About nothing!

About nothing!

I was stuck. Nothing unusual. It was two days after Diwali, a time when all Indian men are on the streets trying to reach out to their sisters. In any case getting stuck is not uncommon in our country where we share our roads with wayward tractor trolleys, unhinged bullock carts,  and holy cows. This time though it was different. The toll was taking its toll or more accurately not taking toll!  There was a ‘system failure’ in the toll booth ahead, leading to a long queue of angrily blaring vehicles.

5A001F3E-7E29-4B20-90FA-A9B35F6880C1When my driver had taught me the finer nuances of road usage, he told me to choose my lane wisely.  As we came down a flyover and the toll plaza came in view,   like a seasoned mathematician, he reasoned “If the queue length is equal, opt for the one with longer vehicles ( trucks/ buses/ lorries) as they will be fewer in number. Scrutinise and always prefer a lane in which the boom barrier is raised. It means that the system is working.” Although I didn’t understand it then, I have now realised that the last instruction is invaluable. It is common for booths to be rendered defunct because of some technical fault.  This necessitates you to back out of that line and get into the next,  a time consuming and frustrating exercise.

Like most people I have also realised that no matter how smartly you choose,  your line will be the slowest or at least appear to be. Time never feels so precious, as it does when you are waiting for something over which you have no control.  So you can spend an extra fifteen minutes in bed, while away time on social networking sites, watch some inane serial or gossip away on the phone, but those few minutes  in a queue affect your productivity as nothing else can.

 I usually pass this time  grumbling. I could use it constructively, check emails,  read messages or just relax but that is not possible. If I don’t move my car the moment the vehicle ahead moves a millimetre there are angry honks from behind. I once got so irritated by the persistent honking that I took out my keys from the ignition, dangled them above my head so that the impatient honker could see them and then pretended to take a nap. It seemed to have made an impression on him because he abstained from blaring the horn after my little mime. 

Coming back to my narrative, that day instead of looking at my watch I looked outside my window. Since I was in a state of  ‘rest’ the other vehicles passed me like the frames of a slow motion film. Observing the occupants I tried to surmise their stories. The first car had a man and woman, sitting together,  worlds apart. Must be a much married couple, having exhausted all forms of conversation, they now communicated through noisy silences,  uncomfortable, intrusive silences. The next had a group of youngsters, all busy on their phones. Disconnected from their surroundings, trying to connect with people who were elsewhere. There was a family in the next car, a harried mother, a preoccupied father and two boisterous children. Noticing that I was watching the boy stuck out his tongue, as  did I. This shocked him. He should have known. I have been there and done that half a century ago! The car following it had a multitasking woman painting her nails. Trust a woman to make the best of any situation, a slow moving car included. I would have noticed some more action around me and reported back. But sadly, the car ahead started moving indicating that the system had been rectified and it was time to move on. 

Why am I writing about something so inconsequential and wasting your precious time ? What’s the point of my story, you want to know.  Actually nothing, except to emphasise that in this life full of care, we can still find time to stand and stare!

( carried in the Tribune on 9/11/2019 as a part of my column)

Wrapping a bribe

Wrapping a bribe

It’s that time of the year again. The season to clean out  closets, almirahs, box beds or wherever else you had stored them, wrap them and get them ready. It’s Diwali after all, everyone gets a new outfit, including past presents!  Culturally, Diwali has been seen as an opportunity to express gratitude to people who matter, a sentiment which was conveyed by exchanging gifts. Over the years gifting has gone beyond following tradition and sharing revelry. It has become a way to flaunt one’s eclectic taste, appease top officials and foster contacts to enhance business ……..and get rid of unwanted presents of the past.

