Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Master Your Thoughts

Note: The last time I spoke in public, I managed to get the chief guest's name wrong. The rest of the speech was even worse. That was 20 years ago. Redemption at last, I managed to present this to an audience of experienced speakers and won the speaker of the day award. If I were to make a list of things that I wished I had worked more upon when I had the chance, public speaking would top it. It has come 20 years too late but it still feels good.

The script of my speech today runs into two pages. What I have in my hands as my reference are two copies of the first page, the second page is missing. Something has to go wrong in every speech.

"The last time I felt this anxious and this stupid, I was standing naked in front of 100 strangers."

Dear colleagues and guests,

My name is 36 character long, yes I know its big. But I have a small family – I am blessed with a 2-year- old boy and petrified with a wife. I come from a city called Trivandrum, in the southern most part of India, where even the "Gods" tend to rest. How can I be any different?

I ambled my way through college playing cricket, and it was my cousin who kicked my back and
forced me to prepare for the PG entrance exam. The following year I found myself at Cochin University. After CUSAT, I joined a leading company and they shuttled me across five Indian States over a period of 2 years, putting a halt to my 20 years of ambling.

It was at that time that a bug infected me, the NRI bug. I found myself at the Jeddah International
Airport on my way to join one of the worlds largest company in its area of business. The Immigration Officer made me realize that our names are extremely important – he wouldn't let me in without explaining why my name has a girlish feel to it.

 I told him that my father had passed away when I was 11 and that I cannot possibly go back and ask him why?

That incident inspired me to find a short and sweet name for my son, I named him "Eshaan followed by the 36 more letters". He will definitely remember his father each time he fills up his forms, just the way I remember mine.

Thinking about my speech here I couldn't help but think about my first day in my CUSAT hostel. Those were the days when ragging juniors was not considered as a crime. My very first punishment was to bathe in almost a Sunny Leone way….in the central courtyard of the hostel! Saying no was out of the question. So in briefs, I could say that I pulled it off stylishly...but at 5 am when everyone else was sleeping.

That night after dinner, the seniors summoned me and informed me that I had failed and that my punishment is now multiplied…!.

I had to perform the Sunny Leone act at 7.00 am for the next five days when everyone is awake or alternatively.. I could choose to count the total number of hairs in the chest of one of our seniors.

How was it that I failed? I tried to argue.The task was to bathe without underwear, I removed the outerwear as well. Shakeela was expected and I gave them Sunny Leone instead.

There was an interesting puzzle in the two options given. I was never going to win because everyone
was so hairy, like a Barber’s Nightmare. So I told them that I will better repeat the “Leone Act” for five days.

It all seems quite funny now but it wasn't quite so then. Imagining the inhibition, the shame, the anger of not enjoying doing something and that too in full public gaze. But once the five days were over I was transformed. Five days of agony led me to an eternity of mastery.  From that day, I felt I am the master of the hostel.

Standing in front of you I feel the same agony today, not enjoying standing in the stage and speaking in front of strangers; The difference is, this time, I know that the shame will be followed by fame.

Mastery didn't mean that I was a master of each and everyone in the hostel, "mastery meant that I had managed to master my own thoughts"  and that is the reason my friends that I am here today, "to master my thoughts when I speak".

Friday, 25 December 2015

The best that I ever tasted

Everyone in our place grew up eating vadas. For those who have no idea about what that is, any amount of explaining will not be sufficient to make you understand what I am talking about.  For all of us in the family it was like the biriyani of all snacks. My mother was an expert in preparing those and so were all our aunts.  I am not sure who made the best vadas in the family.  Every time we ate one prepared by any of our family members, we used to feel that it was the best we ever tasted. 

Amma used to make vadas for every silly reason. When we were very young my brother and I used to fight for the last piece, even though Amma made some for us almost everyday. It didn't really matter how much we ate. As we grew up the frequency of the preparation reduced and other than the routine quotas during weekends, she used to prepare it only if there was a special reason, like my brother scoring first rank in the class or me not causing any trouble for one entire week. Both of us tried very hard to earn the right to taunt the other.  Whenever Amma made vadas to appreciate me, I used to let my brother know that every piece of vada he was eating, was earned by me. My brother for his part also never missed any chance to get one over me.

