Monday, January 21, 2013

Our second one!!! (Poem is inspired from Bob Dylan's "Answer my friend is blowing in the wind")


How many times must the pain be borne,
For the womb to be a home?
How many times must the eyes be wet,
For the tears of joy to flow?
The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
How many times must a sono be done,
For its existence to be felt?
How many times must sleep be lost,
For its kicks to make a mark?
The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
How many times must the push be done,
For it to make an entry?
How many times must the screams be made,
For a single wail to be heard?
The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 How many times must the hands be held,
For the bonds of love to set?
How many times must the cheek be kissed,
For the feeling of oneness to be sent?
The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
How many times must the nappy be changed,
For the practice to be perfect?
How many times must the milk be fed,
For the lifelong connect to be made?
The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
How many times must a child be born, For a man to be a Pop?
How many times must a child be born, For a woman to be a Mom?
How many times must a first come forth, for the second to come ahead?
The answer, dear Ehaan, is cradling in my hands,
The answer, dear Ehaan, is cradling in my hands

How many times must the pain be borne,
For the womb to be a home?
How many times must the eyes be wet,
For the tears of joy to flow?
The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
How many times must a sono be done,
For its existence to be felt?
How many times must sleep be lost,
For its kicks to make a mark?
The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
How many times must the push be done,
For it to make an entry?
How many times must the screams be made,
For a single wail to be heard?
The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 How many times must the hands be held,
For the bonds of love to set?
How many times must the cheek be kissed,
For the feeling of oneness to be sent?
The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
How many times must the nappy be changed,
For the practice to be perfect?
How many times must the milk be fed,
For the lifelong connect to be made?
The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
How many times must a child be born, For a man to be a Pop?
How many times must a child be born, For a woman to be a Mom?
How many times must a first come forth, for the second to come ahead?
The answer, dear Ehaan, is cradling in my hands,
The answer, dear Ehaan, is cradling in my hands

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Canadian Odyssey

Someone once said that few people are born leaders, others are made leaders and a select few have leadership thrust upon them. I think the same can be said for ‘travellership’ with one addition – some people draw travel upon themselves! Canada must be 6000+ kms from India (who knows the exact distance but it is quite a long way as seen on the atlas and the world map). Victoria in the district of British Columbia is on the western frontier of Canada, which makes it even farther – it is to this ‘nearby destination’ that I had the fortune of visiting for 1 full day from Mumbai. I had a choice not to go but then, the lure of filling a full page on my 4th passport made it too attractive to turn down (BTW, I have just 5 pages left on this passport and I will soon enter the elite league of the Pentagon, the club of frequent flyers who hold five passports – oh you should see the look on the face of the Immigration officials(see footnote 1) when we slam down our ‘booklet’ and look at them with a smirk. The look is priceless – for everything else, I have my Visa card). Of course, the in-flight movies, free booze and day-and-night sleep made it a no-brainer decision. There was just one small catch – I had to make a presentation to a client and also appear quite knowledgeable about the topic, which I was going to present on [Sorry, I can’t talk much about my clients since consulting is like the CIA – if I tell you, I have to kill you]. Rest assured that a veteran consultant does not fear presentations on any topic (see footnote 2) just as the Green Berets do not blink at the prospect of a showdown in the jungles of Columbia at night, unarmed.

So I told my assistant to get me a Canadian visa – she promptly got me a form, which asked for very minute details including the birthplace and education of my parents. I never really understood the reason behind such questions – what if I was born to a carpenter in Wishy-washy Nagar or Foolpur (see footnote 3) ? How does that reduce (or enhance) my eligibility to go to Canada? [Another country that shall not be named (or my name will get into some important not-so-good books) also asks for details on your first girlfriend and reason for the split, the first time you were caught by the cops while speeding, the amount that you have spent in the last 3 years on certain psychedelic substances and such other questions]. Another thing that I have noticed is that all the embassies get paid a percentage of the revenues from the photography industry globally – each embassy has its own specifications for the photo (‘36*45 – white background with ears seen’ , ‘50*50 inch with no beard’, ‘100*27.5 inches with no glasses, ochre shirt, magenta background with one eye shut’) – why cant all the embassies standardize the photo specifications? This is one of those questions that need a session with the Dalai Lama to understand further (BTW, I have a long list of such soul-searching questions – why does my wife always want to go shopping when I want to watch a movie? Why do I always donate some piece of clothing to every hotel I stay in? How do airlines know that the day I am early at the airport, the flight should be delayed, etc etc – you get the drift). Anyway, I finally got my visa and was ready to go to Canada.

My assistant probably wanted me to really ‘experience air travel in its entirety’, which is why she booked me on the longest option possible to Victoria, via Frankfurt and Calgary – a total of ~22 hrs of flying time ONEWAY. So, when I reached the airport at 12:30 AM, I was really looking forward to the flight. Now, I have always maintained that Indian airports are a fantastic place to study anthropology, genealogy, zoology (you won’t believe the animals I have met there) and several other exotic sciences and arts. The moment I show my passport and ticket to the CISF guard at the gate, there begins a study in face reading – the guard tries to identify me from my passport photo (only difference being that I was not clean shaven on a Sunday night whereas in my passport photo, I surely was). Finally, matters were resolved (in my favour of course) and I stood in the Business class queue of Lufthansa (see footnote 4) (hope you noticed the class I am travelling on!). The conversation with the attendant was a case-study in purposeful, effective, receiver-oriented communication that went something like this:
Me: Could I have an Aisle seat please?
Her: Aisle or Window, Sir?
Me: Aisle, please
Her: Are you sure?
Me: Yes
Her: Just to clarify, you have requested for an Aisle seat, right?
Me: Yes, yes, yes – lock kar diya jaye please!!!
Her: I am going to give you an Aisle seat, Sir.
Me: Thanks so much, sweetie – you are a dream come true.
Her: Here is your ticket, seat 2A
Me: Err, 2A in most aircrafts I have travelled is a Window seat – is this a different aircraft (maybe a flying saucer where all seats are aisle and window simultaneously?)
Her: Ooops , I think I gave you a window seat. You wanted an aisle, if I am not mistaken.
Me: Yes, you are so perceptive and your memory is like that of Sir Rangachary Vishwanathan Iyengar (or some such name I must have blurted – the longer the name, greater is the impression and seriousness conveyed)
Her: Did he have a great memory?
Me: BOARDING CARD PEASE – I NEED TO RUN!!!!!!

