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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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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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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Reflections

“Appa, look! There is a blue train flying high in the sky!”

The office of Deccan Chronicle, and that’s where I work, is located at Guindy Industrial Estate. To be precise, it is just behind the Olympia IT Park, which is a stone’s throwaway from the newly constructed Ekkaduthangal metro station.

Having my residence at Anna Nagar, I had two public transport options to my office. The MTC bus service (more of which later) or the shared cab service, which has greatly evolved to be now counted as a public transit system. Alternatively, I could have, anytime, flagged down an auto and arrived in style. But not before haggling with the auto driver regarding the fare. And oh, after all that negotiating, the drivers do put the meter but that’s only for the ‘records’.

I primarily use the MTC bus service, of which there are multiple routes plying on the Jawaharlal Nehru Road. That was due to convenience rather than preference. Though Chennai has a well-connected bus network, bested by very few cities in the country, it has become a common grouse that the journey is cumbersome, due to the worsening traffic, especially during the peak office hours. Ironically, several busy arterial roads in the city have lost out too much space due to the metro rail construction work. Risky foot boarding, sweaty faces and jam-packed buses – not an ideal journey all in all.

That was until Monday though. With the commissioning of the much-awaited metro rail, I have one more public transit option and at first glance one that is very much welcoming. Boarding the train at CMBT station (the connection to Anna Nagar is yet being built) at 6.10 PM in the evening, I barely finished my conversation about the new addition to the city with a fellow traveler, when the train pulled into the Ekkaduthangal station. The journey completed in less than 15 minutes and more significantly in absolute comfort. If I had taken the bus around at the same time, I would have probably reached by 6.40 PM and that is not factoring in the very much possible traffic scenario. There are some notorious signals, including the infamous Vadapalani junction, which could easily delay your travel time. But, operating at a higher plain, the metro thankfully avoids all the congestion on the roads below.

However there is a grouse, and acceptable in that too, aimed at the metro. It can be summed up by a pointed conversation between a child and his father. Towards the end of the journey, I overheard the kid asking, “Father, what happens if I lose the small token (ticket)?” to which the dad replied, “I think we have to pay a fine.” “But, we already are paying such a high amount anyway!”

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Reflections

Hello Laila, it was nice getting to know you!

It’s been exactly a month since Margarita with a straw opened to Indian audience and to raving reviews. No sooner than it hit the screens, my editor, who knew of my inclination to write on issues related to disability, called me. “I think we could offer our readers a new and much valuable perspective if you could actually watch the movie with a person who has cerebral palsy,” she said. While others, including film critics, would take the conventional path in reviewing the movie, I was extremely enthused by the possible narrative of my story. “Let us not confine it to a mere Q&A session. Make it more of a conversational and up-close account,” I was instructed.

However, despite identifying an individual, I had to temporarily postpone my movie plans because I was occupied with other tasks. Journalism, or rather news as a commodity in itself, has a extremely short shell life. One is not afforded the luxury of time and hence if there is a story (unless a developing one) waiting to be told to the public, it needed to be done so expressly. You just can’t react to stories late for the novelty factor wanes by every passing day. Ultimately, the story, as suggested by my editor, didn’t happen.

Weeks passed, and, yesterday at office while finishing a story, a small part of my mind was contemplating possible plans for Sunday, my weekly off. Watching a movie seemed to be an attractive option. I would have probably spent 27 seconds deciding on ‘which one’, when Margarita (or should I say, Laila) called.

Considering our initial date was postponed, I couldn’t have held off Laila any longer. I think, she was little expectant. After all, she is like the rest of us, complete with innate emotions and feelings, isn’t she? I have been a Journalist for a little over a year now, and during the ensuing period I have interacted with several individuals with disability. The general impression I have of them is that, while the physically challenged may require personal assistance, they are nevertheless strong and strive to be independent. Once the initial hesitance is out of the way, the intellectually impaired don’t need any prodding to speak up for themselves and speak out on contemporary issues. It led me to believe the disabled don’t necessarily require sympathy, but seek recognition and understanding. Not of their incapabilities, but of their inner most desires which, shouldn’t come as a surprise, is very much shared by all of us. They have as much right as the rest of us to dream big or dream obscure. So, why think of the disabled any ‘differently’ than you would of the rest.

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Reflections

The Great Lungi/Dhoti Divide

(How do you pass off a veshti, alternatively called dhoti, in a laundry which doesn’t have the traditional attire in its list of washable garments? Well, that’s a million dollar question I had often been confronted with, here at Jindal. Left with little choice, I include it under the ‘Bed sheets’ column. Bed Sheets. To all the Dhoti patrons and ‘staunchists’, I concede you might not be impressed, but can’t help it!)

