Band 7 point something

 

IMG_1748Simran Kaur, a chubby eighteen year, was making the last minute polishing of her listening skills as she jot down points of the anglicised lecture that is streaming through her earphones.  She is desperate to clock an overall Band score of anything between 7 and 7.5, which is eluding her in the last two attempts, to secure a seat for a two year random diploma course in a Canadian university.  A decent score card in International English Language Testing System or, IELTS in short, is the passport for thousands of youngsters like Simran who see a future only in countries like Australia, New Zealand and Canada and a foreign university course is a well crafted route to move, study, work and finally settle in developed countries.  And of the four skills in English language proficiency that this exam tests a student, Listening has been the one that Simran is finding hard to crack…having only listened to Punjabi throughout her school days… But this time around, she is exceedingly confident as she enters the sound proof chamber of the designated examiner.

Preparing for IELTS is now an obsession among almost all who have crossed seventeen and the size of the coaching business, maybe, is next only to the famed textile industry of Punjab. From farmhouses to havelis, from posh offices in swanky malls to scrambled rooms in shanty buildings, IELTS coaching centres have occupied every conceivable space in the state…across cities, towns and also in the ‘Pind’, the village. And the hoardings that call-out students to enrol to these centres evenly dot the skyline, pop-up in the middle of the fields and also are in display on the rear of most public transports. As you travel through the cities and hinterlands of the state, there is no way you can miss the import of this exam, both for the economy of the state as well as for the future of its youth.

IMG_1749A parent typically spends about Rs. 40.00 lacs on his straight-out-of-the-school child’s two year course in one of these foreign universities.   This amount is not just an investment to his education but also an insurance premium that guarantees a good life for him beyond the campus. As soon as he gets into the university, the student scouts for and gets odd jobs that give him the money to meet his immediate needs and the two-year period is spent as much to get acquainted to the work life of the country as it is to acquire the degree. Once out of college, work permit becomes the next goal to be achieved and after a period of struggle, everyone manages to get it and enter into a life that would remain a dream back home. Green card, PR and citizenship, all follow one after the other and before long, one slips into the ease and comfort of the adopted country. It is estimated that, from Punjab alone, there is an annual outgo of Rs. 40,000 crores to foreign universities to acquire these  degrees/diplomas. 

While it is desirable and even admirable that our children take foreign degrees and work there, once it becomes an unending exodus of the prime resource of the society, its youth, the impact it leaves on the state is indeed catastrophic. The young population is becoming scantier with each passing year and the one that are passing out of the schools have their eyes set on foreign soils. When the working population is fast ageing and there isn’t enough young people to take up their positions, the consequence of it is all too glaring…unattended fields, fast vanishing social life and mushrooming number of old age homes. Empty malls, vacant theatres & shopping arcades and cities fast losing its usual hustle and bustle…. the symptoms are all too evident to ignore.  And there isn’t yet a sign to stem the tide or to bring back the qualified.

Meanwhile, Simran is done with her IELTS exam and is in all smiles. This time, she is sure to score a Band of 8 plus!!!

And it’s now time to celebrate…. with बैंड बाजा!

Yours

Narayanan

August 25, 2019 at 4:13 pm 4 comments

An Eulogy for Viju – Our Pet

The velvety skin, flush with radiant golden-hue fur stretching till the tail end, is an irresistible invitation to caress and to cuddle him. The rounded brownish nose, sitting pretty on the pouted mouth, transfix the onlooker by the sheer perfection of its geometry.  The two eyes are beaming search lights that are eloquently expressive while its graceful glances convey unfathomable affection.  The ears that droop on the sides are ornamental drapes fit only for the most regal and the central mark on the forehead is a natural crest jewel of immense beauty. Chiselled to perfection and flawlessly symmetrical, the paws resemble the artwork of a seasoned craftsman that affords the canine a look, most majestic. On the whole, Viju , our pet doggie, was  at once handsome and adorable.

When the physical charm is captivating, his actions and activities are equally mesmerising. With a horse-like gallop and a quick pace to match it, the strides Viju makes are rapid and rhythmical, inspiring awe and instilling admiration. Endowed with athletic power and agility, every morning stroll with him is a cardio session that makes gym a passé.  And with a vocal tone that is pure timber, each bark of his resonates and echoes, that is so distinctively Viju. His friendly demeanour attracts every kid in the colony and is their willing playmate and his popularity among them is vouched by the young visitors he gets every day.

While his outdoor conduct is endearing to all, his behaviour in-house is exemplary.  Habits of food and leisure, of playfulness and mischief, are so well measured and timed that it never fails to engage and entertain and seldom exceed the limits set.   Such were the pristine virtues of our dear Viju that when he breathed last this Tuesday, our lives were broken and stood altered.

It’s said that persons come to your lives because of some past connect and there is a purpose in each relationship. And I am now tempted to believe that there is even a greater purpose in pets coming to our lives as the impact they leave on us are so overwhelming that  you no longer is the person you used to be before they came into your life.  And on the flip side, they leave behind such a huge void, which, I suspect, even time would fail to fill. But then, that is life… an enduring pain in every relationship.

Thank you Viju for coming into our lives and enriching it…We are blessed of our lives because we shared a part of it with you.

Rest in Peace.

Narayanan

August 11, 2019 at 2:20 am 5 comments

Election in a bye-gone era

When Ramunni Master campaigned for the elections in my parliamentary constituency way back in the 80s, he never asked the people to vote for him. He would rather, tell the electorate why they should not vote for his opponent, Prof. Achudhanandan, a popular columnist, an electrifying orator and above all, a distinguished professor of Physics in one of the prestigious universities of Kerala. If Achudhanandan goes to Parliament, Ramunni Master would argue, the citizens would be deprived of their regular Sunday treat of listening to the professor in the local town hall. With masterly dialectical reasoning that is delivered with the prowess of a flawless language, Prof. Achudhanandan would intellectually dissect the most contentious social and cultural issues of the times and, with wit, sarcasm and political pun would rip into the idiosyncrasies of his opponents, week after week. And to lose a professor who has, time and again, produced many of the country’s finest scientific minds, Ramunni would remind his audience, is a direct disservice to the younger generation. And if all these are not good enough reasons to keep the professor away from parliament, a compassionate Ramunni would ask the citizens to at least show some concern for his health which is not fit enough to withstand the extreme cold and heat of Delhi and would thus insist to desist from voting for him.

When Ramunni asks the voters not to vote for his opponent, professor would in turn, ask them sarcastically, why they should vote for Ramunni, and for good reasons. With his well-known trait of mixing up facts and figures, Ramunni would add the much needed laughter to our otherwise humour starved parliament, professor asserted. “When once asked to Ramunni why the Malayali nurses are coming back from the gulf in large numbers”, professor informs the audience with a smirk that is hardly concealed “the answer of our Master was that the mothers-in-law in Kerala want to be nursed by their nurse daughters-in-law!”. “ And to a reporter’s query whether Kerala should demand for nuclear plant, he resorted “ yes, yes…such trees are good for our state’s climate!”.  And this grip of Ramunni over the English language is only matched with his abundant skills in “ Kalari Payyatu” and a huge lung power to go with it…which, the Professor felt, would make Ramunni a great ambassador of both the martial art and the renowned art of sloganeering of the state, which would be in ample display in the portals of parliament.

