Problem, Yours or Mine….?

June 6, 2010

After years of close observation, I have come to the firm conclusion that human-kind can be classified into two distinct groups. There are those who blame the whole world for the mess they and their lives are in. I am not to blame, the world is the culprit. I have done no wrong, the world has wronged me. Sample these:

Son to father: “Papa, I am always so quiet in the class, but for some reason, this teacher always picks on me and punishes me”. (Papa has been hearing this for many years, across classes and across teachers. The situation- and the excuses- remain the same.)

Husband to wife: “If you had only left me alone to pursue my passions I would have had a more successful career.” (The passions being golf, bridge and the frequent boozing sessions with buddies)

Wife to husband: “If you had only left me alone to pursue my passions I would have been a happier woman.” (Happiness as in unlimited use of the debit and credit cards, unending shopping, and

Subordinate to boss: “If only my subordinates did their jobs, the company’s performance would not have been this bad.” (The subordinate does not remember to mention that his job is to ensure that his subordinates do their jobs properly.)

Losing politician to the press: I did all what was good for my constituency. But the opposition gave it all a different spin in the campaign. Hence I lost. (The neta should know that along with doing his so-called good job, he also has to communicate it to his constituents- if he has done any. In this case he has probably not done anything great.)

Flop movie producer to anyone who cares to listen: We made a great film, but I suppose it was too early for its times, the audience just could not take it. (Then why the hell did you inflict it upon the public?)

This list can be endless, I will stop here now. I hope you get the picture. There is a whole army of people ready to blame everyone else when things do not go the way they think they ought to have been. These losers, who continue to indulge in games of blames whenever things go wrong. They just can’t seem to realize that they could be in the wrong too. They have been lazy, careless, insensitive, unplanned, biased etc etc. They could not think well, they could not strategize well, they could not manoeuver well, they could not communicate well. Maybe they do realize, but they think that their repeated woes of lament will cover up for their deficiencies.

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And then there is the other half of the population; they keep blaming themselves for all the ills in the world. Sample these:

Wife to husband: “I have been a bad mother, no wonder our son eloped with that girl. (Mother dearest, why don’t you admit that it was your stubborn persistence trying to prevent your son from marrying a girl of his choice just because she was from another caste. And thank yourselves for being in good mother that he chose a wonderful girl, bad mothering could have had some pretty bad consequences)

(Incidentally, Hindi movies are filled with such mothers, always accepting blames on themselves.)

Subordiante to peer: I goofed it, my boss gave me such clear instructions. (the subordinate forgets the boss gave her/him impossible timelines)

Girlfriend to boyfriend: Sorry darling, I wish I was a little bit more understanding. (Like ignoring his addiction to drugs, soccer, whoring, in that order)

There are so many others of this ilk, let me not bore you; I am sure you got the idea.

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So there are externalizers and there are internalizers. Each takes great delight in doing what they always do, externalize or internalize a problem. Rare is the individual who takes an objective view of the goings-on and adopts a rational view. For them it is a “me-versus-them”, never “me-and-them” or “neither-me-and-them”. I am no psychologist but I would love to know what dictates these personalities. Why do they behave the way they do. The psychologists talk about flight-or-fight responses to adversities. Perhaps this applies here too.

Fighters are externalizers, they want to fight with the rest of the environment to absolve them of the lapse.

Fliers are internalizers, they want to escape from the issue at hand, they do not want to confront it. The attitude is, “Ok, I am the culprit, all blames on me. Now let us do not analyze this further, your search ends here, with me; do not probe any further.”

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I do not have the answers, but I will end this piece with a classic “externalizer” story. I have known this dear friend of mine for the last twenty five years. A highly successful guy in his career and personal life. But a huge “externalizer”. Like this episode. Let us call him M.

“Hey M, why are you late for the tennis practice?”

“You know what, my shorts did not have pockets.” M deadpans.

“What does apparel have to do with your tennis game?”

M gets into a very detailed explanation of this in all earnest.

