Monday, November 28, 2011

There is no Snow on Kilimanjaro

The hills were verdant. But it seemed to her barren and desolate. The dark green canopies of the trees and the tall elephant grass rocked in the wind. To her they seemed to be expressing violent disapproval. The wind wailed and came incessantly brushing the tall grass, bending it as if by coercion, but something the shrubs seemed to relish before it went back to its former state. The wind then hit the hillock where she lain with a howl. She felt them like the calls of the hyena. "You raunchy slut go away, you charlatan keep out”. They seemed to howl their cat calls in chorus. The symphony that Nature played did not touch her faculties.

Is it or is it not the state of the mind? She again began to hear the words reverberating from far away-the words that were spewed at her. And now the wild has taken up the call, “Pariah, get away.” Nature too has a way to tell her annoyance with her for being there. Her being there – did that defile Nature too? The cold roaring wind was like profanity directed at her. It came from far over the hills, know not its genesis, know not where it goes and know not what it holds in its way in passionate kisses. But they seem to whip her, lash her lacerated torso, piercing through the torn fabric of her dress. Even the wind, the grass, the trees, the hills, all has begun to express discomfort, disdain and repugnance for her. Is it or is it not the state of mind? The mind refuses to see the dance of the ballerina, the tango on the green hills.

She knew she have not much far to go. Her broken limbs were twisted and swollen. She bit back the pain, though not more excruciating than those words that come after her, haunting her ears like the sound of the cymbal. She laid her head on the rock and lay still, looking far above up into the blue sky. She could see no angels, no fairies but void, not even floating fleeting clouds, just void. And the words kept resonating, “You ........raunchy slut go away.”

The life lived was not! She deluded to live in the tower that she crafted, the tower which she in her supercilious and imperious living did not see was a tower in a dune of sand. The frenzied aspiration to reach the skies could only built the tower of Babel. She saw the days come back in a time machine. She had deign much, but the illusion of trappings and wealth did not tell her the condescend living that it was. In these moments when the retinue that flocked to her beck chose to foresake and this miserable solitude in the hills impelled by remorse, guilt, infamy and now having purposefully wandered afar into the wild, lost her way, she knew she will eventually surrender to the lonesome cold moments before life would gradually ebb away from her. Her clothes were torn and in tatter. She now has been wandering for almost a week, aimless and in trance. The leeches in the rain fed mangroves downhill have preyed amply on her. The sores were bleeding. She understood that she cannot any more delude the world let alone herself that they were stigmata.  Hunger and starvation was throwing her into intermittent delirium. Brief moments when she slid into hallucination brought to her apparitions of many faces whom she had hurt, had trampled with her wicked mechanisations and crafty innuendo, the ones she shut out selfishly.  She will gradually yield to hunger, the cold, the insects and the predators who feast at night. She knew she may not see the light of another sunrise. Her time of reckoning was fast nearing. She longed for darkness, for light was dangerously fearsome.

She feared going back to civilisation. Was it the fear of repeated denials- all those who once stood at her beck? When did she lose her way? She lost her way early in adulthood, to avarice, glamour and wealth. Then the lost ways became the path to often tread. The hubris of youth, the lust for wealth, the malicious pleasures that infested and intoxicated her veins, when she used and jettisoned people -men and women, she lost her way! When she decided that there was value for nothing, but price for everything, she had lost her way! She lived and thrived in false hood, trickery and emotional black mail.

She quivered and trembled seething with anger and it was aided manifold by the physical impuissance and weakness she felt. She remembered that old woman cover unable to look her in the eyes and turn her wrinkled weather beaten face away when she chose to feign having not heard others disown her. The very same hag, who did nothing but encourage, when her own flesh and blood walked astray! In fact she prodded her, urged her, and exulted in her perverse ways. For pounds of riches would silence all tongues.  It was frailty at its loathsome worst.

She now recalled the old fable of the felon who was sentenced to be hanged till death .When asked what his final wish was, he pleaded to transpire a personal longing to his mother. And went forward as if to tell her something in quite to her ear and locked his teeth on it like a vice to wrench the organ out of the woman. He wildly then exclaimed to the wailing old woman- his mother ,blood dripping from his lips  and holding the  blood drenched pried out ear, “It was this very ear that  you lend as deaf to all those little infractions  I did as a child .And it was this very ear that feigned to the many greater sins I did. The very ear that encouraged me by pretending being deaf! And now bring me to the gallows. It is not worthy to be on you no more.”

