My Malayalam Blog

Please visit my Malayalam Blog at പൊത്തോപ്പുറം (http://pothoppuramjayanthan.blogspot.in)

Friday, 30 November 2012

Wow! 3000 Plus!

Three months, 22 posts and more than 3000 hits! What can I say other than WOW! (Only once. If I say it again, people will think there is a dog nearby!)
Three months is an extremely short time to judge a blog. But I am taking the risk. I launched my blog on 29 August, the day of Onam, the most auspicious day for a Malayalee with a note on Onam itself. And yesterday, 29 November, the number of hits crossed 3000; to be precise, 3008! I know bloggers with more than a thousand hits daily might be laughing their heads off reading my boasting. They might be telling to themselves, ‘Ha, ha, 3000 hits in three months! And this fool is on the top of the world!’ Yes, indeed, I am on the top of the world! I am a small village boy who has hit his first fifty runs. I consider my fifty greater than Sachin Tendulkar’s hundredth century; my panchayat membership greater than the prime ministership; my small article in a local magazine greater than a Nobel Prize winning book! (Until, of course, I get my own hundredth century, or Prime Ministry, or Nobel prize!) (Prime Ministry? Why not?)
The road behind is very short, but, to my mind, eventful.
I opened my first blog a couple of years ago. This blog was supposed to be my professional blog on editing and book indexing. But it never took off. I did not publish even a single post. Shikha is my younger colleague and we used sometimes to discuss general matters. One day she talked about her blog which has been lying unconscious (though she said ‘dead’, I don’t want to use that word). I read all her posts. The spark which was born in my mind two years ago began to glow again. I requested Shikha to help me revive my blog. But unfortunately I had forgotten my id and password! So she opened a new one for me. Thus was born Pothoppuram.
It is true that I have been shamelessly promoting my blog. But doesn’t everybody do it? Authors promote their books; organizations promote their activities; researchers promote their works; business houses promote their products; and bloggers promote their blogs. Shamelessly, of course. Man’s (and woman’s) basic craving for recognition and appreciation naturally affected me, too. So I sent mails to everybody in my mailing list (about 400) proudly and loudly announcing that I have started a blog. Every time a new post was published, I sent the link. After a few such notifications, I began to feel slightly uneasy. Am I disturbing people? Am I intruding into their privacy? Do they curse me for flooding their inboxes? I should find out.
I sent requests asking them to send me a blank mail if they want their e-mail addresses to be deleted from the mailing list. Several readers immediately wrote that they want their addresses to be retained! And then, then, I got the first mail asking me at ‘point blank range’ to ‘delete my address’ which I promptly did. Another reader said that her inbox was already flooded and did I mind deleting her name? I deleted the name. She, however, had written, ‘I sometimes read your blog’. And yet another one, because the addressee had left the organisation. Later I got three more similar requests from my linked-in contacts.
I waited for more. But none came. So, six deletion requests out of more than 400! Wow! Is my blog that good? But I am not such a great fool (I am an ordinary one, though) to believe that the rest of the people regularly read my blog. There could be many reasons for their not responding: they might have deleted the mails without even opening; the mails might have gone into their spam folder never to be recovered; they just didn’t want to upset me (thank you for being generous); or they may just be lazy to respond; and so on and so forth.
Calculating from the number of hits, I realized that just about half of the addressees read my blog. But how do I filter the others out? This time I used the opposite trick. I wrote a note telling that if they want to be retained in the mailing list they should send me a blank mail. This time I got more blank mails and several of them wrote a sentence or two, too. At the end of four such mails, during the course of a month, I filtered out all those responded positively, all those commented on the posts at least once, and my close relatives and friends (who I believed would not sue me for the mails). (I pity the innocent Mumbai girls! Poor girls! I am sure for the rest of their life they will shudder hearing words such as Mumbai, computer, or Facebook!) So, the last few mails have only gone to those who I believe are genuinely interested in my blog posts.
While I have received several encouraging comments, none criticized the blog or any of the posts. It need not be because everyone had only good things to tell, but they probably did not want to offend me! Maybe they had several things to ask me such as ‘Why are you wasting your time and that of others?’, ‘What you write is all crap’, ‘Why should we read stupid stories about your childhood?’ and so on and so forth. But nobody wrote anything like that. Thank you for being so considerate.
I would, moreover, like to mention a few pleasant things connected with my blog.  
Beryl Belsky, who lives in Israel, hosts a web site The Writer’s Drawer. After reading my post on the uniform, she invited me to contribute a story to her site under the theme ‘Defining moments’. I contributed a true story ‘A woman’s fight to live’. A few days after it was published, on a fine Sunday morning I received a call from ‘Saroj’, the heroine of the story. She was simply overwhelmed. She said 95 per cent of the story was true facts and five per cent was exaggerated. I was really flattered. I had imagined something like 80 per cent and 20 per cent, respectively. She was glad that I chose her story to tell to an international audience.
About the ‘exaggeration’ she talked about: My principle about non-academic writing is that it is not the facts that the writer should actually try to transfer to the reader, but the feelings and emotions behind those. There are four steps involved in the process: (i) the writer creates the idea in his mind and feel the emotions; (ii) he/she transfers it into words; (iii) the reader reads the words; and (iv) he/she gathers the feelings and emotions behind the words. At all these stages some amount of the emotion is lost. As a result the reader gets only a portion of the feelings that the writer originally had. In order to compensate for this loss, the writer needs to put in an extra dose of emotions into his writing. This extra dose is probably what Saroj felt as exaggeration.   
Based upon a post in my blog, I was invited to write a longer piece for a publication (pardon me for not disclosing the identities). I, of course, prepared and sent the article to them. It was however, not published, not because of the low quality of the article, but because of the low status of the author! I, however, consider being invited to contribute itself as an honour.
Mr Jayaprakash Bhatt, my friend, forwarded my blog link to Mr Ramachandran Pillai from Hyderabad. He started reading my posts. He used to call me after each post and we used to discuss the post as well as several other things. We have become very good friends now. Mr Pillai is also an author of educational and other handbooks. Now Mr Pillai has started his own blog and is writing regularly.
Shikha, who helped me start this blog, is trying to revive her blog.
Samprati Pani wrote that she was thinking of starting her blog as well.
There are several other people, including my IndiBlogger readers, who constantly encourage me through their comments.
I once again thank you all for the encouragement.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

