Saturday, March 31, 2007

Bees (1992)

It was sometime in 7th grade that I was taught the modus operandi of honey bees. The bee stings .. and then the bee dies. I found that hilarious. I think I even asked the teacher if that qualifies to make it the stupidest animal on earth. I found out, painfully, a couple of weeks later that it's not a bad means of self defense.

The day began like every other day in my life. The sun rose in the east, I was tortured in the badminton camp, I was late for school, I served detention. You know .. every other day in my life. And then, before I knew it, it was evening and I was on my trusty bicycle pedalling to the badminton camp again. There was a colony of honeybees on a lamp post just outside the stadium. It had been there since the stone age and the bees had never troubled anyone. I used to be very nervous around the hive, but ever since that wonderfully enlightening lecture on bees in my science class, I never gave the hive a second glance. So I parked my bike and was just thinking to myself that it's a particularly cloudy day when the first bee stung me. That was no cloud above me. Someone had thrown a stone on the hive and I was right below it. "No problem I told myself, It's me, superior mammal, against some asinine dodos out to commit suicide". I quickly recollected the second sentence of my science teacher. " If you are attacked by bees, cover your face and freeze, they wont see you and they will pass by you". Freeze I did, with an expression of serene confidence, for about half a minute. That's when the next bee stung me. I guess that one was retarded even by bee standards, and so it drove straight into me, even though I had used my brilliant mammalian brains and beaten the system. I jerked in pain and the onslaught began in earnest. The stings were coming thick and fast and I knew that I had come a poor second in this battle of wits. Screaming in pain and fear I ran for dear life and plunged, fully clothed, into a nearby swimming pool. I stayed underwater for a full 4 minutes ( that's still a personal best for me) before I surfaced. Once out, I ran into the changing room and closed all the doors.

Darkness fell before I had the courage to venture out. I hit the road as fast as I could and sprinted home. At first no one would open the door for me. It took me half an hour to convince my parents that I had not kidnapped their son, in fact, I was their son .. just with a swollen face and a bruised ego. Ever since I have had a healthy respect for all animals. Bees, ants .. they're all smart .. it doesn't matter what the book says.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Shanku (1990-1999)

Shanku and chakki came to our house when they were a month old, mongrels picked up by the fisher woman who had heard that we were looking for a dog. She said that their great grandparents were Alsatians. They were tiny puppies and mom put them in a couple of shoe boxes. Later she found a bigger box where they could both be together. I loved them. Everyday, when I came back from school, I used to run to the box, where they would already be whining and rolling around in anticipation. Days passed and soon they were both old enough to be tied outside. Chakki was soon given away as we could not keep two dogs. That left shanku and me. We spent all out free time together. Roaming the neighbourhood, climbing walls, chasing cats, even picking fights with the odd dog that ventured our way. Mom said he was a mirror image of me. I took that as a compliment though I doubt if he liked the comparison. As time passed it became quite apparent that there was no trace of Alsatian in his blood. Oh!! he was aggressive, very aggressive, but only when he was sure that aggression would not be reciprocated. Walk in well dressed looking nervously around for a dog, and shanku would bring the house down with his barking, not to mention his wide legged stance and bared teeth, a true gladiator in the Colosseum. But walk in in rags with a stick in one hand and a stone in the other, and there would be no sign of a dog in the vicinity. In his whole entire life he never bit anyone. He was too scared they would bite back.

As Shanku grew, he became even more of a gentleman. He made his peace with all the dogs in the neighbourhood, never got into fights, found a mate, settled down and started a family. Watching him I learnt one of the most basic lessons in life. The key to contentment does not lie in fat paychecks or fancy cars. It lies in our heart. In our attitude to life and the challenges it throws at us. Shanku was happy, and he dint even have a kennel of his own. He used to lie in our porch on rainy days and out in the garden if the sun was out. He used to drink water from puddles and scavenge for food when we took off for vacations. But he was happy. Happy because he could chase butterflies. Happy because he could see me come home from school everyday. Happy because he was always thrown tit bits while we sat round the dining table. And finally happy because he had a partner to share his life with. His wants were few and he had what he wanted. So he was happy. I have seen that same happiness in another place. There is a home for rehabilitated street children here in Hyderabad. It's name is Ashirvaad and I have been there a couple of times. This place is run wholly on contributions from good Samaritans and very often they have to run from pillar to post for basic amenities. About ninety kids sleep in a single room on bunk beds stacked one on top of the other. But look at their faces and you see a happiness not seen in our daily life. They are thankful for what they have and they believe they are blessed to have this opportunity to pull themselves out of their past. I help these kids whenever I can but I feel no sympathy. They don't need it. They are genuinely happy and that cannot be said for everyone else I see around me.

