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Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Random thoughts on Independence Day

On 14th August 2017, at the stroke of midnight, while the world slept, I awoke … not to freedom, but to being captive to the sounds of construction activity in the plot behind my house. Preparations were on in full swing for the morrow’s important program – the inauguration of an eatery to be run in the name of the daughter of the man who gave us the famous ‘freedom at midnight’ speech. 

This morning I got up at night, 4 o’clock in the morning (like the same guy’s great-grandson once hilariously said) to find that the din of the construction activity had miraculously stopped. Perhaps the contractor in-charge decided that the Indira Canteen was as ready as could be. Or maybe the downpour by the whimsical rain gods had forced them to take cover. 

A few hours later, as I walked to college, a neighbor told me the inauguration was to happen tomorrow – on the 16th of August. Someone else says that there are rumors Rahul Gandhi will be coming to grace the occasion. Whether that really happens is yet to be seen but all the common man is bothered about right now is to see if the Canteen lives up to its promise of wholesome, tasty food with breakfast at Rs 5 and lunch at Rs 10. Freedom from hunger and freedom from high price of food is what matters the most.

Listening to the Hon. Prime Minister’s address to the nation on TV, it sounded to me like this time, he stepped up the pace of his speech. Maybe when you have so much to convey, and so little time to do it in, and so much more yet to be accomplished, you tend to talk faster so that you manage to cover it all.

At college, as we stood silently at attention while the management office-bearers hoisted the flag, I couldn’t help but notice the sound of the ‘Suprabhatam’ (made immortal by M S Subbulakshmi) playing in the background. No, it wasn’t someone’s cell-phone ringtone. Rather, the sound emanated from the small Ganesha temple on-campus that is fitted with a sound system that plays the Suprabhatam on loop in the mornings. No one had noticed to switch it off or lower the volume today and so it was that the exuberant tones of the National Anthem mingled with the strains of the prayer to Lord Venkateshwara, proclaiming Him as the Saviour of us all. Given the state of our social media debates today regarding singing the National Anthem and the National Song, that sentiment is probably going to be strong in many of our minds.

A cloudy sky and inclement weather tends to make people want to get on faster with things. The school band stepped up its pace and march, the NCC parade put up far fewer formations on display and people quickly headed into the auditorium for the cultural program to follow. 

During the NCC parade, I observed a woman filming the entire event from the first floor. She didn’t appear to be one of the college staff. I caught myself wondering what she would do with it later…and in general, thinking about what people do with these videos they create. Do they put it up on social media? What will be the significance of it for people removed from the incident? Later, as I walked out of the college, I got something of an answer. I noticed this same woman and a much older woman posing with the leader of the NCC unit and judging from their interaction, they were likely to be his mother and grandmother respectively. So much for my mental acrobatics – it taught me there is often more to things than what meets our eyes.

A little while after reaching home, my son came home from his school flag-hoisting ceremony. His march past performance had gone on well, and he’d done justice to his speech about Independence Day – in Sanskrit. Some time later, I got a message from his Sanskrit teacher saying the speech was really good and everyone liked it. Quite a memorable way to celebrate your last Independence Day in school.

From being held in your mother’s arms as she attended flag-hoisting to being on your way out of school yourself, that's 15 Independence Days !

And even as I finished writing this blog, I chanced on this picture of Indians in flood-hit Assam celebrating Independence Day and it quite brought tears to my eyes. When a land is loved so much, there is nothing that can stop Her from progressing !!

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Gada - The Club

The prompt for this month's short story was "The Club" and we were given a word limit of 750 words. I toyed with different ideas for the story - I thought of things that the word "club" bring to mind - a hobby class, a group of friends with a common interest, an event set in a bar and even an out-of-work writer starting a club to write life stories for people who're down and out. Nothing seemed to click, although the last of those ideas is something I definitely want to consider more seriously some other time. 

Finally, I tried some lateral thinking to come up with other contexts where the word "club" is used and almost at once, the Mace or Gada - the favoured weapon of Hanuman came to mind. Then followed a Wikipedia search to confirm that contextually, the mace is indeed a type of club so that my story would fit the writing prompt. Satisfied with what I found, I sat down to write and the result that flowed is this short story. Happy reading ! As usual, comments and feedback are most welcome 😄

Ravi ambled along the pathway that led up to the door of his new house. He still couldn’t bring himself to think of it as ‘home.’ Home meant a place where he had stayed with his parents. But Ma and Baba were no more – they had been killed in a horrible road accident. Chachu, Baba’s younger brother, had brought Ravi to this house to be cared for by Dadi.

Old she may be, his grandmother, but Dadi had a sharp eye. Which is why Ravi pulled down the sleeves of his shirt to cover the bruise that was building on his left upper arm. That big bully in class had cornered Ravi in the playground, grabbing him, trying to have some cheap fun at the new kid’s expense. Thank God the school was closed for the next week, so he wouldn’t have to face the brute very soon, thought Ravi.

“Oh, you’re home, Ravi? How was school today?”

“Yes, was…okay….Seema Ma’am gave me a ‘star’ for my drawing of a kite.”

“Wah! That’s great, Ravi! Your Baba used to draw very well, too.”

“Where’s Chachu?”

“He must be at the akhada, where else?”

Ravi dropped his school bag in a corner of the room, changed out of his uniform and ran from the house, calling out to Dadi, “I’m going to see Chachu and I’ll come back with him.”

The akhada was the local gymnasium where the wrestlers trained. Chachu was one of the most respected wrestlers around town and was now training a new batch of students. Ravi entered the akhada and watched all the activities with wide-eyed wonder. 

The young men first prostrated in front of an idol of Lord Hanuman, who wielded a club in his hand, called ‘Gada’ in Hindi. He was considered the champion god of all wrestlers, worshipped for His strength and wisdom. Later, the trainees went through their exercise and wrestling routine, sparring with each other under the watchful eyes of Chachu.

“Did you finish your homework, Ravi?” called out Chachu.

