Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Chandipur, Love-Marriage and Plants for Garden

Last week, the wife and i visited Chandipur to attend a Marriage-Reception.

Chandipur is the place from where surface-to-surface missiles like Agni and Prithvi are test-launched by the Indian Defence Department. It is a beach on the Bay of Bengal. In the beginning, a question arose in my mind - Why is it called ‘Chandipur-on-Sea’? Similarly, there is another place called 'Gopalpur-on-Sea'. Why not simply Chandipur or Gopalpur? Puri is not called ‘Puri-on-Sea' and Kolkata is not called 'Kolkata-on-Sea'!

The venue of the reception and our accommodation was two minutes’ walk from the sea. We had arrived in the evening preceding the reception. Early morning next day, we strolled on the beach. During the previous night, the water had receded about a kilometer from the beach. I was told that many times water recedes almost 5 kilo meters. It comes back and the waves touch the beach during the day. We visited the beach again at about 10 PM. The waves were beating against the golden sand intermittently. The full winter moon was shedding its soothing light and the waves were reflecting it as an elongated and moving stretch, creating a wonderful sight. The chill of December added to the charm of the experience. I had observed a similar phenomenon on a beach in Malaysia. Why does this happen? Why does the sea recede during the night? I had taken advantage of this phenomenon at Malaysia, to collect a large and lovely coral (which otherwise remains under water at other times). The water had receded during the night exposing the corals. I collected one coral during my morning walk on the beach. I have fixed a base for it with plaster of Paris covered with varnish and the piece occupies a pride of place in my drawing room, providing us with a good conversation-piece with our visitors. (Taking away corals is not permissible in Malaysia but i had managed it :))))))

Now about the marriage. It was a love-marriage. The boy is a Hindu and the girl, a Muslim. A thought swayed my mind. Love-marriages are breaking down caste and community barriers in India. In this way, love-marriages are helping integration of Indians. We may be educated; we declare ourselves as broad-minded. We say that we do not believe in the caste-system. Yet when the time for looking for a bride or a groom for our offspring comes, we fall back on the old customs and practice. In case of arranged marriages, almost all parents look within their castes and communities and never think outside these self-imposed boundaries! Now, more and more young people are choosing their own life-partners and in many cases, they do not confine themselves to their own caste or community. (Kyonki pyar kiya nahi jata hai; pyar ho jata hai!) Definitely this is helping national integration. Maybe, in the not so distant future, as education spreads and more and more girls take up jobs, love-marriages will become the norm in India rather than the exception that they are now. I must hasten to add here that i am not entering into a debate on arranged marriages vs. love marriages.

This reminds me of a TV ad. In it, the daughter-in-law, apparently a person who preferred love-marriage, mischievously asks her loving grandmother-in-law if the latter’s was a love-marriage or an arranged one. The good old lady, responding in the same spirit of joviality, replies, “His (her husband’s) barat was at our door; I could no longer suppress my curiosity and looked down from the balcony and by coincidence, he looked up at the same time. Our eyes met. Hua na love-marriage!”

Talking of marriages, my mind travels to marriage-invitation cards. I notice that almost all the marriage-invitation cards received by me in the recent past, are in English, although i know for sure that with rare exceptions, all the invitees are locals. Then why not print the invitation cards in the local languages which will provide more natural and pleasurable reading ? Do the hosts think that the invitees cannot read the local language, or is it to show that they have arrived? To make matters worse, in many cases, there are mistakes galore in the cards printed in English which are not easy on the eyes of people who like correct and good English! If some of the invitees are from abroad or other places and do not know the local language, about 100 of the cards can be gotten printed in English without any additional cost!

Also, the legend on the welcome-arch ('Rashmi weds Ranganath') is always (you guessed it!) in English.

One more thing. Almost all the invitation cards end with Smt. So and So, and below that, Sri So and So. as the hostess and the host respectively. It is forgotten here that while it is courteous to add the Sri or Smt. to the names of the addressees, one should not add these prefixes while writing one’s own name.

After two glorious and fun-filled days, we returned home, of course, without forgetting my first love and favourite pastime; I requested for and received for my garden, generous gifts from the hostess (she is an old buddy of the wife), a few saplings, cuttings and seeds from her lovely garden, resplendent and bursting with winter colours. :))))))))))))))))

Although we were out for only 2 days, after returning we felt like we had come back from a long vacation. It is very refreshing and rejuvenating to leave one's place and go out for a few days for a change.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

The Wagah Drill

Recently i came across a news report saying that Pakistan has once again not agreed to the Indian proposal for toning down the show of the ritualistic hostility that is famously a part of the daily flag-lowering ceremony at Wagah gate on the India-Pakistan border.

