Saturday, August 22, 2009

A Tale of Two Bars

Last night, I and my friend went to three star bar. I do not partake of alcohol; my friend does. We sauntered into the smoking room. Again, I do not smoke, but my friend does; in packs earlier, two or three now. We sat down and my friend beckoned the waiter over. The Ashes test was on and it was being projected on a big screen TV. I noted that Australia was trailing and commented that ever since the departure of Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath, Australia seemed to have lost that sheen of invulnerability. The waiter brought a bottle of beer for him and soda for me. The levels of liquid in the bottles began to drop and we started to debate on various issues. We talked about the social differences-monetary, status, power so on. He argued that God seemed partial. I countered that it is not so, and that it is all part of a divine plan. The argument dragged on and on. He ordered a second bottle of beer, while I began to attack the food.

After a brief lull, I called up a colleague and asked him about a new movie that was releasing that day. He filed a hearsay report that the movie was not up to the hype that had been generated. I passed on the information to my friend. He had that "I told you so" smile on his face. The discussion shifted to movies and by this time two other customers of the bar had occupied seats near us. One of them asked my friend for a match and then they too joined in the discussion. They said that they were working in .......... Couriers. I told them I was working as a lecturer and my friend in a private bank. My mind assumed a notion of superiority and I said to myself what could these two know about art and culture that I did not know.

The answer was not long in coming. It was true that they did not know much in detail about film making. But it was clear what they wanted from movies. I did not expect some sophisticated expectancy earlier in people who I believed were in a lower "class of taste" than me. I just smiled at my own hypocrisy and superiority complex.

On the way back, I reflected on the lessons learnt. And vowed to appreciate everyone for what they were and not for what they seemed to be.

However, this lesson was to be reinforced with more severity 20 hours later.

A different bar this time. A local Tasmac shop. The debate over God's "partiality" began again. He pointed out that it had been said in the Bible that the world would start self destructing after 2000. I remained quiet. I knew it was not so. But I was not sure either. Then a man sitting next to us, intervened and said, "nowhere in the Bible has it been written that the world would end after 2000". "It has been said, however, that you shall know that the time of my second coming is at hand when these things shall transpire" he continued. He further mentioned that he was not a christian and that he had not studied after his 9th standard. I had long been prided myself that I was a good Christian. And yet, my pride had been reduced to ashes by a man who was not a christian and had not progressed beyond the 9th in his academic career.

He pointed out several more key verses and I was left astounded. It was like God telling me, you still have a lot to learn my son. I learnt that wisdom could be garnered, even from a seeming drunk in a ramshackle bar. He then said that God had blessed everyone abundantly. But we refuse to see what has been offered to us. Instead we seek the gift others have been bestowed with. We even throw temper tantrums that we have not received such gifts. My friend was silenced. He sank into a long period of introspection.

On the way back this time, he said "I never thought God would speak to me through a drunkard" and I said, what was possibly the wisest thing I have said to date, "even he is a child of God, so if his Father decides to speak to us through him, we should listen."

Thursday, January 29, 2009

All about me. Part 002

Madras Christian College was a paradise (please note the past tense). We learnt more stuff outside the classrooms than inside. One of the best things about MCC were the cultural extravaganzas that took place every fortnight. Starting with the Fresher's Auditions and culminating in Deep Woods, the festival season never really ended in MCC. It just hibernated. For a boy new to the city, new to sophistication it was mind blowing. And the most important thing in college life-girls. After having studied in a school that frowned upon any communication with the opposite sex (it didn't work with us though) MCC looked better than paradise. But I was to learn the hard way that things do not happen the way it happens in movies. God alone how many times I made a fool of myself trying to impress members of the opposite sex (I didn't know of this aspect of my various stunts till about three years later). 