All that changed upon the death of my father. We had to relocate to Trivandrum, closer to my uncles and cousins. Amma had changed a lot by then and she became evermore serious by the day, the added responsibility of leading the house taking its toll. She didn't have the time anymore to pamper us with special dishes and both of us understood the situation we were in. Fortunately for us, our indulgence was allowed to continue and we had our beloved cousin to thank for, whom we affectionately called DB. He was our eldest cousin who was with us from the time my father was sick. He was ten years elder to us and we used to respect him for that, but there were lots of occasions when we thought of him as if he were a friend of ours. The two of us suddenly became the three of us. DB made us realise who made the best vadas. It was not Amma and neither was it any member of our family. DB worked for the Government and right in front of his office was a small hotel. We used to call it annachi hotel because the owner of the hotel was an annachi (person of a neighboring state). DB used to call him annachi anna out of respect and for us he slowly became annachi maman. Every time DB visited us he used to have a pack of vadas for us from the annachi hotel, packed in banana leaves and wrapped in news paper. Over tea we used to sit and argue if it was the banana leaves or the news paper that gave the vada the rich aroma. Annachi used to serve vadas with spicy and tangy coconut chutney which made the vada even juicier. Everytime our results would come we knew that DB and annachi's vadas would lie waiting for us.  

By the time I started class twelve, DB was transferred to Kozhikode and my brother took a job in Tamil Nadu to support the family. My friends for all those years were suddenly replaced by classmates. The time for my medical course qualification had come. I didn't realise how time flew by and how priorities had changed. New friends led to new priorities. DB's party was replaced by friends party and a high score in cricket had probably replaced my scores in studies. DB had sent me the medical school application form by post and I had filled it up with great enthusiasm.

All of a sudden the results were being declared and everything I did to prepare and appear for the exams was just a blur in my memory. All the day's news papers were full of pictures of the top ranked students in the exam, budding doctors with great hopes of the future. I knew the results in advance. Amma probably knew it too and didn't hurt me further by checking the results in front of me. Time passed very slowly that day and how I wished for the nightfall to arrive and bring me some solace along.  

At about 7 in the evening the gate opened and I could hear the gate creak from my room. I didn't even want to check out who the visitor was. Amma called me up to the dining room after some time. Sitting there was DB with his trademark handbag, who had  come all the way from Kozhikode. On the table was a plate of annachi's vada and tea made by Amma. On the other side of the table was my brother, sipping away his tea with his eyes closed. My good old friends asked me to sit near by and offered me a plate of our favourite snack. Eating the vada I felt the comfort and normality that was missing that day till then. No one mentioned anything about the results and we were back to our normal discussions. The same vada, in the same banana leaf, wrapped in the same newspaper, the same tea, the same gang and everything became so normal in an instant. 

Hidden in DB's handbag I accidentally got glimpse the day's newspaper crumpled and torn, not worthy even to wrap the vada I was eating. An instant is all it took. Annachi's vada had never tasted that bad.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

First Day at School

After a two month long hiatus, the schools are reopening. Aami is happy today. The schools are opening again and like any other twelve year old she is happy that she can go back to do what she likes best, which is to go back to school and back to her life of happiness. Unlike Aami, her kid brother resented the thought of going back to school and if it were not for Aami, her brother would have had a hard time even to wake up on time to go to school. Aami liked to pamper her brother with all the care he needed and she felt a kind of joy in seeing her brother go to school with her every day. Her brother loved Aami for all the care and attention she showered on him but still couldn't love the trip to school like his sister did.

Just like any other day she woke up early in the morning to prepare for her day. Just like any other day she woke him up from his lumber. She didn't have to waste time to prepare his bags. Being the first day he had done it in advance. Being the first day she didn't have to bother about his class work either.

 Just like any other day the two of them walked to school. Just like any other day she dropped her brother to his class. Just like any other day she would make sure that he was comfortable in his class. Unlike any other day her heart would cry as she left him to fend for himself. Unlike any other day she missed to pack his lunch. The pain was unfamiliar and but she knew that he would never miss his lunch for the rest of the year.

Just like any other day she would go back to the front of the school, find a comfortable spot for herself, open her bag, put on show the numerous pens, pencils, erasers and what not. Just like any other day she would wait for the kids, parents, teachers, drivers and the rest of the visitors to the school to come to her, as she was the only source of hope for kids who forget these in their home. She saw her brother in each one of those kids, who didn't perhaps have a sister like her to pack their bags and she felt the same happiness in selling them the pens and pencils, as she would, while leading her brother to school. Just like any other day she would wind up early and wait for her brother. The first day of school was good for Aami. Her bag was empty and so was her pain. She knew that her brother will not miss his lunch any more. 