Phew! Once this ordeal was over, I went into the immigration queue. There were 3 kinds of people who were being successful that night in getting to the immigration counter in time for their flight – the first kind were mathematicians who were calculating the time for each counter using some normal distribution fundae (or was it Poisson distribution? on a separate note, I always thought that distributions were so queer in nature – some were poisons, others were ‘chai square’, X etc). The second category were those who were following the Lal Badhshah principle (the Amitabh Bacchan movie seen by ~137 people in which Amitabh says, “The line starts from where I stand”). These people were just cutting queues – actually, the better ones were almost assuming that no queues existed (see footnote 5) . The third category were people like me – just lucky to be travelling by Business class (please note this in case you missed the earlier mention). So I cleared immigration and then stood in the line for Security check or rather jostled myself ahead as I would in a rugby match (not that I ever played rugby – it is an analogy that I was using to make you understand). By now, I was completely ignoring any concept of queues and just saying,” Excuse me, my flight is boarding – if you don’t mind”. I got frisked by the security and soon found myself in the Lufthansa lounge. Airline lounges are very interesting destinations – they are designed to make you feel inferior and practice all kinds of caste discrimination. Senator Class (just using a Lufthansa example)goes left, Predator class goes right, Sedator class goes straight. What is more touching is the way the staff tells you about it – “Sir, the lounge for Business class is straight and then to left. The one on the right is the lounge for First class – which obviously, you are NOT TO GO TO. Anyway, the First class lounge has better wine and almonds, which you cannot experience (tchik tchik!). Your Business class lounge has beer and peanuts, which obviously are inferior to wine and almonds!”. And then they smile to show their sparkling teeth. In such cases, I have a patented repartee - I almost feign ignorance and ask, “You have a first class also on XX airline? Wonder who in their right mind travels by it? Maybe demented and schizophrenic patients. Maybe because you are the only airline that goes to Goduttoria (or some such back-of-beyond place). Anyway, thanks so much for telling me that you have a First class, which I guess will be empty in most cases”. I wink and take my place in the lounge and start my night snacks – some cake, coffee, fruits and peanuts. Simultaneously, I start a reconnaissance of my surroundings – there is a Japanese lady and her small kid trying to use the free internet to its fullest. There is an Indian businessman who is trying to make sure that nobody can hear the details of his confidential deal – every second sentence (that all within 2 miles can hear) is prefixed with, “its confidential yaar – you know how things are with Mr. AXXXX but here is the high-level summary. Its known only to 7.5 people so far – we will do the media announcement next week, please don’t tell it to anyone…… of course, you can tell Reema and Kavitha, they are family obviously. But please please please don’t tell anyone that I told you this when I was not supposed to.”. There were a few members of the Pentagon Club also – I wanted to chat up the eligibility conditions and benefits of the club but I could not since they were sleeping blissfully and then suddenly waking up and proceeding to their flights, even before I could say anything. There were also the usual ‘jumping Jacks’, who would get up every 5 minutes and ask the lounge attendant if their flight boarding was announced – hearing the negative response, look very surprised (as if their flight was suppose to depart yesterday) and go back to their seats waiting to jump up again in another few minutes). I want to mention one specific ‘jumping Jack’, who was different from others – he would ask the same question to a different attendant each time, trying to check for inconsistency amongst responses. When one of the attendants said, “I think the boarding will be announced in 10 mins”, he got so delighted at having caught an error, that he almost pumped his fist and said, “…but that lady said 15 mins. Has anything changed? Am I going to be late?”. That attendant ran for her life and was never seen again for the time that I was in the lounge.

Well, with nothing more interesting to do, I decided to send a few work emails, reminding my colleagues about the work that they had to do so that I could then edit their work and send them more work to do – life is after all, a highly interdependent circle, said some Chinese philosopher. (actually, this was one of my friends advice – when in doubt about a quotation, always say it was either a Chinese philosopher or Barack Obama or Lindsay Lohan who said it – if anyone actually dares to ask you which Chinese philosopher, you should just look shocked and mumble something like, “…gosh, look at the ignorance around me, truly it is the Age of Kali that has dawned upon the planet”). With all the work emails sent (and replied to), I did the ‘that’s terrific’ responses to all the emails that I had got in the last 2 days. This is a highly effective work technique I learnt some time back from one of my senior colleague (I wonder why he has not got the Noble Prize for something yet, probably Physics – he has invented this idea which is so effective in saving time and effort). The gist of the idea goes something like this:

Mail 1: I think XX should talk to YY and sort this out. What do you think?
Response: That’s a terrific idea.
Mail 2: ……………hence the CEO was really upset. I think you should talk to him tomorrow
Response: That’s a great idea.
Mail 3: Would you want to have coffee in about 15 mins?
Response: That’s a fabulous idea
Mail 4: …..so I have asked him to make a presentation. You should join the discussion that day
Response: (What else! – a synonym like fantabulous, outstanding, distinctive, superlative, genius blah blah blah)

Finally, the boarding of my flight was announced. This was quite uneventful since there was a separate queue for us B-class people and I walked right up to my seat, looking sympathetically at all the hapless E-class passengers standing silently in the queue. Hope these souls know what the great Milton had said, “They also serve, who only stand and wait”.

