A bouquet of flowers picked along the way ….

Kick it On! February 29, 2008

The year was 1985 and I was in the middle of my first crush. On a certain Ms. Rashmi, my 3rd grade Science teacher.

Sometime during those wonder years, we got our first television set. The brand, Televista, now dead for more than a decade, was a household name then. With a 20inch screen, Black&White capabilities, a blue tinted add-on screen to give some colour, and only one channel (state run Doordarshan), this marvel of technology made my home the evening watering hole for the neighbourhood.

8pm on Wednesdays were specially packed. That was when the great Indian song show “Chitrahar” was on air. Supriya, Sujata, Bantu, Pupoon, Guddi, Jhumri and just about everyone between 4 and 14 years and within 50meters of my house would assemble into a small 11feet by 11feet room. Limbs got crushed, clothes lost their shape and nobody cared who sat next to them. On days when Mom was feeling particularly happy, she would pass around those crispy crackers that slipped over a finger like a pipe. Each kid got exactly four, so that all fingers on an arm (except the thumb) got dressed in blue, green, yellow and red.

And there was one person in the room whose job was to kick hard. That person was me.

Now this TV of ours, Televista, developed a syndrome of blanking out without warning. Pop!, completely blank it went every once in a while. After it happened a few times, we discovered that kicking the legs of the table (which it sat upon) would invariably bring it back to life. The longer the duration since the last blank, the more kicks it needed. A thumb rule of 1 kick for every 10 minutes. So, if it blanked after 30 minutes of OK performance, all you needed to do was kick it hard 3 times in quick succession.

What a donkey it made of me. Standing there beside it, ready to kick whenever the screen blanked.

But as with all things children, the routine became a game. In the darkness one could hear shouts of “2 kicks!”,  “no only 1”. This put me under tremendous pressure. To salvage my honour I had to ensure I got the TV alive within the guestimated number of kicks. Over the first few weeks, the room developed a palpable tension from waiting for the next blankout. The TV grabbed as much mindspace as the programmes it displayed.

The game grew. Some of my friends started demanding for the “right to kick”. I acquiesced, reluctantly. I am sure that TV of ours gave back more than its value. It provided exercise, healthy competition, better footballers and real fun.

In all the fun, nobody gave a thought to the table. I am informed that the table stood the acid test of being kicked for about 2 years. After which we replaced the Televista.

Where is that table? I must say “thank you” to it.


The rebellion of 1994 October 16, 2007

“You cannot start a sentence with ‘but’ or ‘because'”, Mrs. Pandit said in a reprimanding tone as she stared me down.

“Yes, I can”, I said, half expecting to be thrown out of the English Language class. I proved her wrong and she acted hostile for the complete week.

The year was 1994 and my romance with the Queen’s language was at its peak; thanks to the delightful masterpiece “Modern English Usage” by Fowler. I was blind to everything else, including fear of getting into the bad books of the teacher I secretly revered. Mrs. Pandit and I had a strange chemistry. I was never absolutely sure we liked each other and yet at times we were falling short of breath expressing our admiration for the other. She disliked my guts and conspicuous rebellion of some of her language dictums. I disliked her ice-cool demeanour and almost invincible command of the language. I was stubborn, she was stern. Fireworks were guaranteed each time we crossed paths. And the class enjoyed it.

She knew the pride I took in my knowledge of some of the finer nuances of the language. I was embarrassingly bad in certain areas but endearingly elegant in others. My essays never got what, I believe, they deserved. However, once in a while she would write an encouraging remark to keep the rebel within limits. A classic example of carrot and stick approach. But she was good, really good. I hate admitting this, but back then, she was probably better than I.

We also connected outside school. Her elder son was my classmate in previous years so I would visit her house. She used to visit my immediate neighbour and once in while say hello to my parents. God, did I cringe when she did that! And what the hell were my parents doing making small conversation with a sworn enemy?

We parried, cut and medicated each other. Until one day I crossed the line.

