Old is gold

A few days ago, the thespian and one of the most respected Bollywood icons, Dilip Kumar left this world, losing a long fought battle with age related ailments. Yesterday, Birju Maharaj breathed his last and the country lost a legend of kathak dance and Hindustani music. Nightingale Lata Mangeshkar is fighting Covid related complications in Breach Candy hospital and the entire nation is praying for her early recovery.

If you take a realistic look, the above icons had long seized to be active. I don’t think Dilip acted in any movie in the 21st century. Birju Maharaj focused on his school Kalashram, but appeared rarely on the stage. I don’t think Lata has sung for a Bollywood film in the last few years. But there’s something about their stature, their significance in our lives that makes their presence amidst ourselves very comforting. Every time Dilip defeated death and returned home, it was an occasion to celebrate. Yesterday’s loss of Birju Maharaj almost appears to be a personal loss. And every day, we seem to be following Lata’s health bulletin with bated breath.

It’s a similar feeling about our parents. They may be old, infirm, battling ailments or leading a restricted life, but their presence is always comforting. That’s why the loss of a parent – either mother or father- seems so irreparable.

The above feeling just got evoked in my heart while penning the blog written in tribute to Birju Maharaj. Let’s cherish the presence of elderly people – our parents, other elderly relatives, icons from various walks of life, celebrate their achievements and contribution and treasure them. It’s most fulfilling .

Nothing is permanent in this world

Most uncertain is human life;

Cherish a person’s presence amidst us

Whether mother, father or wife!

But our parents and spouse are our own

Their lives for us is precious

There are so many other icons

Whose departure seems as much vicious!

Birju Maharaj – the legend

Padma Vibhushan, kathak master and a multifaceted personality Birju Maharaj, as he was affectionately and famously known as, is no more. He leaves behind a very rich legacy through his life long devotion to this dancing form of Kathak, which for him was nothing but divine as also his numerous other contributions and disciples.

While no article or work can comprehensively cover a lifetime as rich as Birju Maharaj’s in a few lines or pages or even compendiums, I would like to narrate a personal incident. It was the year 1969, when my mother was taking to singing as profession as an upgrade from a mere hobby. She soon realised that to succeed professionally, she’d need guidance by a professional teacher or guru, as we call a music teacher to be ! In came a Guru, the way a Guru was expected to be – clad in bright white, starched kurta pyjama, chewing pan and grace and demeanour that protruded deep knowledge of the subject. Of course, how he dedicatedly trained my mother to make her a famous artist of her time will be a befitting theme for a separate blog, but here I would narrate an incident relating to Birju Maharaj, as aforesaid. Birju Maharaj was apparently a cousin of my mother’s Guru and my mother had a great yearning to meet the great man once she came to know of this relationship. I remember the day when there was a lot of commotion in our one room rented quarter upon being told of the visit by the great man , the legend Birju Maharaj himself. Those were not the days of mobile connectivity – even landlines were a rarity and a luxury. At the destined time, we were on the road near our home looking for a big swanky car that we were told was Maharaj’s mode of travel. Of course, after endless wait, we lost the hope and our Guruji felt very disheartened at being short changed by his cousin. It’s another story that our Guruji finally took his disciple, my mother, to Birju Maharaj’s house for his blessings and guidance to a new budding singer, an occasion that my mother cherishes till day. For me, it remained a big disappointment for not having met the legend from close quarters, who attained newer heights in the days that followed.

I couldn’t help but recollect this unique memory from my distant past, more than half a century old, now that the legend is no more!

Let’s pay our obeisance to this great exponent of kathak, a singer par excellence, a percussionist of high stature, an ambassador of Hindustani dance and music and above all a great human being! I bow my head to Birju Maharaj.

Change is the name of the game

Received a beautiful post on WhatsApp from my friend on new year resolution. The post gives one a choice to be either a duck – who just quacks and makes no effort to get out of the rigmarole or an eagle – who soars high in search of new horizons!

