Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Another Day in Paradise

Christmas time is one of happiness and joy, one of smiles and celebrations. And one of cold snowy winter as well. Three days to go before Christmas, the city was in a festive and joyous mood. That snowy night, I found myself walking on the pavement draped in all sorts of winter wear I could lay my hands on. I was missing my wife quite a bit, she had to go out of town for a conference and would be back only on New Year’s Eve. The late-night walks and a midnight coffee with her would’ve been just what the doctor ordered, if you ask me.

Yet there I was alone among a sea of humanity, with an all-professional visage in a surrounding filled with holiday cheer and festivities. Somewhere afar, I heard the hum of a cathedral bell chime ten. Even at this hour, there were a lot of people outside, quite a sizeable chunk of them with children, throwing snowballs at each other. I was immune to the celebrations around me, as I watched the setting dispassionately.

I slowly made my way across the street to a café. Like all other shops in the vicinity, the café too was decorated with Christmas trees and decorations hanging from the walls. There was a decent sized crowd in the café, most of them clutching their cups of piping lattes and hot chocolates taking in the vacation spirit and engaged in lively conversations. Just as I was about to push open the door, my eyes darted to the side. And there, I found him, yet another homeless man in this city of dreams. He had a blanket which he had draped across his body, and a tattered pair of shoes which, I wondered, did much to protect his feet from the wintry chill. He was not much different from the thousands of others whom I’ve seen on the streets over the course of years, but I shouldn’t generalize or trivialize this human being. This was not a number I could add up if I were counting the number of such individuals I had come across on the streets, this was a human being with life and blood.

Even he seemed to embrace the mood of the occasion. He was smiling, or more accurately, that’s what I read from the spread-out lips with hardly anything resembling teeth inside his mouth. Despite the cold, it seemed, he was bent on giving his life the few hours of joy and liveliness he rarely could afford. As I pushed open the door and stepped into the café, his face and his smile, somehow, had affected me. Something all of the life and energy around me in the past few hours could not do, a look at his face for a few seconds did for me. For the first time that evening, I found myself smiling.

I was still sporting my smile when I went up to the very cheerful barista at the counter.

“I’ll take a tall latte” I said.

As she was about to bill my latte, I corrected myself.

“Actually, make that two lattes. And I’ll add a couple of scones to that order as well.”

A few minutes later, I exited the café sipping my latte and holding the other latte and scones in my free hand. And I bent down in front of the man in front of the café and put down the latte in front of him and handed him the scones.

“Merry Christmas to you my dear man,” I said.

“You too, sir. Oh, thank you so very much for these. May God bless you!”

I smiled and stood up. As I slowly started to walk away in the direction of my apartment, I heard him say, “You’ve fed a hungry soul sir. That’s another day for you in paradise.”

The title is inspired by a song of the same name by Phil Collins. You can watch the song here and the lyrics can be found here.

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Krishna Conspiracy

Scene 1
Battlefield of Kurukshetra

The great battle of Kurukshetra is all set to begin. Arjuna makes his way to the middle of the battle field on his chariot with Krishna as his charioteer. Seeing all of his relatives on the other side of the battlefield, Arjuna becomes depressed and is confused if fighting them is indeed the right thing to do.
Arjuna tells Krishna, “Over the other side, I see Drona. He is my guru, the great warrior, he has taught me all I know about warfare. Next to him is Bhishma. His love and wisdom lies within myself, within my heart and my soul. How can I fight people who have helped me become what I am today?”
Krishna tells him about his dharma. Arjuna is still not convinced.
Then Krishna tells Arjuna. “Alright mate. You don’t want to fight, fine? You don’t care about adharma triumphing over dharma, fine. How about this, I’ll keep a condition for you. Go to an engineering college in India, complete four years of baccalaureate degree course. If you think you can do that, then forget Mahabharata, forget the kingdom you are rightfully supposed to inherit which you have been unethically denied. If you can complete that four year course successfully in due time, I’ll agree to your points of view and I’ll steer your retreat from this great Kurukshetra.”
Arjuna thought about the moral dilemma confronting him and decided that it would be much easier to go to an engineering college and earn a degree than to face his own relatives in a battlefield.

