Monday, September 30, 2013

Unwritten Obituary

Who would write my obituary,
One, many or none?
What could be the first sentence
And what could be the last?
My mother will write one
With her sighs
My wife will write one
With her sleepless nights
My children will recapture me
In their memories, green and hurting
Friends will not miss me
For I have always been missing for them
Someone will die somewhere
Just to know what my death is like
Enemies will find it difficult to choose
The right word and right smile
To celebrate the one cherished departure.
To those who want to write my obit
I have an advice to give
Do not copy-edit your pieces
For I never cared to copy edit mine.
Life for me is a collection of short sentences
Written and read in the right spirit
Because none corrects a twisted petal
A raging wind, a broken wave
And a scary dream,
I don’t want my obit to be corrected.
Even you could write one in water
If you do not find marble or bronze.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Idea of Success: Dilip Kumar and Shah Rukh Khan

(Dilip Kumar)

I remember this story of a very chronic newspaper reader. He reads his newspapers in the bathroom. The habit was so strong that to do his ablutions he wanted something to read. One day, while staying in a hotel, he could not find anything to read. Desperate, he pulled out the ‘dos and don’ts’ stuck behind the door and went to the bathroom. Newspaper readers are an interesting tribe. I belong to them marginally as I do not read each news item word by word. I scan them through with my eyes and pretty much understand things in their entirety. Those people who read newspapers religiously may not approve of this habit. For them, newspapers are to be chewed, tasted and digested. Some get ultimate satisfaction by the time they finish the last word in the crossword puzzle and retire for the day. Death could be postponed, if you keep reading the newspapers.

A couple of days back when I was scanning through a newspaper, I saw this picture of 90 years old, yester year super star, Dilip Kumar, coming out of a Mumbai Hospital after a fortnight of stay and treatment. I do not know whether anybody is interested in doing harm to this veteran actor, who has been awarded with Padma Bhushan by the Government of India and is a member of the Upper House of Indian Parliament. In the picture I saw him flanked by two armed security men. I found it quite ironic. A man who is threatened by illness, temporarily rescued by doctors, still wants his personal body guards. I remember the famous lines: A frog which is already half swallowed by a snake, still tries to catch a fly for his food.

 (Shah Rukh Khan and Dilip Kumar)

In the same page I see Shah Rukh Khan, India’s current super star, talking about his fears about poverty and failure. He speaks of his humble origins in Delhi and the struggles he had to go through as a young man. At some stage he equated poverty with failure. And he accepted any picture that had come to his way even if those were rejected by other Khans.

Here is a problem. People tend to believe what Shah Rukh Khan says. When he speaks he blurs the line between intelligent professional choices and philosophy of life in retrospection and presents the resultant nebulous finding as altruism to be followed by many. His decision to choose Dar, Baazigar and other films were intelligent choices. The fear factor comes from philosophical introspection. Shah Rukh Khan has famously said recently that to earn he would even dance in marriage parties. If so, King Khan has not moved an inch out of his principal fear, of losing it. If so, we have to say that he has not grown at all. A resolved person leaves all fears behind. He enters a new zone of existence.

The most dangerous thing is this: Shah Rukh Khan equates (though in retrospection) poverty with failure. If we see it the other way round we can read it in this way: Failure is natural for the poor. Or Poor are bound to fail. Any sign of poverty is a sign of failure. Anything failed should be seen as from within the idea of poverty. As Shah Rukh Khan is a materialistically successful film star and whose success is measured by the money that he has raked in so far, his statement should be naturally understood in terms of financial gain as the basis of success. Does it give the right message to the young people who diligently follow him and his words?

In my opinion, Shah Rukh Khan should have added a rider to his statements. He should have said that after these many years in career and so called success, he has understood the meaning of success. He should have told the world that success is not about making a lot of money and getting a lot of fame. Success is all about doing satisfactory works in whichever fields of action, which is driven by the sense of ethics and common good. A farmer’s success is not about becoming the biggest farmer; his success lies in reaping a good harvest but remaining faithful to the earth. A teacher’s success lies in his teaching. A politician’s in rendering service to people.

