Friday, July 20, 2012

Musings-Nature's call

The toilet fiasco of our education department last year, in the form of a questionnaire, asking students questions such as “Do you have toilet in your house?” If not, “Why don’t you have toilet in your house?” Again, “What do you wash your hands with?” among other such questions. These questions had to be answered with admission forms in colleges. That news reminded me of an incident of similar nature in my life, almost four decades back.

In my early twenties, I was working in the marketing department of a very reputable company based in Mumbai. I was stationed at their Kolkata branch but after a few months, was called to Bombay to attend the quarterly sales conference. After the conference I was asked to go to Delhi for three weeks to get an idea and feel of the markets in North before proceeding to Punjab, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir independently.

There was one Ravi in our Delhi office with whom I joined forces to get a picture of the market and get acquainted with culture of the Northern people which is quite different from those of other parts in India. Ravi was a witty fellow and I hit it off with him from day one. I stayed in Gujarat Bhavan for the first three days, when Ravi insisted that I should stay with him for the rest of my stay in Delhi. I had learnt that Ravi stayed in a joint family so I hesitated, but Ravi would not take no for an answer and suggested that I try his place for one day and if I was not comfortable, I could shift back to Gujarat Bhavan. So I relented. On the fourth day, after completing office work, he took me to his place in Shahadra.

Shahadra, beyond river Yamuna, was just a developing township then. We had dinner at his place and settled for the night. True to his word, other people of his household left us alone after initial greetings and nobody entered the room we were in. So it was okay.

Ravi woke me up the next early morning and asked me get ready to go to the JUNGLE (chal jungle ho aaein). Not knowing what he meant, I thought he must be talking about morning walk. I asked to be served tea first before anything else. The morning tea arrived with a few biscuits and after tea, Ravi motioned me to follow him. Just near the back side exit of the house, there were three small plastic buckets lying on the ground. He filled one with water from a nearby drum and whispered: “We are going for morning constitution in nearby jungle, take one bucket for yourself . Then the nickel dropped.

I was aghast and at loss of words. I remember to have stuttered a few meaningless words. I had never imagined that I would have to face such a situation in life. Not that I was not aware of such things. I had travelled far and wide throughout India and had seen plenty of such ugly sights, people answering call of nature in the open, relieving themselves at railway tracks and such. But originally I belonged to Calcutta where we had a fairly decent self-contained flat and even in Bombay where I put up we had all modern amenities, in fact both Indian and Western facilities to suit all. So I could never dream of such a situation for myself. So I politely refused Ravi and told him to go ahead. Perhaps he sensed my predicament, hesitated and said: “At least come with me for a walk. What will you do among these womenfolk?” So I went with him.

After about ten minutes walk, we approached an area which had plenty of plants with thick foliage with small bold surfaces in between, scattered here and there, not visible from a distance. On each of such open surface ground, a small group of men squatted, their backs to each other so that they didn’t have to face each other. Trying not to look at them we proceeded further and came upon a slightly big opening where at least ten to twelve men were doing the job. Ravi said: “Here is my group.”

This was the most amazing sight I had ever seen or would want to see in my life. Instead of their backs facing each other, these people were squatting actually facing each other, talking to each other amicably, being most natural in what they were doing, with various containers at each one’s side. They were sitting in a circle leaving an opening on one side as if inviting a few more to join them. One of them was reading a paper, a couple were arguing about something, one had an intense look of pain on his face. It was the most horribly fascinating sight I had seen in my life. As soon as we reached near them, one fellow greeted Ravi saying, “Come Ravi, aren't you a little late today? And where is Mehra?” Another from the group replied: “Mehra is not well. I came by his house.”

The fellow nearest to us saw me and said: “Ravi, saab kaun hain? (Who is this gentleman?)”