Scene 2
Entrance examination center

A puzzled expression dons the visage of Arjuna as he stands in queue before the mandatory frisking before the beginning of the engineering entrance examination. His face certainly belies his state of mind. He had come in his royale attire, donning the gold jerried dhoti and his customary bow-and-arrow.  He is puzzled that he is quite an object of attention of the entire chunk of young men and women around him. Arjuna was quite used to looks of admiration and obedience he used to get from his subjects but the looks he was getting now was none of that. None of them are wearing dresses that Arjuna could comprehend. And he was surprised he had to stand in queue, waiting for his turn. Back in Kuru kingdom, he was always privileged to skipping ahead of queues but people did not seem to recognize him. So he stood, in that sweltering heat wondering if he had indeed made the right decision.
The queue inched forward slowly till Arjuna finds himself standing in front of a gruff security officer. As soon as he set his eyes on him, the security officer unleashed a torrent of gaalis Arjuna had never even heard prior! His confusion is momentarily cleared when the officer shows him a memo from the examination board. It read, “Don’t bring any device or anything along with you which can create trouble for you better to avoid things like hair band, cap and scarp, nose pins, bracelet, earrings, bow and arrows, watches and mobile phones.” Silently, Arjuna hands over his bow and the quiver of arrows to the officer who then pushes him to another officer. He thrusts the same piece of memo in front of Arjuna, a different statement is highlighted. “As per the new rules the candidates are advised to wear light clothes shirts and T-shirts having half sleeves which do not have big buttons, generally avoid wearing fancy type clothes.” Arjuna, clad in his dhoti and not wearing anything equivalent to the modern day shirt or T shirt, is again left in the lurch. He silently curses Kali Yuga as he makes his way to the nearest garment store to find something that fits the requirements for appearing in the entrance examination. He made a mental note to ask Krishna next time, whatever the challenge, do not send him to undertake a task in Kali Yuga….