Shanku's death was very sudden. We had never put a collar around his neck as everyone in the colony knew him. And he was harmless, so no one had any reason to wish him ill. One day people from the pound came down to our colony looking for stray dogs. In Trivandrum the pound does not capture dogs alive. They inject them with poison and load the corpses onto a small cart to dispose of them later. Shanku had never seen a pound cart before. So he genially walked up to it and checked it out. Seeing all the dead dogs he started barking and they caught and injected him. By the time they realised he was a pet dog, it was too late. Mom was called and he died with his head in mom's lap and licking her hand. I came from college and was told what happened. I told myself that he was a good dog and all dogs go to heaven. So he was in a better place. We buried him in our backyard. I missed him terribly, still do. He was my brother, my friend, my guardian, my teacher. But he had to go someday, and I know he wouldn't ever want me to be sad.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

For want of a dustbin (2004)

My first job after I graduated from MS was in a small start up company in Hyderabad called Danlaw. The DSP group in that had all of six people and two of them worked in another office. As can be expected, we bonded into a close knit unit. Within a month of my joining, one person left for USA and that left three of us in office. Ritesh, Madhubabu and yours truly. We did everything together, coding, lunch, even the short tea breaks. Our boss was Reddy, a singular individual. If he needed anything done, he would call an engineer up to his office, describe what needs to be done in 5 minutes, and spend the next two hours explaining the social and economic situation of India and specifically the state of Andra pradesh. The poor engineer would take a good half an hour to recover from this mauling and come back to his senses, by when it would be time for lunch. After lunch he would have two tasks at hand. The first is to get the task done and the second is to crouch under his seat or jump out of the window whenever Reddy sir is in the vicinity. If he fails to do so his punishment would be another two hours with Sir discussing the art of living and the key to a happy and prosperous future. Whatever the case, sir would expect the task to be done at 6, failing which the engineer would be subject to another two hour lecture on the values of time management and punctuality.

That bitter pill called experience taught us that 3 O clock in the afternoon is when Reddy sir becomes restless and comes looking for a lamb to slaughter with his words and we got into the habit of taking a long tea break at close to 3 ' O clock. So there we were, Madhu, Ritesh and me, at the terrace one day, looking down at the road below, talking about how good we had become at time management and punctuality by taking this half hour break. I was the first to finish my tea and I looked around for a dustbin. Dint see one, but I did see a dustbin down below on the other side of the road. Confidence personified, I wrapped up the tea bag in the tea cup (to give it some weight) and threw the tea bag right across the road into the bin. Next came Madhu. He asked me where I threw my cup and I pointed to the bin. He looked unsure "Will it go that far?" "Dude, I just threw my cup" "Alright then! here goes" .. and he threw the cup. But the cup dint fly, it only floated. He had forgotten to wrap the tea bag. A strong wind would have brought the cup right back to us .. but where is wind when you need it .. where is anything when you need it. Darn you Murphy .. I'll get you one day. All three of us leaned over the parapet to see where the glass would land. There was a poor innocent soul down below. Well dressed, tie, polished boots, the works. He had parked his bike and was intent on adjusting his dress and hair, fixing up any minor glitches. Looked really chic too. The glass landed upside down on his head with the last drops falling on his shirt. Madhu and I disappeared in a flash but Ritesh was still there, frozen, a foolish grin pasted on his face. I don't know what followed, as Madhu and I ran straight into Reddy sir and got a fitting punishment for the next two hours. I will however say that, since that day, whenever we went up for tea, Ritesh would bring a small plastic bag with him for us to keep our cups .. just in case there was no dustbin around.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Achan's Shashtipoorthi (Feb 2007)

The sixtieth birthday of an individual is called a shashtipoorthi and is a very important ceremony for hindus. On this day the person's children offer prayers for the well being of their parents and the parents get married again. This of course assumes that the parents are still together .. something that is not guaranteed in modern times. I will however excuse the learned sages on this point as, while throwing a few beads and looking at stars might give them a glimpse into the next few years, a few millennia is a long time to look ahead (the oldest veda was written at roughly 1200 BC).

