Infectious Goodness

I met my friend Gautam yesterday. Like me he too is very regular in his exercise regimen, especially the walks. His doctor has told him that at his age, one-hour walk everyday is a must. If he wants to go to a gym, do Yoga, learn karate or any other activity, it has to be ‘walk’+ that activity. During one such walk something strange happened with Gautam. He narrated to me the story next day.

Gautam had already completed his daily walk quota in the morning. He had come out again in the evening for a stroll in the park; maybe just to stay a little ahead in life. He was only half way down the track; he spotted a wad of money on the ground. He stopped right next to it, keeping his shoe near the neatly folded notes and looked down directly at it. Watching an awkwardly static person in the jogging park; other walkers too followed his look and also saw the money. Gautam looked up at some passing men engrossed in serious walking.

Gautam: does this belong to any of you? He stayed near the money. But it seemed that those people had already started breaking their carbohydrates into glucose and water. So, no one was in a mood to break the pace for little money that didn’t even belong to them. A tall man just nodded ‘no’ and walked off without slowing his pace. A dark lady in short hair said smilingly, ‘finders keepers’, not bothering to stop. Gautam picked up the money. Watchman from his cabin had also noticed this. Gautam walked to the watchman, showed him the money and told him, “I found it (pointing to the spot) there. Did any one inform you about their lost money?”
Watchman: “no (extending his hand to grab the notes); but I will keep an eye.”
Gautam: “wait, let me count it (he counted the money). It is 110 rupees. Keep it but if I cannot find the owner then I will take it from you before I leave. It is 110, ok?”
Watchman: “ok sir.” But just as Gautam was about to hand over the money to watchman, Gautam noticed a large bunch of women entering the garden. He stood at the edge of walking area and raised his hand with the money.

Gautam: “anyone lost this… any one?” Most ladies laughed and passed him by; but a thin woman with graying hair said, “you are giving so much of your time for someone else’s money. Everyone is not so nice.” Gautam: ‘

“that’s no problem; I will give it just a few minutes more.”
Thin woman with graying hair: “good luck to you” (she walked off laughing away).
Gautam: (trying his luck again) “hello any one dropped this right here, any one?”
Next was a group of four women, chatting loudly. Among them there was a fat lady in yellow suit, “Yes, it could be mine. I had a 50 rupee note with me when I was shopping.” She showed her empty handkerchief. So careless! Gautam thought.
Gautam: “you should have at least tied up the money in your handkerchief.”
Fat woman in yellow suit: “yes. I don’t know how it slipped.”
Gautam: (placing money in her hanky) “here, take this.”

Other women started complimenting him and smiling, as they always do. Gautam was hugely relieved; but by now he had lost precious five-minute walk. So he picked up speed thanking women for their complements. The women too continued walking for a while. Gautam paced faster in the next two rounds. That group of women was now sitting on a bench and chatting. So every two minutes Gautam passed them, he knew they were looking at him. He felt very uncomfortable.

Soon there was a surprising twist in the tale. A small made woman had walked to that group of four women and was talking to them. As Gautam passed again, group of women stopped him.
Fat woman in yellow suit: “actually the money belongs to this lady. She has come back all the way from her house trying to find it.”
Gautam: “so now you are giving it to her?”
Fat woman in yellow suit: “yes. I thought it was mine; but it is surely hers.”
Gautam: “but what about your fifty rupee note? Do you have it or is that lost too?”
Fat woman in yellow suit: “no, it is in my bag.”
Gautam: “sure? Otherwise tell me I will keep an eye on the ground for your money too.”
They all laugh aloud. Gautam coolly started his walks again. He was pleasantly surprised at what had happened.

Dark lady in short hair: “you can’t go on finding money in every trip.”
Gautam: “yes I know. But even if I do find more money, it will be a big headache to find it’s owner every time.”
Dark lady in short hair: (laughing) “true. I don’t think anyone thinks like you do.”
Gautam was moving away from her.
Gautam: “oh that’s no big deal. Bye.”
Dark lady in short hair, “bye.”