Scene 3

Arjuna stands with pride in front of the gates of the engineering institute into which he got admitted into. Though the feat of appearing for the entrance examination seemed much tougher to Arjuna than clearing the examination itself, he is nonetheless proud of himself and is looking forward to show Krishna and the other Pandavas his entrance examination results card when he returns. Focusing on the task at hand, he pushes open the gates only to find a huge mob of youngsters charging towards him. “Good God,” he thinks, “This seems it is much more of a battlefield here than Kurukshetra itself.” As the mob appears closer to him, the faces of the individuals on the frontline belie their state of mind. If he had his bow and arrow, Arjuna could have taken down however large a mob with his arrows but he felt naked now without his bow. That darn flight journey to college, they didn’t allow weapons to be carried on the flight, he had to check those in with his check in baggage and in the true spirit of Kali Yuga, the airlines had misplaced his checked in bags. Arjuna was helpless and didn’t have Krishna to turn for advice. However, his survival instincts told him that the best way out in this predicament was to turn around and run as fast as he could. He attempted to do just that but he was a moment too late. The leader of the mob caught him quite effortlessly.
“Who are you?” he barked.
“I came to join this college for first year engineering,” a tame Arjuna replied.
Huge guffaws accompanied Arjuna’s answer. “Do you know who we are?” quizzed the leader of the mob.
“No, I don’t.”
Slap! Before Arjuna could react, a hand had reached up and slapped his cheek. “We are your seniors. From now on, you are our junior. And all juniors are our slaves.”
And thus began Arjuna’s life at an engineering college. He would be in the middle of completing his engineering drawing assignment due to be submitted tomorrow when he would get that dreaded call from a senior to withdraw money from the ATM. As per Murphy’s law (he realized that Mr. Murphy had simply renamed Kali Yuga after him, he planned to write a thesis about Mr. Murphy copying from India’s religious heritage sometime during the course of his degree), the nearest ATM would be out of cash and he often ended up travelling to the other end of the city to find an ATM that had enough cash. A day before the mid-term examination is when his seniors would feel the need to have their rooms cleaned before they started preparing for his exams and Arjuna was called upon for doing the cleansing. Arjuna’s number seemed to be on speed dial for all concerned. When any of the seniors ran out of money to pay the dhobi to wash the clothes, it was upon Arjuna to wash their clothes till their accounts were refilled by their parents the next month. Buying alcohol (absolutely against his beliefs, mind you!) or a smoke in the middle of the night, standing in queue bunking classes to reserve railway tickets for seniors, you name a menial task, Arjuna had done that in his first three months. The icings on the cake were when he went to a driving school, learnt driving a four wheeler and appeared and passed a driving test as a proxy for one of his seniors who was too lazy to do all that.
Among all this, he had to manage studies as well. Although in terms of time and effort committed, studies lagged far behind multitude of other commitments (most happening of which are afore-mentioned), he managed to push along his coursework as well. He used to get so many redraws and repeats on his engineering drawing assignment that he strongly came to believe that his instructor of that subject was a descendant of the Kaurava clan. Engineering workshop was another highlight of the first semester. The T-joint which he had made as a part of his carpentry assignment, an elephant could pass through the wedge hole. Mathematics and Physics were all about derivatives and integrals. It started with first level derivatives and integrals but by second semester they had gone to double differentiation and surface integration. It seemed that every semester added one additional level of integration and differentiation, he shuddered at the very thought of what awaited him at the seventh and eighth semesters. After he added water to a huge beaker of sulphuric acid, there was a mini explosion of sorts in the Chemistry lab and he was given a damages bill that to him, didn’t seem much different from the semester fee bill. And to top it all, after a tiring day of classes and labs when he came back to the mess, they served him two rotis and a dal which had cooked of a healthy proportion of a dozen grams of dal in a liter of water or so. Staring into his katori of dal, which, if it was a lucky day, would contain couple of dozens of pieces dal, he reminisced about the royal food he used to get when he was with his siblings.

Scene 4
Battlefield of Kurukshetra

As in the first scene, Arjuna is sitting on the chariot behind Krishna. He has a sullen look on his face. Krishna smiles and asks Arjuna, “So, were you able to get the degree? Should I turn the chariot around?” Arjuna looks up to Krishna and says, “My Lord, please don’t taunt me. I confess I underestimated the challenge you threw upon me. I thought that it would have been much easier to get the engineering degree and that would have avoided the predicament wherein I would have had to face my uncles and relatives in this epic battle. But now, I realize, getting an engineering degree in Kali Yuga is much more impossible than fighting and winning this battle. Now I do not have an iota of doubt in my role in this world. Steer the chariot straight ahead my Lord. Let’s go get ‘em.”
And Krishna turned forward and the horses galloped to the center of the battlefield. And the rest, as they say, is history….

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Light At The End of a Tunnel

As the darkness envelops all around me,
a darkness so blinding,
I close my eyes.
A silence so loud,
I find my hands wrapped around my ears.
A pace so frightening
I shut off my senses.
And wait for a new dawn,
A fresh lease of life.

I tell myself,
this is a phase of life.
This is a phase of life,
like any other.
And this too will pass,
like any other.
For as the shamans say,
bright light cometh
at the end of any tunnel.

Slowly I free my ears
from the wrath of my hands.
I can hear chatter.
Yes, chatter it is.
I force my eyelids open,
I see rays of light in a sea of darkness.
I am not alone, in this dark dark world.
There are little kids,
the stage of life where darkness has no meaning,
where the shades of life are brighter than the brightest.
There are old men,
the stage of life where one looks back and sighs
and claims there is no more brightness in life anymore.
Where do I fall
I do not know.
Maybe, I do not wish to know.

And then, right then,
Just when my thoughts seem to convulse around me,
is when my train,
the vehicle in my sojourn,
rips across the darkness,
and emerges out the dark tunnel
into the brightness of the day.
I was right,
there was indeed,
bright light cometh the end of the tunnel.