This drill had been started in 1959. For 45 minutes daily at sunset, Pakistani Rangers and jawans of Border Security Force of India high-kick, stamp, speed march and bawl their way through a choreographed routine, staring into each others’ eyes and dramatically extending an arm, the fist entrenched and the thumb held skywards, while lowering their respective flags. This display attracts about 15,000 tourists and spectators every evening.

It appears like a ritualistic choreography of mutual aggression. The guards rush out, seemingly about to pounce on each other in utmost fury. They raise their knees almost chest-high and then stomp down with full force. It would seem the intent is either to make the earth tremble or to deliberately crack one’s legs! All that boot-stomping must be causing the poor soldiers’ knees, spine and other bones to creak painfully! :((((

This 'war', after the 1947 Partition, albeit by peaceful means, is going to beat Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage which lasted 118 years!

The show beats any filmi opening ceremony. Like any other show, there are balcony and stall seats. There is a cheer leader to coordinate the chanting of slogans on each side. In the hour preceding the actual ceremony, people compete to run up and down to the tune of patriotic filmi songs carrying the respective 2 national flags. It is like any Bollywood show: two heroes trying to outclass each other and to prove whose act is louder, bigger or stronger. The 'Mine is Bigger than Yours' show begins with the words of command like the alaapana of a classical singer elongating each word and showing how long he can hold his breath. Selected tall soldiers unnecessarily march many times up and down and stomp like martinets in a Charlie Chaplin comedy. Shoulder/arm flexing, eye-to-eye glaring, chest puffing with arms akimbo are all part of the choreographed show. India has gone up by getting two female soldiers to open the proceedings. Pakistanis sometimes bring a lone Sikh soldier to match it.

To bring peace between the 2 countries, a suggestion has been : why not start this ceremony by shouting 'Pakistan Zindabad' and then watch whether other side can match this?

Attempts were made in 2004 and even earlier, to replace this practice with a simple and dignified one but these did not succeed due to resurfacing of tension between the 2 countries. In 2006, the BSF unilaterally announced that it would discontinue the aggressive gestures as the drill is to pay respect to the respective national flags and in that, angry gestures have no relevance. However, Pakistani Rangers did not reciprocate.

So the comic show continues providing the tourists and spectators a source of entertainment and mirth!:))))

And the poor guards' bones continue creaking and the earth continues shaking.:(((

Friday, 12 November 2010

Spell Bound


That was the legend written below the name of the restaurant on the board fixed outside the small eatery. It intrigued me and i asked the man at the cash counter near its entrance. He pointed his finger towards the refrigerator with a transparent glass door. I saw beer bottles stored in it and this made things clear to me. It was indeed chilled beer and the restaurant was not selling infant bears as pet!

(By the way, who invented the cute little word ‘fridge’ as a substitute to the long and labour-intensive word 'refrigerator' and to rhyme with ‘bridge’?)

If one goes around reading the writings on the rear side of lorries, one will wonder at the myriad possibilities of using (misusing) spellings of English words. ‘Keep distence’, warned one; ‘nason first, person afterwards’ exhorted another! And still another, after bidding 'O K, TATA', said, 'Work is war ship.'

At another eating place, i saw, ‘Lunch and snakes available here.’ Inside it, there was the warning, ‘No Smo King’. At yet another small eatery, i saw ‘Phamily Cabin’ written outside a small enclosure inside it.

In a small town, i read ‘City Bus Cervice’ painted on a local transport. In the same town, where i had given some clothes to a laundry for cleaning, the Receipt cautioned, “We shall not be irresponsible for any damage to the clothes.” Notice near a swimming pool read, 'Any accident caused during swimming is your responsibility.' I wondered whether it will be the responsibility of the swimmer or that of the person passing by and casually reading the notice.

Near my house there are 3 kiosks named ‘Beetle Shop’, ‘Pawn Shop’ and ‘Pan shop’ selling betel. Next to it is a small sign-board declaring ‘To Let- Shop’s and Offices’. How many places i have seen Name Boards declaring the building as ‘Boy’s Hostel! Is it meant for only one boy? And how many Name Boards i have seen with capital 'I's with dots over them!

I saw a notice near the gate of one Telephone Bhawan, ‘Complaint Book Available with Gaurd on Duty’. However, actually, i saw there no guard on duty. This reminded me of a story about the legendary poet Kalidas. He was in disguise and had joined other bearers to carry a King in a palanquin. The King asked (in Sanskrit), “ Kim skandham badhati?” (Are you experiencing pain in your shoulders?”) Kalidas replied, “Skandham na badhate rajan, taba badhati badhate.” (“There is no pain in the shoulders; the pain is given by your ‘badhati’” ) In Sanskrit, the correct grammatical form of the verb is ‘badhate’ and not ‘badhati’ used by the King. What Kalidas meant was that the real pain was caused by the King’s use of the wrong form of the verb. In this instance, what troubled me, was not the absence of the guard but the spelling mistake!