She sobbed and cried. She lay there crying until tears up to the last drop let out and dried .Flies were insistently feasting on the sores that lay open .She saw the predator bird circling above. It had sensed that the time was up for the feast. “The crunchy feast on the invalid raunchy”!

She rolled her eyes towards the tall peak a little to her left. She longed to be there on top. Then she saw that it was this fiery longing for being “there” that made her tread the path that she should not have. She saw that she was not invincible, but a mere mortal in the intrigues Nature has. It began to bury in her, though she all these years believed, liked and exalted in desiring , in believing that she was essential. She deluded! Like Marie Antoinette entrapped in the comfortable cocoon of pomp, lust and wealth, she failed to see the harbinger.

It dawned on her that there was no snow on Kilimanjaro. She closed her eyes and slowly sensed her going down the yawning abyss to be free of all that she ever had, ever relished and all that finally vowed her away. The final image that stayed in her before the last iota of consciousness slipped away was the scavenger bird circling above in patience.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill

 Some time ago, I bought a book on Winston Churchill. Though no admirer of him, it was a volume of his collected speech. Known for his eloquence, oratory skills and phrasing of communication with eternal words, I presumed that the book will be an interesting read. It was a disillusionment of sorts like the disappointment Winston Churchill must have felt after losing the elections in Britain after winning the Great War!

The speeches that were included in the edition were more concerning the domestic policies of his Government in Great Britain and his comments on the inland matters of that country. Though there were glimpses of his eloquence and rhetorician arrogance on World affairs, men, colonies and most of all reason why he must be detested for many of his opinions!

Here are samples  of few that may be read and concluded the way you may want to.

1-      1-The short crisp sentence that shot into international fame and immortality

“I have nothing to offer but blood toil and sweat.” (In the House of Commons, 1940 when Great Britain was crudely thrown into the World War II).

2-   2-   “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”(In the House of   Commons 1940. referring to the pilots who fought  the Battle of Britain).

3-    3-  Now here is something that the purist of Indian Jingoist would frown at.

“It is ...alarming and also nauseating to see Mr. Gandhi, a seditious Middle Temple lawyer, now posing as a fakir of a type well-known in the East, striding half naked up the steps of the Viceregal Palace, while he is still organising and contradicting a defiant campaign of civil disobedience, to parley on equal terms with the representative of the King Emperor.”

4-     4-  “You have enemies.Good. That means you stood up for something sometime in your life.”

5-      5-The Churchillian hubris at its detestable best.

 “Before we proceed let us get one thing clear. Are we talking about the brown Indians in        
 India who have alarmingly multiplied under the benevolent British rule? Or are we speaking about   the Red       Indians in America who, I understand, are almost extinct?”

6-     6- Here is the one that proved his insensitivity and macabre philosophy. Stiff upper lip or otherwise Britons were wise to show him the door after the War.

“I do not agree that the dog in a manger has the final right to the manger even though he may have lain there for a very long time.I do not admit that right. I do not admit for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the Black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the very fact that a stronger race, a higher- grade race, a more worldly wise race to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.” (Churchill to the Palestine Royal Commission in 1937).

7-Nancy Astor, the first woman to sit as member in the Commons, 

“Sir, if you were my husband, I would give you poison”. Churchill, “If you were my wife I will take   it.”

8-Now here is one that if Mr Churchill were alive now and uttered would have seen him     enshroud with Salman Rushdie fearing the fatwa from the vile looking Mullahs.

“ ......the fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property, either as a child, a wife, or a concubine, must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men.”

9- Here is a blister that should keep all India thinking.

“India is a Geographical term. It is no more a United Nation than the equator.”

10- And the perseverance and courage in him is amplified in these words he spoke,

 "Never, never, never give up.

Summing up , perhaps I have to wonder,is it not true that all men are sculpted from contradictions?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Ides of March

                                            Morte de Caesar

" Julius Caesar in derision,"The Ides of March Have come ". The Soothsayer," Aye Caesar, but they have not gone".