9672AD53-471C-4AAA-8D9C-0BB8C6B254F9The last motive, although the most irksome is also the most harmless. Everyone gets their share of useless gifts. Like in a game of passing the parcel these gifts spend their entire life exchanging hands, never put to use, just passing from one household to another. They stay in motion till the music stops and they look too old and worn out to be regifted.  Every household has its way of dealing with these space occupying lesions. Non perishable goods are separated from the perishable ones and stowed for ‘recycling’. This is an encumbrance because they take up valuable storage space. The easiest way to put such items out of circulation and stop this state of perpetual motion is by changing their orbit. Launch them into a lower rung of society and they will come to rest. So the vase that looks too flashy to gel with your home decor can become a conversation starter in your maid’s home. Similarly the overly sweet sweets that will eventually rot in the back of your fridge can sweeten the Diwali of someone less fortunate. 

A bigger problem is the increasing trend of using Diwali gifts as a style statement.  This ‘competitive gifting’ is  the  other end of the spectrum of cheap thoughtless gifts. Carefully chosen gifts to epitomise one’s aesthetics and social position. Kalamata olives, gherkins, macaroons, macadamia nuts, Marcona almonds, exotic cheeses which have nothing to do with Diwali and everything to do with declaring one’s social standing. Gifting is thus reduced to branding, a type of gift casteism. If  bragging was the only fallout it could be excused, but it also encourages wasteful spending in a needless game of upmanship. A recent happy trend in this strata of society is the arrival of the ‘ evolved consumer’. Those who buy gifts from organizations that work with the less-privileged sections of society. A sort of conscious consumption that helps to spread festive cheer in dark alleys and slums.

The trend of gifting with ulterior motive is  much more devious. Presents and hospitality have always been culturally accepted in emerging markets such as India. However, there is a paradigm shift where in they are used to buy loyalty. This is prevalent across the entire business ecosystem. Diwali gifts are used as bait to tempt employees, customers, vendors and other stakeholders. 

But the most sinister development is using this occasion to give high value gifts (gold coins, international trips, expensive gadgets) to people in position of power with the aim to secure favours and further business interests. The unspoken question is, are we using Diwali as an excuse to gift wrap bribes? Compliance professionals say the answer is simple. The motive behind the gift determines whether it is a bribe or not, irrespective of its pecuniary value. To avoid ‘festivities’ from being misconstrued as bribe  corporates should ensure that gifts made to public officials are reasonable, infrequent, appropriate, of nominal value and are not given with an intent to influence. 

Gifting needn’t  be so complicated. As children we would  carry cloth napkin covered thalis of homemade goodies to neighbours and friends’ houses. A gesture that would be returned in equal measure after the evening was spent amid laughter and animated conversation. Uncomplicated and sweet. In this fast paced age of consumerism we tend to forget that the greater purpose of exchanging gifts was to meet up and rejoice with family and friends. This Diwali lets do it the old way …..let’s shift the gift off centre.

( published in my column in the Tribune on 19/10/19)

 

Crying Foul

Crying Foul

It was my first time. I was a little uncertain, somewhat ambivalent. With a driver no longer on my payrolls I was dutifully taking my car to one of the yellow boxes that have cropped up adjoining petrol pumps.  To say I went out of plain diligence would be a half truth. The bigger half is that I was wary of the consequences of a polluting vehicle. Under the recently amended Motor Vehicle Act, violation of Pollution Under Control invites a penalty of Rs 10,000.  Earlier it was Rs 1,000 for the first offence and twice that for repeat offenders. P.U.C as it is commonly called dictates that all vehicles be checked for emission of smoke, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and other pollutants every three months.

2C96ED8E-1CA6-410D-9B08-2FC75E66BB35The centre I  chose looked better than the others…..”Sarkar dwara manyata prapt asli Pradushan jaanch. Photo ke saath certificate. (Government approved genuine pollution testing. Get certificate with photo )” it claimed. Surprisingly there was no queue although sources say that  the number of tests conducted have trebled after the recent announcement of ‘stricter’ rules . I pulled up and asked the attendant if I should keep the engine running for the test. He said I could switch it off. He then  pulled out a webcam  to take a picture of my number plate. He was gone for a few moments and then emerged with a sheet of paper. I thought it was some sort of consent form and asked if I should switch on the engine. He said it wasn’t needed and handed me my pollution control certificate. He asked me to check the date to confirm that it was valid for three months.

