Thursday, 25 June 2015

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Poor Moby Dick!

/* What would you do if a whale was to suddenly wash up on your sea shore? That is what happened to the inhabitants of Raigad district of Maharashtra when a blue whale landed up on the coast of Revas. They tried to put it back into the water but the poor Leviathanic creature died and had to be buried at the coast itself. There was a time when we rejoiced in Captain Ahab’s sperm whale exploits and his pursuance of Moby Dick. But times have definitely changed. With the white whale or the Beluga whale in the list of critically endangered species, we have the largest mammal on earth-the blue whale washing up on our shores instead of our naval forces going out to sea to catch some of those giant powerful sperm whales.  */

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Been sexually assaulted? Go for an out-of-court settlement

/* We have heard of mediation and out-of-court settlements in matters of family and property disputes. It is an effective way to offload some of the enormous pile of cases from the courts. But to extend this to criminal acts is not just a travesty of justice but an admission that rape is as mundane as a property dispute these days, if not more prevalent. By taking away the minor's say in the verdict, the Madras High Court has accorded no value to the trauma that she must have undergone. Consider the fact that a person who is raped has to go through the rigorous and ruthless cross-examination (like the humiliating two-finger tests) to make her/his voice heard and file a report. Not just these cases drag on for years, but now are being dismissed out of court in a cavalier manner. An overhaul of the legal system today is more necessary than ever before.  */

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You talk and we will burn you

/* That is what the UP govt is saying apparently. As the freelance journalist Jagendra Singh is burnt for publishing reports of corruption and land grabbing against some hotshot names including MP RM Verma, one is even surer of the sobriquet attached to UP-the land of the goons. Where might is still right and pelf is power, the concepts of human rights and freedom of expression crumble. Despite the video with the immolated man himself saying ‘why burn me, they could have beaten me’, the UP govt. is making efforts to prove that it was a case of suicide by grossly misinterpreting the autopsy. Offering 30 lakh INR to the family and jobs to the deceased journo’s two sons, they are trying to burnish their image and come off clean. The message? You talk. You burn. Period. */

Sunday, 21 June 2015

The Hero

Every single hour and every single day, hundreds of trains shuttle back and forth between cities. On one such day, one such train happened to contain two people whom we are interested in. It was a father and his three-year-old daughter. They boarded the train, settled into a seat; the father seating her daughter near the window while he talked to his wife and the mother of the child trying to assuage her fears regarding the trip. Somehow, a situation had turned up when this motherless trip had to be undertaken. Understandably, the mother was worried sick and wanted to ensure everything would be all right. After a hundred assurances and cute goodbyes between the mother and the kid, the train whizzed off, taking the father-daughter duo on an excursion to another city.

It was 9 p.m. and they were in the midst of their dinner. The girl was making faces and refusing to eat much. The father, as opposed to his wont, tried to cajole her into eating a few morsels luring her by the prospect of an ice cream afterwards. The girl took one bite and stared out the window, which was black and glassy. She could no longer see the tranquil scenery of the countryside through the sealed window; all that she saw was the face of a girl with unchewed food in her mouth staring back at her. The father broke his chappati in two and stuffed the pieces into his mouth. Suddenly, a man from the pantry ran past them. A few more men went in succession. The father felt like getting up and sounding out what the matter was. Leaving his plate aside and instructing the kid not to stray from her assigned seat, he got up to investigate. It came out that there was a fire in one of the compartments and things were getting panicky. Now what happened next?

Before that, let me fast forward to the present day. That kid with the unchewed food in her mouth is talking to you right now. And it was my father who went to find out the cause of the hullabaloo. Now, what happened next I don't clearly remember. In fact, I don't remember anything at all. While I grew up, mom would tell everyone how she had reached the station frantically to inquire about the train after hearing a news bulletin about a fire breaking out; how agitated she had been that day and how madly relieved they had all been after finding me and my father safe. I don't know if dad had acted as a hero then. Probably he did. Frankly, I don’t remember.

But what I do remember is him picking me up from school when I missed my school bus. I remember him being enthusiastic about my career (sometimes more than me!). I remember him undertaking a ‘city tour’ while I took countless entrance exams. I remember myself believing that everything in life is free ‘cause well, he paid for it all without me being any the wiser!

