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”.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


I remember that it was when I was about fourteen and doing my 9 th class that the Hindi dubbed version of a film purported to be on sex education ran to full mad house in Thpuram. The film was titled “Gupt Gyan”. I was quite scared and even afraid to slip into the theater to see the film as the subject was taboo and anathema. There were many afternoons on the way back from school when I loitered with my heart wrenching, around the Cinema where it was being exhibited. The movie I was told by the lucky and brave ones, (I then realised during from those days that, ‘luck favours the brave”) who managed to sneak in and see the film, that it graphically had many scenes that were revelation , but continued to be only mystery for me.
  But I may have encountered difficulty at the theater gates as the movie was strictly for Adults and one must, the bare minimum have whiskers that tell one is an adult. I did not then have even stray hair on my cheeks that would tell my adulthood.

 “Siddhartha” based on Herman Hesse’s novel was a daring film with brave scenes ( those days) ,with Simi Grewal and Sasi Kapoor.  But the version which I managed to see in the cinema was mauled by the censors.
Those days as folks would know
, no internet, no Google to surf into pornographic sites or Wikipedia manuals on female physiology and anatomy. And those films that were released allegedly with a big Adult content were all flattering to deceive. Sex and anything to do with the subject was fit enough to invite abomination. The only salvaging saviour that provided any insight into the area and life which was still elusive, a shadow and hence inquisitive, were those proscribed magazines that were sold at shady dark street corners. And it was then one day that “The Venus in India” landed in my lap. I may not have devoured another book as I did that novel. But again it was like the film sound track in the All India Radio when you compare to a visual treat of internet and television.But some time ago,when I tried to read the novel again ,I closed the book unable to go beyond a few pages. That is not to decry the novel.

In contrast, I wonder at the burst of deluge that can capably drown an adolescent that prevail now in the form of information of all kind. The question that sometimes I asked myself until a few years ago, when Aravind & Radhika surfed the NET, are they being bludgeoned by materials and information that they cannot fathom and comprehend? Or have their brains evolved with the evolutionary  cycle to absorb  information that come to them which is  at least a decade before  used to entice me when I was their age.

Now, in the times we live, the individual must be getting information about matters that were damned once upon a time. But has the society in the macro sense of the word and the individual, changed to accept white as white and black as white and black?
 No, is the answer. There are still  misplaced moralistic discourses replete with hypocrisy that it stinks like the untended pit of excreta.

I was quite astonished after watching host of Hollywood and English films in the past six months. The extent of explicit portrayal of physical intimacy between man and woman is powerfully brave. Even for a liberal free for all society that exists in much of West. The reality, be it violation or intimacy sinks into the viewer. Thespians that enact the roles,male and female are all renowned and highly acclaimed names. When the plot demands they act, and moralistic barriers hauled up by society is ignored. Justice is done to the story and picturisation does not deceive. Look what Anna Hathaway did for the film “Love and other Drugs”, Noami Watts in “21 Grams”, Kate Winslet in “Revolutionary Road” and many other acclaimed actors. And the lead men actors in these films are no less insipid when it comes to a demanding sequence. In contrast, early last year, I was privy to a few days of shooting of the new avatar of a Malayalam film that in its earlier incarnation more than thirty five years ago kicked up hullabaloo, controversy and raised eyebrows. Though artistic,I see that was an average creation.

I could also have lunch on the sets with the lead actress, who is singled out for powerful and controversial roles that needs bravery and gumption. She is from a respectable family and well educated almost winning the Miss India a few years ago. Speaking to her gave me the feel that this is no chicken hearted actor, but someone who is not afraid to portray the role as justifiably as it should be. And she maintained that professional commitment and dedication what as actor she must, she would and to hell with the squeaking, weak kneed moralistic hypocrites. The film had scenes that required much explicit content and peevishly the director and the producer back tracked. And the movie lost much aesthetic charm it ought to have had.

The very same society and people, who turn tongue in cheek observations, watch these films with perverted fascination and miserably failing to grasp the depth of the work.. It is like the psyche that maligns and disparages female medical nurses while forgetting the respectable, service they render relentlessly.

Friday, February 24, 2012


A couple of years ago I, my friends and most of the acquaintances of my generation touched the fifty yard mark. And thence dawned the enlightenment that the days ahead will certainly be a bonus. But when I reflect, the fact is that life is too fickle and the succeding second in time is in itself bonus. But it took damn fifty years to realise that! “Ha, foolishly lays the head on the shoulders of Man!”

I disliked being reminded of the knell of fifty. Forty was an interesting dawn as, “at forty one turns naughty”. But my sister and C too, wanted a small luncheon or dinner for the occasion and some of my close chums who were in Thpuram at that time assembled at my sister’s home.

