On Meeting Long-Lost Friends: Part 1

May 28, 2010

How many times have you met a good friend from childhood or schooldays and rejoiced at this lucky meeting? You could meet at an airport, a railway station, and if the friend stays in the same city at the mall or at the vegetable market. It does not matter where you meet. Here is how a typical chat goes:

“Oh, is that Santosh?”

“Yes! I can sort of recall your face, I am sorry I do not remember your name”, I indeed am rather poor with old names.

Abey, saaley! Bhool gaya?” These Hindi terms of endearment immediately alert me to the possibility that this chap could be from the depths of time, my schooldays. Not that I studied in a school where Hindi terms of endearments were commonly bandied about. Over time I have learnt that these are used by folks to establish a very old relationship.

I still do not hear the penny drop.

Arey nahin yaar, zara aur hint do na. I am sure you are my school-mate, just give me a clue, please”. I take the cue from the other person’s Hindi.

“Remember when we had gone to see “Amar, Akbar, Anthony” together, your had a flat tyre and I had to ferry you double ride.?”

“Pradeep? Arey, Pradeep!!!” I exclaim in delirium.

Haan! Wohi Pradeep, how could you forget my name, you bugger!!”

A tentative handshake and then a bear hug if the other was from the North of India.

Then follows a variation of the following:

“Look at your paunch, fatso”.

“Look at yours buddy, you look seven months pregnant.”

Terey bal poorey pak gaye!!”

Terey baal to hain hi nahin, ganjey, saaley!!”

“What a moustache!”

Once the physical attributes are closely inspected and pithy comments made, it is now the time to go back in time:  “Where have you been all these years?” “And where have you been?” An exchange of notes on jobs and locations over the last few decades and then it is time to focus on the family.

You married? Have kids? What are their names? What do they do? How are parents? (the parent question is common only in former schoolmates’ meetings.)

Naughtier ones would threaten- with a sly wink of course- to tell “bhabhiji” all about that girl in a pink dress which one used to ogle. The more constructive ones would even offer in marriage his offspring if the latter have one of the opposite sex. And both laugh at this suggestion as if this marriage thing was a bit too silly to start with in any case.

The above was an illustrative chat with an old schoolmate. There would be slight variations when you meet someone from college or from your early working days.

Sample dialogues from college-mates:

Arey, where did you go after our engineering? I lost all track of you!”

“Remember how we used to play corridor-cricket, and how the chap at the end of the corridor whose door we used we used to serve as stumps would get so horribly hassled?”

“We both started smoking together, taking fags on credit from Jhanna’s shop”.

“Remember our first drink together when you were celebrating that campus job?”

“What happened to your MBA aspirations?”

“How come you never attempted an M.Tech?”

Sample dialogues from ex old-colleagues, or ex-neighbours:

“So where all have you been since I last met you at Vizag railway station that day after Christmas”. (I reached Vijayawada station after that)

“And where is that smart friend of ours, the one who had figured out his life?” (He filed for a divorce six weeks after our meeting)

“And what are your kids doing? The elder one was just about reaching the TV remote when I last saw him.” (He is now robotics?

“And what about your wife’s aspirations of climbing Mt Kilimanjaro?” (She aspires, period!)

“You still drive that red Maruti 800?” (Sure, in my dreams. I now have a Hero bicycle)

Then one of the two needs to catch his flight, the last boarding call is announced. Mobile number, email IDs and business cards are exchanged. This is a moment which few but only the most perceptive notice. This is the moment when relative differences in socio-economic status is analyzed and stored away in memory. The more affluent pulls out his Blackberry- or equivalent- to store the email ID, the other may scribble it on the back of the business card. The business card itself is studied carefully to discern any noticeable features denoting one’s rise in the corporate hierarchy. And some probing questions may be asked too. “Aah, I see you are based in Bangalore. And you are responsible for sales for your company. Now tell me, do you look after Bangalore City, Karnataka, South India or entire India?”