Ravi hesitatingly tried to introduce me: “He is a friend…………..” And as soon as the fellow tried to extend his hand to me, I fled the scene without bothering to look at or say anything to Ravi. By the time Ravi returned home I was ready with my shoulder bag. I told him I was going back to Gujarat Bhavan and will meet him in the office. Ravi didn’t stop me.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Chavanni

Some time back our Reserve Bank of India administration withdrew 25 paise coin from the market, that is, it is no more a legal tender. And with that withdrawal a little of our culture is lost too. Gone are the days when a chavanni (a 25 paise coin) had its own value, that is, material value or monetary value. Among Indian currency of various denominations, chavanni had its own charm and perhaps more popularity.

I distinctly remember- when I was young- I used to get pocket money of ten rupees a month, a sizable amount then, with instructions from my parents not to carry the entire ‘treasure’ in my pocket to school. I used to request my brother who worked in a bank to convert that ten rupee note (royally big in size then) into 40 chavannis with the intention of spending 4 annas a day. Later the currency was digitized and 4 annas became 25 paise. 16 annas or 100 paise made a rupee. Even though I intended to spend a chavanni a day, still at the end of the month I managed to save at least two rupees. My elder brother gave me an equivalent of the amount I saved at the end of the month. What a thrill it was!

Remembering the chavanni is quite nostalgic. It brings the simple and golden old days to mind. A coke in those days cost 4 annas or a chavanni, if you like. A cinema ticket cost 1 rupee 4 annas in Calcutta. We felt powerful to have a chavanni in our pockets when we went to school. We could have four or more varieties of snacks costing one anna or even less each, like puchka, moshla muri, churans and even sandesh.

A chavanni was also auspicious. When our community ‘Maharaj’ (Brahmin) visited our house, I remember, my mother used to give him 1 rupee 4 annas or ‘sava rupio’ as it was called then. Sava rupio was considered as ‘shukan’ or good luck. When there was an engagement ceremony, the would-be bride was given sava rupio with a coconut as shukan and also as acceptance of the girl in the family. No occasion was complete without that chavanni.

A chavanni also had its funny side. In our Gujarati language it is also called ‘Paavli’. If you wanted to call somebody an idiot or nincompoop, you said: “Aani pavli padi gai chhe.” It translates to “He has lost his mind.” Oh that phase, I feel sad it will never come back. It is lost forever with the chavanni gone.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Shocking satya

The second episode of Aamir Khan’s Satyamev Jayate on child abuse was a revelation, shocking, overwhelming, overpowering and moving, to say the least. It is not that we were not aware of this nasty side of our society. In fact, we read about it every other day in the news papers. Aamir Khan has brought this ugly fact right into our drawing room. There are many aspects and facts Aamir’s research has disclosed.

For example, if I heard him right, every second child is abused at one stage or the other in his teens. This is absolutely shocking. Another point, according to his research 53% of the children abused are boys. That again means that the percentage of abuse of boys or male child is more than that of girls. So far we were under the impression that girls are suffering more and male child abuse is occasional. Aamir has broken this myth.

The more shocking aspect of the show - even our high courts are not serious or understanding about it. As one gentleman from a NGO said that in one case, when a child was abused orally, the judge said that only penetration was considered rape and there was no penetration in that case. This is absolutely unbelievable. A judge of a high court says this, and still occupies the chair? And according to this courageous gentleman, it took ten years and hearings in the Supreme Court to start a case against the perpetrator. Accused hire the finest lawyers available who ask most filthy questions to the children making them suffer more. Apart from such high courts, we have such lawyers too. The case will go on forever.

What is our society coming to and whom can you trust? What does a child do, what about his childhood and growth? As Aamir rightly said: “Listen to your child and more important, believe him or her.”

Some articles have criticized Aamir for charging huge money for this program. But let me say this, he may have charged but he has done his job and a wonderful job at that. How many actors do that?

