A Genuine Enquiry

Do you know how old is this earth? It is billions of years old, 13.77 billion to be precise. Man did not exist at that point of time. On the time line of eternity man has evolved very recently compared to earth’s age. We have all came up from a single cell organism to this present state. Some theories say we evolved from fish, to birds, to monkeys as our ancestors. According to a scientific study, if entire time of the earth’s existence is condensed into 100 hours then evolution of modern times would measure only a few seconds. By modern times we can say when spoken word developed and we started using intelligence for our benefit. We started staying in groups to avoid being attacked, robbed or killed by other groups and to flourish. As the time flew many inventions kept coming, starting from rough stone tools for hunting, to the wheel, then to clothing to save us from acute weather conditions. We started keeping animals as pets to serve us, either for milk, meat, or even to carry us around and later to work for us in agricultural fields.
Sometime later psychology and mind games entered human domain. For the first time the leaders ruled over their group for everyone’s safety. A good reason or even scare was developed in the community, in order to stay together, to fight the enemy jointly and keep the produce, women and children of the tribe safe. Somebody must have been too intelligent to order the community ‘when in danger, always gather under such and such (strategically located) tree, a stone or a certain person’. I guess this was the beginning of politics and religion. Leaders learnt that ‘leading’ gave them immense power over people and that was very beneficial and intoxicating. So from that time onwards we have only been the victims of these two social orders, religion and politics. The benefits reaped by that world by the use of religion and politics, have much out weighed the harm by its misuse, in our so called civilized world. Due to the religion, we have gone through the worst period of wars, mass killings, ethnic cleansing, Jehads, countries breaking up etc. I seriously question the utility of religion for providing any benefits what-so-ever, to human race. A sensible businessman will just drop harmful and useless items or activites from his list, which costs much more compared to the benefits from it. ‘Religion balance sheet’ shows only losses. Religion is not a necessary condition for anyone to be a good human being. People can be ‘good people’ and do very well in any field without the contribution of religion in their lives. People who are busy making money to look after their families may have no time for it. If a beggar starts praying in place of begging; without doubt, he will have to starve. Well, I hope sooner than later, constructive people will get to know the value and real utility of conventional religion and they will revolt against this concept. Charity begins at home. So, I have put religion out of the list of ‘important things’ in my life. Hoping that some others too may be thinking like me, the process may have already started. I sincerely feel it is worth trying to live without religion or at least reduce its importance in our lives and check out the so called ‘balance sheet’. I am sure we will have more time to meet friends, play with our children and do our jobs well at the office.
Any changes on these lines will be possible if other than only eating, talking, traveling, sleeping, having sex, exercising and just surviving, we allocated ourselves time to ‘think’! We have never thought that it is important to close our eyes and ‘think’, which is such a constructive mental exercise. Think about new ideas; think how to solve a mystery or find creative solutions to family’s problems. To make our lives fruitful, we need to think what is useful in our life and what is not and then work on weeding out the useless parts.

To wrap it up, I recently read that the amount of happiness that science and technology have given us in the last 100 years much out-weighs the happiness given to us by religion in the past 2000 years!

‘What the hell are we doing’, isn’t this enquiry justified now?

Two Flowers

Sound of spoken words

Sounds of spoken words or speech would be the most heard sound among all the other sound waves that are stirring the air around us. I speak, my friends speak, my wife, my father speaks, my mother speaks and my grandfather too speaks, shop keepers, doctors, cops, politicians, businessmen, actors, singers, beggars, watchmen, servants, salesgirls, priests all are filling our ambiance with spoken words. Our sound-scape is full of colorful speech patterns. But it is certain that all the vocal sounds have different effects on us. Some fill us with affection and another fills us with anger or despair. Of course yet another may not make much difference.
But is it ‘the words’ that really do the trick? Or is it the person? Is it the way of speaking? Or it is just my perception that the words from some people affect me in a certain way. Why is it that when your daughter speaks you feel that you are being reached out. When your son speaks to you, you feel important and equal. But your father’s words may fill you with dejection and breathlessness. I could never be comfortable in front of my father. Whenever he enters my room from one door, I get up and leave from other door. And try to find another place to sit. My father’s presence always makes me uncomfortable. I never find him friendly. His presence never relaxes me, because I could never be myself in front of him. So his ‘words’ do not matter or may urge me to get away. He had an overpowering personality. On the other hand my mother does not throw me off balance. I can put my point of view in front of her, sometimes even fight with her. I just thought I could handle myself much better in front of her.
I have realized now, that words do not matter. It is the person who speaks matters, because we already have an impression about him/her. When I hear the voice of a brother of mine, I feel relaxed, while another one may make me tense; although both may be giving me the same information over telephone from different cities.
We feel differently in the presence of a certain doctor or a car mechanic. An FRCS doctor may not necessarily make you feel better and thus may not be able to cure you easily; while a simple GP may just do the trick because you feel easy with the quality of his voice and the way she speaks. In the same way a qualified automobile engineer might make you uncomfortable, while you may leave your car confidently with an illiterate person in a small town.
I guess there are people who grow your confidence and space in their presence, while others squeeze it off. This is what makes them popular or unpopular with you. There is some magic in the way people speak. It is not the exact words people use that matter, but it is our experience of their total personalities from the day we have known them. A hundred different persons asking an innocent ‘how are you?’ could make you feel alerted or angered or make you fall in love.