“We must meet again soon.”

“Of course, with our families”

“What fun it will be!”

“Boy, that will be fun!!”

Each of the two flies home thinking of all the joint experiences they have had. Each dreaming of the time when they would get back together again.

How lovely!

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Discovering a friend has become easy in the modern era. There is the internet which not only enables quick searches but also powers myriad groups of batch-mates like the popular Yahoo groups, and social networking groups like Facebook. What an easy way to rediscover old friends. And what joy!

When I joined my engineering batch-mates’ Yahoo group, it was sheer bliss each day to find mails from long-lost friends. Most addressed to the whole group and some to me directly. As and when each member joined the group he was asked to post details about his progress in life as well as some recent photographs of self and family. Needless to say, this evoked comments from the others on the lines of the ones mentioned above regarding physical features etc.! What joy the whole thing was!

@@@

My wife was hunting desperately for a classmate of hers. She knew her name, profession (doctor) and the fact that she was in the US. No Google search would help us to track her down. I was the “searcher” given my relative proficiency in computing (I can log-on to the internet and use Google) and I was quite astonished myself that this woman was not traceable.

“You are banging away at your laptop even when you are at home, how can you not do this simplest of things?” Queried my wife.

I am flummoxed too, this search should have been a song, I could not figure out what was going wrong. I tried multiple variations of the spellings of her name. No avail. I checked on her maiden name and the surname after marriage. No luck!

“This is too much, you can’t even do this much for me?” She fully well knew how I was burning the midnight oil for nearly a week and doing an honest search. But the wife is a wife and her problems are the most critical ones.

I racked my brains hard, and this caused a wave to emanate therefrom. (Aka a brain wave). “So what if I can’t locate her, I can trace her family. And through them the much-wanted woman!”, I exulted at the thought!

I got her younger sister’s name, Googled it, and got her immediately on Facebook. There were many individuals with the name, I clicked each one’s page and pulled up the pic and profile.

“Is she the one?”

“No way, she is way too fat”

Click two: “This one?

“She is too dark in the pic., she used to be so fair and pretty.”

Multiple clicks later, we reached a pic which was to my wife’s satisfaction. “Of course this is the one!” And then it required a mail from me to the sister seeking her indulgence in sharing her older sister’s email ID and seeking pardon if I had intruded upon her privacy.

Overnight we received her response which was copied to her older sister (my wife’s friend) as well. And that establishes the long-lost contact. The friend calls my wife soon after.

And they chat and chat and chat for hours. Mercifully she calls when it is night in the US (and morning in India when I am away at office). Many personal details filled up and secrets are exchanged. I get to know of this when I return home in the evening. Surely I am curious to know the details of her friend- she is my wife’s friend after all- but I am even more curious to know why I could not trace her on Google. It transpires that her name has changed. She married and then divorced. She even changed her first name somewhere in between. Not only that, she even moved across her field of medical specialization. No wonder I could not trace her.

Phone numbers are exchanged, and the friend even introduces us to the new (to me) concept of Skype. Will enable hours and hours of free chat, she says. This I download on the home PC rejoicing in the vicarious delight of the endless hours of joy the chats will give to me wife.

I am sure a lot of the above would find resonance with most of you. Long-lost friends pop-up on Facebook, LinkedIn and a myriad other net-working sites every other day. You accept and get connected. You stay a while longer and the sites suggest more names. More clicks of acceptance, more happiness.

That joy of discovering long-lost friends!

But it is even more interesting to see what happens next.

@@@

PS: Here is the link to the concluding post.

(To be concluded)

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The Blog Turns Two

May 22, 2010

Santosh Ojha’s Weblog” is two years old today. This is as good a time as any to thank all those who take time out and read what I write.

