Friday, September 25, 2009

Thoughts-Born free

By the time I was growing from a boy to a man, I was known as devil around our house hold. Later still, I was labeled dare devil among friends and relatives, during my high school and college days. But it was not always so. When I was small, I had no courage. I was scared of every thing. I used to tag around my mother. In my early school days, my school mates bullied me. In the play ground where we usually played after school in the evening, other boys harassed me and often threw me out when they did not want me to play. I tolerated every thing silently. Ashamed, I never talked about this in my house fearing rebuke from my brother, who was really brave.
One incident changed me completely. Once I was beatenn by three boys in the park. I was playing in the play ground known as Northern Park with a few Gujarati (Guju) boys. A group of Bengali boys came there and wanted us to vacate the corner pitch where we were playing and ordered us to move elsewhere. All were regulars there from near by houses and everyone knew everyone else. An argument followed and one of the boys said something nasty. Though scared, I protested and asked the boy to mind his language. Three boys set me up. There was no question of fighting back. I didn’t have that courage and they knew it. I was beaten badly. My friends just watched from a safe distance.
When my brother came home, he saw my swollen and bruised face. When he asked what happened, I started crying and told him about the incident in the park and about the other small incidents in school. All my pent up frustration came out and I was sobbing wildly. I expected him to teach a lesson to those boys, as some times he had done in the past. Instead, he let me cry and after a while told me to come to his room.
When I went to his room, he closed the door. Suddenly, he came near me and boxed me hard in the stomach. As I began to double up, he hit me on my mouth with his elbow. In a second, I was lying on the floor, stunned and humiliated. He asked me to get up and offered his hand. As I got up, he shouldered me hard sending me reeling against the wall. I was in pain all over. I had never taken such beating.
When I was a bit normal, he asked me in his usual mild tone: ‘Tell me, which beating hurt you more. Those three boys’ or mine? Which of the two was more severe and hard to take?’ I told him that though I was beaten by those boys, I had never taken anything like what he gave me.
He became a loving brother again and started to talk in his soothing manner. I still remember his words: ‘Look here, when I beat you, you are at a disadvantage. I am your elder brother, so you can’t hit me back. Out there in the park, you had no such scruples.

You were free to hit back. When a sudden fight erupts, specially among children, the blows you get are haphazard and can’t hurt you much. You took my beating. It won’t hurt you more then this. If you fight back and even if you give them your one against their three, in future they will remember that you fight back. It is all in mind, not in the body. Remember that. So next time it happens, just fight back. Then I will take care of those boys.’
I was excited and breathing hard. I was already thinking that if this was all it hurts, I could fight back. My brother understood and told me not to go about finding those boys and to pick up a fight. Only if it happened again, I was to remember his beating and to fight back. But I could not hold myself back. It was a kind of a freedom. As soon as he was out of sight, I ran back to the park. One of those three boys was sitting alone on a bench. Before he could move, I was on him. I beat him black and blue. He didn’t fight back, not because he couldn’t but he was taken by surprise as he never expected this from me. I gave him all I had and he just took my beating. I felt elated. More then anything, I felt free.
There after, I used to pick fights in school and playgrounds and sometimes I too got beaten, but I was not scared anymore of anyone and there was a feeling of freedom.
Complaints regarding my fights kept pouring in to my father and he used to punish me. I didn’t mind because i was FREE.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Musings-Harsha Bhogle's clone

A few days back, I was out to buy some milk in the morning on Link Road. It was still a little dark as it was early morning yet. There was a tea vendor on one side corner of the four road crossing. Two persons were standing on one side of the tea stall. One gentleman was leafing through a newspaper. His companion was enjoying his early morning tea. Of the two, it was the man leafing through the newspaper that caught my attention. He appeared to be a familiar figure, but I could not recognize him. On the other side of the stall were some young boys and girls, just out from their night duty in call centers, having their first tea of the day. This, of course, was a familiar sight every morning.