“No, I’ll do it later. Chachu, why do your students do some exercises with the Gada?”

“It helps to strengthen the muscles of the back and chest, Ravi, and also makes the arms more flexible.” Chachu winked and said, “Some of them also think Hanumanji’s strength flows into them when they practice with the Gada.”

“Will you please teach me to wrestle, Chachu?”

“Hey, you’re still too young, Ravi. Now is the time you must be studying, not wrestling.”

“But I too want to be strong like Hanumanji and fight bad people,” whispered Ravi, unconsciously fingering his left arm.

Chachu noticed the gesture and frowned, as he caught a glimpse of the bruise before Ravi tugged his sleeve down.

“Okay, Ravi, let’s do this…I have a small Gada. When I was your age, I pestered my father to teach me wrestling and he kept on refusing. Your Baba bought this Gada to cheer me up and I played with it for many years until I started wrestling. You can use it …come, I’ll teach you now.”

A little later, Chachu left Ravi to practise his moves but not before warning him, “Remember, Ravi….the Gada is only for your exercise. You must never use it on any person, alright?”

From that day onwards, Ravi spent a few hours every day at the akhada, exercising with his Gada. Being a smart boy, he also tried some of the other simple wrestling moves he’d seen the students perform.

The day school reopened, Ravi waved goodbye to Chachu and Dadi and walked slowly under the weight of his bag. Around late afternoon, one of the wrestling students burst into the akhada, yelling for Chachu to hurry to the school playground. A strange scene met their eyes when they reached there.

A heavily built boy with a menacing look was advancing on Ravi who was bent over his bag in a prayerful stance. “Look out, Ravi,” screamed Chachu when he saw the boy begin moving his arm to throw a punch. With a deft movement, Ravi stepped to his left even as he nimbly struck out his right foot, tripping the big boy and sending him careening down. Dazed, the bully slowly picked himself up and walked away, red-faced.

As they walked home together, Chachu threw a questioning glance at the bulge in Ravi’s bag. Ravi smiled at his uncle. “Your students are right, Chachu. Hanumanji’s strength does flow through those who practise with the Gada.”

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Short Story: Facing Reality

A few months ago, finding myself overwhelmed by the onslaught of (often unnecessary) information, I quit a few groups on WhatsApp. I stayed back on just two family groups and two friends' groups and my Pharmacy College friends' group. Now, this last one is quite silent most of the time - probably because none of us have the inclination to send out run-of-the-mill inane forwards. Conversations are generally triggered when someone remembers some old snippet of the good old college days.

Last week, a friend posted two images on our College WhatsApp group. Both were of compositions of two budding poets that had been published in the College Magazine. One - a beautiful, imaginative play of words on emotions captured through imagery of the desert sands was written by the better poet, my friend Parimala. The other one, more analytical and thought-out, with a dash of crazy rather than creative, was written by - who else - yours truly 😉

I have absolutely zero memory of having written this poem, so it came as a nice surprise. And seeing the theme on which it is based was quite a shock - especially to think that even 20 years ago, I was interested in the machinations of the minds hovering over the fine line that separates balance from imbalance.

This week, I was due to post a 1200-word short story to my story-writing group. The prompt given to us was "Coming Undone." So, having received that old poem turned out to be a serendipitous event, because I could now weave it into the story's narrative. Here's the story as it finally turned out.


Smita bit hard on the end of her pencil, and fixed her gaze on some vague point near the bougainvillea tree. She had seen people doing that when trying to concentrate, as if the mere act of looking pointedly at something would provide an answer.

Smita was due to meet Dr. Asha in an hour. But her poem wasn’t ready yet because her mind refused to cooperate. Of course, she could string together a few sentences with the last words rhyming and technically, it would be poetry. And anyway, Dr. Asha never criticized her, so it was okay. Yet, Smita wanted to try and give expression to at least some of the thoughts that felt so beautiful when they moved around her head.

Smita gave herself a small shake and settled into a more comfortable position on the garden bench. “Start small,” she heard Dr. Asha’s voice encourage, and she wrote:

Some things ought to be

And others not to be

But the latter often are,

And that’s reality….

The next moment, she flinched. She sensed someone beside her and looked up. Nurse Jenila was there, pointing at her watch, and Smita stood and followed her into the building and into Dr. Asha’s room.

“Good morning, Dr. Asha.”

“Good morning, Smita. Sit down. So, how are you today?”

“I’m okay. But I couldn’t finish the poem,” Smita clutched her notebook protectively.

“That’s alright. Do you want to show me what you’ve written so far?”

Smita extended her book slowly and was relieved to see Dr. Asha smile and say, “This is quite a good beginning. I’m eager to see what comes next. So, you’re going home tomorrow….”

Smita nodded cautiously. She was happy to be finally going home after 3 months at the Nirmala Psychosocial Rehab Center. But she was also worried about what would happen next. Dr. Asha seemed to sense her anxiety, and they spoke for a while, going over the dos and don’ts they had already discussed during the past few sessions.

The next day, Smita’s father drove her home where her mother was hovering anxiously by the door. New clothes, half spilling out of their boxes, were scattered all over the sofa, and Smita turned questioningly to her mother.

“Oh, Rupa bought those things yesterday. W-We thought, err, that w-we’d wait to t-tell you…you know after you got s-settled in at home, because, you know…err..we didn’t want to …”

“Rupa is getting engaged to Varun. The ceremony is tomorrow,” her father cut into her mother’s blather.

Smita felt something like a dull ache begin to form at the base of her neck. Her kid sister was getting engaged. In 24 hours time. To Varun. He had been her friend, not Rupa’s.

“Breathe deeply. We are going to take things one step at a time,” Smita heard Dr. Asha’s calm voice say.

Smita was arranging her medicines in the wardrobe when Rupa walked in.

“Congratulations, Rupa.”

“Thank you. And .. sorry. For not telling you before. And also, you know, j-j-jumping the queue…..the thing is, Varun is a nice guy…..and Mum and Dad felt we shouldn’t lose this alliance…. so…so…we agreed without waiting for you …please, Smita, please don’t be mad at me.”