I Killed My Daughter


She was beautiful, adorable – my little darling daughter. Her father was the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) in a reputed hospital. When the child was born he had said, ‘Bring her to the hospital for a checkup when she turns two.’ He wanted to conduct a normal checkup. He wanted to make sure that everything is all right with our daughter. After her birth, I loved her, pampered her, adored her. She was my baby. She had beautiful curly black hair, blue eyes, and beautiful nose. Her smiles and giggles and the touch of her soft body would take me out of this world. I believed I was the luckiest mom in the world.

When she was two years old I took her to her father in the hospital.

One look at her and he said, ‘Hmm, looks like she is not well. I shall conduct a detailed check up on her. Admit her into the hospital.’

And my little baby became a patient in the third year of her life. He didn’t tell me what her illness was. Instead he said, ‘You may go now. I shall keep you informed about her progress.’

I returned home with the hope she would be all right in a few days and that I would be able to hold her in my hands and kiss and cuddle her again.

There was no news about my dear daughter for a few days. No moment passed without my thinking about her. How is she? Is she being looked after well in the hospital? Her father is the CMO, all right, but being so busy with several other matters he may not be able to spend enough time for her. Will the other hospital staff take good care of her? I started getting more and more worried. One day, having failed to hear from the doctor for several days, I called him up and enquired about the progress of our daughter.

He said, ‘She is in the ICU. But don’t worry I am taking good care of her.’

Still he didn’t bother to tell me what was wrong with her. And I didn’t have the wisdom or courage to ask him, too. He always knew better than me.

Another couple of weeks, and I became impatient. I wanted to know what had happened to my daughter. I visited the hospital.

Her father said, ‘She has been in ventilator since last week. But don’t worry, she will be all right, I am taking good care of her.’

I was shocked. My daughter had apparently no illness when I first took her to him and now, after two months of being in the hospital she is in the ventilator! I felt quite uneasy though I wanted to believe that he knows what is best for her, being her father as well as an expert and experienced doctor.

I was really confused and worried. I wondered, ‘What’s happening to my darling daughter?’

When I was leaving, he told me, ‘See, you don’t have to come every now and then to the hospital to enquire about your daughter. I know what is best for her. And I will look after her. I shall myself let you know when she is healthy and ready to be taken home’, thus shutting down my chances of visiting the hospital again to enquire about my daughter.