I have a day job which, like all other jobs, comes with demands on time and energy. It is my love for writing and the appreciation of readers which makes me steal some moments during my frequent traveIs or during late nights at home. I have been averaging a post a week over the last year on a variety of topics covering nostalgia, travel, humour and of late, the odd piece on Hindi film songs.

The magic of Google and other search engines gets many hitherto strangers onto my blog. There is this Jamshedpur diaspora which stumbles upon my blog googling things like Durga Puja, singhara and Fakira chanachur which are near religion for those who have lived in the city. There are several posts in my blog on my growing up days in Jamshedpur. Then there are readers looking for Hindi stories who land on one of my three-part post called “My Seven favourite Hindi stories”. Then there are tourists looking for information on sundry areas like Sikkim’s Tshangu Lake, the terracotta warriors of China, Cellular Jail of Andaman and the street-side painters of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Then there are those blog visitors who hear about my blog from others.

Some continue to read my blog regularly thereafter. And some even become friends over a period of time.

Perhaps the oldest reader of my blog is my father who is in his mid-80’s. He does not actually read my blog (he has neither access to nor knowledge of computers) but I courier print-outs of all my posts to him. He reads them all, calls me and gives me his point of view. But he keeps telling me that I should start writing some serious stuff and not mere “chutkulas” which I post. For those not familiar with this Hindi word, “chutkula” means a joke and in this context, frivolous stuff.

Thank you, all.

PS: Here is what I wrote when the Blog turned one.


An Eyeful of Love

May 19, 2010

That eyes are expressive, we know. Filled-with-love eyes, questioning-raised-eyebrows, happy-crinkling-eyes, flirting-eyes, cold-blue-eyes, smiling-eyes, ominously-staring-eyes; the manifestations of eyes’ expressions are many. Nowhere in the annals of global literature have the eyes been used as well as in Hindi film songs. Ever since cinema moved to the “talkie” phase from the “movie” phase, eyes have been employed to describe a myriad emotions. Each music director, lyricist and singer has sometime or the other in his or her career extolled the virtues of the eyes. They have created a sensitivity for the human eye which no eye-doctor has ever done. These eye afficionados have moved away from the physical realm of cornea, retina and the humours in-between (aqueous and vitreous for those not aware) to take the fascination of mankind to an altogether different level. Read on to know more on this.

To start with, reams of songs to describe the beauty of the eyes:

Pretty Eyes:

Aankhon mein kaajal hai” from the late 70’s movie “Doosra Aadmi” has the young- and the then hot couple- dancing around the trees in the park they find themselves into. In matching costumes of white. Rishi K and Neetu S. They look good together and dance well together despite the staccato dance moves of Rishi and the heavy kaajal-laden eyes of Neetu’s. Rishi even swears that her bindiya is a mirror which reflects his love for her. “Teri bindiya darpan hai, darpan mein mera dil hai…

Dev Anand knew a thing or two about describing the pulchritude of his beloved, like he did in this song from the early 60’s film “Jab Pyaar Kisisey Hota hai”. He was romancing Asha Parekh. Says Dev A as he romances Asha P as they conveniently glide down a valley: “Yeh aankehin uff yumma, yeh soorat uff yumma”. What a description of female beauty! Yummaa!! Asha Parekh takes this to philosophical heights when she enlarges her lover’s “uff-yummaish-ness” to the salubrious hilly climate and her rising heartbeats: “Yeh mausam uff yumma, yeh dhadkan uff yumma, kaisey dil ko rokein, koi thamey, uff yumma!” And then she does a Manoj Kumar-esque deflection of her neck complete with her forefingers covering her “uff-yumma” visage as Dev A. tumbles in a style strongly reminiscent of Dev Anand!

