Chhoti, chhoti batein…

PPS Gill

Not being on the ‘head-down’ circuit (people constantly texting or viewing videos on multiple applications, ever running their fingers horizontally or vertically), leaves me with ample time to reflect on our daily life: the way it evolves, and how chhoti, chhoti batein that affect us are ignored with impunity. Should we be reminded of them every time? Should not these be part of our daily habits and upbringing? As an avid listener of FM radio, I realise its programmes are often interspersed with messages that are of great value in our daily lives. These messages are intended to remind us of our duties and responsibilities. It is sad that even after 71 years of Independence we are being reminded of things that are in our own interest!

The most frequently broadcast public interest messages implore us to obey traffic rules, wear seatbelts, use helmet, not using mobiles while driving etc. Nitin Gadkari ends some with the plea: the nation pays a heavy price when precious lives are lost. The question is, do we need a union minister to remind us of these small things? As responsible citizens, should we not be duty-bound to follow rules, and become self-disciplined road-users: as drivers, passengers and pedestrians? Why not be less impatient at traffic lights? Why not avoid overtaking from the wrong side? Why not give way to traffic from the right side at a rotary?

It is equally important to cultivate common sense when parking our vehicles! Were we more responsible, there would be no need to put up signboards on front gates of houses saying, ‘No parking in front of gate’. Why do we have to be reminded: do not spit here; do not litter here; keep city clean and green! As responsible individuals, why can’t we be conscious about chhoti, chhoti batein, which need to be instilled among children at school level? Swacch Bharat is not the sole responsibility of Modi! Think of those who empty our dust-bins and pick up garbage from our houses. They are safai-wale, we are the kure-wale!

We should address these issues as part of our civic responsibilities. Then there are unclean open drains; encroachments on public pathways; unkempt parks; unattended parking (with haphazardly-parked vehicles despite earmarked slots); congested market corridors. We remain indifferent to: no smoking, no bill-sticking signs! We jump over dividers on roads, endangering lives.

Reverting to mobiles, their widespread use is not chhoti baat. It is a necessity and is ‘linked’ to every human activity, with a cascading effect. It has brought about a sea-change in lifestyles: human relationships have become impersonal; the younger generation is on a short fuse.

Small children too have joined the ranks of ‘head-down’ parents. They remain busy playing games on phones, while their mothers — mechanically — put food morsels into their mouths! Now, even the homework my grandsons are assigned comes via teacher-parents’ WhatsApp group — a long haul from my generations’ yesteryear in school!

It is time to take cognizance of chhoti, chhoti batein that must guide us.

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How can a teacher ever be poor?

Raj Kumar

The other day a spanking new luxury car screeched to a stop in front of my humble abode. A chauffeur in an impeccable white attire hurriedly stepped out to open the rear door. With my body, my memory too was ageing, so it took me a little while to recognise the lanky young man sitting in the backseat. Sauve and elegantly dressed, he skid out of his car with a flourish. He was an old student whom I had taught in college. Surprised, I rushed towards him to offer him a rousing welcome and took him in.

For the past 20 years, I had only heard about him, off and on, from his parents. He had settled in Mumbai and doing very well for himself. He and my elder son had pursued their graduation together. Thereafter, their paths diverged. My student’s ambitions took him to Mumbai, where he was now an affluent businessman. His expensive gifts brought a cheerful smile on the face of my grandchildren, but they were perhaps saddened that their Dadu, a man of moderate means, was not in a position to buy them such exorbitant toys.

But I was delighted beyond explanation – some of my former students had not forgotten their old teacher. They still remembered and revered their guru. The one before me was certainly one of those devout disciples who held me in great esteem. Having paid me his sincere regards, he made a promise to visit again with his whole family whenever next he was back in his native place.