At one place where the road was being repaired, i saw a notice ‘Caution, Man at Work’. I felt the description was very apt, as out of the 4 labourers, only one man was working; the other 3 were relaxing by the wayside.

Wherever I see some sign in English, spelling mistake, if any, immediately attracts my attention. However, whenever I type something, after typing for sometime, I get a little tired very soon and some typographical errors creep in. Either, a letter goes missing from a word or some words get jumbled but when I go through the draft to find out any mistake, some mistakes escape my attention! Is it because we love to find mistakes of others but our own foibles escape our attention?

When my daughters were in school, i used to help them in studies sometimes. At that time i had told them there is a difference in merely correct English and good English. Correct English includes correct punctuation and spelling and good English includes choosing apt words. It is the proper adjectives that add to the beauty of English. Wordsmiths choose exactly apt words to write enjoyable pieces.


The Name Board of a small commercial unit had the inscription ‘Juhi Cha Wala’. A peep into the unit showed that it was indeed a tea shop! An enquiry with the proprietor revealed that he had named it after his daughter Juhi!

Monday, 8 November 2010

Everything Is Fair in Love and Gardening

I do not know when the gardening-bug bit me first. As far as i remember it was in Patna that i purchased 2 indoor plants and placed them in the drawing room. The wife never agrees with me on whatever i do but this time there was perfect harmony. Of course, she did not say it in so many words and in fact objected to it, which, i read perfectly, was half-hearted (Her half-hearted 'no' in fact meant 'yes'.) . I caught her secretly sitting near the plants and admiring them. Her eyes said that she simply loved them but she did not show it.

The open and unused terrace of the building provided me with a perfect area which i used for placing and growing plants. Then i saw a banyan-sapling outside the house. I playfully brought it and planted it in a pot. The plant generously responded to the love and care that i showered on it. When it grew into a considerable height with a substantially thick trunk, i cut it into two and placed the upper portion in another pot. To my utter delight, it responded and grew into a lovely second plant! That was in the late 80's. These 2 plants are still with me and i show them off to my friends and visitors as bonsai although i have not read any book or article on the subject. I do it in my own way and trim the plants just before the spring season. Now there are 5 such banyan plants and one peepal plant gloriously sitting in pots in my garden.

Since then i have had a fairly good collection of potted plants which i used to carry with me each time i moved almost all over India on transfers demanded by my job. It was a heart-rending experience to see some plants damaged during transit.

After retirement, i have settled in my old house built 27 years ago.

I have flowering plants in the the small area in front and 2 flowering creepers on the iron arcs fixed over the 2 gates. In the back-yard, i have planted some small as well as big flowering plants and a few flowering trees.

In the further back-yard, I have a kitchen-garden.

Wherever i find some open patch with potential for holding a plant, i go ahead in my own small way, in the cause of a greener and less warm Earth.

To add to my collection of flowering plants, i buy, beg, borrow and steal wherever i find an exotic variety. Yes, steal and smuggle! I buy saplings from nurseries; i also collect saplings, cuttings and bulbs of exotic plants from the wild; i beg my friends and relatives to give these. Occasionally, my friends and relatives present me with plants as gifts on my and their birthdays and on other special occasions. My daughters and sons-in-law bring flowering plants and other greens from abroad. And on one occasion, when i knew that these methods will not work, and it was a particularly attractive plant, i adopted the last method, persuading myself that taking a cutting is almost harmless and will not cause much loss either to the plant or to the owner. But the ever vigilant daughter discovered the act in no time and this was followed by a candid confession and a prompt forgiveness. :) Isn't everything fair in love and war, and gardening?

Whenever i visit some place, I look for plants to carry. I have plants from Patna, Kolkata, Lucknow, Hyderabad, Andamans, Coimbatore, Ooty and Singapore and from different places here. Like the photos in my albums, these plants carry sweet memories. Each such plant has a tale to tell. And whenever i sit near any one of these, each story unfolds itself bringing its own nostalgia!

Plants have been my first love. (Of course, after the wife and the daughters!) Plants are my greatest friends. Whenever I feel a little depressed or worried, I go and sit near a plant. And the depression or worry bothering me simply evaporates away instantly!!!