I wonder how Rakhee was enraptured with Shatrughan Sinha crooning to her “Doob, doob, jaata hoon” in this song from the 1973 movie, “Blackmail”. She should have dialled 100 and asked for immediate help when this yellow-shirted, black waist-coated, blue-denim jeaned apparition looking like the one and only Shotgun Sinha stared into her eyes singing “sharrrrrrrrbati”. But maybe she need not, as dear Shotgun goes about describing her eyes as “sharbati aankhein”. The sweet syrupy eyes as deep as lakes. I shall agree to this one, Rakhee’s eyes were something! The sherbat thing was used even prior to this in the movie, “ Do Raastey“ where Rajesh Khanna sings to his girlfriend “Yeh reshmi zulfein, yeh sharbatee aankhein”. Sweet eyes which give life to others: “Inhein dekhkar jee rahein hain sabhi”. Not only that, these vital symbols of beauty also make others to quaff, “inhein dekhkar pee rahein hain sabhee” (the elixir of life, I suppose). A close look at the screen close-up at this point in time reveals what causes people to quaff more and more. But I shall leave this out from this post. Check-out youtube if you are keen!

To conclude this section, the rocking “Kajraarey, kajraarey” from “Bunty aur Babli”. That song which has been played by the DJs ever since to bring back to life any tired party. The song comes on and then, instantaneously, it is “all legs-on-deck”- sorry- all legs on dance floor. Surely it says something about the Indian male’s attraction to kohl-lined dark eyes!

Your eyes o’ pretty one:

Dev Anand strikes again in this old Kishore favourite: “Oh nigahein mastana”, as he sings to Nutan in “Paying Guest”. He beseeches her attention: “Koi dekhey nasheeli aankh mal-mal key, dil kaisey na ho deewana”. If the burning candle beckons, what can the insect do? (“shama karey hai isharey jal-jal key, toh kya karey parwana”).

In another song it is the beholder’s nazar which takes in the beauty of the beloved. “Terey chehrey sey nazar nahin hatati, nazaarey ham kya dekhein”. I think this beholder has a point. He has to take his eyes of the beholden one to behold what is being proferred by the Yash Chopra-ish environs from Switzerland, Kashmir, Chilean Andes, wherever; from the, you guessed it right, this Yash Chopra movie, “Kabhi Kabhie”. By the way, the young couple, Rishi and Neetu Singh tumble all around the verdant slopes but they keep staring at each other in the eyes. The other parts of the body are free to do whatever else they deem fit!

Vulnerable Eyes:

If eyes are pretty by themselves, they also indicate vulnerability. And fear. Like this song from 1964 movie “Kohra” starring the beauteous Waheeda and the non-hero Biswajeet. She of the lovely eyes and lovelier tresses and he in the corporate white-shirt, tie and dark trousers and with a voice of Hemant Kumar. Which indeed is Hemant Kumar’s! The hero wants to quaff the intoxication off the goblet like eyes of his beloved as he wants to live… “Zara peeney do, zaraa jeeney do..” Those eyes which make him forget the “tomorrow”… “kal ki kisko phiqar”… as he wipes away her tears. Only when I watched the song I realized what the hero wanted. A quasi-vampire trick of quaffing the tears; all the time I thought he wanted to drink wine off her eyes!

Sample this one from “Arth”, Raj Kiran singing about Shabana’ eyes, “Jhuki, Jhuki si nazar..” in the wonderful voice of Jagjit Singh. Mahesh Bhatt’s intense biopic has Shabana lowering her gaze as the camera carresses her eyes gently. And those eyes – and some wonderful acting- won her quite a few best actress awards.

Ankhiyan bhool gayein hai sona, jab sey kiya hai jadoo tona”. In this this Geeta Dutt number from “Goonj Uthi Shenai” the heroine narrates the loss of sleep of after her beloved has cast his spell on them. How bad it must be, a small jadoo-tona and you are fixed for good!

Playful Eyes:

The romantic meeting of eyes is nothing less than a conflict of romantic proportions, Hindi poets have called this meeting a ladai. Nainon ka ladna! And there are bound to be violent repercussions to a conflict; fireworks going up, the heart feeling the pangs. Like Dilip Kumar announces to the villagers his love for Vaijayanti Mala in “Ganga Jamuna”: “Nain lad jaihein”. In his quaint Bhojpuri he says, “Manawa mein kasak hoibey kari” etc etc.