Seeing him off after a warm hug, when I returned to my room, I found my grandchildren enveloped with extreme joy. They were playing with their new digital toys. Throughout my life I had to bear pecuniary hardships due to my paltry salary. A poor teacher with limited recourses fights a battle to keep the wolf of hunger away from his door. But now my sons were earning moderately well and we had a semi-comfortable living, partially free from any financial crisis. But I had no regrets in life. As a teacher, I had been instrumental in enriching our national resources and adding to the wealth of our country by contributing to society responsible and civilised citizens. Today, many of my students are at the top rung of the ladder in various fields. I have produced teachers, doctors, lawyers, administrative officers, top-notch business magnates and corporate honchos. Are they not the real treasure-trove for a man like me? How could then I be a poor teacher? A retired headmaster, I have immense sense of satisfaction for my small, but very significant contribution to society. That is a matter of pride and joy in itself.

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The Mall as we knew it

Raaja Bhasin

OUR very own ‘10 Downing Street’ has shut down. The glasses by the sink have been removed. The half bottle of whisky has vanished. Owned by a friend, this was shop No. 10 on the Mall, Shimla. Once the sun went down, the iron slats would also go down. We would down a few, and then, a few more. In a haze of inspiration, along came the name.

The shop had a room at the back which would become active only after shop-hours. Once the shutter closed, a brave new world would emerge in that tiny space. The psychologist, the doctor, the godman, the know-all in each one of us would rush towards freedom and the hope to be heard. Problems of all sorts would miraculously vanish for a while. In those hours, as volumes swelled and sobriety collapsed, governments would also rise and fall; civilisations would vanish in the twinkling of an eye; prime ministers came and went; the decadent West crawled to kiss the feet of the pious East.

As an era for us passes, the shop is now a slick store. One more of Shimla’s ‘mom-and-pop’ shops has given way to yet another chain with pockets as long and deep as the Mariana Trench. There was a time, when it would be normal for most shops to have the owner sitting behind the counter while his wife knitted and sewed by the side. Roles could switch, and the lady would take the till while the husband’s paces re-measured the Mall for the nth time. The children would come to the shop from school, and as time went, many would take the father’s place. Seen as a bystander, there was an air of order and a sense of contentment.

Stories, anecdotes, lives are plowed into the very tarmac of this street. The tale often told with conviction and an undying air of truth is of how a ruler of a former princely state tucked the daughter of a Viceroy under his arm and headed to the higher hills. As far as I know, the ruler was barely out of his pram at the time. The only scandal at Scandal Point that I can vouchsafe is of the time when the desire to sing Que Sera Sera overwhelmed me. There was desperation within my artistic soul to sing loud, if not clear. That no one had any intention of following the song is not the point here. It is also not the point that I managed to clamber atop a post and that it was past midnight. That the portly SHO was summoned from his sleep to sort out a singer is also not the issue.

Those were the years, when we still called the street the ‘Mall’ — pronounced maal or mael. As shops changed, along came the moll with painted and sharpened claws. As far as our generation was concerned, the only molls we knew were those that hung around villains toting a gun, sporting a red lipstick!

And well, the Mall is now well on its way to becoming the moll.

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The Gurdaspur travelogue

Sarvjit Singh

The driver leaning over the steering wheel like a seahorse with pupils dilated, the car sped into Gurdaspur at dusk carrying me and a Senior Town Planner (STP), a compact, agile man of 56, mischief in his eyes. He happened to hail from this area.

Magnetised by the joy of passing his hometown, he must narrate, fondly, how his parrot that remains uncaged flies freely in the house does not let his Alsatian dog rest on the master’s bed while he is away. I get a glimpse of the concept of body and soul; how one can be living in the modern city of Chandigarh and an old street of Pathankot at the same time.

It is almost night by the time we drive past the legendary New Egerton Woolen Mills with ‘lamb’ trademark at Dhariwal. ‘A Britisher had set it up in 1880 seeing wool aplenty in the nearby meadows of Kashmir,’ he informed, assuming the role of a local guide. After some time, the car entered the serene Raavi Sadan by the largish backwaters of Shahpur Kandi Dam. As we straightened over a stroll under the moon along the still waters, the liaison officer pointed to a distant well-lit house on a hillside with trees, across the waterbody: ‘A white man lives there. His father used to be the manager of the mills. He was born here. The family moved to England in 1947. At 45, he came back for good and built that house. His wife and guests visit him some part of the year; the rest of the time, he is happy fishing and reading.

