Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Little joys no more

The laziness that follows a heavy meal, the wait for friends to turn up for the evening game sessions and the scorching heat comprised my afternoons in the 90s. I kept myself busy by shooing away hens that would take shade in our verandah and dirty the place in the process and watching our pet cats stretch in the sun. In between, I may dig my teeth into a mango from the collection we gathered during our morning expeditions. The much welcome break came as the ring of a bicycle bell - the ubiquitous postman’s bicycle.

I would rush out, allowing the sizzling gravel on our front yard to burn my feet. I would be thrilled if he had more than one envelope to hand over to me. I would sit on the parapet of the verandah, oblivious of hens and the dirt now, and relish the letters one by one. A cunning craw may swoop down and snatch away the mango I kept half eaten.

I would read them again and again, may be in the evening, next day morning, before framing a reply. The reply would be written over days, specifying the time and date on each sections, which would have the narration of the entire events of the day. I would have narrated the same event in different letters but writing each afresh. No copy pasting could be done on the blue inland letter or papers torn from notebooks.

I would treat my replies the same way as the ones I received, reading them again and again. I would add the missed out points in the margin with stars and symbols in the text indicating the context. The yellow post cover for Rs 4 would hold three foolscap papers. I would ensure that I posted no envelope without filling it to the maximum capacity!

This continued even after I completed my PG, when I was introduced to emails by a friend. Initially I shied away. Later when I started using it, I felt it was much viable financially too. I could use email for half an hour at a cyber café spending Rs 15. To make the best use of Rs 15, I would sit at home, write the mails in the personal computer my brother had bought then, and save them all to a floppy disk. All I needed to do at the cyber café was to send out the mails. During each visit to the cafe in the university library, I ensured I sent out at least 10 mails in half an hour, cutting down drastically on my envelope costs!

The suspense that a handwritten letter brought home was slowly going elusive and I was missing the words in ink. In 2004, I reached Chennai on my first job. In our office, all desktops didn’t have internet connection. I would spend hours at cyber café on my off day. There would be 14-15 mails from my friends waiting in my inbox. I would open them with the same glee as I would receive a letter from the postman.

The happiness deteriorated further when I started my second job in Bangalore in 2007. In my new office, all the PCs were provided with internet connection. Still there was some element left as we were not allowed to check personal mails during work hours. Later when gmail became so popular and unavoidable for work related matter also, mails started losing its charm with its frequency going up.

And it all ended with a ping in May this year, when I decided to join the smartphone brigade. Every now and then mail alerts would pop up, singing a swan song to the beauty of that short wait for a mail.

Now as messages float around in whatsapp 24x7, there’s no more waiting. Handwritten words are no more adding joy to our lives nor is the wait for a mail. 

Monday, May 26, 2014


Feb 21, 2012. On a pleasant morning in Pune, we drove to Paraplegic Rehabilitation Centre, Khadki. My friend and then colleague Pradeep and his wife Sreerekha were with me. 

My anxiety grew as we neared PRC. I'm not going to meet an ordinary friend. I'm going to meet someone whom I have kept on a high pedestal. Someone who was brightening hundreds of lives around through his life that was burning down itself. 

It was around three years ago that Pradeep introduced the phenomenon called MP Anil Kumar to me. It was a time when I was thinking I was going through a bad phase of life. When Pradeep narrated Anil's life to me, I was reduced to a silly soul in front of a big banyan tree that was offering shade to hundreds. 

One of the brightest students of Sainik School, Thiruvananthapuram, who went on to become the best cadet in National Defence Academy and enrolled as fighter pilot with the Indian Air Force at the age of 21, was left immobile, totally dependent on others, by an accident he met with when he was just 24. It rendered him neck-down paralysed and when I got to know about him, it was already 21 years since he was bed-ridden. 

The never-dying fighter spirit in him mastered the art of writing by holding a pen in his mouth and later started using computer holding a stick the same way. His first mouth-written article 'Airborne to Chairborne' was widely read. Words ignited his life again and he soared to new heights. He wrote for many news websites and newspapers as well as connected with his friends across the world.

I wrote to him in the email id Pradeep gave. It was full of my admiration for him. Perhaps there was nothing new for him in that. He would have heard the same words from many around him earlier also. Still he amazed me by writing a long reply with anecdotes, tinged with humour. It would be difficult to believe it was written by someone who has been rendered immobile for 21 years! He quoted NBN Sir, one of the most respected teachers of Sainik School, Thiruvananthapuram, and said: "count your blessings" and signed off with cheers to Trivandrum mate! 

Our friendship grew from there through emails. I don't know if I can claim to be his friend, he sure was mine. I read the articles he wrote for news portals and papers with awe. They stood testimony to his sharp intellect and command over language. His knowledge in the subject would put to shame any reporters whose physical parameters are perfectly fine but who often fail to gather the required info for a story. 