I was as indignant as any upright Indian would be on witnessing such blatant corruption. I berated him, asking him how he could issue a certificate without conducting the test. He stood there, eyes downcast, head hanging in shame and sheepishly said that it seemed unnecessary because the car was new. I asked him if he had the equipment needed to conduct the test to which he replied in the affirmative. I warned him not to indulge in such irresponsible behaviour and rode off on my moral high horse which in this case was a ‘non polluting” car!

Later in the day I shared the incident with a friend.  He dismissed it laughing,”Don’t you know that  Indian vehicles become non polluting by getting  PUC certificates!” I joined him in his laughter, albeit halfheartedly. The niggling feeling of being wronged persisted. So I related the episode to my daughter. After patiently hearing me out my daughter quietly commented that we get the services we deserve. When I raised my eyebrows she added, “ He risked losing business if he acted otherwise. It was simply a’ pet ka sawal’ ( a question of  livelihood). “

To further elaborate her point she asked what I would do if an uptight, ethical attendant refused to issue a certificate after finding that the pollutants of my car exhaust were above the permissible limits. Would I inconvenience myself and send the car to  the service centre to investigate and get it fixed or would I simply go to some other pollution control centre and get a certificate from the one who would obligingly issue it to me.

Ah! these children ask such difficult questions ! I won’t tell you my answer to this hypothetical question. In any case, you know mine and I know yours, which is why India remains among the most polluted nations in the world.

( published in my column in The Tribune on 5/10/2019)

 

The Right Turn

The Right Turn

 

The reform stemmed from a minor altercation, the type that is ‘ ghar ghar ki kahani.  I had rebuked my nephew and he had talked back. He was driving and I was in the critic’s seat. He went around a roundabout, the wrong way and I admonished him. When I persisted, dismissing the usual excuses ‘it is a deserted road’ and ‘ no one’s watching’ he raised a soul searching question.  He asked me which way I turned when I got on to the main road after leaving the house.  I knew I was on rapidly melting thin ice and sheepishly said, “Right”  knowing that it was wrong. He smiled victoriously and said, “ Bas” which in the present context means “ That’s it, end of conversation!”

9A820299-85DC-4D3C-ADD7-A3BD73CC53E3My house is so located that when I emerge on the main road if I take the wrong side I just need to cross two houses to reach the roundabout and continue on the lawfully right side. The right way to do it would be to turn left, pass ten houses and take the intersection further up the road. So to be a truly law abiding citizen I need to drive an extra six hundred meters, something which till then I found unnecessary. 

It’s not that I habitually evade the law. Everyday when I leave my clinic I have the choice of taking the wrong side across six shops or the right side across fifteen. This somehow has never posed a dilemma. I always do the right thing and turn left, although most of our visitors take the shortcut and turn right. So to my ‘righteous’ mind it is okay to cross two houses on the wrong side but not okay to cross six shops.

After the squabble I began to notice that everyone has his own definition of ‘thodha sa wrong’.  I once asked a passerby for directions to a hotel and he told me to take ‘ thodha sa wrong side’ after going under the flyover. It turned out to be half a kilometre of driving like an imbecile facing honking cars and derisive looks. But perhaps in my pathfinder’s mind it was acceptable practice.

Thodha sa wrong comes in all shapes and sizes on our roads. So we see people backing up on busy highways, caution lights flashing, because they missed an exit by a few hundred meters.  Vehicles speeding through a  red light  because they missed the green by a few seconds. Rickshaws, trucks and trolleys with iron rods and beams precariously jutting out, a cautionary red cloth hanging at the end, because the vehicle is just a ‘wee bit’ small. 

