Friday, April 29, 2011

Growing up…….

Trying to understand the transition from childhood to teenage to youth and finally to a matured adult. I have been through this process of aging. Surprisingly it all seems too quick to be true. I am surprised to see everything so clearly as if I am watching my childhood on a big screen, you may call it a large LED screen while traveling in a car for a long distance destination.

It is like experiencing two worlds i.e. one where I am watching my childhood on the imaginary digital screen and the other one outside the car window which is real filled with uncertainty, mystery, responsibility etc…etc and also includes the beautiful present, I watch both the worlds and decide without hesitation that the imaginary screen seems to be a better prospect because there is no ambiguity as things seem more uncomplicated and certain because they have already occurred in the past though over a couple of decades ago; moreover the world inside is more comfortable with the only sound of the A.C working efficiently to cool the confines of the car, this actually does not seem to hinder the train of thoughts which are being displayed on the imaginary screen. Only an occasional bump reminds you that you are watching the past in the present.

I see a boy of not more than 11 to 12 years of age who has just come back from school; the uniform is all soiled in mud and looks as if it hasn’t been washed for months on end. He has a grim look on his face as his mother admonishes him for the state of his uniform and he mutters to himself “you can’t understand”. But in his thoughts he thinks why they make such a fuss and can’t understand that being the captain of his B group team he had to lead by example; he had to dive and field like Eknath Solkar the cricketer of yesteryears. First it was his mathematics teacher in class and now his mother, why couldn’t they all leave him alone.

The irritated look on his face was a result of these thoughts which were disturbing him no end and just to add salt to his wounds his younger sister had to report the latest news of what her brother had done in school. She was more than eager to see her brother nailed because they always fought; she had barged into their third floor flat and started telling her mother what “anna” (elder brother) had done in school…..his mother started wondering now what else had this boy done????

Before I proceed let me first tell you about the boy’s family and his brief background. The residents of this third floor flat in an old 1959 constructed building ,were a family of five which included the boy (let’s call him Raju) his two sisters (one elder and the other younger) and his parents. All the three children studied in the same school and were born two years apart. Academically the two sisters were always ahead in their respective class and in contrast Raju was always ahead in everything other than studies. Because of these characteristics all three siblings were known to all the teachers in school though the reasons were different and contrasting.

Raju attended school very regularly however he spent half his time kneeling in the corridors outside his class because of the punishment meted out to him. None of his teachers had the patience to tolerate his mischievousness in class. Though they would get very angry, Raju always had the uncanny knack of making the teachers laugh in any situation. It seemed as if Raju derived a satanic pleasure by troubling his teachers who really did not know what to do of this boy and tried all innovative ways of punishing him.

Some of the teachers gave him imposition to write statements like “I will not talk in the class” sometimes up-to five hundred times. But in their heart of hearts even they were not convinced it could ever be a reality. On the other hand Raju believed in delegation of tasks and distributed the burden of writing such imposition amongst his class mates. Raju was one of the shortest and the smallest built but this did not stop him from being one of the most mischievous in his class which included boys and girls.

Raju was trying to stop his sister from blurting out what had transpired in school that particular day and he started thinking on the actual turn of events which had given his sister a chance to complain about him to his mother.

That afternoon Raju had just entered the class room after the lunch break. Actually a part of the lunch break was used to play casual inter-class cricket matches. All the kids would have a hurried lunch and even then they used to get only fifteen to twenty minutes of spare margin time in the lunch break to play the matches. It was note worthy that one particular match used to continue for days together because of the limited time on hand. But such was the interest in the truncated matches that no one complained about bad light or a wet ground and these matches used to continue despite rain, sunshine or winter. That particular afternoon Raju had tried to take a diving catch and landed in a puddle caused by the intermittent rains changing the colour of his white uniform shirt to brown and his blue uniform half pant had lost a few buttons in vital places. This had forced Raju to remove his shirt out to coverup his damaged pants with no buttons. The damage caused by the “Solkar” style dive was evident because Raju looked like a perfect street urchin with a soiled dirty long shirt and to top it the dirty shirt was longer than his half pant and gave the impression that he had only worn a shirt and no half pant.

Raju entered the class totally oblivious of how he looked! He walked with a confidence of a ramp model which was unimaginable. He went and sat on his usual first bench between two girls. This was his permanent place as teachers wanted a close watch on this short fellow where they could keep a track on him.

As the Mathematics teacher entered the class with a calm demeanor and started her preparation to commence the class …..her eyes fell on Raju….. her expression changed to disgust…… she lost track of what she was going to teach. She asked Raju to stand up and as soon as he stood up she was aghast and hesitated ................before asking him why you have not worn your pants? Raju innocently tried to lift his shirt to show that he had indeed worn one…but the reputation that he had............ got the better of him. she did not trust him.