It felt awkward to play VIP and blow the candles out and then slice the cake. An Anglican hangover conveniently imbibed by us! An amusing anecdote one of my friend Tomy narrated on the occasion that aided in casting away the timorousness of the birthday cake affair was his summing up of the birthday bash that a class mate of ours threw at a star hotel, when he turned fifty  a few weeks prior to my birthday. He said in his customary humour,”Hey that fella P celebrated his menopause party the other day . 

Besides the jest, the statement was a reality jolt. The identical syndrome that haunts women when they near fifty or get into the fifties! Though men have not any reason to fret and be subdued by mood swings of the threat of menopause and the psychological  fear of losing the uniqueness of women hood ,"fertility”. And physiologically men are fabricated to have a very long innings when it comes to matters of arousal and amorous life... But the fact remains that at least for some like me, the reality check has begun.

This is not just about sexual life that gives much thought. But it is the subsumed fact that lies, Vis a Vis the greying of hair and whiskers, the deposit of fat around the mid riff, the increasingly somatic existence and the enlightenment that the downhill ride has begun. While holding in gratitude the fortune many like me who could live so long with insouciant countenance, solemn thoughts for the many that perished before they could bloom and in the pinnacle of their salubrious lives!

This seems to be the age and time when I feel more like the odd man out in a group which is more in their early forties or even thirties. I’m sure some may dispute this. It also could be so. And it again must be the mind that plays the poker. The Kafkaesque age in one’s life! Strong and brave are the ones who tread forward with nonchalance. Why not?

I have a very good friend, who is my age and who we all see leads a life of quiet and unhurried. The slightly receding hair line garnished with salt and pepper, a sporty beard- and he refuses to think that he is an Uncle Tom. He believes and lives that he still draws the awe, the glances of the young and the middle aged of the fairer sex. This alone is not the end game that is all about. But it is the measured and calculated steps that he puts forth in life, that perhaps make him some what a lovable odd one out.

Now, I also recollect an oxymoron like remark someone made to me.And he certainly was not an M.C.P and   harboured no derogatory feel to the opposite sex either.He said, “It is disheartening to fly Kingfisher and Jet, because the stewardesses may want to use the salutation, ‘Uncle’, while in the discomfort of an Air India flight, one can call the stewardess, Aunt.” 
He was expressing the anguish that the elixir to sustain youth in life is still a myth.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Little Red Ridding Hood

“Little Red Riding Hood”- the fable was in my English Reader in Standard II. Pictures in colour of the little girl in the forest , picking up wild flowers and in great spirits, en-route to  her grandmother who lived in a cottage in a clearing deep in the forest still is etched in memory. And then the cunning wolf dressed up in her grandmother’s clothes and cuddled up in bed!

Cinderella, in the carriage drawn by  white horses on her way to Prince’s Ball; the little Snow White and her dwarfs. Alice and her fascinating encounter with the Rabbit and other creatures was in the Radiant Reader in, I guess Standard Three. There was the story of Peggy in her red satin frock in another lesson, which pictured a model family living in the English country side. Then, of course the Sleeping Beauty and King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, but certainly not to forget the outlawed hero Robin Hood.

 Well, being put in an English medium convent, I was as a little boy more in sync with these characters and allegories such as their stories. Those stories drew and crafted an image and concept that proved to be enduring and inerasable. I guess that will be one among the few good things in me.

I was a sort of a loner in childhood - belligerent, delinquent and a rebel through adolescence and teen. Being eldest of two children and my sibling being a girl a few years younger to me, there was a lot of closeness that one felt to a sister who shared the same womb. I can recall that the protagonist and central characters in all those fables I mentioned was consciously and subconsciously identified to the only person I was to be with, at home, en-route to school, during recess and all the while, my sister. The wicked wolf was identified with the most disliked person, I then presumed and hence a threat to my sister. The villainous queen and Cinderella’s step mother to any woman who was as I felt rude to my sister. I wondered what would happen if she were to fall down through into a hole like poor Alice. It happened that she had a deep red frock, which she wore on certain days and I was proud that she could be identified with the pretty little Peggy. Mother once mentioned I becoming uncontrollably agitated and wanted to smack the nurse who inflicted a hypodermic injection on the little girl and she wailed.

Often in later life in my adolescence and teens, I became quite a loner, because I felt that a brother in place of a sister would be more of fun and jubilation. As she grew into her teens the distance came about in communication and I now feel was natural that a girl was bound then by a limitation of being a girl. That applied to the relationship with, be it the father or big brother. She moved closer to our mother and two women are definitely a bigger force than one!

