Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Who am I ? I am He !

Who am I ? I am He.

I was trying to call my cooking gas supplier this morning. It had been over 3 weeks since I ordered a cylinder and needless to say I was more than a little hot under the collar when I connected after several attempts and was given the same answer in the same toneless, bored voice that said “ after 3 / 4 days”. When I threatened with dire consequences if it was not delivered immediately, the call was transferred to somebody higher up in the hierarchy. I guess I was just a little too hasty to conclude I was finally getting somewhere, because that ‘somebody’ brought me crashing down to earth with his first question, “ Who are you ?” . The fact that I was one of his paying customers apparently didn’t count for him. What he seemed to want to ensure was that I wasn’t some high ranking police officer, or a bureaucrat , or an MLA, a Corporator   or some such VIP he wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of. After a few questions regarding my occupation, my socio-politico-financial  status , he seemed to be satisfied enough to repeat the same “3 / 4 days” and hung up on me as unceremoniously as he would shoo away a wino at his door.

Then I decided to play my ace in the hole, called him right back and told him I was Anna Hazare, and that in the next hour he was to expect a morcha of nothing less than 200 such disgruntled Annas at his office. This time it was my turn to hang up on him, and I did it with the confidence of a seasoned con-artist. Needless to say the ruse worked in less than the promised hour and the familiar clangs of a gas cylinder sounded in my corridor.       

My purpose was served, and I was about to congratulate myself over a cup of tea, but a thought still rankled. And it got me thinking real hard about his first question “ Who are you ?” What exactly did he mean by that question ? Did he mean “ who” or, “ what” ? What difference did it make to him , and why ? So long I was assured of my gas  refill , should it matter to me who or what I was to him ? Of course it shouldn’t. Its  only after this  conclusion that my mind went on a tangent to pop that age-old question that is  potent enough either to  drive a man crazy or to make a sage out of him.  Who am I ?

I am not sure who it was , John Lennon or Elvis Presley or some sporting legend , who once ran into an admirer when getting  out  of a departmental store. The fan looked at him, did a double take and said “ Hey, do you know who you are ?” On the face of it, it was as innocuous a question as any , even just a touch funny on the part of that fan, but in reality such a profound one that the superstar felt disillusioned of all his fame, popularity and charisma. That question stopped the him in his tracks and stayed with him for the rest of his life. 

While I would have to be a narcissist of the first waters to think of myself worthy of ever being a sage , I am thick-skinned enough not to go crazy if I don’t find the answer. Being a music or sports icon too is just as out of my league. The Beatles come fairly close to describing me with their ‘nowhere man’. But even the most non-descript , faceless man has a conscience that might pop this question to him one day when he is looking in the mirror.

Now, let me see….I am a human being, a male, a hindu, an Indian, a Maharashtrian , a commerce graduate, a tax consultant, a son, a father, a brother, a husband, a friend, an adversary , and so on and so forth….  I am all of these but surely that’s not all there is to me.  There have been times when all these identities have felt nothing more than just roles to play, even disguises to be worn when these personalities  clashed with each other.  At the end of each clash I have found no comfort with any of these garbs and have felt the need of something more to help me feel grounded and oriented.

Countless people since time immemorial have come and gone, some after grappling with the question, some blissfully oblivious of it. The ancient scriptures had to have been a result of some meticulous research and impeccable groundwork in order to have come up with the theory of “ Ko hum ? So hum” ( Who am I ? I am He ) . Because, if we accept and believe in the one supreme, divine power as the creator of this universe, irrespective of what name you give it , its only logical to presume that creation was meant  to be the basic theme for every action of ours, for every thought of ours.     

Of course its not for everybody to be a creator in the same league as the greats in any field such as science, commerce, art, spirituality etc, but understanding the difference between good and evil and making a difference in the right direction while you are here , is something everyone of us can do. This is exactly what Anna Hazare is doing and God help anybody  who dare ask him “Who are you?” Such is the power of the man. The man , who has known firsthand, both the power of the gun as well as the power of truth.

Mind you, even after all this brain-storming I am not any closer to the answer to this question as I was when I started. People have spent lifetimes in its pursuit, so I know I haven’t a hope in hell of finding it in just one and a half pages of doodling. But I am convinced I would be on the right track in my quest , so long as I make a positive difference , in my own little way, to the quality of my life and that of my fellow humans. I should then have no qualms about identifying myself with the name that my parents gave me.

After all, Anna Hazare too, is not as much a name as it is a way of life, a thought of The Creator.

                                                ======= X ========

Saturday, 13 August 2011



“Sow the seeds of good deeds as you travel . God feeds you with the fruits they bear on your journey back home.” 