Tigers, poachers and cheats of Sariska

One day while speaking to my father on phone, I realized that his voice had become weaker. When a person’s voice loses strength, means that the person himself is losing strength and mainly his will. I was reminded of my experience with Raj Kapoor (actor, producer, director), during a documentary that I worked on. Mr. Raj Kapoor’s voice went feeble during production of just one year. In a few years he succumbed to ill health.

So thanks to doing ‘sound recording’ for the documentary on Raj Kapoor, I decided to make a trip to Jaipur to see my father in Oct 2004.

I decided to make it a double purpose trip. Main purpose obviously was to see my father and my brother’s family, spending good time with them all. Second one was a bonus, as I made up my mind to visit both the well-known Indian wild life sanctuaries, ‘Sariska’ and ‘Ranthambhore’. After two days stay at home in Jaipur, I told my father that I would like to visit some other places close by. He agreed and I decided to start my trips from next day. It also would have been difficult for me to sit at home all day, for the next seven days. I took traveling tips from my brother Tarun, to start with Sariska National Park.

Next day in the darkness of morning I stepped out, without wasting time on formality of breakfast. I thought it would be much better to grab local dishes in a roadside dhaba. I reached the bus stop and got my ticket for Sariska. The buses going to Alwar pass from Sariska. Sariska is a very small – almost unnoticeable village bus-stop. After a fairly static long journey, my destination came. I got off with my back-pack. First important thing for me to do was to do some stretches on the quiet highway. After a few ‘touching the toes’ and ‘side stretches’, few locals pointed me to the sanctuary office. It was a much-needed short walk after sitting 4-5 hrs in an ordinary Rajasthan roadways bus (I had decided to take an economy tour). I was alone, adventurous and open to opportunities or mishaps of any kind, equally. I needed to queue up for a seat in any vehicle going inside the sanctuary.

I thought it is okay, if I have to wait for some (long) time for getting my chance. Worse still, even if I don’t get a chance to go in at all – was also going to be fine with me. I was that relaxed.

I walked up to the very basic looking booking window. I realized people inside the office were quite helpful. The booking clerk told me that visitors need to share a Maruti Gypsy jeep, which seats 3-4 tourists and one seat costs 500/-. But he also said that seats in all the Gypsys had already been booked. Thus I will have to take a Gypsy all by myself. And that was going to be very expensive for me. There it goes, I thought. I asked him, ‘in that case should I go back to Jaipur now?’ He was not ready for this bold direct inquiry. After a little hesitation, he said there is a couple, and they are only two in that car. You could look for them and ask them if they don’t mind you joining them. You could share the cost with them. ‘Fair enough’, I thought. After getting description of their looks, I started looking for them. I spotted them in a distance. But enroute there were a whole lot of monkeys running around. Of all animals monkeys have an upper hand on me. I am really frightened of them. They are so swift, strong, unpredictable and unruly. But here I had to be courageous. I relaxed my body language and went through the army of monkeys with our God Hanumanji’s prayer in my heart.

The woman was a foreigner and the guy was Indian, both were elderly, like me. They promptly agreed to my request (joining them) cum offer (share the cost). The guy sat with me at the back and the woman was in front, next to the driver. I got myself some bottled water at the gate and our open- top Gypsy entered the Sariska gate. Our smiling driver was also a guide for the tourists. I had my old faithful Contaflex 35mm film camera in ready my hand. I got alert to shoot any tiny movement that could be a tiger or even tiger’s quivering tail in the bush.

With majestic tigers in my mind, first thing our driver showed us was a small falcon, perched on a tree. It flew off well before I could ask it to pose for me. We took a detour and were told there were crocodiles in some puddle of water, but crocs weren’t available. We came back to main route and saw a few wild boars and many antelopes on both sides of the road. I had started shooting pictures of every animal, because I wasn’t very hopeful of ‘sighting’ a tiger. Without further delay I asked the driver about our chances of spotting a tiger. He told us that tigers have not been seen for many weeks now. But it is not uncommon, he said. But yes, evening trip has better chances to see them. He said something about evenings being tiger’s hunting time. My heart sank as we had entered the forest in first half of the day. We saw more of antelopes, deer and more wild boars. We saw many peacocks, but without their majestic tails. Driver said the feathers fall off in rains and it takes a few months for them to grow back. I had never heard such an atrocious statement before. After about hour and a half, the lady with us got restless and suddenly asked the driver to begin return journey. I wanted to use the full time but also did not mind returning. It was going to take about 45 min to reach back. So it was fine. I came back with some more similar pictures and of course NO tiger or even its tail…

The return journey to Jaipur became a bit adventurous, as frequency of the buses had dropped badly. I managed to get one seat in the last bus. By that time after it had become pretty dark and wild animals had started howling. I realized this was turning into an adventure now. I reached home quite little late at night.