She just gestured him not lift his shirt(the only consideration for her not to pursue the matter must have been his size… he still looked like a kid from the primary school) but she was furious……how could she tolerate such nonsense. In fit of rage she asked Raju his full name and he responded immediately by giving his name in initials….irritated she again asked him what that middle alphabet in his initial stood for….. and Raju answered her with a poker face that it stood for his father’s name…. .So why cant you tell your full name including your father’s name?…she asked him still irritated. Raju replied!......... and his shocking reply to this query made her ask him again “what did you say”? He replied in the same tone….. “I don’t know my father’s name”.

The erstwhile teacher had taught many students in her long career and she had never come across a student like this! Shocked at the kind of students she was trying to teach she decided to ask the class how many of them did not know their father’s name and all of them answered that they knew their father’s name.

Now she turned around to Raju with a look that could kill, which he later described as"fire in her eyes and nostrils expanded........snorting like raging bull; he knew she was damn angry! And she again asked him, now do you remember your father’s name? but mischievous and witty that he was, he spontaneously answered her “ma’am I don’t know my father’s name” and continued in the same tone, “ma’am in our house we don’t call our father by his name because we respect him”. The teacher was totally at loss of words and flabbergasted when she heard his unorthodox explanation.

She now decided to probe further and thought that may be the education level of his parents was not good enough and it had affected this poor child. She asked him again what his father did for a living and Raju just started saying “ma’am my father is a mechanic…” and before he could complete the word mechanical engineer she stopped him and asked him in a tone that showed that she had got the answer to the strange behavior of this dirty little creature! Do you also want to become a mechanic like your father? You already look like one!

The dirty little creature also had a temper and he answered her in the affirmative that I also want to be a mechanic like my father and also went on further to give her a bit of advice saying that teacher we should never be ashamed of the work we do. The teacher had lost a good part of the period trying to find out the antecedents of this boy whose younger sister was also her student and contrastingly was among rank holders in her class. She summoned Raju’s sister and asked her in his presence, “Child do you know your father’s full name” she answered her and on being questioned about the profession of her father she told the teacher that he was a mechanical engineer. On hearing the answers from Raju’s sister her nerves cooled down a little bit and gave a unique home work to Raju….i.e. he had to find out his father’s name before he came for the next class. Raju for the first time did not have to prepare for this homework because he already knew the answer his teacher was asking for.

His thoughts were brought back to his mother and did not want his sister to bring one more complaint home because he had promised his mother just the day before that he would be a good boy. While he was lost in his thoughts his sister had already emptied all her information to her mother who only the day before had sorted out a major problem created by (of-course) Raju….

To be continued…….because the destination is far away and the story too long!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Friday, April 22, 2011


I have been inspired to write this blog because of various people I meet from different cross section of society at parties, work, conferences, gymnasium and various other places you name it people are there. They make the place what it is ……you go to malls, cinema hall, a cricket match or wherever ….. What is the significance of a place minus the people!! ……actually nothing. If nobody goes to see a movie on the first day the movie is considered as a flop. This automatically shows how significant and important people are!

When people are so important then why do we classify people and divide them on the basis of economic status, religion, colour, caste, creed, ethnicity…..educational background, type of profession etc ….etc.

This classification of people is so deep rooted within us that we forget to consider people from the other class as one among us or rather we forget that he is also a human being with feelings, emotions, insecurity, sorrow , happiness…..etc …etc (so many emotions to list). The only consideration for us at a particular time is that he belongs to another class and hence not acceptable.

We take everything on face value….instead trying to find out why is it that a particular person behaves in a particular manner we try to blame his background or rather the so called classification he belongs to.

I have been a witness to such things like many of you who may be reading this but never given a serious thought to it. But during the course of my work I was to decide on some disciplinary issues raised by supervisors against one of the worker who refused to take orders from them. My reaction initially was mechanical and I was in the process of initiating action against him as is the general practice and with so many workers at site I did not have the time to dwell over the matter and find out the reason for the workers behavior. But one statement from one of the supervisors caught my attention he categorically said that “this worker is from a particular place and used a local slang word to refer to people from that area”…..this got my thoughts churning and my mind started feeling “am I also being a part of this classification process”.

I summoned the worker to my office and to my surprise I found him to be extremely well behaved. He had a composed and polite way of talking. His face reflected no aggression but his eyes betrayed the deep rooted worry which was also reflected in his grey unshaven stubble On probing further he explained with tears in his eyes that only the day before he had been declared unfit to work in this alien land. He had hoped that a stint of two years in this GCC country would have solved all his problems back at home. As I continued my discussion with him I also learn't that he was a graduate in commerce but was forced to take up this physical work due to unemployment. He admitted that it was the frustration due to the status of his medical fitness that he had misbehaved at the slightest provocation.