After much thought I decided to do the right thing and turn left when I left home. For the first few days every cell of my argumentative Indian body resisted the idea. I kept on calculating the extra fuel and extra time I was wasting on the extra meters. Gradually I realised that it wasn’t much. With time the urge to skimp decreased and after a couple of weeks the route became a habit. I could do it automatically, without thinking.

I still feel that if something like ‘ thodha sa wrong’ exists, my fifty meter dash across two houses is a very strong contender. But the truth is there is nothing like ‘ a little wrong’. What is wrong is wrong is wrong, irrespective of the magnitude. It took me a few weeks to realise this. It might take you a couple of days or months or you might already be  doing it right.  In any case like all other skills this too can be learnt and the more we practice the better we become.  

The benefit of this exacting behaviour …safer roads! 

( carried in the Hindustan Times on 15/9/2019)

 

Digital Dictators

Digital Dictators

I was driving down the highway in my spanking new car, minding my own business when I heard a     sharp popping sound. Moments later I noticed a small crack in the middle of my windshield. The car is actually six months old but could pass off as new because it was absolutely blemish free. My son in law had lovingly got all the dents, bumps and scratches mended while I was away on a holiday. Since it was the first slur, it hurt more. Not sure whether the crack was a safety hazard, I reluctantly broke the news of the broken windshield on my family’s Whats App group. In a bid to exonerate myself  I kept insisting that it wasn’t a pebble hit which would cause a plonk instead of the pop. “The sound was more akin to pressure release from a soda bottle”, I said. As expected I got the eye rolls, the LOLs and the sarcastic “There goes mummy again” from my children, both natural and acquired. The response isn’t entirely their fault though. I have the habit of  starting any such misadventure report with, “ It is not my fault”.

CD80B28F-C77C-420F-87FB-C05ABFE784B2But this high handed ‘ off-ish’ offspring behaviour is not what I intend to draw your attention to.  This is just a prelude to my main concern. In the evening I got on Youtube to get my daily doze of laughs with Stephen Colbert and was greeted by an advertisement selling a DIY kit to repair broken windshields. I know, I know, targeted advertisement on electronic media is a modern day reality. Google a destination and your Facebook page is full of infomercials about hotels and flights to the place. Visit any online shopping site and they will continue to hound you holding up merchandise to your face each time you are on the net. Some will stuff your mailbox with special deals on the item you had checked out while others ask soul stirring questions, “ You came, you saw, you left…..why?”

Displaying  merchandise to a targeted audience makes economic sense.  But it feels creepy because targeting necessitates watching the target. Every move, every like and dislike is monitored. The search history is analysed for tastes & interests. And then algorithms workout advertisements relevant to the viewer. It feels creepier when I envision that on this World Wide Web which ties us ( in knots?), on one of the multitude of servers there is a minuscule space on the database dedicated to me that says that I am cynical, somewhat antiestablishment, have no particular religious leaning, am not an impulsive buyer, drool over melted cheese, love cinnamon doughnuts and follow US/ UK politics to console myself that ‘ruler’ stupidity is pervasive.

Meanwhile the race to obtain data is on.  These ‘digital dictators’ are the attention merchants, we are the merchandise, not the customers. First they get our attention by offering a stage and free information and then we pay by paying attention to what they show us. Nothing is free. Watching these commercials is the price we pay to these search engines and social networking sites. I have reluctantly accepted this fact but this incident felt like a blatant invasion of privacy because it was a private conversation I was having with my family. It wasn’t a social platform. I might be getting paranoid and it could be a mere coincidence but it seemed sinister. 

And now to end where I started. My son suggested that the ‘pop’ I heard could be due to the release of the accumulated tension of driving a ‘scratchless’ car! I will keep you  posted if based on this information some entrepreneur  tries to sell me anti anxiety medication, a subscription to a meditation programme or perhaps a great deal on a spa- holiday! 