Finally, I too believe in defense. Even a murderer should be given a chance to defend himself, but not a child abuser. He should be thrown in the tank right away.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Sachin Tendulkar's retirement

A recent statement from Sachin Tendulkar that he may continue playing till 2015 World cup, is most un-Sachin like. Normally he is a humble person and never responds to adverse comments from critics. It appears that this time, he was waiting for his 100th Ton to make this statement, as if, not sure whether he would make it or not.

Though, without doubt, he is the best in the world of cricket, the media sponsored title of the ‘God of cricket’ is being taken seriously by the veteran. His utterance that he decided when to start playing and he will decide when to stop playing is narcissist, to say the least. He tends to forget that a set of selectors selected him to play for nation for the first time, though that set may have been different from the present one. If they had not, the cricket history would have been different. Even now, with all his achievements it can be his decision to retire, but it should be left to the selectors to decide whether he will play or not. Tendulkar’s statement should have read ‘he will continue if selectors decided so.’ If every good player decides that he will continue to play till he decides otherwise, there is no need for selectors. By making such statements he is setting a wrong precedent for upcoming youngsters with extra talents.

I wonder if selectors and coaches also call him ‘Sir’ like young players do and are in awe of him. Like: “Sir, will you be playing the next ODI? Or will you rather rest?” And Sir Tendulkar grandly proclaims his decision one way or the other.

I had thought that Tendulkar was far above petty differences of the dressing room and would attend the function to honor Dravid where cricketing greats from past and present were in attendance to felicitate him. But our God decided to leave for London the same day, not expected of a man like him.

Lastly, personally I regard Sachin’s playing skills in highest esteem. And like any other cricket fan, I was also praying for his 100th Ton. It is a feat unlikely to be matched in another hundred years. He deserves every bit of praise and fame he got. I am proud of his achievements. But, he is human after all.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Musings-World of Babas

Sri Sathya Sai Baba left for his heavenly abode a few months back leaving behind a vast fortune and equally vast chaos. Some astrologers (jyotishis) and some Tantriks also call themselves Baba. Likewise, Baba Ramdev was in news recently taking up government against corruption and his attempted antics on Ramlila ground, though his main forte is Yoga.

This ‘Baba’ is an interesting word. The moment ‘Baba’ is attached to one’s name, one’s stature increases. Try removing ‘Baba’ from Ramdev or for that matter from Sathya Sai and see the result. Both remain common entity.

Interestingly, the word ‘Baba’ has different meaning in different languages or more than one meaning in the same language in different contexts. Let us take Hindi first. Here ‘Baba’ is used for one devoted to God, like sadhu baba or Sathya Sai Baba etc. ‘Baba’ is also used for one who has renounced the world or worldly pleasures.

In Gujarati, ‘Baba’ means a small boy. Whatever a boy’s name be if you don’t know it, you can safely call him ‘Baba’. In fact, yours truly too was called ‘Baba’ till he was married. In Urdu, ‘Baba’ is related to Tantriks & Fakirs and the like. Baba Farid and Jumman Baba Tantrik are good examples. In the case of Bengali, ‘Baba’ means father.

Interestingly and uniquely, all these different meanings of ‘Baba’ justify in the case of Baba Ramdev. He is a Yoga guru, wears saffron, gives spiritual discourses and has massive following. But the most pronounced meaning in his case is ‘Baba’, a small boy. A child is mostly stubborn. When a boy (Baba) wants something, he wants something, period. He doesn’t want to understand that thing’s utility, affordability, availability etc. We, on our part, try to explain all these to the child and also offer alternative things. When nothing works we spank him and that always works, well mostly.

Same is the case of Baba Ramdev. Except for his “abolition of corruption”, rest of his demands are not feasible. For example, Ramdev wants nothing short of death sentence for the corrupt or total abolition of high denomination currency notes. In a country where a killer of several lives don’t get death sentence and even if he gets, is not hanged for years, how can a mere corrupt ( small crime relatively) be hanged. Our administration went out of its way to reason with him, cajole him but to no avail. The last resort is spanking and that will definitely work. I personally guarantee.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Jagjit Singh-Winner all the way

True to his name Jagjit (winner of the world), Jagjit Singh captured the world by his inimitable voice. When he entered into Ghazal Gayaki (singing), Ghazal was a serious business and that too for a limited few. Jagjit Singh entered and shook this world upside down.