Actually, it applies to all of us at all points of time. Let’s take the example of the grocery shop next door. First it’s business was impacted once megastores such as D’mart and Big Bazaar came into play and e tailers like Flipkart, Amazon and Gtofers seem to have put the final nail in their coffin. But who’s to be blamed? Did you ever find any difference between two neighbouring retail shops? Did any of these have any USP? Half of the things they generally don’t have, they just read out MRP and sell their stuff ( worst a few of them put their own stickers hiding the company MRP) and are seldom courteous! In contrast, superstore shelves are well stocked, offering choice to the buyers, they have attractive offers running (1+1 etc), their prices are discounted and they offer shopping in comfortable environs.

Kali peeli taxis and autos have seen their business getting severely dented thanks to Olas and Ubers of the world. Again who is to be blamed? These drivers were rude, discourteous, had rickety and dirty vehicles and were not reliable!

And this is true for all walks of life! Organisations are continuously evolving with newer strategies, business models and technology. Either we as part of the organisation can grumble about the good old days ( like a quacking duck) or re/up skill ourselves to match the company’s expectations and philosophy by soaring high ( like an eagle)!

Things are changing faster than ever before! Any new technology is likely to be replaced by a superior one in no time rendering the previous technology redundant. Let’s gear up ourselves and be ready to accept the challenge! We can just lament about the good old days but this lamentation will take us nowhere.

Small mercies

First promotion is always a very special event and I cherished the opportunity very fondly. A written test was followed by interview and then an endless wait for the final result. A colleague brought the news that the result was already declared and that all the successful candidates knew their names. I was crestfallen but being an eternal optimist, chose to await official declaration. And one fine morning, I received phone call from my controller, congratulating me on my elevation! it was like a bolt from the blue, albeit in a positive perspective.

Very early into my professional life, I was advised to finish my two years of rural stint. However, posted in the western most part of Rajasthan deep in the midst of desert and having a new bride that came from the greenest part of the country, going into further upcountry to a remote, dry and poorly connected village for two years gave me shudders. Little did I realise that I would be posted at one of most sought after rural branches located at the outskirts of a prominent town just 5 minutes drive from my residence. Two years just flew off in fun.

Just after marriage, there were times when towards the month ends, we found it a bit difficult to make the two ends meet, waiting anxiously for the salary day. Once, there was an emergency and the expenditure, albeit small, was unavoidable. Having never asked for money in my life, I was in deep despair, when my wife traced some money lying under the bed mattress! It was a godsend moment.

Locating to Kolkata was as per my wish, but getting my daughter admitted to a reputed school proved to be a nightmare. Everywhere we received the standard reply of no seat. As our hope ran low, the principal of the famous Loreto Kolkata, a catholic nun of Irish origin, took mercy to my wife’s crying and allotted us a seat against heavy odds.

Stuck up at Mumbai Central, with nowhere to go, not enough money to afford a flight and with my wife and infant daughter looking haplessly at me, the final reservation chart didn’t contain our names as our wait listed tickets were not confirmed. My wife went to a TT, who invited us to his compartment and allotted seats to us against cancellation without charging a penny that was not lawful.

At Kolkata, my first residence was in Deep South, quite far from my daughter’s school and my workplace. While travelling to office, I always dreamed about shifting close to a Kali temple that was on the way to my office. It was very central close to my office as well as my daughters school. It was also a very cosmopolitan location. One morning , I just received an offer for a house situated just 2 minutes walk from the temple. It was like the end of all our woes.

Somehow, Delhi posting was not to my taste and I wasn’t doing too well. On the day my boss was getting relieved for Mumbai, he proposed whether I would like to be in Mumbai, which was totally unexpected as I never imagined he liked me so much to take me along with him. And in a moment, my lifelong ambition of getting posted in the financial capital of the country was fulfilled.

At Mumbai, I always thought that any place beyond Andheri would be too testing, but rentals and property prices in Andheri were beyond me. I not only got a good flat on rent in Andheri, but am today proud owner of a beautiful property right in the heart of Andheri.

