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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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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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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personal diary

We miss you Kai pati!

It’s been six days since my grand mother passed away and we have missed her since then. But, make no mistake she led a near complete life that it just falls short of a perfect century. She was 96 when she left us. Married off at a tender age of 12, she had the god given opportunity to see the birth of three great-grandchildren.

I still remember the other night on Monday, which turned out to be her last night, when I had the urge to write about her. I didn’t, because writing is tiresome when you have the momentary option to pay an oral tribute instead. But at this moment, when I am at my office with my editor expecting my story to be in her inbox within the next one hour, I need to fulfill the unstated promise that I have made to myself.

Whenever a person leaves earth, it should always be the case when their good qualities are spoken about and very highly too. I firmly believe that. My grandmother had a lot of good qualities.

It was ten years ago, when my grandmother came to live with us. Fondly called ‘Kai pati’, by my sister and me, there are many personal memories of her that we shall cherish forever.

‘Kai’ in Tamil means vegetable. She knows how to cook and that simple statement is understated. All of us in the family relish well cooked delicacies and she was a wonderful chef. With my mother off to work, it was often left to my grandmother to prepare the ‘kai’ for me. She would always prepare just before I come to house after attending undergrad college (it got over by 1.30 in the noon), and ensure it was kept hot. Furthermore, my mother’s cooking improved, however marginal, because she was always offered guidance. Mother’s recipe they say, but on this occasion, let’s prefix the word ‘Grand’ before mother.

Among her standout qualities is her strict adherence to cleanliness and orderliness. Not one to be disorganized, she made sure our house was well run and well kept. She would regularly clean the dust that settled on appliances, especially on the television, with she used to say ensured her sanity. A day back, her big Godrej was searched. With her love for sarees well known (She could well give Nalli’s a run for their money), we found all of them pressed and arranged neatly in an order. Just today, my school ID cards (believed to be long lost), was found safely preserved in one of her packages.

On top of it all, it was her determination to be independent and be courageous, even when in frailty, that stands out. In her nineties, she washed her own clothes, walked without support, helped mother in arranging utensils. Maybe, she derived that strength from her husband, who happened to be a proud military man. Just as I am writing this, a friend and a colleague walks in and by chance, talks about his grand mother. “She lives by her own and swears by her right to be independent,” he says. Guess, all grandmothers are the same.

 

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personal diary

Can you smell what the rock is cooking? Coz, I can’t!

If, perhaps, we consider our capacity to smell, or Olfaction, to be among the least significant sensory perception endowed in us, human beings, then trust me when I say that we couldn’t be more wrong. For, waking up these days, I only have one wish. That I regain my sense of smell.

It so happened that I somehow contracted flu with related ailments like cold and cough promptly setting in. My mother, who usually would say, “Well, you asked for it. How many times have I told you to resist ice creams…?”, on this particular occasion was very much on my side. But then, like never before, I couldn’t smell the odors of everyday life. Couldn’t be worse, right? You can only imagine my plight.

We aren’t short of people who absolutely relish fish delicacies, but I also know there are those who can’t stand the odor emanating from dried fish. While in the past, I have had to hold my nose as tightly as I possibly could while crossing a fish vendor, this Monday though, I didn’t even flinch when faced with the prospect of walking past an entire fish market! There were others who tied kerchiefs over their noses but I wasn’t, for I could smell nothing.

Forget dried fish, even the aroma of freshly grounded coffee eludes me. No perfume fragrance and more importantly, considering my appetite, not even the smell of spicy dishes. On Tuesday, remembering the popular Gujarati Mandal in Broadway that my father used to take me to for a sumptuous meal, I covered quite a distance on foot to have my lunch there. My exhaustion for the day required a lip smacking meal, but sadly though I couldn’t relish any of the dishes served.

A mild burp (also heard by those sitting in adjacent chairs) indicated that I had eaten to my stomach’s content, but only I knew that the food was tasteless. I dared not to mention it to the chef, who looked every bit a guy who could throw a punch or two.

So, maybe, come tomorrow, I will wake up with the same wish yet again.

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