personal diary

Hello boss, enna marriage aayiducha? (Misleading)

Start. Repeat. You will find it hard to let go. Really. 

16 days have gone by since I left Express and perhaps a day or two more since I last picked up the phone, made a call and uttered, “Hello sir/madam, this is Venkatesh from the Express.” I used Express and not the New Indian Express as the former was crisp and well known by that moniker. With regards to the personal name, I have introduced myself or got introduced formally to others as Venkatesh. (That will change henceforth. It should and will be Venkatesan from Thursday.)

Now, coming back to “Hello…”. That sentence was a template and often delivered in what can be described as a monotonous rhythm. Indeed, I remember my ex-colleagues (friends) jovially mocking my tone on one occasion. Nevertheless, I did not change. Not the tone nor the introductory line (at least to first time call recipients). Perhaps, it was too ingrained in the system.

And, as it turned out to be, it’s hard to let go of it. On Wednesday, I was given the task of calling potential donors on behalf of the non-profit organisation I am presently associated with. The script not strictly bound was as follows, “Sir/Madam, you have indicated to us of your willingness to donate. Can you kindly share your details.” However, in order to come to that stage, I had to first introduce myself.

The first few calls were smooth with no big blunders committed. The subsequent wasn’t. I picked up the phone and punched the donor number. The call went through and I found myself telling to that person, “Hello Ma’am, this is Venkatesh from the Express.” Realising my gaffe, I quickly made amends. “Sorry, this is Venkatesh from Make a Difference.” Fortunately that person seemed not to mind my mistake and went about answering my queries. Once the call was completed, I conveyed what just happened to two fellow MADsters. They laughed.

Reflecting on the incident, I must say it triggered good memories about the days spent at Express. They are hard to let go. Really.

Inspiration for the title: I received a call from Metropolitan Transportation Corporation (Chennai) PRO on the same day. He wanted to know if I have married.  Uhm.

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Reflections

Let’s do our bit by spreading happiness

Long after I am gone from Express, I will remember Peter for his politeness and the gentle manner in which he would ask me not to side-lock the two-wheeler. He shall also be remembered for one specific incident. The incident taught me a lesson on happiness.

Peter is a security guard at the building which houses the city office of Express. His thin frame and soft nature makes one doubt whether he can do the job. But, he has apparently been doing it with aplomb.

Few weeks ago, I learnt that Peter had been recognised by his security agency. He was feted for his performance at work. I heard the news from Peter himself.

I was leaving office after the day’s work, one of the last to do so as usual. I bid good night to Peter, who was on night duty. Before I could start the vehicle though, Peter called out my name. He walked up by my side. “Sir, do you have time?” I told that I did. After all, the only things I do after 11 PM is to eat and sleep. The two things could certainly be delayed.

“I was awarded by the company recently. It seems the people-in-charge took notice of my conduct and professionalism. I was one among the several guards to be honoured.” I instantly greeted Peter and told him “Romba santhosham anna!” We spoke for a while and it was during that brief exchange, Peter stated, “I thought I’ll share the news with you sir, nothing else. Apologies if I made you wait.”

He need not have been sorry and I told him so. I know the pursuit of happiness is very often individualistic and thereby, the fruits are devoured by the self. That approach, however, must change.

Peter shared his happiness with me and in the process, inspired me to do the same in future. What is happiness if it cannot be shared with others? Champagne bottles need not be popped. Indeed, there is no cost attached to the act.

However, there are benefits. It can create a feel good atmosphere. It drives away evil thought. It lifts the spirits of the other and possibly inspire him/her to do good and greater things. The world needs a lot of happiness, but not everyone is lucky. We all have bad days and moments. Yet, if I could so much bring a smile on another face, momentarily driving away emptiness, the effort is worth it.

I slept that night without thinking about Peter’s award, but my thoughts are still occupied by what he had said, “I thought I’ll share the news with you.”

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personal diary

My daughter’s gift

Two days ago, I was headed to my office. I only had one thing on my mind – to reach there before 10.30 AM. A meeting was scheduled and we were told not to be late. Since the day is celebrated as the Tamil New Year, there was not much traffic on road. There was no relentless honking, as it would have been on any other day.

I was nearing Purasaiwakkam when a motorbike caught up with me. It was not speeding and the driver wore a helmet. Although it should be avoided, time constraints often force a driver to over speed. On this occasion, I did not. I let the other vehicle move ahead and in that instant, I dropped my glance. Written on the rear mudguard, in yellow colour and moderately sized font, were the words ‘My daughter’s gift’.

I smiled. I thought I’ll write a blog about it before the day passed. That night, I slept. The next day was the same as the blog remained just an idea.