( published in my column in The Tribune on 21/9/19)

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Bond Sisters

Bond Sisters

I was a little sceptical when I laid eyes on it. She is good at the craft and I totally trust her creative  prowess. Among others, she had designed one using iron nuts, instead of beads for my brother, an  Ironman aspirant. She had also customised one for my Googler son, replicating the exact colours of the company’s logo. But this pink rose with two dainty leaves, although exquisite, seemed to be a tad inappropriate. I called my friend and told her that it is too feminine to be a Rakhi. She said she had deliberately made it ‘girlie’ because it was aimed at girls. “Sisters protect too”, she proclaimed, “ So why shouldn’t  sisters get Rakhis?”  I asked her if she meant Lumbis,  a Rakhi variant that is tied on the Bhabhi’s ( brother’s wife) wrist. “ No, it is not the same” she reiterated, “Because the honour is bestowed on the power the bhabhi wields due to her matrimonial position, not in her individual capacity!”

After the call ended I thought of all those childhood instances when my sisters had protected me by safeguarding my interests. How they shielded wrong moves, swallowed secrets and even lied for me. I recalled how, to expiate my tardiness, my  kid sister  had painstakingly filled my biology diagrams with millions of dots, to make cytoplasm look like cytoplasm and my elder sister had worked late into the night to complete a geography project. When I was running fever during a crucial examination she sat outside the hall,  in case I needed something. There are hundreds of incidents where they kept me and my aspirations safe , even if not in the customary ‘physical’ way. For that matter my sister had once  punched a rather tough looking boy in school who had been troubling me.  So they qualify  in the traditional ‘ bhai’ way too. Now that we have grown up they might not resort to blows,  but I know that they will still go out on a limb for me and I for them. 

The fact is that in the modern world Raksha isn’t always about brute force. It is about lending support and providing guidance,  being sympathetic and sensitive, nurturing dreams and aspirations and fighting for rights and what is right.  Being smart, savvy and strong in the face of adversity is needed more than muscle mass. And as my friend suggested any caring sibling irrespective of  gender would do the needful and hence deserves a Rakhi. 

By making the festival gender neutral, even a brother can acknowledge his sister’s role by tying the sacred thread around her wrist. This is not only about gender equality and women empowerment. It is the need of the hour. In our son crazy nation we need to inculcate this idea that sisters have the strength to safeguard too.  That is the only way we can truly propagate the notion “ Beta beti samaan “ . 

So why am I harping about this now when  Raksha Bandhan is over and thread tying is done for the season? Well,  I am trying to plant the seed of an idea, hoping that it will take root. Perhaps by next Rakhi, it will flourish and roses will bloom ready to be tied on your sister’s wrist……….or  you could source handcrafted ones from Neera’s Attic.

(Carried in my column in the Tribune on 7/9/2019) 5026BB1D-A6C7-424A-87CB-AEC6B298B0E3

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Son of a Gun

Son of a Gun

It isn’t the act itself, which is no doubt abominable, it is the ease with which it was done that is worrisome. Three masked men on a motorcycle, blocked an SUV as it slowed down at a speed breaker and shot the occupant at point blank range. A total of six bullets were fired from an illicit weapon, two of which hit the victim, injuring him fatally.

8E84B019-FC5D-41E5-9944-74004C62748BWe witness such incidents all the time, in movies, or hear about them happening in far off lands, traditionally involving drug lords,  mafia and crime syndicates. It’s shocking that this happened in the sleepy, small town I grew up in. More shocking is that it was executed in broad daylight. The most shocking aspect of this sad saga is that the shooter was not a gangster nor was the target. The prey was a amiable doctor of great repute, the perpetrator was his disgruntled ex-employee. 

The killer was a novice, a mere greenhorn in the big bad world of crime. A misguided youth, out to settle a score. Venting his anger, mistakenly thinking that the doctor was responsible for his joblessness and resulting misery. That he decided, and successfully executed  this heinous crime, tagging along two equally clueless friends is worrisome. This should serve as a wake up call, not only for the administration, but for us as a society. 