I loved the last row of the class. Distant from authoritative teachers, full view of the class crowd and endless gossip on who is going around with whom, the upcoming football match and everything in-between. If there is Heaven on Earth, it had to be the last row of a classroom. That day Mrs. Pandit was spoon-feeding the class with her masterly understanding of Macbeth. While she droned incessantly, trying her best to get some sense into my classmates, I, with my buddies, was lost in ‘personal’ conversation. We did not hear the class going silent, nor did we see them turn and stare at us, some even giggling. Bloody perverts.

“Sunil, Sandeep, Gurdas!”, boomed Mrs. Pandit from beside the blackboard.

“Uh”, said all three of us, coming out of our intense whispered discussion of a certain ‘Miss’.

“It seems you’ll do not need my class”, she said more like a question which should not be answered.

But that was a crazy day and we were heady with spicy stories.

“Yes, we can do without this class”, one of us said. Which one I do not recall.

Followed by an uncomfortable silence as the weight of that sentence sunk into the room. Mrs. Pandit for a second appeared baffled and we could feel ourselves becoming terrified.

“OK, out you’ll go”, said Mrs. Pandit

We walked out with a smirk. We were shit scared but when you have rows and rows of girls waiting to see what happens, there is no option but to act like a man.

“Damn” we said the moment we were in the corridor and out of earshot.

The class ended in 25 eternal minutes and Mrs. Pandit walked out without even a glance at us. This was going to be nasty we thought. Our weekly timetable had the first period as English on four out of five days. The next day Mrs. Pandit walked in and immediately said “OK, out. And go straight to the Principal’s office. I have informed her of what happened yesterday and she would like to talk about it.”

We walked out, not exactly smiling this time. And went straight to the office of Mrs. Datar.

“So, is it true that you informed Mrs. Pandit of not needing to attend the Literature class”, purred a cool Mrs. Datar, clearly enjoying her morning at our expense.

“uh, hmmm Yes”, we said in unison as if that will allow for individual pardon.

“Fine then. Starting today, you are excused from the English class for literature and language until the end of this year”, said Mrs. Datar.

We looked at each other bewildered. That’s it? What kind of punishment is that? Will we get to appear the yearly exams? What of the board exams right after that?

“Your attendance will be marked and you will be allowed to take all exams as usual”, continued Mrs. Datar. What’s the deal with teachers and mothers? Can they hear us think?

We walked out of the Principal’s office hesitantly, unsure whether this was a victory or a defeat. And went straight to the boy’s toilet to relieve ourselves of the nervous mass collecting inside us. Only then did we speak our first words.

“Do you think they will call our parents?”, I asked, remembering that the enemy had sweet access to my camp.
“Let them call if they want”, said Sandeep. Sure! I thought looking at him with a grimace. He had parents who gave two hoots to authority. Mine looked at school like a temple.
“Boss, my dad will throw me out”, said Sunil, hardly audible. Was he choking on himself?
“You come and stay with me then”, said Sandeep, as if that were a real possibility.
“Ya sure. Out of class, out of house and staying with you. What next? We marry each other?”, replied Sunil, regaining some of his famed acerbic humour.

But nothing of that sort happened. To the contrary we made further enemies with our bold demands. The first period (remember was mostly English) begun at 8:20am. The library opened when it struck 8:40am on Mrs. Basu, the librarian’s, wristwatch. We made a case that we had nothing to do and the library should be made available so that we can utilize our time better. Like we really wanted to. An order was passed and the school library started opening at 8:20am, much to the displeasure of Mrs. Basu.

For the next 3months we did not attend any English class. But did keep up with Mrs. Pandit’s notes with help from our only true sympathizers, other backbenchers. All three of us did well in our exams. I excelled in English and topped my batch. But I never approached Mrs. Pandit with my feat, feeling somewhat shy and guilty. On the last day of school, she called out to me in the corridor and congratulated warmly on doing so well in her subject. I think I did not receive that compliment very graciously. Because I knew, if not for her firm guidance, I would never have come so far. And I knew that she knew this. But we did call peace and wished each other well in life.