After a whole host of announcements (in 3 languages - English, Hindi and German), ranging from ‘Welcome on Board’ to a detailed demonstration of the working of a highly complex body device called the Seat belt (which is a combination of mechanics, electronics, robotics, pyrotechnics and metallurgy) to extremely interesting details like the altitude we will reach, the temperature outside, the pressure outside, the route that the aircraft will take etc, we finally took off. Actually, I never realized when we took off since I was wondering why in the name of Orville and Wilbur Wright are such details announced at all? Are we going to be allowed to put our hand outside to feel the temperature or pressure? Is there going to be an emergency landing at one of the destinations on the way? By the way, on a Mumbai-Delhi flight, I once had an extremely courteous pilot who mid-way, offered an extremely profuse apology for telling us that we would be cruising at a speed of 1400 miles per hour when indeed, we were doing 1550! He spent almost 5 mins on this apology. What a gentleman he must have been (like Abu Ben Adem, may his tribe increase!).

After putting the seat flat, I slept for the next 5-6 hours and woke up in time for breakfast, and for watching an episode of Mentalist, the terrific thriller serial (yes, how I love this word!). Then I noticed that in the great movie and serial collection that Lufthansa Business class had (sum total of 16 movies, 12 English, 4 other languages), there was also a movie called Fearless that had Salman Khan on the front. When I clicked on it, I was enlightened that it was Dabangg! – I then finished the full movie in a fast forward mode, focusing on only the most important dialogues (e.g., Chedi Singh, hum tumhare andar itne ched karenge ki bhool jaoge ki saans kahaan se leni hain or XXX (see footnote 6) kahaan se). For the next hour, I spent time eating breakfast and communicating with the German airhostess on what I wanted and what I did not. German efficiency is such that there is a set process and routine to everything – even if you ask for water, the request will be processed via a complex request-taking algorithm that optimizes for the age of the requestor, the quantum of item asked for, the current pre-occupation of the staff¸ the number of passengers on board, the day of the month, the number of unoccupied laterines; I am not joking – some of my requests were complied with immediately, others after 15 mins and some were mildly turned down – like my request for wheatflakes instead of cornflakes). Finally after 7.5 hours, we landed at Frankfurt Airport – or more precisely, the Franfurt Airport maze. One keeps walking, turning and walking again for atleast 15-20 mins before reaching somewhere ‘directionally close’ to the desired destination. I am convinced that airports in general are designed to confuse people and make them walk a lot (see Terminal 3 at New Delhi? I hear that the heart disease rate of travellers using Delhi airport has dropped by 7% since the launch of T3) but Frankfurt is in a league of its own. I am inclined to believe that the chief architect was probably a direct descendant of the guy who designed the labyrinth for the Minotaur whom Perseus, the Greek hero slew. Just as Perseus had a ball of wool to show him the way, I had numerous display boards that kept flashing my gate number. After a long walkathon, I reached my gate and boarded my flight to Calgary with a slightly dejected heart – I did not have the time to go and gorge on the free food in the airport lounge. But then, one cant have it all in life – after all, life is full of choices, said another Chinese philosopher!

I finished another movie on the Calgary flight (Once Upon a Time in the West) – brilliant classic full of cowboys, guns, horses and background music. I cant remember who the hero was (a famous guy, whom everybody would know, I suppose!) but the Director was definitely a long-lost twin of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, our revered ex-Prime Minister. The gap between two dialogues, two scenes and even two bullet shots was almost 45-60 seconds – if the bullets did not kill, the suspense and the waiting definitely did. Nevertheless, I liked the movie a lot and made a few notes to convey back to my Bollywood friends regarding a few stunts and fights, which I found to be quite good, though not in the Rajni class!(see footnote 7). As we descended into Calgary, I realized that I was completely unprepared for the minus 25 degrees weather in Calgary, and was wondering if this would be the case even in Victoria, my destination. However, luck was with me and I was told that Victoria would be a pleasant 5 degrees. I spent about 45 mins deciding if my jacket and sweater would suffice for this kind of ‘pleasant weather’ and concluded that I would probably never have to go out on the road (airport to hotel, hotel to client site, client site to airport – but how, wrong I was!). During this while, I noticed that my flight from Calgary to Victoria was delayed due to reason no.2 (ha ha! got you there – unless you are a member of the Flying Quadron (see footnote 8) Club like me, you wont understand what reason 2 is). Let me elucidate this for mere mortals – there are 5 reasons why a flight can get late – any delay in your flight is probably attributed to one of these reasons on a randomly selected basis (Note: I hear that whenever its flight is delayed, which is almost on a daily basis, a very famous airline, which I cant name obviously, throws a dart on a board containing these 5 reasons – whichever number the dart lands on, that is the reason they give to passengers)
Reason 1: Delay in arrival of incoming aircraft (translation: not our fault – just sit back and enjoy the airport scenery!)
Reason 2: Poor visibility (translation: we have neither upgraded our aircrafts, nor trained our pilots – hence we can’t fly and land on time whenever there is a slightest hint of fog, snowfall, rain, hurricane, tornado, typhoon and tsunami)
Reason 3: Air traffic congestion (translation: Several aircraft are delayed – others are not complaining, so why are you?)
Reason 4: Technical reason (translation: Even we don’t know why but cant tell you so)
Reason 5: Unforeseen emergencies (translation: The pilot and the co-pilot are drunk and we are trying to locate their replacements OR the airhostess and the pilot have run away together OR an important VIP is delayed and we have to hold the flight for him)