Smita stared at a point outside the bedroom window. “Think calmly,” said Dr. Asha’s voice, again. So, despite the ache growing stronger, she said aloud, “I know, Rupa….it’s okay. A nice guy’s parents came looking for a bride….I was out of the picture…so Mum and Dad did what any sensible parents with 2 daughters would do.”

There was a lot of work to be done. Smita found her parents and sisters getting busy deciding who was to sit where, what articles were to be arranged for the rituals and making a few last minute calls to invite people to attend the ceremony. Smita tried to follow the different trains of conversation, but it felt like peering through a fog. No one asked her to help; when she tried to tidy up the sofa, Rupa made a gesture as if to say, “Leave it there.” Her mother kept looking anxiously in her direction now and then, and every few minutes, her father kept telling her, “Smita, go to your room and rest. We’ll manage everything.”

Not knowing what else to do, Smita went and lay on her bed, drifting off into a deep sleep. When she woke a few hours later, all was quiet. She walked to the kitchen, but it looked like there was no lunch prepared. She rummaged in the cabinets, found a few biscuits, and munching on them, got out her notebook and pencil, and continued her unfinished poem:

None will remember with clarity,

For being insane is no longer a rarity.

You have become a non-entity…

The next morning, Smita woke to the sounds of a busy household. Her mother peeped in to ask her to get dressed quickly as it was almost time for the bridegroom and other guests to arrive. Fumbling through her wardrobe, Smita finally found something that fit her satisfactorily. Looking into the mirror, she found a haggard face staring back, with eyes too large for her face.

When she joined everyone in the hall, the place was filled with the groom’s family and other guests. They were all busy with the rituals, talking and laughing and even gossiping happily. Smita tried to talk to her uncles, aunts and cousins, but they all were very busy, and walked away after just a brief greeting. At one point, it looked like Varun was pointing at her and asking something, but her mother steered him away in another direction.

Smita felt the dull ache in her head coming on again. She went to the kitchen and one of the catering staff assumed she wanted breakfast. She carried her plate out into the garden and sat in the shade of her favorite tree, pecking at the food. She looked hard at the bougainvillea tree in the distance. She tried to recollect where she had left off her poem and tried to fit in words to frame the next verse.


Smita felt a hand on her shoulder and flinched. Nurse Jenila was there, pointing at her watch, and Smita stood and followed her into the building. Dr. Asha was looking at her with concern, and asking, “How are you feeling, Smita?”

“Much better, actually. Maybe it’s because I managed to complete the poem. You want to see it?”

“Show me.”


Some things ought to be

And others not to be

But the latter often are,

And that’s reality….

Can’t face it?

Retreat into insanity;


Being insane is no longer a rarity.

None will remember you with clarity,

For :

You have become a non-entity

Brooding upon the captivity

Forced upon the mind by activity,

That, alas, follows necessity….

Farewell, ambiguity !

Welcome insanity !

Dr. Asha smiled. “Nice work, Smita. Just wait here, okay? I’ll be back in a minute.”

As she stepped out, three people looked up at Dr. Asha, waiting for the verdict. The next moment, six eyes shone with unshed tears, for, the sideways shake of her head had told them all they wanted to know.

                    ------------ The End -----------------

If you've savoured the story and figured out what I set out to convey, this is where you stop reading this post. 

But just in case I've left you a little confused, maybe this well-worded comment from one of my writer friends will help you understand exactly what I was trying to get across...

Smita came across as someone quite lost and yet not somehow; their world is different from ours but it’s valid nevertheless."

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Tumbl(er)ing Into Insights

There’s something about tumblers that gets to me.

Now, I’m not talking of the people who use the microblogging and social networking site called Tumblr – and I don’t think they are called tumblers, anyway. Nor am I speaking of the sportspersons who participate in a specific form of gymnastics called Tumbling. My post has nothing to do with locks or a particular breed of pigeon either. This preamble is, of course, just to show how thoroughly I research any term before using it.

When I say tumbler, I’m talking of the humble steel glass that has (until recently, maybe) been the staple container used to dispense water, milk, tea or coffee in most Indian homes (at least definitely in those located south of the Vindhyas). Of course, thanks to liberalization and globalization, these same homes are nowadays equally likely to sport a variety of glass and porcelain containers that are deemed more befitting of one’s social status than the lowly tumbler.

Coming back to the thrust of this post, there’s something about tumblers that gets to me. Especially the sight of unwashed ones strewn around by people who can’t be bothered enough to rinse them out.

This tryst probably began at the time of the wedding of one of my sisters. It was held in our native village which, while rich in ritualistic knowhow, was quite backward when it came to resources. Besides, the now ubiquitous plastic glasses had not made an appearance 24 years ago.

As anyone of the TamBrahm community will tell you, in those times, the wedding grandeur ratings were more often than not decided by the quality (and quantity) of the coffee provided by the bride’s family. A steady supply of the concoction through all times of the day (and night) was the grease that helped the wedding juggernaut roll smoothly until the bride was safely ensconced in her marital home.

During my sister’s wedding, there was no dearth of coffee. But the meager stock of tumblers couldn’t quite keep up with the beverage’s demand. I had just finished my 12th standard exams – which means I wasn’t young enough to be told “go and play outside.” At the same time, I wasn’t old enough to be called upon to assist with getting things ready for the more important rituals.

I don’t remember anyone specifically telling me to do it, but I took upon myself the mantle of “tumbler-washer.” For the three days of the event, I found myself constantly shuttling between the washing area and the hall where the rituals were being held, unwashed coffee tumblers in hand, on a self-appointed mission, playing a vital role in the coffee supply chain.

My labor did not go unnoticed. In hindsight, considering the nature of the attention it garnered, I’d have been quite happy to have been ignored. An elderly person sought me out, commending me on how I was working hard to help in my sister’s wedding. He said he was very impressed with me, and had made up his mind to ask my dad for my hand in marriage for his grandson. To say I was stunned would be an understatement. But I clearly remember that even in that befuddled state, I wondered how such an important decision could be made on the basis of something as frivolous as tumbler-washing!

