To help or not…

Rajan Kapoor

I WAS savouring a steamy ‘samosa’ on a bone-chilling cold day when a man with a little girl entered the staff room. The looks of the guests were a mix of both ‘desi’ and ‘videshi’. Lo and behold! The man introduced himself as a professor of economics, presently holding a big position in an American university. What brought an additional smile on my face was his being an alumnus of our college. Hearing this, I along with other teachers gave him a standing ovation. The teachers swarmed around the NRI professor like bees to take his autograph. A few gave him a tight hand shake and the others a bear hug. The lady teachers too did not lag behind. A lady teacher nervously rummaged through her purse only to offer a small mountain of candies to the little girl that accompanied him. Another offered her a piece of ‘dhokla’. They were also served ‘samosas’ and tea.

To feed myself with ‘intellectual diet’, I enthusiastically broached the issue of demonetisation. The discussion went on for five minutes before it abruptly came to an end. Suddenly, the little girl started weeping. On enquiry, it was found that she had experienced a bout of colic pain. Medicine was arranged for her. The professor then narrated a moving tale of his pocket being picked and how it had traumatised her. Moved, the staff gave him Rs 3000. He thanked them profusely, with a gentleman’s promise to send their money at the earliest.

Months elapsed. Neither did the staff receive any call nor money. One day, the photograph of the NRI professor appeared in the newspaper. It came to us as a rude shock to know that he was a cheat. The news of his being a swindler triggered a wave of discussion among the teachers. A few ‘praised’ him for his ‘ingenuity’. Others made fun of the victims. Being a victim, I felt disappointed. The Shakespearean advice — ‘The devil can cite scriptures for his purpose./ An evil soul producing holy witness;/ Is like a villain with a smiling cheek,/ A goodly apple rotten at heart./ O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath!’ — started ringing loudly in my ears. Upset, I shared this ugly incident with my mother. Sensing my mood, she narrated a story: ‘Once a trader had a mare that was known far and wide in the town for her furious galloping pace. A physically disabled man of the town made several attempts to buy the mare but in vain. Frustrated, the man stole the mare. The trader came to know about the thief but never revealed the name. He kept saying that he had gifted his mare to a friend. The thief too heard of it. Curious, why the trader was not divulging the truth, he dashed to his home. On being asked why he was silent, the trader replied that he had a standing in the town and the people trusted his words. Making the name of the thief public would prevent the people from showing compassion to the physically challenged, and he did not want that!’

Pulling me out of a moral crisis, the story strengthened my belief that we should always extend a helping hand to those who are in distress without probing their past.

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A faceless bond

Rajan Kashyap

I SAW her but once. There she lay, unmoving in the middle of the main road next to my house. Before my very eyes, her humble two- wheeler had crashed into a motor cycle. A screech of tyres, the harsh clang of metal striking metal, and two human bodies tossed several feet above the ground. The sight and sounds blended as in a gory action movie. The young male rider, miraculously unhurt, stared with stupefaction at the female spread-eagled on the road at a grotesque angle, still and possibly lifeless. ‘It wasn’t my fault,’ he kept repeating aimlessly, glassy eyed and disbelieving as he saw the pool of blood surrounding the victim.

The girl could not have been more than 18 years old. Despite the hour — 9.30 pm — bystanders gathered suddenly. It needed no strength to lift the unconscious form and place her on the footpath. Light as a feather, she had a scarf wrapped around her face to protect her from heat and dust. Ironically, she had neglected to secure herself against possible head injury — she wore no helmet. I pleaded in vain with some motorists to transport her to hospital, assuring that I would attend to all legal formalities. I will drive her myself, I resolved, even as I telephoned to report the occurrence to a senior police officer, whom I knew personally. The police arrived within minutes. Before that some good Samaritans had placed her in their car, and drove to the nearby hospital.

