It’s never how it appears

Suniti Kharbanda

THERE is an acronym in computer language: WYSIWYG — ‘what you see is what you get’. When we are young and inexperienced, life is in black and white. We make inferences based on what we see without trying to understand the nuances associated with it.

As a young schoolteacher, I used to teach pre-primary classes. The annual day was fast approaching and the theme was animal world. Most of the characters were in place, but I lacked a cute teddy bear. Luckily, some new admissions had taken place. A chubby toddler was assigned to my class. He was perfect for the part! I thanked the Punjabi culture of feeding children well, especially sons. I immediately got in touch with the parents in order to spell out my plan. However, even before I could say anything, they informed me that their child had a chronic kidney problem because of which there was water retention in his body. This gave him a chubby appearance. The truth was that he was sick and needed dialysis on a regular basis. I was wrong in judging the child by his appearance.

Life has a way of repeating lessons. A couple of years later, I was working in another school. A pretty, newly married teacher joined us. Her husband, who was in a government job, would drop her to school and pick her up every day. We would tease her about how lucky she was to have such a devoted husband. She would just smile and nod. After three months, we were shocked when she ran away from home and filed an FIR, complaining of domestic violence. Only then did the truth come out.

The husband did not trust her and wanted her earnings. To ensure that she never got an opportunity to meet anyone before or after school, he would personally pick and drop her. At home, CCTV cameras were installed and a full-time help kept track of his wife’s activities. He was affectionate as long as she agreed to whatever he said. If she tried to assert herself, physical or mental abuse followed. One evening, when her husband was at home, she received a phone call from a male colleague whose son was studying in her class. It was an innocent query related to project work but her husband did not like it. Initially, he directed a few barbs at her and when she tried to justify herself, he hit her hard. That is when she decided to leave the abusive relationship.

Once again, I had made an erroneous judgment of them being a loving couple.

Incidents like these taught me that one can never judge a book by its cover. Sometimes, we depend on a single aspect of the situation to form our opinion. It may blind us to the truth. The fact is there are so many dimensions to life… so many shades of grey. Life lived is rarely in black and white. It is the shades of grey that give depth and story to a painting. The same holds true of life. Before judging others, let us pause. The story is often different from what it appears to be.

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Beaten, black and blue

Rajiv Bakshi

I never played cricket even in my school or college days. However, I have been following the World Cup at the insistence of my cousin, who travelled to the UK to watch the game, especially the encounter between archrivals India and Pakistan. I watched the match on TV in Ludhiana, hoping to see my cousin in the stands. India won the match and my interest in the game began to grow.

The Men in Blue booked a berth for the semifinal clash with New Zealand’s Men in Black. The odds seemed to be stacked in India’s favour. I was already booked to travel to Chicago on July 9, the day of the match. But my now feverish interest in the game, spurred by the zeal of a billion fans, forced me to change my plan so that I could reach the Windy City before the match began. I needed to watch the game.

I had to pay a considerable sum to cancel and rebook my plane ticket but did not mind spending the money as long as I could watch the match live, albeit on TV. I even took along half a dozen India Blue jerseys so that my family, including my three-year-old granddaughter, could watch the match wearing it. On D-day I posted the Family-in-Blue photo on Facebook!

The glorious uncertainty of the game was in full evidence. Rain got the match deferred to the next day. No one slept that night because the match was to resume at 4:30 am Chicago time. The target set was not high and looked easily achievable for the Men in Blue, who had been in tremendous form. But wickets fell like the proverbial ninepins, the first three for only five runs and soon it was 92 runs for the loss of six wickets. What a fall, my countrymen, I exclaimed a la Caesar and posted my Facebook status: Men in Black troubling Men in Blue! Dozens of comments followed, castigating me for my pessimism.