I rested for a day, spending time with my father and with my bother’s family. And took off for another well know wild life sanctuary at Ranthambhore. Here I countered some corrupt officials involved in allotting seats to tourists. But soon I was on my way. There was no ‘sighting’, as they call it for almost entire trip. And somehow a saving grace dropped by; and the driver announced there was a tiger around the bend. We turned right and there it was! He was relaxing on the other side of a water body. It was not really close. Everyone watched the calm animal quietly and clicked profusely. Since my ancient camera has no zoom lens, I was just happy watching the grand soul in the wild. The Jaipur trip got over and I came back home to Mumbai and forgot all about the single tiger between two huge wild life sanctuaries…

About 3 months later a result of Indian ‘tiger census’ was published in all the newspapers. It seems government had been trying to get data on tiger population for quite some time. Sometime around in 2007-08, I read a news-item that for the past six months Sariska sanctuary has had no tigers at all! Statistically there were supposed to be 18 tigers; but all are missing. And that meant that they have been done away with by the poachers? Ranthambhore too has lost half of its nearly 40 tigers. There was massive national furor due to this news item. There was a shakeup in top forest jobs. Many heads rolled. But not surprisingly, nothing was achieved, as usual. Does anyone think that getting new tigers into Sariska and start their breeding is going to be an easy task? Sariska has been put 15-20 years behind for our wild life mainly for the tiger! Our government has been spending millions for years, on tiger conservation, but due to poachers in collaboration with sanctuary staff, gain has been dismal.

Suddenly the activities of Sariska’s helpful the staff of played back. They had smiled a lot at me and everyone else. I realized all that ‘smiling’ was an eye wash! They all knew that there was no tiger inside. They put up an act in unison and fooled everyone. The Sariska staff cheated tourists of their money, effort and time. I felt totally let down. Initially I had thought that it was bad luck for me that I did not get to see a tiger. But it has been worse luck for the tigers themselves! I was furious. My mind became so violent from inside that I wanted to feed entire staff of wild life sanctuaries to the tigers, if I could, ever!

During that period, newspapers printed all the blames and counter blames of tiger census, I read the following in a spiritual column of a newspaper-

‘How did the deer get such high alertness? How did it get such a beautiful way of hopping and an effortless way of running at a dazzling speed? It is due to the Tiger!’ Alas, are the deer too going to lose their pretty hop and dazzling speed?

PS: As mentioned at the start I visited my father in Oct 2004, because I was alarmed by weakness in his voice. Well, just 4 months later in Feb 2005, he expired.

(2007-08)

Write first think later

Right now I am at a loss – of a subject or a topic to write on. I don’t know why I wonder why do we always need a subject to start hitting the keys on the keyboard.
“Stop thinking and start punching the keys. Punch the keys, for God’s sake!”, thundered Sean Connery (William Forrester) to Rob Brown (Jamal Wallace) in the movie ‘Finding Forrester’. Jamal wants to be a writer and has approached Forrester (a pulitzer winner in movie) to learn the art of writing from him. Jamal is in the same fix I am right now. The only difference is that I am real and my problem too is similar – real; while he was following a script given to him. Seeing my own plight I do agree with the scene. I admit I do like to write, but again I admit, it has been mostly on various mundane subjects, like terrorism, relationships, festivals, movies, events or reality like my own travels… I need to learn how to stop being ‘slave of subjects’ to write on and become independent to ‘just write’! If I can do that, then only perhaps I will be able to move to the next level.