Friday, 9 May 2014

Moments of Magic

(Sometimes a person enters our lives just for a few moments and in those moments of magic he shows us our destination)

When it all started, I had never thought of a day when I would have to go back through this same route. Everything seemed so familiar, so near, yet so distant. Every pothole that rickshaw hit reminded me that my destination was that much closer and a sinking feeling engulfed me.  Every time the rickshaw hit a pothole, my wife would cling on to me harder in her sleep and that would bring me back from those moody depths. Savi looked at peace as she slept with her cheeks firmly resting on my shoulder and with her arms clinging on to mine. Only a peaceful and innocent heart could sleep like this, especially in the kind of situation we were in. I knew that because I was not able to sleep. It was a rough day for her. It was a rough day for us.

We decided to take a four hour train ride to this place only because it would have taken us seven hours by road. A trip to this place had never even entered my thoughts, but it had never left Savi's and here I was, doing it and that too on a train. I preferred to drive, but seven hours on our roads made the trains ride seem very attractive. We had to spend four hours sitting opposite to strangers, which to me was the most annoying aspect of a train ride. Some of them start talking and before we even realise it, an absolute stranger would know more about us than our neighbours usually do. Travelling by bus was better in this aspect but again the thought of the seven hour journey made the train journey look very attractive.

It all began quite well in fact. It was three in the afternoon when we boarded the train and we were the only ones in the coupe. That was the advantage of travelling in sleeper class for short distances, if we were lucky enough the entire coupe would be ours till we reached the destination. I hoped that this would turn up to be one such day. This was a train travelling all the way to Delhi. I didn't know how long it took to reach Delhi, all that I knew was that I would never travel that long with strangers around my neck. Thankfully we were spared of company when the train started. There was a lot of noise in the compartment. A batch of students were busy arranging their stuff in their seats. There was a whole bunch of them, around 30 in all sorts of dresses that didn't suit them. One or two would occasionally drift  near to our coupe and then go back. Thankfully no one bothered to disturb us and we were left alone. Savi sat right in front me on the window seat. The other six seats were vacant in our coupe. Savi was noticeably tense, probably thinking that something terrible was going to happen. I could sense the plead in her eyes, the plead to the universe to make things fall in place. She would look at me and suddenly look confused. I gave her the usual smile, "the don't worry, everything will be alright smile". As always my smile worked this time too. Just as she was about to say something, I interrupted and said "I will not start anything, I promise". 'Everything will be fine. I just hope that I am not intimidated, I won't tolerate that." To me that sounded reassuring but I couldn't understand if she was reassured. She had forgotten what she had intended to say and then the same plead slowly crept up on her face.

A moment of silence followed and she said "let us just.." when we were interrupted by a couple looking for their seats. They found theirs at the other end of our coupe. We now had the dreaded strangers for company. From their conversation we understood that the husband worked in the army. He was stationed here and they were travelling back to their home town probably near Delhi. The train jerked a little and the husband wished his wife bye and went out of the train. Apparently we had one less stranger for company, who strangely was quite relaxed leaving his wife alone in the train for the multiple day trip to Delhi. As the jerks started increasing the husband waved at his wife, briskly walking on the platform trying to catch up with the train. His wife looked at him but didn't wave. As the lady rose to see off her husband, her hand bag fell down scattering oranges and some personal stuff in the coupe. Her eyes wandered searching for eyes that would help. "Clumsy" I thought as  I turned my eyes to my mobile phone. My wife meanwhile was still trying to say something to me and probably didn't notice the oranges.

As the train slowly gathered speed, two boys from the gang approached our coupe and examined the scene. Without any hint of hesitation they proceeded to clear the mess. The huge cartons that the lady had were properly placed beneath the seats and the small bags were arranged on the opposite side. The oranges were all picked up and handed back to the lady. Satisfied with the effort they smiled at each other. They were interrupted by a female voice behind them. A girl was trying to drag a trolley bag twice her size. With a giggle meant to ridicule her they took the bag from her hand and placed it beneath the seat. The three of them left us in peace and joined the company of their mates. A moment later one of the boys returned with a book in hand and sat right opposite to the woman. Occasionally the two would converse, but for the majority of the time the boy was immersed in his book and the lady in her oranges. I had my phone and Savi had me. She was talking to me all the time and I was busy acting as if I was listening to all that she said. She continued talking and I continued my nodding till we were disturbed by a voice that asked "Can I sit here?" A frail female voice asked the army lady sitting in the other end of the coupe. The oranges in her mouth did not permit her to reply. The boy removed one of his bags kept on the seat, making way for the woman to sit.