Today, if I call him, even if it’s a single ring, he will surely call back, even when he is top-hole busy or driving(let not the traffic guys read this!). Even when he cavils about me and my driving, he was the one who didn’t give up on me. He was the one who rode shotgun, shouting instructions, and pulling the handbrake right before I could smash into the car ahead. At times, I felt like asking mom to teach me how to drive but she refused point blank saying she couldn’t face life-threatening situations like that. He is the one who agreed to give me the car keys and didn’t get out of the car like my brother who said ‘safety first’ and scooted off. When dad is asked to bring vegetables or evening snacks, he will probably act grumpy but he will most definitely bring it all home, even when he has almost reached the parking lot and spotted a particularly desirable parking space. Although dad avoids shopping centres like the weight-conscious girls avoid pizzas, he will let us indulge ourselves to the fullest. When we buy outrageously expensive dresses, all he will buy for himself is a pair of shoes, that too just because his old ones are no longer usable.    

I could go on and on but you get the drift, right? And that is why even when I don’t much remember what happened on that fateful night on the burning train, I don’t once doubt that he had been the hero in the situation. Because he is the kind of guy who will do something outstanding and yet won’t put up a facebook status about it (the way I do for instance-not the outstanding part, just the status). Content to be out of the limelight, happy to work in the backdrop, not much into hype and the like, he is a selfmade man. An entrepreneur with a sweet tooth (pity he is diabetic!) and a simple man, he has no airs and no pretence about him. It would have been a grave error if I had forgotten to wish him today. Happy Father’s Day, Dad! Thank you for being there!

“This father’s day, I am expressing my love towards my dad by participating in the #HugYourDad activity at BlogAdda in association with Vicks.”

You, dad, of all people deserve a hug and much more!

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Thursday, 18 June 2015

The Voice from the Other World

Hello Earth!

Remember Star Trek with its famous USS Enterprise moving at warp speed with Capt Kirk in command? Or consider the recent confounding sci-fi thrillers like ‘Gravity’ and ‘Interstellar’ talking of 'n' dimensions and wormholes and space travel. I would seem a relic if I say that our favourite sci-fis just came true because let's face it, today's space flicks more or less reflect the actual nature and scope of the space research of the times. A case in point being Philae probe 'waking up' on Sunday on a far flung comet in the Milky Way called 67P. Last November it landed on the icy comet and like a full-blown movie script, bumped into a ditch and switched off after 60 hours. It's mothership Rosetta which launched the probe into the comet is still in the orbit which is somewhere in the Kuiper belt. It could not transmit any information till a miracle happened a few days ago and the probe tweeted 

"Hello Earth! Can you hear me?

Aah!! How musical does this particular tweet sound, so replete with the happiness of having found a long lost friend, a friend who had been lost in the wide wide---not world mind you! The world is too tiny to be of any significance in this context; I am talking of the universe-and space, vast amounts of space, where distance and time are interchangeable, where the unfathomable distance defies the speed of light, where we measure the time in years. In that vast space, we have our own messengers and one such i.e  the probe Philae is sending messages to us from an address from where it takes 16 minutes for a radio signal to reach us. Poor Philae! How lonely you must be! In those vast swathes of nothingness, among the stars and the unknown gases and the blackness and the lack of light and sometimes, the abundance of it! We are so glad to hear from you! The space guys must be celebrating Christmas early. The space aficionados must be waiting anxiously to devour all the data that the faithful bot collected for us. It is supposed that the probe fell into a ditch on the comet's surface and so the batteries ran out and couldn't be recharged by the sun. Now when the comet is at a perihelion distance, the sun has infused life into the comatose probe and once again it is transmitting. 

And what do we expect to find? It is surmised that the remnants of the solar system are carried by the comets which transfer these gases and matter to the planets where they sojourn while on their space odyssey. Some such comets might have landed on the earth sometime, produced the craters and gifted it with life-producing gases of the likes of O2 and N2. 
Is it even possible? 
Well, anything is possible. You have seen how pollen is carried by wind, leaves and various other agents and transferred to the flowers for new seeds and the birth of new plants? Couldn't it be possible that these comets are the universal pollen agents helping to bring about life? What with Pluto back in the league of planets, one must admit anything is possible. Those skeptics  who still scoff at the plausibility of life outside earth will do better to listen to Elon Musk, who has invested billions on his Project Space X. He is affirmative that Mars has life or at least some other planet surely does. He has already planned inter planetary trips and even booked the candidates for the excursions, even if they are one-way trips for the time being. I was wondering if the criminals could be given such a ticket to outer space and made to feel actual sequestration? Not much chance for relapse, is there? Food for thought!

