Life and Death

In a sermon on death, a priest was explaining the truth about death to the congregation. He first stuns the audience by saying he’s dying. He said he started dying since the very day he was born, because death is the only truth and end of the life and the each day that we lived brought us closer to death. He then makes a statement that rankles everyone in the audience! He said, “ Everyone in this parish is going to die!” He looked around and noticed one man in front smiling broadly. “ Why are you so amused?” he asked. “ I am not from this parish,” the man said. “ I am just visiting my sister for the weekend.”

The incident reaffirms that we are all scared of death and do not want to reconcile to the fact that death is a reality and definitive end of this life. To avoid this reality, we go to any extent, like the man in the above incident, who felt he was immortal as if only the members of that parish were to die of which he was not a member.

Because we don’t regard death as definitive reality and the end of life, we continue to accumulate material happiness as if life is perpetual. Let my readers not get any impression of I turning philosophical preaching metaphysics, it’s just reiteration of my thoughts expressed in my birthday blog. Each birthday takes us a step closer to the end and while we should celebrate the day of our arrival in this world with our nears and dears, we should not forget to reflect on the reality of life!

I would like to thank Abacus Consultants, Colonel D K Sabharwal and Anindita for introducing me to Mitch Albom, whose work I found to be mesmerising and whom I want to read more.

Pain and pleasure

Came across these beautiful lines by Robert Browning Hamilton :

I walked a mile with Pleasure;

She chatted all the way;

But left me none the wiser

For all she had to say.

I walked a mile with sorrow;

And ne’er a word said she;

But, oh! The things I learnt from her,

When sorrow walked with me.

The above lines beautifully encapsulate our frame of mind during pleasure and sorrow. When we are happy, we move ahead merrily as if there’s no tomorrow. When we are entrenched in sorrow, we move ahead heavily, again as if there’s no tomorrow.

The above lines can also be interpreted with more relevance, if we substitute sorrow with problems. I think the Poet exhorts us to take sorrows or problems in our stride by taking them as learning and remain optimistic or hopeful because if pleasure is transient so is sorrow.

There’s another angle to interpreting the above lines. Pleasure seems to be getting over very quickly, for we are in celebratory mood and everyone is with us; when we are in deep sorrow or serious problem, we are alone so it seems mountainous. As a Hindi song describes it beautifully-

Sukh ke sab saathi

Dukh mein na koi

This is much oft explained enigma that pain and pleasure are the two sides of the same coin and go hand in hand. Like we celebrate a transient happy phase, we should keep hope in difficult phase too as sukh follows dukh and vice versa.

What’s in a name?

I have a dear colleague, who is a good friend too, having a very fascinating name – Nehru Singh. Before meeting him, when I heard his name, I found his name to be quite enigmatic. Nehru is a household name, rather surname, thanks to our first prime minister Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru. We also know that people with Nehru surname are Kashmiri Brahmins or Brahmins at least as Nehru was always addressed as Panditji. Singh is a generic second name that follows the first name across communities and geographies in India – Sikhs, Jats, Rajputs et al. When you hear a name that comprises a surname and a second name, you are bound to be fascinated. But this fascination didn’t stop here! The person with a North Indian surname as a first name and a North India second name as his second name word, actually turned out to be a Tamilian from Deep South. Further acquaintanceship with him revealed that the place from where he came has had a long tradition of naming their children after famous and iconic personalities ! He has Bhagat Singh, Subhash Chandra, Gandhi etc all in his family!

The reason for this out of turn remembrance for Nehru ( it’s neither his birthday today or his anniversary ) is a fascinating piece of news that I read in today’s newspaper. Salem’s CPI District Secretary A Mohan’s youngest son is AM Socialism, who is marrying a girl from staunch Congress family. The girl is named P Mamta Banerjee ( report says that the girl was born when Mamta was in Congress). News further says that both the Tamil families seem happy to wear ideologies on their sleeves. Socialism has brothers Communism and Leninism and Communism has a son Marxism ( as report cheekily says – not the other way around- Marxism is hailed as father of Communism). We now have a classic case – Mamta, the Chief Minister of WB, married to the principle of socialism and down South a girl Mamta married to a boy Socialism.

In comparison to the above, the name Nehru Singh now appears to be music to the ears!

Long live Tamil Nadu and its tryst with the science of nomenclature!