Of course, today, when each day brings its quota of tumbler-washing my way, I know there’s nothing frivolous about the task, although the process has certainly become a routine one. And yet, there are times when this simple activity can take my mind on an insightful journey.

A few months ago, I had been away from home for a day. When I returned, this was the sight that greeted my eyes. Look carefully at this picture. 

Turmeric spilled on the floor, slightly wet in some parts. The turmeric had been sprinkled to drive away ants that had been crawling on the floor. But that was just part of the scene. This image below was the entire scene. 

The ants originated from the few drops of leftover coffee in the tumbler. They had covered the entire tumbler and spilled out across the floor. I agree that using turmeric is an excellent non-violent home remedy to get rid of ants. But to me, it seems a more sensible, lasting solution would have been to remove the tumbler and wash it. 

Even as I set about cleaning the tumbler, I was struck by an epiphany – how often in life we seek to focus our attention on the effects of an issue – throwing turmeric over the ants on the floor – while willfully ignoring the source from where it arises – the dirty tumbler – because tackling the latter requires more effort.

If only we could get ourselves to deal with the root cause of any problem, perhaps we could avoid the emotional roller coaster rides that are such a drain on our energy?

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Long Time, No See....

It's been two months since I last ventured here. A hectic, tiring two months that left me with no energy and inclination to write or engage on any social media platforms. That is, except for two occasions, when I was forced to submit my story in the short story writing challenge for which I signed up in February of this year. Now, things have started slowing down, and there's a much awaited vacation looming on the horizon; so, hopefully, I will be writing more often 😅

About seven people reached out to me during this hiatus, asking if all was well, because they noticed I was off the radar. Thank you, guys and gals for your loving concern, for I suspect it acted as a positive reinforcer in hastening my return here.

This post is a 500-word short story I wrote for this month on the prompt "Going Home." I've taken a little liberty with what is essentially a real-life story. 

Title: Home Is Where the Heart Is

After stumbling for two hours through the dense undergrowth, Captain Kiran finally accepted that he was well and truly lost on his first day in the beautiful mountains of Arunachal Pradesh. He rued his impulsive decision to trek to the army camp instead of waiting for the jeep that was to transport him.

“Veerta aur Vivek,” he chanted aloud, trying to draw strength from the motto of his alma mater, the Indian Military Academy. He knew he had shown no ‘vivek’ or wisdom and was in dire need of ‘veerta’ or courage, to go on.

A low, bloodcurdling growl came from somewhere to his right and Kiran ran blindly, mindless of the low-hanging branches that scratched his face and arms. Which is why he didn’t notice the hand that thrust into his solar plexus, pushing him to the ground. The same hand steadied him into a crouching position and a voice barked, “Take a few deep breaths and you’ll be okay.”

Looking up, Kiran noticed an elderly but fit man in front of him, dressed in old army fatigues, with a rifle slung across his shoulder. Answering Kiran’s unasked question, the guy separated the branches of the trees right in front and beckoned Kiran to take a look.

“Sorry for hurting you, but I had to stop you before you went there, you know.”

Kiran looked out gingerly to see a bottomless ravine that plunged a few thousand feet.

“I don’t know how to thank you, sir. If not for you, I’d be dead by now.”

“Indeed. Now that we’re not at war with China, this is the only service I can render my country,” he grinned. “Come, let me show you the way back to your camp.”

“How do you know where I’m going?”

“I heard you pleading for ‘Valour and Wisdom,’ young man, and knew you’re an alumnus of the IMA at Dehradun.”

Kiran struggled to keep up with the rifleman’s scorching pace and within the next hour, he found himself in the army camp. But his guide was nowhere to be seen. Kiran asked the guard at the gate if he’d seen a man with a rifle passing by. The guard looked closely at him and mouthed a cryptic reply, “He’s gone back to his home.”

Later that evening, as he walked on the Sela Pass, Kiran came to a stop outside a structure that bore the name of “Jaswant Garh.” 

Entering, he found a cabinet display of the personal belongings of Rifleman Jaswant Singh Rawat who was killed on 17th November, 1962, while fighting a large Chinese force with a mere three hand grenades in his pocket. A war citation gave a brief description of the encounter and explained that for his valiant act, the rifleman had been posthumously awarded the gallantry award called Maha Vir Chakra.

As he gaped at the photograph that took centre stage in the hallowed room, Kiran could have sworn his guide of the morning actually smiled and winked at him.

My intent is to inspire you readers to look up the details of the incident it mentions and so, I've provided a link to another blog that does justice to the legend. Read this.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Short Story: Cheats Don't Win

This is a short story I wrote as part of an exercise being conducted by a South-Africa based writer's group. The prompt for this was "New Life" and word count was 1000 words. 

Let me know what you think of my effort and if you'd like to read more of my stories 😊

“Group hug!” shouted Dev, grabbing Atul and Jai before walking into the examination hall. Just two more papers to answer, and then, a new life, thought Atul. Already selected by a top firm during the campus recruitment drive, he didn’t need to worry about looking for a job. He had beaten Dev to it, but his best friend hadn’t seemed to mind because he’d also been placed with another good company, albeit with a smaller pay package.

Two hours after the question papers were distributed, Atul’s pen continued to move furiously, filling up the pages of the answer booklet. 

Which is why he didn’t immediately stand when ordered to. A hand pulled him up, then slid into his pocket and pulled out a slip of paper with some formulae scribbled on it. A voice barked, “What’s this?” and before he could realize what was happening, Atul was being dragged downstairs to Principal Nadkarni’s office. The dreaded flying squad from the University, monitoring examination centres, had struck.

“We caught this boy with copying material. Book a malpractice case.”

Nadkarni slowly asked, “Did you catch him copying?”

“No, but the slip is evidence enough that he intended to cheat.”