Monday, 15 June 2015

The Right To Silence

This weekend, we decided to go on a road trip. So, after hiring an SUV, eight of us set off on a road adventure. The first few hours passed blissfully with everyone chatting merrily. But soon one could hear only one's own voice and didn't know whom to address because everyone was talking to everyone else. As the bout of talking ceased, we started withdrawing to our own worlds; some retired to their phones, some stared out the window while others started snacking.
There are some things which happen almost all at once. People sometimes have a tendency to think alike, and we are often influenced by what others are doing and start doing the same thing. I got my earphones out and started browsing through my playlists. Almost simultaneously, three of my companions took out their headphones. One of us had one of those tiny speakers shaped like a soda can. Music wafted through it, a lot like a fizzy drink would have, had the can been what it represented. Immediately, everyone hounded the guy with the speakers.
"Play this one. I have such an awesome collection!"
"This is that famous Beyonce track. The one from the Grey movie!"
"Forget all that. Play Kailasa's songs."
And the one who had got the speakers started regretting it instantly. A few of the songs were played while others couldn't see the light of day. Finally, the owner of the speakers decided to play his own songs and started playing them loud. Everyone else lost interest and went back to their headphones. Suddenly, B in the front began to bleat and cry. On closer inspection, we realized that he was singing. So immersed was he in the song that he couldn't hear Y sitting beside him, asking him to shut up.
"I can't listen to my songs. Will you please stop singing?"
He took one plug out of his ear and yelled, "What?!"
Y reiterated her problem. He put his earplugs back on and started raving louder than ever. Someone at the back had taken cue as well. C was trying miserably to imitate the song she was listening to and ended up spoiling the experience for everyone. Y turned around with a dangerous expression on her face.
"You too?!"
But that was to no avail. Soon, two more joined in the braying and the cacophony threatened to impair the hearing abilities of the rest of the company. When asked to stop or ordered to 'put an end to this drama', they replied that their freedom of speech was getting curbed. Y fumed. I advised her to use some earplugs herself. But she was not an easy person to assuage.
"If that is their right to sing, their 'freedom of speech', this is my right to not be sung to, my right to silence! I can't stand this!"

Image Source : musical road trip had weirdly turned into a battleground for rights. No one knew how to solve this conundrum. How can the right to sing and the right to not listen to songs coexist? Who was impinging on whose rights? Even though B's right to sing appeared more valid, Y's right to NOT listen to B sing could not be undermined either. Being a minority, Y's voice could not be heard. And the right to remain silent or the right to avoid songs was an ambiguous right no one had heard of. Those of us who were neutral just didn't know how to go about it.
A vehement debate ensued. We argued and fought while the serene hills and fields flashed past the window. Before I knew it, nearly everyone had hit the sack within an hour. I too was snoozing, my hand over the seat cushion. An eerie quiet pervaded the car now, like that of a battlefield with slain soldiers after a battle. Suddenly, I heard a tune followed by some words. It was a very old song, of the time of my parents'. The driver had made the best of the situation while everyone was exhausted and asleep. He was playing his favorite song, exercising his right to music while everyone else was utilizing his/her right to repose.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

The Finish Line

( This post has been tagged as a WOW post as a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda. )

The day was young and fresh as he sprayed the plants in the verandah with water. He went leisurely from one plant to the other, bathing the leaves and enjoying the morning breeze. As the little boy’s eyes roved over the surroundings, he suddenly went rigid, his gaze fixated on a point many floors below their flat. He dashed inside the house calling, "Grandpa! Grandpa! Please come out!" Within a few minutes, the two generations were standing together; the younger one pointing down at a narrow gulley.