Sounds just like one of the lines the teacher made it your daily chore to write on the blackboard, right ?  You did it  to impress upon the rest of the class that you were the chosen one, the teachers pet. Or, just to get your hands on the box full of chalks , Or you either bribed the ones with good handwriting or bullied them into doing it for you. In a nutshell it was just something you had to do whether you wanted to or not. Inculcating good values, building a good character were things as silly and unheard of then as a window seat on a 8.45 Churchgate fast on a Monday morning from Borivli is today. I know, it’s a far-fetched  comparison but show me a man who says he scored just such a seat on just such a train on just such a day, solely because of his good values and spotless character, and you are welcome to join me in my “ Liar, Liar, Pants on fire” jig.

It was on just such a day, and on just such a train that I was reminded of my opening line.  
Mind you , I am not much of a do-gooder, cross my heart and hope to die. More good has been done to me than my having done any. This little incident too is one of many such where I was at the receiving end of a good deed.

When the crowd positions itself to catch this above-mentioned train, the commuters bridge is the best perch to watch the spectacle from. It’s a scene straight out of Braveheart or some such period war movie. Usually the train is almost full of people taking a backward detour from Malad and Kandivli en route to Churchgate. The crowd throws the first salvo even as the train gets halfway into the station. Survival of the fittest is the law of every jungle and this human jungle is no exception. The fittest and the strongest are on the both the sides here, i.e. the inside as well as the outside of the train. In the wild frenzy that would put any ring of WWF to shame,  lasting about 12 seconds, within which the commuters wanting to get off at Borivli make their escape and those wanting to get on the train charge in like stampeding bulls . The ones who get off successfully go through the seemingly automated motions of patting  their hair back in place, patting  their pockets to make sure their wallets and cellphones are safe, and off they go to their next adventure of the day. The lucky ones who got on the train wrestle and jostle their way to the fourth seat which really is  half a seat. Mission accomplished, they now firmly entrench themselves as “insiders” and get ready to fight and push back the “outsiders” who are still trying to get in. Amidst a lot of war-cries, expletives and even some fisticuffs , a few losers try to get their way out of the compartment. These are either the weaker ones,  or just new to the ways of this city. They either have to beg and plead their way out before the train starts or be prepared to get off wherever they can, whenever they can.

Blessed are those who are not required to run against time to punch a silly card even if they have to get punched silly along the way. Thanks to all my stars, saints  and guardian angels I am in a profession where I don’t need to be a part of this everyday battle. I pretty much decide my own working hours and travel only when the peak hour is long past over, if at all. But no matter how powerful , comfortable and snug a lion is in his own den, even he can’t avoid forever,  a showdown with a pack of hyenas inspired by their own survival instincts. Likewise, to accommodate a client , I too am required every once in a long while to make a foray into Borivli station at the ungodly hour of 8.45 am. Last Monday was one such day I had an incometax case hearing scheduled at Churchgate. I had been feeling a bit under the weather and feverish the night before but an adjournment was impossible. I reached the platform without any major mishaps, with even the bridges and staircases choc-a-block with people in a hurry . So much so that you would think every train was the last train to Churchgate and that there was no tomorrow.

I gathered enough courage to get in a crouching position not too unlike a goalkeeper as he gets ready to leap either way facing a penalty. Arms outstretched, muscles taut, knees bent just so I could coil up and spring at the first reachable door, as the train slowly made its way into the station. All this preparation would have been most impressive, even effective had I been the only party present on the platform. The reality was far from it as nothing less than a million people took similar stances all around me, their  sole collective target being the train coming closer and closer. I chose exactly this moment to lose my nerve and chicken out. All of a sudden there was a certain coolness about the feet with the realization that I was not as young as I once was and not nearly as fit either. Panic stricken, I started to back off without a shred of  concern about standing up an incometax commissioner waiting for me. I was about 4 seconds too late to realize that it was too late to back off. The decision to catch that train or not was taken out of my hands by the marauding public and before I could say abracadabra I found myself inside the compartment. The onrushing crowd flung me about like a rag doll. Twisting, turning and generally being brutally manhandled by the rampaging  multitude I felt the term “being pushed around” was about to get a whole new meaning. For those few seconds it felt like being in a stone-crusher, getting spin-dried in a washing machine and being fed to a shredder all at once. As my life flashed before my eyes, I was pretty sure I was either going to be torn to pieces , or suffocation was going to claim me. Whichever way it went, I knew it was hear, in this sardine-pack that I was going to breath my last.