The above are only a few of the incidents that I readily recall. There would be many more that I might have taken for granted as something that I deserved or was destined to get, little realising that while I have been waiting for a miracle to change my life, all these small miracles that were bestowed upon me were either not gratefully acknowledged as small mercies or just taken for granted by me. Life itself is a miracle and so are all these small things that happen in our lives. However. we fail to notice or do not appreciate this miraculous mysterious inexplicable part of life. We wait for big miracles – big lottery, big success, big money, big opportunity etc – missing the joys of everyday miracles around us and to us!

Round up of 2021

The year 2021 started on a rather sour note for me personally. Having just recovered from Covid myself, I got the news of my octogenarian mother falling victim to the virus. And mind you, the second wave was very harsh on the senior citizens and was also highlighted by shortage of hospital beds and oxygen as also vital medicines. However, my mother defeated Corona. I and my wife received covishield vaccine and it seemed that the end of the virus was near. But it continued to wreak havoc and lockdowns were back. Several families lost their dear ones and we did not remain untouched.

On other fronts, India did well in olympics and Neeraj Chopra gladdened the hearts by winning gold. India, however, fared badly in T20 World Cup. Farmer agitation that started upon passing of three farm bills came to a thankful end towards the end of the year. The economy started recovery in tandem with recession of coronavirus, but towards the end, a new variant, omicron has raised its ugly head causing renewed uncertainty.

I think, one thing is eminently clear. The mankind must learn from pandemic and collectively try to make this world a better, safer and more liveable place. Otherwise, we may not use destructive weapons on each other, but nature will destroy us.

Welcome 2022

As per a Scottish proverb, “if wishes were horses, the beggars would ride“, meaning if wishing could make things happen, then even the most destitute people would have everything they wanted.

In the extant case, the wish Is eradication of coronavirus from the face of this earth and beggars are all of us, who want to ride this horse of coronavirus obliteration.

Let’s not lose hope – in our perseverance, our medical fraternity and most of all in the lord almighty. We shall overcome this and with this hope, let’s welcome the brand new year 2022.

Looking behind at the two years of pandemic and the uncertainty arising out of rapid spread of omicron, it’s difficult to make any resolution for 2022. We also know resolutions often fail. Let’s not make any resolution, but promise ourselves that we shall meticulously follow the Covid protocols to defeat this virus within the first few months of 2022 and we, the beggars, would then ride horses for a joyous life ahead!

Happy new year 2022.

Christmas and hope

Children sleep on the Christmas Eve,

Hoping for morning filled with happiness and surprise;

Santa comes during the night on his sleigh,

And no child misses out on his or her prize!

Goodies laden Christmas tree,

And socks hung in anticipation ;

Santa always comes and never disappoints ,

In satisfying children’s expectations.

There’s festivity, there are prayers,

All part of rituals and folklore;

People of all hues and faith join celebrations,

A tradition continuing since yore.

This year’s Christmas is all the more special,

As Corona again raises its ugly head;

Hopes are high that Santa will bring with him

Not only goodies but Corona’s “ The end”

Merry Christmas!

Spirit of our festivals

Each year I look forward to December issue of Reader’s Digest for it contains heart warming stories with Christmas as the backdrop. This year’s edition is no exception, but the impact of the ongoing Covid pandemic has not left even the spirit of Christmas.

