Friday, October 27, 2006

Of Sights Seldom Seen

I was walking home one October evening. The sun was busy painting the sky and everything under it in a brilliant vermillion. But everyone moving around was too busy to notice his business. I, too, moved on preoccupied by my thoughts. And then I saw it - standing right in front of me, by the roadside.

I had seen it an umpteen number of times before. But it presented a unique sight that evening. I watched its grandeur in amazement. It stood there austere and virile like a stalwart gaurding its own premises. It looked wonderful.

Its roots were firm and strong in the ground adorned by tufts of dry grass. They reminded me of a grand old man who was so well rooted to his culture and convictions that it was well-nigh impossible to pull him away.

It had a gargantuan trunk replete with fissures and orifices with squirrels and chameleons rushing in and out. It resembled the body of the grand old man ruthlessly wrinked out by Father Time. I am sure each of the wrinkles had a plethora of tales to narrate.

Its branches were a beautiful burnt sienna which looked mesmerizing against the vermillion hue which had turned an iota darker. They ramified repeatedly to give the appearance of a marquee. A few were as straight as a saint's path of life. Another few were twisted initially but straightened out towards the end reminding me of those who started out on the wrong foot but eventually found felicity. Some branches were no more than crests and troughs of wood. Still others got badly entangled with other branches midway never to come out of the tangle. I wondered how people of that kind ended up.

The sun in its painting spree never knew when he painted the green leaves in a darker vermillion than before. This fusion lended a most unreal colour to them. But I knew it was going to be off in a moment. I was reminded of the peoples, who pretend so well to have blended with the national colour as to make everyone believe. But no sooner does the night of communalism, casteism and the likes arrive than the original colours show.

I wondered how such beautiful sights could remind us of so many things we never bother to think about, how busy could we get so as not to notice things as lovely as loveliness itself, where exactly are we headed without having a few moments for our Mother Nature? I couldn't help remembering William Henry Davies and his 'What is life if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.'.

I was pulled out of my trance by the loud honking of a truck passing by. The sun had by then changed its mind and painted everything all over again in copper. What I was gazing at now was a mere silhoutte. Capturing it in my mind's eye, I walked back into our indifferent world again.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Educated Fool

I am not about to expound on how this phrase is an Irony or a Paradox or an Oxymoron (or whatever the figure of speech that applies is). I am no English teacher. I am just Educated. It remains to be seen if I am an educated fool too or not though.

A friend suggested I listen to this song by Iron Maiden called The Educated Fool. The song itself was okay but I really liked the title. More so because the phenomenon has become so commonplace today. Indian Educational Institutions have become factories churning out thousands of this species of Educated Fools. Armed with a degree each, they step out into the society calling themselves Educated. What their 5th standard English teacher did not teach them is that 'Literate' and 'Educated' are not synonyms (if I had been an English teacher I would have done that. But I am no English teacher, I told you).

This phenomenon is spreading like an epidemic. The worst part is the creatures of this species are hell bent on establishing the superiority and ubiquity of their kind by giving repeated proofs of their existence - every time someone opens the car door to the side of the road and not the pavement without watching for oncoming vehicles, every time someone parks in front of a NO PARKING sign thinking 'Chalta hai', every time someone honks at the vehicle in front of them at the traffic signal as if that fellow had plans of constructing a house at the traffic signal while our case under consideration is in such a hurry (maybe he is just trying to flaunt the stupid horn they gave him in return of the thousands he paid for his luxury - you see it is the only part of the vehicle that speaks for itself and the vehicle and probabaly even the owner - who knows if he opens his mouth a worse sound might come out), every time someone breaks the basic rules of courtesy by scrambling to get into the elevator ahead of all those civilised people who have been waiting for an eternity, every time someone displays outrageously high amounts of insensitivity by talking in a native language in presence of one who has no knowledge of the tongue (especially while working in MNC's whose code of conduct resembles the Indian Constitution: no bias on the basis of religion, region, race, caste or sex), every time someone demonstrates intolerance on the grounds of religion in a supposedly secular country like India (hey what's the big deal if I don't say the same prayer as him. The worst part is he won't tolerate someone who doesn't believe at all too! My way or the highway)........................I can go on enlisting all the occurences; but any time any of this happens you know that an Educated Fool was born not so long ago.