While the candidates demonstrated great ingenuity in the styles of their campaigns, the participation of their supporters in the entire election process showcased an amazing degree of variety and distinctiveness. When one set of supporters organised street plays to drive home a political message, other one converted a huge wall into a canvas for political graffiti… and the entire city wore a festive look. Parodies of hit film numbers that spared none in the political hierarchy, marches in party uniforms to the tunes of bands, caparisoned pachyderms mounted with party symbols and flags to the  accompaniments of traditional Panchavadyams ( set of five musical instruments)…. the list of colourful cavalcades is long and mesmerizing.  And when the season is one of celebration and mass bonhomie, it also afforded the young and the stylish to flaunt themselves in their fineries, a beauty pageantry of sorts. In this magnificent Mela of sound, music, dance and theatre, a panoramic view of that gigantic democratic process, wherein the voice of every citizen echoed its august presence, was in display in all its grandeur… filling every heart with pride for a young nation and ushering in hope to an assured future.

The day of the polling started early with long and winding queues dotting across the booths… with the young, the old and the infirm… all lined up with keenness to exercise their franchise. Voters were ferried to and fro by fellow citizens and the party enthusiasts kept themselves busy explaining how to mark our preference in the ballot paper and how important it is not to waste a single vote. And everybody listened and agreed. The occasion was serious and solemn and all took it that way, a date with the Indian democracy.

When the results were declared, the winner and the vanquished, both rejoiced and hugged each other and wished well to one another accepting the verdict of their master, “The People”.  And the people celebrated the victory of the democracy… because every vote counted.

Yours

Narayanan

February 25, 2019 at 12:05 am Leave a comment

Follow the sequence

After a hectic week of work overload, my wife was lazing last Sunday without attending to her routine morning chores, meaning, disinterested to prepare her usual mesmerizing breakfast for the three of us.  A considerate husband that I am, I offered my services to fix a quick meal and suggested to dish out “Upma”, a semi-solid savory, which when properly prepared is at once tasty and wholesome.  My wife quickly accepted the gesture, not because she had any great faith in my culinary skills but honestly believed that the recipe would keep the pangs of hunger at bay till lunch time, a reasonable enough duration for her to shake off the fatigue and drape the apron again.

I, at once, set out to the task of churning out the Upma….cut the vegetables, smashed the coriander and other spicy essentials and placed the pan on fire, half filled with water. Stirring steadily the boiling water with all the ingredients in it, I poured down the Semolina (Sooji), the base material, leaving the salt to be added at the end of the process.  As the mixture bubbled up and transformed into a more solid state, a lavish dose of ghee was splashed over the hot concoction, the aroma emanating from which, drew my wife to the kitchen. When I reached out to the salt bottle, my wife opened her mouth aghast. She at once was furious that I have not sprinkled the sodium when the water was still boiling.  I tried to reason with her that it can always be added to taste at the end and that the sequence doesn’t really matter.  And I was terribly wrong!  How much ever I tried to mix the cooked stuff with salt, it refused to spread evenly, leaving a small portion heavily salted and the larger one, bland and tasteless. On the whole, my tryst with cookery that day ended in unbridled disaster with even my pet doggie, who otherwise instinctively obeys all my instructions, just refusing to even sniff the stuff, served to him warm and with much generosity.

It is only then that the importance of the correct sequence dawned on me with much force and it is just not confined to order of a recipe preparation. In the usage of the language, a jumbled up sequence of letters could make the “sacred words on the shore” a “scared sword on the horse” and a “tender heart” could become a “rented hater”. And if you mix up the order of your dressing, it could spell more catastrophic than the wardrobe malfunction…the shirt would precede the vest and you may well end up wearing the underwear over the pants, a ‘la Spiderman!!!  Correct sequencing, both in matters of words uttered and attire worn are of paramount importance, to sound sensible and to look human.

And while dealing with the machines, sequence would well mean a choice between task well accomplished or a disaster invited.  I cannot, while driving, change the gear before pressing the clutch nor can stamp the accelerator without releasing the break. And to follow a set of instructions in a preset order, a Standard Operating Procedure is critical and non-negotiable in almost all arenas of human enterprise- be it in aviation, in medical care or in developing software.

The nature too adheres to a well set order and it is repeated with clock like precision. The chirping of the birds precede the sunrise, thunder follows lightning and the trees shedding their leaves proclaim the advent of winter.  Flowers blossom when the bees hum, fishes multiply just after the rains and frogs croak in anticipation of the monsoon. There is enchanting beauty in this well orchestrated symphony, a flawless rhythm of sequence and a profound melody of orderliness.

Just as in nature, human societies too are preserved and nurtured by a strict compliance to order and our well-being and progress is guaranteed only when sequence become sacrosanct. Early years are dedicated to education while the middle life is spent in acquiring wealth and in supporting the family. The years for reflection and counsel are reserved for the later part of the life when one is looked upon for guidance and support by the younger generations. Childhood and adolescence are followed by formal wedding and marriage precedes companionship and family life.  This sequence in human life has ensured order and continuity in society, ensuring stability with security, and endow purpose and meaning to our existence.

But sadly today, we find an onslaught on this time tested pattern of our earthy sojourn as orders are recklessly scrambled and social fabric fatally destroyed. “Live-in” is one such fad wherein youngsters live as wedded couples without entering into the vows and commitments of a formal marriage. They seek to enjoy companionship without responsibility and decide on mutual congruity only after a long spell of living together. Paranoid to face life as it comes, they prey for instant gratification rather than for life-long commitment that is based on true love and understanding. Putting the coach before the engine, this behavior destroys the lives of the people involved and eats on the vitals of the society and the social order. A great scourge and a threat to civilization, it is absolutely essential that this tendency is purged to its roots and normal human behavior is strengthened so that generations to come would have a family to fall back to and a culture to be proud of.

Human life is designed to achieve a higher purpose and should not be reduced to a blind game of cards, shuffled at whim. Otherwise, life would be a tasteless waste, much like my botched up Upma!

Yours

Narayanan

January 15, 2019 at 11:49 pm 8 comments

A day@a publishing house

@8.15 AM: Sweta is fast hopping the office stairs to reach her desk on the second floor. “Morning, Sweta!” greeted Rajashree from the right corner workstation just as she was stepping in to her cubicle. Both of them are members of the core team assigned with the task of publishing an English language series and for the past one and half years, they have been working twelve hours a day, six days a week…. After all, there is a deadline to bring out these twenty-four high quality language textbooks which would be the flagship series for the company the coming year.

@9.30 AM: “We need to have a critical writing exercise for this unit to reinforce gender understanding and for the usage of the new vocab that is being introduced here.” Sweta was at her convincing best with her publishing head who is reluctant to go with her on this play “The Bread-Winner.” She had in fact, prepared the outline for the exercise and being a Ph.D. holder herself on Somerset Maugham’s plays, she is more than sure that “The Bread Winner” offers great scope for critical writing tasks. Saraswati, the publishing head, finds Sweta‘s point persuasive and the exercises quite innovative and puts her stamp of approval. Sweta walks out triumphantly, having won a point of view on literary merit!

@11.00 AM: The in-house illustrator, Kaustubh is spreading out his drawings on to the table and the entire editorial team has milled around him to scrutinise each one and pass judgements. This is the fifth time Kaustubh has re-drawn the entire set of eighty-four illustrations that is to feature in book –VIII and has marshalled all his skills to make each of them vibrant with life. “Great job, Kaustubh … this is what we know you are capable of” the publishing head lavished her praise as she flipped though them, one by one. Kaustubh let a sigh of relief for having at last okayed his labour of last two weeks.

@1.30 PM: The sales head calls an urgent meeting of the key editorial staff to bring to their notice the latest CBSE missive on the need to include Indian cultural lessons on English textbooks! They get into a huddle and create a taskforce to plan out the lessons to be included, book by book. The guiding principle for selection of lessons in Indian culture is prepared and circulated and in the next one hour, a grid is ready on the lessons to go in each book!! WoW!!