‘Over there is the erstwhile caravan route to the north-west. Date trees lining the trek are a testimonial of the camel-riding Pathans.’ As the cook came out, we drifted towards the dining hall under the starry canopy.

After much-needed sleep, on our way back the next morning, we went over the meter-gauge track in Pathankot and I asked how long the train took to Kangra. As if waiting for this, the STP remarked: ‘Ample. They say one day the train stopped en route. As passengers got down and walked the hilly tract to the engine, the driver informed them that a cow had strayed onto the track. The train started moving again. After 20 minutes, it again stopped. The hassled passengers walked up to the driver once again and asked what had happened. It is the same cow again! he explained.’

In about two hours we were in Haryana, a hamlet north of Hoshiarpur and made a brief halt at a house above a row of shops. ‘This is claimed to be the birthplace of Sher Shah Suri, the soldier who rose to be the great ruler of India in 1538; started rupiya, built the Grand Trunk Road we have been struggling to maintain,’ he chuckled over a cup of tea.

As we sat in the car, St Augustine’s lines came to my mind, ‘The world is a book and those who do not travel read but only one page’.

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Words that mean nothing

Rachna Rana

Is technology transforming us into emotionless message-forwarding humanoids? We are mindlessly hitting ‘like’ and sending messages in bulk on social networking sites, but do we mean them?

My father recently bought a smartphone, but struggled to cope with the various applications. One day, he asked me to find the contact of my ‘Mamaji’ on his Whatsapp list, so he could wish him on his birthday. I found the contact and my father, finding it difficulty to type on the small screen without his glasses, asked me to type for him. I typed ‘Happy Birthday’ in a fraction of a second and handed the phone back to him, pressing the send command.

‘You type so fast,’ my father complimented me, ‘what did you write?’

‘Happy Birthday, what else?’ I asked, bewildered. ‘Only that? You did not send my wishes to him?’ he said, admonishing me and began tapping the screen after finding his glasses. Later, I saw he had written a long message: ‘May God bless you and may you live long and healthy’. He also forwarded some loving thoughts to Mamaji on his special day.

I remember when mobile applications were not invented and an e-mail was not easily accessible, we used to wish our friends, relatives in a much better, warm manner. The wishes were more personal and sincere.

I used to visit card shops to select a greeting card. I would carefully select the picture or graphic on the cover and used to read the message printed inside to decide if it would be appropriate for the person it was intended for. I used to add my message to the card using glitters and penmanship in my own handwriting. I used to post the card with a smile, imagining the reaction of the person who would open it.

I used to receive many greetings cards which were sent by my friends on special occasions — birthday, Diwali and New Year, with lovely handwritten messages. It was my treasure of memories. I kept them in a wooden box for years.

After the emergence of e-mails, I switched to it like the rest of our busy, lazy world. I used to visit cyber cafés and select an online card and send them out to friends and relatives. As sending a card was free, I used to send it to acquaintances also.

Today, all of us have a multitude of social media applications on our mobile phones, but our wishes have been restricted to only ‘Happy Birthday’, ‘Happy Diwali’, ‘Happy New Year’, etc. We are mechanically sending forwarded messages to our near and dear ones. Some people send ‘GM’ instead of wishing ‘good morning’ and ‘GN’ for ‘good night’. Where is the sentiment?

It makes me realise that these applications are of no use if we do not invest emotions in wishing people who matter to us. The messages just remain blinking meaningless letters and not words written with love.

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Who is the bumpkin now!

LR Sharma

On the very first day of my posting in a government department, I got introduced to Mr Varma, the only senior colleague in my branch. He readily took charge of me like an elder. I too acquiesced to his tutelage because I was ignorant about everything, including the little town where I was posted. In a sense, I was an uncouth village lad, straight out of college. I abhorred smoking and drinking.

