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!