The Sufi mystic Amir Khusro’s immortal qawalli from the 16th century  has been sung by virtually all the singers worth their salts. Some in movies, some outside it. But the enduring charm of the song remains. And the song has “Chhap tilak sab chheeni rey, mosey, naina milai ke” is one of the top favourites. In this song Amir Khusro describes his devotion and love for Hazrat Nizamuddin saying he (Khusro) has lost all his worldly symbols after his eyes met the eyes of his guru the great H. Nizamuddin. So much so that Khusro beseeches the crow (kaaga), hell -bent on feasting on his flesh, to spare his two eyes as the eyes hold the vision of his master, the great Hazrat H. I love this one- not only for the references to the eyes- but also to this classic line: “Prem bati ka madwa pilaikey, matwari kar deeni rey, mosey naina milaikey”; “You have served me the intoxicating extracts of the herb of love and I now go insane…”

Romancing Eyes:

This title song from the film “Aankhon, aankhon mein” presents to the listener an interesting divergence of interests of the man and the woman. (Mars and Venus theory; another clinching proof). They are both in a barn-like place and the woman, Rakhee, is dressed only in a man’s shirt, a few sizes too long for her. One can guess it has rained, the girl has got all wet, and she has to change in dry clothing. And the hero, Rakesh Roshan, offers her his shirt. Hormones may have been raging, but all what the hero wants to do is to engage in an eye-to-eye chat. The heroine is perhaps a little sleepy and she wants to sleep- in his arms. I do not know what happened at the end of the song, the possibilities are endless…!

The exchange of glances between members of the opposite sex is enough to engender life-enhancing properties as Dev Anand tells Shakila in CID: “Aankhon hi aankhon mein isharaa ho gaya, baithey- baithey jeeny ka sahara ho gaya.” Afterall, as the title song of this Amitabh-Jaya starrer goes: “Pyaar ko chahiye bas ek nazar”. Hence the plea by Biswajeet to Waheeda in this 1960’s classic Hemant Kumar song from “Bees Saal Baad”: “Zara nazaron sey keh do ji, nishaana chook na jayein”. Stay on target, you eyes!

Sad Eyes:

This marvelous melancholic song from Mukesh song from Anil Dhawan’s “Annadata” (1972): “Nayana hamaarey, saanjh sakaarey”. Eyes see dreams, but is it possible that they would ever realize them all?” goes this soulful number.

Eyes can beat the best of Indian monsoons if provoked by sundry circumstances (Mehbooba’s, “Merey naina saawan-bhadon”), though the mind still remain unquenched (…phir bhi mera man pyaasa..”). In the mind-numbing film from the early 70’s, “Geet”, this one from the equally mind-numbing non-actors, Rajendra Kumar and Mala Sinha. “Terey naina kion bhar aaye..” I do not remember much of the movie except that among the multiple twists and turns in the movie, Rajendra Kumar has a bad accident which shows up as a neatly pasted Band Aid on his forehead and a forgotten memory. It is music which had united the couple and I guess that is what would have united them in the end and cleared all the plotted cobwebs. Never mind the movie, it did have some great songs. And tearful eyes have a practical problem, they cannot accomodate sleep: “Do nainon mein aansoon bharey hain, nindiya kasey samaye…? Very well expressed in Gulzar’s words in the movie “Khushboo”.

The good guys among you all must be wondering if the eyes have nothing else to do but to stoke romantic fervours among impressionable members of the opposite sex. No way, sirs. Did you know that the eyes could symbolize patriotic zeal as well? Read on…

Patriotic Eyes:

Us mulk ki sarhad ko koi chhoo nahin sakta, jis mulk ki sarhad ki nigehban hain aankhein”, that is the clarion call from the war movie, “Aankhein”. How can someone invade the borders of a nation which has a very vigilant set of eyes at her borders? Very true!