My little role was merely to request my friend in the police to ensure that she was given immediate life-saving medical attention. He had already alerted the hospital, he assured me. I found that the emergency services in the city have some standard operating procedures for handling such eventualities. Tomorrow, the newspapers will carry a news item that a young scooter rider was badly injured (hopefully the accident would not turn out to be fatal) in a collision with another. For good effect, the papers will mention that the victim was not wearing a helmet. What the media cannot gauge is the extent of the human tragedy resulting from the mishap. How many hopes and dreams lie shattered! A young body impaired, even a life snuffed out! How would the authorities have located the parents and family? I could only guess.

Hours after the event, I dreaded making an enquiry about her condition. Did she survive? If she does recover, will she be normal in all her faculties?

My only acquaintance with her was as a chance witness to the shocking happening. But having lived through the event for just a few minutes has created for me a bond with a faceless stranger, an innocent victim of fate. As the Bard puts it, ‘We must endure our going hence even as our coming hither.’

My young granddaughter was dismayed to learn about the accident. ‘I’m glad I didn’t see it. I would have screamed out loud.’ I screamed too, but silently.

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Not just city, people too are beautiful

Chandni Lamba

What makes a city’s character? Its location? Its layout? Its weather? The restaurants? The clubs? Not really. It’s primarily the people. People comprise one part — heart, dealing with compassion and empathy and the other part — mind — which exercises the will and control. Somewhere between these too is courage and conviction.

An incident in the city, that occurred many years ago, left such an indelible mark on my mind that I can recall it vividly even many years later.

One morning, I was swinging away on the wooden gate, when our milkman arrived. Fascinated by the horn — a rubber bulb, which when pressed made strange sounds — and the huge metal drums hooked on either side of his cycle, I waited to watch him pour out milk into the pateela (vessel). My ayaa didi (nanny) haggled for the jhoonga (small extra) that she made him pour, as if her survival depended on it. She actually did so to feed me more of my favourite drink!

As the milkman put the lid on his drums, I began a conversation — how many cows did he have to milk to fill the two drums? Did the cows not get angry? What about the calfs? Did they also drink milk twice a day like we did? What did he feed the cows? Did they like grass or was it because they missed a meal? And so on.
I had not realised that I had walked with him to the end of the lane. He did ask me to go back home but I was busy chatting. I had almost turned the corner when I heard a shout, “Oye, kidhar jaa rahi hai?”.

I recognised him as the ‘bhaiya’ who lived in our lane. I did not know him though his father used to visit mine. I was still mumbling an explanation when he caught my hand and walked me home. My mother was shocked. She thanked him as he explained how he spotted me chatting and walking away with the milkman. He felt responsible as he did not see anyone from the family with me. Everyone seemed to know everyone then.

Crime, as it is known, was unknown in the city then. It was not the fear of being kidnapped but of getting lost in case the milkman got busy or rode off. When I look back, if bhaiya had not brought me back, it is likely that the milkman would have! The incident stayed between the mother and daughter. We were scared of how my father would react.

Next morning, the milkman told the ayaa that he was going to walk me back if bhaiya had not shown up! He delivered milk to our family for six years after that. That was the charm and warmth of Chandigarh.

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A father retires…

Jyotsna Bhargava

THE year was 1983, the country was in the midst of cricket euphoria. Kapil’s devils were about to do the unthinkable, win the World Cup. But in my family, there was a different sense of disbelief.

A parcel bomb, the first of its kind in the country, had been sent to our newspaper (Vir Pratap) office in Jalandhar. Papa had just stepped out of the room, but the blast killed two staff members. Over many lost years, our Hindi newspaper was a constant target of militants and my father Chander Mohan and grandfather Shri Virendra had more than a few providential escapes.

In those circumstances, it would have been easier to just leave. We came close to giving up our post-Partition bungalow, but what I learnt from my father is that to give in may be easier, but what doesn’t kill you, indeed, makes you stronger.

One day he announced he was retiring. Tendulkar retires…many of our leaders and judges should retire, but not my father. For decades, we tiptoed around the house in the morning as Papa wrote editorials. His grandchildren had no such qualms and would bluster their way with an insect in their hand. But we and he have been creatures of habit.

For 50 years, he has been working nonstop, writing through over three decades. Today, he says his body tells him to go slow. The ageing mango trees in our garden will blossom, there will be an extra pair of hands to pick its fruit. But parents are parents, they aren’t meant to age.