When i first set up the kitchen-garden, i had a not very good experience. The first pumpkin, whose growth i was following keenly, was stolen! I was crest-fallen. I suspected some labourers staying nearby. To prevent further such incidents, i adopted Gandhigiri. The next crops were tomatoes which were in a substantially large quantity. After keeping some for us, i distributed the tomatoes among the suspects by adopting the strategy, 'Steal One and Get One Free'. After that, stealing has stopped. Now, when vegetables grow in my garden, they come and ask for it and i readily share these with them. And of course, i share my vegetables with my other neighbors. My second pumpkin weighed 9.5 kg!

Dishes prepared from vegetables grown in your own garden taste really great! :))))))) I do not use any chemical fertiliser. I recycle the waste materials from the garden and the kitchen, turn them into compost and use these as organic manure.

More on greening the Earth in my next post. :)))))))))))))))))

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Senior Citizen

A little more than a year ago i was promoted to the rank of a Senior Citizen. At the relevant juncture i was to travel by train from Visakhapatnam to Bhubaneswar and back. I had filled 2 separate Reservation Forms for the two journeys. I was thrilled to note that the fare for return journey was much lower than that for the onward journey and the code word 'SRCTZN' was added in the second ticket. This magic was performed by the fact that the date of my birth fell between the 2 journeys. I was below 60 at the time of the onward journey and crossed the magic age just before the return journey. I had become a Senior Citizen between the 2 journeys and the Railways were kind enough to extend me the privilege of having to pay a lower fare.

Soon after that, i retired from the services of my Bank. Two weeks before my scheduled date of retirement, my would-be successor joined. I took him to the Bank's clients for introducing him to them. The first client to whom i introduced my successor was a close friend of mine. Just before we left and my successor had walked ahead a little, my friend called me aside and told, " It appears he and not you, is due for retirement." The reason for this comment was that i still sport a dark crop of hair on my head and my successor already had a grey-coloured crown!

One bane of a senior citizen still having a head of dark hair, is that while traveling in trains, when he enters, no one gets up to offer him a seat while a much junior person with grey hair, is mistakenly extended that courtesy. I have suffered from this many times. Indeed I am expected to vacate my seat in favour of a person who may be junior to me, but by looks appears to be a senior citizen.

However, Income Tax Department in India has its own rules. For them the threshold age is 65 years and any person below that age is considered as still a junior citizen!!!

It is an irony of human life that no person is happy with his/her age! A child tries to show off as older than his/her age by wearing his/her parent's shoes/dress. An adolescent dislikes being directed by his/her parents and protests that s/he is old enough to take her/his own decisions. And the reverse trend starts after a certain period. Ladies (and some males also) try to hold on to their young age, even by dyeing. A lady dislikes being addressed as 'auntie' and prefers the address 'didi'. Senior citizens revert to shorts to look younger! Isn't old age called the second childhood? And when the occasion demands, they point to their grey hair as a sign of their wisdom!

Recently, Shabana Azmi said that she is happy to be 60!

Most people would wish to hold the advancing age. A few people like to age gracefully.

Meanwhile i have been enjoying my new status of a senior citizen

Sunday, 17 October 2010

This Will Pass


Many years ago, i had read R K Narayan’s novel ‘Painter of Signs’ serialized in the then famous, but later discontinued, magazine ‘The Illustrated Weekly of India’ published by The Times of India Group. In one sequence, the protagonist, a painter of sign-boards, is handed over a folded slip of paper by perhaps an astrologer. He is advised to open it only when he finds himself in a difficult situation. Not long after that, such a situation does present itself and he opens the folded paper and finds the words “This will pass’ on it. He ponders over the words and realizes that his problem is temporary and will definitely go away.
The phrase appears in the works of Sufi poets. It is said that a king once asked his wise men to find something that would make a sad person happy and a happy person unhappy. The wisest of them coined this phrase. There is another version of this story which says that the king wanted a ring that would make him happy when he is sad and limit his effusion when he is too happy. The wise man made a ring with these words engraved on it.
Yet another version of the story is that a sultan requested King Solomon to say a sentence that would always be true in good times as well as bad. King Solomon said, “This too will pass away.”
Rishis of India have advised us to be sthitapragna, that is, to treat sorrows and happiness with equanimity. We should not lose our composure when a sad situation arises; nor should we be overwhelmed when a happy moment comes. Happy and sad events come in cycles and if one is overwhelmed by these, one will not able to think of ways to come out of a difficult situation. In the same way, when happy tidings come, we should not forget that such a situation is not permanent.
My father died soon after his retirement. I felt deeply sad and this state of mind continued for a long time. Then i came across a saying, “Talk happiness; the world is sad enough without your woes.”