The boys and girls were looking and pointing towards the man with newspaper. They were whispering among themselves something about that man. I was on the opposite side of the street and from his diagonal side posture I too thought that the man was familiar. It was apparent from his uneasiness and awkward behavior, that he was aware of the attention he was drawing. Still, I could not place him. He must have faced similar situations in the past. Presently, he could not contain himself any longer for suddenly he turned his face towards the youngsters’ group and told them: “Arey… mi te nai re baba, kashala time khoti kartos….” ( I am not that man, why are you wasting your time…).

I saw his full face now and instantly recognized him- Harsha Bhogle- the famous cricket commentator. Same face, same height, same specs, same broad forehead, same profile….ditto Harsha. No wonder, the young group was exited. Hello, but what was Harsha Bhogle doing here?

Common sense, of course, told me that that it cannot be Harsha. The night bag on his shoulder along with his companion’s told me that both were also call center employees, like those youngsters. That explained their presence there so early in the morning. But, the similarity with Harsha Bhogle was so striking that, but for his outburst to the young group, anybody would have taken him for Harsha, as that group and I did. The similarity was so striking. Nature, it seems, sometimes plays funny tricks to fool us.

“Harsha, be aware, your clone is here in Mumbai itself somewhere.”

In lighter vain, if ever the need arises, Harsha can be at two places at the same time. A unique feat indeed.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Humor thoughts-Disastrous romance

The year was 1960 in Calcutta. We had just shifted residence from our modest Hazra road flat to a relatively posh three bedroom apartment in Camac street. I was sixteen years old then. There was one South Indian family, Nathans , from Madras, in our adjacent building. My sister-in-law (bhabhi), though Gujarati, could fluently speak their language as she was born and brought up in Madras. Nathans had two daughters, Devi and Vatsala. They came to know about us, particularly my sister-in-law through common servants, and one day Vatsala, the younger one, came to our place to get acquainted with my sister-in-law. They started chatting in that bullet fast language, which none of us could understand and soon became close friends, though there was a gap of ten years in their age.

Vatsala was a plump, bubbly girl, quite attractive, of my age, tall, almost my height. She soon became favourite of our entire household. Even my father, who was normally a serious person and spoke little, chatted with her. She had that vibrancy. My sister-in-law and Vatsala started sending special dishes to each other, once or twice a week. Because of her, the two families mingled occasionally, but Vatsala was a daily visitor to our house, sometimes more then once. I was on hi-hello terms with her. Eventually, my sister-in-law became so fond of her that she started efforts to bring us closer. I played the mouthorgan reasonably well and at times she asked me to play a particular song of her liking. On one pretext or the other, like studies, cinema or music, my sister-in-law saw to it that we chatted more and more, and that I began to like her. Though at that time, I liked another girl in my class, I got attracted to Vatsala, may be because of our proximity and of course, efforts of my sister-in-law. Moreover, I didn’t have courage to speak to that girl in my class anyway, and never knew how she felt for me, not even now.

After a year or so, one day, my sister-in-law told me that she will speak to my brother and father about Vatsala and me when the time was right and that caste and other things will be no bar. It seemed possible because everybody in my family liked her, knew about us and silently approved. Or so I thought. I was on cloud nine, happy and content. And then the disaster struck.

Vatsala was very fond of cooking and invariably brought us South Indian dishes which we all relished. Encouraged, she once prepared Gulab Jamuns (Indian sweet), and came to our place with a bowl full. The sight of the round sweets, piping hot, beet- root red, the size of small oranges was tempting, to say the least. She declared that she had brought Gulab Jamuns for every one, but she had prepared them specially for me. Every one cheered. I felt ten feet tall. She came to me first and ordered me to open my mouth. I obeyed and she put one sweet in my mouth. What happened next was a nightmare. The next instant, the sweet came out with my spittle and a little puke all over her hand, and I started retching.

It so happened that Vatsala had cooked these sweets in coconut oil and the one thing I can’t stand is the smell of coconut oil, let alone eat something cooked in it. Every body in my house knew it but nobody had any occasion or reason to tell her about it. The deed was done. I rushed to the washroom, cleaned and brushed my mouth and teeth. I came out embarrassed and weakly apologized to her. She accepted the apology gracefully. Meanwhile, she had cleaned her hands and everyone else in the family ate those sweets and appreciated them. Even my elder sister, who was (and is) considered a wizard in cookery, liked them. But the magic of the moment was gone. Both of us felt embarrassed and after awhile she left.