It is said that Lata Mangeshkar sang this song at a function just after India’s defeat to China in the messy 1962 war. This defeat had devastated the aging Nehru. The mix of his age, the defeat and the voice of Lata moved him to tears. This song has been the staple of all radio and TV programs ever since, on National holidays like 15th August, 2nd October and 26th January. If you have not guessed it so far, the song is none other than “Ai merey watan key logon..”. To be true- Nehru I am not- but this song has never failed to move me, whenever I listen to it. Lata Mangeshkar is wrong when she says, “zara aankh mein bhar lo paani”.

One does not need to infuse paani, tears happen.

xxx


My Seven Favourite English Books (Non-Fiction)

May 8, 2010

In this post I write about my seven favourite English non-fiction books. You will not find Sartre, Kahleel Gibran, Richard Bach or, horror of horrors, even the likes of Shiv Khera and Robin Sharma. My list is a lot less intellectual, I talk about some basic- but interesting- stuff which I have read over the last 30 years or so. Mine is an eclectic collection of books which I have read and re-read over the last few decades. In subsequent posts I will talk about my top seven English fiction books and then about my top seven Hindi books.

1 How To Be An Alien:

I discovered this slim book, written some 60-70 years ago, regrettably late; only 23 years ago. I have read this book several times and it is one of the most prized books in my collection. George Mikes (pronounced, Mik-kesh), a Central European, does a rip-roaring take on the British. I will love any book which has a chapter headed “Three Small Points” where the first point is: “If you go for a walk with a friend, don’t say a word for hours; if you go out for a walk with your dog, keep chatting to him.” And I will adore any book whose entire chapter consists of the heading “Sex”. Followed by text which goes thus: “Continental people have sex life, the English have hot-water bottles.” That is the entire text in the chapter on “Sex”, mind you!

By the way, there is another book which does an excellent, though longer, take on the Brits, “Notes from a Small Island” by Bill Bryson.

I wish I could write humour in the manner George Mikes did!

2 Surely You Are Joking Mr Feynman

Mr Feynman, or Prof Richard Feynman, was a distinguished professor of physics. He is known to generations of students of physics via his “Feynman’s Lecture Series”. This Nobel laureate was involved with the “Manhattan Project”, the WW II project of the US government to develop the atomic bomb. “Surely You Are Joking Mr Feyman” is his autobiography. This story of his life deals with everything but that atom-bomb venture. It sure does find a mention in passing, but the book largely deals with his experiences in studying ants, learning how to break a combination lock, seducing a girl etc.

I have always admired geniuses who could excel beyond what they are renowned for.  I can think of none better than Richard Feynman.

3 Freakonomics:

This relatively recent book is written by a young economist, an econometrist actually. An econometrist uses mathematics to solve economic conundrums, and Steve Levitt does, with panache. He proves to you that having swimming pool in your house (remember this is an American context) is a lot more dangerous than having a gun in your house. Or that names have a cyclical life. Yesterdays’ names flower again tomorrow. Or that the hallowed teachers and even more hallowed Sumo wrestlers can be cheats. And that famous conclusion in one of the chapters of the book of his regarding the drop in the crime rates of New York city. Something to do with legalization of abortion a few decades prior.

This book has been so inspiring for me ever since I read it. I now think that I can solve all the problems of life only if I had all the data at my hand.

4 City Of Djinns:

If you want to read a good story, read William Dalrymple. What you get is not only a well-written story, you also get tons of authentic, hitherto unknown history as well. I am a huge fan of William D, a Scotsman who spends most of his time in India. He has written many best-sellers- In Xanadu, White Mughals, Nine Lives, and “The Last Mughal ..…”. All of them stories of history, and very well told. But none beats this endearing tale of Delhi, uncovering the layers and layers of its past. This has a unique structure, starting from the present and going back in time to Hastinapur of the Mahabharat, the earliest of the seven incarnations of Delhi. All told in an engaging, personal- and humorous- style.