@3.00 PM: The digital team has prepared their presentation on the animations created based on Augmented Reality. These animated characters create a riot on the screen and dovetailed with the textbooks, they are a great visual aid to the learning process. Each animation is supported with crispy voiceovers and the unique combination of text, sound and visuals gives every child a 360° learning experience that is just hard to replicate. Kudos, the digital team, this is one of its kind, a sure winner, a game changer and the approval for it is instant… the extended round of applause is definitely an indicator.

@5.00 PM: The editorial team has assembled at the first floor to review the progress on the project and there is a palpable tension in the air. The books have to go to press in about three weeks and there are many a loose ends still to be tied. The teacher App support, for which Sharmila is the head, is garbling with technical issues and it is decided to dedicate a full time App developer for the project. The manuscripts for books five and seven are still being fine-tuned and an urgent telecon with the authors is fixed for tomorrow morning. The In-Design pagination team is waiting for the final sets of illustrations and the four cover designs that are short-listed need to be finalised by next Monday. Shoba is assigned with job of coordinating these tasks and ensure compliance by Friday next!

@7.30 PM: A tired Sweta walks into Suchi’s cubicle who is finalising the activity sheets for Book IV. “We are putting everything into these materials so that the children get the best but what if….” Her eyes fell on the worn out NCERT books that is staked on the left side of the table. She lazily picked up one of them and flipped it through and just could not contain her anguish at the sheer variance in the quality of the books she is currently working on and the one she is now looking at.“ This is not done. Hope our labour of love does not go down the drain and in the garb of low-priced books, our children are not denied quality textbooks.” The pain and desperation in her voice is hardly to be missed.
“We will continue to do our good work Sweta, and any number of circulars expounding the merits of these books is no substitute to quality learning materials.” Sweta couldn’t agree more.

Claimer: Characters in the piece are inspired by hardworking publishing professionals and any resemblance to any one in real life is definitely not a coincidence!
Yours
Narayanan

May 25, 2017 at 10:59 pm 11 comments

Telephone-Then and Now

My father worked in a private company that made him travel and be away from home for extended periods of time. Even when he was in town, we would leave home by around 7.30 in the morning and would return back well after the Sun has eclipsed on to the Arabian Sea . All through the day, he would remain totally incommunicado to any of us and we would just presume that everything is fine if we did not call us on the neighbour’s home phone, the only one available in the radius of 1 km. There would be panic if there is a call from father and everybody would fear something drastic has taken place and look for cover. So a phone call was always something to be dreaded for and farther you are from the instrument the merrier you would be. Anyway, the bulky black bomb like thing which we called the telephone was not always a pleasant sight to look at.

But we cannot help feel the wind of technological progress that the country was swept with when at last in the early years of 1990s we got a phone connection in our home.  By this time the static instrument has also gone on a transformation and started appearing in lighter and sleeker dimension and in a slew of attractive colours- red, blue and white. And it was a sparkling white telephone that arrived into our living room and when the lineman, who would install the thing and make it ring, did the first testing call, there was a plethora of emotions all around- from one of awe from my grandmother to a sense of pride in my mother and a hardly surprised excitement in me. The arrival of the telephone was such a landmark event that we decided to throw a party, comprising of vadas, idlis, kesari ( sweet dish) and a steam coffee to all our neighbourhood families  plus an added offer to make one free call to any of their local contacts ( you know you pay heavy to make outstation calls!) Everybody was happy to relish the food and announce it through the free telephone call to their cousins. Since you have long enjoyed the privilege of receiving calls in others telephone, it is only basic decency that you extend the same courtesy to all. No sooner my father announced others to use our home telephone as their very own, the more than willing crowd milled around him to jolt down the telephone number which they could share with all their near and distant relatives  as their new contact number which they could use to reach them 24×7.

 The arrival of the new telephone brought with it the constant presence of one of the many neighbours in our home and at times the living room would be so lively that we could mistake it for a mini amphitheatre. In fact, the calls received by our friends were so regular that we would know who would get a call during a particular hour and that person would arrive fifteen minutes in advance. This, though an infringement into the privacy of our home, nevertheless spared us of the effort needed to run to their home and inform about the call that is on hold for them in our house.  But the bonhomie and the affection that we silently enjoyed in this phone service stayed with us, long after the telephone stopped ringing for the neighbours as they themselves became proud owners of the communication tool.

But the advent of the mobile phone was so over-aching, that it made the telephone look a crude primitive tool useful more as a decorative antique piece than a functional instrument. And the entry of the mobile into every pocket made anyone instantaneously contactable and thus all very important. The grammar of ringtone revealed the personality of the mobile owner while the size and feature of it only served to add up to his social standing. If by any chance, in the year 2000 you did not have a mobile, maybe you were either treated as a recluse or that you owe people lots of money that you would like to remain non-contactable, either ways, not a very attractive situation to be in. Soon the mobile proliferated and became indispensible and with it began an ever increasing number of calls from sundry tele-marketers who think that you could buy whatever they had to sell. Add to this the smses that clog your in-box and you are the most vulnerable person who could be approached by anybody for, well, anything.  And with the mobile, you cannot lie for not attending a call by being away as it is always supposed to be with you and the closer your contact you are expected to take the call in the first ring. Oh, how the mobile has transformed from a technology marvel into a necessary nuisance that the modern man cannot do without, however hard he may try.  

The white telephone in our home stayed with us for over twenty years and each time it went out of order, it was promptly repaired, polished and re-instated. But in the last ten odd years, I would have changed my mobile at least half-a-dozen times and still I am seen as very conservative. My servant has the latest version of the touch-screen iphone while I still fiddle with the buttons to make calls! I never fathomed that I will be judged by the version and price tag of my mobile than anything intangible that people care two hoots about. Oh, let me change my year old handset in a week’s time before it becomes a redundant technology and an eye-soar for my colleagues and friends. Oh my dear mobile, how unfaithful I am to you but believe me, I am not alone in this game of infidelity.

 

Yours

Narayanan

February 26, 2013 at 4:22 pm 2 comments

A day without the internet

Nostalgia is usually referred to the fond memories of quite a distant past in one’s life but in a world where technology and gadgets seem to set the pace and purpose of our lives, I tend to become nostalgic of a very recent past. It was a time when internet was not yet a word found in the dictionary and being “Mobile” was a liberating state, often because of the two-wheeler, that allowed you to hop from one place to another. In that bygone era, I could hum a favourite number to my heart’s content as I enjoyed a cool shower in the bath without being rattled by the out-of- the- tune ring tone of the mobile. I also could drive my car relaxing in the serene pleasant morning weather without being jolted out of my wits by the SMS alerts. While on a holiday, I could enjoy a trek to the remote mountain shrine without having to look for an internet access point to check my official mails and merrily spend on my credit card without being reminded of the burgeoning amount I owe each time I swipe the plastic. Those days seems now to belong to an alien planet but the desire to revisit such a life remains pretty strong.

And when the internet connection at home was not working one Sunday morning, I thought my deep longing for freedom from the virtual world was about to be realised. But by the end of the day, I was in total disarray and disoriented with the lives around me that the very thought of another day without internet access sent shivers down my spine. Because on that fatal Sunday, I could not do the following:

1. The customary Sunday Skype chat: No internet also means a communication break-down with friends and family members who are spread across the globe. With Skype I could video chat with each one of them for hours on end and topics would range from the silliest to the more meaningful ones and none really cared to hang up as no one really paid for the service. And when I was not signed-in on Skype, I had upset a plethora of people that ranged from a niece who wanted to share the picture of her fiancé and get instant approbation from me to my mother who is keen to keep track of the Sunday menu at his son’s home situated some three thousand kilometres away.