But in what seemed like an eternity but actually in a few seconds that I found myself pushed into the sitting area which too  was already overflowing but where you could be   stationery as against being in the eye of a hurricane near the doors. Clothes as crumpled as my spirit, hair as fashionably in disarray as no punk rocker  can boast of , ribs hurting so bad it was an effort to just breath, I found myself panting like a dog on a hot afternoon. Catching the breath was the only first aid I could give myself in the given circumstances. A window seat would  be just  what the doctor would have insisted upon but of course it was neither  a month of Sundays nor could I see any pigs flying outside the window. Head still spinning, reeling like a drunk I desperately looked around for a fourth seat. A saree clad lady got up from the nearest fourth seat and I was immediately convinced that God had to be a female. Because if He were to be a male, his species had all but mauled me to death just seconds ago.

As I was about to eagerly but gratefully grab the fourth seat , she said “ Kyon sir , kaise ho ? Pehchana kya mere ko ?” and the sound of her voice stopped me in my tracks, for it was a male voice  . But of course it was one of our infamous Mumbai eunuchs.  

I looked at her as I sat down , happy to take all of my 65 kgs off my feet and feeling all of my 45 years. Underneath all that garish , caked on make-up was a face time hadn’t been too kind to but familiar all the same. 

“ Prabha ? Kaisi ho ? I asked.
“ Achhi hoon Sir. Aap theek ho na ?   Paani piyoge ?

She told me she had spotted me as I was getting worked over by the crowd, had enough sense to understand that I was completely and hopelessly out of my element and needed a bit of help. She pulled out a small  water-bottle and offered it to me, assuring me she had just picked it up from the canteen and was unopened, lest I was worried about hygiene.

The people around us were watching this scene with expressions that varied from amused to wary , from sly to indifferent. I took the bottle after some hesitation and cursed myself quietly for examining the seal before opening it. A couple of swigs made me feel as fine as only water can make you feel when you really need it. I thanked her but she just shrugged it off saying its only human to help another human, and I was , after all,  a friend. I know that although  being a friend to a eunuch is not the worst crime in the world, its also not anything you shout from the rooftops either. But having just had a helping hand stretched out at me , at the time when I needed it the most, my petty-mindedness and silly vanity made me want to crawl under the seat.  I mean here was someone who was almost an outcast, someone right at the bottom of the rungs of our   society, who had helped me as naturally as any human being would another, and , here I was, an educated , cultured man of the world who was worried about what people might think of our connection. The fact that I had done nothing noteworthy for Prabha  to have conferred her friendship on me made me feel even more small. Quite on the contrary, it was another  act of compassion on Prabha’s part that had started our acquaintance 6 years ago.

It was an exceptionally hot June . Monsoon was on its way and was due any day. I had left for work in the morning without an umbrella as if to tease the rain-gods into opening up and pouring down. Coming back home,  I took an auto from Borivli to Dahisar Checknaka, from where I had to take another auto because of city limits. Just when I was about to reach the checknaka it started drizzling and by the time it was time to switch  the autos, it had grown into a fairly healthy downpour. As a rule I love getting drenched in the first rains every year but that day I was caught with my newly bought leather shoes and belt and didn’t want to ruin them if I could help it. I paid the auto-man and requested him to let me hang about in his auto for a while in the hope that the rain would subside and I would salvage both my precious hide and the shining leather. After 10 minutes , with no sign of a let up from the skies, I started looking out for anybody with an umbrella. The idea was to pinch a shelter for a distance of about 60 yards and hop in the first auto I saw. Another 5 minutes and even my auto-man started getting restless wanting to cash in with so many rain-struck people willing  to be taken for a ride.
Then I saw her and identified her immediately for the eunuch that she was . But she was the only one around with an umbrella , and with the rain still working away steadily, she was my only hope to help me stay dry . I beckoned her and asked her if she would be kind enough to escort me under her umbrella to the connecting auto. She gave me a wide smile, nodded in that pseudo-feminine manner that only eunuchs can and said yes, she would be happy to be of help. No big deal , its only human to help other humans , she said and escorted me to the connecting auto. I hopped in, thanked her, asked her name and offered her a tenner as a token of my appreciation of her kindness. She politely declined it and said she was happy to be of help and in fact felt honored to be considered worthy of helping out a gentleman in need.

We parted. She , feeling a glow of having shown kindness to a stranger, and I the gentleman, feeling humbled at finding benevolence from an unlikely  source.

We met quite often after that at the same spot where she would do her business. We would  exchange pleasantries and sometimes a little baksheesh from me in exchange of her ritual of patting my head and gesticulating a routine of warding off evil eye.

My style of work gradually changed with time and I started working more and more from home. Prabha obviously faded away into the past and from my memory too.

This is where the flashback ends. We are in the train again. Prabha gets off at Goregaon with a cheery wave to me and a couple of resounding claps for the crowd to make way for her. I am already thinking about my crumpled clothes and the impending hearing with the Commissioner.  