We may dismiss this as personal vendetta but the problem is much deeper. The idea to snuff out a life is a grave one. A society which allows such thoughts to take root and an inept governance which makes it possible to act on such an impulse is  a ticking time bomb waiting to explode.

As I watched the killers being paraded in front of the media, noticeably absent was any sense of remorse.  The prime suspect declared that he felt no regret for his deeds and I wondered about the making of this murderer. Out of curiosity I visited his Facebook page and there he was in all his glory. Posing with his friends, sullenly looking into the camera. He could have been any of the cocky, neo- rich  youngsters that roam on newly bought vehicles. Living off ancestral land, not by tilling  it, but by selling it. Apart from some thinly veiled comments about revenge, one of his update reads “ behtar ko inaam milta hai, behtareen par inaam hota hai” ( the good win prizes, the better have prizes on their heads). I wonder how such a person  is allowed to own a gun. Although an unregistered gun was used for this crime. He owned one  duly registered by the state.

Also noticeable was the police barely hiding their self celebratory grins. They had indeed solved the case in record time. But doesn’t a smart city entail smart policing, both predictive and preventive.  To avert  crimes before they happen, to stay ahead of the criminals.  While they are busy catching and punishing the big fish in the murky waters of crime, the small fish are thriving.  By the law of natural progression, wayward youth who indulge in petty crimes will graduate to more sinister deeds if not stopped. 

There was a time when social pressure, family ties and the oft heard “log kya kahenge”, was enough to rein in the unruly.  Religion, spirituality and “ankh ki sharam” used to play a role. As we get more and more involved in the digital world, interacting with people we never meet, we know less and less about our actual neighbors and their lives. We are bearing the cost of this disconnect. 

A career in crime is becoming a reality. A quick, lucrative alternative to the slow and tedious way of earning a legitimate living. Things can only improve if this swamp is drained dry, eliminating the breeding ground for evil. For this fear has to be instilled in the minds of the public.  Statistics reveal that the conviction rate for homicide  is abysmally low.  It  is in fact easy to get away with murder. 

So should we hang them to make a point? To set an example. I don’t really know. I don’t think it will help. In my humble opinion certainty of punishment works better than it’s severity. Which means that everyone pays for their wrongdoing irrespective of their status or stature. Mantri ka bhai ho ya santri ka bhatija everyone should be made accountable for their actions.

( published in my column in the Tribune on 20/7/2019)

 

Son of the soil

Son of the soil

The other two who preceded him, collapsed from exhaustion after crossing the finishing line. In contrast his entry was majestic,  he jogged in energetically like a hero, both arms raised in celebration. He looked a little dazed, a little confused as the crowd cheered on, giving him a heartfelt standing ovation. He clapped a little too, maybe for himself, maybe in appreciation for their appreciation. And then he knelt down and  kissed the ground in gratitude. The perfect end to a gruelling sixteen hour race. He had won the coveted title of Ironman with  only 28 secs to spare. In fact he was the last one to have lasted.

For those who are not in the know,  Ironman is a triathlon organised the world over by the W.T.C. It requires participants  to complete a 3.8 kilometre swim, a 180.2 kilometre  bicycle ride, and a 42.2 kilometre run  within 15.50 -17 hours depending on the terrain. People from various walks of life and in varying states of health,   attempt the race as the ultimate challenge to the human spirit. For  most Indians Milind Soman is synonymous with Ironman. Because of his star status he earned accolades when he won the title a few years ago. And although I don’t crib the volume of praise he received,  I do feel that there are many other Indians who have achieved this feat and stay unnoticed and unsung. 

From pilots to IT engineers, marketing managers to tech entrepreneurs, all sorts of unlikely Indians have participated and completed this race without enough of us being aware of it. Apart from the immense discipline it takes to juggle personal and professional lives for the gruelling training sessions, in our country it also means working around constraints. With no real walkways, no designated cycling tracks and no swim worthy lakes aspirants are left to their own devices and destiny.