Sunday is not a typical day of the week and when I woke up today, I was determined to write.  There was a fear that I would forget the finer details. But then, this post does not concern that motorcycle’s brand, rather it was about the words written on its rear.

In the past, I have come across such stickers but the words were different. They were written as ‘My dad/mom’s gift’. The driver of such bikes, as experience tells me, were in their youthful years. The vehicles were invariably a high speed model, usually a Pulsar or an Apache.

Hence, the encounter on Friday was different. The moment I read those words, I took interest in what the driver wore. The man was dressed in a cotton pant and had put on his leather chappals. Although it may come across as stereotypical, the driver  was definitely from a middle class background. Probably in his sixties or late fifties, the bike must have been a gift from his daughter. The words in yellow could not be fake. There ought to be no other reason for the sticker, other than the fact he was proud of his child’s gesture.  I would like to believe in this and I’ll tell you why.

In his younger years, the father must have worked hard or smartly to save money for his family. There is no savings of a man which does not fulfill the needs of his child. The daughter must have been educated and thus given the means to dream. Post her education, I would like to think she got a job, which is really an unforgettable moment for any parent. After all, the purpose of education is to help self and others to a much better position in life.

Gratefulness is a virtue, and the daughter must have saved money. When the time came, she must have used all or part of her earnings to gift her father the bike. The father might have used public transport for commuting or probably his old bike could not take it any longer. The proud father must have then got the sticker to show the world that his daughter had given him the bike. Alternatively, it is even likely the daughter must have added the sticker herself, before delivering the bike to her rather surprised Appa.

It is possible that my hypothesis is wrong. But again, there is no reason for it to be not true. This idea was spinning in my head for the few minutes I was riding behind the bike. It was then I noticed that he was carrying something. A large box was kept on top of the fuel tank. Was the father taking a present to his daughter, on the occasion of Tamil New year? After all, being grateful is a virtue.

 

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personal diary

“Sorry to have kept you waiting!”

Back during undergraduate days, my routine would be to catch a bus/share auto to Nungambakkam railway station, followed by the train ride to Tambaram. Also part of the routine, I must hasten to add, was the often delayed start on my part, which would then keep my friends (two of them) waiting at Nungambakkam for a little longer than they could tolerate. So much so, one of them had enough of it. He told me, towards the end of the third year, “If I had studied during the time that you kept me waiting, I would have become an IAS officer by now.” Although I would like to think that it was said partly in jest, I understood his point. There is nothing more annoying than to be kept waiting.

Not that I changed my ways any soon. I was still late to the cinemas, especially. I once came to PVR a good twenty minutes late to find my friend, with clenched teeth, waiting outside the auditorium. I had the printed tickets. M-booking was still in its infancy stage. Didn’t know what to say, I mumbled an apology and together we rushed in. Fortunately, the movie hadn’t commenced. As I found out on several future occasions, PVR start their shows late. They still do and may god bless them for that!

Now where was I? Yeah, what is it like to be kept waiting. I didn’t know, for I was the one who kept people waiting. That, however, is no longer the scenario.

There seldom passes a day without me waiting outside officers’ cabin, primarily IAS, waiting to be ushered in. I slip in the visiting card, bearing the name of my organization, through the office attendant. But before that, I am usually offered a piece of paper on which visitors are required to write their name and the organization they represent. But no thanks, I say. “Here, take my card!”

There are days, of course, when the waiting period is considerably short.
However, you can’t be counting on your lucky stars every now and then. You need to wait, I am often told. “Sir (yes, it’s always sir) is very busy. He is in a meeting with office staff”, to which I reply, “No problem. I shall wait (as always).”

Office staffs come and go but we (visitors) continue to sit on the uncomfortable bench kept outside. The wait is seemingly never ending. It is during such occasions when I am left to think, “Why couldn’t he (officer) just spare some time and then off I’ll be gone!?” An alternate voice soon resonates in my mind. “Why couldn’t you just go to Nungambakkam a little early and then off we’ll all be gone?!”

An important thing to be mindful of while visiting officers is to know their schedule. There have been several instances when I returned back without success. “Sir just left for the secretariat/high court. He won’t be available today.” In such cases, I try to retrieve my visiting card. However, on most occasions I just don’t because the effort makes you look silly. “Sir, can I atleast have my card back?”

A couple of days ago, I was waiting outside the cabin of transport department officer. An hour had passed but I was still not called for. On either side of me, there were two gentlemen. One was talking over the phone, the other on my right dozed off. In hindsight, I should have fallen asleep myself, as it took another half hour for the internal meeting to get over. Instead, I expectantly looked up every 10 seconds, wondering when the door would open and take me in.

EOM

PS: I put in EOM, as a matter of habit. After every copy, reporters do that to signify there ends the matter!