I had told you upfront I am not much of a do-gooder , at least not a very conscious one in any case. So, you can say I just got plain lucky with Prabha on both the occasions and ended up reaping fruits of the seeds I did not really sow. I hope Prabha keeps well enough not to ever require any help from me .But just in case she does , I also hope I have in me whatever it takes to do a service to her in a manner as unassuming as hers was on both the occasions.

Lets go back to my opening line now, shall we ? To me it still sounds like just one of the lines the teacher made it your daily chore to write on the blackboard .

By the way, how about discussing the gender of God ?   



Thursday, 11 August 2011


I don't write diary. Never did. But after a really action-packed day with my hospitalised brother , as i was alone and waiting for sleep to come, felt like rewinding the day in mind and writing down my thoughts and observations. A laptop was handy and sleep far away, so ended up putting together these four and a half pages of monologue. Felt like sharing it with all the like-minded who make the most of all such meaningful moments that they live most intensely. Life generally has a way of hurling bombs or  flowers  at you when you least expect either in any given situation. This day yet again reiterated to me , the importance of living in the present, for you never know what’s coming next. Here goes…


Monday , the 20th of June, 2011

I am at Hinduja Hospital keeping Madhu company. Its been more than 3 weeks now that he is fighting what has been a topsy-turvy battle with a decease that’s as rare as a gem that he himself is.

We spent last evening listening to “Meraj-e-Ghazal” . An album by Ghulam Ali and Asha Bhosle from the 80s that is just as fresh even today as it was then. Both of us agree it is as close to perfection as anything can possibly get. We listen to a ghazal, put the player on pause while we just keep very still and quiet , feeling the vibrations around us, created by both the singing and the heartbreaking  poetry. Then we talk about the experience, draw comparisons with a few more such experiences that we have shared before. Then move on to the next ghazal. It’s a collection of 12 ghazals and the combination of his waning strength and the antibiotics get Madhu drowsy by the 11th ghazal and he drifts into a tired slumber. It takes me at least another hour of beckoning as usual before sleep comes to me.

“Ek Onkar Satnam….” My alarm goes off at 5.30. I must have slept like a log because I am wide awake and fresh. I feel like kicking myself when he says he had to get up around 1.30 to visit the  loo and  for  a walk in the corridor all by himself to ease the discomfort that he gets every now and then because of gases. Some companion you are, I say to myself, to have snored the night away when the guy could have feinted in his   walk , as weak as he was. I play it smart by admonishing him for not waking me and pulling stunts all by himself.

Another busy day begins at the hospital. To quote Arthur Hailey from his “Hospital, “tide and ebb of suffering humanity begins”. Amidst contrasting scenes in each department depicting sorrow and joy, hope and despair , everything Madhu does is directed at the big battle that lies ahead. Every dose of antibiotics, every meal, every sip of water, every nap, every conversation , even every call of nature assumes  an unprecedented importance in his single-minded climb back to fitness. The kind of all-round fitness a boxer needs before he steps into the ring. There is just one small discord in this comparison,. A boxer  fights for a win, a prize, but my brother is preparing to get in the ring with fate. But his feisty attitude is charging up everybody around him , including myself. All of us seem to draw strength from him instead of the other way round. I tell him this and draw just a smile from him that is at once kind and confident. If I had a hat on , I would keep taking it off to him all day. I know, not exactly a great idea to follow up on, not in a hospital in any case.

I stuff myself silly on the food from the hospital pantry. Madhu , somehow seems to be convinced that just because he is hospitalized , he need not lose his hospitality . He offers me his sweet dish, asks me if I would like a juice , and in a nutshell , manages to make me feel even more ornery than I have a reason to feel. One thing I am very glad of though, and that is the time we share together talking about our favorite topics. Cricket, Books, Movies, Music, Our childhood …. Not necessarily in that order though. I think this is what people call quality time. But having said that, I cant help but feel that if its going to take Madhu’s illness for me to  have this warped quality time , I can do without it, boss, I’ll just pass. Bring on the dull, mundane business/politics/weather talks anytime but just get this guy outta here and into health.

As I am thinking these pessimistic, futile and useless thoughts, Madhu surprises me yet again by steering the conversation to some of his future plans regarding his clinic, his work , the places to visit, the people to meet. Seema joins us and they are completely oblivious of their plight, the surroundings, even the clear and present danger as they start discussing the patients Seema handled yesterday. For now, they are just a couple of dentists swapping ideas, insights and plans . Another place, another time and they might even get downright argumentative with each other deciding the best course of action for their patients.. Not once do  I hear a word  about their fees, or their time. Its all about patient care, pain relief, and  compassion. It makes me wish I had a movie camera with me so that I could get their patients to see  how lucky they are to get nothing but pure, skillful, even abstract but committed dentistry , even from a hospital bed.