“You know what, I got into the bus even before time. I was on the bus for ten minutes and then the bus conductor asked me for money. I slipped my hand into my shorts pocket and guess what, there was no pocket!! I was wearing shorts without pockets, so no money! Now, what do I do..! I had to get off at the next bus-stop, trudge back home, get some money and then another bus. And hence, now you see, I was late.

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On Meeting Long-Lost Friends: Part 2

June 4, 2010

So after much confirmations and cancellations you meet up with that old friend of yours, probably at a conveniently located bar. You enter the bar chatting animatedly and look forward to the much looked forward to evening of pleasure. The first of the beers of the long evening is ordered.

Beer 1:

The beer arrives and your chat takes off from the last meeting:

Arey, I could not recognize you that day!”

“I know, I know, even I had difficulty till I recognized your familiar gait.”

“And tell me, how is your family, baal-bachhey theek?”

“Wonderful, how about your family?”

“I forgot, just jog me memory, what did you say their names were?” (the names have already been discussed in the earlier meeting)

“Monu and Sonu”

“Of course, of course, how silly of me to forget!

“Never mind, we are all getting old.

Then follows chat on similar lines, here is a sample. Never mind who is asking whom, they spend the next fifteen minutes revisiting what was discussed earlier.

“So you wife works for a bank” (No. She is a paediatric surgeon)

“You are with an MNC construction company, right?” (no the concerned is employed with a public sector bank)

“So your mother stays with you ever since your father passed away?” (No. They are both alive and well, thank you. And they live by themselves in the house they built decades ago.)

You get the drift now, right? Each has forgotten the details of the other. And the first part of the chat is dedicated to fact-finding.

Beer no 2:

“It was wonderful to have met you, I thought I had lost track of you forever.”

“You telling me! I have been mentioning to my children for the past several years about you, how close we were and all the badmashi we used to do together in our schooldays. I had promised my kids that one day they will surely meet you.”

“Great feeling, I tell you.”

“Indeed!”

“Remember the time Sanjay got into trouble with the Hindi teacher when we were in the ninth standard?”

“Of course, what an ass he made of himself”

They both start laughing.

“And that princi. of ours, what was his name, Father Richard something…”

“Oh, Dicky boy! That stupid fellow..”

“I tell you…”

More laughter at the common memories of a bumbling Fr Richard much prone to showing-off his prowess in giving Hindi “gaalis” despite his Irish-American roots.

“And you remember that girl in the pink dress?”

“I know, I know, the poor thing is married now to an insurance agent. But, saaley, you forgot that neighbourhood aunty of yours, how you would drool over her?”

Nudge- nudge, wink-wink.

They are both probably rolling on the floor at the mere recollection of these old memories.

“That calls for another beer.”

“Of course it does!”

Beer no 3:

The arrival of Beer no 3 sees both the long-lost friends in utter silence. Ok, I am being a bit dramatic here, they are exchanging notes, but in mono-syllables. All the topics which have bound them together are over, what do they talk about now?

Nothing.

They both spend the next twenty minutes gazing at their respective beer mugs as if reminiscing about the past. Beer is sipped slowly, though each is carefully trying to keep pace with the other. Once in a while one of them discreetly looks at his cellphone as if to check for an important message. Chances are that he is checking on the time. The other, perhaps out of politeness, goes to the loo. There are several reasons for this. He actually does need to go to the loo, he is probably trying to kill time but more importantly he knows that on the way to the loo there is a wall-clock where he can check the time. He does not want want to be caught checking the time on his mobile/ wrist watch.

Then one turns to the other, “What else?”

“All well. And you?”

“All well here too.”

“Good!”

“Good!!”

A few moments later after each of the two has neared the dregs in their beer mugs:

Aur bataa?”

“Tu bataa?”

“Sab theek?”

“Badhiya hai?

There would be a few repeats of the above exchange in both Hindi and English till one of them blinks. And says, “Alas, time to get home”. The other regretfully agrees, “Yes, what a cruel world, it is indeed time to get home.”