My cousin was telling me the other day, in Calcutta - where the breadth of the lanes is as low as it gets and the population is as high - when a rickshaw puller parks his rickshaw at a particular place in a lane, the next rickshaw puller will always park diagonally opposite no matter what his actual destination. That way, people are able to manoeuver even cars very easily in a zig-zag fashion. Now thats education A-class. Education is being responsible, respectful, sensitive and broad-minded. It is understanding values related to life and living in a society. You may be able to explain rocketry down to the last detail but have you learnt how to treat another human being and make space for him? I am not against education (after all I too am Educated right!) but I believe in education that teaches one to be thoughtful. Knowing facts about idiot boxes like televisions or computers, mindless machines and ununderstandable economies is useless unless you also know how to behave so others can live with you in the society.

These Educated Fools think that just because they know the alphabet (maybe they know it backwards too!) they can call themselves Educated. I wish someone would go tell them what their 5th standard English teacher didn't - the difference between Education and Literacy. I can't because I am no English teacher. I am just Educated. And I'd like to believe that.

Skeletons in the Cupboard

I open one of the shelves in my cupboard, one that houses all my clutter. It’s a ritual I perform – cleaning the entire cupboard at the end of every semester as if the dust in there will be de trop for the next semester. It is an idée fixe and logic simply takes a backseat.

So I open the shelf. On the top is the previous semester’s junk….apologies, study material: journals worth countless nights of sleep, photocopies of class notes amounting to Bill Gates’ fortune, more Xerox copies of books that geeks penned(Yuck!) and assignments that we copied from the same books. So much for another engineering semester.

The next thing to tumble out is memories. I see memorabilia that act as passports to my past. And I embark on a trip down memory lane…

I come across stories I spun back in fourth grade. I chuckle as I read on – stories with wild names like Adventure Andromeda; characters with wilder names like Nutty, Catpole, Grondor, Spidella!! Ten is a good age to churn out stories as you have no cognizance of stupid laws of physics that your imagination must obey; you can be as small, travel as fast and still be normal in the end for a ‘happily-ever-after’. As I grew up I continued writing – practicals, journals, assignments and exams…I came to know two guys – Newton and Einstein – who murdered my imagination…..they have not been incriminated however!

I remember handcrafting a slam-book long before buying one. It had so many fields it could easily pass for a resume’! It was fun at that age – people wrote sweet things and loved others anyway. But then I grew up a little and learnt to judge, to be judged. And that really squeezed the fun out of it.

I uncover a small box that holds all the friendship bands I received in tenth grade. It warms my heart to know that such a multitude considered me as a friend. I peruse old letters from my friends nationwide; I read the cards they sent. We had all promised: we’d keep in touch…..but soon the hourglass got the better of us. Now only keepsakes remain. You see, we all grew up some more and learnt to make excuses for not writing. But I miss them bitterly….there is no excuse for that.

Next up, something I can swagger about – a letter from Maneka Gandhi! In seventh grade, I wrote to her about local issues involving animals. In her reply, she told me one thing – every movement starts with a single person; and I believed her…that I could change the world alone. I was young. Then I grew up a little more and it dawned upon me that the world changes us more than we change it. Anyone who doesn’t walk, talk or think like the world, is eyed as an alien. And publishing houses have a ball selling self-help books to these estranged souls. Maybe this is what they call Symbiosis.

Finally, I get to my personal diary. Two recent letters tumble out – one that I wrote to my father a few days anterior to his death and his unfinished reply. I and my taciturn father shared everything but our emotions. So, after not saying I love you for twenty years I wrote it out to him…I wanted to build a bridge of letters to the man responsible for my existence. He responded instantly but he couldn’t finish his first and last letter to me. The day he left, I grew up completely and realized: if we love someone, we better tell them incontinently. It’s agonizing: the only lessons they don’t teach in school are the real lessons of life.

These are the skeletons in my cupboard – not the cause of any grief, just reminders that as we grow up we lose a lot: a boundless imagination, a free spirit, a vision broader than our sight can accommodate forever friends, a point of view and a frame of mind. We leave behind times when we sat in the courtyard with friends eating soil and holding hands – without a care for infection in either our stomach or our faith; no respect for caste, creed or colour but only that human instinct: love.

I turned 21 this year and officially attained the status of a grown-up. So I pick up these disjecta membra from my childhood and adolescence and carefully put them away in a box lest I lose even these reminders of who I really was. I shut the shelf….the ritual is complete….the cupboard is clean.