Days passed. I was becoming mad. My daughter was suffering from some unknown and very serious illness. How much is she suffering, the two-year old? I sit here helpless, not even able to see and look after her. Though I had started doubting the intentions of her father of late, I could not do anything. Another week passed, a month, two more months. No news of my daughter. I stopped doing anything that a woman would do in normal circumstances. But this is not normal situation. I forgot all about sleep. I stopped taking food. How was my daughter doing? Is she still in the ventilator? Or has she been shifted to the ICU or a room?

Of late I even began to doubt, ‘Is she alive at all? Has her father killed her since the child was a girl?’

Six months had passed since I had first taken her to the hospital. One day I thought, ‘Enough is enough’. I once again went to the hospital and met with her father. He repeated what he had said earlier, that he would take good care of her. It looked like he was annoyed too due to my persistence. I lost all control.

I shouted at him, ‘What the hell do you think you are doing? Keeping my daughter in the ventilator for more than four months! If she is that much ill and suffering for so long and if there is no hope of her being cured, why don’t you pull the plug and let her have a peaceful end rather than forcing her to continue suffering?’

I had lost my senses completely. I didn’t know what I was yelling at him.

‘Sure’, he said and the next moment went inside.

Hey, where is he going? What did he mean by ‘sure’? Is he going to … Oh, God! What did I do?  What did I do?  My poor baby!

He came back in a minute.

He coolly said, ‘Yes, I have pulled the plug. Come tomorrow and collect her body.’

And he murmured, ‘The illegitimate b...h.’

I was struck by a lightening. The earth had suddenly parted way and I was falling down to the bottomless end.

I don’t know for how long I remained in that stance. Then I went home silently.

I kept a bottle of poison handy. I took a piece of paper, and wrote my suicide note.

To the CEO:

Sir,

You have rejected the project proposal that I had prepared with your approval and on your suggestion without assigning any reasons. The proposal, as you will appreciate, had been lying on your table awaiting your approval for more than six months. It is now clear that you have lost trust in my work. I, therefore, hereby tender my resignation.


____________________

This story is based on the concept that any story, poem, paper, book, project proposal, or anything else that one creates/generates is one’s own baby. When such thing is thrown into the waste basket, it is equal to killing that baby.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Meenakshi, Where Are You?

Centre for the study of Developing Societies (CSDS) is celebrating its Golden Jubilee. As a former employee I got an invitation to attend the inaugural function on Saturday, 17 November. I was thrilled. Yes! I’ll go. It was a month ago that I created a blog and started posting my notes. I thought this was an apt occasion to write something about CSDS in my blog. Subsequently I posted a small note on my experiences in the Centre. I had also planned to write more on the Centre later. One of the readers suggested that I elaborate it and write a longer piece now rather than later, since the Golden Jubilee celebration is being inaugurated in November. I thought for a while and then decided, ‘Yes, that’s a good idea. Let me do it.’

I elaborated the original note, added several more items and prepared a longer article. I then wanted to improve it by adding a few photographs of those who have since passed away from among those colleagues mentioned in the article. It was decided to include the photographs of Prof. Bashiruddin Ahmed, Mr CRM Rao, Prof. Giri Deshingkar, and Mr Bharat Singh.

I checked the web site of CSDS. No photos were available there. A photo of Prof. Bashiruddin Ahmed was downloaded from the Internet. Mr Harsh, Mr Bharat Singh’s son, provided me a photo of his father. Then came the most difficult photos, that of Prof. Deshingkar and Mr Rao. I googled Priya Deshingkar. I had heard that she was in the UK. I fortunately got her e-mail address. But I was not sure if it was the current one. I took a chance and sent her a mail. I doubted if she would get the mail at all. I kept my fingers crossed. The second day I received an enthusiastic response from Priya. She had written that she felt it good when somebody remembered her father. She also promised to send me a photo of Prof. Deshingkar soon. It was getting more exciting. She sent the photo after a couple of days. Thank you once again, Priya, for your support.

Meanwhile I had been trying to get a photograph of Mr Rao. Jayasree (my wife, working in CSDS) checked with a colleague at the Institute of Chinese Studies (ICS). She was told that no photo of Mr Rao was available there. Mrs Rao and Meenakshi, their daughter, used to stay in Sahvikas Apartments where several other colleagues from CSDS also stay. But she had shifted to Bangalore a couple of years ago and nobody knew about her current address.