A valiant rearguard action by Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Ravinder Jadeja took the fight to the opposition’s camp, bringing solace to the crestfallen Indian fans. The Men in Blue tried valiantly, but the Men in Black won. India lost but the game of cricket itself had emerged victorious with a scintillating display of its see-saw skills. My new status on Facebook posted after the match: Will stop watching cricket for the next four years!

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The news, read by ‘Borun’ Haldar

Sumit Paul

THIS is All India Radio. The news, read by Barun Haldar…’ The name, pronounced as ‘Borun’ in that typical Bengali accent, was hard to miss.

The magnificently textured baritone has fallen silent, forever. One of the doyens of radio newscasting in India, he breathed his last in Kolkata recently. Connoisseurs of the radio era will never forget the voices of some of the newscasters that captivated the listeners for years. Surojit Sen, Sushil Javeri, Vijay Daniels and Barun Haldar in English and Devakinandan Pandey and Anadi Mishra in Hindi had a remarkable voice along with an unquestionable command of the language.

Though every newscaster had his own distinct style, Haldar stood out because of his perfect diction, enunciation, pauses and nuances. His voice had an astounding clarity and the baritone didn’t grate on the ears. Those were the days when Indian parents would urge their children to listen to Haldar, Javeri and Sen to imbibe the subtle nuances of the English language and also to learn the pronunciation of certain words. In the 70s and 80s, the students of English literature at Presidency College, Calcutta, and St Stephen’s, Delhi, would try to emulate the way Haldar pronounced ‘news’ and ‘radio’. He would often compose the news script before reading it out in the studio. I once asked him in Calcutta how he perfected his diction. He said it was simple. He read the news script or even a newspaper a bit loud so that he could hear his own voice. “What’s good to your ears should be good to the ears of the listeners too,” was his mantra.

‘One must love one’s voice’ was his unfailing advice to those who wanted to become a newscaster like him. He was never condescending. “I’m also a learner and make mistakes. So, I’ve no right to look down upon anyone,” the self-effacing newscaster would say.

In this era of hysterical news-reading, Haldar’s dignified style is missed all the more by those who have heard the very best in the pre-news channels days. Always engrossed in classics, Haldar loved to read and discuss the characters of famous novels with like-minded people. He exhorted the youngsters to read and write a lot and would often jokingly say that the correct orthography of his name should be ‘Varun’ and not ‘Barun’ or ‘Borun’. “But we Bengalis don’t have a labio-dental ‘V’ in our written and spoken Bengali,” he’d chuckle. Always willing to help the newcomers, he was very accessible. He loved listening to Frank Sinatra in English and Debobrata Biswas’ rendition of Rabindra Sangeet. He was an epicurean.

Adieu, ‘Borun’ Haldar! Old-timers like me will sorely miss you

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Those were the days

VK Anand

MY father, who worked for Panjab University in Lahore, had to shift to Solan (Himachal Pradesh) in October 1947 after Partition. I was born in 1948. I am one of those lucky survivors who were witness to India immediately after Independence, and also the ups and downs in the social set-up, economy and politics during the past 70 years.

Before shifting to Chandigarh, from 1947 to 1956, the university’s administrative offices and staff were accommodated in barracks got vacated from the ‘Mule Military Regiment’. At a height of 5,000 ft above sea level, in the lap of nature, the staff quarters lay amidst lush-green pines, wild apricots and pears.

The beauty of the residential barracks was that there were neither window grills nor mesh doors, the simple reason being that there were neither mosquitoes/flies nor thieves/thefts. At that time, we were not qualified to appreciate the pollution-free environment because nobody had ever heard or read about pollution.

Most of the university employees were refugees without even essential household belongings. A meagre income, coupled with large families, did not deter anyone from expressing one’s contentment through routine gestures. While strolling with empty pockets, one could find a majority of the youngsters whistling or crooning film songs like ‘Man dole mera tan dole’ (Naagin) or other popular numbers from films like Jagriti, Boot Polish and Awara. Such masti (there is no equivalent word in English) has become extinct in the present era.