But I introspect much of the bond that stayed within me, as it was seldom exposed. More because, I guess was due to the conventions and social behaviors then, that one seldom exhibited any visible and excited affection to a woman, be it your sibling or mother. And the same applies now and continues to this day.
Looking back a few years, I compare with my two children and their exasperating fights and complaints of bullying by the other. Often it was the girl who is younger who cried wolf and alleged offence from the brother. And indeed he used to peck her beyond once patience. But what I noticed, in his angry facial expressions and seemingly violent act of hurting her was that the act was only an act. When he seemingly held her wrist and twisted, forcing a shrill outcry from her in pain, it was obvious that he was only feigning and had not hurt her even a whisker. The drama was hers and she deemed to be her prerogative.

That was in their childhood. When they matured into teens, I find the bond and affection manifest and strong as I hoped it would be. I feel till now, content that they imbibed in their body chemistry what I feel is inviolable necessity- affection and love for ones sibling. I tell them often that relationships that might come into their lives in the years ahead may dissuade them from being solace, succor and encouragement in life for the other. But, they ought to ensure that the subject matter is not negotiable, because if they must claim to be a life form greater in sum to beast, then they have to be different from beast. And a rightful and conscientious man or woman who comes into their lives will not trade for that.

The ironical fact and the incongruity that I notice around is that, it is more often a lopsided matter as it often is in real life.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Ecstasy & Agony

“Great many of us are possessed by our possessions.” Nothing can be more tied to truth.
When Siddhartha was beckoned by epiphany one night, he threw away all the trappings of the prince and set forth on the journey that made him the Buddha and gave forth to mankind a philosophy that was the inspiration for exhortations in some oriental religions. His renunciation of material wealth, what we call richness was not sacrifice- but a way of life, to free him from the mental agony and turmoil that haunted him. History has no reason to tell us that he eventually bemoaned what he left behind.

I have not read the Gita, as it is, from cover to cover in its hard bound condition. However I have scoured through Juan Mascara’s translation of the Gita that was published by the Penguin, and is in my small but treasured collection of books. Erudite men and scholars as well as people who find comfort in being self-acclaimed acolytes of the Gita - its treatise , have been heard saying that renunciation of possessions is the solitary way to happiness and contentment. Detachment from things material, relationships and so on, is necessary to salvage the soul and the mind from the agony of being born. A kind of Mumbo-jumbo, I would say!

To me, an ordinary and a commoner, such discourse- from a treatise seen as sacred by many has seldom been of much help. I understand “possessions” to mean all that one has, owns legally and morally. And also objects, matters and most of all people who are epicenters of our absolute happiness and contentment. To consider a state where one loses all, or either of the ones, is unquestionably haunting and devastating.

As Ruskin said, “Every increased possession loads us with new weariness.” I fear, often being trapped by the depth and the power possessions, of things that one holds dear to the bosom, animistic and inanimate. Because, when only one feels the torment from the loss of an inanimate possession-lost forever, do one fear and realize the inescapable depths of the excruciating torment that the loss of an animate possession can have. 

It is a strange matter. A child ceases to wail after a while from losing a fancied toy. Whilst adults like us are suffocated for the remaining part of our lives after we lose a cherished and closely held possession, person or relationship.

Why then is man ensnared by what he has? Why are we susceptible to the distress and suffering by the loss of a person or a thing we loved and cherished? The beasts move on after the anguish the moment of divestment, loss or dispossession  bring and there is no definite proof to tell that they are for life tormented by the deprivation or loss. The gypsies seldom or do not own something tangible. But they are like us, in flesh and blood and can feel the intensity of happiness and pain .

If I’m what I have and if I lose what I have then what am I? But, also tell me how can human beings get over the deprivation or parting of something closely cherished?

Sunday, February 5, 2012

A Distant Memory.

The paths tread and the places seen, the men and women whose path we crossed, saw, befriended, worked together, irresistibly loved to despise, loved and most of all choose to remember and desired to forget!

 It left me wondering the many faces that passed my gaze. The many I may never meet again, the ones I might want longingly to see again. I began to recollect, to rewind, fitfully though from the first day, I could remember back from a long time ago. Some, who fascinated and enthralled me, some who I loved to hate and some who stay lingering in memory poignantly. Yet some who have been instruments of pain and hurt, of disillusionment and deception, of selfishness and opportunism- and to eclipse all that, just instruments of delight. And some who just passed by as non-entities, and stalked as a shadow, often to comeback into memory.

It is assumed by some that a certain person was the instrument of change in them, a harbinger of sort. To me that has been rubbish to this day. I feel, I’m more disposed to my genetic makeup than an external influence of a stranger, a friend, an acquaintance or just some one. That may be a liability of character, because that can also be the reason why I’m incorrigible.

Many may have vanished and eloped into oblivion after enacting their role in a fleeting life that was not out of their volition. What may have happened to them after I saw them last? The ones who may still be surviving- how are they, perhaps will they ever think of me, remember me? Why must they in this melee and frenzy to stay afloat!

