personal diary

The state of play

Seldom goes by a Thursday, which happens to be my off-day, without yours truly and Pretish, a undergraduate college friend, who has stuck by me since the days when Aadhaar was just another identification card, going to a cinema hall to watch the latest movie. There have been more than half a dozen times when we have watched back-to-back movies. Thursdays, in other words, can be summed up as the day when we pay our weekly dues to the theatre operator. We broke that routine yesterday.

As a few might know already, ‘The Hindu Theatre Fest’ is currently happening in the city. After I had a quick word with Pretish, it was decided that we would watch the play on my week-off. We didn’t really bother ourselves with the banner or the language (an English-Hindi bilingual). After all, going by the play’s title, it was ‘One Night Only’.

Thursday evening came and we found ourselves taking the centre seats at the very back of the auditorium, the fantastic Museum Theatre in Egmore. But before the lights dimmed out, Pretish (with a tinge of sarcasm) sighed, “Ah, only if there were snack counters outside.”

The start of the play was hilarious and it had nothing to do with it. An old man, who was guiding last minute entrants to the seats, offered his help to two individuals standing in the centre aisle. “Sir, we are the artists” and with that they ran to the stage, beginning one of the most satisfying and gripping shows I have been to.

The play narrated the tale of Aravan, son of Arjuna, sacrificing his life for the Pandavas to emerge victorious in the Kurukshetra war. Before he is killed, however, he asks Krishna for three wishes and is granted the same, of which one concerns marriage, widowhood and Koovagam.

In Koovagam, a small village near Villupuram, is a temple for Aravan, who in local parlance is called as Koothandavar. The village plays host to one of the largest gathering of transgender persons in the country every year during April/May. They enact the marriage of Aravan to Mohini, a female avatar of Krishna, and the latter’s mourning following the death of her husband.

The performance, which was both authentic and artistic, reminded me of my reporting assignment in Koovagam when I was with the Deccan Chronicle in 2015. I filed four reports after camping in the village for two days. In one of the reports, I wrote, “Having spoken to several persons during the course of the festival, there seems to be a commonly accepted view that while transgender persons are bestowed with great respect and recognised in northern regions of the country, perhaps due to public familiarity with characters like Mohini and Shikhandi, the same doesn’t hold true down south.”

By the time we came to the end of the nearly 80 minute long brilliant dance cum drama performance, both of us knew the other liked it as well. There were three takeaways for me – 1. A lot more people need to be sensitised about the lives of transgender persons, 2. Krishna (or should say the actor who performed the role) is actually a cool dude 3. I must watch more plays!

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personal diary

The curse of a solo traveller

A lot of us have been on solo trips. They are refreshing because such trips are all about you, having left everything else behind. They are exciting due to the unknown element. You see, interact and absorb new experiences. But, I am now left pondering about a curse that afflicts the single traveller.  The curse, according to me, is that we don’t always get a good photographer to click our photo.

Few days back, I looked at the photographs taken during my visit of Belur, Halebidu, Shravanabelagola and Chikmagalur last December. There were only three personal photographs taken by another person that could be described as decent. I uploaded one recently on social media but before I did that, I edited out few tourists standing behind me at the doorway of the magnificent Halebidu temple. The person who took that photo, a Non Resident Indian, could have told, “Sirs, can you please move away from the frame. Thank you.”

Evidently, he did not. When it was my turn to return the favour, I ensured there was no need for the edit. While I am no ace photographer, I at least ensured no one was photo-bombing and that the angle was good.

It was during the same trip that I made it to the top of Mullayanagiri, the highest peak in Karnataka (6300 feet). My third act after reaching there, the first was finding a place to sit and taking deep breaths after a steep climb, the second was taking in the sights from that height, was to find a willing person to take my photo. I picked a guy, presumably a student. He took the photo and heard me utter ‘thank you’, and then off he went with his friends without turning back.

The photo was not particularly good. The backdrop of the plains below me, as stunning it was, was not captured well. The dissection of this photo was done after several weeks, by when a small regret seeped in. Maybe, I should have guided him better at that moment. Or, he could have asked me, “Have a look. Is it alright? Do you want me to retake the shot?” Admittedly, I have nearly always turned down that offer until now. The rationale for doing so is this; he/she has already been put to trouble and hence, should be spared of the extra effort. The other alternative is selfies. They are okay, but don’t quite capture the background as rich as they are and your face seems more prominent, that at times you tend to reflect more on the lines and spots.

I remember a close friend saying, “Why can’t you stop clicking and just admire?” The fact is I cannot. I need to capture and look back at them as cherished memories after I have got few more silver hairs. It is with hope, thus, I want the next Good Samaritan to be different.

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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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