Simple people with a natural smile, a carefree life and pious, selfless human relations were supplemented by a societal purity in administration. It sounds strange, but the truth is that nobody was aware of the word ‘corruption’, because there was none at the bureaucratic or political levels. In an absolutely crime-free society, no one ever heard about stalking, what to talk of gangrape.

Entertaining relatives or visiting them was a routine affair in every family. Children of every mohalla played guli-danda, hide-and-seek, pithu and kanche (marbles), while the women, sitting on cots, did knitting, along with gossiping.

Decades have passed. People of my age feel cheated. The industrial and technological revolutions have snatched our masti, our carefree life, close family ties, a pollution-free environment and riddled our society with corruption, rapes, lynchings, hatred, degradation of human values and what not. This is indeed ‘ghaate ka sauda’.

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Another girl child, fate same

Raj Kumari

As I woke up from soothing sleep, I found myself wrapped in a velvety piece of cloth. Having opened my eyes, I did not see that multicoloured ceiling. Instead, it was some azure vast space with foamy shapes of white hues. The place was new and scary. I was observing some changes in my bed also. The bed seemed to have shrunk in size. Much to my confusion, it would intermittently have some swinging motions with the blow of cold winds. Though I was muffled up in cloth, my legs were shivering with cold. While playing in the new bed, I had pulled my legs out. Seeing that familiar face not around me, I got more terrified. Before this that woman never left me alone. Every time I would cling to her bosom. The warmth of her lap, the comfort was missing.

Some strange noises had begun to pierce my ears. Unlike the melodious lullaby of that woman, these noises were a source of much discomfort. As I turned my side, my fear mounted. Those decorated walls had also disappeared. The next few moments, I kept tossing in that box-like bed. By now my stomach had begun to rumble. Pangs of hunger made me cry. I desperately twisted my whole being and rotated my eyes in search of the woman who would feed me. She was nowhere in sight. I began to scream. With increasing appetite, my body became numb and sweaty. The occasional blow of wind gave a slight push to my bed. The noise of the moving machines got lost in my shrieks. Soon another hunger pang brought me back to the present moment. My screams had got loud enough to draw the attention of some passersby. Strange faces thronged me with strange gazes. They were talking something. Among the many faces, I desperately searched for the face that would lie by my side, bathe me with warm water, sing me to restful sleep and hug me a thousand times a day. But in that swelling crowd, she was missing. When I could no more bear my hunger, a woman started rocking my bed with a string tied to it. Strange! My bed was rocking!

A new passerby would join every now and then. But the face I knew was only in my imagination now. Finding me convulsing, someone fetched water. Another woman lifted me up from the bed and took me in her arms. She moistened my lips with some water. Momentarily, I felt some respite, but it was not the warmth I was accustomed to.

In the meanwhile, four men arrived in a big white machine, they had a woman with them, too, but not the one I was looking for. The passersby handed me over to a woman. One of them made a phone call to someone: ‘Sir, aaj koi fir ek ladki ko jhulay mein chhor gaya hai’(Someone has again abandoned a female infant in our cradle).

Confused and tired, I fell asleep.

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Not just a stop, it’s a full story

Yuvika Grewal

Flup! Flup! Flup! The free end of a page put in momentum by the air thrown by the three blades of an air-cooler beats at the back of my hand, as I read a philosophical composition that has taken me on many worldly day-trips. During this time, there is nothing that has caught my attention more than the black dot — the superior punctuation mark known as a full stop.

My mind attempts to fit its existence into the physical reality of time and space. If the dimensions of this dot could be expanded into units of time, it would stretch to a full second. I gaze at it for long, marvelling at the ability of the dot that stands at the end of a row of words; words that stand at its command.