Straw Age Hand Writing

I am quite excited to be writing about a part of my early childhood (mid 50s), which is associated with the nostalgia of writing instruments, or ‘pens’. I am also happy that in my life as a young student, I got to use ‘pens’ of various kinds, from downright primitive to current. I guess today’s generation will be missing out what we had to use 50 years ago. Most basic pen that I used was made of ‘straw’ that grew wildly on the roadsides and was found in abundance in villages and small towns. Thankfully it was also, no one’s property. We just had to pull out dried plant of straw, cut it to a suitable size with a kitchen knife or a discarded shaving blade and make a pen. Length and thickness of the pen should fit my (student’s) hand comfortably. One end of straw would be sliced off diagonally, making the side narrow and expose the hollow of the straw. This was sliced further from both sides until the point reached the required thickness of alphabets. For me in the 1st standard the point must have been about 0.3cm to 0.4cm wide. In the beginning of my school, I learnt to write the alphabets and digits on what we called as ‘Takhti’. Takhti was a single piece of flat rectangular wood, measuring about 1.5ft X 1.0 ft and weighing about a Kilo. Its surface would be either black or white. On one side a handle was carved out to hold and carry the Takhti comfortably. Takhti could be used only once at a time. If it was to be used again, one had to go through a long and laborious process of repainting its surface. So every time I came back from school I had to wash the Takhti clean, re-paint it with black or white liquid and leave it to dry for next day at school. It had to be done every day. Initially my mother did it for me, but when I grew a little older she asked me to learn to do it myself.

White ink was made by dissolving chalk (white Khadiya) in water and for black ink I used a charcoal based stuff. Both looked like small pebbles. Sometimes we also drew lines on the Takhti, to be able to write in a straight line. My alphabets would be about 2 inches tall. With that thickness of my straw pen, I could barely write about 5 alphabets in one row. Takhti had 4-5 rows. Sometimes one side of the Takhti was used for writing alphabets and the other for numbers.

Then came the up-grade in writing technology and I got to write with a ‘nib and holder’. Holder of the nib was again a comfortable sized piece of wood, at the end of which was a slot to hold a writing nib. This piece of wood was factory made. The nibs also came in two kinds, one for Hindi and the other one called ‘G-nib’, for writing in English. The nibs had a fine cut in the middle that held a little ink and was right for writing English alphabets. Hindi did not need the slit in the nib. For writing, the nibs had to be dipped in the ‘ink-pot’ frequently, as they had no arrangement for storing ink in them. You could write only 2 to 4 alphabets after dipping it once. So, the idea was to master the art of dipping it just right to avoid a drop falling on the paper and nib not drying off soon enough. Even this ink was made at home. I remember I used to buy blue or red color, dry ink by the weight. It looked like crystals, the size of sugar. I would put some crystals in the old ink bottle, add some water and then stir it until it dissolved. The darkness of the ink could be increased by adding more solid stuff and vice versa.
After a while fountain-pens appeared and I found them so very convenient. I could fill the ink in it and that eliminated the problem of dipping it frequently in the ink pot. Initial fountain pens seemed ahead of time then, but in reality they were very crude. First fountain pen I remember was the type in which its nib assembly had to be separated by unscrewing it from its ink storage to pour the ink in it and tighten the nib assembly back on. Though it could take hardly 2cc of ink, but you could do a whole day’s work with it.