I then decided to check up with old friends of Mr Rao. Maybe some of them may know about Meenakshi’s current whereabouts. I first called Prof. Manoranjan Mohanty at Council for Social Development. He was out of station and would return only by the middle of November. I then tried Prof. Srimati Chakraborti of Delhi University. She used to contribute articles to China Report as a Ph.D. scholar when I used to work there. She didn’t have the contact details of Meenakshi. She suggested maybe I should contact Prof. Ashis Nandy or Prof. D.L. Sheth. Every time my efforts reached a dead end.

I telephoned Prof. Nandy. He said he had had some contact of Meenakshi’s, but it was old. I told him that any lead would do, and I can begin from there all over again. He was very busy with some meetings and would get back to me in a couple of days. Simultaneously I had been trying the Internet. I googled Meenakshi Rao. There were hundreds of them and several of them in Bangalore. I had no other leads such as her husband’s name or her office name. I also didn’t know if she had changed her surname after marriage.

I also sent a mail to Prof. Alka Acharya, Director, ICS, requesting her help in the matter. Since ICS didn’t have a photo of Mr Rao, Prof. Acharya forwarded the mail to her colleagues requesting them to help me, in case any of them had a photo of his in their private collection. I hoped and prayed at least one of them would have it. But unfortunately none responded. Probably none didn’t have a photo of Mr Rao.

I googled S 261 Greater Kailash as a last resort. I didn’t know what I had expected to get from S 261. But I chanced upon the name of Mr RL Nigam. I remembered he used to be a close friend of Mr Rao connected with the journal Radical Humanist. Suddenly I reprimanded myself, ‘Oh, God! How could I forget Radical Humanist (of which Mr Rao was the Managing Editor)?’

The next moment I was going through Radical Humanist Association’s web site. Alas, no mention of Mr Rao anywhere. Will they have a photo of his? There is nothing wrong in taking a chance. I sent a request through their web site explaining my need. This was addressed to the general mail box. Will anybody see it? Even if someone did, will he/she give any importance to it? Will he/she pass it on to anybody else who would be able to help me? I was not sure.

The problem was, I didn’t have much time, either. I took yet another chance. I called up Mr Vinod Jain, Chairman of the Executive Council of the Indian Radial Humanist Association. I didn’t know him, I also didn’t know how he would react to such a foolish request. He must be a very busy person. But he turned out to be extremely cordial and helpful. He too said he had some contact with Meenakshi, but would take some time to dig it out. I literally began to keep my fingers crossed.

I also started to believe that maybe the write-up will have to go without Mr Rao’s photograph, which would be a pity. I consoled myself, ‘Well, you have tried everything possible. Even then if it has to go without one, let it be. You can’t help it.’

On Friday, 9 November, I thought maybe something would turn out encouraging during the weekend. But nothing did.

On Monday morning I was nearly depressed. I have only three days. The printer would take may be a day or two. I should have the printed document latest by Friday, 16 November. And the week had holidays due to Deepawali, Vishwakarma day, and Bhaiya Dooj. I told myself, ‘I shall wait till tomorrow evening. If nothing happens by then, I shall give the document for printing without Mr Rao’s photo on Wednesday morning.’

I reached office and was settling down when the phone rang. It was an unfamiliar number.

I said, ‘Hello’. The utterly meaningless, but the most common word used while talking over the phone.

‘Is it Mr Jayanthan?’

‘Yes.’

‘I am CRM Rao’s daughter.’

Oh, God! Oh, God! Oh, God! I couldn’t believe it! I couldn’t hide my excitement. It was like the person I have been searching for more than three years suddenly appeared before me. I felt like I was talking to a long lost friend, though Meenakshi and I have never met or talked before now. During the last few weeks she had never left my mind. The feeling was nothing less than sheer ecstasy. 

I almost shouted, ‘Meenakshi? I have been trying to get your contact since the last several weeks.’

Meenakshi said, ‘Mr Vinod Jain (of Radical Humanist) said you wanted to contact me. And I thought I would call you.’