Those who extend much credence to the influence celestial configurations exercise on earthlings, wish off ill lucks, good tidings, ill tempered acts and omissions as matters that are not under the realm of ordinary mortals. While the heavens wreck havoc and shower largesse on us they are determined by forces abe initio not within our control. We are just marionettes, mere puppets dancing to the whims of the Puppeteer.
Destiny is written or foretold for each of us, it is said. That happens sometime during the exit from the mother’s womb, it is claimed. The heavens, widely acknowledged as the stars or the planets in the solar system, including the centre piece the sun, aligns in some predestined or ordained way that they directly influence the child that is born. His or her destiny, pallor of the skin, character, and life, all are influenced thereon by the life less planets that were  held also as beacon at night to men of the sea in the past. The trials, tribulations and triumphs in life are chartered by the alignment of the planets. Henceforth each course of events  in the life of the new born  is called fate.

Fascinating raison d'être from the oriental thoughts! Take it or leave it.

Dhuryodahana the villain of the piece in the epic Mahabharata, was obstinately impervious to reason, advice and sane suggestions by the elders and even from the mystical sorcerer Krishna. He was truculent, wanted war and nothing else. The aftermath is well documented in the epic. It is said that Dhuroydhana would never have seen reason because he was consumed by hate and lust for power. These attributes were instilled in him and latched like limpets because the constellation of his birth star was such. That he will have to fall! And hence he could not be redressed by reason and wise discourse. A wise head on those massive shoulders ought to have helped the man see reason and the safety net of a via media and détente. He and his retinue of brothers could have kept the chunk of the kingdom. But that was not to be, he invited wrath and chartered his and the elimination of his clan.

Don’t we see many a similar fate invited with ticker tape parade by many men in high places, Kings, Presidents, despots, and dictators of varied hues?  Manifestation of celestial alignments or otherwise, Man has often displayed bêtise and to great repercussions.

An astute strategist Adolf Hitler refracted on his pact of non aggression with Russia and attacked her. His army went deep into the Russian country and eventually was decimated by the harsh reality of Russian winter and her fire power. The collateral damage was the combined assault of the allies from the south and the west. The rest is history.

In the 1970s Sergeant Samuel Doe led a military coup in Liberia. It is said that on his way to power he killed the then President by disembowelling him while asleep. As it usually happens to despots he was impervious to reason and finally nemesis caught up when he was arrested after a coup d’état by his former accomplice. One can watch on “you tube” the execution of Samuel Doe. He was mutilated and killed. Alignment of the stars at his birth?

In contrast Iddi Amin one of the most infamous and notorious of African despots , who was quoted saying that human flesh was like Sushi and delicious. He was in fact a modern day cannibal. But when it mattered most he chose the wise way of vanishing to the sanctuary of the Islamic Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where he lived a comfortable life well into his eighties.

And well in recent memory the despot of Babylon, Saddam Hussein was impervious to reason and sanity, that he chose the path that ensured his destruction. A haven and sanctuary for him with his booty was not a distant possibility, if he had agreed to relinquish his despotic hold on the country. But that was not to be. He was blind to reality of the American fire power and that decimated him and his cronies whole sale.

The harsh sandy desert soil may not have set in his grave, and it looked that Muhammad Ghadaffi was obstinately insistent that he must end violently, and seemed he craved for it. And he did meet the horrendous fate. There was ample opportunity for him and his clan to relinquish power and vanish into oblivion in some tax havens. But again, was it some strange combination of lack of reason, he went the oft trodden path of deluding in his invincibility?

It is said that the ides of his stars could not be resisted, that the demon king Ravana kidnapped the princes Sita. He was reticent to his brother’s pleadings to send back the kidnapped damsel and befriend the warrior prince Rama. The “Ides of March” had to be bewared of. But not, he did!

Is it a desideratum that Man must blame the stars for the ills that befall him? Beware of the Ides of March!

Friday, November 18, 2011

To Sir, With Love

My first teacher in my living memory was a woman who lived near my house. She was, I guess, a tutor in a Government primary school. I remember she coming home daily for an hour to teach me and my sister. I must have been about five. Memory is sketchy to be specific. But she taught us the first lessons in language- Malayalam and simple Arithmetic. We then had the  slate, wrote with the  chalk  & slate pencil and used the ubiquitous (those days) “Mashi thandu”shrub to wipe and erase the slate clean.