Initially we filled the fountain pens, directly from the inkpot. But soon I learn that it was a good idea to always fill the ink, away from my lap or any other item. Later to avoid messing our clothes we got medical droppers to fill the ink more efficiently. Many times after filling, the ink did not flow down onto the paper while writing. To solve this problem, the famous action of giving a few jerks to the pen was used. With this action drops of the ink would escape out of the nib and that meant that, pen will surely work now. Again, here too utmost care was advised to be very careful while jerking the pen, in case the drops of ink fell on the table cloth or on your teacher’s white Pajamas.

Later on the ink filling technology improved when small inflatable rubber tubes were introduced for filling and storing ink. They were attached to the nib assembly. This mechanism worked by squeezing the tube to create vacuum inside, dipping the nib into the ink pot and then releasing the pressure to get the tube inflated back again; there by sucking the ink inside it. I felt this was a brilliant idea.

Then for a short while there appeared a piston type arrangement for filling ink. You push the piston down to create a vacuum, dip it in the ink and pull it out. Just like our Pichkari, used during festival of Holi. Most of these pens were not really fool-proof (read leak-proof). So many educated people shyly wore a patch of blue ink around their shirt pockets, as everyone would sport his pen in the shirt pocket. To some extent this could be tackled by putting Vaseline on the threads of the pen. There used to be some pen thieves too. They would borrow your pen in a post office and then walk off with it. To tackle this smartness you did a touché by not parting with the cap of your pen. So, if a thief pocketed your pen without its cap; he would certainly be caught red handed, by being blue pocketed.

For hand-writing the last instrument to arrive was the ball point pen. They were accepted very well are still reigning supreme. With these, the trouble of keeping ink bottles and filling ink was completely taken care off. But economic conservatives initially said it did not make sense to buy new refills every time. Indian banks too took time to accept forms or cheques filled in with ball point pens. You know how resistant governments and its employees are to think beyond what they have been doing. They did not care if the figures or signatures on cheques got washed off with a drop of rain water. They stuck to their point, ‘ball pens are not allowed!’

It does not seem to me if there are any advanced technologies in hand-writing instruments are waiting in the wings. In the present age of flying emails, I feel using those straw pens was literally like being associated with the stone-age, rather ‘straw-age’ of hand writing.

King Vs Carpenter (fiction-4)

It became a huge point of contention in Amor that meetings of Suyesh were ten times more, well attended than the temple of the King. People were going crazy listening to discourses of Suyesh. No one in the King’s court could analyze the reasons for this, especially when there was no comparison between the two. One was the most powerful king of all land and the other was a mere carpenter following Godaism! King’s ministers had already started working on the plans to break the spirit of Suyesh and his followers.

Now there were no discourses where king’s spies were not present. The spies had initially started incognito, but soon turned brash and bold. They would appear in their army uniform and watch over what was being said. They also would not allow the meetings to continue beyond certain duration of time. This became troublesome for people who came from far off villages. The soldiers would announce suddenly that the time was up and meeting would have to be dispersed. Army would attack the harmless villager returning home after discourses and rob their belongings. They would snatch their food packets, only to throw it away to dogs. In spite of this torture nobody seemed overly discouraged; not just as yet. Kingdom had decided to that non-violence of villagers be replied with violence. In order to break them, soldiers attacked regular devotees more. Suyesh’s body guards tried to interfere with a soldier who was being rough with an old lady. In retaliation the soldier had drawn his sword and body guard had to cool it. Everyone saw it. Now the picture was clear.

It had been Suyesh’s routine to discuss each day’s matters with all his supporters and advisers. They sat on a large wooden dining table. Mangala would serve dinner and wine quietly and efficiently. These days mostly there were security and violence related problems. Everyone was concerned about Suyesh’s followers. A villager who was attacked on his way back home had succumbed to his injury. His funeral was attended by Suyesh and all his close men. During the last rites some young people threw stones at the King’s soldiers shouting, ‘killers killers’. They were taken by surprise and had to retreat. But this made the battle lines even more clear. Now every one of Suyesh’s followers was marked and was being persecuted. They were being harassed for taxes. Their properties were being confiscated.

It was high time a tough decision was taken by Suyesh and his advisers in order to solve this tangle with king’s men. So many innocent people cannot be allowed to get killed or even hurt. It was decided to send a senior person as a messenger or ambassador to King’s court to discuss matters amicably. But before he could put his point across, he was arrested and put behind bars. No one ever saw him again. This was a big loss to Suyesh’s think tank.

