Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Dream Still Born

                       "I'm a steam train,big and tough,
                        Riding steel rails, hear me chuff;
                        Running on my steel railroad track,
                        Smoke is steaming from my stack."

Hitch your vision to the stars. Did someone famous say that? I guess so. The fact is I never did really hitch my vision to anything stellar .And when I look back it was more of a variant of   drift wood  kind and  that I was fortunate at times to  ebb with the tide and at  other times get smothered by chance. So there was no real manual design behind what I’m today. Is that not the sign of lackadaisical character?

Strong are the ones who do not let lives be designed and dictated by vicissitudes and the roller-coaster of existential living. They design and chart their course like voyagers who deftly chart the navigation on the vast and seemingly endless seas. And their persistence and perseverance enables them to manoeuvre the vagaries of the mysterious waters and finally say aloud, “Land ahoy”.

As a child I was fascinated by the train that was pulled by the steam locomotive engine. The rail road passed through my neighbour hood and I never failed an opportunity and let go a chance to stand on the over bridge, or the street adjacent to the rail road and watch with enchanted fascination locomotive pull the cars, huffing, puffing and with the occasional shrill whistle that sent  jet of steam out through the exhaust vents. The swish, whistling and hissing the steam engine creates; its huge wheels that are connected by shafts that rotate in synchronous harmony, were wonderful sights and to behold in awe. The manual hand signal on the side of the rail track gave a good indication of when the train would pass. And I would stay put for minutes for the signal to assert and then get overwhelmed with excitement when the engine appears in the distance like a black spot .Then to gradually appear larger in size and vision. When it entered the under the bridge on which I stood transfixed, the brief couple of seconds the huffing becomes distant then to be heard on the other side of the bridge to soon speed off to vanish with the cars in tow beyond the bend on the rail road! The smell of burning coal, though tantalising would also send tiny specks and dust of residual coal into the nostrils and eyes. A less intense consequence when compared to the awe the whole picture gave me!

I decided when I become man I must be a train driver. The huffing-puffing locomotive stayed lingering in my dreams while asleep and the subject to build castles while awake.

It was then by chance and luck of great magnitude as I saw it, that I could travel in the locomotive along with the driver and his assistant. This fortune came my road many, many years ago while I was in Kottayam during a mid- summer vacation from school. I was sent to my aunt (mother’s sister) who lived there. She lived in the housing quarter provided to her husband who worked in the Railways. The housing quarter was a stone throw from the main tracks of the train station and a small open park straddled the railway tracks.
It was one evening and I was with some boys of my age playing in the park. When a locomotive hissed by and stopped with loud clutter and clatter on the track near us. We turned our attention and ran towards the engine. It was driven by someone who was the parent of one of the boys. He asked us if we would want to hop in for a ride. And I guess I was the first one to jump for the invite. So there and then I did my first and only travel in the locomotive .The driver was on a shunting mission and for some fifteen minutes he took us in. I could even help his assistant to shove coal into the furnace and also they let me tug at the cord overhead that sent shrill whistle. It was fascinating experience of a dream that became very true and  nothing alike was felt when I chanced to travel first time in an aero plane.


Sunday, March 18, 2012

St.Antony , a Story ( Part -II)

                               The Wedding day pic Aug 23

When did I first step into a church? Well memory is very clear here, it was into a Chapel many, many years ago in the convent school run by Carmelite nuns, where I studied in the primary classes. The Chapel is a magnificent Victorian era structure. Though access into the precincts was not free, there were occasions we could be in. It was often that we peeped in through the windows and be amazed by the quietness inside.

Honestly even if there was students from families of various faiths, no separation and difference was felt.  We sang the morning thanks giving song in the assembly with  exuberance and excitement. “Father we thank thee for the night, and for the pleasant morning light…...” We had a parting song in the evening. “Jesus tender shepherd here me….  .”  It was exciting!

I believe, those formative days had immense bearing on me from a tolerant and all inclusive point of view of creation and cosmology. I did not find a necessary distinction based on faith. That I turned out to be an irreligious person in later years may be perhaps a matter of little conjecture, but more of reasons not wasteful.