Meenakshi said she was happy that her father was still remembered by old colleagues. She sounded quite excited. We talked for a few minutes at the end of which she promised to send me Mr Rao’s photo by the end of the day. I got up from my chair excitedly. I actually wanted to dance and shout and laugh and cry.

I got the photo the next day, a day before the deadline I had set for myself.

I thank the Gods, Meenakshi, Mr Vinod Jain, and everybody else who must have exerted at least some effort to help me.

I have since got the document printed with all the photos I originally intended. 

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Deepawali Musings

When Deepawali (literally meaning ‘group of lights’) (also called Diwali) season arrives I remember two things. The first incident happened in Kerala, when I was a small child. The second one happened in Delhi. The first one gives a lot of fond and pleasant memories and the second one, a shudder.

Deepawali is usually celebrated with lots of lights and fire crackers. 

Deepawali is not generally celebrated in Kerala. It is not our festival at all. It is celebrated very elaborately in North India and in Kerala’s neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu. As a result the places close to that state also used to celebrate Deepawali because those places have a mixed culture.

Kampithiri
Kunjaphan (younger paternal uncle) was the priest in a temple in Devikulam, now in Idukki district, also a neighbouring place to Tamil Nadu. His visits were like festivals for us children. He always brought gifts for us. Also, he constantly used to crack jokes. The jokes made not only us children but even grown-ups burst into laughter. His jokes round the year used to be more effective than fire crackers! His innocent laugh used to let several flowers blossom in our minds.

Chakram
Whenever he visits us around Deepawali, he used to bring fire crackers. As far as I can remember, he, however, brought only three items, kampithiri, chakram and poothiri (names in Malayalam). I don’t know if bombs and rockets existed then at all. And in the evening all of us, including adults, used to assemble in the courtyard to burst the fire crackers. The occasion was exciting even for adults because fire crackers were very rare in our part of the state.

 * * * * * * *
The second incident happened when we were staying in Greater Kailash in Delhi. Like everybody else, we also had bought some crackers to celebrate deepawali. We were living on rent on the second floor of a house, the ground floor of which had been rented out for a shop.

Poothiri
There were various kinds of crackers starting from kampithiri to bombs and rockets. While kampithiri is comparatively harmless and emits colourful sparks when lighted, bombs and rockets were dangerous as they would explode emitting powerful sound and colourful and strong sparks. Chakras used to revolve at great speed and emit colourful sparks. Poothiri, when lighted, emitted long and bright sparks several feet high. Some of these also used to explode at the end. Rockets are kept straight up in a bottle and then lighted so that it goes straight up and then explode in the air.    

Several people had gathered on their terraces to light crackers. 

A large rectangular park existed in the middle of the market covered by shops on all four sides. Above the shops were houses, like the one we were staying in. We also saw several people in the park below. Some boys in other buildings staying on the second floor used a novel way to fire the rockets. Instead of keeping the bottle upright, they kept it lying on the half wall of the terrace and fired the rockets. The rockets flew straight to the terrace of the building on the other side, after crossing the park, and burst there. Initially we were aghast at seeing their dangerous activity. But it looked like they were experts and not even one missed the target.

Seeing this, Narayanan ettan (cousin) thought we could try it too. Though we were hesitant initially, ettan decided to go ahead. So we carefully placed the bottle flat on the half wall of the terrace, and kept the rocket in the bottle. Then it was lighted. The rocket, however, instead of heading for the terrace of the opposite house, dropped straight into the park and burst right in the midst of some people. They were workers in a sweet shop in the market and were taking rest after a full day’s heavy work. They jumped up in horror. So did we. They immediately looked up at us and started shouting angrily. We got frightened and went inside and, kind of, hid ourselves in the rooms. We did not even dare to talk among ourselves for several minutes. We were afraid that they would come and barge into our flat and beat us all up. It took us at least half an hour to heave a sigh of relief. Then we silently went and collected the rest of the fire crackers from the terrace and threw into the waste basket.

When Deepawali arrives, these two incidents always come to my mind. 

Sunday, 11 November 2012

The Freak


[The idea for this story came after watching a programme on Asianet TV (Malayalam) on Saturday night on children suffering from autism.]

[I dedicate this story to the mothers of all differently abled children.]