The next person who taught me was again a woman.Saroja (Saroja teacher) was in her twenties and lived near our house. She was a Brahmin and we (me, and my sister) were treated to fabulous Tamil dishes- sweets, savouries, bajis, paniyarams etc when we went to her house for the classes. She taught at the same convent we studied.  She taught me through my first standard to the fourth. The wonderful thing was the eagerness to make the short walk to her house for the classes were I was initiated into the fantastic collection of comics of Phantom , Tarzan, Flash Gordon, Casper the friendly Ghost, Riche Rich and Mandrake the Magician. The comics were in a huge collection in that house. They were owned by her delinquent brother who apart from reading comics, having sumptuous food and blasting  hell a lot of crackers for Deepavali did nothing much. He was a drop out! She used to be annoyed when I used to devour the comics between classes . She exclaimed that language was not grammatically perfect in comics and may actually damage a child’s language. Her big sister was always around to soothe her and let me go on with those fascinating comics.

I think I can recall that it was from the third standard and parallel to the classes at Ms Saroja’s, I and my sister were also sent to  the  middle aged Ms E. Sawyer who lived opposite our house and across the street. She was Anglican by descend (not the Anglo Indian) and a spinster. She coached us English. Ms Sawyer had a parrot called Polly that spoke English words fairer than we did. Many years after, I visited Ms Sawyer who had moved away and lived in a different part of the town. But, now I notice that someone else live at the place she moved into. I ‘m sure she must be about one hundred if she is alive now. She was the quintessential English woman, mysteriously marooned back in the sub continent.

Mr Sankaranaryana Iyer was the headmaster of a local government high school. He was in his eighties when he began to come home alternate days to teach me and my sister. He was gifted in English, Mathematics and  array of subjects. The couple of hours he spent with us were enlivening. He   let us feel that we were  on a discovery and not in any way coerced to study. He was deftly uncanny in imparting knowledge and making us question him. I still remember him going about the Second World War, the war time Prime minister Mr Churchill, De'Gaul and so on in the midst of his class in the nonsense subject called “Algebra”. That made me forget the anguish of  studying Algebra. He spoke about varied subjects in the course of his classes. He was of the opinion that learning must be a fascination and not a bitter pill forced down the gullet. He taught me from the fifth standard to the eight. Years after, when I was out of college and employed, I went to see him a few times at his house. He was then in his late nineties, but alert, and recogonised me. The last time I met him was at his son’s house, he was quite frail and was quite unsure of who I was. He died a few days after.

The memorable moment of my life- a moment when we met after almost ten years is etched with ample goose bumps. Before that, I last saw him when I went to his small apartment in my old High school to seek his presence at my wedding. He was the chief warden and retired from active duty as a teacher. The School authorities, as a token gesture of gratitude and in there graciousness offered him the warden’s job after he retired and provided him a room next to the boarders block in the school  to live in. He was unmarried-a bachelor, and his only relative, his mother died some years ago. He was a revered figure; a man  of average height, had a thin steady frame and bald. The long white beard and ocher dhoti and kurta  gave him a mystical look. Perhaps everybody who became mattered or not in  Thiruvananthapuram society and who was educated at the Government Model High School Thiruvanathapuram have gone through his tutelage.

It was the morning of my cousin’s wedding which took place in Thpuram. The traditional reception that was accorded to the groom was on at the gates of the Mandapam. And I was accompanying my cousin brother in the short ceremonial procession into the Mandapam.  I noticed this old man of thin frame and flowing white beard and whiskers and simultaneously him, me. He shrieked as if it was a joyous war cry and came running to me with hands outstretched. ”Eda Anil..ey” (Dear Anil). He hugged me in one mammoth bear hug -vice like grip and I in reflex responded by lifting him up. We  literally felt tears flood in our eyes. It was indeed one of the greatest  pleasantness and fortune to be embraced by a teacher when meeting him after many years and time. He was the family friend of the bride. The whole crowd of men, women and children who were witness to the event, all, were dumbstruck  and for a while in trance, and did not know  that it was the unrestrained natural affection of a teacher for a former student and a lousy one at that. He was Mr. Narayana Kurup, or with the abbreviated name “Kurup Sir”. To “Sir with love!”
He passed away a few years aback and a peaceful death. He died while having food at a local restaurant.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Electrician

Someone, look alike of Oliver Twist peeping from outside the main gate of my office. He was seen standing outside with confused but eager look, and I noticed him through the day when ever I ventured out.
The next morning, the watchman came in to my cabin and enquired if he can permit a boy to come in and that he wants to have word with me. Also that he was persistent that he was hanging around the gate since yesterday and would never go.