This year was my father's shashtipoorthi. Father's actual birth date is a matter of huge debate in our family. What we know for sure is that he was born sometime in the year that India won her independence. He was born in a joint family with over a hundred members and keeping track of a hundred birthdays is no small matter. Moreover if they start celebrating birthdays, they would end up celebrating everyday. So he grew up never knowing what a birthday was. It was on the 10th of Feb 1951 that dad was sent to enrol in school. They asked him his birthday. He dint know what a birthday was and With all the wisdom of a four year old mind, he assumed that 'birthday' was the same as 'today' and so he said his birthday was feb 10th. Thus his birthday became feb 10th.

It so happened that dad and mom were visiting us in feb this year and so we decided to conduct father's shashtipoorti here in Hyderabad. The first thing was to get a priest. Sonu and I went down to a nearby temple and spoke to the person there. He was quite knowledgeable and after agreeing to hire him we had a very pleasant conversation fixing up the time. It was as follows.

priest : The best time to conduct prayers is from 4 to 6
Me : Wow, that's very convenient .. I thought it would be sometime in the morning.
priest : (giving me a strange look) .. It is in the morning
Me : What!! ... w . w .. why!!!!
priest : It's bhrama muhurtham .. when all the gods are out of heaven and roaming around in our world. If they see us offering prayers at this time, we will get twice the blessing
Me : No no no no no .. half the blessing should be more than enough.
Sonu : (pulling me away from there) "So that's settled, Nishant will come to the temple at 3 and pick you up.

I now understand why all hindu rituals have to start at wee hours of the morning. Someday I am going to do intense meditation, get an audience with the gods and ask them to move their sight seeing to a better time. To top it all I had to pick up the priest an hour before 4. With the bath taking and getting ready I decided it would be better to fore go sleep for the night. Dad and mom too had come round to the same view and we sat up on the night of feb 9th all set to not sleep at all. Talked and talked about my childhood and dad's childhood and mom's childhood. They say that you can talk and talk about these things. They are wrong. By midnight we were all out of stories. At 2:30 sonu woke me up and said I was snoring too loudly and the baby was waking up because of that. I would have muttered a few curses .. but what if any of the gods were out early .. not that I am scared of them .. heh heh!! I pulled myself out of bed, took a bath and went and picked up the priests.

They had already arranged all the stuff and at the dot of 4 they started the ceremony. I think we need to employ more priests in government offices. Since it was almost a redo of the wedding ceremony, both dad and mom had to sit. Seeing mom struggle to fold her legs under her I could see that it wasn't my fault I wasn't flexible. No sir .. it isn't the fault of the overeating sedentary lifestyle of mine. It isn't because I don't stretch or run .. it's the genes. When I get to heaven I'm going to get a good lawyer and I am going to sue my ancestors. two assumptions here ..1) I can find a lawyer in heaven 2) I go to heaven. As time progressed mom's discomfort grew and grew. Her face started to take on comic expressions. Just when she thought she couldn't do it anymore they asked mom and dad to get up. The ceremony was on in full swing. they had lit a fire and invoked all the gods and goddesses and after having offered prayers to please them dad and mom were to get married in their presence. One of the rituals was to pour a pot of water over the couple's head. The water was kept out the previous night and it was a particularly cold night. I could see dad and mom freeze as the water was poured. Mom later told me that the water even numbed the pain in her knees. Note to myself .. if I have a shashtipoorthi .. there will be no water pouring stuff. They exchanged garlands and dad gave mom a kiss too to top it off. The priest sat down and explained the significance of all the rituals he had done to us. It was a really nice feeling sitting there and listening to the person talk. Finally I dropped him back and dad and mom went over and visited the temple to close out the ceremony.