As time passed I was left with only sweet memories of Mrs. Pandit and we kept in touch one way or the other. Last year (2006), when visiting my hometown, I called Mrs. Pandit and proposed we catch-up. She sounded eager and we fixed a rendezvous that I come down and pick her up from the school where she was vice-principal. I was there well before time, and we spent memorable hours chatting at her place over a cup of tea. She had aged and become more beautiful and earthly. And she thought I had grown into a peaceful, and loving person. I was flattered by that observation. My English teacher was still teaching me, about the language of life and love.

I never fully fathomed the above episode. Mrs. Datar was not known for her kindness and the ‘punishment’ she doled out that day in 1994 was unusual. What had transpired between Mrs. Pandit and Mrs. Datar for her to give us that strange punishment? I will never know. Maybe I will ask Mrs. Pandit when I next meet her.

Lately, Mrs. Pandit has become more visible with a blog and profile on Orkut. She writes moving poetry and “Eternity & other poems”, a compilation of her works, was published by Writers Workshop. The hardback volume is a beautiful maroon red cloth cover with gilded lettering and traditional geometric border. It has a special place in my bookshelf.


A day in my daughter’s life October 6, 2007

Surrounded by the din of the marketplace, I began my ritual of reading the newspaper. I had on me merely Rs. 10 for purchasing the two newspapers which carried news of the health camp we conducted yesterday. As I was scanning the pages, my daughter asked me for some money. She must have read the questioning look in my eyes for she promptly said that she wanted to give some money to a poor lady. The poor lady in question was a destitute who had occupied a certain corner of the market for so long that one could not imagine the market without her.

My six year old daughter had a special corner of concern for this lady, for even in the past she has asked me to give that lady some money. I fished out two Rs. 2 coins from my pocket, hesitated for a moment, bemoaning the fact that I did not have a Re. 1 coin and gave one of the 2 rupee coins to my daughter. She instantly disappeared with the coin and I burrowed myself in the newspaper. I had hardly moved a paragraph that my daughter appeared, tugged at me and insisted that I come and take a look at the old lady. I knew the haggard state of the old lady so I tried to avoid the encounter. Yet my daughter persisted and I gave in. The old lady was dozing, possibly due to the effect of liquor. It was a little disappointing for Harshal that the old lady had not seen her doing the act of charity and understandably it deprived Harshal of some satisfaction.

We ran a stall for handmade aromatic soaps made of natural extracts, and as we headed back to this, the following conversation took place.

Harshal: Papa why was the old lady lying like that?

Me: I don’t know baby, most probably she was sleeping.

Harshal (giggling to herself): Is this the place to sleep?

Me: But Harshal , she does not have a home.

Harshal (a bit concerned this time): Does she have food to eat?

Me (haltingly): Most probably no.

Harshal: Papa are you not someone who helps the poor?

Me (at this stage a mixture of emotions – pride, guilt, feeling small and yet concerned): Yes Harshal, but there are too many poor in the world, I cannot help all of them.

Harshal (after some silence): You had ten rupees with you didn’t you?

Me: Yes, I did! Harshi

Harshal (almost seizing my words): So why did you not give it to the old lady. At least she could eat something for today.

I did not reply to her after that. We kept walking silently amidst the humdrum. For a while all the noise faded in my mind as it retraced its steps back to see the prostrate figure of the old lady. Where will she spend her night? What does she look forward to for the next day? What could I have done for her? What can I do for all these poor? I am already trying, but is this enough?

 – by Anurag Jain

– – – –

Anurag and I go back a long way. Some 18 odd years. We first met on the playground in his neighbourhood. He was a fierce competitor and the best leg-spin bowler I have faced. After high-school, we moved on with our lives, each pursuing an engineering degree in different universities. Until we got together again last year. He had mellowed and that somehow made his fierce desire to get things done more visible. Both he and Shikha (who he met during his engineering days and later married) left their jobs to take-up the social cause of enabling the urban poor, through the vehicle of NEEV (New Education and Environment Visions).