In the next supper meeting it was decided that the all discourses be suspended until further notice. Innocent villagers were getting hurt in so many different ways. It was totally unfair. Suyesh’s personal message, ‘there will be no meetings, until further notice’, was sent to all residing near and far through a chain of messengers. The villagers now were to follow regimen of Suyesh’s teaching inside their homes only. While outside, the soldiers with bare swords were combing the area to find their unarmed enemies. The war was in the open.

It was a gloomy evening in Suyesh’s hut. There were eleven of village’s most worried men sitting on the large wooden table. They had nothing better to do except glare blankly at the food and wine glasses. Breathing the air thick with tension; Mangala too was uncomfortable. She had been working extra hard to serve them. She could not bear to watch the faces of those strong and intelligent men feeling so completely helpless. She decided to stay at the back of everyone. All those intellectual minds did not have an answer to current situation. No one was speaking. No one was drinking and eating either. They were so static that all together they seemed like a painting. The most senior security adviser spoke, ‘we have to move out of here. Soon the soldiers will attack this hut.’ With this statement the existing pin drop silence became even heavier. Everyone’s minds were racing with various thoughts. After a short while the silence was broken again but this time, by Suyesh. He said, ‘I don’t know what must be the good reason; but one of us has betrayed me.’ This statement burst like a bomb inside the humble hut and started a flurry of activity on the table. Suyesh had never ever uttered a thing like this before. It was totally unbelievable. A traitor! One of them! Everyone was trying to look at others, to find hidden clues in the faces. Suyesh raised his hand in order to quiet everyone’s mind and added, ‘it did not matter as long as it put only me in trouble; but it is going to be very dangerous for each of us. I feel sorry for all of you. I ask for everyone’s forgiveness on his behalf.’ Now the security adviser got up with a firm, ‘let us go now.’ With this decisive announcement the last supper of Suyesh and his close friends was over.

As the seriousness of the situation dawned in their minds people they started getting up, leaving their unconsumed food behind. Soon everyone was up and was packing their essential belongings methodically. Mangala took her cloth bag and pushed her and Suyesh’s cloths in. She also packed all the bread and dry meat from the table. As a woman she knew life was going to be very uncertain from now on. She was wearing a multi layered long flowing robe. Suyesh had noticed Mangala looked rather fat in it. Just before she stepped out of the hut, she went to the bathing place and puked.

All the inmates now had entirely covered themselves, in dark blankets. Outside, Suyesh’s hidden security experts were keeping an eye for enemy’s prying eyes. They sent a quiet ‘all clear’ message. Soon many shadows walked out in the darkness of a moonless night. There was no one to notice twelve shadows walking briskly to nowhere.

Early morning king Vikram’s soldiers fanned out everywhere. They cursed themselves on finding the hut, empty! They had the information that Suyesh and his group will soon be moving to an unknown place. But perhaps they were a day too late.

King’s spies dressed themselves in villager’s attires and were trying to find the whereabouts of the group. But their bulging muscles and well fed faces gave away their secret. In the next move they started looking for people carrying food stuff outside any village. They caught some of them. They were promptly killed on not giving the location of Suyesh’s group.

Suyesh had about 250 of his most faithful followers spread around. They all had strict instructions from Suyesh that since he was in danger, everyone must stay away. None of us can fight a huge army. We are also not trained to fight. There is no point in loosing precious life. Many of Suyesh’s people were regularly being nabbed and killed. The security expert chose few strongest of men to keep Mangala hidden in the middle of group. From the hut itself they had moved quickly to most unlikely and entirely different route. At that point she was the most precious person in the world. Mangala couldn’t even give a last look at Suyesh. She knew it would be the last time she was watching ‘his’ shadow receding away.

Sound of running horses was a matter of concern for a small group of people huddled together in a dark patch of behind a large bush. Someone threw water on the fire to hide it. The smoke rose up. The gradually horses were came close. And soon the group of soldiers spotted the huddled shadows. Suyesh forced many of them to run away. But his most faithful did not listen to him. They wanted to fight. To save them from being slain, Suyesh came out swiftly and surrendered to Amoran soldiers. Suyesh and three of his men were tied up and soon horses were galloping dragging the group.

King had his carpenter.

Kingdom of Amor (fiction-3)

Village of Suyesh was part of a very rich kingdom called Amor. It had a large part of continent under its rule. Kingdom had a large, well equipped and powerful army and administrative staff. Except for heavy taxes and compulsory public attendance at king’s palace temple, Amorans were generally considered happy.