Finally, our aircraft took off and I landed in Victoria, my intended destination at the other end of the Earth, looking forward to my Canadian Odyssey. The fact that my luggage arrived 30 mins late and that the driver supposed to pick me up was almost going to go back (due to the slight 2 hr-delay, he had given up any hope of me coming that day), instantly made me feel ‘at home’ in Victoria. This was obviously a place I would relish given my extensive experience of places where time is a vague notion and punctuality is measured on the calendar, rather than the clock. However, what actually happened in Canada is a story for another day – needless to add, it was as one of the great English authors said (I think it was Dickens but am not sure since English literature was never my strong point (see footnote 9)) said, “It was the best of times and the worst of times”.

To conclude, I am reminded of a Sanskrit saying which is the moral of my travelogue thus far, (what a polyglot am I – so many languages to choose from)! :
Travelling makes a man wise, travelling more, makes him wiser (well, this seems quite obvious to me but then, sayings and aphorisms are nothing but common sense said in a deep voice, full of gravitas)
Au Revoir (this is French for the polyclods)


Footnotes:
1. Immigration officials are selected for their ability to ask extremely boring questions repeatedly and still be amazed at the response. The final selection test probably involves asking questions to a brick wall and responding. The caliber of your subsequent questions and the enthusiastic attitude shown during this interrogation determines your selection.

2. One of my fellow consultants once delivered presentations on ‘Effective Cost management’, ‘Leadership and Hockey’, ‘ Cooking for Dummies’ and ‘Macro-economic implications of policies undertaken in the post Vikings era on Scandinavian geopolity’ in the same day. Hats off to such great souls.

3. There is a Phulpur in India – for proper nouns, spellings don’t matter, pronunciations do.

4. I had a choice of another airline, whose pilots have a record for going on-strike at any time, sometimes in mid air. Since I had missed my last 3 parachuting lessons, I decided not to risk this and settled for Lufthansa. But if you are in the mood for adventure, I would not recommend the stolid, steady Lufthansa. Its frankly, quite boring.

5. I think these people were inspired by Neo Andersen from the Matrix Trilogy – the whole world is but an assumption – so you can make it what you want it to be. So if you believe that there are no queues, THERE ARE NO QUEUES!

6. This refers to a certain action that results in a foul stench spreading in the air surrounding the perpetrator.

7. This class has only 2 people in it – Rajnikanth from India and Chuck Norris from US. Even God cannot dare to be in this league, though there is some talk that a few people like Sunny Deol and Superman have tried – they have all failed of course.

8. You need to have 4 passports, missed 40 flights and know all the airline logos correctly to join this club, of which I am a member. I almost missed the membership when I could not identify the logo of Shenaniganland Airways correctly but I was forgiven since the airline (and the country) have both collapsed

9. Actually, what my ‘strong point’ was, was something of a mystery that my school teachers were never able to find, much less agree on.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

ABCD for my little devil

Baby, Baby; Yes Daddy,
Are you awake? Yes Daddy,
Staying awake? Yes Daddy,
Want a lullaby? Yes Daddy!

A for “Angel” that’s what you are,
B for Badness, the world is filled with such,
C for “Cutie” that’s what you are,
D for Daddy, who loves you very much.

E for Excellence, for which you always strive,
F for Family, in which you will thrive,
G is God, who made you come alive,
H for Happiness, you brought in my life.

I for India, our proud nation,
J for Joker, my little creation
K for Karate, dhishum-dhishum-dhishum
L for Love, the grief-healing lotion

M is for Mummy, whose body-part you are,
N is for Nanny, who gives you all the fun
O is for Orangutan, the monkey that you are,
P is for Peace, the virtue No.1

Q is for the Queen that you are,
R is for the Race (of Life) that you’ll run,
S, my dear, is for the big bright Sun,
T is for Trouble, oh naughty one!

U is for Uganda, a country, faraway,
V for Violin, the instrument, you’ll play
W is for Water, what makes you wet,
X is for Xerox, that photocopies the set

The last 2 letters, Y and Z,
Y for Yes and Z for Zest,
One means Ho, the other means Hooray
Now, little one, CALL IT A DAY!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Nine random questions at the end of nine months:

Nine months of wait,
Of torment and hope,
Of joy and pain,
Of seeking and salvation,
Could any lovers’ meeting be so eventful, ever?

A woman sacrifices everything for this,
Her physical form – obese and unattractive,
Her movements – restricted and uncomfortable,
Her aspirations – curtailed and ‘glassed’,
Is it worth it – today? Ten years from now? Forty years from now?

I see my wife in front,
Tears in her eyes,
Stress on her face,
Love in her heart,
Was I a mere spectator, an audience to this miracle of Creation?

All signs of the coming,
The stomach – enlarged,
The pains – intense,
The affection – unbound,
Is the umbilical cord linked to the stomach or the soul?

I wait in the labour room,
The doctors – in control,
The nurses – efficient as ever,
The ayahs – obedient to the tee,
What am I doing here – being reminded of my duty in the times to come?

She finally arrives, resplendent and radiant,
Crying and curious,
Calm and calamitous,
Comforting and comfortable,
Then why do I detect an uneasiness in my heart?

The child is born and several people are made,
A mother,
A father,
A whole host of relations,
Have the creators been re-created by the creation?