 (Shah Rukh Khan)

But going by Shah Rukh’s formula, by any means one should get money and fame. ‘Making money’ is an art form; some people do it quite artistically and some people do not. But that does not mean that all those failed people are poor people. Poverty is not lack of wealth. Poverty is a lack of space and opportunity for the talented to flourish. Poverty is not inherited; it is circumstantial. It does not have anything to do with genes. When one is given opportunity to express his talent, or one strives to make that opportunity possible, success happens. Money is a by product of success. All the poor people are not failed people. All the poor looking are not poor. May be the rich looking are riding on loans.

Post Script: I had seen Shah Rukh Khan’s face going red with embarrassment and shame when Mika, the singer was boasting about his Rs.50000/- wrist watch in an award function. For King Khan Rs.50000/- is nothing and even for Mika it is the same. But mentioning it as a measure of success is something ridiculous. Khan had felt it then. Today, rest of the world feel the same embarrassment when he connects success with material success. 

Friday, September 27, 2013

A Caged Animal

Brick by brick they build egos
With iron and mortar to go along
What beautiful facades they make
With glasses, tiles, mosaics and paint
Piety cries before a closed door
That has turned into a deaf ear
Humanity chased away from streets
For the cars of desires to ply
I am a captive inside a glass room
A simple stone would release me
But I am safe inside here with
Valves of sounds thoroughly cut.
I had a full sky a few months ago
To let my mind to wander
To see flitting pairs of parrots
Blue cats, green dogs, yellow fairies
Who play with imps and mermaids.
Slowly, the square has become a
Crumpled piece of painful disappearance
The magic show of clouds still happens
But I am pushed out of the tent
Before too long, I am sure
This last bit sky would also go
Yet, I do not fear, for I have
A sky, an ocean, a forest and a path
Inside me; a mountain and inn too.
I am a caged animal
Who has the memory of forest still afresh.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Why I don’t Wish you on Your Birthday

I stopped wishing ‘Happy Birthday’ to my facebook friends. There was a time when I used to feel this thrill of having innumerable ‘wishes’ in my profile page on that particular day. That had triggered me to send ‘happy birthday’ wishes to anyone whose birthday is notified in the facebook. For the last few months I have not been doing it for the simple reason that it is a very superficial act. It is one of the routine things that people do who in fact really don’t care. I was being selective for some time. Then this occurred to me: why I discriminate someone who is also a facebook friend but I don’t care? Why do I wish only selected people? Decision came very fast: No to birthday wishes.

Birthday, in fact is a very private affair. There are some people who really remember the birthdays of people and make it a point to send flowers or gifts or pay a visit; if not, they make a phone call. Those were the pre-facebook days. Now, like we do not remember the phone numbers of anybody, we don’t even remember the birthdays, marriage anniversaries or other important days. Facebook remembers for us. That is very mechanical and artificial, I feel. I had an artist friend who passed away in 2005. His name was Ashokan Poduval. He had this tremendous ability to remember birthdays, phone numbers, number plates of cars and any other thing which had something to do with digits. He went out of tune with his own nature as numbers obsessed him.

I don’t remember celebrating my birthdays. When I was a child, my mother used to send me to the nearest temple to pray. My mother had taught me only one prayer: Buddiyum Deha Shaktiyum Nalka Nee, which means, Oh Lord, give me intelligence and health. I thought it was wonderful. Every day, before getting up from bed, I used to say this prayer. In the temple too I said the same. I did not know any other prayer. Even today I say the same prayer before getting up. I think it is a very secular prayer that any mother could teach her children. Similarly, she taught me to say, whenever I left home for school: Papa, Amma, poyittu varatte, which means, Papa and Amma, let me go now and I will be back. There is a sense of taking permission from them and giving them an assurance of me returning home safe. Even today, living far away from them, I say this before I leave home for work.

Mother used to make ‘payasam’ (a sweet dish) on one of the Sundays that came before or after my birthday. As she was a working woman, Sunday was the day for celebrations; her celebrations started by toiling in kitchen and washing a truck load of dirty clothes. But soon I realized that while everyone remembered my birthday at home, my sister’s birthday was not remembered by any. I have only a vague idea about her date of birth. She is one and half year senior to me. I felt a sense of injustice in this. So I decided not to remember my birthday too.

My mother grew old and she moved more towards gods. Her abstract prayer became more concrete and names of the gods and goddesses started appearing in her prayers. I too grew old and instead of moving along my mother’s path I started moving away from the lines of specific gods. I feel that gods are not department heads who find solutions for specific problems. But I started remembering my date of birth or birthday as I entered into my youthful days. When you fall in love quite regularly, each girl wants to know your date of birth. They remember it for you. I should also have remembered their birthdays. But when anything is in excess, you tend to forget. Like Rajesh Khanna hates tears, I hate numbers.