Passion and profession

My readers would recall a blog written a few days ago regarding a big shift in my life from being a student to a bank employee. My memories were evoked by a story by PG Wodehouse in which the protagonist, an avid and talented cricket player, having a distinct chance of upgrading to county cricket and from there to England’s test cricket team, has to dump his dreams due to family circumstances and has to pick up a mundane bank job.

While a part of the story that resonated with my story ( though I was hardly a talented sportsperson or a scholar) touched the chords of my heart, the story of the protagonist does not end here. He works hard and sincerely in the Bank, but his heart is simply not there. Once cold and dark English winters pave way for warm and sunny spring, he feels suffocated inside the bank building and wants to be in the cricket field.

The story ends on a happy note. The protagonist is helped by his affluent friend to pursue further studies in university and try his luck with higher form of cricket and is thus liberated from the depressing and and suffocating atmosphere to pursue his interest.

The aforesaid story, which is full of interesting twists and turns, will resonate with many of us as we may not be in a profession or doing a job in which our heart lies. Especially those with interests in fine arts such as music, poetry or painting face greater hurdles in making their passion their profession too!

The current pandemic has forced many of us to think about our hobbies, interests and passions and to pursue them as stress busters if not source of income. Many of us are helping our partners in household chores ( cooking, washing etc) willingly and with enjoyment. We are also able to catch up on reading, exercising and meditating.

The pandemic may be once in life time tragedy for many of us, but there’s a learning that needs to be realised and imbibed.

India shining

Mumbai is reopening from tomorrow albeit with some restrictions. Actually, we should stop calling these steps or Covid related protocols as restrictions and lap them up as the business as usual for future. There’s no way that uninhibited return to Pre Covid life seems possible at least in near future.

So what are these so called restrictions that we need to adopt for all times to come at least as it looks now? We have no choice but to invariably wear mask when we go out of our homes. This we will have to ensure till at least 75% of the country’s population receives its first dose of vaccination. We will have to avoid crowds – difficult for those using public transport, especially local trains – but we should avoid if given the choice. And the foremost requirement is to educate ordinary citizens to adapt good hygiene. Spitting and urinating in the open should be a sin and not only a taboo! Let’s have more Sulabh shauchalays and let’s maintain them well!

To my mind, at least in megapolises like Mumbai, while Metros , housing and traffic management could continue to be top of the mind issues, we need to invest in two things – CCTVs and public toilets. CCTVs will address the multiple problems of traffic offenders, criminals, public spitters and defilers, pet owners ( who let their pets dirty all the pavements ), road romeos and all those who try to take the system for granted. And we need more clean public toilets, especially for our ladies.

India is a superpower, economic behemoth, space explorer and IT Hub. These are our proud achievements. Let’s now become a social superpower- one that provides the best life to its citizens with super social and physical security, top class and affordable health care and superb amenities. And then we will see number of migrations from India coming down- on the contrary, talent returning home!

That will be the true “ India shining”.

Two decades in Mumbai

I distinctly remember that it was in the month of June in the year 2001 that I was transferred to Mumbai, which today culminated into two decades of unbroken stay in this city of dreams.

I was put up in a decent hotel in Fort area, which was closer to my workplace in Cuffe Parade. But the first priority was my daughter’s admission to seventh standard and colleagues directed me to Poddar Santa Cruz. As I was to commute by train. Andheri was the first choice for residence. Natural affinity was for Lokhandwala, though a friend advised me to explore four bungalows as this would result in saving in commuting time. From Andheri to Juhu to back to Andheri four bungalows is a long story that I would touch upon some other time. But it was a smooth subsumption into a routine involving train travel from Andheri to Churchgate and a shared cab or BEST bus from there to office and back home. Occasional after office drink with friends, mostly on weekends in Churchgate or Fort was the big attraction. To put it mildly, for a born Delhiite, adaptation to Mumbai was seamless.

Of course, I witnessed huge changes. For once, I consider myself lucky to have savoured the experience of watching movies at iconic Regal, Eros, Sterling, New Excelsior and Metro, before they shut down ( except Regal) and reopened in the new avatar of multiplex. I could also enjoy the inexplicable joy of eating at some of the iconic Iranian Parsi joints and unbeatable Cafe Samovar inside Jehangir Art Gallery. The thali restaurant at Kalbadevi that started serving thali at Rs60 and the last price being Rs320, has since downed shutters. World Trade Centre gave the first experience of what the malls were going to be !