When scores have completed the race before him, many in lesser time,  why does the last Ironman of the season deserve a mention in a national daily. Because I am privy to a small detail that shows that he is more than the title he won. His friend who was also competing, had very little experience of open water swimming and hence harboured a phobia for the first leg of the race. He would lose direction in water, thus losing time. To help his friend stay on track he offered to lead. He painted his foot red so that it could be identified in the crowd of 3000 swimmers. In a race where every second counts,  he kept looking back,  locating his friend in the sea of swimmers and shouting “ Aaja bhai aaja.” He lost ten precious minutes doing this  but ensured that his friend made it to the other side. A selfless deed indeed, to help out a buddy when one’s own ambition is at stake.

I know this story because the rudderless swimmer is my brother. When my brother saw that his friend might lose by a few seconds he wept shamelessly knowing that he was the cause. I could have skipped this ‘weepy’ detail as it isn’t essential to the narrative but added  it just to spite my brother. And to tell the world that aspiring ironmen are soft inside!

Mr Surender Yadav should have received a Hero’s welcome when he returned from Sweden. But that is just my opinion. It has been patiently explained to me that recognition is not what Ironmen strive for. It is the will to fight their own weaknesses, push themselves to the limit and be the best version of themselves. Having achieved his goal, the engineer that slips back into his automobile paint business will not be the same. He now knows that his potential is limitless and the memory of his inner fight to achieve this goal will never fade.

In case you are wondering, my brother didn’t become iron. He is still gold!BBE31E4E-F47F-4F6D-8A85-472F6653A015

( published in my column in the Tribune on 24/8/19)

 

Toys are us

Toys are us

On a recent trip to Switzerland, we stopped for lunch at a small picnic spot by the road. A non descript village on the way home. Apart from the usual bench, swing and water source, there was a sandpit with toy trucks, dumpsters and excavators. A ping pong table stood in one corner with the racquets and ball lying in a plastic bag underneath. An open invitation to play. And play we did…..

2D1312BE-73DD-4030-8116-A735D8D1F5A4That’s when I started noticing. Whether we were at a gas station or a ticket counter, a lake side or a mountain top, there were play areas everywhere. With monkey bars and swings, cuddly soft toys, bats and balls, trampolines and see- saws, giant chess boards and miniature play houses. On the weekend  these places were filled with children and adults like. In stark comparison to our patronising instruction to children, “Go play outside,”  their message seemed to be, “Let’s play.”

Apart from the fact that children are more likely to emulate adults instead of following orders, parents are also benefited from this ‘ quality’ time. Grown ups can do with a  lesson in sportsmanship. Learn not to sulk on losing and gloat on  winning. There are other less obvious rewards too. In the rat race that is life, we tend to lose the ability to think out of the box, to get pleasure out of  little things, to be guilt free when engaged in ‘trivial’ pursuits. Playing with children and toys helps in reclaiming this lost ground.

The truth is that everybody has a little child with in,  looking for an excuse to escape.  By creating these spaces, and presenting opportunity, it becomes easier to keep this inner child alive.  

Decades ago I had  given away cute life size dolls as prizes in a doctors meeting. Although we were celebrating Friendship Day, I was a little scared that members might find the gesture frivolous. On the contrary, ladies loved them and some still keep the dolls as prized possessions. My grandmother had, what we children liked to call,  her own doll house. Actually it was a small brass temple with the entire pantheon of Gods and Goddesses. Each day she would spend hours bathing and dressing them. She painstakingly made necklaces and crowns with tiny beads  and cute little cushions for their thrones. On Diwali and Ramanavami new clothes were made out of ribbons and lace. I still wonder whether she did it out of religious devotion or was just reliving a childhood fantasy. 