Atul finally found his voice. “Sir, I don’t know how this paper came into my pocket. I ..I ..went through a check before entering the hall, they…they didn’t find anything then…Sir, please believe me. Ask the staff; they’ll tell you I’m speaking the truth….please, Sir, I haven’t done any cheating…please, Sir… don’t book a malpractice case against me, Sir!”

Nadkarni asked Atul to wait outside the office for a while. Turning to the men from the University, he explained that Atul was the college’s star pupil who had excelled year after year in both academics and extra-curricular activities. Besides, his ailing father couldn’t work and the family ran on the meager income from Atul’s part-time job.

“We can understand that, Nadkarni Sir, but rules are rules and we have to set an example so that no one else dares repeat this offense.”

They argued back and forth until finally, a compromise was reached. Atul was called in. In front of his very eyes, one of the men drew a line through each and every one of his answers. The men warned Atul, “It’s only due to the immense respect we have for Nadkarni Sir’s words, that we’re letting you off the hook, but you better never try this trick ever again.”

People on the pavement saw a boy run blindly out of the college gates. They yelled at him to stop, but it was too late. An ominous screeching of brakes and then, there he lay, sprawled on the road, his leg twisted, blood all around…..

A few minutes later, Raghu the lab technician ran into the Principal’s office. “Sir, I’m sure Atul couldn’t have had a slip in his pocket.”

“How do you know, Raghu?”

“Because I’m the one who checked him at the entrance to the corridor and there was nothing in his pocket!”

The light in Principal Nadkarni’s office burned long into the night and when he finally left, he thought he knew what had happened.

Three months later, when Atul came to the college office to pay the fees for the supplementary examination, Nadkarni spoke to him.

“How are you feeling now, Atul?”

“I’m okay, Sir. The first two months after the accident were bad, but now I’m busy studying for the supplementary exam. I can’t afford to mess up this time,” he grimaced.

“How’s your dad?”

“He’s ok, although a bit sad that I couldn’t complete my course on time to take up the job secured through the campus placement. But he accepted the accident as an act of fate and says God does all for the best. If only he knew --”

“Study well, Atul. I’m sure you’ll score well and once the results are out, you’ll quickly find another job.”

“Thank you, Sir. For everything. If not for you, I’d have been tainted with the “malpractice” tag. At least now, I can honestly blame the accident for finishing my course late.”

Six months later, the phone on Nadkarni’s table rang.

“I’ve cleared the exam and scored 80% marks, Sir.”

“Great news, Atul! Congratulations, my boy!”

“And Sir, I’ve also been selected as a trainee at BT Info Services. I start work tomorrow. Thank you for all your support, Sir.”

“Good, Atul. And don’t worry - a bright spark like you will soon rise to greater heights. I wish you the very best for the new life you’re going to begin!”

No sooner had he finished speaking to Atul than Nadkarni dialed another number. A call long overdue, he believed.

“Is this Dev? I’m Principal Nadkarni….yes, yes, good morning to you too. So, are you still working at BT Info Services?”

“Oh, that’s nice, that’s nice. Isn’t Mr. Krishnakanth your manager? I know him very well ….we studied together…. Dev, do you know that Atul is joining your company tomorrow? …Oh, you do…that’s good. I hope you will help him, Dev…yes, yes, he’s already lost almost a year….By the way, are you free this Saturday? … No, no…nothing urgent…I just wanted to show you the footage from a CCTV camera in the college corridor on the 1st floor. Remember that day when Atul had his accident? I can’t hear you clearly…speak up Dev…you’re sounding very faint….Right, as I was saying, I was watching that footage and it seemed to me like just outside the exam hall, when you and another guy were hugging Atul, your hand slipped into Atul’s pocket….what’s the matter, Dev? Is the signal weak? I can’t hear you very well…ok, I’ll wait for you on Saturday at 10.30 am, don’t be late!”

After two days, it was Mr. Krishnakanth who called Nadkarni to say, “Your student sure is a star….what do you mean, which one? Of course, I mean Atul….no, no…not Dev…I don’t know what came over him…he suddenly resigned two days ago.”

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

This I learned from the Ramayana

Today is Sri Rama Navami – the day we celebrate the birth of Lord Rama. This occasion means a lot of things to me and I’ve written about it previously here.

When I was a child and listened to the Geet Ramayan being sung, one of my most favourite songs was the one that went “Setu bandhaa re…” and depicted the spirit with which the vaanaraas worked enthusiastically to build the bridge to Lanka.

Later in life, I heard two stories that again revolved around this same Setu-bandhan activity. Time and again, these stories have served to inspire me.

The first one of these is the story of a tiny squirrel.

All the vaanaraas were rushing about uprooting trees and lifting huge boulders and carrying them to throw into the sea. A squirrel who saw all this also felt enthused to contribute to this task. Although it could not uproot trees or carry boulders like the vaanaraas, it did what little it could. It carried a few small pebbles in its mouth; it also rolled its body in the sand on the seashore and then shook off the sand grains and pebbles on the bridge that was taking shape.

Some monkeys laughed at the efforts of the tiny squirrel. Rama Himself reprimanded them by pointing to how the pebbles and sand crept into the crevices between the stones, helping to bind together the whole bridge structure and give it strength!

The story continues to say that Lord Rama lovingly stroked the squirrel’s back, giving it the famous stripes we see till today. The more relevant part of this story for me has always been that spirit of “seek to do whatever you can to help – no matter how small it may appear in the overall scheme of things.” 

The second story narrates how Lord Rama was watching the vaanaraas uprooting, carrying and throwing the boulders into the sea. Throughout the activity, and especially while dropping the rocks, they kept chanting “Jai Shree Rama” and each stone they threw into the water, unfailingly floated to the surface, to form a chain of rocks, giving shape to the bridge. 

Watching this, Lord Rama himself picked up a boulder and threw it into the sea but surprisingly, for all His divine prowess, it sank without a trace. The difference between His action and that of the monkeys – He didn’t echo their chant. 