Time to go to the OT for the surgical procedure that would internalize the drainage and rid Madhu of the contraption he has to carry around with him. The guy does not admit to fear but I can see it in his eyes. Having taken so much pain for such a long time, he had once said he was more afraid of the pain than of death itself. He is wheeled in. Seema dozes in the chair. She is resigned to the fact that except for Madhus physical pain, this whole nightmare is as much her journey as it is his.  I, of course, sneak away to Madhus room to feed myself on the visitors lunch.

The OT door opens, and Raju, my bro-in-law who works for the hospital wheels Madhu out himself. Madhu’s face is blank, inscrutable till the time his is left alone with us waiting to be wheeled back to his room. Then the fa├žade cracks, the veneer is washed away by the tears of the excruciating pain that he had to suffer in the OT.. He is too weak and frail for the doctors to risk the general anesthesia, but the LA proved inadequate for the procedure that required stab incisions. Raju tries a few wisecracks but they probably don’t even register, as tears flow freely. Seema is holding his hand and wiping his tears, her own held back with the strength that never seems to wane. Back in his room, he dozes off after a painkiller . All of us are now worried of the pain that might come back with a vengeance, now that his insides have been tampered with and violated with the presence of foreign bodies. He wakes up after an hour and a half of deep slumber and all of us, including himself are pleasantly surprised at the absence of pain. Buoyed by this, he decides to take his chances with lunch, and puts up a good performance at it. We decide to ride on our luck and I take him for a stroll in the corridor. Two rounds turn into six without any major discomfort and we know the procedure has been a success. Back in the room for some more music, and some wisecracks now from Madhu himself.

Its getting to that time of the day that Madhu hates the most. There are no defined visiting hours here at Hinduja but the evenings seem to bring all the well-wishers, do-gooders, and even some  fair-weather friends out of the woodwork and thronging to the hospital. Its part of my assigned portfolio here to keep shuttling up and down with the         ‘visitor-passes’ to escort or chaperone the visitors to see Madhu. It ,of course, goes without saying that whether or not Madhu wants to see them is completely irrelevant. Now, lets be fair here, because most of the visitors are the people Madhu would be reasonably happy meeting normally. Some are very close friends Madhu would just love meeting. And then there are some…well, there are several categories, right ? But the poor guy has taken so much pain and suffering over last 15/20 days that he is just not up to meeting ANYBODY when he doesn’t feel like it. He doesn’t even want to meet his own reflection in the mirror these days.  Seriously, he has said this to me in as many words. . Many of the visitors  are not even sure whom  the visit is going to help more, Madhu, or themselves. But, in all fairness, the visitors come with good intentions, not knowing Madhu’s state of mind. Its out of  this conflicting mindsets, an episode is about to  happen this evening that is  straight out of a Hrishikesh Mukerjee/Basu Bhattacharya film.

It unfolded thus. The security guard at the gate called  Madhu’s room and announced a couple by the name of “Dr. Sharma and Mrs. Sharma” to see Madhu. An elderly couple, according to the guard. Madhu, for the life of his, could neither remember nor recollect any such couple known to him. After cranking the old nut up several tweaks, he recollected one such couple from Ambernath and was immediately convinced he didn’t want to meet them. But I had to go down 14 floors to get the well-wishing couple up and the show had to go on. Madhu decided to test his own acting skills in order to wriggle out of this unwanted rendezvous. He asked me to pull all the curtains, switch off the lights and generally tuck him in for a put-on act of sleep that would discourage his visitors from any conversation and persuade them to leave as soon as they had put in their customary “tsk, tsk” , a sideways motion of heads and a sigh or two. Little did he know that fate was not only conspiring against his plans but was snickering at them too.

Down I went, brandishing two visitors passes , looking for the elderly Dr.Sharma and Mrs.Sharma from Ambernath. As it turned out, I was surprised to see a couple from Bandra I actually knew from around 18 years ago. The Dr.Sharma the guard had announced was just a Mr.Sharma  and not a doctor by a long shot. The guard had goofed up with his announcement. Although they were a nice couple, genuinely concerned about Madhu, I knew enough to decide that in his present mood they were not welcome .   I had  the story down pat about Madhu being particularly tired after a surgical procedure and  fast asleep. And of course, the well-mannered and genuinely concerned couple that they were , they decided to leave without meeting him, not wanting to disturb him. Faced with such understanding and true compassion, I felt like a cheap con-artist but I had to match my bro’s acting skills to make sure our performances paid off. I thanked them profusely , assured them of conveying their best wishes to Madhu and waived them goodbye. So far so good, eh ?