She is very similar to me,
My blood and my genes,
My line and my family,
My present and my future,
And yet, why do I feel very different today? Very, very different?

I will remember this time for years to come,
Her look frozen in my eyes,
Her voice etched in my heart,
Her existence embedded in my soul,
Will she reciprocate? Does not matter really, does it?
Her birth was for us, her life is for her – will I remember this always?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

“Two-Face” of Fairy Tales and Nursery Rhymes (my experience with nursery rhymes and kiddo poems)

I just love Two-Face, the schizophrenic villain in Batman – he actually has the ability to dispassionately analyze each issue to death before coming to a course of action; how I wish, I would have been able to do this on several occasions before jumping to conclusions and forming opinions. I was recently reminded of Two Face as I listened to a few fairy tales and nursery rhymes – now why on earth would I do that? Since my wife is expecting our first kid, I was catching up on a few rhymes to be able to recite them ‘when the time comes and I have to live up the duty of being a father’ (as usual, I believe in preparing well ahead of time – which is why I am also weighing the pros and cons of different schools and colleges aka Two Face). Moreover the pre-pregnancy counselor told us that we, as would-be parents, should listen to a ‘few good songs, stories and inspirational tales’ on a daily basis since these would have a profound impact on the neurological and spiritual development of the baby! (On a separate note, listening to all the 1740 things that ‘good, responsible parents’ have to do, from the pre-pregnancy counselor, made me wonder how mankind ever brought up babies for the last 1500 years without such angel-like advice – but this is a topic for a separate discussion and lets not mix it here).

As I heard the different rhymes and tales, I started reflecting on their meanings and found myself becoming more cynical than I normally am (and this is a big deal since I can spot calories and cholesterol when my friends and relatives are going ga-ga over home-made, pure-ghee sweets). For instance, the story of the hare and tortoise is an immortal classic for all kids and toddlers – the story is meant to tell you that ‘Slow and Steady wins the race’. As I heard a song-version of this story, my hyper-active, cynical self started speaking, “Which race can a slow and steady person ever win in life? You have to be fast – Fast is Best – fast food, fast cars, fast s**. Anything that is fast is better, say for example, a super-fast train is better than a slow train and you only have to look at the jam-packed fast local trains in Mumbai to certify the illogical meaning of the saying. Moreover, one has to be fast to be ahead in queues, fast to book tickets for super-hit movies, fast to rise up the corporate ladder blah blah blah.” As one mind started giving rise to these thoughts, another mind started saying, “Lets see what the hare did – yes, he lost the race but in the process enjoyed the beauties of Mother Nature, ate fruits and berries and had a great nap in the shade whereas all the tortoise did was slog, slog and slog to win the ‘race’ – so who was able to enjoy the race fully? Who was able to have a great ‘work-life’ balance? Who was able to (in the words of W.H.Davies) go against the grain of ‘What is this life, if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare’ and take in the full breeze, smell the scent of the roses and lilies and then go on to complete the race”. Why would the fairy tale ever declare the hare the loser? The answer is obvious – it was written by somebody who wanted to encourage kids to gear up for the rat race! Victory, in this context, has been defined in a narrow sense – that of crossing the line drawn by somebody else and you are supposed to feel elated only after crossing the line. So long as you have not crossed the line, you are supposed to feel incomplete and continue slogging. And yes, kids carry on this subliminal tendency throughout – not just in school but also through college and at work and in life, at large. Having heard this fairy tale several times over in the formative years of childhood, I now wonder whether I would have lived differently had I known that the “winner” is not one who crosses the line first but one who has enjoyed the race the most? One last thought crossed my mind as I moved to the next story – the tortoise had an unwavering focus to win the race and it won, whereas for the hare , could the purpose have been to maximize the experience of life itself? Alas, all of us have ingrained this story to such an extent that during weekdays we are intent on crossing the line first without caring for several other things – and then, on weekends (like today, when I am writing this article), we try to be like the hare. To me, this tale is the reason for my own ‘life happens on weekends’ syndrome.

Another type of fairy tale is that of the beautiful princess and the handsome prince, who has to do several courageous feats to win her hand. As I became the Two-Face for this archetype, I realized that there is no fairy tale in which the princess has to do any ‘acts of bravery’ to win the prince’s hand in marriage. All she has to do is wear pretty dresses , cry a bit (probably due to the misery she is under since she is locked away under some spell or kept in a dungeon by the big bad demon) and then smile a bit and live happily every after. The questions going through my mind are, “Is this what we are subconsciously imbibing in the minds of baby girls, who after several years, realize that the world is very different, realize that even they have ambitions beyond the home and the hearth, realize that they can be the prince after all or even worse, realize that the prince is no-good?” There are several sub-versions of this tale but what is quite interesting to note is the kinds of actions that the prince and princess have to do to redeem themselves – the princess has only to kiss the frog to turn him into a prince whereas the prince has to battle a hundred demons to win the princess. All the princess’ actions are gentle and ‘ladylike’ whereas the prince has to ‘win the trial by fire’. This, in my view, sows the initial seeds of gender discrimination, which the girl-child has to face throughout her life, whether as a daughter, a wife, a mother and across various walks of life.

There is a third type of nursery rhymes which advocate or perpetrate certain traits, albeit inadvertently. In Marathi, the most famous nursery rhyme is ‘Ye re ye re pawasa’, in which the small child requests the rain to come – in the very next line, the child offers one paisa to the rain for coming. Isnt this an outright form of bribery? There is another poem titled ‘Sang sang Bholanath’ (in which the child asks Lord Shankar if there will be rain the next day so that his school will be closed) – I often wonder if the ‘great Indian tendency to shirk work’, whether due to public holidays, bandhs or the slightest disruption of normal life, stems from poems like this?