And so much infrastructure development that happened in last 2 decades changed the face of the city. Scores of flyovers, foot bridges, sea link, freeway, Monorail, Metro and of course, the world Class T2 are some of the transformations I have witnessed during the last 2 decades.

Of course, a few things have worsened too! Two wheelers have crowded Mumbai roads and the owners neither wear helmet nor abide by traffic rules. Auto and taxi drivers can be frequently seen not wearing uniform and running shared services by overcrowding their vehicles! More and more iconic places are shutting shops! And there are other urban malaise like water logging, traffic jams and lack of open spaces.

But these 20 years have been the golden period of my life highlighted by career and life progression – personally for me as also my wife and daughter. Some of the most interesting and important events of life have happened during these 2 decades.

Having lived in Mumbai for two decades, living anywhere else would be quite tough if not impossible. Mumbai is cosmopolitan, broad minded, all inclusive and advanced in its thought process. For those who can work hard, Mumbai has rich rewards. This is a classic example of karmabhoomi becoming more important than my janmabhoomi.

Brave face against fanaticism

A lawyer standing up for a just cause, getting the justice to a rape victim from the weaker section, who is group raped by the son of the powerful local politician and his friends, suffers character assassination and death in the process. He leaves behind his new bride of a few months, who is pregnant.

The new bride is exhorted upon by her parents to go in for medical termination of pregnancy and start life afresh but she chooses to stay back with her in laws and go ahead with delivery. She is like a daughter to her in laws, who also care wonderfully well for her.

There’s a girl from a conservative family who falls for the wicked charms of her paramour, who tries to ravage her modesty. She escapes unscathed but now has this stigma attached to her by a conservative society. Of course, she’s supported by her reformed father ( another story track) who admits her to medical college. She’s ill treated by her brother’s wife post her father’s death, but she fights it all for a happy ending for herself.

In between, the widow, who now has a 5 years old son, is encouraged to attempt starting life afresh as the young boy needs a father more than a grandpa or uncle. She finds an able suitor who promises to treat her son as her own.

There’s a doctor couple, who abdicate cozy environs of US to return to their native and start a state of they art hospital at a backward hill district. Apart from bringing world class treatment closer to these people, they regularly arrange camps to vaccinate and educate poor and illiterate villagers against devastating diseases.

There are standard parallel tracks around victory of good over evil that we see all the time in our movies too.

If you are guessing the above to be an extract out of a new Hollywood or Bollywood movie, you are quite off the mark! The above in fact is the theme of a Pakistani drama that we accidentally bumped into while searching a programme on YouTube. And once we started watching it, we ended up finishing 28 episodes of over 35 minutes each in under 3 days.

While there’s no dearth of entertaining content ( on OTT, YouTube, channels etc) and one can see any programme or event and therefore, I am not recommending this Pakistani drama for its entertainment value, the moot point here is the progressive thought coming out of a country from where we generally get news of regressive values. Equal treatment of sons and daughters, rehabilitation of widow daughter in law, giving the highest education to a daughter to make her independent are all the issues that are as much relevant on this side of the border as these are on that side. While there are fanatics with regressive thoughts, there is a section there that’s trying to put up a defiant face and that could be worth emulation.

Heartfelt thanks

When a child is born, it’s an occasion to rejoice for the family. First birthday is more exciting as the child has by now started to stand on his legs, identify immediate nears and dears and speak some simple words like Papa Mama. Similarly, subsequent birthdays create an excitement in the family as the child grows and its time to celebrate the child’s growth and development- drawing or painting skills, singing skills, skill to mimic or plain studies. That’s how life progresses and celebration extends to new members – spouse, children, friends colleagues et al.

Beyond a point, count up gives way to the count down. If 80 is the average lifespan than birthdays post the 40th birthday are part of this countdown. Instead of looking forward, one starts looking backwards – the dreams and avidity give way to memories and nostalgia. One starts thinking more about the past – the achievements, good times, the events that led to growth and development.

So I am more at the second stage that is the stage of the countdown. However, the friends acquaintances and well wishers are leaving no stone unturned to make this birthday super special like all my birthdays in the past. And in the morning I woke up to a very special message- an audio of happy birthday song rendered by my grandsons. A few more children of my colleagues are likely to add further sweetness to this occasion.