Today everybody knows everybody’s birthday because it is posted out there in the facebook. It is good to say good words to people on their birthdays. But somehow I do not want to force myself to say good things to people. I prefer to keep quite. I prefer to remember the birthdays of my kids. For reasons of maintaining peace I remember the birthday of my wife. I don’t remember the birthday of my mother, father, or their marriage anniversary. But I remember the date of my father’s death. I became a man on that day.

After reading this, there may be considerable reduction in greetings and wishes on my birthday. I would be happy, if you don’t wish me.    

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A Normal Day of Marthandan at School

(Picture for representational purpose only)

Harish sits next to him. Marthandan likes Harish. One good thing about Harish is that he cracks jokes. He says that Ponnamma teacher looks like a pumpkin. Then he draws a circle on his slate. Nowhere that misshapen circle looks like a pumpkin or Ponnamma teacher. Now he adds two small circles inside the big circle. He winks at Marthandan. With bewildered eyes Marthandan looks at Harish. With a few quick strokes Harish completes the picture and shows it to Marthandan. Yes, now it looks like a pumpkin. He looks hard and look..Ponnamma teacher’s face emerges from the pumpkin. They share a secret smile.

“Who is laughing there?” Devadas sir shouts.

Devadas sir teaches mathematics. Marthandan cherishes a deep fear for this thin, tall and khadi wearing teacher. He comes by cycle. His cycle is very special. It is a ‘Hercules’ make. It has a seal of Panchayat in its front frame. Just above it on the horizontal bar there is a small seat on which his daughter sits. Her name is Divya. She has curly hairs and round eyes like her father. She wears coarse cotton green skirt and off-white shirt. Unlike other children in the school, Divya carries her books in a khaddar bag that hangs from her slender shoulders. At the portico, Devadas sir puts his long legs down on the floor, lifts his daughter up and then keeps her down as if she were a small bird. She waves good bye to him and runs to her class which is next to Marthandan’s class room. Devadas sir then puts his cycle on stand, unclips his black bag made out of some unidentified material from the carrier and walks into the office room. Marthandan watches all this from behind a pillar with mounting fear in his mind.

“You two,” Devadas sir says. “You, Harish and Marthandan, come here.”

Like two rabbits they push their way through other children who have now got up to see a scene of punishment, shivering.

“Why did you laugh?” Sir asks.

“I did not,” says Harish.

“Then who did?”

Harish looks at Marthandan. Betrayal. Marthandan feels like crying. He wants to deny. He wants to tell the truth that they were laughing together at a caricature that Harish has just made. But his throat goes dry.

“Show me your hand,” Devadas sir demands.

Marthandan knows what is going to come. He freezes. His hands automatically go behind his back. A cane appears in sir’s hand. It moves menacingly in the air. It comes near to Marthandan like a snake. Now it was not sir speaking, but the cane.

“I have told you hundred and one times. Don’t disturb the class, Marthandan. I don’t like to hurt you. But what to do. I do not do it voluntarily. Devadas sir does it. I have to obey. After all I am a cane. I do feel happiness when it falls on the bottoms of Raju or Suresh. They are mischief makers. But you..Look how Harish has betrayed you. From this table I have been watching you. I know the caricature is done by Harish and you both laughed. But now, look at his face. How innocent he looks whereas you, you look like a real culprit. Now I do not have any other option. I am sorry.”

Cane falls on Marthandan’s right palm with a hissing sound. He feels a burning sensation passing through his hand to his chest and from there to him face and to the brain. Marthandan’s eyes well up. He wants to cry aloud. But he is very proud. He holds his tears back.

“Will you laugh again when I turn to the blackboard?” asks Devadas Sir.

Marthandan looks down and nods. Now cane speaks.

“Marthandan, I am sorry. Don’t you remember, last time when I fell on your right thighs, when was it, yes, it was last month and Ponnamma teacher was singing some poem out of tune, you were giggling like this. I told you then also. Don’t laugh.”

“I cannot control it,” tells Marthandan. “She looks so funny.”

“What can I do,” cane sighs. “If you giggle again, I have to hurt you.”