Lastly, there are fairy tales which I think have lost their relevance in today’s world. An illustration that fit this category is ‘Ba ba black sheep, have you any wool?’ Have urban kinds seen sheeps that give wool – my most common early interactions have been with goats (and that too dead ones, at the mutton shop, which I used to frequent with my father on Sundays). The first time I saw a ‘wool-giving sheep’ was in Scotland several years after my childhood had long ceded. Another example is ‘Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water’ – in today’s times, why would anybody go up the hill to fetch water (and that too, only a pail)? Yes, maybe if it was from the water tanker parked up the hill, then it would have reflected some semblance of truth. Similarly, there is a popular Marathi poem ‘Lal tanga gheoni ala Lala Tangewala’ (meaning that the red tonga came, driven by the driver whose name was Lala) – tongas are becoming extinct in towns and cities and wherever they are still running, one just has to look at the plight of the horses!

Does this mean that we have to review every poem and fairy tale from a psychological standpoint and correct it? Should we eradicate those that either don’t reflect reality or are likely to ‘sow the seeds of some deep-rooted emotion that could prove extremely dangerous to humanity’ (wow, I just love the serious language used – reflects my sessions with the pre-pregnancy counselor!). Now, don’t get me wrong – I am just demonstrating the Two-Facian approach. I, myself, can easily argue that nursery rhymes and poems should be left untouched for they are nothing but ways to incite the child’s imagination and enable some form of communication with the child. Hence one need not impute too much meaning and question every line (this is what I call the Da Vinci syndrome after Dan Brown’s book - when I visited Paris just some months after the release of the best-seller, I found tourists trying to find meaning in almost everything in the Louvre. Hence, simple sentences became cryptic clues to the Holy Grail, number of steps up and down became codes and the shadow of the sun falling on the Eiffel tower became the ‘directions to some lost secret of humanity that must not be revealed till ‘the time comes’). There maybe nothing and no more meaning to fairy tales and nursery rhymes beyond being just another way of connecting with infants. I also don’t want to be accused of spoiling the fun of nursery rhymes and fairy tales (and be a critic of the multi-million dollar kids entertainment industry which thrives on fairy tales) but then, Two Face, will always have his doubts…

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

My First Trek with Kshitij Trekkers

My First Trek with Kshitij:

Bored of the monotony of office life, I called up Apte Kaka, with whom I had done a couple of treks for Chakram Hikers. When he mentioned that there were no immediate treks, I was a bit disheartened since I was really looking towards reconnecting with Mother Nature and getting away from the monotony of daily life. However, he asked me to look at one other organization – Kshitij and mentioned that they have a website – trekshitiz.com (I wonder how people would have survived in the age before the Internet and Google!). Anyway, I surfed the Kshitij website & found that there was indeed a trek on 22nd April & was very happy. What made me happier was all the information that the Kshitij website contained – maps of the Sahyadri forts, songs on Shivaji Maharaj and also links to other trekking groups. This gave me some insight into the values of the organization & its commitment to creating a sense of pride in the youth about Marathi culture & tradition. The other heartening fact was that all the information was simultaneously available in Marathi & English – there are several organizations who do trekking & hiking but very few (like Chakram and Kshitij) are committed to use trekking as a means to enable character development & positive change in the youth of today – this is very much like Lokmanya Tilak using the Ganeshotsav festival as a means to organize the masses against the British empire.
The next task was to book a place for the trek & I tried calling the leader, Swapnil Kelkar. During the remaining course of the week, we played the highly amusing game of ‘missed call-missed call’ before finally getting through. Swapnil put me and a friend of mine on the waitlist given the high demand for the trek. I prayed that I would get to go & luckily I did! (my friend however, could not make it due to a medical emergence in the family). Having confirmed my spot, the next step was packing – lunch, some ‘satar-phatar’, money etc. and also sleeping early since I had to wake up at 4:15 AM the next day to reach Dombivili from Thane by 5:30 AM. One does not want to be late for the first trek with a new group.
Waking up at 4:20 AM, I stepped out of the house by 4:40 AM – caught a bus to Thane station & was in Dombivili by 5:20 AM. Then came the Sherlock Homes act – searching for the ‘Godrej showroom’ (since I had not been to Dombivili in the last 2 years). But then, as is said – ‘shodha mhanje sapdel’, I finally made it in time to the designated spot. And low behold! the trek leader was himself late – anyway, Swapnil soon came and took charge of the situation & we were zooming in the 2 Sumos by 6:10 AM.
Well, since none of the drivers knew the exact way, we did several turns & re-turns and about-turns before finally finding the road to Khopoli (and consequently to Pune). By now, the crows were croaking in people’s stomachs & we stopped to have breakfast at the Manashakti Kendra’s hotel in Lonavla. Breakfast was Batata wadas & tea - on all the treks I have been to, there have primarily been only 3 items for breakfast – Batata wada, Misal or kanda Poha – please let me know if you have ever eaten a 4th item. Anyway, the breakfast was delicious. I also got to see a bit of the Manashakti Kendra book stall etc. There were several books on stress management, living in harmony, goal-setting etc. that focused on the process of finding inner happiness in today’s high-stress world. Seeing the various books & talking to the volunteers, I started wondering:


Man today has all the Joy,
And money, the final goal, oh Boy!
But his life is often a living hell,
With so many obstacles to fell,
How many riches do we really need?
Or is it pure lust & greed?