I remembered the chap I noticed the day before. I asked the watchman to send him in. He came in rather timid watch full but unsure of his next step forward, rather furtively- whether he should make it or not. He was certainly a late teen version of Oliver Twist- the image that we have seen in the work of Dickens. He wore khaki trouser, but no footwear. His long sleeved shirt was dirty and slightly open at seams. His hair was dirt brown and looked altogether not cocooned in a healthy comfortable living.

He was from a village south of Tamilnad, beyond Madurai. He has been in the city for a few days now and his hunt for livelihood was fruitless. He indeed looked distraught and famished. I asked him what work he could do. He pulled out a multiple folded plastic cover from inside his trouser pocket and took out a certificate which was almost in tatters. It said that,”Subu Raj …. Is approved Electrician in grade…” And that he has passed the Electrical curriculum from ITI.

SubuRaj reported to duty at 8. And precisely, the next morning. He was in a different clean trouser and shirt, but crumpled. He was bare footed. I called him sometime in the day and told him that he will have to compulsorily wear leather footwear while he is on work. I remember giving him a little advance for immediate personal chores.

He married in a year’s time. And I understood he lived with his young wife in a rented dingy room near the factory. He proved to be a fantastic worker. He had this keen sense and uncanny ability to handle electrical works, installations, trouble shoot, and all with élan, perfection and neatness. There was no hanging wires not tended points and all the haphazard matters typical of electrical works we often see in many places. I never had a breakdown in the factory and office while he was around. He eagerly ran errands for other members of the staff and fixed their electrical works in their homes.

He did a perfect and professional work in the new factory premises we wanted to commission. Later C asked him if he could do the electrical plan for the 4 acre plot we bought and wanted to build a small house amidst a jungle of trees. He planned things so wonderfully that in no time we planted some four hundred trees on the land. He did a wonderful work in electrifying various points on the land, drip irrigating every sapling. There was a small shack that was built on a corner of the plot, where tools and electrical mains were installed. Suburaj was asked if he would to stay there in the night. He was at ease. We lived some five kilometers away.

One morning around 7’o clock, I and C was on the verandah sipping tea and scouring the daily. The phone rang inside, and C took the call. I went in hearing C give a howl. She turned to me holding the phone and said,”Suburaj is dead, he hung himself.”

I soon began getting calls from other guys in the office. Some were already at Suburaj’s dingy home. They told me that he went back to his room after the night shift around 3 am. He even had tea in the way side shop and chatted with the guys loitering there, smoked cigarettes. He told them he will be back by 8 after dawn. And at 5 in the morning his sister-in-law who lived next doors along with two of her brothers went past his room and seeing the door open she peeped in to see the poor fellow’s body hanging lifeless from the ceiling. No one could tell what transpired in Suburaj’s brain between that short while from the teas shop to his hanging.

I asked the guys to inform the police and ensure that all help is extended to his brothers –in law to transport the corpse to their village. I promised to be there as soon as the policemen took charge.

At 8 am I stopped by the office to speak to the crowd of workers who gathered in shock. I got a call then from one of the staff that Suburaj’s corpse has been taken by the brothers- in law in a Taxi to their village. And that they were in a hurry. The police wanted the sub-inspector to be present before they could visit the scene. I was shocked at the haste and the lack of legal formalities. No autopsy, no police records. It can bring me trouble as he was on my payroll. I called the police station to record my anguish and complaint at the total lack of legal formalities. I suddenly felt something odd and expressed it to the policeman who attended my call. He said,” Why must you worry? The chap is dead, killed or extinguished himself and found in his place. Nothing happened in your premises. Let us not bother much. You take care of your matters. We have a lot of work to do than run after a dead man.”