She was in her sixties. Late sixties probably. Her belongings were kept wrapped in a bed sheet with its four ends tied together to make it function as a bag. She was sitting on the corner of the seat tightly holding on to the bag with one hand, while the other hand was busy making sure that the "pallu" that covered her head was in its correct place. Whenever my eyes would meet hers, she would give a big smile showing off her brown and broken teeth, which were disgusting, funny and strangely a little depressing at the same time. Her eyes were hoping to meet welcoming eyes of others in the coupe, but clearly she wasn't meeting any. My wife's husband, the boy's book, the army woman's oranges and my phone were more "relevant" to deserve our attention. Seeking comfort in  the improvised bed sheet bag of hers, she opened it.There was hardly anything in it other than some rags. After giving all of us five seconds of anxious wait she took out a small polythene bag that had bread inside. In it were 3-4 pieces of bread. After closing her "bag" her eyes again wandered hoping to meet a welcoming look on our faces. The other lady was embarrassingly caught staring at her. The brown and broken teeth were on display again as she offered one slice of bread to her. Busy with the oranges she refused the offer and in the process spilt all the peels on the floor. She adjusted the saree to dust off the remaining peels to the floor and started to peel off one more orange and asked "Are you travelling to Delhi?" "Yes, I am going to Delhi" the old lady replied with such a glee that made us feel that she was returning from outer space and was super excited to have found a human being to talk to after a long time.

That was the answer to just one of the numerous questions that all of us had asked ourselves from the time we saw her. 'Where the hell is this lady going with that 'bag?' was just one of the questions.  Even though the question asked was out of compulsion we had the answer to one of our questions. No one was going to ask the remaining questions, but she continued answering most of our doubts as if she was able to read our minds . "Do you know Surajkund? It is near Delhi I came from there two or three months back" There is a hospital in this city. A doctor told me that it is cheaper to treat us here. So I came here. But no one knows Hindi here. It is after a long time that I am seeing speaking speaking my own language here. I am so happy to talk to you. "Where are you going?" she asked the army woman. "Can you tell me which station should I get down to get a train to Delhi?"

Realising that the old lady had no idea that the train was actually bound to Delhi, the army woman  asked "Have you purchased a ticket for this train?" The brown and broken teeth were on display again and the answer was understood. "I will get down when they check and then take the next train. I had taken lots of trains to reach the hospital here". She was not bothered if the train would take her to her destination, if her tickets would be checked, if she had anything to eat or if we could be trusted with the small secrets of hers. She was innocently happy about the whole journey, but it clearly didn't make any sense to the rest us, after all this train was heading to Delhi.

The novel that was being read by the boy was now closed as he sat with his closed eyes facing the ceiling. Savi for a change was trying to do something other than just trying to catch the attention of the only thing of interest to her in the train- "me". She was listening to all the "fun" happening around her and that led her to other thoughts which didn't have "me" in it. The phone was still in my hand and I was trying my best to make it look as if I was doing something important with it. All of us there were asking the same questions to the old lady in a language that others couldn't hear. The old lady too didn't hear those questions that were asked in silence. Strangely the answers kept on coming.

As the stations passed more questions were answered. New questions arose and were answered. She was talking as if this day was the last day in the lives of all our us. The army woman ordered for a glass of coffee. The vendor handed over the coffee to the old lady to pass it on. As she passed the coffee to the army woman, she unknowingly answered the one question that all of us were so keen to know. For a fraction of a second she let the guard loose of her head gear and exposed her head to us. Even as she adjusted her saree quickly she gave us a glimpse of her head that barely had any hair on it. That answered the one question that all of us had, why had she come here, why she looked so frail, why did the doctors send her here.... She probably didn't even know what ailment she was suffering from.

The boy suddenly rose and headed towards the direction of the door. I looked at Savi and found the same confused look that I was having on my face. The fact that our station was nearing was the only comfort. After a short while I found myself standing near the door of the train along with the boy. He had a hundred rupee note in one of his hands and a wallet on the other. He put  the note back in the wallet and took it out after some time. I could make out that there was nothing much left in his wallet. Finally in an act of instinct he handed over the note to me and said "Please hand it over to her". Before I understood what happened he had taken his bag and vanished. I was left with one hundred rupees to be "handed over". I thought of adding some more of my own before handing it over. I opened my wallet and found nothing but some one thousand rupee notes. Savi would never approve this I thought. Giving away one thousand to a stranger. My wife would never agree. But technically I was giving only nine hundred. One hundred was given by the boy. Nine hundred looked a lot more presentable to me than "One Thousand". Satisfied with the strategy I went back to the seat as the station was nearing. Once the train stopped I took all the baggage and "handed over" the thousand rupees to Savi and asked her to " Hand over to the lady".  I told her that I would meet her in "that same place" and she just nodded not knowing what was happening.