I have this silly ambition of writing a book sometime. And, if I do, it will be a mix of story-telling, travelogue and history, just like what William Dalrymple has done about Delhi.

5 A Short History of Nearly Everything:

I have mentioned earlier about Bill Bryson. Bill B. is known for his uproariously funny travelogues, I have mentioned the book on England, above, “Notes from a Small Island”. He has written many more on his travels: “ Neither Here nor There” (Europe travel), “The Lost Continent”, “A walk In The Woods”, “Made In America”, “The Life And Times of Thunderbolt Kid” (All on USA) “African Diary” (Africa). But my selection for this list is “A Short History of Nearly Everything”, which is not striclt a travel book. This has oodles of information on matters science, astrology, chemistry, physics, zoology, etc etc. The Solar System, The Big Bang, Genetics, Paleantology are explained in lucid detail.

I love this book as while I am not, classically-speaking, a lay person considering I have a degree in engineering, but I have learnt so much from this book!

6 Complications:

There are gifted people, like so many of us. And there are even more gifted people like Dr Atul Gavande. Dr Gavande is a second generation Indian medical practitioner in the US born to a doctor-couple practicing in a small US town. He is an eminent surgeon who has been writing in the Mecca of writers of all kinds, “The New Yorker”, ever since he was a Resident Doctor. His essays on the issues and dilemmas facing surgeons are of interest not only to the physicians but also to the patients and the caregivers as well. He has written two more books after this: “Better” (which was so good that I have gifted copies of it to a couple of hundred doctor friends of mine) and “The Checklist Manifesto” which has just got released in India.

7 Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps

When I first read the book, and I do not even remember who recommended it to me, I was stunned! I kept wondering which among my friends had told the authors (Allan and Barbara Pease) as to what happened in my household. This book is about relationship between men and women; in the Indian context, between husband and wife. The incidents, the observations , the conclusions… and even the solutions are so familiar. Unbelievable! I have recommended this book to so many of my friends, with a condition that it should be read by both of them- him and her. And I am not surprised that nearly all of them have come back and told me: “How is it that the author-duo knew exactly what is happening between the two of us?

If you really want to know, check out the book.

===


Reflections on Polished Shoes

May 1, 2010

I know I am sticking my neck out on this one, I could even be in a minority of one. I firmly believe that one of the most pleasurable tasks among the routine jobs a man does is polishing one’s shoes. I used to do it more frequently- daily even, during an earlier phase in my life- but it is now limited to a once-a-week affair, on Sundays. I take out my shoes from the footwear cabinet, arrange the paraphernalia like the can of the wax shoe polish- always Kiwi- and the shoe brush. And a wet piece of cloth in case the shoe soles are muddied. And then I sit down comfortably to restore my pair of shoes to its pristine status.

There is a certain technique to removing the lids of the wax shoe polish cans. Depending on the brand, you press the lid at the appropriate place; always the six-o’-clock position with Kiwi. For its rival brand, Cherry Blossom, it used to be the five-of-the-hour position. (I noticed recently that they have advanced this to 3-o’-clock.) There used to be a brand (Billy?) which had a butterfly-knob on the sides of the tin-can which the user twisted to dislodge the lid.)

You dab the brush onto the cake of wax and gently apply the polish on the shoe. You do it slowly, with deliberate long strokes. You take care not to miss the sole-edges, a blemished sole takes away from the charm of well-polished shoes. You do the operation on shoe left (or shoe right, depending on your habit) and leave it for some airing while you attend to the shoe right. You can sense each of the pair, as they await the next step, looking at you in gratitude now that the shoe uppers were soaking in the nourishing wax. They look black, but dulled, as if somnolent after a lavish meal. Which they have had moments ago, the application of wax has nourished the innards of the uppers. You take a while to admire your effort before you start the next step.