“Go back to your bench,” Devadas sir shouts.

Marthandan, with a stinging pain in his hand walks back. He wants to kill Harish. But he does not know how to do it. So he decides to punish Harish during the recess.

By the time, Devadas sir divides 756 by 9, the bell rings. Marthandan heaves a sigh of release. He looks at his right palm. A red line has formed there. It no longer pains. But that feeling of betrayal refuses to budge. Harish seems to have forgotten the episode altogether. He has already run towards the backyard of the school along with the other kids.

Marthandan follows a stream of screaming children. He wonders why they make so much of noise. As he is not able to find an answer he too makes an obscure screaming noise and joins the crowd. The whole school has descended at the backyard. It is a long yard where one section is claimed by the boys and the other by the girls.

Marthandan looks the boys who have started playing with a plastic ball. It takes different shapes as children kick at it with all their might. Does it look like Ponnamma teacher’s face at times? Marthandan laughs. He has forgotten Devadas sir’s punishment. He climbs on a huge window and sits at the sill like many others do and watch the proceedings in the ground.

None uses toilet, including girls. All of them pee outside. One of the major attractions during the recess is the peeing competition by boys. There is a huge wall that separates the school from a disused bungalow where everyone believes lived a ghost. The compound of this ghost house has a gloomy look always. Marthandan and friends climb up these windows and look at the ghost house and jump down screaming as if they had seen a ghost lurking there under the huge tamarind tree.

On this wall, the boys pee with relish. They write all the words they have so far learned in the school with the urine jet. Some are expert in peeing high. It is needs patience and training. Those who are untrained in the trade attempt it get drenched by their own pee. Harish is good at high-peeing. Marthandan is a low-pee-er after some failed efforts at high-peeing.

Girl also pee in the open. But none cares. They all squat on the their side of the yard, spreading their skirts like fans and after sometime get up with, and with a quick movement pull up their knickers, leaving a wet patch on the ground, back to their ring-a-ring-roses and other girly games.

Only those people who use the fungus infested lavatories are the teachers. They go to these washrooms in a group. One by one they go inside and the rest stand outside keeping their noses covered with the ends of their sarees and dhotis. Somehow, children do not notice teachers going in and out of these stinking washrooms. They think teachers are like gods. Gods and film stars do not pee or shit, that’s what they believed. But a mortal self like Marthandan watches it all. He smiles at the thought that whether they would be doing a peeing match inside washrooms.

Harish drives a Fiat car and brakes right in front of the window where Marthandan sits. Marthandan jumps down and gets into his Ambassador car and both of them go for a long drive. They drive through hills, valleys, dangerous forest tracks and quarries and suddenly they hear the bell ringing again announcing the end of the recess. They drive back to the front yard of the school and park their cars under the gooseberry tree right in the middle of the front yard. Like two cowboys they walk back to the class, this time with their tired throats after making that engine sounds, in silence.

As they sit one of the back benches, Headmaster comes and announces that the teacher who is supposed to take the class is on leave. He assigns Raju to write the names of the mischief makers and tells Ponnamma teacher who does her singing session in the next class, to keep a watch on this class too.

Raju wears a mask of seriousness over his otherwise fox like face and stand still in front of the class, at the table. He keeps his slate and pencil ready so that he could write the names of the noisy ones who would be punished by the end of that period, by none other than the headmaster. Headmaster loves Gandhiji a lot as he speaks about Gandhiji everyday in the morning assembly. He gives stress to ‘ahimsa’, non-violence in his eloquent speech. But when it comes to punishing mischievous ones, he throws Gandhiji into the dustbin. He becomes very violent. He turns himself into a British soldier and poor children, true Gandhians on a protest march. Then it is massacre. Fearing this everyone keeps quite. Raju thinks that it is because of his serious face. Class moves like a python that has just swallowed a goat, silently but irritatingly.

“Press my wound,” Marthandan whispers to Harish. He turns to Marthandan surprised.

“Now?” Harish’s eyes ask.

“Yes, now.” Marthandan’s eyes tell menacingly.

Harish looks at the spot where Marthandan’s right index finger points. There is a wound on his left knee; a recent one he got while jumping down from the window sill in one of the recess hours. The scabs have covered it now.