I have read another version of this lesson. A king asked his wise men to give him one mantra, with the help of which he would be able to overcome any difficult situation. A Sufi sant gave him a folded paper and said that it contained such a mantra. He added that the king should use it only as the last resort; it should not be used when even a small ray of finding a way out was there. The king was not very happy but received the paper anyway. He faced many difficult and sad situations but always could find a way out. When he was dying, his minister said, "My lord, you have never used the mantra. At least now, you should open and see what it is." The king said, "There is no need to open it. The Sufi sant's mantra has helped me find ways out of all the difficult situations in my life even without opening it." After the king died, the minister opened the folded paper only to find that nothing was written on it! It was a blank bit of paper. The faith of the king in the sant had helped him find ways out of all the difficult and depressing situations.    

TAIL PIECE: Sooner or later, "These trying times" will become "The good old days".

Friday, 15 October 2010

Two Mothers

Here are true stories of 2 mothers, which i had read in the newspapers.
It was the time of the tsunami that hit the tip of Southern India in 2002.

A woman was wading through the chest-deep water of the giant-sized waves, clutching her 5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter, clinging to her on either side. The force of the water was increasing and she was finding it more and more difficult to move ahead to safety. After some time, it became clear to her that if she continued to try moving like that, all the three would be engulfed by the water and die. Only if she let go one of the children, would there be some chance for the survival of the remaining two.

Whom should she release? The boy or the girl?

What kind of thought would have passed in the mother's mind?

If she releases the girl, the boy would survive and would be of help to her in her later years.

If she releases the boy, the girl would survive and she will need a lot of money to get her married.

But the girl is so small and the mother is her whole world!

If she releases the boy, there is a faint chance that he may survive on his own since he is older. But if he survives and later comes to know of what his mother had done, how would he take it?

The water was pushing her around more and more ferociously.

Ultimately, she could not resist it any longer. She slightly loosened her hand by which she was holding the boy and in no time, he disappeared into the water.

Later, when the tsunami subsided, she went to each and every one of the Relief Camps set up to shelter the homeless, in search of her son. In one camp, with a flood of tears, she held her son in a tight embrace.

While being carried by the waters, the boy had hit a tree, had instinctively clutched a branch and was later rescued after the tsunami had subsided.

Just imagine the time when the mother was united with her son and their time thereafter.


A 3-year old child was found abandoned near the Tirupati temple.

A lady who found the forlorn and crying child, took her home. It was widely reported in the newspapers. TV channels repeatedly telecast images of the crying child. The mother of the girl, in a small town in Rajasthan, saw the visuals, heard her cries, came to Tirupati along with her husband and took her back.

The whole episode had transpired like this:

It was the woman's child from her first husband. They had a disastrous married life. He tortured her unbearably and had abandoned her soon after the child's birth. After leading a very difficult life for a couple of years, she had found a loving man and had married him. The child was a constant reminder to her of the cruelty inflicted on her by her father. So the couple had a thorough discussion, visited Tirupati and 'allowed' the girl to be 'lost' in the crowd. After seeing her face on TV and hearing her heart-rending cries for a couple of days, she could take it no longer. The couple came to Tirupati again and took the child back.

Imagine the state of the mind of the mother at the time of her reunion with the child!

How would she feel about the whole matter for the rest of her life?

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Ghoti as Fish

It is a common experience to hear people mispronounce English words.

The fault lies with the language, not with the people who speak it. Why should 'but' and 'put' be pronounced differently? Why should the words like 'psychology' and 'tsunami' have a letter which has to remain silent? Why should 'schedule' be pronounced as 'shedul' and not as 'skedul'?

I have read in a popular encyclopaedia that the reason for the confusion lies in the fact that while the sounds made by human beings can be of about 50 types, the English language has only 26 letters to represent these. Indian languages have about 49 letters which almost completely represent these sounds. Indians read and pronounce almost exactly what they write. Of course a few Indians (including yours truly) are not able to differentiate while pronouncing certain letters like 'dantya sa', 'talavya sha' and 'murdhanya sha' but most people pronounce more or less correctly.

Englishmen are conscious about this deficiency in their language. Yet nothing has been done about this. To highlight this aspect of English language, George Bernard Shaw had coined the word 'ghoti' and prononounced it as 'fish'! He reasoned it like this: Pronounce 'gh' as in 'laugh', 'o' as in 'women', and 'ti' as in 'nation'! So you have 'fish'!!!

In that way, American English is better and more practical as the spellings in it in most cases are as the words are pronounced, e.g., program, color etc.

Recently, some have started pronouncing 'schedule' as 'skedul' instead of 'shedul' in English as was done earlier.