Still, the day came. My father is practical but ostensibly tough, and life — personal and professional — leaves scars. What he isn’t is a businessman. Numbers are his biggest disadvantage. Ironically, this day, not being a corporate man, was his greatest moment of acceptance. Emotional, employees out of a job lined up and touched his feet. Very few bosses in today’s cut-throat world have that charm.

My great grandfather started the paper in 1919, in Lahore, and shifted it to Jalandhar after the Partition.

Papa often sums up his life through an Urdu couplet — Kisi ko ghar se nikalte hi mil gaye manzil, koi humari tarah umar bhar safar mein rahe — but insists on its charm. Writing was literally a baptism by fire for him; his first editorial was on Bhindranwale. My grandfather was travelling and the seniors were scared to speak, let alone pen a few words. Since then, he has written fearlessly, refusing to be on any side of the fence — an anomaly in the time of ‘paid’ media.

With a father who was jailed seven times during the Independence struggle and himself having lived through some dark moments of history, retirement can’t be conventional. There are so many stories only he can tell. Aasman aur bhi hain udne ke liye, he promises.

Until then, a veteran journalist accustomed to his chai fix is giving green tea a try.

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Truth be told

P Lal

PANDITJI, our Sanskrit teacher in school, read out loud and clear from the textbook: Satyamvad, priyamvad; na vad, satyamapriyam. He explained: ‘Speak the truth, speak that which is pleasant, but don’t speak the unpleasant truth.’

Only a week earlier, he had taught us a verse from Mundaka Upanishad in the Atharva Veda which laid stress on the absolute truth. The opening line was: Satyameva jayate, na anrtam (Truth alone triumphs, not untruth). Panditji mentioned that the aphorism Satyameva jayate had been adopted as our national motto. That made us feel proud. Asked to explain the dichotomy between the two, he smiled but kept mum.

As I grew up, I learnt stories from the Mahabharata. Those relating to the killings of Jayadratha, Jarasandh, Dronacharya, Karna, Bhisma and Duryodhan perplexed me, as in all of them, some form of deception or falsehood had been employed. The justification offered in the commentaries that for establishing dharma, the Lord could employ any tactic did not register on my impressionable mind.

As luck would have it, I joined the police to earn my bread and butter. The profession brought me in contact with people of diverse occupations. In none of them, I could find adherence to the absolute truth. Survival required cutting corners.

The lessons in ‘practical police working’ during my training period were replete with tricks and tactics of giving short shrift to ‘truth’ with the avowed objective of securing conviction of the accused, and maintaining law and order at all cost. Thus the knowhow imparted on keeping the daily-diary of the police station ‘suspended’, so as to admit ante-dated or pre-timed entries. And the ways and means of keeping suspects without formal arrest, with utmost secrecy. Also, when to eschew the ‘first degree’ and the ‘second degree’, and resort to the ‘third degree’, without leaving traces of torture!

The story told by a senior police officer, however, took the cake. As a member of a committee for the selection of constables for a promotion course, he asked a candidate: ‘In a police station, where a suspect has been held without formal arrest, a search party arrives under the orders of the High Court to recover the person. How will you salvage the situation?’ The constable didn’t know how to respond to the dilemma. Nor did I when I heard the story!

‘Very simple,’ elaborated the officer, ‘just call any police station and tell the clerk to make back-dated or pre-timed entry of the arrest of the person concerned in the daily-diary which is kept routinely incomplete, followed by an entry of temporary custody of the person to the staff of the police station where the suspect has been discovered. The honourable guests from the court can then be told that the suspect had just been brought from the other police station!’

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An everyday warrior

Tanya Mander

THIS is the story of a warrior of the brave new world, commonly known as the Working Woman. Folklore has it that she embarks on a battle every day, before sunrise. She never sets an alarm; in fact, her prowess is a threat to the sun, because other than the Working Woman and the Met department, nobody is interested in the time of the sun’s rise or set.