Patting myself on the back for a virtuoso performance , I sneaked in a quick tea on my way back up to the 14th flr. I entered Madhu’s room only to find another genuinely concerned looking lady sitting next to Madhu, patiently  waiting for him to wake up. She thought I was just another visitor , so , in a hushed voice she told me to keep my voice low, as Madhu was fast asleep. After the hushed intros I stole a glance at Madhu and congratulated him silently on a performance that seemed to match mine. Did I hear him snore ? I am not sure. Now I was faced with an encore with this lady , who incidentally was a doctor herself and a friend of Madhu’s to boot. She had to be  a very close friend  because she said I was free to go home if I wanted to and she would happily keep Madhu company till Seema came  back. This was a real curve-ball if ever there was one thrown at me. I now had to take a call about this situation . I put two and two together and came up with a theory that if Madhu is still carrying on with his role of sleeping beauty, this doctor friend of his cant be all that high on the list of people he wanted to be with. I had to slip back into my role of a caring bro who had to make sure the patient got his much needed rest and was not disturbed. I led the lady out of the room under the pretext of wanting to bring her up to speed on Madhu’s condition. Once out of the room , the lady nearly broke down , overcome with her distress over Madhus miserable condition. I inwardly cursed Madhu on being such a stone-heart and not waking up from his “sleep” to greet this sweet friend . Looked like he was enjoying his own performance , but there is such a thing called “overkill”. I used all my skills to ensure the sweet little lady that although Madhu was very tired after the afternoon procedure and needed every bit of rest he got , he surely was not as bad as he looked. She offered to come back again in an hour with her husband, who also was supposedly a good friend of Madhu’s. But of course, the seasoned actor that I was by now, I convinced her that it would be a better idea for them both to come back the next day. Then even Madhu would be far better and more presentable after a  good night’s rest. Either I am a far better actor than I ever suspected I was , or , the poor lady was hopelessly gullible, because she left in far better spirits than she was in 5 minutes ago. So far so good  yet again, right ?

Wrong. I came back to Madhu’s room and he furtively looked at me with half-opened eyes. I gave him a thumbs up, rolled back his sheets, levered up his bed, switched on the lights and pulled the curtains back open. The curfew was over.

Then I brought him up to speed on both my performances, gloating over the highlights. The revelation about the Dr. Sharma not being a ‘Dr.’ and just a ‘Mr’ dropped a nickel for him and he immediately recollected the old couple and identified them for the loving and caring people that they were. But still, he said it was a good thing they did not come up to see him in this condition. It would have only made them feel sad and helpless, so, no harm done there. Then he had to slap his forehead when I told him that they left with a promise to come back the next day.

He thought for a minute and said “ Hey, if they left without coming up, who was the lady sitting next to me ? I thought it was Mrs.Sharma whom I was in no mood to converse with !”

When I told him she was a self-proclaimed doctor friend of his , named Dr.xyz, it was time for him to slap his forehead once again. He just could not decide whether to laugh or cry at this comedy of errors . Because the doctor lady was one of his closest friends , one he would have wanted to meet and enjoy the company of . With the lights switched off, the curtains pulled, and being in the middle of an act , neither could he see her face clearly, nor could he recognize her whispering  voice .

We kept staring at each other for what seemed like hours but actually for half a minute, and then broke open with a laughter as if at the count of three. It was an effort for him, even to laugh, what with those punctures on his stomach and the tube inside , but this was something we both had to make the most of .

This has convinced me as nothing else would have, that humor has a way of running into you in the most unexpected of places and at the most unexpected of times. All you need to do is keep your windows open for it all the time. I am sure Madhu is going to get out of this predicament with flying colors, but not before one hell of a fight . And when he does, thank God the memories of these testing times are not all going to be sad. We plan to get even the Sharmas and that sweet friend of Madhu’s in on this little comedy of errors  at an opportune time and multiply the laughter with a bigger number of people .

Seema came in late from an errand. She too had played an inadvertent hand in this wodehousesque plot, you see, because it was she who had arranged for Dr.xyz to visit just in case I had to leave early.  It was late and I had to leave so I left as soon as Seema arrived. I am sure Madhu brought her in the loop in his own inimitable style, but I was in too much of a hurry to stop and check his prowess at storytelling.

The last glimpse I had of them for the day, as the lift doors closed, was a pretty picture. Sitting next to each other , holding hands, waving goodbye to me with a smile , they looked just as beautiful and in control as ever.    

                                                ======= X ========

Wednesday, 10 August 2011


by Sadanand Bendre on Sunday, May 15, 2011 at 12:33pm
Acutally, this happened a couple of months ago…. One or two of my friends know about this but I thought a few more could use the message this story contains.

I went to the nearest petrol pump to get my bike a fill . It’s a place where they have gift shops, a cake shop etc. As my bike was getting filled , I saw a street urchin girl of about my Mukta’s age. 10 /11 maybe. Dirty hair, clothes in tatters, she was staring at a piece of cake on display with such a longing that my heart went out to her. Mind you , she was not begging or being any kind of nuisance to anybody at all. My bike got filled, I went to her and asked her “ Cake khayegi ? She nodded shyly at first and then said “ nahin, nahin”. Her attempt at dignity was so heartbreaking. So I said “ Kha lo , mujhe bhi khana hai “ and bought a piece each for both of us. I quickly finished mine and started the bike. She thanked me with her eyes.