This story is what gave rise to the famous tenet “Raam se badaa Raam kaa naam” that says the Name of the Lord is greater than His Form. Every time I recollect this anecdote, I’m reminded that when I do things to the accompaniment of chanting the Lord’s Name (whether loudly or mentally), they turn out far more successful than I ever imagined possible.

We must all aspire to abide by Dharma as conscientiously as Rama; but to be able to do that effectively, it is important to first cultivate the spirit of Hanumaan. With every single breath, like the Pavanaputraa, let us ask for His unstinting faith and devotion to the Lotus feet of Lord Rama!

Jai Shree Ram ! 

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

One day at Reliance Fresh....

The accent. That typical Goan way of dragging words that makes even English sound like Konkani. That's what first drew my attention. If I continued to listen, it was only because I wanted to know how it would end. 

I was doing some last-minute festival shopping at the Reliance Fresh supermarket close to home. I had picked the queue that had just one person waiting, praying that this action of mine wouldn't trigger whichever law it is that says the queue in which YOU choose to stand ALWAYS takes the longest to move.

The guy in front of me was trying to point out to the billing clerk that the price of wheat flour he had keyed in was five rupees more than the price mentioned on the board where the flour was stocked. Once I finished noticing the shopper's typical laidback Konk-glish tone, I didn't really pay attention because it was quite obvious there would be some kind of an argument. 

But then, life has a way of surprising us. Just when we think we have seen it all, things happen for our benefit - almost as if to jerk us out of our complacency, saying, "Look again. Nothing is definite; anything is possible."

In broken English, a little Kannada and a body language that spoke of embarrassment, the young supermarket staffer indicated that the offer was off and the cost he had keyed in was the actual cost. 

Surely, I thought, this is where the argument will start. 

But no, it didn't.

Going beyond the call of duty, the billing clerk offered to reduce the final bill by five rupees. 

I just loved what the Konk-glish tone guy did in reply. 

With a gentle smile and a firm shake of his head, he refused to accept the refund, because, in his words, "When your manager finds the account doesn't tally, he will cut it from your salary. I don't want to get you into trouble."

And then, having explained his logic, he told the billing clerk to get the board changed at once, so that other people wouldn't come and get into a fight with him.

The boy immediately called out to someone to change the board, and it was done at once. The Konk-glish tone guy smiled, said thank you, and left with his purchase, leaving two beaming, happy souls behind - the billing clerk, and ...... me !

Even as I write this post, I'm struck by the realization that this month, March 2017, marks the second anniversary of my blog. 

When I first started writing here, I thought it would be one of the ways to reach out to people with tips on living. As I kept writing, slowly, I found myself making the transition from doling out advice to sharing my experiences and learning. 

Whatever the mode I have adopted, there's one thing that has stayed a constant - the heartfelt, open and plentiful feedback I get from people who read this blog. 

Knowing there are people waiting to read, enjoy and learn from my writing spurs me to be even more observant of experiences like the one I've described in this post. 

Hoping to keep sharing more such real life uplifting and inspiring stories, here's wishing you all a Happy New Year on this day of Ugadi !

Monday, 20 March 2017

Timeline of a transformation

“But Ma’am, actually Lalu is also very smart, but people don’t realize it,” says my student – let’s call him XZY (and the Y is significant as you’ll realize by the end of this piece).

I teach a subject called Pharmacognosy that deals with plant-based medicines. I’ve been explaining about Ayurveda and how the world today is again waking up to its value. In passing, I mention about how Yoga too is gaining visibility thanks to the International Yoga Day that has been initiated by our PM Narendra Modi, who is smart enough to recognize its value.

It is to this statement that my student XZY has responded with his opinion about an earthy politician from Bihar. I acknowledge his opinion and move on with Ayurveda because politics is out-of-syllabus – after all, I’m not a prof at JNU! It is September 2015, a month before the Bihar elections that saw the Mahagatbandhan sweep to power. Busy with the academic schedule, neither I nor XZY have the time to discuss Lalu’s reversed fortunes.


“Ma’am, my family is into politics in Uttar Pradesh. One of my relatives is a Samajwadi Party candidate and I’m going to campaign for him in the 2017 elections,” says XZY to me. We’re outside the classroom, in a hospital actually, where I’m visiting a student who developed sudden, severe, debilitating back pain. It is January 2016. XZY tells me he’s going to get into politics after a few years, and we talk about general aspects of how it’s going to be a challenge, but he is determined. I advice him that no matter which party he chooses, he must never lose sight of the fact that he should serve the people. It is February 2016.


XZY completes his course and leaves the college in July 2016. He keeps in touch with me through an occasional message on Whatsapp.


“Ma’am, UP mein bahut drama chal rahaa hai!” is XZY’s first statement after wishing me a Happy New Year on Jan 1st, 2017. It’s been a few days since the much-publicized spat and making-up between Akhilesh Yadav and Mulayam Singh Yadav. I ask him how his campaigning for SP is going on and he lobs the equivalent of a bomb at me, “Ma’am, we’re supporting Bharatiya Janata Party!” 

Flabbergasted, I ask what happened to cause this shifting of loyalties. He tells me about how although Akhilesh Yadav has good intentions, he hasn’t been able to act on them. There’s quite some concern about appeasement politics too. And the youth all over the state are firmly behind Modi ji. XZY’s family has received feelers from local BJP leaders for putting up a candidate under their flag and they’re in the middle of 
finalizing the issue. I wish him luck and say goodbye, but not before realizing he’s been singing the PM’s praises for quite a few minutes. 


In the last week of February 2017, XZY texts me, “Ma’am, some people are saying that Akhilesh is coming back to power, I’m worried.” I think I detect a mild desperation and try to buoy him up saying, “It’s OK, let’s wait…there are two more phases of voting to go.”


On March 11, 2017, I rush from the classroom to the staffroom to catch up with the election results pouring in. Within minutes, I have a text from XZY, exulting in the fact that the lotus has well-and-truly bloomed in UP.