‘What kind of a field officer will you make? This is a tough job. You should be acquainted with these stress-busters, otherwise you will have to fold your tent and go home,’ he warned. I was petrified with the scenario he presented before me on the first day of my joining! Yet, I was impressed with his demeanour, his impeccable dress sense, the way he puffed the cigarette, like actor Dev Anand. ‘Come for dinner with me at 7 pm. You need a brief.’ I swallowed the jibe, but was happy at the dinner invitation.

When I arrived, there were three of them sitting across a table in a small cubicle of a hotel. I was asked to occupy the fourth seat. Behind me was an open bay window, on which a vase adorned a fern plant that swayed in the soft breeze. A bottle of liquor, four glasses and a jug of water sat on the table.

Mr Varma introduced me to his friends and asked one of them to serve us all. ‘Please, not for me!” I pleaded. An enraged Mr Varma gestured to his other friend, ‘Prashar, hold his hands, Parmar will drain the stuff in his throat. He is not to remain a meek dud in the department!’

As they got up, I shrieked, ‘Please stop, I will do as told! But I will take only one small.’ They clapped and agreed. ‘Okay, the elixir will work in its own way.’ I lifted the glass, clinked with theirs and then touched the rim to my lips, pretending to take a sip. I had been a ragging-hardened college student. Assured of my obedience, the trio got busy in drinking and discussing mundane topics. In a flash, I got an idea. Stealing a glance, I emptied the glass in the pot on the window and silently heaved a sigh of relief, continuing the act of sipping for the next half an hour. ‘I am feeling dizzy,’ I moaned, clamping my head with both hands. They exchanged glances and smiled. ‘The stuff is working fine with the kid.’ They all laughed.

After a long wait, dinner finally arrived. I was so hungry that I literally pounced on the food, caring little for the scant table manners that I had learnt. ‘Look, the hungry wolf is devouring greedily,’ Parmar quipped. They laughed again.

But I had the last laugh. The dumb bumpkin had taken them for a ride. My forced initiation to Bacchus had failed.

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Worlds apart, but degree of sameness

Bhartendu Sood

IN our country, incidents of unruly behaviour and crime, each surpassing the other in heinousness, occur with such frequency that despite the many laws, there is no visible drop in crime rate and we end up making even more stringent laws. But laws have their limitations; it is best to think how we can make our society civilised.

During my train travel from Beijing to Xian, much to my dislike, I had the upper berth. Just as the train started, I noticed that the lower berth was unoccupied, prompting me to move to it. But I realised that I was in an alien country and must first check the rules.

Fortunately, a girl on the opposite berth knew English and I decided to share my problem with her. ‘I am over 60. I will feel more comfortable on the lower berth. I don’t know if I can occupy.’ She went out of the cabin and was back after 10 minutes with the TT. I was told that if the original allottee did not turn up at the next station, I would be allotted the berth. When the next station passed and the lower berth remained vacant, he came to my cabin and asked me to pay 25 yuan for taking the lower berth. Bewildered, I asked why I should pay the extra money!

‘These are official charges for changing the berth,’ he said. ‘If it means extra money, I am happy in my originally allotted berth,’ I said disappointed. The man went back. It seemed that my conduct had left the girl wondering, so to revive our tete-a-tete, I said to her: ‘I must tell you that in our country, people over 60 years of age have many privileges as a matter of law. My request was purely in the backdrop of that.’ I narrated all the privileges that I enjoyed as a senior citizen of my country.

‘Oh, your country takes good care of its elderly citizens. That is really great!’ she commented. We talked some more on other subjects. Soon, it was time to retire to sleep. She suddenly stood up and said with a smile: ‘Look, my country doesn’t have many rules and laws as your country for its elderly population, but there is always room for basic etiquettes. I think you need the lower berth more than me.’ Before I could react, she was already up there.

As I looked up to thank her, a big grin on her face made me think: perhaps rules and laws are needed more in a society where basic thoughtfulness is found wanting.

Back home, when I narrated the incident to my wife, she snapped back: ‘You forget that we are a democracy, not a communist country!’ That was enough to dispel the little hope which I carried that we would also improve some day.

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