2. A presence in the Facebook :  Your earthly existence has no meaning if you do not have a presence on the facebook and if you are not signed-in your fb account, it could trigger a panic reaction among your contacts. From a mild SMS message to trans-continental calls on to the mobile to confirm that nothing has gone untoward, the enquiries that were made to me on that Sunday easily surpassed the entire personal messages that I have so far received in the year. And when your wife and daughter are also vanishing on the fb, you have the added responsibility to assuage the feelings of their anxious friends and it would call for all your convincing skills to rise up to the occasion. I would never again face a scenario thrown up by not being in facebook!

3. Online ticket booking : Sunday is the time when you check-out the best options for your holidays and book the cheapest tickets available before they get dearer or worse still, sold-out. With internet off the air, an opportunity to plan and budget your trip was gravely missed on that Sunday, the last one before the day of departure.  And when your family come to know of your faux pas in making timely arrangement for their holidays, the Sunday could verily turn into a sorrowful day with each one reminding you of their prophetic statements “I told you so”.

4. The online games of the children:  In a house where there are no PlayStation or X-boxes, online gaming are the much sought after recreation, more so on a Sunday.  And when there is an insurmountable road-block to fulfil such trivial desires, I too felt very hapless. Next time there is an internet break-down, I am afraid that I may have to shell out wads of currency to get that black thing with lot of consoles connected to the TV.

5. Old movies on Youtube:   When you can watch the movie released yesterday on the television, there is no way you could watch decades-old films and relieve your memories of yesteryears other than, of course, on the Youtube. With anything from silent to black and white pictures loaded into it, it is the ultimate blessing for the movie bluff and when on a Sunday you are denied the pleasure of watching your childhood superstars gyrating to bygone foot-tappers, you wish you were working on a Sunday.

And other less important things that I missed out on that fateful Sunday were the online money transfer, the official mails from colleagues who worked the previous night, the customary log-in to my  WordPress account to check from which part of the globe people visited my blog etc etc.

Oh internet, how indispensable you are to the modern man!

Yours

Narayanan

June 22, 2012 at 9:11 pm 1 comment

Sheer Anand!

To experience and to be established in the indescribable and the indestructible joy of the self- which is beyond the grasp of the senses, the mind, and the intellect – is envisioned as the supreme goal of all our spiritual journeys. To facilitate man to achieve this extolled state, great personages has, from time to time, chartered many paths of austerities and penance, devised various methods of rites and rituals and codified them into great religious traditions . The faithfuls who unflinchingly followed their tenets were vouchsafed of a glimpse of that bliss and its very source.  And those who thus tasted its nectarine essence went on to also describe it as the supreme unsullied truth which is but pure consciousness.   Just as the sun cannot be separated from its heat and light, all these three attributes- of Truth, Consciousness and Bliss- are integral to that ultimate knowledge of the self. An experience of the unalloyed bliss is not possible without being established in the fullness of truth and being in total integrated awareness. Thus the three dimensions of its nature is divinely expressed as Sath-Chit-Anand,  Anand being the quintessential bliss.

Such an oceanic bliss is reserved only for the highly evolved souls but for many of us, ordinary mortals, sports and games are more easily accessible sources of joy.  Children as most happy when they are playing and adults take delight watching their favourite players in action and all enjoy the excitement and thrill of a keenly fought match. When many of the out-door sports excite our senses and give us that adrenaline rush with every twist and turn of the contest, there are other games which challenge our cerebral faculties and the joy experienced in playing and watching them are more sublime and hence truly elevating. The game of Chess is the emperor in this category where intellectual prowess, analytical skills and strategic thinking, all need to be simultaneously marshalled and deployed to outsmart and outwit the opponent with every move on the square. And when Vishwanathan Anand displays a complete command and dominance over the world’s best brains in the game, we get a glimpse of his brilliant mind and with every emphatic win at the highest level, he confers immense pleasure and joy, so true to his name.

Vishy Anand is a phenomenon that defies any analysis and he completely and fully is a self-made master. In a country which has never before produced a player of any consequence in the game, Anand was to become the first Grand Master from India and that was just a beginning of a glorious saga. He has taken on all the great players of his time, including the two Russian chess icons, and has beaten each one of them. From being the only one to dominate in all the three formats of the game to winning the world championship title five times ( so far), Anand’s achievements are simply mind-blowing and are the stuff that dreams are made of that inspires an entire generation to pick-up the nuances of the game. When all these stupendous feats are accomplished without the moral backing of a gaming history back home, Anand stands as a lone colossus of unparalleled achievements. The unassuming and composed nature just adds beauty to this towering personality and his demeanour at the pinnacle of glory is a lesson in modesty. Anand is as much a joy to hear and listen to as it is to watch his game.

But in a country that has a single-minded obsession to just that game of the willow, Anand’s historic contests and win in Moscow got drowned in the noise and scandals of the IPL. When the world keenly watched and dissected his every move on the board, back in India, there was scant coverage and media buzz about the event and a general public apathy and ignorance about the battle being played out for the world championship title. Even after the win, the enthusiasm and thrill among the masses was found awfully inadequate and hardly reflected the monumental nature of the victory.  When the nation is unable to differentiate between the manufactured thrill fuelled by semi-clad cheer leaders dancing with aging film stars and the genuine crowning glory of a sporting legend, there indeed is a deep malady and a crisis of character that demands immediate attention.

Chess is a game that is played in over a hundred countries of the world and if at all there is an Indian sports personality who is recognised and admired the world over, it undoubtedly is Vishwanathan Anand. But for a country that hardly acknowledges any sport other than cricket, a game played in about twelve countries (and that includes Canada and Netherlands!) and hardly qualifies to be termed an international sport, Anand and his achievements are just footnotes to be referred only in the passing. In any other nation, such a person would have been projected as its most priced procession and would have become its face for the world. But we would brook none of these.

The nation is known and remembered by the contributions of its citizens and if we fail to recognise our true legends and honour them for their excellence, we may soon be left with only mediocre to cheer for.

Yours

Narayanan

June 4, 2012 at 12:27 pm Leave a comment

Class(room) wars

Indian classroom

I, till the other day, felt that my primary school days were quite lacklustre and didn’t offer anything for me to feel proud about, but not anymore. There were some distinct features in the ambiance of that school which I always overlooked but struck me like a thunderbolt only when I looked deeper into the school system that my daughter is presently part of. The school where I went itself was not a great piece of architecture, to say the least.  With leaking roofs, uncemented floors and creaking doors, the building resembled more like an abandoned titled mansion of the nineteenth century than a functional school where everyday five hundred children assembled to pick-up elementary lessons in language, science and arithmetic. While the holes in the roof allowed copious amount of sun’s rays to penetrate into the classrooms throughout its day’s journey, in the long monsoon months of Kerala, they also let down sheets of water that wetted the books and cleaned the slates of the children sitting below with their umbrellas open.  The benches on which we sat were more like see-saws that, when the boy on the right got up, the one on the left invariably went down and the whole classroom was always rocking. Three pieces of black-painted wood was stuck together to form the blackboard and when the teacher found it hard to make her writing on the board legible, children found it easy to convert it into “fixed stumps” for a quick game of cricket. The classrooms were separated, not by brick walls but by thin sheets of garden-fence material which again spotted holes of various sizes all over it. Peeping through these holes, a child in class three can check-out what is in store for him a year ahead and the child in the other class can always recap what he studied the previous year. And when teachers let the children read their lessons themselves to indulge in an exchange of pleasantries with each other, the sounds from the classrooms mingled and reverberated as one great voice of learning.