NOW, comes the most interesting part. We have always been told that when one hand gives, not even the other hand should know about it. That a good deed is to be immediately forgotten by the doer. But, it’s a lot easier said than done. We sub-consciously , if not consciously tend to look for some instant gratification from any little good deed we do. I went a few yards away where I could see that girl from but she could not see me. I probably wanted full value of my money by watching the girl enjoy that piece of cake and later on maybe pat myself on the back for it.

She unwrapped the piece , took a bite hesitantly , chewed with great relish, giving me value for each single naya paisa of mine. Then , just after a single bite, she thought for a minute , wrapped it back in the same paper and pocketed it. Now, to see someone covet something with such a longing and then not devour it after having it , probably played spoilsport for me. Something prompted me to go back to her. She gave me a puzzled, even a wary look .

I asked her “ Cake kyon nahi khaya ? Achha nahi laga ?” She had absolutely no reason to feel the guilt that showed on her face.

Hesitantly she said “ Mere chhote bhai ke liya rakha hai” .

Faced with such dignity and such guileless love, my quest for instant gratification died an instant death. Without a word, I bought another piece, handed it to her and off I went without another look at her. How could I accept her gratitude when it was I who was grateful for the lesson on selfless love and innocent dignity ? Being a street-urchin, this kid could have showed some street-smartness and conned me but she hadn’t.

There, that’s about it.

I wouldn’t even dream of insulting your intelligence by telling you the moral of the story, but, for me there was something more than the obvious on offer. Had I acted on the pre-conceived belief of it not being a good thing to expect anything in return for a good deed, and left the scene, I would have missed out on a first hand lesson that no book could have taught me as effectively. So, the bonus moral of the story for me is “ Follow your instincts even against what your mind tells you sometimes. The mind is conditioned , life never is ! Just play the ball as it comes.



 It was the  summer of 1989. I was employed with a firm that undertook accounts writing jobs and got us to visit the clients on a weekly basis to write their accounts. When I say “ write” I mean exactly that. Computers were as rare back then as an uncorrupt  politician is today. Not for us was the luxury of entering data and have a balance-sheet ready in no time whatsoever. Long and thick registers to be entered in , totaled, tallied , checked and rechecked before anything of substance in terms  of accounts would be ready.
It was on one such visit that day when I first met Roshanbi . It was a sweltering afternoon in what barely passed for an office in a dilapidated building, bang opposite the infamous red-light area of Grant Road. This Gujarati client of our firm must either have been the brokest man in town when he bought that place, or , the smartest man to invest a pittance in his business  and  still be conveniently placed to carry out his  carnal wanderings that were safely hidden away from his wife in Kandivli. A disgruntled staff-member of his had been kind enough to share this dope with me.
So, leave alone an air-conditioner , on this background  I considered myself lucky to have a rickety old ceiling fan whirring away over my head . It was around 1.00 and  the boss was out as usual to tend to  the hunger pangs that he almost always seemed to get either in his belly or a little lower down.  Both the ceiling-fan and I were toiling away at our respective jobs when I heard someone gently clear their throat behind me.
I turned around to see a woman of about 44/45 standing behind me with a broom in her hands and an expression on her face that was at once both apologetic and impatient. Dressed in a salwar-kameez that had seen better days but  worn with   a poise that seemed completely misplaced in a place like that. Very frail, even sickly looking  but with a face that was severe in a no-nonsense manner. Chewing on a paan in  the nonchalant manner that comes only after a riyaaz of at least 30 years, she waited for me to get away from my table so that she could do her round of “jhadoo-pochha” and go to the next office. I got up and went to the window that had a great view of the  hustle- bustle on the street below. Commodities ranging from cheap clothes, stale sweets,  and  bodies that were both cheap and stale were on display .Doing a brisk business too.
She did her stuff fairly efficiently , but did I hear something clatter-drop a minute ago ? I was not sure. Was it a furtive glance that she gave me before she hurried away to the next office ? I was not sure.
The boss came back, visibly having satiated whichever type of hunger he might have had on the day . An hour and a half full of chitchatting about “Dhanda” and “Market” passed, with me somehow trying to concentrate on job at hand and  putting on a convincing act of listening to him and nodding at appropriate times. After a customary cutting chai it was time to leave. This was one place I was always in a hurry to leave , no prizes for guessing why . I gathered my belongings , shook hands with the boss and left.