The steward is summoned and the check asked for with alacrity. There is a bit of an argument as to who would pay and with some wild gesticulations it is settled. Probably the guy who is the more desperate of the two pays and both leave the bar swearing to meet in the very near future.

The cars reverse, hand are waved, and they are both gone in the darkness.

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Cars reverse, but unfortunately for us, life does not. And the environments we have built around ourselves don’t. You can bet that the two protagonists in this little story above do not meet, at least for the following few years.

Be honest; ask yourself, hands on your hearts, of the old friends you have met in the last eight years how many have you met more than twice till date. Chances are, very few, if any at all.

It is not that you do not like them anymore, it is just the effect of time and distance. The individual you knew from your childhood days or college days is more than a human being, he is a person enveloped in an environment; an environment of other friends, of movies from those times, of the headlines of the day, your own mental make-up in the days you knew him, etc. etc. In short, bereft of this envelope the person is just one quasi-strange person, that’s all. And when you meet up after a lapse of time, you try to seek that environment along with your friend. And this, of course, you will not find. Impossible, as the times have changed. You spend the first few hours of your meeting trying to re-establish the environment. You always talk about the past. About all those things you shared in common in the past. The present is perfunctorily dismissed. As if it was an impediment in the environment the two of you were trying to recreate.

No, it is not the fault of either individual that the much longed-for chat peters out so quickly.

That is how life is!

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I wonder how many of you have returned to your campuses to which most of us had sworn undying loyalty. For those who did return, did you relish the experience? Did you have the same feelings about the campus as you had when you left it? I have some experience, I have been to all the four campuses I have been to and I have not liked any of the experiences. Particularly bad was my trip to my engineering college at IT-BHU. I kept wondering, the civil structure looks the same, but these trees; where did those come from? The hostels look fine, but what about the unique arrangement of underwear and socks on the clothes-lines in the corridors.

Alas, the underwear-owners have moved, the trees have changed. It is just the hostel buildings remain the same. All else has changed.

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I check with my wife on her US friend, and she informs me she has not got in touch with her over the last few months after the initial euphoric contact. She does have a plethora of excuses though:

“You never told me you have downloaded Skype”.

“I tried calling her on phone, her line was busy.”

“I was hoping you would be around when I called her, so that you could say hello to her.”

“The home PC internet has not been working, I have been wanting to send an email to her.”

As you can guess, each of these is an excuse.

It is just that my wife is not-so-enthusiastic anymore to re-establish contact.

It is just that her environment has changed, just like for all of us.

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PS: Here is the first post on the topic.


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!

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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.

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PS: Here is the link to the concluding post.

(To be concluded)


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.

xxx

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!

xxx

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.

xxxxx


Confessions of a bibliophile: 1

April 27, 2010

Those of you who know me would know I love books. And those who have visited my house would know that I love being surrounded by them. Some of you may have read one of my earlier posts, “Books, oh books” about my fascination for books.

I love books, and I very often buy them. I have always had this “other love” in my life. Books. My wife reached this conclusion pretty early on in our married life and she would point this out to me with unfailing regularity, the moment she saw me returning home with a bagful of books. Till she realized that I was a compulsive buyer of books. And incorrigible. She sighed, and reconciled, God bless her. I have written earlier regarding my love for books and that I could not afford to buy books. I would borrow them from friends, from circulating libraries and from school or college libraries. And when I started earning, my salary liberated me- as it were- and I plunged into buying books.

Lest you think that I am a book-worm, let me tell you, I am not. I confess here, publicly, that I have read not even half of my collection. But show me a book-lover who has read all in his, and I will show you a liar!