But in this school the only common factor between myself and my friends were the books we carried and the uniforms we wore. Each of us came from different social background; our parents had varied levels of education and did different jobs, we practiced different faiths and our economic statuses were too disparate and why, even the languages that we spoke at our homes were not common.  Yet, in the school, we learnt the same lessons, shared the same facilities, played together and fought with each other without a thought of our obvious differences back home. While my father was with a reputed British tea company, Benny’s parents were teachers, Dinesh’s father a businessman and Rajendran’s mother worked as a maid in my house. And yet in school, all the four of us sat in the same bench.  Though most of us walked to our schools, Dinesh always got dropped in his father’s car and Benny accompanied his mother in the town bus. And each time I got a scolding from the teacher, my mother would invariably come to know of it, thanks to Rajendran’s mother.  Rajendran benefited much in his studies by being in the company of studious Benny and the rich Dinesh often shared chocolates with the rest of us. As we grew up, we took different paths in life and parted ways but wherever we are today and in whatever occupation, we all cherish a shared childhood.

As I look at my daughter’s class today, I am disappointed by the almost monolithic backgrounds of these students with variety and diversity, that was so much a given in my school days sadly missing. They all are children of the upper middle class families, their parents work for large corporations or multi-nationals, talk in a common anglicised lingo and live in high-rise apartments. Their world is occupied by TV sops, tinsel idols and a host of identical online activities and they all possess a common disinterestedness about the lives and struggles of the less fortunate. They live in their own cocoons in a world infested with facebook , twitter and i-store  where  the likes of Rajendran have no place.   In the scheme of things of these private schools, a decent education is the sole preserve of the economically advantaged children and if the parent belongs to the wrong side of the divide, it is almost blasphemous to aspire to send his ward to these glorified portals of learning.

That’s why the Government thought that it would be a great idea if twenty-five percent of the seats in these schools are reserved for children from economically weak families so that classrooms become more egalitarian and these children too can avail a modicum of quality education. The highest court of the land concurred with this ideal and now private run schools are legally obliged to set one-fourth of their seats for pupils from weak sessions of the society.This ruling is definitely not to the liking of either the school management or to the neo-rich parents. The schools complain that these children will not be able to do well because they don’t have a supportive environment back home and hence will bring down the over-all performance of the school.  And the parents say that in the company of the ill-behaved and slanging brats from the slums, their children will be spoilt beyond redemption and with hygiene standards among them being low, they argue that their children will even be put to health hazards. These arguments are marshalled with such force that they seem to acquire a legitimacy to keep the schools out of bounds for the poor.

This contracted thinking among the elite class betrays a mindset that revels on the status of exclusivity and believes that class destinations are their birth right and therefore need to be guarded zealously. For them, the ideals of inclusive society are more fit for academic discussions than for practical application and preservation of the status quo is the most desired goal.

Who will have the final say in this classroom war and  a share in the nation’s progress is now anybody’s guess.

Yours

Narayanan

May 23, 2012 at 11:45 pm 8 comments

Initiative for a new defence

“ India scarcely has ammunition to last one full week in case of a war” scream the newspaper headlines while umpteen television talks and expert debates ceaselessly point out  the dismal state of the country’s  military preparedness. The air-power is ineffective, the night-vision equipments are faulty, the seas are unguarded and there is an acute paucity of officers at all levels- goes the list of alarming facts supported with chilling statistics which is designed to grip the people with a deep sense of insecurity. From obsolete weaponry to ill-trained soldiers to the faulty machines, the experts would want us to believe that the entire defence establishment is more like a fossilized version of a mammoth troop fit more for march-pasts than a cohesive fighting force capable of protecting the territorial integrity of the nation. The overwhelming verdict of these defence analysts is that the nation’s security is in grave peril.

And when it is a question of national security, you cannot afford to be rationale and ask sensible questions, lest you be branded at the best, as insensitive or at worse, as unpatriotic. So you better sit quite and remain a mute spectator to the bizarre clamour for much more increased defence spending for a nation which is already the largest importer of arms and ammunition in the world. Who cares if half the nation’s children are grossly undernourished and as long as it is willing to go on a shopping spree around the world picking up the latest and most fanciful war toys, you bet it is safely placed in the comity of advanced countries. War against poverty, disease and child mortality are indeed small battles which can be fought some other day in the distant future while at present, we are busy stock piling enough in the barracks to ably fight imagined wars and also win them many times over.  The nation could be drained of trillions of dollars in this essential purchase but that is too little a price to pay to instil a sense of security amongst the people many of whom are deprived of life’s essential supplies.

But this clamour for more weapons and other defence equipments is not just a simple case of demand and supply as it is made out to be. It seems , in fact, to be part of a well orchestrated campaign where individual greed, political one-upmanship and entrenched interests of the arms industry converge to build a bogey of threat and defence inadequacy and intimidate the powers-that-be towards higher defence spending.  These combined forces have little qualms to use any trick from the book, from manipulating the media to aggressive PR exercises and even influencing research findings, to push their no-so-hidden agenda. And when nations get sucked into this well laid trap and indulge in the catching-up act for defence parity, an unending spiral of weapon acquisition is unleashed.  What is good for Paul is not good enough for Peter and this leads to a virtual arms race among neighbouring countries. Sitting over these arms pile, they lecture to each other to do away with their weapons, all for the sake of peace. It is as foolish as a man asking others to hold on to the branch tightly as he runs the blade to cut it down!

Peace, as history would teach us, is seldom achieved through military sophistication and whenever armed might overruled human reason and compassion, the result had been all-round catastrophe, including that for the perpetuator. But when compassion and non-violence were deployed as essential ingredient of statecraft, nations have forged victories over the hearts and minds of the people which in turn ensured abiding peace and tranquillity for centuries over vast lands. One illustrious example of this alternate approach to peace has been the achievements of King Ashoka the Great. Ashoka, in the zenith of his military victory, relinquished arms and became a missionary of peace and built on that edifice an empire so vast and prosperous that it is still considered the golden era in the annals of Indian history. He focused on fostering the humanness of his subjects, created structures and institutions for the flowering of the human spirit and instilled a deep sense of joy and contentment among them. The noble thoughts that his edicts and inscriptions promulgate continue to inspire generations and one of them, The Wheel of Dharma, became the national emblem as Ashoka Chakra, decorating the national flag. Another apostle, the Mahatma Gandhi, freed a vast country from the clutches of the most powerful nation of the time through the method of non-violence which became the tried and tested model for many liberation movements across the world. These great men have lived in the very soil which is now accused of not doing enough to strengthen its armed might!

The doctrine of nuclear deterrence propounds that nuclear weapons would make the world more safer place as nations will eschew wars for fear of a nuclear holocaust. But with all the nukes, nations do spend huge money to build military hardware and still fight many wars. The only deterrence that we need is not Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) but the Wisdom of the Mahatmas to uphold Dharma.

” We must work to change the hearts of men so that we remove the causes of war”

Yours

Narayanan

April 11, 2012 at 3:15 pm 2 comments

To my fellow Delhi brethren

My Dear fellow Delhiite,

What prompted me to write this is this   , (http://raagshahana.blogspot.com/2011/09/open-letter-to-delhi-boy.html) . If you have not already read it, I strongly recommend that you desist from doing it. Because, through a cocktail of half-lies, myopic and prejudiced opinions, mud-slinging salvos and plain innuendos that make the choicest abuses sound like hosannas, the blogger unleashes a hate tirade against you with the nefarious intent to cause disquiet and hence should be completely ignored. But when the coloured rant gets nearly a million hits, thousands of comments and assumes the status of a great literary piece in the internet space, it becomes my binding duty to stand by you, my dear Delhi brethren, to call the bluff and snub the racial rumblings.