In different context, if you are an adventurous type then I guess it is a good idea, to just get up and start walking; rather than fussing in wasting time planning your trip. If you just walk out you will end up reaching somewhere. Somewhere you had not imagined. And that somewhere which may even surprise you. That is if you are the kind who likes surprises. There are many who hate them, but not me. I absolutely love them. Not only surprises I love shocks and jolts too. I am not the kind who only likes pleasantness and calmness or ‘love and peace’ in life. I would love my life to be a full course meal; concoction of all the available tastes for my pallet. The tongue has to stay in touch with all kinds, sweet, salt, sour, even bitter and bland. And thankfully so far it (life) has been that way.

Another line that film script gave Forrester, “No thinking – that comes later. You must write your first draft with your heart. You rewrite with your head. The first key to writing is… to write, not to think!”

Wow what a gem! And finally I acknowledged that this could be a way to deal with my kind of writer’s block. It is quite pathetic to feel blocked just because I have nothing to write on!

finding real ‘me’

i realized
i like talking to emptiness…
we have intelligent conversation
one to one
i can say what i want
in that emptiness no one challenges me
wrong me
criticize or correct me
expand on me
shorten me
no one can even appreciate me
like or love,
hate or insult me
that emptiness
just lets me be me
and that ‘me’ is real me

A Mosaic of Gloom

1972, that’s when I adopted this city of Bombay, as my own. Actually I had to, due to my profession, but yet I was so lucky that I had to. I fell in love with it instantly. I enjoyed its rhythm, efficient local trains, buses, discipline, civic sense and work culture. Due to these qualities, I loved bragging, “Bombay doesn’t seem to be a part of India.” Secondly I also fell in love with the most awe inspiring and beautiful hotel, Taj. Visiting Hotel Taj gave me a sense of having arrived. There could be perhaps no higher step to climb. It was the ultimate in luxury, beauty and importance. Though not very often; but I could afford to use the Taj barber shop once in a few months, order a carefully chosen (cheapest) snack at Sea Lounge, Shamiana’s VFM burger and milk shake both costing Rs 25 each and a glass of draft beer Rs 15. I also spent a lot of time in its book shop, Nalanda. Taj gave me a sense of well being, rich feel and immense pride due to its luxurious and strong gothic structure. It also had a very comforting ambiance, ‘cool’ in today’s terms. My father had visited me in 1977. So I took him to Sea Lounge for a cup of tea and a taste of Taj. Sitting by the window opening towards sea, I ordered tea and some snacks that cost me around Rs 25 or so. My father’s face, I remember; became rigid after noticing the ‘fat’ bill…

Well, time has to move on, so after many long years that also included a new millennium; the calendar registered the date of 26 Nov 2008. I was home when I heard the news of a vague shoot-out somewhere. It is fairly common in this rich and industrial city. A gang war is not uncommon. Any ways I switched on the TV. I was sure that it must be a usual case of underworld rivalry. But soon I realized that was not the case. It turned out that some Pakistani terrorists had entered India’s maximum city! They had split themselves in 3-4 groups and had been killing uninterrupted at various locations, like CST railway station, Cama Hospital and Leopold Café at Colaba. Soon it was announced that, Chabad House (a Jewish center at Colaba), Oberoi hotel at Nariman Point and last but not the least, Hotel Taj had been ‘taken over’ by a small groups of heavily armed men. It was beyond anyone’s comprehension. I got glued to the TV. Soon news channels had setup their cameras in all three locations… and soon sounds of bullets, bursting grenades, raging fires and shattering glass panes, all became ‘live’. And it was happening, right in the heart of my city!

There was no chance of me ‘not watching’ it. I did not want to leave Taj when it was being mauled by those three Pakis who were killing guests and staff and setting everything on fire!

State and central government had no immediate answer to this crisis. It took them a lot of fumbling hours to take any focused approach. Finally politicians at ‘New Delhi’ took a lot of risk themselves and spared us a team of NSG commandoes.

Violence in the form of sounds of blasts, flames and smoke from inside Taj were going on unabated. I thought that some part of the hotel might cave in. It was very frightening. As news switched between Taj, Oberoi and the Chabad House, I felt I was in a theatre of war, right in the middle of my city. I lost track of time; eating at odd hours and sleeping very little. I would get back to TV first thing in the morning.

Gradually there was clarity – there were 10 terrorists in all. But these are not like those cowards who would cowardly plant the bombs in trains, in markets or in theaters. Experiences of bomb blasts seemed nothing compared to this. How well prepared and motivated these 10 Pakis must have been to battle India right here! And it wasn’t over yet! They had come with full knowledge that they will not be going back from here. Only ‘they’ can have that kind of motivation.