Harish uses his index finger and thumb to feel around the wound. Marthandan likes it. Harish applies gentle pressure on the wound. Marthandan feels a greater joy. The movement of the fingers increases and Marthandan is in heaven. Harish knows that it was his punishment for betraying him before Devadas sir.  He does it obediently. Perhaps, he also likes doing it.

Raju desperately stands there looking for some mischief maker to come up with innovative ideas of disrupting silence. Children are more restraint as they see the headmaster’s British face in the mask of Raju.

Final bell rings. The school bursts open like pods of cotton and innocence flows out of it like soft and puffy cotton filings.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Early Morning Lessons of Life

(image for representational purpose only)

Early morning at four when everyone curls up to one’s own self, sipping the last bit of a sugary dream that is about to leave the eye lids, when office goers who commute between cities reluctantly wake up to their age old drudgery, happy couples make love vigorously sending shivers across the thin walls, when muffled shrieks of pleasure are heard with undefined anxiety by the ones who have just got up to relieve themselves, when travel worn moon eagerly waits for the appearance of the sun at the eastern horizon, I stand right in the middle of a road that runs between two gates. My son rides his cycle and I amble behind him looking at both the gates, warning him about the sudden appearance of a car, call centre cab or a motor bike.

I walk up and down; between two mercury lamp posts under which I see innumerable moths that have sacrificed their lives for light. I think of human beings. They too die but not in the course of searching for light. The locality is immersed in silence. Sleeping dogs open their eyes and wag their tails. They have become friends with me and the young impatient cycle rider. Tommy, a brown dog with a scar above his left eye, sometimes accompanies my son, yes, between the mercury lamp posts, that I have marked for him as he could cover one round in one and half minutes. Dogs are funny creatures. Months of August and September are their ‘love’ months. Most of the early mornings, I see them in the hot pursuit of a lone bitch. Mounting, dismounting, cajoling, attacking, curious gazing, just loitering; activities are many behind that female dog. She resists. I remember Delhi.

Over the months I have learnt a few things or rather tricks. Looking at the pace of my son’s riding, I could say the exact time in the watch. I practice it every day to achieve precision. Hence, now I could say when exactly a god fearing lady would emerge from her house to go to a temple nearby. I could see a group of women coming from the other end of the gate to do their yoga practice in a public park right in front of my house. I know when they would appear there at the gate. I can tell you when the police patrol party will pass at times with siren on and at times stealthily like a thief in their official Gypsy. I wait for the fat man who rides his cycle to an unknown destination and tells me ‘namskar’ every day. I know the obese husband and wife would come out of the right turn at the fourth tube light post exactly at five.

A white WagonR speeds up at 4.45 am. A Hundai Santro slowly comes as if it were a somnambulist, slowly and sleepily. It stops at a gate a few paces away from where I stand. A young man gets out of it. Like a machine he opens the gate, gets back to the driver’s seat and drives in. A typical night shift executive. Some mornings a cool cab strays in, looking for an address. The driver feels so good to see a man on the road. He asks me and I direct him. From a small cage, a night watchman comes out. I wonder how he spends nights in that 3’ x 6’ cabin. He comes out and beats on his long bamboo stick on the road and blows his whistle. Like dogs moaning is taken over and transmitted by other dogs, many thin figures come out of obscure cabins and do the same; referees of early morning, directing the spirits back to their heavens or hells.

By 5. 15 am, the road becomes a bit more busy. Couples who have recently diagnosed of some illness to which physical activity could be a remedy come out. They walk in silence thinking about the good old days. A lonely guy runs towards north and comes back in five minutes; when he returns he is shirtless. He thinks he is Milka Singh if not Farhan Akhthar. People live according to rule books come out in perfect jogging gear; each person costs minimum Rs.10,000/- assessed by wardrobe. They do not walk or jog. They perform to fulfil their social duties as perfect and successful citizens. Mobile phones ring out ‘Ob Bhur Bhuvaswaha’ and a desperate one listens to ‘Chikni Chameli’ even in the serene early morning atmosphere.

I can tell you when the sun would come out. But before he is out I am gone back after my half an hour shuttle badminton game with my son. There at the park, women are still doing yoga. Their actions are pepped up by the talks of rising prices of commodities. A woman lies on her back on a dew filled green patch. She experiences something more than physical exercise.

When I think, these are the small little lessons of life, pleasurable and painful ones. I have learnt to look at the small and see the beauty of it from these early morning ventures.