I was born a ‘freak’ in general terms and a ‘creature’ as my father used to call me. I had disfigured legs, which could not stand on their own, what to talk of carrying the rest of my body! My hands were disfigured, they could not go where my mind wanted them to. I could not talk clearly, just a few syllables, which only my mother understood. When I looked straight, people thought I was looking sideways. When I look sideways, they thought I was looking straight. Am I not a freak?

Initially my parents employed a nurse to look after me. But she left after a few years because she had to look after her grandchildren. I was five years then. I remember our celebrating my fifth birthday. Mother invited all children in the neighbourhood to join in the festivities. But only three came. Who wants to say ‘happy birthday’ to a strange creature?

After the nurse left, my mother took leave from office for some time to look after me. She also searched for another nurse. Nobody was ready to come. When they would get an equal pay for much less and easy work, who would want to come and look after a freak like me? They would have to clean me, physically carry me to the toilet, bathe me, dress me, feed me, and so on and so forth. And I was growing up, too. So? Nobody came. 

Mother left her job to look after me. That was when I heard the first bickering between father and mother. I woke up one day hearing loud voices. Father and mother were arguing over something.

Father said, ‘How long do you think we can carry on like this?’ Obviously they had been discussing for some time.

Mother said, ‘What do you mean, how long? As long as we can.’

‘Why don’t you engage a nurse and resume going to office? Why do you want to spoil your life for this creature?’

‘Creature?’ mother flared up. ‘He is our son. And I will look after him as long as I have the power in me. And do you think I didn’t try to hire a nurse? But nobody wants to come.’

‘Yes, who would want to nurse such an inhuman thing?’

There was silence for some time. Then I heard a considered, calculated, hush-hush suggestion from father.

Father said, ‘Hey, let us be practical. Don’t shout at me, okay?’

‘Yes?’

‘Hmm. There is no doctor or hospital we have not taken him to. Everybody had the same answer – that he cannot be cured. He will have to live like this till the end of his life. Right?’

‘Yes, so what?’

‘Well, hmm ... why don’t we bring that day nearer? I mean ... see, he is only a burden not only to us but to himself, too.’

‘What is it that you are suggesting? I don’t understand.’ There was horror in mother’s voice.

‘Why don’t we ... why don’t we ... let him die a peaceful death?’

I thought my world was turning topsy-turvy. I was small, a freak, or a creature. But my brain was as old and much healthier than I was. I understood what he meant. Oh! God! Father wants to kill me! Am I such a burden? If I am, can I help it in any way?

Suddenly there were heated and loud arguments between the two. Mother could not even dream of such a solution. And she opposed it tooth and nail. Then father suggested that I should be left somewhere at a distant place near some home so that they could get rid of me. Mother would have nothing of the sort. Father also suggested leaving me in an institution which looks after children like me. Mother didn’t agree to it either. She said she could not leave me anywhere and she would have me looked after from home only. And she made it very clear.

After this, there used to be heated arguments between them over me almost daily. I even heard them talking of divorce, the meaning of which I didn’t understand then. And then one day a few months after my fifth birthday, father left home. He never returned.

Mother was devastated. She had already left her job to look after me. Now she also lost the companionship of father and a regular income. She had to mend not only her own way, but also me. Relatives had already stopped visiting our home because they were tired of looking at me. We also had not visited our relatives since I was born.  

The pension mother got from her previous employment was very meager and met only part of our needs. Mother did all kinds of odd jobs to earn a living. We rented out a portion of our flat to another family so that we could earn some regular income from the rent. I remember the first day when the new family visited us after shifting to our house. It was evening and they dropped in for a cup of tea. They came to visit me, too – the father, the mother, and a boy of about my age. They looked at me, twisted their faces in utter disgust and left. It looked like the boy was frightened to look at me. They never came to visit me after that day.

I was growing up and mother could not physically carry me. She somehow managed to purchase a wheel chair. It took several days and constant and regular training by mother for me to learn sitting in the wheel chair. I was extremely glad when I actually did that. Now I could ask mother to put me near the window so that I can watch the people moving and the vehicles plying on the road outside. It was heavenly feeling to watch the animals, the birds, the plants, and to enjoy the morning breeze and the rains whenever they occur. Earlier, though my bed used to be kept near the window I could see only the sky, the clouds, and a few flying birds. My mother, I have no doubt, was the best mother in the whole universe.