In the meanwhile commandos were dropped on the roof of the Jewish Center from a helicopter! Utterly unimaginable! A chopper dropping commandos in the most congested part of Mumbai and that was ‘not for a film shooting’. Both terrorists there were killed by our forces; but not before they had killed everyone inside there. There was a heart-warming story of a little boy being saved by his nanny.

Oberoi was next to get sanitized. All the terrorists were killed by NSG not before many guests and staff had lost their lives. To face bullets inside the most familiar and secure place must have been utterly unbelievable experience for everyone. Dozens of grenades were hurled inside the plush suites of the old wing of Taj in an effort to destroy them somehow. Most rooms were on fire on top two floors. Smoke was bellowing from large windows under those prominent Taj domes.

Finally 9 terrorists were killed. I saw one of them falling out of a ground floor window in Taj in the hail of Indian bullets, ‘live’. That was satisfying; but other than this, I had seen so much of real blood on the floor of CST, innocent poor passengers lying around. Print and TV started showing images where they could not reach during the carnage, all this was adding to collection of images on my mind…

This piece is being written in an effort to get back to writing. I take my motivation to write from incidences that unfold and affect me. But after those 60 hours long war, nothing else felt important enough to affect me. Everything seemed too small or insignificant to care about. I suffered a 3-year long ‘writer’s block’ borne out of ammidyphobia… I had a fright that Taj would collapse right in front of my eyes or it will never look the same again.

This year will be the 3rd anniversary of 26/11 and I wish to turn the leaf over and get back to my earlier sensitive self, by becoming ‘writer of small things’ once again. (29 October, 2011)

The terror carnage was played inside this railway station. Ajmal Kasab was the main terrorist here.

One usual morning

When I went for my walk, there were very few people. I kind of like it, when walking track is less crowded. I hate clutter in life. My house is so full of unnecessary things; curios, wall hangings, show pieces… its no one’s fault though. The house is 31 years old and things keep coming in at a faster rate than they go out. So much for my dislike for clutter.

Today I did not have much time; may be 30 min or so. I like to be back at 8 to make tea etc. During my rounds of that smallish rectangular track I noticed 3 sikhs. No not together. They were on their own. One here another there and third one somewhere else. The oldest one was sitting on a bench with few others, second one walked one or two round and also sat down. Third one was doing stretches after his walk.

These are the fleeting images that I notice as I walk. Obviously I don’t stop to see who is doing what. After 2 rounds I saw the 3rd sardar doing stretches and a dog watching him. The dog was only 3 feet away from him and looking at him with full attention, just like the HMV dog. It looked weird. But I moved ahead. I know that dog well. He and few others are always lazing around in the garden. In next few seconds, I thought that the dog must be knowing him well or may be he has been given some eatable, so he is waiting for the next piece. But in next round again I found the dog exactly in the same attentive posture. That was very unnatural. I had to stop now. So i did and asked the man (sardar), “does he always do this or is it the first time?” reply was, “he has done it few times earlier.” Okay I thought and I moved on.

in the next round I saw a girl was talking to same dog. I had noticed her earlier. She was walking and listening to music with earphones. The dog was responding to her well. I stopped again and asked her,”do you know him?” “No”, she said. I moved on thinking this dog was behaving really strange familiar to everyone. He is so comfortable getting so close to unknown people!

Like I do mostly, I marked (made note of) out one large leaf and one red flower fallen on the ground. I mark out such things, only when I get a clear signal from them. Signal being, ‘they want to come home with me.’ The leaf was from a badam tree. It had lovely hues of green and red on it. The colours were mixed in an impossible to conceive or recreate pattern. Green color meant it had fallen off, when it was still young. There was still some time for it to leave the branch. it might have fallen due to strong breeze or heavy rain drops or may be another leaf fell on it, taking it along with it. Somehow it did not seem to have any regrets or rejoices.

I picked it up and the red flower and brought them home. I gave them place from where they can show off their beauty.

They will be here for 2-3 days. They are are not here to become a part of the clutter and make me uncomfortable… on the contrary.