But I was uniquely blessed in one way. Most of the crowd I hung around with were from similar backgrounds as I. So I was not alone in pulling the stunts. I will give you an example. The first event on the cultural calendar was the Fresher's Auditions, an event where fresh talent is given an opportunity to showcase themselves. What would a 18 year old new face to the city know about western rock? I knew of only a singer called Michael Jackson who sang English songs whose words I could hardly make out. And here were people singing full throated rock numbers by Van Halen and Metallica. A few "peter" (colloquial slang for people who speakify only in englifees) boys were shaking their heads violently. I had heard of people letting their hair down, but this took the cake. Upon enquiry, a senior told us that the procedure was called head banging. The sight amused us. It looked like they were being electrocuted. Our merriment spilled over and we all joined in. But we didn't stop with simply banging our heads. We broke small branches of trees and pretended that spirits had descended on us. Then when we tired of spirit dancing, we took off our belts and pretended to whip ourselves to atone for the sins being committed on stage. Great was the surprise in the audience. First years! trying to reduce western electrical competition to a farce! how dare they? a few seniors tried to make us reason. It was then I understood the truth in the saying 'united we stand'. All the first year boys stood up and closed ranks. 

During the dancing I noticed a group of boys belonging to the department of history and economics performing the silliest antics. The department of English shared language classes with history, maths and statistics, and general English classes with economics. So I knew those people by sight and I nodded at them in both recognition and appreciation. It was they now boldly faced the seniors. At the frontline was Minish and Tommy (history and economics respectively). One look at Tommy who was a boxer and the seniors decided that they had other important things to worry about. and the celebrations went on till the red dust engulfed us as we danced away in a frenzy.

The next day, my legs were stiff and sore, and my neck had a crick. I walked like a robot to college, only to see my fellow robots all sitting in the gutters moaning the aches and pains relics of the previous evening's orgy.  That was the first time I was welcomed by them with a smile and was invited to sit with them. I learnt their names then and have not forgotten them now, though ten years have passed. 

1. Minish Kumar P (Madhavan) - History
2. Pradeep Kumar C (Daddy) - History
3. Dharmendrapani T (vaayila olu) - History
4. Tommy Varghese (toomy bugger) - Economics
5. Sanjeev Khanna (sedu) - Economics
6. Yuvaraj V (ading *****) - Economics
7. Karthik  (mokka) - Statistics
8. Prakash (Picca) - History
9. Vel Murugan (Vel the P**l) - History 
10. Nakeeran (nakee) - History
11. Babu (Rowdy babu, thevidian babu) - Economics
12. Daniel (Danny) - Economics
13. Vijay Anand - Economics
and others

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

All about Me!! Part- 001

This blog is wholly dedicated to me.  This contains a very jumpy narrative of the story of my life (as far as I can remember it). I know that one's school life is not very interesting reading. So, I have taken the liberty of jumping straight to college.

July 1997. Madras Christian College. A college student at last. I wore my best formals (imagine that - white shirt stripes, cement coloured trousers) The story of my admission is in itself a mini adventure in its own right. I had applied for English Literature. However, the Dean of Arts gave me a seat in Political Science as English Litt was full. I sat down to fill in the necessary forms, when my dad got an inspiration. He remembered that our church pastor had a friend in MCC. He sought him out and wonder of wonders, he turned out to be the Dean, Student Affairs. Need you ask. He cancelled my Political Science seat immediately and checked the English Litt for students who had not paid the admission fee till that point of time. A girl had not paid the fee. He struck her name off and gave me the admit card. I literally ran to the bank to pay the fee before they could change their mind. My name never figured in the admission list. And yet there I was, a student, a gentleman of MCC at last.   

My first day in college was a forgettable affair. The only class I attended was the general English class. I sat in the last row of a huge room, filled with students. Right next to me was a six foot giant with bulging biceps. He turned out to be from English lit. My classmate Sutharson Babu. I learnt from him that the departments of English and economics get together for general English. and that he was a sportsman (it explained his physique), a discus thrower to be exact (it explained his biceps too) He took me to the sports pavilion, a place where I had been advised not to venture. But I figured that no one would mess with me while a six feet plus solid steel bodyguard was around. So I went with him (I was to learn later on that he was one of the most soft spoken boys I would ever meet, never getting angry even when we climbed on his shoulders, truly, appearances sometimes belie true character)

The next day was better. I looked around for Babu, but he was nowhere to be found. I went up to the very first bench and sat down. A boy came up to me and introduced himself as Valentine. He was quite bubbly and very outgoing. He introduced me to Wesley, Jagan and Sterling. Just then Dr. Felix Moses entered the class and Literary Forms commenced. I usually am a good listener and do not take notes. However, just for the fun of it, I took down the notes he dictated. Little did I know that, that small decision would change my life. The class was about the epic and its governing rules. Prof (now Dr).K  Ganesh was next. He handled English Literary History. He started with Beowulf and came up to Chaucer. During the break I got to know my classmates better. 