I got off the train and ran the entire length of it in search of the boy. I went back again in the opposite direction and even checked the toilets in the platform but there was no trace of him. Dejected and disappointed at having lost something of great value I headed to "that" meeting point. Savi was there waiting for me with a look that made me feel that something was wrong. She has not handed it over I guessed, feeling even more dejected.

The next few moments were awkward. I didn't want to hear that she hadn't given the money to the old lady.  "I wanted to hug her goodbye" Savi said interrupting my thoughts. "But I couldn't". When I handed over the money she asked me if it was a twenty or fifty rupee note. "Poor thing has probably not even seen a thousand rupee note till now" she said with a little hint moistness in her eyes that always made my heart go soft.

 "We still have time" I said. We can go back and find her again. "No point" she said, the train will leave. "Trust me on this dear" I pleaded. I will wait with the baggage here, you go and find her. "Leave the baggage here" she replied, the police will take good care of them. I refused. It was her time to plead "Trust me on this". The bags will wait for us in this same place, I know.

Something took over us as I caught hold of her hand and ran back into the station leaving all our possessions in the vicinity of the railway enquiry counter. I ran as fast as I could, leaving Savi a little behind as I climbed the stairs. On reaching the top of the over bridge I found Savi struggling to climb up the stairs. Even in her struggle I could see the eagerness. It was the same eagerness that I saw in her the first time I saw her. It was the same eagerness that I saw the last time she took these same stairs four years ago. It was the eagerness that I had been struggling to find for quite some time now. In spite of the situation we were in I took the liberty of a smile at the only face visible to me in the sea of people. 

How we reached the train, when we found the compartment and how we made way through the crowded compartment is anyone's guess. All that comes to mind now is the sight of Savi sitting near the old lady hugging her and kissing her bald head. Seeing this from the platform I felt as if the entire universe was hugging me. Not wanting to let Savi see me cry, I slowly walked back to "that" place.

The train ambled its way out as Savi caught up with me. "That was so close" Savi said. When you said that there was sufficient time I thought you were just bluffing, she continued. I smiled back and proudly informed her that this was not the first time I was passing by this station. I told her that the engine of the train had to be shunted to the opposite end for the train to continue the journey to Delhi. It usually takes 30 minutes for that. "I was not bluffing when I asked you to trust me", I said. She held my arm closely as we reached "that place".

I was surprised to see that two policemen were in fact standing guard to the baggage. I wondered as to how on earth did she know that the policemen would keep watch on our luggage. "How did you know that"? I asked. It was her turn to look proud as she walked towards the policemen to claim the baggage. I was still wondering even as she collected the baggage and waved for an auto. "How did you know?" I asked again. I thought you were bluffing.

"It was bluffing my dear, it was a bluff" she said. "I just couldn't think of doing anything good without you by my side. I just wanted you to be with me all the time". "The policemen were discussing the need to call a bomb squad when we reached the place. You had to be with me and it didn't matter to me if we lost the baggage". The silence that followed was like symphony to my ears. All I could do was smile at all that was happening. I realised that I was happy not just because she was with me but because I always ended up doing the right things when I was with her.

That same rickshaw was taking us to our destination. The pain was getting more and more pronounced as the destination was nearing. The rickshaw stopped in front of the very familiar gate. Savi was still sleeping. I took out all the baggage from the rickshaw and enquired about the fare. Ninety six rupees sir came the reply in a voice that was both confident and weak at the same time. I gave him a thousand rupee note for which he didn't have any change. It was 9 pm and there was no one to seek help from. Leaving my wife inside the rickshaw I opened the gate, climbed the stairs and rang the doorbell. I turned back to take a look at the scenery behind me. It was dark and  intimidating. The pain reappeared. I could hear the sound of steps approaching the door. The door opened and a familiar face came out. No words were exchanged for some time. "Can you give me change for a thousand rupees" I enquired. He went inside and came back with his wallet in his hand and asked me how much did I want. One hundred rupees I said. "I will reduce it from your dowry" he said as he handed over the money to me with his arms open. It was an invitation that I couldn't resist. The same feeling that I felt when I saw Savi hugging the lady came back when our bodies met in the warmest of embraces. He probably had been waiting for this for a very long time.

I took the money from him and turned back to pay the rickshaw. Savi was standing at the gate looking at all that was happening. She climbed up the stairs as I went down to pay the rickshaw. I gave the money to the driver and asked him to keep the change and proceeded to arrange my stuff in my wallet. It was then that I realised that I still had that one hundred rupees that the boy gave me. I took it out of the wallet and felt the smoothness of the note in my fingers. I could hear Savi crying and saying "Sorry Papa, I couldn't find the courage all these years". She was seeing him for the first time after she had decided to spend the rest of her life with me. That was four years back. It was a similar night. We had met at the same place in the railway station. Took the same stairs up the railway over bridge. 