The name of the US toy store chain Toys R Us with the reverse R has always intrigued me. What could they possibly mean….that they are toys….that toys make them…that they make toys? Now I have come to understand that toys are us, toys have a large role in making us what we are. Toys reflect our childhood that’s why they enchant us. If Ludo and saanp seedhi still interests you, if your eyes stay glued to a spinning top till it wobbles and tips over, if a kaleidoscope fascinates you even though you know it’s just mirrors and bits of broken glass. If you take great interest in choosing return gifts for your child’s birthday party. You can be rescued from the rut of adulthood, at least temporarily.

On the other hand if you couldn’t get past my first few lines. If you got stuck at the description of the table tennis equipment and toy trucks, lying unguarded. If you are still wondering how they can stay there, why no one stole them. If you are despairing that in our country even the table would disappear if it wasn’t screwed to the ground. Then you need to play more often. Let go of the worries of the world, look beyond the acquired wisdom and accumulated knowledge of years of existence and live. Just live.

By the way the setup surprised me too, but that is another story for another time. Baby steps…….

( published in my column in the Tribune on 10/8/19)

 

Suryavanshi

Suryavanshi

I have forced myself out of bed for it, even on holidays, especially on holidays ! I have braved the winter chill and gusty wind for it. Rubbing sleep out of my eyes and ignoring my weary body which begged to rest some more. Sometimes perched on uncomfortable stone benches and parapets, sometimes with no place to sit, standing, people bustling around, everyone lost in their own thoughts. Like many of my kind, I have chased the perfect sunset and sunrise all my life. It has been on the itinerary of most of my vacations. Tour operators would obligingly pile us in vehicles and take us to vantage points to witness the grand spectacle.

FAACDB7B-C192-48B9-8984-E6A60FBC0D31Armed with cameras and smart phones to show the world what we had seen. Witnessing a daily event, eyes glued to the horizon, each moment filled with anticipation. The eternal question looming large,  will it appear in full splendor or will clouds mar its beauty? In the company of people who were similarly inspired, oohing and aahing or sitting in silence, appreciating the miracle which is the reason for our existence. 

Once my daughter sleepily asked what drove me to see reruns of the same show? Whether it meant something more than the burst of color she could see? Does a sunset have to mean something? Isn’t the assurance that the sun will rise again in its full glory enough? Isn’t the message of impermanence that the rising sun gives enough? That what goes up will come down. Isn’t it wondrous  that dawn and dusk which are opposing ends of the spectrum appear so alike? Is it merely a coincidence that each day the sun arrives and leaves as a red disc, becoming a yellow ball of fire in between? Isn’t it reassuring that the sun and moon give opposing messages. While one teaches clockwork regularity the other says it is alright to have phases.

Inspired, I continue my quest. I have seen it across the sea, peeking through mountain peaks, above grassy flatlands and over the barren salt fields of the Rann of  Kutcch. Recently driving down the west coast in California I caught the sunset over the Pacific Ocean, vibrant and vivid as ever. The  sky a canvas of orange and red. No matter where I have seen it. It is always  splendid, always spectacular.  Back home from Oia, Greece which is famous for its sunsets my dad took pictures of the setting sun from his balcony. Ordinary camera, ordinary setting, and the less said about his technique the better. And yet it was an extraordinary picture showing the vibrant red and orange sky of dusk.  That is when I first understood what makes the phenomenon special. The fact that we took time out to pause and notice.

Since then I try to catch a glimpse of the  sun whenever I can from wherever I can. I have made sunrise a  part of my morning constitutional and rerouted my stroll so that I walk towards it. Although few will make it to the hall of fame and the ‘ to do list’ of tourists,  none  has ever disappointed. Four minutes of wonder as it appears as a red disc, ready to burn through the day till it leaves in a burst of color. Four minutes to thank the universe for what is has granted me and what it hasn’t….

( published as a Spice of Life in HT on 8/7/2019)