One week later, at around 7 pm, I’m alternating between news channels, WhatsApp and Twitter to make sense of who actually is the UP CM-designate. Predictably, I receive a message from XZY saying, “Ma’am, UP mein Yogi Yug start.” I say I’m glad to know that and ask how he is feeling about it. I needn’t have bothered with the caution, because XZY is throwing it to the winds, telling me he is very happy about the news and that he’s planning to join the RSS because he wants to serve the nation. I tell XZY that I’m going to be waiting eagerly for the day when he becomes an MLA or MP. Immediately, he recoils, “No, Ma’am….I don’t want to be MLA or MP…all I want is to serve the nation!!”

Remember, at the beginning of this article, I said the ‘Y’ in this guy’s name is important? It stands for ‘Yadav’ the community that political pundits opine, transferred its vote from its namesakes in the SP to the BJP. This watershed assembly election in the largest state of the country is bound to pave the way for change. To me, one of the best things it has done is make one young man (and perhaps, several others like him) aspire to move from being merely a Yadav towards becoming a yogi who wants to work for the betterment of Bharat. 

To see the magnitude of the mandate, check this out !

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Thai Velli Poojai and Blessings

It's 8.10 am as I pick up Amma en route to the temple she's identified for the Thai Velli Naagar poojai. This is a particular form of worship offered to the Snake form of the Lord during the Tamizh month of Thai. In the midst of a concrete jungle like Bengaluru, you don't find live snakes living in anthills; so a temple that houses a tree under which snakes had traditionally lived, will generally have Naaga vigrahaas (idols) made of stone, placed under the tree in a separate area to allow people to offer worship.

I've brought nothing but flowers; the rest all she's taken care of herself because she doesn't want to burden me as I have to rush to college after the poojai.

We enter the temple and make our way to where the Naagar vigrahaas are installed. It’s a little dark in that area and so, I go to request that the lights be switched on. Amma performs the initial purification of the area around the idols by sprinkling water and drawing a tiny rangoli with the white powder taken out of a zip-lock cover. 

Reciting the Mahalakshmi Ashthakam, she anoints the vigrahaas with kumkum and asks me to follow suit. Next, we offer flowers and place a thamboolam (betel leaves, betel nuts, a packet of kumkum-manjal, 2 dried rhizomes of turmeric and 2 banana fruits). We pour the milk little by little over the hood of the Naagar that has been etched into the tree below which the vigrahaas are placed. 

Then, we offer an aarati, praying for the well-being of everyone. I know with certainty that Amma must be saying a few extra prayers asking that her grandson (my son) be blessed with good health.

A lady devotee passing by stands awhile to let us complete the ritual. Then, she offers to the deities the flowers she has brought and looks towards the aarati lamp we’ve placed aside where the camphor still burns bright. I assume she’s wondering if she can also do the aarati, and nod at her to go ahead – after all, aren’t we all bound by the same devotion? And when all belongs to Him, where is the bheda (difference) of “our” aarati and “her” aarati?

As she finishes her worship, I ask her to wait to receive a thamboolam. Amma makes me give it to her and the woman, who I’m sure is older to me, accepts it and suddenly dives to do namaskaar. I hastily step back, trying to tell the lady to do namaskaar to Amma because she’s older, but she persists. 

I look askance at Amma and she quietly nods, as if to say, “It’s ok. Don’t interrupt her.” I’m reminded of what Dr Balasubramaniam said during the Vivekananda Jayanthi a few days ago about how strongly rejecting something is also a manifestation of ego; the truly ego-less are those who are able to stay equanimous even when they receive recognition, calm with the realization that they are but a medium for that to pass to the Divine One who is their rightful recipient.

Having completed the poojai, we do a pradakshinaa and get ready to leave. Amma gives me a little of the left-over milk to be taken home consumed as prasaadam. “Kulanthaikki kudu” (give it to the child), she repeats so that I don’t forget to ensure the prasaadam reaches the no-longer-child-but-wannabe-grown-up-teenager.

As we move away, I feel like taking a picture as a reminder of the hallowed feeling that has enveloped me during these few minutes. 

I’m not given to too much of ritualistic worship, but don’t shy away from it when it has to be done, either. Perhaps the regular practice of chanting the Lord’s Name at all times has been purifying my mind, stripping away from it the need to question the need for rituals, choosing, instead, to see in them yet another way to experience the same spiritual emotion and exalted feeling that comes from the chanting.

Poojai completed, we move out of the temple. I hail a passing auto, we get into it, and manage to confuse the driver with our instructions. I say, “Please go to the left” because I want to drop her to the entrance of the apartment. She tells him, “No, stop here and let me get down, then you go right. I can walk home” because again, that concern about not delaying me for work. 

While I do benefit from the concern she has, born out of herself having pursued a successful career for close to 30-odd years, I have learned now to overrule her on such occasions, and get my way, because the busy roads of Bengaluru city are an equal-opportunity tormenter with no discrimination between old and young.

I reach home, get busy putting together breakfast and tiffin box for myself and the “Kulanthai.” No lunch to be prepared because – yet again – Amma has been the savior, suggesting she will prepare lunch for her kulanthai so that I – yet again – don’t have to overstress.

Like innumerable times before, I pause for a few seconds, saying a heartfelt thanks to God. I wonder if I’ve already done a lot of Thai Velli poojais in some past janmaa. After all, not every woman is fortunate enough to be blessed with such a caring Amma in the form of her husband’s mother !!

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Food for the soul

Recently, I went to this place after a relatively long time and was amazed by how it appeared. Of course, I knew that changes were underway but the sheer magnitude and more importantly, the direction of the transformation was a shocker.

A broad, newly tarred road. Imposing buildings on the one side. On the other, commercial joints, cheek by jowl, vying with each other to draw in the most customers. The air in between heavy with the flavours claiming to represent local, national and international cuisine.

If this description makes you think of a food street, you’re not far off the mark. For indeed, it is how some of the inmates of those buildings described their new surroundings. There were some rueful jokes cracked about how, in the near future, this place is going to become famous as a cool hang-out space for gastronomic delights rather than cerebral endeavours. Which seems like quite the anti-thesis of what those in the lofty towers of those buildings say they intend to achieve.