The sound of the the rickshaw starting brought me back to the present. I had the hundred rupees that the boy gave me. I didn't want to give to anyone. It was the most valuable possession that I had. But it was not meant for me. It was meant to give happiness to an unknown old lady. It had given me much more than just happiness. It was time to share the happiness with someone else. I called the driver and gave the money to him. The old man was surprised. "God bless you" he said, as he took the money and slowly vanished into the darkness. I couldn't help but think of the old lady and  the boy. As I turned back and faced the house I saw Savi in a tight embrace of her father, both of them crying. The night was still dark but not intimidating any more. The driver's last words were true. Seeing those two I knew that I was blessed, a lot more blessed than I could imagine. A lot more blessed than I probably deserved. 

Monday, 15 July 2013

Two lines down the memory lane....

I too joined the millions of Indians in mourning the death of the of the telegram. Don't get me wrong. I have never received even a single telegram in my life time. Nor have I sent one. Yet I couldn't help but mourn when the usually eccentric radio jockey mellowed down, informing me about the death of the telegram. 

The first time I happened to see a telegram was after my father's death. No, it was not the one informing me about his death. Telephone was much faster by that time, even in the remote project site that my father used to work, telegram was the last thing that his friends would have thought of when they had the choice of booking a phone call.

All through my life, till the time my father died, he worked in that same remote but beautiful project site. The charms of the community life was still with me even after I shifted back to my hometown, along with my mother for my higher education. One fateful evening, a few years after we had relocated to our home town, we were informed that he had passed away. One of his friends rang us up to inform about his death. Telegram had become too slow by that time.

A week or so after his death we received all his stuff, neatly packed and sent to us by his beloved colleagues and friends. As I unpacked one memory after another I chanced upon a very old diary of his. In it were 3 or 4 of blue coloured inland letters. Along with those was a small white piece of paper folded into two.  It was dated 10-03-1979 and it read 

"Dearest brother,
Sameera gave birth to a baby boy today at 6.30 am. Both the mother and baby are fine."

I don't think I had been so struck after reading just two lines up until then. It was a telegram sent by my uncle informing my father about my birth.
Can words justify the emotions that I had when I saw that?
Two lines changed the way I remember my father. Ever since that time the lasting memory that I have of my father is of a face that lit up reading those two lines, even though I was not a witness to it.
Hearing to the radio jockey going through lot of stuff about the history of the telegram, the same face with the spontaneous joy in it comes to my mind. If my father were hearing the radio today, I am sure that he would be imagining me as a cute newborn lying beside my mother, who he was not fortunate enough to see while he was reading those two lines.

"Long live the telegram", the RJ declared. 

"Long live the E-mail" might be just around the corner. I wonder if someone will have stories of smiles to tell.

Fully knowing that it is not going to happen, I too join the millions in declaring

Thursday, 4 April 2013

My Plan

I don't remember when I was able to sleep as peacefully as I did last night. Sixteen years or probably more than that. Sixteen years is a lot of time to spend on a plan. I remember my father sitting in his old arm chair and discussing it with Amma. He had lots of plans. Every new day brought with it a new plan, a new discussion. But the enthusiasm never changed. His animated explanation, the urge to explain his plans to Amma made me feel as if he had just discovered north pole and was trying to make Amma understand that such a place exists on earth. For Amma it was just another day, just another plan.

One fine day, the plans stopped. He died. The explorer had left us and neither of us had the drive to explore and see for ourselves if the north pole was actually there. The plan ended before it could start. That was sixteen years ago. I was a child at that time and had no idea how and what to do. Amma knew the plan but had no means to execute it. I was too busy studying to even seriously think about it. Occasionally Amma would mention about the plan that my father had and then on realising that it was useless to be still talking about the plan, she would behave as if nothing had been mentioned. I was never bothered about the plan in the first place and that meant that we never discussed this at home. Amma had probably stopped thinking about it or at least didn't mention about it. It was not till Amma fell sick some years back that I overheard Amma mention the plan to her brother. When the doctors confirmed that all is not well with her 65 year old heart, I slowly started thinking about it before it got too late.

I didn't know where to start. It was my father’s plan passed on to Amma and now suddenly it was starting to look as if it was my plan. I went through all though my father’s stuff, for the first time in many, many years. No trace of the plan could be found. Before Amma could return from hospital I made sure that every bit of paper in our house was scanned. But still I was not able to find any trace of the plan. I even asked her casually once if we had disposed some of our old stuff when we shifted from our rented house. I couldn't get anything useful out of her. All that was required was for me to ask her “Amma, what was the plan?" But for some reason, I couldn’t. My frustration grew as time passed by. Finally I decided to throw out Amma’s plan and work on something else entirely new. I could make a new plan, I thought, “My plan”. I would pass it on to Amma as my plan and she would at least be happy that a plan had taken shape even if it was not the one in her dreams.