There is something attractive about the dot — a pull that takes me into the dark chambers of secrets, a hollow earthen pitcher that hoards all that which is known only to few. It leads to the unknown. But isn’t it is a full stop? A full stop that terminates a sentence and all thought; that brings everything to an end. A signal to the mind to cease action. Like there is no inhale after the final exhale. Everything stops there. In order to elevate my understanding I rummage other pages of the book. There is a sprinkle of dots on every page waiting to be discovered, like dust motes concealed until a slant beam through a chink reveals them.

Hello! I am an abbreviation, I hear. A dwarf-like word catches my attention. I pause to wonder whether I really heard someone. A tiny word like a closed fist stared back at me with a dot at its foot. The charming dot stood with certitude, making up for the missing letters.

A full stop is a reminder of our deceptive past, a frozen dot that we carry in the womb of our memory to give it a spare life. It also reminds us of the approaching night when everything cowers into a dot. The time which denotes the passing of a phase, a halt when the impoverished night, like a bird of prey feeds on fears, insecurities and pains dwelling in our vulnerable nooks and crannies. It reminds us of everything frozen in time. A constant flame, a stiff wall, a tree on a windless day.

On the other hand, the therapeutic dot is also a healer, for it is often ensued by voluminous explanation of a daunting truth. The succeeding words lend comfort and solace, marking the beginning of hope. Often, it comes together with few others—the ellipses, like a band of young lads hinting that there is much more to life. So much more to say and do. There is much more to unravel and unfold.

The little dot encompasses the essence of life. So, the next time when you read, do pause to gaze at its magnificence, for it’s much more than a mere dot.

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Only if He looked at us once…

JS Raghavan

To many devout Hindus, few gods have a more magnetic pull of divinity than Tirupathi Balaji. The essence of the Tamil proverb — If you drop a grain of ellu (sesame) in the crowd, it will land as a droplet of til oil on the ground — will more meet the case of describing the crowd density at the sacred seven hills than probably elsewhere.

One primary reason for such congregation may be due to the preference of multi-darshan through different seva as the electrifying form of the majestic, awe-inspiring, head-to-foot bedecked Balaji is as satiation-free as the temple’s laddoo prasad. One may get pummelled, pushed and badgered by the milling crowd that formed an orderly line until let loose near the sanctum sanctorum where devotees would scatter like berries poured out from a gunny bag. So, it is in the fitness of things for an ardent devotee not to be satisfied by the few seconds available for communion with the deity, while being pulled and pushed by the temple staff with the infamous regimental command — ‘jarugandi, jarugandi’ (move on, move on).

As I was inching along in the serpentine queue that morning, a bare-chested devotee in a silk dhoti draped in Andhra style drew my attention with his freshly tonsured head. ‘Sir, this is my fourth entry into the sanctum sanctorum during this trip!’ he stated proudly. ‘I had ekanda seva last night, the suprabada seva (early morning ritual of the waking up of the Lord), thomala seva and now sahasranama archana.’

But was he not denying or delaying the opportunity to others who were standing for hours for a fleeting darshan once? But who am I to judge the personal choices of worship?

‘I have good contacts at the temple. So, I will have a number of laddoos and special prasad not made available to others,’ he said beaming proudly. Perhaps he was not aware that Lord Balaji — of one of the few richest temples in the world — is reportedly offered only curd-rice cooked in an earthen pot. I wanted to convey the allegory that many of the very rich may roll in wealth, but their health may not permit any fancy food, except the humble curd-rice or an insipid gruel. Furthermore, the Lord of Seven Hills had hardly two hours in the night to have forty winks!

This homily might go over his tonsured head. Instead, I told him, ‘One can have any number of darshan, but don’t you think, it is more important that He looks at us once? A mere side glance will do to liberate us from our tortures and tribulations.’

He squirmed nervously, sensing the complexity of the subject and ostensibly to adjudicate the matter to Balaji Himself, who was nearby, shouted ‘Govinda, Govinda, Govinda!’ with bespoke modulation and moved away from me markedly, managing to lose himself in the advancing multitude.

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