And I understood that college was way different from what is portrayed in the media. You could not "cut" classes at will. You would face shortage of attendance and not complete your degree. Whew. A far cry from the make believe world of the movies. Then came the first C.A test (Continuous Assessment). I scored 86 in Dr. Felix's paper. He was supposed to be very strict in his valuation and a senior(name withheld) had boasted that no one would ever beat his record of 66 in Literary Forms. My notes had done the trick. Immediately every one's opinion about me underwent a sea change. I understood then that you could depend on no one but yourself when you seek to achieve something. I never forgot that lesson. 

College life was a blur. Most details have simply vanished from the recesses of my mind. However, I do remember that one of our favourite lecturers apart from Prof Ganesh was, Dr. Ilango of the Tamil Department. He could handle his classes with aplomb. I was always at loggerheads with Tamil and actually dreaded having to study it again. However, Dr. Ilango, displayed immense maturity and spent more time relieving us of our fears than teaching the assortment of course books that were prescribed us for which I have to be eternally grateful. The fact that I got my degree has much to do with his timely help at various junctures for the two years we had Tamil. 

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A New Year Message

December 31, 2008 4.00 PM IST. There we were standing outside a teashop in T Nagar planning for the celebrations on New Year's eve. There were many venues under consideration but all plans ran into the same problem. Money. Or rather the lack of it. There were about five of us and we needed close to 11,000 INR. So we planned to fool a friend into "sponsoring" a friend and me. He would provide us with 3000 INR. The rest would be "obtained" via contributions from ourselves. We had more or less convinced ourselves as to our astuteness when a ragamuffin emerged from almost nowhere and waving a plastic bag filled with ear buds begged us to buy them. Now we know that the authorities have cautioned us from buying and using such cheap buds because they are most likely made from recycled cotton, i.e, used cotton from hospitals. So we said no. But he persisted, so we asked what do you want now? He said ONE TEA and A BISCUIT. So my friend signalled the tea shop owner to give the kid ONE TEA and ONE BISCUIT. Receiving it thankfully, he sat down to that meagre meal with a gusto that moved us. Seeing this my friend signalled the tea shop owner to give him one more biscuit. 

After sometime my friend went to pay the shop owner. The shop owner said give me four rupees for the tea and one rupee for one biscuit. Surprised, my friend asked what about another biscuit? The shop owner said, "THE BOY PAID FOR IT." 

11.00 PM, New Year's Eve. We were at a rundown shanty awaiting the arrival of the new year. That boy, that ragamuffin, had taught us what honesty was. And that when we were contemplating spending of thousands on something as trifle as a party, millions were going without food and water. God willing we will never do something as stupid again.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

As you sow, so you shall reap

Life sure is a circle. What you sow, you shall reap. Boy, they sure were not kidding when they thought up that adage. I have stated this earlier, I will state this again. Being a teacher sometimes exposes me to what is probably the entire list of characters to have crossed the Shakespearean stage right where I work. From the heroic to the downright comic, they are all here. Just a few short months ago, they were rejoicing in their "triumph." Now, they are running hither and thither, looking for shelter, with so called best buddies betraying each other. 

For those who haven't a clue as to what I am talking about, let me fill you in. 

Early July 2008. The students of the college I work in wrought mayhem protesting against the Principal. They held him responsible for their dismal performance in the University exams. College property worth lakhs were destroyed. The College management bowed to the pressure of the students. The Principal in question was removed. Old procedures for awarding marks were reinstated. How the students celebrated their "victory"! Obviously they had not heard of Churchill, leave alone his maxim, "In victory, magnanimity". The "victory" went to their heads. The next two months were hell for the staff members. Students were so indisciplined as to threaten female staff members and verbally abuse them. Many staff quit in disgust. 