It was when I was getting ready for work the next day, that I found that my old  favorite Sheaffer fountain pen was missing. Did I forget it at THAT of all the places ? Oh no !
I was now faced with the  dreaded choice of going back there for it , or, to wait till my next visit which was due next week. Those were the days when fountain-pens were used , maintained painstakingly and  little ink-bottles were as much a part of a brief case as a laptop is of  a backpack these days. That pen was a favorite for the simple reason that it was a gift from my sister , paid for from her first paycheck. Another good sisterly act from her in allowing me to pinch her own pen for a week saved me from trudging back immediately to Grant Road.
After a week I visited that place again. The boss was not exactly thrilled with my response of “ Mera pen yahan kahin mila kya apko ? to his most cordial “ Jai Shrikrishna” . He reluctantly opened his drawer and examined the contents for the missing article.
 “ Nahin bhai ! yahan toh nahin , raste mein ya train mein gir gaya hoga” he offered.
 After a few pleasantries , he inevitably left to take care of some “business” and I got busy with mine. Around the same time as last week , the woman came in with her broom and as I was about to clear the place for her to do her stuff , she said “ Saab, us din aapka pen yahan gira hua mila . Ye lijiye” and handed over the pen to me. Of course it was a fountain pen, and of course it was a Sheaffer , but , it was a brand new one instead of my battered old relative of it.
“Yeh toh mera pen nahi hai ! Mera pen toh bahot purana tha ! I said.
“ Malum hai ! Lekin us din galti se wo pen mere hath se gir gaya tha aur toot gaya tha”
“ Lekin yeh toh naya pen hai , bahot mahenga hai, apne kyon kharida ?
She said she knew that pen cost Rs.175 because her own daughter who was now studying in “pardes” used the same pen. She would not take any argument from me as to why I should not accept that replacement and why she should not splurge just to correct  something that had happened accidentally.
She said “ Saab, if you don’t take this pen I would feel like a sinner in the eyes of Allah.  I was also worried you might suspect me of stealing your pen and complain to the boss. Thank you for not doing so, otherwise I would lose a respectable job and my tainted past would once again catch up with me and then it would be extremely difficult for me to get another  job like this  ”
Then she told me her story, who she was, what she did for a living , how much   she earned and most importantly what made her go on battling with life , against all odds.
Roshanbi  was one of 9 children of a plumber. When the cheap liqueur started drinking him and his pockets dry, he sold her to a prostitute for 15000 rupees when she was 12 .To this day, ironically enough,  she remembers that day as the happiest of her childhood. Because that was the day she got her first new dress, shoes, toys and  a stomach that was full  after she could not remember how long.
But  then came the vultures who had to have their rightful piece of her meat in exchange of the currency notes they threw at her madam. Life became hell ,and then, gradually  hell became her life.
Amidst  several bouts of illnesses that have a very respectable term  in our respectable world called “occupational hazards” , motherhood too was forced upon her as one of those hazards. A daughter who is now 20 came as a ray of hope in the gloom of her darkness. A daughter she wanted to raise “ gentleman like” . Not for her was to be the ignominy of a slime-rat , the paws of meat-packers and a life on the rack with a ‘use by’ date. Her little Saba was going to break the shackles of this life of drudgery and sin and make something of herself unlike her ‘mazboor’ mother who never had a chance at life.
A Charitable organization working in the red-light area picked up Saba as one of the beneficiaries to a program called “Asha-Kiran” and sponsored her schooling . This was just the catalyst Roshanbi needed to give up the life of a prostitute and start working in various capacities like a housemaid, Milkmaid, even a Garbage-picker. It was not easy to hold on to jobs in the so called respectable society because of her background. But she fought on gamely till the day when her Saba was sponsored yet again for higher education in the US , the land of dreams. Now she worked hard, still fought the leering glances , still got accosted by the “so called gentlemen” , but kept her head high, her conscience clean and waited for the day when her Saba would settle down with a respectable job and would send for her.
“ Wo din kab ayega , Roshanbi ?”  I probably was as  impatient as this doughty woman had been patient in adversity.
“ Saab, wo din pahle aye , ya uparwaleka bulawa pahle aye, mere liye toh donohi jannat ke barabar hai” Said Roshanbi.
I worked for  my firm for the next 3 years and then quit the job   to venture out on my own . During those 3 years , Roshanbi would always greet me with “ Salaam saab” and would sometimes ask me to read her daughters letters to her. I even wrote a few for her. With the same Sheaffer pen that even today is a fond memory of Roshanbi  .
I visited this Gujarati bossman about 4 years ago, more in the hope to see how Roshanbi was doing than out of any affection for him, but was told she had left without any word or a forwarding address. It has been 18 years since I last met her. No idea where she might be today. Does it matter whether she is with her Saba, or with her Allah ?
Wherever she is,  I know she is home, for the first time in her life.