Vigorous brushing. Vigorous, vigorous brushing.

You pant as you stroke your shoes with light-and rapid- strokes. A dull black gives way to a polished, shiny surface. You burnish it some more. You use a length of cotton to buff the leather. The shoe encased in your bare foot as your hand movements go left-right, left-right, left-right. Aah, there it is, the finished product. You hold it close to your eyes. You can almost see your reflection on the shoe surface. This is IT!

xxx

I have spent a few years of my life selling shoe polish. I used to be a sales manager with a company selling the Kiwi brand of shoe polish (among other equally interesting products, more about the others, later!). I was based in Delhi managing the business in the north of India. Our brand had a miniscule market share, while our competitor, Cherry Blossom, had the lion’s share. We were fiercely proud of the superiority of our brand. I will not go into the technical details, but suffice it to say that the wax content in our polish was way higher than Cherry and hence our polish went deeper into the leather and was more “nutritious” for the shoe-leather. Some customers were not convinced as they expected the shine to emerge on the shoes the moment the polish was applied. (In the case of our brand, one had to wait a while for the wax to get absorbed on the shoe upper and then the buffing would produce the shine.) To these doubtful customers, I would even offer to polish their shoes for them to see the difference. The customers were embarrassed and would decline the offer. I would hope they were convinced by my passion and remained with my brand!

The superior wax-content had its own side-effects. The wax “cake” in the can would shrink sooner than its normal- and commonly expected- life due to the vagaries of climate. And that was a bad thing for the product. The customers would complain that the can would rattle. Like as they would say in the North: “Dabbi khadakti hai”.  (the can rattles). They would all want to return their stock of these rattlers back to our company. We had no answer for this. Except in the territory of one of our star representatives. This guy was a cat! A CAT in upper case. Whenever he heard this complaint he would appear oh-so-despondent and would tell shop-keeper with a doleful face, “Sir-jee!! Ab kya bataoon! Our company is small as far as business concerned, but it is sooo large-hearted, otherwise. Our shoe polish was alright, but the vendor who supplied the can goofed up. He gave us cans larger than required. Sir-jee, you know our great company, right? We could not refuse the consignment and we packed our wax cakes into these over-sized cans. That precisely is the source of all the problems. Sorry, Sir-jee!”. The Sir-jee of course, was taken in by the story; perhaps his eyes were as misted as our star sales-reps’ and the situation was salvaged for our company.

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Shoes are one of those rare things you wear close to your body for some 10-12 hours at a stretch. You don them in the mornings and it is only in the late evenings that you remove them. Shoes share the aches and pressures of life. They are with you when you trudge those extra miles. They are there with you when you walk into a difficult situation at work. When you sit on your chair, feet up on your desk, contemplating the day gone-by, shoes are what you see and you converse with. “Sole”-mates, are they not?

Shoes give that proper ending touch to your persona. Besides of course hiding all the warts they cover; the frayed sock, the overgrown toe-nail, the dry and scaly skin. They highlight your personality, in a manner of speaking.

In short, your shoes “underscore” you. And they make your presence felt!

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I have tried to inculcate the spirit of polishing shoes into my children, but they fail to be enthused. They are dependent on the maid-servant to do the job. This she does, with unfailing regularity. She even offered a few times to polish mine and I always refused. She once muttered to my wife that seniors like me do not polish their own shoes. If she had mentioned this to me, I would have quoted this story, perhaps apocryphal, about the great American president, Abraham Lincoln. A staff member of the White House was alarmed when he saw Lincoln polishing his shoes, “Presidents do not polish their own shoes.” Lincoln retorted, “Then whose shoes do they polish?” That, I suppose, would have been the end of the matter and Mr. President would have been left in peace to keep polishing his shoes.

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