I do not remember his name. He was dark complexioned like the many pull rickshaw men in Chennai. He was tall, well-built and sported a khaki half pants and a woven shirt in cotton. There was discoloration of the fabric around his under-arm, obviously the acidic reaction of perspiration from the glands that worked overtime to keep apace in his struggle to eke out. I remember him sporting a towel of myriad colours around the neck- a towel that may have revealed colours that was not meant to be, awash in his sweat and the dust that wedged on it while it was damp with his toil.

I suppose, I give him a name, a typical Tamil name? No, that would be unfair. He will stay as he will in my memory, a shadow of a figure with no name I can think of.  He was the pull rickshaw man who unfailingly picked me from home and put me with care in his rickshaw and lugged all the way to a distant convent school in Thambaram. That was in the sixties and I was in the first standard and living in Thambaram , while my father was stationed at the Air Force base there. When it rained as it does cats and dogs in Chennai, he used to ensure that I was cocooned safe from being drenched and put his tarpaulin envelope around the passenger area of the rickshaw. And then lug the rickshaw to the school in the torrent and along the streets which soon would be a sewage canal. He would then carry me, my school and lunch bags around his shoulder, and like a juggler, handle a rickety umbrella too, so that I was protected from the rain. And he would leave me safe inside the class room. He was affable and pleasant, I can remember, but do not however recall what he had to talk to me all the while- to me a five year old. In the late afternoon after the school, he was punctual at the class room door to take me back home. I must have called him “mama” as it is always so in Tamilnad – a respectful term for an elder, irrespective of his eminence. I can barely recall through the haze of the years that have went by, the bond that developed between the two of us. But that lasted for a year and I was shifted out of Tamilnad.

There is nothing much I can reminisce of him and the time he pulled his rickshaw with me in it. But years after and often I wonder about this man, whose scanty image is etched somewhere and it comes out lingering. Today it did!

That was forty seven years ago. And he would be, I suppose one hundred or there about if he is alive. Else, let he be in peace after a life that must have been hard on him.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Abu, the son of Adam

What that made me wonder and think, was the movie, “Adam inte Makan Abu” (Adam’s son Abu), in Malayalam and that which acceptably won the National and International acclaim. The movie was a well created one with good visuals and restrained performances.

The story line is about Abu an emaciated perfume vendor whose only wish in life is a pilgrimage to the Haj. To fetch enough resources for the journey, he and his wife ends up selling all they had and even almost gave away their bosom house. However still running short of the required money they are offered the means by a couple of good Samaritans. Since accepting money that is not earned or from the immediate ones is forbidden by didactic Islamic scripts, they are devastated and forlornly cast away their savoured dream of the pilgrimage to Mecca.

The fim has many scenes wherein Abu, swears that the very essence of being born is to touch upon the soil of Mecca. The Creator sends forth Man into the world, to be enriched and salvaged by the pilgrimage to the Haj. The reason being born human being is to journey to Mecca! And, Abu nor his wife, though barely eke out living, has no inhibitions or misgivings in throwing away all that little they possess to raise money for the journey of their life.

I was left wondering on many occasions through the movie, that man’s search and straying after a mirage, a faith, and a concept that is allegedly holed up at the top of the golden stairway has no bounds.
The perplexing psyche is to throw away a life in hand and anticipate a much fancied after life that no one has known, seen or come back to vouch. To barter the life to live for a concept of life in what is called “Paradise” as it is made out. The bird in hand is forgotten in the search and fascination for the two that is alleged to be in the bush. Some like Abu crave for a journey to the Haj and would readily part with the little they have for subsistence. Some murder and kill for the promised stairway up into the clouds. It is a strange matter that baffles comprehension. And we call it “faith”!

I do not find reasons to be impressed about what some may call faith , or manifestly “blind faith" and precisely because of the halo given to the term, treat it as holy and beyond impeachment. Sacrosanct that it is impervious to logic, understanding, knowledge and all that is empirical. It is secure against all criticism, argument and opinion. Commonsense is jettisoned as being an unwanted baggage. It is a matter of faith and faith is blind, the argument goes!

Well then what is faith?
 When one is blind, what could one possible see? Which means what is argued as the unquestionable notion or faith, is a state of mind that is arrived when one is blind. And since one is blind one is not sure, if it is a journey partially afloat like a drift wood. It is like a cab driver leaving you some where assuring you it is at the door of everlasting asylum and abode of happiness, while your eyes are closed or you are blind to see where he actually left you. And for that journey, you parted with all that you had and enriched life, the loved ones who made your life a cherished one, and with eyes closed faithfully.

There, then, is no faith that is blind and not, faith itself is blind.