So it was not an astonishing shock for me that I chose to be confidently around in a church with the woman I fancied marrying. And, I could empathise with her feelings when she expressed the desire while travelling pillion on my bike to pray for a while at the St Antony’s church en route to home one day after a wedding.
However there was no formal proposal to her, going down on my knees yet. Neither did modesty let her. But something told me within as it did to her that we got to live together.

However with two of my close chums (Balan & Sree) rebuking me for what they asserted (and rightly so) as my unparalleled foolishness, I decided to ask her and without delay if I can have her hand. It certainly could be a betise if I walked about on the presumption that she would want to wed me. The whole world almost knew that I wanted to marry a catholic lass- my family, friends and her folks. And quixotically, except the woman that mattered ,the woman concerned!

It was perhaps the longest journey of my life-a journey on a sultry March afternoon, from Cochin to the distant town in Tamilnad some two hundred fifty kilometers away. The dusty town that it is and was then was not relenting at night too. It was quite warm. I checked into a hotel and spent another longest period ever –the longest night! The following morning I would be going to her house (where she lived with one of her sisters). It was then, rolling about in bed that I wondered what if I had been prejudiced about her decision. Presumptions can be awakening painful and panicky too.

March 20- and the Sun took a long while to come up in the east and go further up in the sky. Perhaps the whole world was conspiringly going slow.

Audaciously, I began the chat with her on the assumption that she has accepted to marry me. I did not while sitting across in the chair alone with her in the room, think it was necessary ask her if she would marry me. I assumed that we had decided to be married and began the discussion on our life after wedlock. The little nitty gritty matters that can come up manifested, or be foisted up by the ones around, more because we were from families of two different back ground and faith and many other things I do not recollect what and what not.. Did we chat for an hour? I guess so.

I was to take the night train back and in the evening we found a convenient excuse of walking to the church being a Sunday (I have not seen since, that keenness ever in her to go to church ha!!) We took a long slow, casual, walk. And wished the road was longer!

By then it was intense and clear that the physical law of Nature had played its role. We were attracted because of the forces of gravitation and honestly!!!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

"Oh Lord Forgive Me for I'm Cynical"

I vehemently deny that I was born a cynic and a pessimist, I became one.
 This is what I would tell in face of the alleged cynical tone in me, be it verbal or in letters. I checked the definition of the word “cynic” and found the following decorative pieces.
A) Believing the worst of human nature and motives; having a sneering disbelief in e.g. selflessness of others.
B) Abusing vocally; expressing contempt or ridicule.
C) Showing contempt for accepted moral standards, esp. by following self-interest.
But I do not fit in these descriptions with much gusto, though I do not deny the definitions that may be in me, but it is more relative.

The reason for the ornamental pseudonym that I may have, “cynic”, is more because of what I see as an uncontrollable offensive attitude of what for example is sinister, deprecating, torn away from even semblance of altruism and abusive. I find it comforting, release of pent up energy to react sternly vocally or by letters to a situation when it demands, rather than be timid and peeved and then boil inconsolably within oneself. It is better to be sheared away from any possible loss of self-respect.

There have been a few blog posts that went purportedly directing my ire at persons and happenings that were less tolerable even to a serf who would love to crawl when asked to kneel. Certainly the spars between friends are not to be for love of God included in these.

A few months ago, some savvy fraudsters managed to hack into my Google mail account, presumably fancying me for someone worth a shot at. The invisible forces set off a chain of email to all my contacts in Google. The  email went had the subject matter of my perilous state in Greece and that I was urgently in need of money to bail myself out of some hole. Many of the contacts smelled rat and pooh-poohed the message. The slightly sceptical ones made sure to contact C, to ensure that everything was smooth and the message was hoax. It was apparent to even a nitwit that the email message was not from me.
A naïve but unfortunate person whom I have never met, but only spoken on the phone, shot off by Bank transfer some $ 750 to the fictitious address .I came to know of this a month later and he was rather ashamed of his impetuosity. Nevertheless, I feel an affinity towards him for the apprehension that made him act so when he got the hoax message.