Jagjit singh is one of my two top favorite Ghazal singers, the other being Ghulam Ali. No doubt, there are other capable and worthy singers and I like them too but these two are my favorites. Jagjit had that deep, gloomy voice that instantly stirred your soul whereas Ghulam Ali is a master of variations few others can claim.

Personally I was not into Gazals when young. I didn’t know and didn’t like anything beyond film songs. During sixties and early seventies my favorite composers were Madan Mohan and O.P. Nayyar who along with lyricists like Raja Mehdi Ali Khan and others created magic, at least for me. Come late seventies and the first Ghazal of Jagjit I heard was “baat nikalegi to fir door talak jayegi” and there was turmoil inside me. I heard this number again and again and instantly was into Ghazals. Then came his “pyar jo tumne kiya mujse to kya paogi”, “tumko dekha to ye khayal aaya”, “ye daulat bhi lelo ye shohrat bhi lelo,” just to name a few. He captured the Ghazal world like a storm.

I distinctly remember when “ye daulat bhi lelo” came, I was posted in the North and enjoying the life there. This number instantly transported me back to my childhood in Calcutta. True to the emotions in the song, I remembered my childhood days in Bhowanipore where water logging was frequent and we did make paper boats and let them loose in water. Indeed broken toys were our wealth to be guarded with care. Along with depth and gloom there was something in his voice that moved me and I longed to visit Calcutta and particularly Bhowanipore where I was born and brought up and to meet those childhood friends with whom I played and quarreled. I did just that at the first available opportunity. I saw my old school, my old house (now occupied by others), the streets and by lanes where I played, with new eyesight. Alas almost all friends were scattered.

Jagjit Singh not only sung, he sculptured, crafted the songs during those sixties and seventies. Within a very short span I was deep into Ghazals and forgot all about film songs. That was Jagjit Singh for you.

There are, as I mentioned earlier, other great singers. But you can find similar voices or near identical voices of these singers. I doubt if we can find one anywhere near Jagjit’s for quite a time.

Jagjit Singh was the one and only one.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Musings-Advantage Bachelor

Ratan Tata, in his life so far, fell in love four times and in serious love at that, and came close to marriage. “I came seriously close to getting married and I guess I backed off in fear” is what he said on CNN Talk Asia Program. If Mr. Tata had married the first lucky woman he fell in love with, would he have fallen in love with the second woman, and the third and the fourth? It is a mystery even Tata himself cannot solve. But he is a sensible, smart and lucky person. It is not for nothing that he is Ratan Tata. Even in the heavenly bliss of love, he looked around carefully, observed us ordinary mortals having tough time in our married lives, didn’t like what he saw and decided (wisely) not to take the plunge. Most of us wish we had that sense and will power. But we are not Ratan Tata.

In contrast, take the case of Bagun Sambrai, a tribal politician who has over a dozen wives. Sambrai says Lord Krishna is his inspiration and intends to carry on his good work, brave man that, Sambrai. May he succeed in his divine mission and rot in hell.

Then there is Mangani Lal Mondal, an MP of JD (U) who declared in court that he does not remember how many wives he has. Mondal appears to be one confused person, suffers from loss of memory or perhaps he is sly. But to me, it seems he wants to forget the miseries of having so many wives.

Bagun Sambrai may boast of being a follower of Lord Krishna and Mondal may apparently want to forget the number his wives, but I am sure both of them and others like them, must be envious of Mr. Tata and wish they had that wisdom. Instead of taking inspiration from Lord Krishna, they wish they had that foresight of Mr. Tata. Though married only once, I for one wish I had that wisdom.