Vatsala continued with her daily visits to our house but now she tried to come when I was not there. And even if I was, we were back to square one, to our earlier cordial terms.. The romance and thrill were over.

I thought: “Will I have to eat food cooked in the blasted coconut oil? And God forbid, will she wear coconut oil in her hair and come near me? Not done, most certainly not.”

She must have thought: “Doesn’t like coconut oil? God’s own oil? What kind of a creature is he? No way, I can spend my days with him.”

I don’t blame her. The romance was over even before it started properly. More then me, my sister-in-law was shattered. I was back to dreaming about that girl in my class.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Thoughts-My Life

Life has strange ways of coming back to you. I am sixty five now, retired for the past several years. I have plenty of time in my hands to do - or not to do – anything I feel like. My son, my daughter- in – law and my wife look after me very well. They give me plenty of space. I am suffering from severe arthritis for the past few years and my movements are restricted to our building’s compound. This luxury of time and the leisure has given me time to look back, introspect and think about my life of sixty five years.

It is funny, but incidents which felt like sad or awkward then, seem amusing or trivial now. Some prestige issues then now seem most unimportant and I feel like laughing at my foolishness at that time. Looking back, life has been good and bad, fun and gloom, happy and sad, high and low, humorous and serious, with good relationships and bad relationships, urgent and relaxed, at times long and at times short, all rolled into one. There are many incidents in which, I feel, I would not have reacted now like I did then. But, looking back, on the whole, life has been great, in spite of its very many limitations and setbacks.

I often remember these incidents – right from my childhood – but not exactly in the sequence they occurred. Sometimes, when on a holiday or a rainy Sunday, I talk about these incidents and happenings with my family, my son suggests : “You have had quite a colourful life, why don’t you write? “

I had never thought of writing. I have quite a few hobbies though – reading, listening to music (light classical and Ghazals), occasional drinking, to name a few. I am fond of collecting miniature liquor and wine bottles. It’s a different matter that I have not been able to collect many. I am also good at, I believe, keeping a group of friends amused by my talks. But writing? Never thought about it. On the other hand, Why not?

I am going to share a few funny and a few not so funny incidents, not in the sequence they occurred, but in the order I remember them. Let’s try.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Musings-Operation smoke

As far back as I can remember, I was addicted to having betel leaves laced with tobacco from a very early age. When I got married, my wife was aware of my habit. She did not like it, but never let me know of her dislike. She had probably decided to make me stop having betel leaves (pan), once we got married. Not aware of her plans, I happily plunged into the marital bliss. After a couple of months of our marriage, she started hinting me to try cigarettes. She never mentioned anything about my not having betel leaves. Those were the happy times when people were not yet conscious of “Tobacco-smoking is injurious to health.” as they are today.
Being a Bengali, my wife, born in the era of legendary actors like Uttam Kumar & Co., who would ligh up fags at the drop of a hat, considered it hip. Youngsters were taken to smoking in a big way. In her own circle, her brother and her friends’ husbands all smoked. Nobody consumed betel leaves. My wife also liked me to have a fag or two. She probably thought, once I was on to fags, I would automatically stop taking betel leaves, or at least, it would be easier to make me stop taking them. Not that I was averse to smoking. Occasionally, say two three times a year, when I had occasion to meet an old school friend and if he offered a stick, I would happily indulge. But my true love remained betel leaves, then and now.
So, she seriously set about the task of first make me smoke and then make me stop taking betel leaves. She insisted that smoking was manly. All of a sudden I was offered cigarettes by her brother and other relatives whenever we met. My wife cannot say I did not try. I was sporting enough to accept the offered fags. I reciprocated by offering them betel leaves. After a while I was caught on to both the things. Not only that, her brother and some other people who were trying to change my habit, caught on to betel leaves. Their spouses started to blame my wife.
Now worried, she set about the task of making me stop smoking. Luck was on her side. Suddenly, it was “smoking is injurious to health” era and the new awareness was all over the place..She said I must stop smoking. I did.
I happily continued with my good old betel leaves. “MISSION SMOKE” failed, miserably.