This used to trouble me a bit. Not a bit actually, but hugely! Till an enlightened book-lover friend of mine told me: “I buy when I can, I read when I can”. And that took off from my conscience the load of guilt accumulated over the years! And now I have this stance: “Sure I have not read this book, but what the hell, I like what this book is about and I will read it one day”. And I often do. Many a time I have pulled out and read to the finish a book a bought five or six years ago. And I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

There are many books which I have not read cover-to-cover. Some half-way, some two-thirds. So what if I do not complete them, I know when to turn to these books depending on what I seek. You do not need to unload on your body the entire bottle of perfume to know what it is all about!

There is another aspect which a book-lover may encounter. Feeling guilty about exiting a book-store without making a purchase. I did. I would enter the bookshop, browse for hours and would feel “obliged” to buy a book or two. I felt guilty leaving without giving the store any business, and to part company with books I would come back to again-and-again in the hours spent at the shop. How could I not give any business to the shop and more importantly, how I could leave behind my objects of desire. So there I was queueing-up at the cash counter, pulling out my wallet and saying thank you to the cashier as he packed the purchases into a polythene bag.

Till someone- another book lover- told me that it was ok. It was alright to leave without buying a book. I put this maxim to practice. It was difficult the first few times, but then I got used to it. And it has been a breeze since then. I breeze into a book shop, exchange a few pleasantries with the book seller, browse and breeze out. Simple!

xxx

I had written in the earlier post:

Books brought you into a mystical communion with writers past and present. Books whose writers were not mere pen-pushers but confidants sharing life’s secrets and mysteries. A book was an entire package of life’s treasures and all its sensual goodness…..

Now that I think more, having books are like having great thinkers as friends. Great friends are those with whom you can spend hours with, turn to them in times of need, ask them for appropriate advice when needed. Great friends are non-demanding, they just stand around and let you be as you do your own thing. Friends with ages of wisdom, tons of good wishes, and- more importantly- always at hand. I wonder if you have realized that you may have a large circle of friends, you may consider them as great friends- which they indeed are- but you rarely turn to any of them at random in times of specific need. For example, if you have some issues with your better half, you may ask a select few. And these select few are different when you are besieged with problems at work, or with your finances, or with multiple such distinct issues clouding your life. Such is the case with books. All great friends, as I have just described, but each fulfilling a different need. Provided of course you know what to seek in a particular book, just like you know what to talk to a close friend about.

There is a small difference though. How many great friends you think you have? 4? 7? Ok, maybe 9! I would be surprised to hear a figure in double digits even with the most socially active people. And if you do think you have a large number of great friends, my humble recommendation is maybe you should start redefining for yourself what you mean by a great friend. On the other hand, you may have a large collection of books and each could be your great friend, in the manner listed above.

…..to be continued….


Something’s Missing…

April 6, 2010

My elder son wrote his 10th Board exams last month. While most of his friends had chosen Sanskrit as the “second” language, we prevailed upon Ved to take Hindi. The reason being we could help him with Hindi and not Sanskrit. I took it upon myself to teach him Hindi. After-all, I am the son of a Hindi professor. My grounding in Hindi has been good, I topped my class in Hindi in both 10th and 12th.

Ved’s syllabus had Kabir, Meera, Pant, Mahadevi Verma etc which I think we covered with relative ease. There were some interesting interludes though. When studying Meera and her devotion to Krishna. She says that she would do whatever to get Krishna residing close to her. Said Ved to me, rather seriously, “Dad, if I were Krishna I would never ever even look at Meera. She is crazy!!” Aah, what a difference a word makes! Would not the Hindi baawari be better than crazy?

In of the chapters there was a reference to Krishna coming to Draupadi’s rescue during her “cheer-haran”. And Ved wanted to know who Draupadi was. And he freaked when he got to hear that she was married to five brothers, all at once!

See the erosion in knowledge over three generations? My father is fluent in Sanskrit, and here I was convincing my son to take Hindi for his boards as I was not confident of helping him with Sanskrit. The next-gen extends this to absence of knowledge about a commonly known detail from the Great Epic. The kid is not to be blamed, he has just not been exposed to this story. And my wife and I are the “culprits”, so to speak.