After meeting a lot of planners and after spending a lot of money and time, I still was not able to come up with a plan that was good enough to be called mine. One fine morning for reasons that I didn't understand, I shredded all the plans that I had spent money and time to make. I decided to make my own plan from scratch and that too without any help. Since my experience on making plans was limited to the shredded pieces of paper in the trashcan, I decided to to keep it as simple as possible. That same day the first draft of my plan was ready. It took me a further one month to get the final draft that I was happy with. At last the plan was in front of my eyes that I believed was worth the effort.

The difficult part was over. Implementing it was not as difficult. I hired a friend of mine to implement the plan for me. It took a lot of time and effort on my part as well. I used to revisit the details of my plan every day with my friend, he too was meticulous in his calculations and work. This was my first plan and I underestimated the work required. I fell sick and had to be admitted in a hospital. The doctors told me it was due to the stress I was taking. But I knew it was just a few more days and things will be back to normal. Back from the hospital, I went back to same schedule. My finances were stretched to their barest limits and I had to make sure that I could save all that I could, and that was not possible if I left the plan in someone else’s hands. That meant lot of work again, and even more stress especially with regards to the finances.I fell sick again, visited the doctor. He advised me a week’s treatment, complete bed rest during that time, after which I would be perfectly alright. I told him I needed another month’s time, within which I was sure to complete the pending work.

Yesterday was the day when the plan had been finally completed. One year of work, without rest, without sleep, without health. But the plan was finally complete. Still doubts lingered if Amma would like my version of the plan. After all this was my plan. Yesterday evening, after a lot of thought, with a lot of courage I decided to ask her the details of her plan, but I wanted to do it in a way that didn’t hurt her. Her 65 year old heart was weak and even weaker was my tolerance for anything that would hurt her.

I had an idea. I made fun of her, saying that she was getting old. I challenged her to remember something of the days when father was still alive. I felt disappointed and sadwhen she tried but failed to recollect some of the details that were vivid in my memory. I persisted this time directly asking her if she remembered the plans that father discussed with her. She took her time and then replied ‘’Three steps were there, which would then lead to a spacious veranda, covered on two sides by wooden railings. There would be an old fashioned armchair on the corner of the veranda. On the left side of the chair would be the main entrance to the house, with a single big door made of teak, which would lead to a spacious living room. Four doors would open to the living room that led to ….”. I could sense my father’s vigor in that frail body of hers. She continued explaining the minute details of the house as if she had made it the day before. I went and sat by her side and allowed her to brush my hair even as she continued. After some time I found her asleep with her hands still on my hair and tears in her eyes. Strangely my eyes were also wet. Late that evening a strong urge took hold of me and I found myself driving to the  new house that I had built. Taking a deep breath I took small steps and proceeded to the main door. It might have been the emotion of the evening, I don't know but I was unable to open the door. I went back and sat on the armchair that was fittingly placed on one side of the veranda. Sitting there and observing the door I realised why the house felt so different. In front of me were three steps that I just took. On my left side was the main door made of teak. Behind the door was a spacious living room. Four other doors opened to the living room. One on the left led to the kitchen..... Almost everything behind the door seemed to match perfectly to what Amma had described. I didn't know why, but ‘My Plan’ suddenly looked a lot less mine. I rang up my friend, told him that I want to plan the surprise to Amma in a week’s time. I asked him to join me in the house in the morning to plan every thing out. I was left smiling as I slept, sitting on the arm chair.  I don't remember when I was able to sleep as peacefully as I did last night.

I woke up to the voice of my friend even as he was shaking me up. I could hear him asking "Can you hear me?’I opened my eyes to very bright sunlight. I couldn't see properly because of the glare. I could make out movements behind the light, which suddenly appeared too close to me. You don't have to worry, he said. "The sedation is slowly taking effect  and we are rushing you to the theater. I told you to get it treated long back. Fortunately it was a minor attack. A week's time in the hospital after the surgery and the docs have promised that your heart will be back to normal.  Your mother is waiting outside and she is taking this pretty well. Don't worry, I will take care of everything and everything will go as per plan".