I did not know how to react but I did feel a little tightness in my chest which was due to the feeling I was experiencing at the moment. I just waved him out of my cabin with a sway of my hand indicating him to go back to work. He probably realized what I meant and left my cabin after bowing with folded hands.

Though I continued my work through the day I could not halt the train of thoughts which were overshadowing the work on hand. I realized that people are people……be they from any country, religion, caste, creed, colour, rich, poor, celebrities or from any other category or classification you name it…… all of them are people who have the same emotions, breathe alike, smile, laugh, cry….eat……etc …..etc. However we must understand that there is one thing common in all these wonderful people despite the physical dissimilarity i.e. all of them have a good soul … which is covered by negative feelings like greed, lust, jealousy and hatred … the real fight has to be against these negative feelings and not people. Why??? Because “people are people are people are………………”wherever you go!!!!

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Glimpse Through The Window Of Saji’s Life

I hope the blog I am writing today opens a window into the lives of many Indians or expats from Asia who stay in GCC countries for years together for the lure of money and what they earn may be much more than what they would have earned in their country, but what they lose is a lot more than what they earn and before they realize it is already too late!
I will open the window very slowly and let us see what we get here. Ah! There I see Saji….let’s take a closer look at what his life is all about.
Saji is a cook in a local Malayali mess which is located in one of the downtown building which provides cheap accommodation to bachelors mostly from the labour class in the suburbs. The building is filthy and looks abandoned but actually it is home to many people from Asia, Egypt and a family of cats which have an unwritten permit to defecate everywhere in the building including the lifts and staircase without anyone objecting to them.
On a typical day in the life of Saji; he wakes up early in the morning at 3.30 AM cooks and packs lunch for his labour class customers who never bother to acknowledge his hard work but are quick to abuse him and also man-handle him for the slightest mistake he commits. He gulps down all the insults but still maintains his calm composure and keeps his mask on all the time; which is a moustached smiling face irrespective of what he feels inside. No one bothers to ask him; that in last five years, why is it that he has never moved out of the building ground floor mess?….not even till the building compound. He has been on house arrest for the past five years, why??
On opening the window a little wider and taking a closer look at his life; we clearly start seeing the reason why he is putting up with all this, we can see that actually Saji came to this gulf country as an expert heavy driver. He paid a handsome amount to an unscrupulous agent to get a visa which was sponsored by a local transport company; this transport company promised a salary which .was twice the amount he earned in India.
We could see from the window that everything was going on well for a couple of months. But in due course of time for some unexplained reason the transport company closed down without giving a proper notice to their employees leaving them in the lurch. Saji worked in some other small companies till his visa validity expired. Left with no proper sponsorer to extend his visa; he was without a proper legal resident permit and ultimately a job.
Actually he was now classified as an illegal immigrant; he was forced to go into hiding for the fear of being arrested and being deported. If he was now deported who would reimburse the money he spent on getting a sponsorer for his visa? From where would he get money to treat his mother who was down with cancer?…. From where would he get money to buy a house before he got married? All these questions seemed very relevant and ultimately he found shelter in the mess in which he went into a voluntary house arrest. The mess owner provided him with a hiding place; i.e with an accommodation and a source of earning. He decided to wait here till the government declared an amnesty scheme where all such illegal immigrants are given a visa and thus making a gateway for them to go & come back legally in the country to earn a living.
But alas his wait for an amnesty scheme was five years too long… which time he lost his mother he loved so much! He had come to this country and envisaged earning a lot of money but we could see through the window that when he got the news of his mother’s death…his sorrow knew no bounds and what he was experiencing was beyond what he ever comprehended. He knew his mother was dead but he could not even go to the city to meet his younger brother for the fear of being arrested. He wanted so much…to console his brother……to cry on his shoulder ……to share the common grief they had in their hearts, but all he could do was talk to his brother in a choked voice on the mobile phone and ask him to take the first flight to Kerala; where his mother’s cold body awaited cremation.
We can still see Saji from the window with a grey aura of grief surrounding him which speaks volumes about a man….. who came to the GCC country for the lure of money…..but what he lost was more precious.. he lost time, the time he could have spent with his mother…attending to her medical needs in whatever small way he could ……the precious moments which he now knew would never come back even if he spent millions…… As we slowly close the window which has given a small view into the life of saji and a big message! we over hear him promise to himself that when reaches home he will go and shed away all his sorrow on the banks of the holy Ganges and perform a pooja so that his mother’s soul rests in peace…….but in his heart of hearts he knows it is a hollow consolation…..As I close the window of Saji’s life ….. I see a last glimpse of a man with a strong realization… that it is more important to be there!..... when it matters!….no amount of money can compensate that.