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Don’t you think something getting lost here?

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Not that I have not been trying. It is an old habit of mine, listening to “Hanuman Chalisa” in the morning, on my way to work, in our car’s audio system. The family car has changed over time, the medium has changed (cassette, CD, and now thumb drive); but this little habit of listening to the “Chalisa” has not. What has also remained constant is the “teaching” I do to my kids as we drive together on their way to school. I explain to them the story of Hanuman and the meanings of the words in the “Chalisa”. Sample this: “Ramdoot, atulit bal dhama, Anjani-putra, pawan-sut nama”. Now you need to picture two lads- my sons- in their early teens, having lived nearly all their lives in Bengaluru figuring out what those words mean. Figure “doot”, “atulit”, “baldhama”, “Anjani” etc. They quietly imbibe the daily lesson. But that’s about it.

I fret sometimes, there is “something” being lost here, in this decline of knowledge about our cultural heritage. And I don’t know if something is being gained in the process.

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Mai, my mother, God bless her, is going strong on 81 now. She can still sing in her strong voice the Bhojpuri folk songs of yore, sohar, chaiti, vivah geets etc. Creeping dementia makes her repeat some of the lines again and again. But she holds forth with great enthusiasm. And that enthusiasm is very visible when on a recent visit to her place (she and Pitaji, going on 86, stay all by themselves in Jamshedpur) I take out my laptop and begin recording her singing. Long forgotten songs from my childhood now digitally captured on my lap-top hard disk.

My wife is cheerfully though silently joining in some of the songs. She is more “humming-along” than “singing-along” as she does not know the words of many of these songs. Here is another aspect of our culture being lost. The next gen will probably have no clue about these age-old folk songs, forget about associating each song with a specific occasion.

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My wife is at least aware of festivals and sundry rituals accompanying the festivals. She still does teej and rakshabandhan and lakshmi puja during Diwali and other such activities. She still covers her head with a dupatta and sits down to do Durga path during navratri. She still banishes non-vegetarian food on Tuesdays. Much to the chagrin of the children who adore non-vegetarian food at all times of the day.

As for me, I am not into pooja etc. Neither do I visit temples unless it holds a “touristy” significance. I do know the significance of the festivals but I have a “could-not-care-less” attitude. I am not a compulsive non-veg eater, but if it served to me on Tuesdays on my travel, I am perfectly fine. I do not fret if I miss Holi or Diwali due to my business travels across the globe.

Something is indeed being lost here.

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Pitaji fretted when he was getting me (and prior to me, my elder brother) admitted into the school where we finally passed out from. After-all he was then a Hindi lecturer in a prestigious college. And our school was an English medium one, run by Irish-American Roman Catholic priests. Some of Pitaji’s colleagues remarked on his hypocritical approach; teaching Hindi for a living and having his own sons admitted into an English medium school. While others told him this would make the sons’ future, why should he impose his personal preferences on his children. The latter camp won. We passed out from this English medium school. This was in the 60’s and 70’s when English medium schools were not common, though highly coveted.

I am sure, Pitaji too would have wondered again and again, is something getting lost here?

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My wife and I had both decided that we will speak to our children only in Hindi. No English words even. This was rather tough as they both grew up in a mixed society in Mumbai, Pune, and Bangalore. Not the ideal places for Hindi speaking friends and classmates. But we persisted. Till the schools where they went to summoned us- in case of each of them- when they turned five that enough was enough and it was high time we started speaking to them in English. Or else they would fall behind in class.

With great diligence- and effort- we switched to English. Kids made slow progress with conversational but with eventually did succeed and with strong long-term effects. So much so that now, when the children are in their teens, it is normal for the family to converse only in English. Sometimes, when I insist that they talk in Hindi, the conversation is so stilted that we switch back to English.

Something surely has got lost here!

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Wonder what you, dear reader, feel about this loss. In a future post I will give my version about what I think is indeed getting lost.