The lights slowly faded as I went back to my sleep. A strange scene kept recurring in my mind even as the sedatives sucked me in. It was a picture of a house full of people. I was searching for someone in the crowd. It was not Amma. I could sense her sitting there with lots of pride at having seen the north pole at last. It was not my friend who built the house, not my uncle. As the light finally went out of my eyes I realised that I was in fact searching my myself in the crowd. I slept knowing that in a weeks time I will have to make it to be a part of the crowd.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

സ്റ്റാലിനും വിജയനും തമ്മിലെന്ത് ? A different perspective

Its been been more that 5 months since the incident that led a good friend of mine to write this interesting to this piece of blog(http://ottamyna.blogspot.com/2012/05/blog-post_19.html) occurred. We have seen events take the normal course, just like it has on many previous occasions, when something similar happened. This particular blog was a genuine and spontaneous reaction to a social evil but sadly the view is myopic.

Political killings are not patented by a single party in India. We just have to take a look at a few examples to understand the commonness of these killings. In fact the NHRC reports says that the ruling parties are responsible for more than 75% of extra judicial political killings. Just take a look at a few examples below

  • Hundreds of of people were killed extra judicially by the Siddhartha Shankar Ray led govt in West Bengal from 1970-1977. The incumbent govt led by the INC lost the elections and this was one of the rare associations that the practice of extra judicial murder by political parties led to loss in elections.
  •  Vimadlal Commission exposed the role of the chief minister Vengala Rao of the Congress party during the emergency related killings in Andhra Pradesh. Similar to what happened in Bengal he lost the next election. Both the losses to the congress in the above two cases could be attributed to the effect of the emergency.
  • Gujarat Riots and Anti Sikh riots after the killing of Indhra Gandhi- Even though these cannot be directly classified as political killings the primary effect of these killings were political gains for both the BJP and the Congress that went on to dominate the elections after that

Coming to Kerala, we are no strangers to political killings. Infact we are a society who not only tolerate political killings but probably encourage them as well.

  • Rajan murder case should some bells to the writer. Senior leader Mr Karunakaran was indicted and had to resign. In fact it is widely believed that during the Emergency a systematic torture center was operational in the capital. Political opponents were screened, selected and targeted. Lot of political opponents disappeared and it was only the case of Rajan that came into the limelight. Strangely when all of India voted to keep Indhra Gandhi out of power, we voted Mr Karunakaran in. No high ranking political leader has been punished for the atrocities till now.
  • Marad Killings- It is alleged that the Muslim League top leadership were either involved or atleast aware of the conspiracy. The effect is very clear to be seen. The Muslim League is the second largest party in the coalition now and we have conveniently decided to forget the past. 
You can find references to many more in the blog of my good friend. What I meant by stating that the view expressed by the writer was myopic is that the aspect of the general public's attitude towards the conspirators has been ignored. About a month back I had been to Cochin and I saw huge posters of the industries minister  P. K. Kunhalikutty along with the chief minister of Kerala on all the main roads in Cochin, in a show meant to welcome the delegates for the meet.

I have no objections to the Industries minister hogging the limelight as he rightly should. Come to think of it in another way. A "rapist" was representing us to welcome delegates from abroad. Is our society so bad that we can't find good, clean and capable people to represent us and we are forced to elect rapists, murders and criminals.

One of my friends recently commented that  P. K. Kunhalikutty is one of the best administrators around. The argument is in itself the answer to the argument.  Karunakaran was a proven administrator. Pinaray is said to be even better. Modi is a step ahead of both. But what we tend to forget is that Hitler would easily trump them all. Being a good administrator is not a good enough reason for a criminal to be representing us. Just like Hitler, the three before them are not fit for representing us. People vote for  P. K. Kunhalikutty because he can defeat the CPI(M). People vote for Pinarayi because he can defeat the Congress. People kept Hitler in power because they thought he can defeat his enemies. We are not voting to for a particular candidate or party because he is good and best suited for us. We are doing it because we want to defeat the other candidate and in that we tend to conveniently forget that we are voting for a rapist or a murderer.

People like  P. K. Kunhalikutty, Pinarai and Karunakaran are (or) were mini Hitlers at some point of time in their careers and it is because they genuinely believed what they did was right.
We sided with them because we just wanted to defeat the other party. We never wanted to elect a representative for us. Unless that attitude changes,  P. K. Kunhalikutty will be representing us and welcoming people from all over the world, Pinarayi will be hugely popular  and after their death they will be given state honors and a 21 gun salute just like what was given to Karunakaran.
The rapist, the murderer, the evil in them will just go unpunished and we as a society are responsible for it.

As things stand it seems that the death of TP Chandrasekharan might go unpunished and the people ate the top of the conspiracy might go unpunished. This is not the first time it is happening and it will not be the last unless we change.