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Reflections

When the clock strikes 12!

Usually an early sleeper, I used to setup a alarm for 11.30 PM in anticipation of the calls. And, invariably, there were many of them. There were some who would call much earlier than others. They would say, “I hope I am the first!” Those first calls were the ones that I most looked forward to. There were some unexpected calls (much to my delight). “Not bad, he/she remembers me!” .

But this year, it was different. Having come home very late, at around 11, I was watching television and eating dinner simultaneously, when my parents walked into the hall. In their hands were dried raisins. It was then the clock struck 12. A short rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ soon followed. They blessed and wished me a great year. They then went off to sleep.

I received no calls, until 12.08 AM when Neha, a good friend from IIMC, called up. It was the first call alright but it was different. The tone of the conversation was little mature, if I could say so. Neha didn’t ask, “What special plans for the day? Where are you partying?” Instead, we spoke about jobs, career and life in general.

Yes, phone calls from friends wishing you a very happy birthday won’t change. But, I daresay the content does change. You can call it whatever you like; be it coming of age or simple maturity. Even the call timings from your friends will change. To substantiate my latter claim, I shall recall a personal experience. In fact, during this occasion, I was the one who made the call. I still remember it was Ketan’s, another friend from IIMC. Conveniently busy during the day, I forgot to make the call. So, it was around 11.50 in the night when I finally picked up the phone. It was ages since we spoke and hence for the first few minutes we conversed generally. You wouldn’t believe, but I think I actually conveyed my birthday wishes to him after the clock struck 12, on the next day!

So, this year, when Jacob, a good friend and former colleague at DC, wished me at 11.40 PM, I told him, “There is no need to feel guilty. I am much worse.” We laughed about it.

I believe birthday calls are fast evolving. Like I have already told, its content and tenor does change. Of course, with friends being friends and machans always remaining machans, some phone calls won’t change. But that’s okay!

PS: For dinner today, I asked Amma to prepare Pongal. She did. I returned home and had it. At midnight, with a cup of Kesari- my birthday sweet.

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personal diary

Present washed away, but hopefully not the future!

A mini-van carrying relief material for flood affected persons had just arrived at Moovendar Nagar, situated along the bank of river Cooum, in Annanagar. In no less than five seconds, the vehicle was surrounded by youth, women, the elderly, as well as a bunch of ever chattering children. The youth, dressed in jeans, offered to identify the most vulnerable residents for whom ‘relief’ was imperative. The women, on the other hand, narrated their sordid tales of misery and pleaded for help. The elderly, often, and quite rightfully, the most sought persons by relief teams, barely spoke. But, with hands folded, they managed to convey their message. The children, in their dirty attires, eagerly peeked inside the van to find out what ‘material’ awaited them. In the end, though, relief did reach to a majority of them.

In the midst of all this stood Sushanth, a sixth grader. He was neither with his friends nor was he anywhere near the van. He preferred to stand quietly in the background and observe others. Casting a glance over the mad rush for the relief material, he shrugged a little. A fellow volunteer (we had gone as a team to distribute aid) indicated me to Sushanth’s presence. “Venkat, he speaks perfect English!” Subsequently, I decided to engage him in a conversation. “Hello Sushanth, my friend tells me you can speak good English. That’s wonderful!”

“Yeah, I can,” he said, a little timidly. By this time three of his friends had gathered around and started giggling. “When I grow up, I want to become a policeman.” When asked on his choice of career, Sushanth said, “They have immense power and responsibility. They can ensure order and peace in the society.” As our conversation extended, Sushanth’s confidence grew. My friend then interjected. “That, and I mean his confidence and the dream to achieve big in life is what education can do to children,” he said. I couldn’t agree more. Notwithstanding any economical or social constraints, quality education should be made accessible to all our young minds. This and this only will ensure upliftment of the poor and disadvantaged. If Sushanth were to realize his dream, he will definitely move out of Moovendar Nagar and out of the gloom that surrounds his present life. He will set an example for other kids in the neighborhood. However it was getting late and hence I wished Sushanth very best for his future and saw him hopping off to join his little gang.

 

The next stop was the Kotturpuram housing board slum, which is located at the very end of a very posh Ranjith road, which stretches along the Adayar River. Lined up on both sides of the road were individual bungalows, too splendid to describe, and occupied by the affluent. Yet, nature spares no one. One of the residents said to me, “I have lost lakhs in damages due to the floods. My three cars have been consigned to the scrap. One of them was carried along by the raging waters. It will take more than six months to return to normalcy.” The man, nevertheless, was obliging enough to let us access the housing board slum through a back gate of his house.