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PS: Ved struggled with his Hindi exam preparations, he was exultant when I went to pick him up after his Hindi Boards. “No more Hindi for me, ever!” he exclaimed. I quietly assured him then, “Ved, another twenty years or so, you will long to come back to Kabir, Meera and Tulsidas. You will. And then you will thank me for the works of these poets I have in my book collection.”

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Winter Musings: Part Two

January 3, 2010

Winter was a great time for eating. Mai was more liberal with poori and pulao in winter as compared with summer and monsoon months. Perhaps winters were supposed to be “healthier” than the other seasons. This coupled with the fact that in the winters the choice of sabzis was far more varied, and far more welcome. Summers and monsoons had all kinds of specimens from the gourd family creeping put: Lauki, konhada, turai, nenua, kaddu. To add to this evil- and foul- list were bhindi, sem and baingan. I will not translate these into English for those who do not understand these terms, let them suffer year-long servings of the aforementioned sabzis. Anyway, coming back to the winters, the royalty among the vegetables would surface: phool-gobhi, patta- gobhi, mooli , gaajar, matar, dhaniyasarson- ka-saag, and chane- ka-saag. A gourmet’s selection! (Remember, we were a vegetarian family!). So it could be an aloo-paratha for breakfast, pulao for lunch and gobhi parathas for dinner. What bliss! Especially if the dinner was crowned with gaajar ka hawaa, or more commonly, kheer.

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There was one coveted fruit, ber, which the elders tried to keep out of bounds for children till the Saraswati Puja. Ber has multiple species, thankfully only the light-green elongated one (called “Kashi ber”) was the one reserved as an offering to Ma Sarasawti, we could partake of the reddish-brown variety which grew readily in the wilds. In my early childhood days we stayed in a place surrounded by a forested area. And a prominent winter feature was a walk through the woods, as it were, hunting for bers. We would return home satiated with our fill of bers and with acres of our skins scratched by the thorny ber shrub! (To all you nerds reading this piece, the botanical name of ber is Ziziphus mauritania.)

Bhojpuri-speaking people in India have this universal “dish”, litti. If you have not had the pleasures of having litti in the middle of winter, let me tell you, you have not lived! It is not the delectable flavours of litti alone, but the entire process of preparing it on a bitingly-cold winter evening. To start with, litti is prepared outdoors, as much smoke is released when litti is prepared. If you want to know what litti is all about, then here is a rather pedestrian description: Atta is moulded into rounded hollow balls into which you fill a spiced version of sattu. (Sattu is a ground form of chana, it is not NOT besan, the preparation of sattu is a process by itself). As the balls are getting formed, you stoke a “barbecue” with dried cowdung cakes (gointha). The atta/sattu balls are then inserted into the smouldering fire with potatoes, baingan and tomatoes following it for company later. After sometime, the vegetables are pulled out manually, followed by the littis. The roasted vegetables are peeled off their burnt skins and mashed along with spices, salt and mustard oil. That is the “chokha”. The littis are sieved free of the ashes of cowdung cakes on a thin muslin cloth and served along with the chokha with bowlfuls of ghee. Aah, the joys of litti-chokha!!

Now that was a rather prosaic description. There were colorful sidelights as well. As the barbecuing happened, the entire men-folk would assemble around the fire and exchange all sorts of gossip as the cooking proceeded. Some puffing on their beedis. Many lolling around with their gamchhas tied around their legs, below the knee, and their backs; see-sawing on their butt around the fireplace.

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Waking up in the mornings was a torture. The waking up process would start sometime around 8 am and extend for an hour or so. Within that hour, I would periodically raise my head from under the rajai, glance around and once I was assured that all was well with the world, and that it was too early and cold to wake up, would promptly cover myself up with the rajai and drift off again. There were mornings I would wake up real early and stroll out into the open air savoring the bitter cold. Blowing clouds of vapors in the open air made me feel all grown up, as if I was smoking a cigarette!

And that remains one of the most abiding memories of my childhood.

(concluded)

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