This year’s story talks about a family that followed an age old tradition of buying new items of decoration as early as in November and then to put up these items along with lighting and Christmas tree to create a picture postcard like fantasy in the front yard of the house. The family comprised two seniors – the family patriarch and his sister and his two children a 20 years old son and 24 years old daughter having an eighteen months old infant. Like all the years, the Christmas of 2020 was no different and all four members pooled in efforts to create a beautiful Christmas decoration, The baby of the family was delighted to see all the light and glitter. On the eve of Christmas, the aunt received a message that someone with whom she had spent sometime the previous day had tested positive for Covid. Though she had no symptoms, she decided to get her test done and most unfortunately, she also tested positive. While she quarantined herself within the house, the other three members also decided to get themselves tested as a matter of extreme caution. By chance all three of them also tested positive and it was decided to celebrate Christmas on low key without any further elaboration or guests. While the youngsters recovered, Aunt developed breathlessness and she was immediately hospitalised. To cut a long story short, both- the patriarch as well his sister die within few days of each other due to Covid related complications. There was a pall of gloom in the family but the surviving members decided to continue with the decoration to overcome the grief. While the life was limping back to normal, a letter was delivered to their house that read – “ please take off the Christmas decoration as it’s going to be Valentine’s time soon ! This insensitive message really reopened the wounds and the siblings decided to face this indecency and insensitivity heads on rather than taking it lying down. They took to social media and the local FM also supported their cause. In fact, it became such a mass movement that the entire neighbourhood expressed their solidarity by taking out their Christmas decoration and lights from their stores to honour their neighbours, who had lived by the tradition for decades. The entire neighbourhood wore Christmas like look in February and unseasonal snowfall further added to the magic. The response of the people at large to the cause of the the family’s plea was unprecedented and overwhelming and an ample proof that even the worst of tragedies cannot fully sag the undying human spirit.

I immediately identified myself with the story because it was in 2020 only that on the morning of Diwali Day my Corona test report came positive and I slept through the night of splendour, gaiety and lighting. Of course, I defeated Corona and celebrated Diwali of 2021 with full fervour.

There’s some magic about these traditions associated with our festivals. Metro Christmas!

Winter solstice

I distinctly recall that we used to have winter school break during the Christmas period, which our elders used to call bade din ki chhuttiyan. The significance of this dwelt upon me much later in life when in our geography class we learnt about winter and summer solstices as also the importance of 21st December and 21st June, the days representing the aforesaid two solstices respectively.

In Mumbai, where we enjoy fair weather throughout the year, the importance of solstices is rather understated. However, in countries in the Northern hemisphere closer to the North Pole, where the white sheet of snow that marks the severe winter there engulfs everything into its fold, it’s a day to rejoice, as from here onwards, days start getting longer and a bit warmer too. There’s more sunshine to counter the bleakness associated with cold winters. And of course, winter solstice also means that Christmas is just round the corner.

As someone tweeted, “ Let’s sing “ Days can only get longer” to the tune of famous song “ Things can only get better”. This assumes all the more significance in today’s times of Covid and it’s new avataar omicron. I have composed a few lines combining both the above:

Things can only get better

Days can only get longer

Human spirit is undying

Covid and omicron will have to falter!

There’s Christmas round the corner

And a brand new year not very far either

Hopes of a great future are high

Covid or omicron will be there? Neither

The world deserves some peace

After two years of pandemic and no ease

Let’s all celebrate the resilience of mankind

And live a healthy life bereft of any disease

Free publicity

My residence is bang on the Versova Ghatkopar Metro line and it rejoices me no end to see this only operational metro line attracting the attention of the advertisers. A few of the trains have been painted with the advertisements by the sponsors. However, more strikingly, it’s the very renaming of few of the stations by including the name of the advertiser or sponsor. Ghatkopar was VIVA Ghatkopar ( I don’t know whether the sponsorship continues or not), while Andheri station used to be Bank of Baroda Andheri. Yesterday, I noticed the station near my residence being renamed as Medimix Azad Nagar.

This made me nostalgic about my birthplace Delhi of yore, when the main bus termini in the heart of Delhi, Connaught Place, used to have names that represented the iconic landmarks there. These stops were called Madras Hotel ( since renamed Shivaji Stadium), Regal ( since renamed Jantar Mantar) , Plaza ( also renamed but I don’t recollect what). Those were the days of simplicity when iconic restaurants and theatres held greater might than poor DTC. But while the iconic places kept on vanishing one by one- Madras Hotel closed down after decades of existence purportedly due to expiry of lease, Regal shutdown after years of struggled existence and Plaza became a multiplex a few years ago, the corporations learnt the tricks of trade.

The corporations such as DTC, Mumbai Metro, BEST etc , who have struggled financially as the fare collection is insufficient for their sustenance, have opened newer revenue streams by offering their vehicles and other assets to advertisers for additional revenue. And that brought to my mind the nostalgic thought – there are no free lunches!