he would take off in rapid fire Punjabi telling everyone of something he remembered we had done back in Dehra. An animated story of which I could catch bits and pieces and recall what had happened—I had “borrowed” one of his scooters and as I rounded a bus near his shop hit a cow broadside and knocked it over. Instant crowd. They, of course, were concerned with the cow, not me. Neither the cow nor I was hurt. Kishan cackled away and everyone followed suite.
He had two boys, Hunny and Sunny (yes, somewhat odd names for Indian boys) and he brought them into the business. Hunny took to it. Both got married, and eventually Sunny went to Saudi to work.
I will be back in India in October. I will stay with Bhabiji, Hunny and his wife, Pinky. But. But there will be no Kishan.
Today I am a sad man remembering my friend Kishan who played a big part in the life of a happy kid from days gone by.
Steve Van Rooy
July 10, 2008