The blogger names her site by the Raag Sahana and that is most hilarious. If there is a booker price for christening a write-up most inappropriately and in contrast, it should go to this blog title. Raag Sahana, with its enchanting notes and enthralling melody calms, sooths and uplifts the spirit of the listener whereas blog raagshahana causes anger and rage amongst its readers. When Raag Sahana is that eternal love tune that transports one to the pinnacle of musical pleasure and ecstasy, raagshahana is that jarring hate note that plunges the reader into a quagmire of painful turmoil that stirs up vengeful emotions. Raag Sahana and raagshahana are poles apart for the impact they respectively leave on the listener and the reader.

But you, the ever jovial Delhi guy, is not the one to get perturbed by these incoherent cacophony and your famed sense of humour and light-heartedness is guarantee enough to neutralize the venom the writer injects into her piece. And your ability to see the positive and the brighter side of any situation that life presents itself and the guts to turn it around is your singular asset and you are envied for it, no end.  You are the one who could laugh at yourself and make others too laugh with you and that is a trait most contagious. And when you break into that scintillating and rhythmic dance moves with electrifying effect and spread cheer all around, you are a delight to watch. And there isn’t a counterpart anywhere who could enliven a gathering as marvellously as you can! You indeed are a great charmer!

And to talk about the vastness of your entrepreneurship in this space would be like an attempt to measure the ocean with a glass tumbler. You are from that linage of enterprising men who start off their career selling second-hand books on the foot path and, all in a matter of few years, rise to become international publishers with turnovers in millions and an assured livelihood to hundreds. You could, through your dint of hard work, turn around a road-side Dabba into a chain of seven-star hotels that the rich and the powerful frequent and also transform their interiors as the backdrops where stunning beauties pose to appear on the covers of the Elle magazine. And with your ingenuity and creative genius, you could transform a worn-out car into an ultra-modern multi-purpose vehicle and put to use a washing machine to churn out Lassi in quintals and come out with a million such novelties.  Some dull-heads might dismiss your lateral thinking skills as “Juggad”, but it is this quality of the head that ensure affordable products to most of our countrymen. There isn’t still a competition for you anywhere to this essential Punjabi trait; Balle, Balle!

And as much as the nature has bestowed you with unparalleled qualities of the head, you are equally an emperor of the heart. Your sense of community and charity, of sharing and caring is a study in the art of philanthropy, worthy of emulation anywhere in the world.  Coming as it is in from the great tradition of a common brotherhood, you lavish the choosiest food and warmest clothes on all and sundry across temples and gurudwaras and there is never a “NO” to a stretched hand which is most heart-warming. The langers (free community kitchens) you spread are vast human crucibles where man-made barriers tumble to merge into the oneness of humanity and you are the blessed one to bring in this transformation. How I wish I had these qualities of the heart myself!

These sterling qualities of head and heart are only enhanced by the physical charm of an average Punjabi Delhiite. With chiselled facial features and a golden complexion to go with it, you easily are the most handsome guy a girl could cast her eyes on and it is no accident that the Bollywood is crowded with Punjabi boys and girls as actors and actresses. And what is Bollywood music without the Punjabi folk tunes that instantaneously puts our feet to rhythmic taps? Along with being a charmer, you are also an eternal entertainer.

 With such a repertoire of talent and skills, is it any surprise that you become the target of such envious jabber?  But you have the head to know this and a heart to forgive it.

By the way, here is a hearty wish for a very Happy Gurupurab, the birthday of Guru Nanakji who gave us the message of the unity of all creations, Ek Omkar!

Yours

Narayanan

A grateful Madrasi & fellow countryman

( Posted on Guru Purab day)

November 10, 2011 at 4:24 pm 5 comments

A Diwali gift

Diwali is one occasion when people let loose their wallet and pull all stops to gift their near and loved ones with presents they would cherish, and cost really isn’t a barrier to such offerings of the heart. And this Diwali, Shreya decided to present her lovely grandma with something memorable and why would she not do it? After all, she just got her first pay and would want to splurge it on someone who is so very special to her. She has always been the darling of her Granny and now it’s her turn to celebrate their relationship in a befitting way.

“Granny, I would want to present you such a gift this Diwali that you would admire it for many Diwalis to come and here you have an option to choose one from the two. Tell me, what would I present you, a Blackberry or an Apple”

“Apple or Blackberry for Diwali? Darling, we give sweets to each other on this occasion. And talking about sweets, I have a whole list of my favourites… From the juicy Gulab Jamuns to the crispy Soan Papidis and the saucy Jeelabis . And in our times, we use to make all of them at home unlike these days where you just lift the gift-wrapped stuff from a shop. But at this age I might need to take insulin shot before I could even take a look at these.”

“No, Grandma, nothing doing. I would present you nothing less than an Apple or a Blackberry .Come on Granny, which one would you like to have”

 “Oh dear one, I would prefer an apple for a blackberry any day.  A bite of an apple never let’s you down to cheer up unlike the blackberry which has an obnoxious touch and feel about it. By merely smelling an apple, I can even tell you where the stuff was grown… But how on earth you want me to cherish these fruits for the rest of my years… And I hope you are not planning to give me plastic ones….everything is plastic these days you see… the lamps, the flowers, the smiles….” 

“Oh, you thought I would be that stupid to present the sweetest and the prettiest of all the grannies in the world with a tiny fruit? I mean the Apple Ipad or the Blackberry mobile, Granny….. Okay let me make the choice for you….  I would buy you the latest version of Apple Ipad and I bet you would love to have it.”

“ Apple Ipad ?”

“Yeah an IPad…and you know, in an Ipad you don’t require a mouse to open a window?”

“I anyways don’t need mouse to open the window. In fact, your grandpa used to catch rats and mouse and throw them out of the window with his hands…on to the fields”

“I mean the Ipad is all touch-screen, Granny…. you can run and operate any application by merely touching on the screen at the right places. Even a child can work, nay play, on an Ipad and it is so much fun. It’s the lightest tablet around”

“Oh, thanks for reminding about the tablet, my sweetheart… I forgot to have my BP tablet this morning ….it is so light and small, I always misplace it. I almost lost the tablet given by the doctor for the virus infection…. It was so tiny, you see”

“Oh Granny you need not have to worry about virus infections any longer and that is absolutely great news! This Ipad tablet will never get a virus. You can download any stuff from the internet and it will automatically be virus-screened which would mean you can safely surf the net and browse any site without the machine getting infected”

“Surf for the nets?  It is never safe. It is always just dry dusting for the nets and they will last for generations. Your grandpa once washed the imported nylon mosquito nets presented on our wedding with surf and entire stuff got torn down to shreds.  If you want, you can put them under the morning sun to make them bugs-free.

“In the Ipad, there is absolutely no chance of any bugs either, Grandma. It is so finely designed that bugs in its software is a definite impossibility”.

