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. :)))))))))))))))))