Finally, I'm going to meet him - the real fighter. As I entered the PRC campus, there was a flurry of thoughts and emotions in mind.  

There he was sitting on the corridor of the centre on a wheelchair, with a smile and a greeting. A face brimming with confidence and never-give up spirit, he made us at ease. In his commanding voice, he spoke about subjects ranging from defence to politics to school days for the next two hours.

I left promising him that I'd come back again. But I couldn't.

Last week, on May 20, the news of him leaving us reached me. Among a medley of emotions was a huge relief that his sufferings have ended. 

Now he won't make anyone travel to Pune. His computer keyboard won't clatter again. His attendants can take leave now. 

What's not going to change is the brightness of that eternal flame in our hearts. Thanks Anil, for fighting on to inspire us all.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Who do I vote for?

Election fever has gripped the nation. Even personal meetings are sprinkled with queries like "Who will you vote for?" I gave it a thought that dug out some incidents from the past. 

2005, Chennai
Three of us girls, were stalked by a man on bicycle while we were walking from our paying guest accommodation to Liberty bus stop in Kodambakkam. Though we ignored him initially, his vulgar comments and gestures prompted us to complain to a traffic cop at the junction. The cop studied us even as we were explain with a sense of urgency for him to act as that guy was still a few metres ahead of us. After a while, he told us:"He is alone and you are three girls. Why didn't you beat him up, catch him and bring him to me? I would have taken care of the rest."!!!

2006, Chennai
A sultry afternoon and an overcrowded transport bus. I'm on way to work. As I was struggling to get some fresh air over the head of many who were standing packed, I felt something weird. First I thought it was a casual touch by someone who was struggling to get a grip. In a split second, I realized the creepy hand exploring my waist was not at all going its way unintentionally! I turned back and saw the owner-of-the-hand guy looking the opposite direction as if he didn't know anything. A well-dressed guy with an executive bag! I was seething and let it out with a punch on his nose and eye together, shouting at him. Hearing the commotion, conductor just peeped and told others who craned their necks that one woman is making noise for 'something'! I looked around, not even a single soul even gave me a look of support. Thankfully, that creepo was a coward and got off at the next stop. He could have done anything in retaliation in front of such a passive crowd and even passive conductor. Finally I broke down when someone offered me a seat, not a kind word. We talk so much about safety for women at night; what about day?

2007 Bangalore
Bus ride from my paying guest accommodation to office was a short one and all I used to depend on BMTC buses. The fare was Rs 5 then. They would give back Rs 2 and gesture it's okay and wouldn't give the ticket. All hell broke loose whenever I demanded a ticket and he got to know I'm not a Kannadiga. It continued to 2008, 2009 and even till now whenever I take a short distance ride on a BMTC bus. 

2009  Thiruvananthapuram
My father was admitted to hospital for a gangrenous infection that threatened to be fatal. He had already undergone three surgeries in a private hospital and we were advised to shift him to a government hospital where a popular surgeon was working, who was known to have a magical hand to cure. We shifted him there. Then comes the news. For the surgeon to see any patient, the patient's relative should visit him at home with the amount he decides, the minimum of which was Rs 2,000. Since my father's condition was critical, he demanded Rs 5,000. I was irked no end. The part of brain demanding my rights as a citizen suddenly became active. All I wanted was to trap him red-handed and take him to court. I discussed it with my mother. She listened and said: "What will happen to your father? You want to expose that doctor at the cost of his life?" I was muted. For I knew the pain he was going through with his left hand almost eaten away by gangrene. At the private hospital, the surgeon had shown me his arm - a bone in the middle and yellow and red surrounding it... almost from elbow till palm. I was reduced to just a daughter, not a citizen. 

2010 Bangalore
I had to get some documents notarized. Clueless about the whole process, with none to help, I stepped into Mayo Hall when a person who was dressed like a lawyer came and offered help. Totally unaware of the things happening there, I gladly took up his offer of notarizing my two documents for the 'standard' rate of Rs 300. Much later when I was more aware and had to get something done, I got 30 papers notarized for the same amount I paid for two papers!

2014 Bangalore
I got an electricity bill that was more than double my usual amount. I rushed to the jurisdictional Bescom office where they sent me from one table to another with none at the table even sparing me a look. Finally when I ended up at the same table three times, the woman engineer there spat out a query with utter disdain. Her anger was so visible as she had to take her attention off the sarees displayed in front of her by a salesman to a face requesting help by making her work! After being there for at least half an hour detailing about it, she gave me an illogical deduction and shouted at me for explaining further. 

These are what a common man faces in daily life. May be much more like this. For them, international relations or promising protection to certain communities don't matter. I will vote for the person or party who can offer me days without any of these. Where government servants don't become people's bosses!