Last week my sister called from Thpuram and narrated an atrocious grapevine that came to her hearing that day. The matter was circulating in her Banking circles for these months before a colleague decide enough was enough and told her.

I understood her annoyance but also was displeased and offended by the matter and shot off an email message to the villain of the piece. And decoying copies to some of my contacts too. It certainly was a message that was matter of fact and alluding how contemptuous I hold him in esteem for his apparent pernicious canard and nonsensical act.

When the fraudulent email message went about in December, it went to this person who is holed up with his riches in Saudi Arabia. He was holding a fat account in the Bank branch where my Sis was in charge. Once, after a reference from my Sis, I  spoke to him on a matter of emplacement and did communicate once to him by email. The subject was forgotten since. Now when the email went to him also in December, instead of displaying the decorum to call the Bank branch in India and enquire with my Sis about the email, he went about telling some other branch managers that the lady manager’s brother whom he has not met asked him for money. The gossip loving colleagues of her went about spreading the slimy gossip, know not how far. It finally reached her ears the previous week. To further the agony the guy with drew some Rs 100 million from her branch and ably aided in the whole process and gossip by one of her colleagues she trusted much.

Now one can choose and ignore the situation or be cynical in this context relatively.
The situations that I allegedly become cynical are similar in content. If one can have the luxury to be stoic, why not express oneself and be cynical and relieved too?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Jack & The Bean Stalk

                                       An old photograph

The mother is furious at the boy that he is sent to bed without supper. The blunder he did was to give away the only possession they had, the cow, she entrusted with him to sell in the market and he did literally for nuts. He bartered the cow to a man who offered what he claimed to be magical bean seeds. The seed grew overnight into a huge stalk that went up to the skies and  little Jack went up the bean stalk to the Ogre’s castle, befriended the young woman who was a prisoner there and he finally enriched himself with the booty the Ogre had. And all that is all fascinating for a fairy tale. And Jack’s mother was absolutely within her rights and duties as mother to reprimand him severely for the infringement. But what if mother refuses to advise, suggest, discuss let alone gentle nudge when it need be?

I have an issue going off and on with C. And I feel she refuses to see my side of the argument and steadfastly opines that the children are grown up and she need not be asking them to do things; she should not be acting like a catalyst or correcting them. The trouble is that she has her heart ruling her words and reactions than the brain locked inside her head. This has been more than often a rusted piece of nail that pricks me.

She may read this post as she sometimes ventures into my Blog!

I’m not expressing the lack of confidence in the children per se. They are in their own ways individualistic and have formed determined and strong opinions.  A is twenty one and R eighteen. But as Balan mentioned in his recent post on parent’s anxiety and Oushu in his Blog about his mother’s apprehensions- apparent it is and not an enviable position when you are  concerned about your children’s future, however well they may be marching ahead. It is not anymore in the day’s world that, epiphany like with little Jack that will lift you up in life. It has to be perseverance, hard work and most of all smart work. If it is only hard work one may live the life of an ass.

A has taken of his own very volition a medium that probably will be “the” talk and the thing of the present and the future. Something that depression and inflation, the economic synonyms will not bother much-“visual media and entertainment”. As luck has paid back, we (I & C) have not thus far bothered much about the academic brilliance or performance of both the kids. And thus far they have done fairly well. Fortunately they did not want to be stereo types( doctors and techies) and we loved that decision more than any.
But I get apprehensive often as A is in my opinion though not certainly agoraphobic is not entertaining my suggestion to be more advertising. And it is necessary more because the field that he has chosen is not easily amenable and one has to be heard and seen. But C seldom tells him or discusses advisory matters with him. She tells that he is grown up. This irritates me all over. I do not feel that he is still letting himself submerge in it.

She expresses unquestionable confidence in the children and silences me by asserting that they are conscious of matters and will certainly do what is required to further their selves.

It is not always that all mothers and parents have such optimism. But to me it takes more to be convinced and I have to see the ground proof, the result and the sum of the matter. I get distressed when I think of the missed opportunities that I let go begging. The matters I was not expressive about and timid when I had to be assertive. It is the desire to ensure history should not repeat in certain ways.