All this love and affection is creating a bit of confusion in my mind . If I am so loveable, desirable and sought after. I should continue to count up rather than countdown. This is the power of love. It can increase the lifespan and quality of life of a person.

My heartfelt gratitude to each one of you who took to to all kinds of communications- phone call, SMS, WhatsApp, FB, Instagram and greetings inserted inside flowers and cakes to convey your wishes to me! It’s made me to believe that I am celebrating my 19th rather than 59th birthday.

Graduating in life

My readers by now are well aware about my fascination with P G Wodehouse writings and I continue to read his compendium of work on my kindle. It’s like a thesis and I am reading it at a leisurely pace.

Apart from his mastery over the use of language and expression to create a situation that’s neither fully ironical nor satirical, his ability to create subtle humour out of day to day situations is really something wonderful. In the process, if there’s a situation with which you identify yourself, it adds a layer of familiarity.

After finishing the acts of Bertie Wooster, I am currently reading another of his popular character Psmith. This is a long winded story about a family of Jacksons having four sons and a daughter and all four brothers are cricket aficionados and good players in their own right. They are sent to famous boarding schools/ junior colleges that are well known for their cricketing abilities apart of academics.

To cut the story short, the youngest of the Jacksons, Mike, who’s playing wonderful cricket and appears to be ripe for county cricket, is summoned by his father to be informed that he has lost all his wealth and that Mike can not pursue his education and cricket further and instead has to join a bank in London.

From campus to brutal professional world of banking, the transition is sudden and abrupt. The young Mike is feeling like fish out of water inside the bank office, where he’s asked to go to despatch section and learn about receipt and delivery of letters. On his way to office in London on day 1, he comes across a college ground and immediately thinks about playing some cricket on weekends and holidays.

The above took me back to the year 1983 when I was going to Delhi university, pursuing my master in physics. The first semester ended on 10th December and the second semester was to begin on 5th January after a short winter break. In between around 15th of December, I got an offer letter asking me to report at a bank’s divisional office at Connaught Place on 28th December. Was I happy? In fact , I was totally crestfallen at the thought of transiting from cool, intellectually stimulating campus life to big boring world of banking. The thought that my further studies were going to end abruptly really sank me to the extreme depths of sadness. And on my first day at the bank, like Mike, I was a fish out of water and again like Mike asked to sit in despatch section. From young, educated, ambitious and disciplined folks at DU campus, the loud, boisterous and invective using bank staff, it was a transition most forgettable that I have not been able to forget till date!

Such is the irony of life; but how you see the lighter side of such an irony is what PGW tells us in his inimitable manner!

This extract of his work transported me to an event that happened 40 years back but whose memory is still fresh in my mind, like it was yesterday. This is the power of pen.

50 is no mean feat

My regular readers know about Mr Malik, a rare personality, as we generally do not come across such personalities very often in our day to day lives.

A simile very often used to describe a person who has a tough facade but a soft heart inside is coconut. A coconut has a hard shell outside but the nut inside is soft. For Mr Malik, I go a step further. He’s like a raw coconut used by us to savour it’s water. It also has a tough shell ( requiring a sickle to unshell) and inside it’s not only filled with sweet nectarine water that quenches our thirst but also soft milky pulp or malai as we call it colloquially that tastefully satisfies our hunger too. Such is Mr Malik’s persona.

Mrs Malik is what a true lady is – a devoted wife, a doting mother, a dutiful daughter in law and a qualified professional who also contributed to family’s welfare!

And together, they have brought up two lovely daughters – educated, talented, professional, homely but fiercely independent! Though they both came from middle class families uprooted by partition, their thought process has always been progressive bereft of any conservatism. And the way daughters and their families bond with Mrs and Mr Malik, it’s enough to break the age old myth of a son’s requirement to take care of parents in old age.

It’s a milestone, a big occasion when two such good, affectionate, loveable people celebrate golden jubilee of their togetherness. And though in these Corona times, the celebration will be low key and restricted to immediate family, we, the friends, well wishers and admirers of this fantastic couple will also rejoice the occasion in our own small way.

We pray to God to give good health and prosperity to this beloved and respected couple so that after golden, they celebrate diamond and platinum jubilees of their togetherness.

Happy golden anniversary Mrs and Mr Malik.