 Shikha and Anurag Jain (Jamshedpur, India, June-2007)

– – – –

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Giving and Receiving October 2, 2007

“Why do you have to be so formal?”, she said in the manner of a comment.

For a second my thoughts were frozen as I had not imagined my gesture as “formal”. I somehow found that comment-question to be out of place, a little dry and bordering on the impolite. My mind whirled and quickly consulted whatever little I knew of her disposition and sensitivities and it was only then that I made some meaning out of the comment. So, I answered explaining the informality of the gesture. And all it took was an ordinary birthday gift, given out of sheer love and respect for her interests and associations!

Later, in the comforting solitude of aloneness, I pondered over the incident and its origins. Here I was expressing my joy through a socially accepted gesture. I would prefer a bearhug anyday but then not many people can take a public hug. Especially so if you are a young beautiful lady! Alternate responses could have been: “Thanks, that’s very nice of you”, or “Thanks, that’s very thoughtful of you” or the all time classic delivered with a smile that goes upto your eyes – “Thanks!”.

For strange reasons, giving and receiving have become burdensome. People keep score, see ulterior motives where none exist and have built a whole universe of complexity around one of the most fundamental acts to Life. While one would expect a natural act to be easy, the truth is far from that. Few people can receive with grace, fewer still can give gracefully.

Giving and Receiving is as fundamental as breathing. You receive breath and you give breath. The giver exists because there is a receiver. Neither is above the other. Neither can survive as a singular entity.

Giving is Receiving.


An experiment in Love August 28, 2007

Filed under: family,friends,life,love — gurdas @ :

Today, I sent a “I love you” sms to some of my closest friends and my family. The reaction did not surprise me. A few of them have called back and they all assumed it was a misfire. That I wanted to express my love to someone else (a damsel?) and erroneously sent an sms to them. They were all disappointed when I told them there has been no error!

I also recollect when some years ago (for the first time) I called my mom and told her “I love you”. She spent the next 10 minutes worrying what was wrong with me and whether I had landed into some trouble.  Things have changed since then. My family is more tuned to my impromptu expressions of love.

Isn’t it tragic that we have forgotten to express our love to people we love – friends and family? We go about our lives as if love needs no expression and nothing can be further from the truth. The expression need not always be verbose or grand gestures. Peaceful silence, a caress, a smile, are all expressions of love.

How have we arrived at this juncture? What makes it so difficult to say “I love you”?

How about you calling someone and saying “I love you”?

—- Followup thoughts —-

A few friends came back wondering what I meant by the message. Really, how complex is a “I love you”?

Another friend called and said “I have some bad news for you. I think your cellphone has been infected by a virus. I got this message from you … .”I had to cut him short before he wasted another second worrying for me  🙂

Is it that we are now seasoned to believe anything but that it is quite normal to say “I love you” to people you love?


Vilombita May 3, 2007

Filed under: friends — gurdas @ :

My friend, Vilombita, gifted my blog two very beautifully works penned by her when we were in college.

The works “Confession of Sasmita” and “An ordinary girl” have been close to my heart since they first appeared in 2000. Both works, in their own unique way, move the reader. The stanzas and metre is very different from what you will find in poetry. She frequently deviates from acceptable English grammar and construction. To me, that makes the works all the more special because in some strange way the deviations add to the impact of the work on the reader.

Vilo, thanks!


An ordinary girl

Filed under: friends,philosophy,poetry,women — gurdas @ :

She is an ordinary girl
Her expressions are not free
because you’ve blamed and scolded
her often and easily.
If ever her attitude you mind, you do not expect her to clarify.
She is prohibited from laughing aloud
Speaking her mind out has always been out of question.
Even for crying, you have taught her
‘Never express in public’.
She shuts her door in remorse.
She has never said,
“I am hungry, I do not like it.”
Or even, “I do not feel fine.”
She is an ordinary girl
Like you and me.