“ Soft wears will never have bugs darling. It is always the heavy woollens which are the breeding grounds for the bugs. And for woollens you can safely use surf but it has to be washed only in cold water. Otherwise the designs would just fade off”

“ This Ipad is a design master-piece which would remain a connoisseur ’s choice for years  and just won’t fade-off in a hurry. Its smart cover is as beautiful as the machine itself and transforms into a stand when you open it. It is sleek, trendy and comes in hues of colours. You can show all your applications as icons in it and they will be displayed on the screen. With just a touch on the icon, you can download your favourite music, movies, books or anything that you want from the scores of app stores… Isn’t that amazing….”

“Why do I need to download these myself when I can get them home delivered from the Appu’s store downstairs. His store has all these stuff and much more and the delivery time is zero that it reaches our home just in a flash”.

“That’s the only problem Granny. You cannot run a flash application on an Ipad. But the other features in it more than compensates for this little glitch. You can connect to wi-fi, check your mails, chat with other grannies and even see them live on the facebook…”

“ I am bored of seeing them face-to-face everyday and now you want me to have a whole book with their faces?  Oh I only want to hold my lord in my memory.  ”

“With the kind of memory that an Ipad has, you can hold the lord and all his creations in it. The Ipad is the final parting gift to humans from the great Steve Jobs”

“I am not yet ready to receive a parting gift and still have some more jobs to do. And instead of Ipad, why don’t you gift me a padlock with which I could secure my things as I travel to my native village?”.

“What an idea Granny?”.

“No baby, just thinking different.”

 Yours

Narayanan

October 28, 2011 at 9:28 pm 8 comments

The Power of 32

Indian government, in all its wisdom, has recently discovered that an earning of Rs. 32 per day is all that it takes for a person to be above the poverty line, the great economic divider below which about half of the country’s population perpetually belong.  With 32 rupees, the country’s top-most policy makers tell us , a person can have three nutritious meals a day, can adequately cover his physical frame with a sufficiently long piece of cloth, travel to his place of work, meet his medical expenses, if any, and also can ensure a roof over his head! This counsel of wise men asserts that Rs.32 has all the power of purchase and to deliver these minimum essentials required to classify a person above poverty. And these are wise men entrusted with the divine responsibility to chalk out the collective destiny of over 1.2 billion people, so they just cannot be wrong.  It is another matter that even a street lumpen would display more realism in his estimates but an official figure culled out after a rigorous process of data sampling, price analysis, study of inflationary pressures and statistical modelling can scarcely be faulted. Statistics would have been clubbed together with white and black lies, but this Rs. 32 per day formula of the state has, for a fact, accomplished a stupendous task of  effectively pulling out at least 32 crore (320 million) people out of poverty- on paper, that is.

But 32 is no ordinary number that it does not have the power to achieve this herculean task. Look at it mathematically, for instance. It is the number that displays few astonishing properties that qualifies it to be bestowed with amazing capabilities.  Along with being a number that can be represented as an exponential of 2, which is 25=32, the number can also be expressed as the sum of three different numbers raised to the power of the number itself, that is 11 + 22 + 33 = 32. And that is just not all about this number. 32 is also the sum of two different numbers, each raised to the power of the other, that is, 24 + 42 = 32. And 32 is also the smallest two-digit number whose square is a four digit number (32 x 32 = 1024 where as 31 x 31 is 961, which is only a three-digit number). It is for its mathematical qualities that 32 figures as an important “byte”, an information storage unit in computers.

The uniqueness of number 32, though very significant in mathematics, is not limited to it but extends to many other fields as well. When the number of pieces in a game of chess is 32, the number of squares, both of white and black in a chessboard is also 32 each. The spokes in a bicycle wheel is usually 32 and the number of pages in a comic magazine is essentially 32 or multiples thereof. In the human anatomy, while the count of vertebrae in the spine that keeps the human body erect is 32, the total tally of teeth that is found in an adult mouth is again 32.  In music, a 32 count refers to the number of beats or pulses that go in one phrase, an extremely useful unit in dance choreography; a 32 stringed guitar is an amazing piece of art as well as a versatile musical instrument. In Indian tradition, there are 32 types of Shiva lingams, each bestowing specific boon to the faithful worshipper while Gautama Buddha is regarded to have had “32 signs of a great man” the references to which is found throughout the Buddhist texts. And that’s not all, some of the greatest men in history seemed to have just lived for about 32 years but accomplished Himalayan tasks that would take ordinary mortals millions of years to achieve and one of them is Adi Sankara, the great exponent of Advaitic philosophy. Another extolled soul, Jesus Christ is said to have lived just around that age.  Maybe these are good enough reasons why the mandarins of power chose this number to segregate the haves from the have-nots.

But the market dynamics work on cold additions of numbers than on the special features of any of them. With Rs. 32 you can possibly buy half a loaf of bread along with half a litre of milk and eat and drink them raw throughout the day, because you wouldn’t be left with any money either to warm the milk or to toast the bread. Or else, with Rs. 32, you can eat thrice and live on a few pieces of chapatti, a morsel of rice to the accompaniment of few vegetable crumbs and a pinch of salt. And if you feel these does not come anywhere near the daily calorie need of 1200 to survive, you could eat an egg but then would have to forgo a meal in return. In the event you succeed to keep the body and soul together with these bare intakes, you will have zero money either to cover the body thus preserved or to protect it under a shelter.  Whatever are the features of the number 32, Rs.32 proves to be truly a pittance which can just keep you breathing but ask our policy makers and they would tell you that if you are surviving you indeed are not poor. Because in their scheme of things, poor has no right to survive!

This numerical pegging is the highest insult that a country can inflict on to their deprived masses and when such a humiliation is administered by the democratically elected polity, it betrays an utter lack of sensitivity to the plight of the poor and an appalling state of denial to the sub-human level of their existence. And to brand those who manage to eke out a few mouthfuls a day as sufficiently endowed with the wherewithal for a decent living is to make a mockery of their impoverishment and a blatant stripping of their human dignity. This callousness is symbolic of a deeper malady of a society where people living in patches of prosperity are totally oblivious to the indignation of people spread out in vast swamps of land around them – a sure recipe for disaster.

It is indeed a pity that even after 64 (2 x 32) years of independence, India still grapples with issue of poverty in such myopic way and one would only wish that it does not take another exponential years of 32 to finally eradicate the malaise in its truest sense.

Yours

Narayanan

P.S. For those western readers of this blog, Rs. 32 would roughly convert to about 65 US cents.

September 30, 2011 at 2:21 pm 14 comments

Teaching lessons

In his eternal quest for truth, bliss and for inner peace, man set on foot to many a pilgrimage that stretched from the tranquil mountain peaks to placid river banks, from silent sylvan forests to the barren hill tops and then on to the serene expanse of the choicest ocean shores.   And in those pristine spots where mother earth spreads a majestic panorama of beauty and calmness, where nature remain untouched by the exploits of human adventures, many a wise men sat and contemplated on the deeper mysteries of life and gave expressions to profound philosophical thoughts. On to these glorious lineage belonged a  Adi Sankara and a Gutama Buddha,  a Vyasa and a Valmiki and umpteen number of saints and sages who, from time to time, nourished and nurtured the eternal springs of spiritual wisdom for humanity to draw joy and sustenance from.  In these venerated places came up temples and monasteries, ashrams and viharas that beckoned seekers of truth far and wide and enveloped them with an aura of divine benedictions.  Along with being powerful searchlights for spiritual knowledge, many of them soon developed as centres of educational excellence where finer subjects of human interest, ranging from empirical sciences to abstract arts, were studied and taught and the contribution of these portals of learning towards the evolution of human mind has remained unsurpassed.