Her armour includes, among other things, agile limbs, a zealous mind, a heart that can be caged as and when required, eyes and a tongue. An ordinary day begins with readying the little soldiers in her battalion for minor battles and skirmishes. Multi-tasking, she tutors the kids in self-reliance and tricks that would ensure that the grime of the world does not stick to their little personalities. The first battle of the day, therefore, translates into ensuring that the kids carry bags, books, tiffin and self-worth to school. With limited limbs, she begins with the battle of the abode, which must be set in order before she steps out in her heels. Beds, laundry, kitchen, shoes, et al is to be put in place. These ordinary things take on the shape of monsters that have to be curtailed and put in place, for they would be out again the next day with new ones!

The most difficult battle begins as she moves to her working place. Here, high on agenda is to choose mind over heart — a perpetual battle of the self with self. The range usually is from not being able to do enough (personally and professionally) to doing way too much. The Working Woman is consumed by the currents, undercurrents and work stretched in every possible direction. She walks the tightrope, striving for the elusive balance in her high heels. Wielding her sword, she cuts through work, and gladiator-like, performs in front of spectators who want her to fail. Papers, printers, computers, biometric, projectors surround her as she carves her identity in the physical and the virtual world, giving her combat a new dimension. The wounds and lessons from the workplace make her a better soldier as she assimilates that one has to choose one’s battles, and not every battle is worth fighting for.

As the day begins to end and the warrior returns, the lone, long fight awaits her. The little soldiers have to be taken for physical training aimed at a strong body and mind. The battle is more psychological than physical. The soldiers have to be fed and nourished with knowledge and values, besides putting them in bed. The battle with the hands of the clock is a relentless one, with no break for the clock, or the warrior.

As the day melts into night, the Working Woman retreats and seeks refuge in her bed, tending to her emotional and physical wounds, and wondering that parallel to her everyday war is the greater political conflict which allows men to sign away her reproductive rights. Who is winning this war: work, woman, or society?

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Chai-pani dress code

Lt Gen KJ Singh (Retd)

AFTER a remunerative UN tenure, it was natural for me to join the dream of every North Indian of owning a flat in the NCR. I was lucky to get an allotment for a flat at an AWHO colony in NOIDA. The biggest challenge was to get away from my busy job in the Army HQ and chase the paperwork. Even a bigger challenge was to convince my boss, who believed that all such work should be done on weekends. It was impossible to convince him that offices also follow weekend norms. My saviour to guide me through the maze of paper work was a broker called Sharmaji. The very last challenge was to get the electric connection. I had been briefed by the broker to come in civvies and bring Rs 2,000 in an open envelope. Post de-monetisation, there is likely to be a demand for the pink one, as they say pink is the new black. Despite my reasoning that I was an Army officer and it was an AWHO flat, he maintained that these were the cover charges and had to be paid.

I opted to use my uniform and overruling the broker, decided to meet the officer concerned. On seeing me, he remarked that he respected the uniform. Sensing an opportunity, I requested him to approve my connection. He heard me and looking at Sharmaji enquired if I had been briefed about the cover charges. He explained that these were for chai-pani and cater to the entire staff, including his seniors. He added that he was a mere cog in the entire system and the charges were ‘concessional’ for uniformed personnel.

Accepting the inevitability of the situation, I fished out the magical envelope and offered it. He surprised me by stating that he cannot accept it from a person in uniform. This was indeed a catch-22 moment and I dreaded the very thought of another long drive and devising a new dodging tactics for my boss. Sharmaji was unruffled. Taking charge of the situation, he guided me to his office in the vicinity, where he had four freshly washed and ironed bush shirts. He asked me to shed my shirt, turban badge, belt and don a bush shirt — a chai-pani compliant dress.

The official, while appreciating my flexibility and understanding, very gingerly pushed the envelope with a rolled newspaper into his drawer. He offered me a chair and also the magical chai while the paperwork was being done. On my long drive back, I could not help reflecting on the valuable lesson — there are no free lunches, there is no free chai either, and for chai-pani, there is a dress code. Those likely to be in a similar situation are advised to update themselves on the latest rates and modalities.

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