Since regular exercise was the only way to inject some sort of sense into my limbs, mother regularly made me exercise. There were exercises for my legs, hands, eyes and speech. Though I used to be sometimes exasperated at the extremely slow or almost nil improvement, I continued to undertake the exercises with mother in the hope that one day I will be able to move my hand and legs as my brain commands them. After several months of continuous training, results began to show. Movements of my hands and legs were more regulated and were more in order. I was able to speak a few words, too. With each little improvement my enthusiasm began to increase, too.    

When I grew up, I began to appreciate mother more and more. She gave me a small transistor which I learned to operate with great difficulty, due to the slow and unsteady movement of my hand and fingers. When I was able to switch it on for the first time on my own and selected a station of my choice, I was in ecstasy. I wanted to dance, which I did sitting in my chair. Mother came running from the kitchen hearing the commotion. She saw my ecstasy and laughed, which had become a rare thing for her. She hugged and kissed me like no other mother would. She was so happy that she began to cry.

Later mother also got me a small TV which also I learned to operate on my own. My life began to be more meaningful. Mother left no stone unturned to give me all the comfort and all the happiness that she could. I used to enjoy all kinds of music and dances.

I am twenty two years old now. Since the day I was born mother has been caring for me. She left her job, she left attending all kinds of functions, she stopped visiting relatives and friends, she toiled day and night to make both ends meet. And for seventeen years she has been carrying the burden, which is me, all alone.

One day I requested mother to take me to a music programme specially organized for differently abled people like me. She has never said, as long as I can remember, ‘no’ to any of my requests, which were very few in any case. We reached the venue a little in advance so that she could find a seat near the stage for me.

It is then that this girl and her mother came in and occupied the next seats. I looked at the girl whose legs were deformed like mine, and whose hands were deformed, too, like mine. She must be a few years younger to me. She was also eagerly waiting for the programme to begin. Suddenly she looked at me. I don’t know what transpired within me. The feeling was nothing like anything that I had experienced in my life. She smiled in her twisted way. I smiled too. 

Then the programme started.

I could not concentrate on the programme. I looked at her again. And she looked at me. It was actually by accident that our unsteady hands touched each other’s on the hand rest of the chair. The sudden shock I experienced at that moment was tremendous. The warmth that I experienced from the touch was unexplainable. O, God! What kind of a feeling is this? What is happening to me? I was thinking whether to move my hand away from hers or not. But the heavenly feeling was so strong that I decided against moving my hand. I thought maybe she would move her hand away. But she didn’t either. After several minutes our hands were clutching together. I felt we were butterflies flying in the vast sky with nobody and nothing to restrict us. We were now on the clouds, then above the sea, or on the highest of the trees. We were experiencing the most enjoyable fragrance of the world, the sweetest of moments.

We forgot where we were or why came here. We didn’t listen to the music programme. No programme can replace the feeling that we experienced during those moments. We did not even realize that the programme had concluded and lights had been switched on. We were looking at each other, smiling, flying among the clouds and over the sea.

The mothers stood up and were about to leave when they noticed that we were not moving. Then they saw us, looking at each other, smiling, and our hands clutched together so strongly that nothing in this world can separate us, completely oblivious of what was happening around us.   

Saturday, 10 November 2012

The Shivarathri (The Sacred Night of Lord Shiva)


Mr Om Prakash and I worked together in the Tata Energy Research Institute (now The Energy and Resources Institute) (TERI) for several years. He joined a couple of years after I started working in TERI. The Biotechnology Unit was established in TERI with Dr V. Jagannathan’s joining the Institute in 1985. Om Prakash was the Technical Supervisor in the Unit, appointed to look after the several items of equipment and instruments to be purchased for use in the Unit.

Om Prakash was a retired officer of the Indian Navy. A straightforward man, he used to talk a lot about his days in the Navy. His pride of having been in the Navy could be gauged from every expression he had and every word he pronounced. He used to describe how he had enjoyed life to the full while in Navy. He had travelled to several countries and seen a number of places and met with a lot of people. There was no adventure that he didn’t engage in. And there was no enjoyment that he missed.

After retirement, however, he had become sober and wanted to lead a peaceful life with his family. He became a member of the Air Force and Naval housing society and had been allotted a flat in one of their societies in NOIDA. After having worked in TERI for several years, the Institute had become part of his life. He was fully involved in the purchase, setting up, and maintenance of every item of equipment in the Biotechnology Unit. The items of equipment were his like children. He used to say, ‘As long as I can work, I will work in TERI. I don’t want to work anywhere else.’