When I was little I was fancied with Jack’s scrambling up the bean stalk and the good things he brought down from the Ogres abode for his mother. As a boy it is easy to fantasise and imagine such manna falling on you. But with half a century of life behind, there is anxiety and reality that has to be dealt with. The world is tough today than it was a few decades ago. And is cruel and unrelenting too.

Monday, March 5, 2012


Social Studies, the mixture of Geography and History that was in the curriculum at school were an interesting subject to read. John, King of England from 1166 until his demise in 1216 had to counter the hapless Barons who turned rebellious and got together to curb his powers. They brought forth the Magna Carta which was drafted to curtail the vast power the King had over the land, people and his recalcitrance towards the Papacy. History is like a long, intriguing novel ! It is a story of knowledge, conniving, deceit, victories, battles won, wars lost, of people who preceded us and in flesh and blood like we. Spilling of much blood, usurping one’s own father, brothers and even mother on the long desperate scramble to the glory of throne!
But my history book says Magna Carat was a failure, though the death of King John secured Magna Carta eventually.

The drama continues to be enacted even today and in our midst, in social lives, in dwellings among lay people and more among the powerful and the mighty. Distrust, helplessness and subterfuge like in the times of John the King of England! The Bard detailed such intrigues in the Macbeth, in King Lear and Julius Caesar. The latter had more in common to the real life episode that preceded William Shakespeare by about one thousand five hundred years. But life all the same, even before the Italian Machiavelli, was full of intrigues, lust for wealth, power and amour. So why pillories him for what we call “Machiavellian deceit and intrigues”?

There is a friend of mine who often narrate in disgust to me the chicaneries in the family she is married into.  She lamented in anguish and disgust, the subterfuges and intrigues that are agonisingly rampant in the circle of her in laws. A rocky nuptial accord that she has with her husband is on a plateau now more because of the necessity to secure her children’s rightful share of the assets. She wonders if their father will ever have anything left to bequeath. More because even though he is crafty, he is pliable, she says. One of her in law (her husband’s brother) as she sees it happen will through guile and artistry that deludes without the deceived knowing so, arrogate what has been jointly held by all of them.

She has now decided that she will not deign and begun to face a bunch of specious sisters- in law- square on. Cowed down by the weight of their contradictions, the rest of lot have lost out on their deft plans of producing a Magna Carta to reign in the marauding brother and his wife and save much of the wealth that they will elude their grasp. They now assume that they can “Hail Mary” their way out of the imbroglio .
I asked her if she would mind if I blog some of the story. She said she would not care a hoot. She is sometimes distrait that she indulges in binge drinking. Though I and C have cautioned her to desist from exposing much of the rags in public and take care of herself.

It is the cruel irony of life that under the avalanche of unbridled wealth, people who were relatively decent and spartan would metamorphose into people who can bring forth much sorrow and anguish.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Encounters with Supermen

There was a framed slightly moth eaten, faded, black and white picture in the loft back in my mother’s house. The picture was the record of the day someday in the 1930s.The scene shot was the Petta railway station platform, in the outskirts of Thpuram. There are a group of men and women, clad in khadi and sporting caps of the Congress party, all standing and in two rows. A “half naked Indian fakir”, standing along them! He has a staff in hand, slightly bent frame and skinny native pallor. Standing in the group is also a man in his late thirties, my maternal grandfather.

The day marked Mahatma Gandhi’s arrival in Thpuram. I was fascinated by that photograph. It is fascinating and awe to encounter Supermen! I envied the old man, my grandfather.

It was in 1978, and an evening in Thpuram. The then beautiful stadium in the heart of the city, “Chandrasekarn Nair Police stadium” was packed with men, women and children. Many had come from far and away. It was little after 5 pm and the crowd was frothing with excitement and impatience. it was a tidal wave that wanted to break on to the shore. There was, I remember vividly not many police men around, and that was strange for the occasion. The fact was the State was then ruled by the Marxist led Government and they perhaps in their convoluted ideology and thought- what they would call wisdom decided that she did not need any protection of the state police. They wanted her to fend for herself. A repartee in silence for the almost two years of dictatorship she inflicted on them.