Happy pronouncing! :)))))))))))))))

The Singapore Beach

I am on a short visit to spend some time with my daughter in Singapore. Every morning, i go for a walk to the beach near the Bedok jetty. As i approach the beach, i see a large number of ships, big and small, anchored off the beach. In the evenings, the lights of the ships make a beautiful sight.

Walking on the beach is very invigorating. The wet sand, washed intermittently by the waves, is quite firm to walk on. I have read somewhere that while taking a walk, we should avoid concrete paths because, when our feet press the ground while walking, the pressure exerted back by concrete is not good for our knee joints. I find the wet and firm sand of the beach perfectly comfortable to walk on.

The vast expanse of water is very soothing to the eyes. The waves constantly beating the shore is an enjoyable sight. The coconut trees, with their swaying crowns, are very enjoyable to look at too. Once i came across the advertisement of a company inviting applications for the post of CEO. It was accompanied by the picture of a coconut tree. The text of the ad compared the CEO to a coconut tree, firmly rooted in the ground and yet responsive to the slightest breeze.

I also saw a group of sand artists engaged in building a beautiful castle. Castles in the air! Yes, building castles on the sand or in the air has its beneficial effects. It sharpens our imaginative power. I remembered Sudarshan Patnaik, the internationally renowned sand artist from Orissa, who has received many international awards.

I was appalled by the garbage left by some visitors on the beach. I have seen maintenance staff sweeping the beach but some rubbish reappears. This is a contrast to the spic and span city streets.

Walking on the beach reminds me of the poem 'Dover Beach' by Matthew Arnold which I had read in my school days. Its last 2 stanzas were:

The sea is calm tonight,
The tide is full, the moon lies fair.
The Sea of Faith,
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore,
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furied.
But now I only hear,
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath,
Of the night wind, down the vast edges drear.
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true,
To one another for the world which seems,
To lie before us like a land of dreams.
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help, nor pain,
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and fight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Once, walking on the beach, i rescued a sea-animal. Like turtles, it had a hard shell, in fact two shells, one behind the other. It had literally 'turned turtle', lying on its back. No part of it was moving. So i took it for dead and, playfully prodded it a little with my foot. Lo and behold! It turned over and started crawling! But it was crawling away from the water. With a little more gentle prodding, i turned it back towards the sea. It crawled on and on and finally gleefully entered the water. I happily looked at it till it moved further and further into the sea and disappeared.

Watching sunrise on the Singapore beach is a heavenly experience. At first the sun appears as a round reddish-coloured plate behind the thin mist in the horizon just over the sea. Then slowly, it rises as a fire-ball and the first rays are reflected on the water in a glorious and golden hue. Sunrise is a daily event everywhere but why do we not get tired of its beauty? The following lines from two poems come to my mind:

'One never gets tired of the enjoyment of beauty;
It looks new no matter how many times you look at it.'

'A thing of beauty is a joy forever.'

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Letting Go

Why does the earth have gravity?

Because Mother Earth does not want her children to move too far away from her watchful eyes and get hurt!!!!!!

I am blessed with 2 wonderful children, both daughters. The younger one won a Scholarship from Singapore Airlines and left India to study in Singapore. The course was for 4 years and as per the terms of the Scholarship, after completing the course, she would have to serve in a Singapore-based organisation for 6 years. Thus, she would have to be away from us for at least 10 years. 10 years! One decade! My God!

I felt proud at her achievement but a big worry was gnawing at my heart. The thought of a girl who had just turned 18, leaving Indian shores, all alone, for a land completely unknown to her, leaving behind her parents, family, relatives, friends and acquaintances, kept bothering me. When she was leaving, our hearts were ridden with worries about how she would manage herself, far away from home, in an unknown country but in her eyes, i saw a glimpse of a resolve of steel, as she waved us 'bye, bye'.

She used to come to India once in about 6 months during her holidays. When she was going back after the holidays, i used to accompany her to Kolkata to see her off. In the airport, i used to linger in the Viewers' Gallery and look hard till her plane became a speck and then disappeared in the sky.

We kept comforting ourselves by the thought that even if she would continue to work in Singapore after those 10 years, the elder daughter would be near us in India. A few years later, the marriage of the elder daughter was solemnised, in India. And lo and behold, the son-in-law got a job in USA, about 4 months after the marriage. He took up that job and the daughter joined him after a couple of months.

Later, after taking up a job in Singapore, the younger daughter was married to a Singapore-based boy.

Thus, one daughter went to the East and the other daughter flew to the West, we being left in the middle, sometimes looking at one direction and at other times, in the opposite direction.

So, flourish, dear daughters, fly on and be world citizens! We have let you go.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Singapore, the Garden-city State

Now i am at Singapore with the younger daughter.