“Adhi Potoba mag Vithoba” – after our stomachs were full, we once again began our journey to Vadhu. It was at this time that we realized the driving skills of our ‘sarathi’ – the driver hesitated to cross even 60 kms on a free NH 4 – we almost had to take a photograph of the speedometer when after a long time, it finally touched 80 kms. I guess, the driver was a true follower of the adage – “Better late than hurry, Better safe than sorry”. Hence it took us almost 6 hrs to reach Vadhu.
At Vadhu, Swapnil made us form a circle and we had a formal introduction – Swapnil then explained the background and goals of Kshitij & of our specific trek, which was tro visit those historical places that have been neglected or have not risen to prominence, inspite of their importance in history. Next we went inside into the Samadhi Smarak of King Sambhaji. As the story goes, the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb tortured Sambhaji Maharaj and his friend Kavi Kalash & left them to die at Tulapur. However, the villagers of Vadhu, with great courage, brought Sambhaji’s body to Vadhu and performed the final rites. There are several inspirational quotes at the Smarak on Sambhaji – my favourite one is:

Desh Dharma par mitanewala, Sher Shiva ka Chawa tha,
Parampratapi, Mahaprakrami, Ek hi Shambhu Raja tha.

Also, when Sambhaji & Kavi Kalash were brought in front of Auragzeb and were facing certain death, Kavi Kalash composed a short poem in praise of Sambhaji Maharaj as follows:

Yawan Ravan ki Sabha mein, Shambhu Vandhyo Bajarang,
Lahu Lasat sam Tan, Jaise Khel khelyo Ranarang,
Ravi Chabhi Teri, Khadyot hot Badarang,
Tawa Tej Dekh ke, Tyakt Tyajo Aurang.

Meaning:
“Like Hanuman stood in the court of Rawana, so does Sambhaji stand in front of the Mughal;
His body is flowing with blood, as if he has just played the game of War;
His brilliance is like that of the Sun and darkens everything around Him;
Seeing His luster, Aurangzeb is already giving up his throne”

As Swapnil recanted the story of the 32-year old son of Shivaji, it made me wonder – this great man achieved immortality at such an young age – what do we do throughout our lives to achieve half as much? At the age of 22, when we are just beginning to understand life, Sambhaji had the responsibility of the entire Maratha empire thrust on him. How would we have coped with something like that? A thousand salutes to Sambhaji!

From Vadhu, we took a very bumpy road to Tulapur & reached Tulapur around 1:00 PM. Swapnil, like a good trek leader, again explained the historical significance and details about the place - Tulapur derives its name from an incident in the life of Murar Jagdev, a lieutenant of Adil Shah, who had himself weighed in gold on a pan balance – hence the name ‘tula’ (i.e., pan balance). Tulapur is also the ‘sangam’ (confluence) of 3 rivers – Bhima, Bhama & Indrayani. After seeing the memorial dedicated to Sambhaji, we went to the banks of the Indrayani and chatted for a while and also did a few photo sessions. People were bathing in the river and also enjoying the joys of boating down the river. Then we had ‘kairiche panhe’ at the canteen and went for the darshan of Lord Shiva at the Sangameshwar Temple. The whole premises is managed by the Nirgudkar family. The sad part of the place was that this historic monument has now become a picnic spot – people were having lunches in the garden (though there were notices explicitly prohibiting the same), playing cricket and there were also lovers amongst the trees – how sad that we have forgotten the spirit of the great Maratha at the very place where he sacrificed himself!
From Tulapur, we left for the land fort of Chakan & reached there by 2:45 PM. Unlike other ‘mountain forts’, Chakan is a land fort & a relatively small one – moreover, it is in a very dilapidated condition and no care is being taken of the premises at all. It was also the site of the historic battle between the forces of Shaistekhan and Firangoji Narsale, Shivaji’s commander-in-charge of the fort. We went around the entire fort and then had lunch in the shade of the Hanuman temple near the fort. One of the joys of trekking is the sharing of lunch (sandwiches, pooris, idlis, batata bhaji, theple, dosas, fruits – amazing menu!) – like Lord Krishna’s ‘gopal-kala’. After lunch, Saket Jog narrated the history of the entire fort and the battle that was fought there in a very eloquent manner. As the history goes, Shaistekhan had an army of ~35,000 soldiers fighting against ~250 Marathas who did not give up for 2 whole months, when the enemy army had laid siege to the fort. Finally, Shaistekhan blew up the fort ramparts by constructing an underground passage – even then the Marathas held out for 1 whole day against the Mughal army. Shaistekhan, in admiration of Firangji’s valour, let him go back to Shivaji rather than kill him. Though the battle was won by the Mughals, history will never forget the bravery of the 250 Marathas who made the Mughal army fight for every inch – hence the name of the fort was also changed to Sangramgad. After lunch, we walked to the Chakreshwar temple, 5 mins away from Chakan Fort. The unique thing about this temple, that I saw, was a crematorium in the temple yard itself – first time I had seen such a crematorium within the temple premises. We then filled our water bottles and started walking back for our return journey.
A sad thought crossed my mind as we left the broken down Chakan Fort – we have let our rich heritage (forts, palaces, temples) to rot & decay over time – internationally, Governments & private organizations truly take pride in historical monuments and preserve them as a mark of respect to the times gone by. It is only in our country that the Samadhi of Maharashtra’s greatest son, Sambhaji is completely ignored, a fort like Chakan which bore witness to a legendary battle is breaking down each day and we, as Maharashtrians are doing NOTHING about it. When will this situation change OR more importantly, will this situation ever change?