Late September/Early October 2008. With a new Principal at the helm, the staff low on morale, things seemed to be taking a turn for the worse, when God intervened. A petty squabble amongst the students turned serious with two groups of students assaulting each other with iron rods and wooden sticks. Many students sustained injuries, with two being admitted to the Intensive Care Unit. The Police were called in to restore order. They also arrested a few students. Later on an discipline committee was formed with the Principal as its head. The committee shortlisted the names of students who had indulged in the melee. At this dramatic turn of events, the so called unity of the students cracked and then crumbled. It was like "watching the Boulder Dam give way" (Forsyth, Frederick. "The Afghan") Students called for enquiry confessed every misdemeanor they had committed. I think that some of them even confessed the misdemeanors of their past life. 

Present Time, 2008. With strict control measures in place, and the screws still tightening, the student populace is now regretting its prior high handedness. With exams round the corner and the staff declining to help, they are running from pillar to post in search of salvation. Amidst this running around, a student found the time to tell his friend, "as we sow, so we shall reap. We kicked the earlier Principal out. Now we are being kicked around." Which I happened to overhear and have written it here. 

We sent a Person Who was preaching love and peace to the cross. We shot a person who preached non-violence. Now we are reaping the deadly harvest. As we sow, so we shall reap. 

Friday, August 22, 2008

During a train journey... (2)

August 21. Somewhere in Maharashtra. A wide expanse of greenery as stretched as far as the eye could see. Crops waving in the silky breeze that soothed the soul. Even the sun which seems oppressive in the city is mild here. In the distance stood a brick house with a tiled slanting roof. Near the house, a farmer hard at work, ploughing his fields with his pair of bullocks. Unmindful of the train thundering by, he merely gives it a passing glance. Not for him the hustle and bustle of city life. He dictates his pace and is perhaps the only person in the world to get work satisfaction. And if the government decides to give him a good price for his grain, no one could be happier or contented.

When I have earned enough money I plan to retire to a remote village, buy some land and become a farmer. There is no life that is equivalent to that of a farmer in a quiet village.

Critics may vary about the success or the rating Rambo IV received. But the last scene where Rambo walks to his home, his land, the place where he belongs is the most heartwarming scene of all. And they did not pick New York, Los Angeles or Miami for that scene. They chose a farmhouse, set in the midst of a veritable sea of corn for the scene (Arizona?).

A man at peace with himself, going back to his roots.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

During a train journey... (1)

August 19. Somewhere in Madhya Pradesh. We are yet to reach Itarsi Junction. Our train has stopped for one of those inevitable "crossings" that occur on all train journeys in India. There are thick forests on both sides of the track.

A small platoon of monkeys, obviously used to getting food treats at this spot, came down from their tree shelter. Almost as if by reflex, the passengers on the train began throwing fruits(bananas mostly), biscuits, slices of bread and other eatables toward the monkeys. And the monkeys did not disappoint the waiting audience. With loud shrieks, they pounced on the food and feasted like no tomorrow to the immense delight of the children on the train who goaded on their parents to hurl out more eatables.

One passenger threw a half empty soft drink bottle. Confronted with this strange object, a few monkeys shied away. It reminded one of the The Gods must be Crazy movies where bushmen come across a softdrink bottle accidentally dropped by the pilot of a small plane. That bottle was made of glass and empty. This was made of plastic and was still half full.

A bold male approached the bottle and gave it a feeble poke. And when the bottle spun round, he jumped back in alarm. A few such attempts later, determining that the bottle held malice toward none, he grabbed it and gave it a bite. Great was his surprise when the pressurized gas inside began to escape with a hissing sound from the hole he had created. He scurried back to the safety of his mates. The whole platoon watched as the dark brown liquid spurted out like a fountain.

A few seconds later, a bigger male, perhaps imagining the bottle to be a wounded animal spouting blood ventured forward and tried to drink the 'blood'. The fact that he did not like the taste of the 'blood' was quite obvious. He began grimacing and wiping his mouth with his front paws trying to take the taste off. Two other members of his clan decided to try out the taste as well and they too joined the pathfinder in wiping their mouths. After that the monkeys avoided the soft drink altogether. They didnot even go near it. Perhaps they had no sports or movie icon to advice them that the softdrink was good for them. Or perhaps we need to rethink the statement about Man being the most intelligent of all creatures.