Ever since my first visit to this place in 2003, i have been impressed by its gardens, which are everywhere, on street-sides, in housing complexes, in malls,on foot over-bridges, literally everywhere. I still remember how on my first visit, the moment i stepped out of Changi Airport, the first things that drew my attention were plants laden with beautiful multi-hued flowers.

The housing complex where my daughter's apartment is located, is full of plants, big and small, which are always in bloom. There are flowers of all colours and hues. In the mornings and afternoons, i walk on the pavements in the compound, lined with flowering plants and trees. Flowers and flowers everywhere. I am transported to a different world, 'far from the maddening crowds'.

Singapore is a tiny country, a small island. Yet it has found places to plant trees in abundance.

In India, Bangalore is called the Garden City. Its streets are lined with big trees and the city has Lal Bagh, the big garden. The Brindaban Gardens of Mysore are not far away. Yet Bangalore pales into insignificance when compared to Singapore in its wealth of flowers.

In Singapore,which has very minimum land area, the concept of Compact Living has been used to free sufficient land for planting trees and flowering plants. There are sky-scrapers to house the people.

A couple of days ago, i read about the International Architecture Exhibition in Venice where the Singaporean husband-wife architects Khoo Peng Beng and Belinda Huang have displayed their Project with the theme 'Superdensity - or How You House 5 million people on Land Area of 710 Sq KMs.'

The Project is called '1000 Singapores'. If you use the Singapore model of compact living 1000 times over, you could in theory, house the world's entire world's population on just 0.5% of the Earth's area. That means, 99.5% of the world would be natural land scape - a portion would remain for farming and natural resources but the rest of the area would remain significantly natural.

What an idea! Imagine a world full of trees and flowers.

Will it not be heaven on earth?


This afternoon, while walking in the compound, i heard the sweet melody of the cuckoo, koo, kooo, kooo. I had heard it a few afternoons earlier too. A cuckoo cooing in October! In India, cuckoos are known to coo in spring, in the months of March and April. In Singapore, i am listening to a cuckoo's melody in October. What a soothing and out-of-the-world experience!

I looked in the direction from where the sweet notes were coming and tried hard to locate the cuckoo but it stayed hidden amongst the dense leaves.

I lingered there till the cuckoo took a break.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

On Building a House

It is said that fools build houses and wise people stay in them.

This is because the return on money invested in building a house is much less than what one would get if the same amount of money is invested in some other enterprise. When i was serving as a Banker, once i asked one of my clients, as to why he was staying in a rented house instead of building a house and staying in it. His answer was a revealing one for me. He replied, "If I build a house, it will be wealth; I will not get any income from this wealth. I shall have to divert a part of my capital for this. If I invest this amount in my business, I shall get more return, which will be more than the rent I am paying."For me, it was virtually a lesson on 'Capital and Wealth'.

I do not know whether i am a fool or wise man but recently by mixing a loan from my Bank with a lot of my sweat, I constructed a house.

It was a unique experience. Whenever a phase was completed, i experienced a sense of accomplishment and a sense of satisfaction.

When the house was completed i had the satisfaction of having done something concrete (both figuratively as well as literally ), a thing which can be seen, touched and felt by others. As a Banker, i had helped a number of people to build their houses but had not experienced this kind of satisfaction.

This reminded me of a man who had 4 children none of whom was a success in any field of life. Because of this, he experienced a sense of vacuum. To overcome this feeling, he took to building houses. Each house that he completed, gave him that sense of satisfaction and accomplishment which none of his children had given him.

A house is really not 'complete' till a family occupies it. It is said that men may build houses but it is only a woman who can make a home!

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Budding stories

Gardening is like fatherhood or, better still, motherhood. Planting a seed, watering it regularly, waiting for the seed to sprout and looking at the first tiny bud is really very very enjoyable.

I will share with you two experiences. When we had visited Andamans in January, 2009, i had brought (honestly speaking 'smuggled out' as collecting any plant material from there, is against rules.) from there, a mature coconut with the intent to use it as a seed and grow a plant from it, as a memory. I kept the coconut in the house for a couple of months to allow the water inside to reduce and season it into a sproutable seed. Then i planted it (at Visakhapatnam) to grow a seedling. I watered it regularly for about 2 months, meticulously inspecting it to see any sign of a sprout. I waited and waited, unceasingly watering it regularly. Yet there was no sign of any bud till we left Visakhapatnam. I had almost given up hope thinking that it will not sprout. Yet I carried it to Bhubaneswar, planted it and watered it regularly and patiently. Daily, i would inspect it minutely to see any sign of it coming to life. I had again almost reached the stage of disappointment. And then it happened!!!!!!!!!!!! On the 10th of August, 2009, the wife told me that 'some white stub-like thing' had appeared on the top of the coconut !!! I rushed to the spot and gleefully noticed that the tiny white sprout for which I had waited for so long, had indeed appeared. I was really overjoyed. I had planted other seeds and had seen their sprouts but had never before planted coconuts, which have a long gestation period. I felt like yelling 'Eureka'!!! I came inside the house and marked the plant's birthday on the calendar. I have been nursing the plant and will transplant it at its identified spot on the 13th July, the Rath Yatra day Lord Jagannath. I have made the bed ready and am preparing it to receive the plant on that day.