Suburaj was not cremated in his village but buried and the same evening. I was told his uncle wanted it so.
His uncle a middle aged man came to my office one day and spoke to me. He said that he tried in vain to get the local police to exhume the body for an autopsy. And that he was certain the Suburaj was killed and then hung. He was adamant that the foul play was perpetrated by the two brothers in law.

Later it transpired that Suburaj was having a liaison illicit and amorous with his young sister in law (wife’s sister) who lived next doors. And his wife was upset with the matter and she went back to her village. And that Suburaj used to take his sister- in-law to the shack on our land for his amorous extremities. The brothers in law were furious that they could not dissuade either of them and struck on the plan to put an end to the man himself. I sat listening to all the matters in dazed attention.

 And even when his wife and infant son came with her brothers to collect his pending salary money, and dues, I could only mechanically sit and listen to the eulogies his brothers in law reeled out about him. When they were departing, I commented,”Suburaj did not kill himself, he was murdered and then hung.”

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

I Did Not Know What to Tell

                   The School Flat with the Chapel

The first time I travelled without shackles- without the company of someone from home was when I and a few delinquents sneaked out on a train journey to Quilon some 70 kilo meters away from Thpuram. We went to the beach there and loitered before eating a good platter of mutton curry and parattha.I must have been sixteen or there about. It has been stifling times at home, more because I was a rebellious character. Perhaps it is better to rephrase and say, a different sort of fellow unusual for a conventional family with quite conservative leanings in tune with the establishment. I ceased to be religious in the conventional sense, no temple and Providence  from that age, was questioning everything including the existence of God or even he himself if he were real; began to be fascinated with skeptical readings in literature. Rebelled against the diktat from home to keep away from friends etc as they thought friends were bad influence, even the good ones next doors. In the bargain I landed with some unsavory elements to the great distress of my mother.

I dreamt about a life in the boarding. While in college I was in awe about the fellows who lived in the boarding. The College hostel was tucked in the midst of a rubber plantation and we used to venture there during recess. It was a different fantastic world. But I knew that my yearning will be still born as I hailed from the same town.

When years later, we had to decide to admit A in a school away from the town we lived, the only option was to put him there as a boarder. Constraints of our work , besides lack of good educational infrastructure in that town we lived then, gave us no room to manoeuvre and the option was to put him in that distant school in Ooty as a boarder. He was then going into the first standard. The agony that we went through, and the distress and lost feeling him as little child went through then, are still painfully alive in memory. Both the children growing up were given enough room to manouevre, and freedom to tell us, talk to us anything and everything. I was keen that they must not feel the constriction I felt when I was their age. They still enjoy the freedom and we hope they make intelligent and conscientious use of that.

There were interesting alumni there. People who came back with their children.  One day during our visit to the school we saw this guy in his forties hugging the huge pine tree near the hostel of the primary class laughing with tears in his eyes. He later confided that he was a parent and it was to this tree that he used to go to while he was border during his bouts of loneliness and home sickness. He said he used to hug the tree for long and feel comfort.

The school was not an elite institution fees wise, as well as by way of philosophy and motto. It was an institution that was begun by an English clergy man some seventy five years ago. With both our children doing their schooling from the first standard there, we can confidently content that their formative years were well taken care by the institution. Now to hope that they carry those things of value they imbibed from there through into their lives.

A, passed out his twelfth from there four years ago. He was the Head Boy in the final year. And being an active participant in various activities especially music and dramatics he was in the elite group fancied by the Principal and the faculty. But strangely the relationship of the whole class with the Principal turned sour towards the fag end of the term. The Principal was a strict disciplinarian and that may have turned the tables on the boys and girls of the twelfth who were all in a rebellious age in their lives. The precarious times when one is not a child, but is neither an adult though one wants to be noted so.

A’s class mate and chum,G, as this boy may be called was a happy go lucky sort of fellow with occasional exploits and fond of girls. The Principal had notified that if found in sneaking on conducts considered unsavoury, dismissal from school, or confinement to the school hospital tucked up far in the campus for other infractions will be certain. Infractions such as carrying a tuck, pocket money, cell phones in the locker for instance.