Oh Marathas, please hear the call of your own History,
Else all will vanish into nothingness,
Our culture, our pride, our existence
Might soon be an unsolvable Mystery


On the way back to Mumbai, we stopped to see the land fort & residence of Senapati Dabhade at Talegaon. The fort is in much better condition than Chakan & we visited the beautiful temple that lies inside the Fort. We also took a walk to see various areas of the fort and experienced the cool breeze that had started blowing, given the evening time. Soon it was time to ‘call it a day’ and head back to Mumbai in our ‘Formula 1’ vehicle. The driver was still as cautious as ever and even rickshaws & tempos were overtaking our Sumo - but then, what could one do about it? On the way back, we listened to a few songs and also tried to catch up on some sleep. It had been a long day and all were quite tired by now.
A few of us got down and parted from the larger group at Panvel – had ‘misal pav’ at Hotel Rahul and then took the Panvel-Thane bus (always an eventful ride given the various fights between different passengers on a variety of issues – truly as Sri Krishna said – Shravan Bhakti is also a great way to achieve Moksha).

Thus ended my first trek (and definitely not my last!) trek with Kshitij.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Indian Banking - why I might prefer a money lender instead

Over the past 6 months, I have had to interact with several private & public sector banks as a customer. Normally, I avoid going/dealing with these institutions (i let my wife and my mother take charge) but this time I had no choice. SOme of the "interesting experiences" I had were as follows:

1) A large Government Bank that has several subsidiaries: I wanted a simple certificate stating that my PPF account balance is Rs.XX - I went into the bank at 10:30 AM in the morning. I was told that the concerned officer will come at 12 PM. I came back again at 12:15 PM and was introduced to the officer. The fat, burly, moustachioed guy was not interested even in looking at who was in front of the counter. On knowing my request, he told me that it can't be done today but will have to wait for 2-3 days since the records will need to be checked. KNowing the "standard procedure" in this bank (having worked as a consultant to them), I insisted on speaking to the manager in charge, who was fortunately a kind guy and asked the officer to help me. Reluctantly, the officer opened my records & suddenly chuckled with glee,"Your PPF account was opened when u were a minor & it still shows that u are a minor. So first get an application for the account to be converted to a major. Then, we can issue the certificate." He calmly closed the records and went away to talk about the cricket match. Thankfully, I had a few contacts who were senior officers in the head Office & I got them to reprimand the branch manager who instructed the officer to issue the certificate to me immediately. I thought that my ordeal was over - but I was a fool to think so. The officer told me that the charges for this certificate are Rs.500 - I asked him to show me the service charges register (Thank God I know how banks operate!) - he said that the service charges register is located downstairs & i should go & see it myself. WHen I went down & brought the register for him to see with the charges as Rs.300 - he said that there was a new circular ammending the register. I asked him to show it to me & he said that he cant find it. By now, I was livid with rage - it had been over 2 hrs and still my simple work was not over. I raised my voice & accussed him of delaying the whole procedure & asked for the complaints register. The manager interevened and himself gave me the certificate but the staffer concerned did not bother to even move a muscle for doing real work.

Another instance with this same bank was that when my mother went to enquire about deposit rates, the concerned lady officer was reading the morning newspaper. She did not even greet my mother & ignored her existence completely. My mother asked the same question 3 times - the lady had no choice but to reply - reluctantly she said that the new scheme will start from Monday & that the rate was 10.25%. My mother then asked if she could still subscribe to the scheme & invest in the deposits is she did not have an account with that branch. Curtly, she was told, "If you do not have an account with our branch, please dont ask us for new products. Please open an account first"

2) A foreign Bank that prides itself on its Operations & Technology: I have normally found it easy to transact with this bank given their efficiency. But my last experience has shaken me up. In the first instance, the bank had charged me 2 times for the same transaction on my credit card. It was for a movie ticket. I contacted the call centre and pointed out the error. I was told that the request for checking had been put into the system & that I need not worry. To my chagrin, when I got my card statement, it had the same charges with no change at all. I called the call centre again & was told that I had been sent the relevant documents for me to prove my statement but since I had not replied, I was at fault. I asked to speak to the superior but was put on hold. I tried connecting 3 times but at no stage did I get through. Finally, I paid the correct amount and told the call centre about my action - I also got the proof documents faxed (at my cost) to the bank's operations unit & had my charge reversed.

3) A State-owned bank having its HQ in the city of the Peshwas: I had to transfer money to my wife in UK. I gave the bank all the required details (account number, sort code, branch identifier code etc.) - this was to the foreign exchange branch of the bank that was supposed to be "expert" in all this international tranfer business. The bank called me up 2 days later only to tell me that the transfer was not successful since I had not provided the correct information. On checking again & again with the bank as well as with my wife's bank in UK, I found, to my horror that the State-owned bank's foreign exchange branch had tried to transfer the money without putting the bank account number of my wife on the tranfer message! I was charged ~Rs.6000 for the transaction failure first time (~3300 by my wife's branch in UK as a penalty & remaining amount by the "efficient FX branch" as their commission) - on top of it, I was asked to come and repeat the same procedure again if I wanted the transfer. Thankfully again, I had some contacts in the bank who intervened and managed to resolve the situation

I just wonder:
a) If one does not have contacts, can one get his/her work done with a public sector bank?
b) Can public sector banks ever become customer friendly? Or will it be only the advertisements?
c) Will foreign banks ever be able to provide the human touch?
d) Should I shift to the barter system? Should I start going to the NBFCs and the sahukars for my banking needs?
e) (in case you have reached so far..) Why are you reading all this? If you feel strongly about banks' unresponsiveness, how can we all do something about it?