Take a look at these images and then, I’ll explain why I say this.

I certainly understand the compulsions of the persons who conceived and authorized this move. Educational institutions today are behemoths, constantly demanding greater resources to retain their “world-class” tags. And when students come from outside the state and even outside the country, it is vital you strive to provide them with amenities that make them feel comfortable, ensuring word-of-mouth publicity gives you the edge over other institutions.

There’s no questioning of these motives. Just that in my opinion, the manner of executing what is perceived to be the solution, is not really constructive towards achieving the stated aim of an educational institution.

Knowing how extremely distractible students are, I do not really see any wisdom in creating such spaces in a way that the flavors of food for the body constantly assail their senses and mind. When we ourselves provide the diversions to students, aren’t we creating a greater demand on their already low powers of self-restraint? 

With the smell of some exotic dish wafting in through the window, what’s the likelihood that a youngster’s attention will not stray to the rumblings of his stomach and his brain rather than focusing on the Kreb’s cycle or reflex arc his teacher is trying to explain?

Or perhaps, could it be possible that indeed, the world has moved on so far ahead that today, there’s no longer any value left for what Plato said?

Disclaimer: About 10 years ago, I too was a resident of one of the imposing buildings mentioned in this post. Perhaps the memory of what WAS THEN is making what IS NOW more incongruous in my eyes......

Monday, 23 January 2017

Lessons from the Jallikattu saga

I once watched a Tamil movie at the insistence of my son. The story line was not really unique: a hooded and masked vigilante fighting to eradicate the evil powers-that-be responsible for trafficking of women, corruption and terror attacks. However, a scene in the climax of the movie stayed with me, because of the hero’s address to all the people assembled to witness a supposed miracle to be performed by him. Of course I don’t remember the words, so I looked it up online….           

For those who don’t get Tamil, a simple translation:

All of us eat to appease our own hunger, sleep when we’re drowsy and laugh to express our own joy. Yet, when we feel anger, we suppress it and keep waiting for someone else to come and express our outrage. Why????

As I listened to RJ Balaji’s speech at Marina Beach during the peaceful, dignified yet spirited protest against the Jallikattu ban, I felt a stirring of hope. That perhaps, here was the answer to that movie hero’s angst. Finally, it seemed like the people had woken up from the slumber of waiting for some vigilante and decided to act in their own interests.

Yesterday, I listened to 'Hip-Hop Tamizha', Adhi, a musician who was one of the well-known faces of the protest, explain why he had backed out of the Jallikattu agitation. As he spoke of the anti-national hue the protest was taking on, the strongest vibe I caught from his video was one of disbelief that this could actually be happening.

Today, we’ve been told that a #Jallikattu bill has been passed unanimously in the TN assembly. Yet, there was a mindless vandalism that surely could not be the handiwork of simply college-going youngsters who formed the majority of the protesters. It appears like a concerted move to hijack this people’s movement and at this moment of truth, it seems uncannily similar to the plotlines of many a potboiler.

As we take stock of things, it is vital we stay alert. More important is to not grow cynical or lose hope. Unfortunately, whether it is TN or any other state, there are multiple issues that continue to sap at our collective resources. 

Which is why, in a way, this peculiar turn of events in the Jallikattu saga may yet prove to be a blessing in disguise. 

Because, it can teach our youngsters one vital lesson – that in actual life, there is no ONE climax scene to put an end to problems. 

Let’s leave the chutzpah-fuelled dialogues for the movies and keep pressing on to raise a voice when confronted by issues. 

For, in the real world, true grit is what will ultimately decide who wins.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Menu for Life

31st December, 2016. I’m lucky enough to share my birthday with a wonderful person. My sister-in-law, Padmini. She’s just 2 years younger to me and we hit it off right from the moment I stepped into the Ranganathan household. Today, her daughter and my son are in a celebratory mood and want to eat out. To humour them, we give in to the demand for what’s a censored item on our menu, relegated to a once-in-a-month treat.

We troop into Dominos Pizza and make our way to one of the tables. There’s one woman I notice at once. She’s dressed in a black saree and green blouse, with a black kitchen apron secured at the back of her neck and waist, a plastic cover over her hair that’s drawn into a bun, with a black cap perched on her head.

She’s just one of the staff in this bustling fast food joint and yet, she stands out for the sheer incongruity of her presence. An OLD woman scrubbing the table clean of food that youngsters half her age are having fun preparing or serving or eating.

She shuffles slowly around the tables, carefully collecting all the crumbs of food leftover into one large carton box. She moves to another part of the room to dump it all into a dustbin. Then she crosses her arms across her chest and stands quietly in the area marked as “Handwash” for the next table to become unoccupied so that she can clean it.

I watch her for a while and the realization dawns on me that I’m going to write about this. But then, there’s also this overpowering thought of wanting to know how and why she is there because I sense there’s a lesson hidden in this chance encounter.

As she stands waiting for the next table to empty out, I walk up to her and gently say, “If you don’t mind, can I ask you something?” The dour expression on her face gives way to something like wonder and she says, “Of course, what do you want to know?” I ask how she came to be working here despite the fact that she looks quite frail.

In the next 5 minutes, she narrates her life story – of losing her husband who had a government job. Of having a son who, despite being qualified, did not wish to find any job but instead, insisted on waiting for the father’s government job that had been promised to him. Of not wanting to knock on the doors of either her parents or her in-laws. Of working as a domestic help in four houses from 8 am to noon and then in the pizza outlet and dental clinic above till 9 pm. Of being saddled with illnesses like typhoid and having had surgery for hernia that had sapped at her almost non-existent strength.

And yet, this woman says calmly to me, “I have lots of difficulties, but I know God is there with me. He will take care of me always.”

As I bid her goodbye, she smiles and says, “Thank you for listening to me,” and walks slowly to yet another table. Indeed, as Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa said, “A tree laden with fruits always bends low.”