A, used to tell us his apprehension when he was home on short breaks from school. That G is being recalcitrant and may land up in serious trouble. He was warned by A to avoid his flirtations. He did not want an incident to mar the year. But G being the glamour boy for some girls, A was in a quandary. G was too indulgent! One night during the group study, G and his girl friend were hauled from the garden nearby. It was the Gorkhas who busted the matter. News reached A, and he slapped G for the infringement. The Gorkhas refused to hush up the matter. The lid was blown and G was dismissed. The Principal smelt that the matter was going on for some time and he was furiously cross with A for not revealing it. A was adamant during the enquiry and the threat to strip him off the Head Boy badge, that he was not aware. The Principal did not believe him. He mentioned the matter to me, while I met him to collect A’s mark sheets and certificates after the examination results were published. I felt quite miffed when the Principal covertly aired the accusation to me. I felt cross with A. It was the feeling a father would have when someone accuses his child of infarction and misconduct.

I could only tell the Principal that I will enquire with A.

When I confronted A, he said, “Yes I knew about G’s relationship. I even hit him and tried to discipline him. I forewarned him of the peril should his conduct be known. The whole class was aware of how I took him to task and reprimanded him often. But if the Principal wanted me to be a snitcher, well no, I cannot be one. G is my friend, he may have done wrong. But I cannot disown him and compromise him. Not over even the threat of my dismissal or stripping me off the badge of the Head boy."

I did not know what to tell.
     A, & friends getting ready for the farewell dinner ( 2008)

Monday, November 7, 2011

Bucket List

“Kick the bucket when it is done with”.  This was Edward Coleman (Jack Nicholson) in the film, “Bucket List”. The nonchalance to life when death looms large and imminent! Courageous resignation was evident in the statement.

In comparison Mr Wilson, in Somerset Maugham’s short story, “The Lotus Eater” had the audacious and fearless plan to die at sixty, if nature doesn’t intervene at sixty-to take it away by his own hands. And according to him, what more can one get from life after twenty five years of blissful living and happiness in the island of Capri, with wine and food, books to read,watching the moon risings from the cliff overlooking the bay?  This decision he took at thirty five and gave enough room for his annuities to last till he was sixty.. But he was physically well at sixty and had lost the courage to smother his life. Twenty five years of leisure, and happiness drained the potency of will and courage from him. He was frightened to die. It was like atrophy of the limb which was disused for long.

I know not, now in my early fifties how far and deep the road and the woods are still. In the teens the thought of being erased from the world never occurred- because of the “audacity of youth”. Nor in the thirties- it was still a decade of confidence and feeling of perennial immortality. Even at forty the sun set seemed far away. But it has begun to dawn and one thinks often that a decade or a score of years from now is a mixed boon of grace. Yet, then is it not also true that age is in the mind?

A person once exclaimed how wonderful it would be if she could live till or beyond one hundred. It immediately reminded me of Marquez’s “One hundred years of solitude”. I would not want to see seven or ten generations of posterity. I asked her if she would be prepared to see and know what she would not fancy to see and know. If she sees it fine well she may wish. But the longer you live more are what you see and hear that you did not ever wanted.

If someone asks me to make a bucket list, I would say it’s already done .Contentment! That indeed is a tricky loose and relative term to play with. One can never be, one will ever be, critics may allege. Yes indeed they have a point there. What is contentment is relative to a person. And what makes contentment is the ability to feel content by fulfilling ones needs and not crave for never ending boons. Isn’t it?

I could reel out many of my fantasies to be dropped into the bucket.  Some being, a journey to the Galapagos, Machi picu, Tierra del fugo; a long walk up the Kilimananjaro; a week and more in the Masai Mara; a lonely trek and stay in the icy wilderness of the poles, in the arctic winter; a cruise through the Canadian arctic; a week and more in the wilderness of Alaska;  drifting in the ocean on a schooner on a full moon night;serenading through the snowy splendor and majesty of the Himalayas; a night in solitude by the Victoria falls and a week  in the grassy cold wilderness of Eravikulam; a quite night at home with glass of whisky and reading a favourite author. And if the end come in any of these places like the whiff of air never smelt, well what else can one hope for and ask for? Any other thing ephemeral that comes by is incidental lottery!

Do I need to scheme of millions in dollars? Do I need to harbor fantastic scheme of a mansion for myself? Do I need to own a fleet of BMWs or MayBachs? Do I need to thump to the world that I have achieved? Tethering my ambition to the stars has not been in my person. May be a drawback, a limitation or even a boon than bane! Opinions on this may differ from how one looks at it.