You see her everyday
At the bus stop,
At the railway platform,
At your office,
Or maybe walking down the street.
You watch her intently
Her bindi, her sari,
The color of her nail-polish,
Her eyebrows, her lips,
Her eyes, her ear-rings,
There are many parts
you unknowingly notice
And many others, you want her to reveal
For she is an ordinary girl
Like you and me.

She cares for your dignity
Looks after your family
Arranges your four square meals
Loves you as a being
Shares your worries
Supports you in distress
Helps you in trouble
She is an ordinary girl
Like you and me.

After all these sharing and caring
For you dear, she never got
her rightful unconditional faith.
You blame her, whenever she
wanted to do without your wish
Or whim.
In the interior regions of Bihar
You often pick her up by force
She makes your night bright.
And you throw her away by the daylight.

After all day’s work, when she is tired
You make her walk miles and miles
in the arid climate of Gujarat
To get enough water for your family
to drink.

At office, you work with her.
Try to be friendliest of friends
Hidden thoughts work behind
May be of possessing her some Night.
She is an ordinary girl.
Just like you and me.

It’s nothing new, that you do today.
You’ve been doing it, since ages.
You’ve never believed her sanctity.
When she came as ‘Sita’.
You took your credit of deceiving her
of her right,  for the sake of country.
And she had to put herself on pyre
to prove her integrity.
When she came as Draupadi
Dushashana pulled her out of the palace
And tried to unclothe her in the court.
You stood and watched her genuflect.
When she came as Mirabai
You forced her to take to your
belief of God and tortured her
until she left your palace
for the sake of her faith.
As Padmini in Rajputana
You made her jump into fire

You gave yourself the bravado
of belonging to a society
Where she can end her life
But not compromise her sanctity.
Again you blame her
For the same as easily as you do.

It is history, nothing seems
To have changed even today.
In the most modern educated society
You afford her the best of education,
Best of food, best of clothing,
But when it comes to her
Integrity, sanctity and character
You blame her as easily as you
always have.
You do not let her be alone outside home
Even when it is dire need.
If she comes emotionally closer to you
You whisper about her character.
You take it as your birth right
to blame her.

Now, if I ask, what about you?
Are you not the same or worse?
If she has ever slipped
Have you not been equal partners?
Why did you not blame yourself ever
for being what you are?

Oh! ordinary girls
It is time for revolution.
A revolution of our mind, thought
and status.

You’ve sacrificed down the ages.
You’ve tolerated injustice.
Please do not succumb
to the pressures of this society anymore.
That society which gives you everything
But along with it a stigma
Of disbelief and stain
Of being unfaithful.
With this similar attitude, society
relates to you as a mother, a wife
and as a daughter.
Then again curses you easily
For anything you do without its approval.

It is time to change the definition
Of your being girls.
It is time, to show that you are
strong as your counterpart.
It is time, to tell the society
That we are not here to take the blame
Or lay the blame.
We are here to have faith
And make others believe
Share our duties and responsibilities
For a world of equality and equanimity.
A world of faith and love.

Come, my dearest ordinary girls
Let us find ourselves some way out.
Make ourselves strong enough
To make the society believe
That there is no need
They should keep us in high walls.
Or not let us work at office late at night.
Let us tell them that we do not need
Their virtual security, to be in this world.
We can take care of ourselves
And fight any odd that
Comes our way.

I know, any change is hard to be brought.
It is tough to materialize
But my pen has its aim
To make you think.
I am sure, if you think today
You’ll believe.
Once you believe in yourself
Faith will be there to guide
You on your way.
Today the world must know
Though you are an ordinary girl,
You have an extraordinary strength.
You’ve gained it through
Sacrifice and tolerance down the ages.

It is time world should realize
You are an extraordinarily
Ordinary girl.

– by Vilombita Sarcar