Of these extolled locations, Kasi and Rameswaram stand out as twin brothers and a visit to one of them remains incomplete without a visit to the other. While Kasi, or Banaras as it is otherwise called, is situated on the banks of the Ganges river flowing rapidly with the mingled waters of the Yamuna and the mystical Saraswati, Rameswaram stands quietly as an eternal witness to the turbulent waves of the Bay of Bengal. When a dip in the Ganges at Banaras is considered to wash off the accumulated sins of many births, a plunge in the sea waters at Rameswaram is said to have the most purifying effect to the soul. And when an unending stream of elevated souls find fulfilment in the ablution of Kasi Vishwanath, it is the Lord himself, as Rama, who paid obeisance to the deity at Rameswaram. But both personify the universal formless aspect of divinity symbolised by Shiva in the Linga form and both assure a sincere seeker, liberation from the illusionary world of bondages. They attract devotees in their millions and figure prominently in the list of our ancient and sacred cities.

Rohit Kumar

And it is in that wonderful city of Banaras that I met Rohit Kumar, a teenaged, thin framed but a very jovial boy who works as a sales person in a shop that sells the famed silk sarees of Banaras. Rohit Kumar, when he is not unfolding and folding sarees, also doubles as a city guide for the visitors to the shop and he gladly lent his services of taking me along with my family around Kasi. “This is Hanuman Temple” and “Here  Kedar ghat” Rohit would insist on giving his city counsel in ragtag English and we enjoyed every bit of his conversation. “Morning here no food, evening food” Rohit advises me on the availability of street foods in Banaras only in the evenings. “The price of silk Rs.800 last year, same Rs.1600 this year” laments Rohit on the doubling of the silk prices in just one year affecting the saree business in the city.

As I got curious of Rohit’s obsession to speak in English even to a person who understands and responds in the native tongue and asked him the reason for this passion, I was narrated a most heinous story of how the aspiration of a budding school kid could be mercilessly plucked, crushed and destroyed by the insensitiveness of a school teacher.  Rohit would go to school with his English Grammar work complete but his teacher would thrash him for doing them all wrong. With illiterates as his parents, Rohit had no way to check his answers at home but had the fire to learn well and the willingness to put in effort. But the teacher, instead of correcting and teaching him right, would continue to humiliate the young boy in front of the whole class with whipping canes and abusive words. With this regular ill treatment, Rohit’s will to continue in the school reached a breaking point and one day he decided to leave the school, for good. “One day hitting, two day hitting, three day hitting and…” continued Rohit in a voice filled with deep anguish”and I decided no more school”. Rohit ended up as an unskilled helper in a saree shop, earning Rs.50/- a day with no scope for any further education and a promising future in sight. But he still carries a fire in the belly to learn and to grow.

But in the other city of Rameswaram, there was another teacher and another boy, and this boy had a totally different story to tell. The teacher, Mr. Siva Subramania Iyer, would lovingly explain to the children the concepts of science and also give practical demonstrations and make them understand those concepts. One day Mr. Siva Subramania Iyer explained to his class children the science behind the bird’s flight. He drew pictures of birds flying on the board, explained how birds created lift and thus could fly and why birds flew in formations and other intricate details of flight. Many of the students did not understand but Siva Subramania Iyer is the one who would ensure that his children learn and learn well. He took them to the sea shores of Rameswaram, made them observe the birds in motion, make note of their formations, the way they flap their wings to fly and how they bend their bodies to change direction. This demonstration kindled a fire in one of the boys to learn more about flights as his life mission. The boy studied hard and well, got into a prestigious engineering college and took up Aeronautical Engineering. He later went on to head the country’s space mission, won many laurels, got the highest civilian award of the land, the Bharat Ratna, and ultimately became the president of the country. That boy was APJ Abdul Kalam.

Oh what a contrast! One teacher made a gem of a person out of an inquisitive boy and another extinguished the fire to learn in a curious child through abusive behaviour.

Aarti at Ganges

As the historical city of Banaras silently gazes the incessant flow of the Ganges below, it still awaits for its Siva Subramania iyer to light the lamp of hope in its children.

Yours

Narayanan

September 25, 2011 at 8:17 am 12 comments

Forty something

The tightened belt struggles hard to rein in his ever expanding waistline while the protruding tummy makes him lose his buttons at periodic intervals. The pitch dark hairs are slowly giving way to sparsely spread strands of silver as the once piercing eyesight now demands spectacles to decipher the fine prints.  There is a noticeable lax in the strides which are no longer brisk nor breezy and the snail-paced cruising of the car is a pale shadow of his famed formula styled racing of yesteryears.  A compulsive devourer of anything that is eatable now studies the fat content of the bottled lime water before taking the first sip and also keeps an antacid tablet handy, just in case the citrus juice triggers a bout of acidity in the digestive tract.  And when the “once-upon-a-time”  daring, experimenting and risk-taking individual now craves for stability and shows an overarching desire to maintain the status quo, you bet the guy is now in the forty something years of his earthly existence.

And if the guy is the one who is genetically predisposed to shed his locks early on, a visit to the salon during the forties would prove to be a very exercising and also an expensive experience. With a very limited supply of widely dispersed strands, the barber, nay the hairstylist, would need to deploy all his hairdo skills to reasonably conceal the shining pate and the money the person need to shell out for this delicate job would be inversely proportional to the density of the tuft on his head. And even after all the expertise of the tress were put to lavish use, if he is still dissatisfied to that modicum of a dark cover, he is sure to be gently reminded that one cannot possibly hide an elephant under a mud pot. With the add-on service of a discounted facelift massage that promises to drop years from one’s face, the guy definitely would look poorer, if not younger.

The waning of the youth and the advent of the middle age is announced through well-calibrated indications that start with the subtle whispers of the occasional bodily aches to the more pronounced reflections in the mirror, to the loud proclamations of the younger people around who spot the phenomenon and seldom forget to remind the guy of its vital signs.  Along with exaggerating the mild physical changes that the body display, they also highlight the antique value of his two-year-old mobile, look at his glittering Rolex watch with an archaeological curiosity and keenly study the contours of his well-fitting pants as if it was a costume wear of a period film. For them he is the representative of a bygone era, reminiscent of an age untouched by the liberating influence of Gucci, Messi or 3G.  The guy would be pleased when a teenager, considering his saltish-pepper crown, extends a courtesy to drop him to the nearby store in the bike, but when a stunning beauty in her early twenties, displaying a sizzling figure and a terrific attitude, passes by and wishes him “Nameste Uncle” in reverential tone, his heart bleeds and bleeds profusely.

But he is not the one who would take things lying down and let the world move ahead while he gazes at it like an ancient monument. He picks up the trendiest wears in the town, checks in to the most happening places in the town, checks-out the latest fashion accessories in vogue and chills at the coolest spots. He brushes up his lingo with the latest Facebook idioms, plugs-in to the latest music from the apps store and joins the neighbourhood gym to tuck in the tummy and to tone-up the muscles. He is now seen more often in t-shirts and in skin-hugging jeans and has, of late, acquired an additional bounce to his steps. At forty, the guy has become damn naughty!

But he soon realises that forties is not all about greying hairs and slowing lifestyles. It is also a spectacular reminder of the deepening life experiences and the blossoming of wisdom that accompany it. The bespectacled face symbolizes a keen intellect sharpened by years of scholarly pursuits and each silver hair represents the maturing of the person achieved but only through years of grounding in the university called Life. The treasured old gadgets signifies the value that we need to attach to products that truly serve our purpose and not be carried away by every passing fads while, the balancing and stabilizing approach towards life is an anchor sheet to still life’s occasional tempests.

Forties indeed are the finest years of our lives!

Yours

Narayanan

September 12, 2011 at 10:33 pm 9 comments

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