But then, times change, and people change. He departed much ahead of his anticipation when several years of active service had still been left in him. He had been very sad towards the last few days of his career in TERI. He didn’t tell us about the reasons for his departure. What has to arrive, however, cannot be stopped. After his departure we did not have much interaction with him. He also did not contact us.

One day we heard with awe and shock that Om Prakash had passed away. It was unbelievable because it had only been a few years since he had left TERI and he had been keeping very healthy. But when we heard how, where and when it happened, we actually envied him. What we heard goes like this.

Om Prakash had become very religious after his departure from TERI. It was Shivarathri, and the normal routine for devotees was to spend the night in a Shiva temple praying to the Lord and singing bhajans (prayer songs). Bhakti (devotion) is an ecstasy to many. After a few hours of bhajans, pooja (worship) was being conducted and everybody prostrated before the idol of Lord Shiva. Om Prakash too prostrated before the Lord praying to him, ‘Hey Bhagawan, mujhe apne sharan mein le lo’ (Oh, Lord! Take me into Thy fold!). While the others stood up after a few seconds, Om Prakash did not. It is only after several minutes that those around him felt there was something wrong. They tried to wake him up, but they could not. He had already gone to the abode of Lord Shiva! Who among us will not wish for such a peaceful, sudden, and active death? His soul, I believe, has gone directly to the abode of Lord Shiva.

Whenever I hear of Shivarathri, I remember Om Prakash. For me, the two have become synonyms. 

Saturday, 3 November 2012

The Hapless Souls


If you are a regular traveller on the Delhi or Noida roads you could not have missed them, the wretched creatures. They travel on cycles, cycle rickshaws, two- or three-wheelers, jeeps, or trucks. They are packed in dirty, dingy wire boxes kept one over the other. If you are anywhere near them, you cannot miss the stench from the boxes. They are usually packed so tightly that they have no room to keep their legs anywhere. Some of them stand over their brethren. They shift their legs every now and then when the ones below them cannot bear their weight any more or when they feel extremely uncomfortable standing on other equally unfortunate souls.  I have no idea how far they have to travel or how long they will have to suffer this ordeal. But what I know for sure is that they will end up satisfying some human beings’ appetite.  They call it with the mouth-watering name – chicken! Some people turn their heads away with extreme disgust as soon as they happen to be near the vehicles bearing the unfortunate souls due to the nauseating stench. I wonder how they will react when the very same poor souls rest in their plates: killed, cleaned, and cooked!

All the birds have white feathers, surprisingly the symbol of peace! One look at them and you know they have been water-cannoned after being stuffed into the boxes. They are all drenched. Sometimes water drips from their feathers. You can see them shivering. You can see their crimson body through the wet feathers. They want to dry them with their beaks. But how will they? Poor fellows, they can’t even stand still. What do they do other than silently suffering?  Have you ever tried to think what would they be talking to you if they could? If my sympathies can give them some solace, they have all my sympathies. I don’t want to follow them. I can’t bear to even think of what becomes of them.

One day several years ago, I was travelling by bus from Uttam Nagar to South Delhi. The bus stopped at the traffic signal in Sagarpur, Janakpuri. It was my habit to look out and enjoy the scenery while travelling. You see several people in different moods. You see owners sitting in shops expecting the next customer. You see people just standing and gossiping. You see other vehicles. Have you noticed the drivers? All of them have the same grim expression on their faces, as if the movement of the world depends on their driving! I used to wonder, why can’t they try to enjoy driving?

Right where I looked was a chicken shop. What I saw froze my senses and my blood. This man was talking to his friend. There was a curved sword fixed slanting away from him. He caught a chicken, held its body with his left hand and head with his right hand. In a split second he ran its neck along the sword, threw the body to the left and the head to the right, into the large dishes kept there, all the while continuing to talk with his friend. Then he wiped his hands on a cloth kept for the purpose. I felt feverish.  I felt like vomiting. How disgusting! For several days the scene refused to vanish from my mind.

I invite you to give a little attention to the hapless souls when you see them (which you are sure to do) on the roads of Delhi or Noida and maybe several other places as well. And think of them again when you have them in plates in front of you. Can you, can you, really relish them?