Now, having confessed to my ‘unearthly’ deed, I shall shift the focus of this blog post towards a raging debate that warrants my personal interdiction. It’s what I refer to as the Great Lungi/Dhoti divide.

Last summer, I returned to the university with a crisp new dhoti. Truth to be told, I knew I was in for quite a reception from friends and hostel mates, as and when they ever caught me in one. After few weeks, freshly emboldened with desire, I wore it with a sattai (shirt). Venturing out of the room, I immediately ran into a neighbour. “Arey.. Kya baat! Lungi huh?” “Dei, Dei (with a exasperated groan), this is, for your information, not a Lungi. It is called A DHOTI!”

Been in this situation before, I engaged him in an conversation aimed solely at his enlightenment. The fundamental distinguishing factor between the two, I painstakingly clarified, is the presence of a partition in the Dhoti, unlike in the Lungi for which one would need to ‘step in’. Then, there are other less significant differences like; Dhoti comes predominantly in white, whereas the Lungi, is what one would call, a bit more extravagant with its colourful patterns. While the latter is primarily a domestic garment, for common usage within home confines, the Dhoti is seen as an symbol of propriety and virtue. Having listened patiently, his impassive face soon broke into a wide grin. “Ayee, I was just pulling your leg.” “Of course, you were.”

This particular incident happened many months back and lest I forget, the then newly released Chennai Express certainly didn’t help matters. If Yo-Yo Honey Singh wasn’t famous enough, his crooning of “Lungi dancu” firmly entrenched the name in my mind. If “Why this Kolaveri” had people, in IIMC, badgering me to do a karaoke, now, worse still, I had to ward of a substantial number of them pestering me to do a Lungi dancu!

On Monday evening, travelling in the metro after office, a colleague at The Caravan enquired, “Hey. You said that you were writing a article on Lungi, right? What’s up with it?” It came across as an genuine query. “Oh yeah, I am. Hoping to post it anytime soon.” Slightly encouraged, I sheepishly asked whether he knew the Lungi/Dhoti difference. “Yes. I did see Chennai Express, didn’t I!” (Face Palm)    

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Reflections

The Story of the Languages

He picks up the phone, dials a number and waits for the receiver to pick up his call. Confidently speaking, he utters “Namaste”, and proceeds with a conversation that completely caught me off guard. “Kya aaj aapke pass Mutter Paneer hai kya? Teek Hai, two plain Naan… nahi.. two parantha, deliver kar do. Haan Bhaiya, and Oh, the name is Adam.. and the address is as follows.” This last line was spoken with an obvious American accent. “Shukriya!”

Agreed, it’s not more than two-three lines of the most basic Hindi phrases once could ever speak. Even a four year old child can do it, but of course, that child must have been raised in a Hindi speaking family. Nevertheless, it was surprising to hear Adam speaking the language that I am still not confident about.

Fighting the urge to turn back, I just stare into the screen of my computer for the next few minutes. Having failed; I turn around, “Not Bad Adam.” Slightly grinning, he says it is nothing. Nothing? “You know, I myself couldn’t have done a better job than you.” Really? Yeah!

I prodded him further. The details emerge. He is here, at The Caravan for one year, on a fellowship from America. Six months has passed since he first set foot in the country and his Hindi has progressed from scale one to scale three.

My thoughts instantaneously verve to my own trysts with learning foreign languages. One particular incident, back at Madras Christian College, happens to be favourite recital to anyone who is willing to lend a ear. In the first semester, when we were asked to give our language choices, I picked German. The Dean of Student Affairs asked me, “Why?” “Sir, it is because I have no knowledge about it.” He replied, “That’s precisely why I am asking you to reconsider your choice.” A little later, a friend walks up to him. She was from Kerala and had given Malayalam as her first preference. The same guy who counselled me not to take up German said to her, “Why Malayalam? Do something new!” In the end, we both ended up in the same German class.

At Jindal University, I was a student of French for a year, and at the end, I passed in each of the two semesters, not that I was proficient in the language but because the instructor was kind-hearted. A year wasn’t enough for me, and in all earnestness, even ten years wouldn’t have been enough. I didn’t try. There were other motivations in play, persuading me to take these languages.

Adam is one among the many who made me realise, learning a language is something which you have to attempt honestly. Nobody forced him, but here he is, in a foreign land, learning the tongue of its masses. I asked him whether he picked it off the ground or went to classes.

He nonchalantly said, “Oh, thanks a lot for reminding me about it. I need to call my tutor and setup sessions for the coming weekend. It’s been a while since I had language classes with her.” He made the call, “Can we schedule the class this Saturday? Perfect.” While, I turned back to my computer, he was left alone with his Hindi classes.

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