Now the second case. We visited an exhibition from where i purchased a sapling of the famous Allahabadi guava tree. I dug a small pit, filled it with home-made compost and planted the sapling carefully and lovingly. I watered it in the morning and evening daily. The sapling had 2 small branches with a few small leaves each. I was constructing a small house in the backyard where i have planted a number of flowering shrubs. I had planted this guava sapling in this area. I had told the workers to be extremely careful so as not to damage any plant. Whenever work was going on, i kept an eagle's eye on the plants to protect them from any careless hitting by any worker. One day, after cautioning the workers, i had moved further backyard to the area where I grow vegetables. One worker was cutting iron rods for use in the house under construction. I was very apprehensive that the rods would hit the plants. So when i moved away from there i again reminded the worker to be extremely careful and mindful about the plants. When i came back i was devastated to see that both the branches of the guava plant had been severed and the small stem had been turned into a pathetic stub! (I was reminded of Murphy's Law that if anything can go wrong, it will.) The worker tried to explain that one rod had hit the plant when he was pulling it. I experienced a burning rage in me and felt like severing his stupid head from his careless body. But helplessly i could only scold him. I sat down, touched the wounded plant, caressed it and felt the oozing fluid from the now-ugly stub. It was a small remnant of the plant and i was almost sure that the it would die. However i continued watering it without much hope of reviving it. After about 10 days i noticed a very very tiny bud emerging from the grey stub. Next day it turned slightly green and the day after it turned into a tiny leaf. I was in the seventh heaven and danced with joy. I went back to inspect my guava plant once again :))))))))))))) I have been keenly watching its progress several times every day. Now it has 5 small leaves. I am very happy that I rescued my plant from the jaws of certain death and brought it back to life :)))))))))

Gardening is like child-rearing. We can't order a plant to grow. We have to create conducive atmosphere and supportive conditions; the sapling will grow by itself into a beautiful plant or tree just as in the conducive atmosphere a child grows into a nice person.

In his epic-book Tapaswini, the great Oriya poet Gangadhar Meher, the saint Valmiki advises the pregnant Sita, who was living in his ashram after being banished by Lord Rama, to take care of the plants so that she would experience the pleasure of rearing up a child even before seeing the face of her child.


Sunday, 16 May 2010

The good citizen

Once while i was driving, a friend was coming from the opposite direction. (No. Relax. i did not hit him.) I saw him gesturing something. His lips were moving and the fingers in one of his hands were moving like how children do while singing 'Twinkle, twinkle little star'. I stopped the car and asked him what he was trying to say. He said that the headlights of my car were on. Then i understood what he had been gesturing. I switched off the lights, thanked him and drove on.

From then onwards, whenever i was walking or driving, I noticed that a number of two-wheelers, while on the move, had their headlights on. Then i started repeating what my friend had done that day. This has now become a habit with me. Whenever and wherever i walk, i find that a good number of people ride their two-wheelers with the headlights on, even during the day. (I have very rarely seen a car in such a state though.) So, as a good citizen, i try to gesture to them to switch off the lights.

The responses i get are of 3 types. In most cases (almost 90% of my targeted beneficiaries), they respond as intended by me, switch off the lights and move on with a smiling and thankful look at me. People belonging to the second group (about 8%) fail to notice my gesturing as their eyes are fixed ahead like the beam of light emanating from their vehicles. They ride on merrily. The third group of people (the remaining 2%) get confused as to what i am trying to convey. They notice me, waver, and their vehicles sway a little, making me afraid that they would lose balance and cause an accident!

There is yet another group, that of some pedestrians. They observe me and their reactions range from giving me a queer look to a slight derision wondering whether i have gone out of my mind.

Yet, i do not want give up this habit. It gives me a little satisfaction that i am helping in energy-conservation, preventing wastage of a valuable national wealth and contributing a little to reduce global-warming!!!!!!!!!! (Tall claim, isn't it?)

Of course i do not do this when i see a lady driving a two-wheeler (It is always a scooter or scooty and never a motor cycle.) with the head light on, for being misunderstood.