We then stepped down to earthen reality. The scene we encountered can’t be described in words. But let me try. Sewage, flood water, human feces and silt all were mixed up to present a scene that is just too gross. In the middle of that brackish mess live more than 5000 residents of the housing board. “We have been living in this area for the past 30 years and this is where we belong. The last time we had encountered floods were in 1970’s but 2015 has left a new benchmark,” one of the residents said.

The damage caused by the ravaging Adayar to this neighbourhood was too obvious to be missed. It is right there in your face. Heaps upon heaps of slush were being removed from the tiny huts, even as damaged furnitures and home appliances were thrown to the dumps. Property damaged, belongings lost, lives ruined. It will undoubtedly take months to clean up the mess, but even then it will not quite resemble a decent habitat. The government will do well to resettle these people elsewhere with livelihood and education opportunities. Proceeding further inside the slum, I saw a young man exchanging words with his aunt. Sounding exasperated, he bellowed, “Fine, fine! I will go to work from tomorrow. Happy?”

After finishing up our work, I returned to find Naveen, a 4th grader, bending down and examining something in the brackish sand. I went closer with keen interest. He was fishing, for just beside him lay a container containing half dozen tiny fishes. Giving up after sometime, he joined two other kids in having a splash in a nearby pond. “When will your school open?” I posed. “Well, someone mentioned it will reopen by the month end. But I don’t know,” Naveen said.

Upon reflection, however, I feel that question of mine was the most mindless considering the circumstances.

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Reflections

In tribute of APJ sir!

Respected Sir and Madam,

On Thursday (18th of December), 2014, I was deputed to cover the book launch of a Central Exercise Commissioner (Large Tax Payer Unit, Chennai) … but I didn’t cover the event despite being asked to do so by the city editor.

I have been asked to give a written explanation for failing to cover the book launch, which I acknowledge is only appropriate considering that I am an employee of the organization.

Yesterday I listed two stories. Both were assignments. One was the inauguration of a national conference on condition monitoring of vehicles (NCCMV) by former president Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam at the Combat Vehicle Research and Development Establishment (CVRDE) in Avadi, a DRDO establishment.

At a time, when India aims to be a strong military player in Asia and has entered into various defense deals to procure Rafale fighter jets and Scorpene submarines, I strongly felt the inauguration of NCCMV carried a bit edge to it than a book launch. The state of our fighting machines need to be in a top condition. A point could be argued supporting the book launch by stating I could have made contacts in the excise department, but I made much more contacts in the defense field than I could have hoped for. Personally, I was enriched by the rich lecture, given by Dr. Kalam, on a topic that I didn’t know beforehand.

I hope not to repeat an incident of this sort in the future.

Thanking you.

Yours Sincerely,

Venkatesan Parthasarathy

Reporter, DC

At around 9.45 PM, on Monday evening, I received a phone call from a classmate at Shankar’s. “Hey, there are some reports about APJ’s health doing rounds online. Can you confirm it with your journalist contacts?” I ended the call promising him that I would do so.

However, my link with instant news (through the whatsapp group) was lost the very next day of my leaving Deccan Chronicle. I, hence, decided to switch on the television. While Arnab, in a solemn tone, was already engaging select guests and condoling the death of the ‘People’s President’, NDTV refused to confirm news of his demise. It was only after 15-odd minutes did a flash scroll beneath the screen carrying PTI’s confirmation.

“He had left the mortal world while doing what he loved doing the most. Addressing young minds and inspiring them to greater deeds.” Just like the age old saying goes that there could be no more greater honour for a performer than passing away while performing at a stage in front of his/her audience, APJ passed away while speaking to students at IIM Shillong.

Even as I tuned in to listen to what the newsmakers of our country had to say about the man, my brain was already thinking about a personnel tribute. And then it struck my mind.

“Tell me, why shouldn’t we act against you?” “The man is speaking on subjects every other day, what is special about today’s speech?” This was on the evening of 18th December, last year, when I skipped a direct instruction from my then bosses, in favour of a rendezvous with APJ. They were livid at me for not obeying the orders. I feared the worst but fortunately though, a explanation letter later (find it above), no action was taken. I emerged from that day as a even more ardent fan of APJ.

I always say this to those who would listen to me. “If you walk along and are met with say, 10 persons, then if you are recognised and greeted by at least 5 of them, with 3 among them really genuine, then be proud of your standing.” APJ sir, I just want you to know, wherever you are presently, that if you could only walk along any of the country’s roads, you would be warmly greeted by 9/10.

They often say the greatness of a person is measured, not during his living but at his passing away. Having admirably understood Presidentship is much more than a ceremonial post, you shall be remembered as the finest president we ever had. Much more than your credentials and endless achievements, it is your call to the nation and her youth about ‘dreaming big’ that makes you an eternal public figure.

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