One fine day the ministers of the king Vikram started becoming restless due to continuously declining numbers of Amorans in the temple. Vikram was a reasonable king but his deputies did not like the dwindling attendance from nearby villages, especially from Jandera. They were lesser number of silver coins in the donation box and fewer gifts of rice bags for the temple. They were also losing their peace of mind thinking that those commoners perhaps had found better things to do, than to just pay obeisance to the king. The paintings of King’s ancestors now looked down at king’s forlorn space of a near empty temple.

Blame for this phenomenon were placed on the popularity of Suyesh. They felt humiliated by the fact that the king was losing his shine to a mere village carpenter. Most worrying part was that even people living in the city of Amor were beginning to get attracted to this carpenter who was always seen in just a dirty white cloth wrapped around his waist! Jewels in the crown of the king, his silk robe and throne of gold, no more impressed the fools of Jandera. They wondered why. If too many people moved out to the villages from Amor, then the taxes too may start falling short. Of course nothing like that was happening as yet. But, the paying obeisance to the king was important too. For many years villagers had known that King Vikram’s ancestors had taken good care of the village ancestors. For this reason Vikram was treated like a god. Now the halo behind his head created with carefully hidden oil lamps was getting no one’s notice. For those greedy administrators and politicians it was a matter of great concern. The importance of kingdom’s royal office had to be restored.

Suyesh had to be stopped!

King’s deputies put forth their observation to the king, ‘O most powerful, our god, lord of Amor…’ King heard them in silence and dismissed them with a loud ‘no’. Deputies persisted. It took almost a year’s persuasion to establish Suyesh as a threat to the kingdom to extract ‘yes’ nod from Vikram.
They sent a team of sleuths to observe what was happening in Suyesh’s meetings. They wondered if he was plotting to topple the king and expose the corruption in temple donations. They came back with news that in the last meeting there were a whopping 50000 people listening to Suyesh. But he was not a type to be a threat to the king or anyone else. But certainly you cannot deny the popularity of the man. It may not be a good idea to take action against Suyesh or his team. Someone suggested, ‘but we should discourage the Amorans who visit him regularly’. ‘Good idea’, others agreed. Let us start…

Late at night there was knock on the door of a middle class Amoran house. A bleary eyed old man opened the door to find a royal soldier. A horse cart was waiting. Dragged by the guards, the old man found himself in the cart. Old man tried to question them but he was snubbed. The cart stopped at the ‘offense control center’ and they went in.
‘Why do you go to attend Suyesh discourses?’
Hearing Suyesh’s name old man relaxed and opened up, ‘oh, you want to know about Suyesh? He is so impressive. Sir you should also come with me one day. You will see all your problems in life will vanish in a snap.’
‘No nothing of that sort. King Vikram is very upset with many of you Amorans who are not attending temple rituals.’
‘Sorry sir. But I do pay my taxes on time always.’
‘It’s not about taxes.’
‘Sir, do you want to restrict my movements? You are telling me where I should or should not go at this old age. We need peace now. And that is perfect place for us to be. Sir, I strongly recommend you too listen to him once and ask him any question you want. He will have a good answer for you…’ A stinging slap rang across his face. Sleeping birds perched high up, fluttered. He did not know what happened. Next he found himself lying on the ground, all confused. He started getting a feeling of wetness in the corner of his lips. Looking at the soldier with scare and shock, he wiped it with the sleeve of his shirt. Another soldier lifted him roughly and made him stand again.

Across the street, outside the offense control center everything was quiet, except frequent sounds of slaps, groans, falls and then crying. Finally figure of the old man tumbled out of the door and slowly tried to negotiate the steps to come down. A soldier was giving him instructions with his index finger pointed at him.

Wife of the old man had been worried sick. Her husband had left the bed to answer the door and never came back. It was almost morning. Two women from neighborhood were trying to comfort her, when they heard the sound of the door being pushed. Then they heard a soft knock. Old lady rushed. She was facing her all bloodied and badly ruffled husband.

In the large empty office, king was in a secret meeting with security officers. He looked very unhappy while listening to last night’s report. From a distance you could make out whether he was angry with the soldiers for beating up an innocent Amoran or disturbed with the strength of Suyesh’s popularity, which was displayed through the old man.

In both cases king Vikram of Amor was in serious trouble.