She came in a white Contessa car. Like a girl in her youth she sprinted the few yards to the platform and troded up the flight of stairs on to the platform. The crowd roared a mixture of applause, and booing. She was clad in white sari and long sleeved blouse. She waved at the crowd. And soon began her speech. I was standing quite near the platform. I had once seen her some fifteen odd years back, while she went past in an open jeep through the main through fare in Thpuram in a motorcade and with grandeur, waving at the frantic, yelling crowd that thronged the sides. Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s first visit to Thpuram as the Prime minister of India!

Back now at the stadium fifteen years later she was looking old and the travails of her life of the past showed. She has been out of power, in jail and now on campaign trail .She paused for a while in silence, when the namaz call blared through the loudspeaker in the adjacent Masjid. I felt that was a well thought ploy to appease the Muslims by conveying her sense of respect.

By the time she finished her speech a section of the crowd was surging infuriated, shouting expletives at her. She was soon whisked into the car and it sped out. The crowd surged behind. I took the short route to the road and reached her car. She was seated in front alongside the driver. It was apparent that the antagonistic crowd was blocking the car and threatening, her. I saw Mrs. Gandhi at arm’s length! And I noticed fear, and uncertainty in that face that displayed, power, regality and guts. The personality that told the most powerful man in the world Richard Nixon the President of the USA to “fuck off “and not get involved in the subcontinent .The pictures that were displayed much in the newspapers were a distant faint reality and  memory. I saw her cornered like doe amidst   a pride of hungry carnivores. Somehow the car managed to speed away. I saw fear and plain fear in her eyes and I could almost touch her.

It was the Maurya Sheraton in New Delhi and was some time in 1983. After a Company conference, I was there for the dinner and fun. I and couple of colleagues were standing out in the porch and enjoying cigarettes in the cold winter in December. An Ambassador car came by and braked with arrogance. Out jumped a man and like a lightning walked into the lobby. He moved with the swagger and confidence, as someone said of a majestic Alsatian. It was Field Marshall, Sam Manekshaw. We had too short a notice to react and he was gone.
I saw him since that day twice and was fortunate to speak to. Once in the early 2000, I met him at the Coimbatore airport. He lived in Coonoor and was travelling out of Coimbatore often on his honorary capacity as member of the board of some thirty odd corporates. He then had lost the sprint, but still the pride and regal was live. His shoulders were slightly bent. I approached him and wished him. I said, “Sir Can I have your autograph?” The Field Marshall said,”Son why me from an old man?” I told him, it is old men such as he who makes us proud.

A few years after that I met him at his residence in Connoor. My friend who is now the Brigadier took me there on a visit. He was seated in the sofa, quite frail but the exuberance and brightness in the eyes were vivid. We shook hands after my friend introduced me. I reminded him with respectful awe that he autographed for me once. He chatted briefly with me and we bid goodbye.

Sometime in the 1980’s, I met an old man in Mumbai airport. He was seated in the passenger area a few seats from me. He looked familiar and I was not keen to break my brains to think who he would be. Sometime soon he stood up and walked with a back- pack on him towards the check in area. It was then the guy next to me said that was J.R.D.Tata. I cursed myself for my silliness and I rued what I missed.

I was on my way back from a business journey. And was at the Mumbai airport. It was in the days before the air traffic boom and there was just one flight out of Mumbai to Coimbatore. Having spent the sleepless night at the airport, I was thrown wide awake from the hung-over, when I saw this short guy walk briskly in with a bag in hand and sporting a bowler hat. I ran to him and took the book I was reading with me. I said,” Mr. Gavaskar, good morning. It is nice to see you again. I saw you in Thpuram when you were there to play the one day match against Australia”. He said, “Well that was long ago, yes.” I asked him for the autograph and while he autographed, I enquired." Whatever did you feel when those West Indian giants hurled that hard cherry at you at 150 kmph?" He smiled and wrote, “with best wishes Sunny Gavaskar”.