Where does one launder one’s disillusionment? That indeed is a question. But I guess learning to override that and let pitfalls be eclipsed is the sane way out. Though it takes a lot of agonising and immensely painful effort and mental rearrangement – guts, plain and only guts!

In the end the bucket list has to include only contentment. Contentment from not possessing material bonanzas, not from elevating ones ego to a higher plain or what is lovingly termed as achievements. But just simple contentment that there will be happy people around you. The ones you love and who love you- and the ones you brought forth.

But contentment is ephemeral and elusive isn’t it? So is the bucket, it has hollow somewhere beneath, which we do not notice. Isn’t it?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Hey, that's me

It was H.G.Wells who suggested that human cadaver must be put to better use.  He suggested that cadavers be send to medical schools for study and not be interned or cremated.

Well this will be frowned upon by the ultra right wing of the religious zealots, of who we have in plenty. The Islamic didactic edicts mandates that a dead body be interned within twenty four hours of death occurring. And sentiments in other faiths too may frown upon such idea. Immediate family would cry plaint and in horror of such a prospect. How could the cadaver of a son, father, mother or someone near and dear be mutilated and dissected on the dissecting table in some nondescript medical laboratory? Outrageous and bizarre!

I have often thought of the matter, and also the subject of donating ones medically fit organs after death. There is this very good friend of mine who suggested that he may want to donate one of his kidneys right away. His contention was that one can survive well with a solitary kidney. I, predominantly and other fellows in tow pulled down his suggestion as quixotic and unnecessary. If honourable service is the idea, well there are as many that one can think of and exercise. By the same yardstick can one forego an eye? Well I guess he saw the point of my argument. We have not heard from him on this since.

Coming to the point of bequeathing one’s body after death to a medical school for research- has enormous potential benefits for medical science and future generations.  It not only letting science identify and document the reason for death, it will also dwell into the many inexplicable and sudden demises, unknown facets of physiology etc. Why does a healthy man, for instance fall dead with a massive cardiac arrest- while his routine medical checkup gave a perfect ten?  Winston Churchill smoked cigars like as if it was a matter of religion, I suppose. He enjoyed ample dose of High Land Scotch too. A perfect combination for early disaster! But he lived well into his eighties and did not die of cancer or heart attack. He even survived an English winter and with Pneumonia. If I or you enact that fascinating style of living we may not go far. Why is some body chemistry not susceptible to abuse? Why does a disciplined life style not see the person live long, but die of cancer or a heart attack? 

A  cover to cover reading of the fascinating biography of cancer, “The Emperor of Maladies”, throws open much knowledge for lay men like us in matters where science have been not quite successful if not failing repeatedly; where it has been hope plummeting to abysmal despair; inexplicable remissions and  relapse. How mankind and medical science have even after centuries of battle with cancer find itself still groping at times. There is a lot hidden in the physiological system of man that will take years and years to unravel. Or will we ever like the outer solar system? There is acute shortage of human cadaver for study and training in medical schools. And sometimes artificial, synthetic replicas are used. Imagine the fabulous benefits medical science will gather should mortal remains be autopsied. It may re- write medical knowledge itself.

Why not donate organs that are not diseased?  Why must we take them with us into the furnace or underground vault? Why not bequeath it to the needy that the many sins, false hood spoken and done while alive may be nullified with our heart, liver or kidney pulsating in another person, even after we are gone? Ensure our eyes be the beacon of hope for another, while the very same pair of eyes may have feigned blindness at many things?

It has been decided by C, and the children too are aware, that should one of us precede the other, our cadaver must be given to the anatomy department of a medical school. The organs be harvested and donated. True, the grief filled moments may sometimes prove to be prejudicial to the wise cause. Hence there must be someone who would undertake the deed of legal requirements. That is a better way of mourning the passing than wail uncontrollably.

The “Tower of Silence” has a noble idea in it. I would prefer my  cadaver be used for  a medical cause than let it be barbecued and smoked out of existence or let  it be dumped  in some underground pit for maggots, worms and wrigglers to feast to the bones.

If paradise is lost by not queuing to be there with my mortal remains intact, let it be. In any case we do not know the dress code to enter paradise.