"Look at the pigeon! It's so badly hurt; it will die! Can't we save it?" the little kid bleated pitifully. The old man followed his grandson's gaze and descried a puny bald creature with a few feathers sticking out of its body, most of its left eye gone, replaced with a yellowish gooey bulge and the rest of the body sprayed with a deep crimson shade, something that might act as an emetic for the faint-hearted.
"Poor guy...I'm afraid he is too far gone to be saved...he is almost at the finishing line..."
“What do you mean it can’t be saved? I want to save it! And what is the finishing line?”
“It has bled way too much. Some cat must have got it.”
The poor boy looked horrified.
The grandfather continued in a kinder voice, “As for the finish line, well...some reach this line in a dash. You know, how, in a race, when it looks so close, you just double your speed and cross that line? It’s like that with some. While others take their own sweet time to reach it. The pace does not really matter. However, there are some unfortunate ones who are tantalizingly close to the line and yet, take ages to cross it, through no fault of their own. That poor pigeon is just such a creature. The best thing would be for it to be put out of its misery the soonest possible.”
“Why? Why can’t it be saved? Why can’t it live?”
“It can live. In fact, it will and that is what is so miserable about it. It is at a stage worse than death. A vegetative stage out of which it cannot extricate itself. It’s like you are stuck in a limbo; you cannot take that one step that will take you to the finishing line. Neither can you keep walking, meandering or charting new courses. It is a stalemate; a period, which seems to extend forever. The only thing one can do is pray that such a state never befalls anyone. You don’t want to be stuck indefinitely, waiting ponderously for the line to reach you.”
This discourse had chilled him to the core all those years ago. He had still wanted the bird to survive, to live as long as it could manage. 
But now, when he saw his dear grandpa enervated by a debilitating illness lying in a hospital bed in a comatose state himself, he finally realized the import of what the old man had said at that point of time. While everyone shed tears and lamented his state, he knew what his grandpa would have wanted- a dash to the finish line, not an insect-like crawl but a heroic dash. He could only envisage how his grandfather must abhor his current condition, but all he could do was pray- pray for him to reach the end line as soon as possible, just like they had prayed a long time ago for the poor pigeon.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Revolution of the Paupers

No man is exempted
No woman either
From the laws of change
That spare neither

A ravishing red rose bobbed along at the level of my waist as I chatted animatedly with my brother while strolling lazily in the market. I had barely looked down to see its source when a coarse voice called, “May God bless the thriving couple!”
It was a disheveled urchin carrying a bunch of roses, some still buds and others past bloom. His feet were bare and his brown hair fell all over his face. I walked resolutely ahead, wondering that the new-age tramps no longer played on the human sense of sympathy at disabilities but had now reverted to well wishes aimed at vulnerable people.
“Bhaiyya looks like Salman Khan and Didi looks like Katrina Kaif. What a couple!” said the kid, who was determined to dog us. I don’t know what came to me but I blurted out, “He is my brother!” and went away laughing before the ragamuffin could cook up some new comment about the eternal fraternal bond and the undying devotion of a brother towards a sister or any such crap.
I have come across many brands of beggars. There are those at the traffic signal who live off the red traffic light, which gives them the opportunity to hound vehicles by rapping on their windows or thrusting some unwanted article like penny dreadfuls, mobile covers or shades, inside them via some carelessly unclosed window. If there is a kid with you, then you will attract extra attention from the balloon guys or the toy sellers. There are obviously those typical women in tattered sarees with a kid on one arm and a kid on the side, who ask for ‘something in the name of God’ while pointing to the baby who has snot flowing copiously from his dirty little nose. But the ones who take the cake are definitely the eunuchs who will start with a compliment that panders to one’s vanity and move on to threats of a malediction in case one doesn’t shell out some bucks.

My mother immediately took out a twenty-rupee note when once, such a person reached us and looking at me, said to her, “You have such a beautiful daughter. May God bless her with a wonderful husband!” That had touched a nerve. So while I rolled my eyes, my mother promptly gave the person some amount that was certainly more than what she would have given a ‘general’ mendicant. “These people can curse you and it often comes true. They have a certain faith and power.” She explained to me, trying to assuage my anger and skepticism.

I used to be sort of proud of the fact that I never fell for such tricks. I never stopped to hear any insistent plea or see any attractive gimmick. Actually, I have never understood how to respond to beggars. Should I help them or should I be wary of them? The situation of the country and the disillusionment that has prevented us from believing the stranger on the street makes me wonder if I am not sinning by not helping those who might benefit by a few coins? My doubts continue to assail me however it was the following incident that turned the tables on me. I was standing at a bus stop, checking my watch when a thin woman came up to me and said “Hello”. I turned to look at her. “Good Morning” she continued. Out of sheer habit, I responded with a hello, although the rational senses of my mind had started smelling something wrong.

“Please...” she said and extended a white sheet of paper towards me. 
“Charity”, she said and took out a pen. As I looked at the odd sheet, I realized that the winds of change had transformed the uncouth beggars into proper professional destitutes. Globalization has brought many things to India, not least the culture of the west. But this evidence of the westernization of the community of the indigents had taken me by surprise. A few words in well-accented English and a pen and paper can give an overhaul to the image of a panhandler. It can make incredulous people like me listen and put skeptics in a dilemma whether to contribute to ‘charity’ or not. Thankfully, the bus arrived before I could be tricked any further. Next time when I encountered a girl roaming about with a piece of paper, I quickly steered clear before she could accost me further. Change, thou has swept the world!     

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