Tuesday, December 29, 2009
The regular routine of the people was suddenly disturbed by the village announcer drawing the attention of the villagers to an emergent meeting of the panchayat to be held after sunset. Villagers were requested to be present in full attendance since some guests of honour were expected at the meeting. Kishen ran up to the announcer and asked him about the guest of honour. The announcer immediately drew up his chest and said the person was highly knowledgeable, enterprising and qualified. The guest of honour was supposed to have been educated abroad and had accepted an invitation to visit the village to give his valuable suggestions for the advancement of the youth of the village. As more persons gathered, the village announcer clearly told that he had more rounds to be completed and all would know about the guest in the evening.
The afternoon was no more a routine day at Rampur. All conversations revolved around this omniscient and omnipotent personality. Women wondered on the dishes to be provided while the men thought of arranging for some wine and cigarettes. The unanimous opinion was that the most comfortable shelter would be the Mukhiya’s place. The question of providing meat was raised and a dilemma struck all of them. Rampur had the tradition of being strictly vegetarian and also the adage of Athithi Devo Bhava was to be upheld. In case the guest was to prefer non-vegetarian food, the question of how to deal it was debated and was left to the Panchas to decide. All through the day the Panchas huddled themselves up and occasionally sent instructions for different households. The mystery deepened but the task was more important than the details.
The most eagerly awaited sunset at Rampur finally happened. All households had carried out their instructions of cleaning their places, spreading disinfectants and placing the dhoop for the fragrance. On this day, the sunset at Kanyakumari faded in significance and grandeur to the sunset at Rampur. Hookahs drawn and charpoys placed in front of their houses, the villagers wend their way to the banyan tree. An hour after sunset, the Panchas appeared. The Panchas stated that the dignity of the guest was to be borne in mind and no questions asked. In case any villager had a doubt, it could subsequently be raised before the Panchas. There was to be no interruptions to the guest of honour and when he was taken on the tour of the village all were to follow. None was to go ahead of the guest except the drum beaters to herald the arrival of the guest. At this juncture, Shyam rose to ask why the drum beaters should herald the arrival of the guest since the entire village would be behind him. The Panchas looked at each other and then said the issue had been deliberated upon and the Mukhiya had decided that this would be the process. Once the Mukhiya had decided it was the decision of the Panchayat and the whole village fell silent. The twitter of the birds was dying down and the faces were to be seen only by holding the lantern.
The villagers began to get restive when they heard the sound of a vehicle accompanied by a dust storm. The dust settled to reveal a young man clad in a suit and boots with a tie and holding a hnaky to his nose. The Mukhiya rushed to him and apologized for the dust storm. Sheela was called and rebuked for not spreading enough water at the place. Apparently, Sheela had done her job immediately after receiving the instructions from the village announcer and the place had dried up in the interim period. The Mukhiya could never be wrong she thought and apologized sincerely. One of the Panchas raised his hand and placed it on her head to gesture a pardon.
The entourage made its way to the dias which was the platform around the banyan tree. The Panchas gestured for silence. The Mukhiya rose to speak. He warmly welcomed the young lad and graciously thanked him for his time and effort. He then requested the young lad to join him for a tour of the village. The lad waved his hand dismissively and said he had seen the entire landscape in his computer and gestured to a slim box next to him. The lad went on to say that he was appalled that youth in Rampur would not be able to swim and went on to glorify the benefits of swimming. The villagers were stunned by this observation since all of them had the benefit of swimming in the well.
After the lad finished his diatribe, the Mukhiya rose to gingerly tell him that the village boys were accustomed to swimming and diving in the well. The lad again gestured dismissively. He cited Kabirdas and said that a frog in the well would never be able to swim the ocean of knowledge. Youth development in Rampur was neglected he averred. The Mukhiya requested him to lay a roadmap for development of the youth of the village. The lad said the first thing was to construct a swimming pool and then hire a coach to teach swimming. He promised assistance on both counts. The Mukhiya immediately identified a spot close to the grove for a swimming pool which would be bifurcated for men and women. The lad then asked for some helping hands from the village for which six young wrestlers were identified. The lad said he would give further details once this work was completed.
The next day saw a change in routine. Some more vehicles appeared with men who were introduced as engineers. These men started instructing the wrestlers on the work to be done. Soon, a swimming pool took shape. The women pumped water into the pool through a canal laid out from the well. A huge compound was raised around the pool. The villagers were wondering in what way would this pool benefit them when the Panchayath summoned all of them.
At the Panchayath, the villagers were asked to celebrate the success of the young lad. It was disclosed that on the first day there would be a free exhibition of the benefits of the pool. Thereafter, the entry to the pool would be subject to a charge of Rs 500/- per month per head. Sushil, one of the wrestlers stood up and said, “ Mukhiyaji, I was one of the persons who built this pool and my sister Sheela was one of the persons who poured the water into the canal then why should I be paying for the same?” The Mukhiya was visibly displeased. He replied, ”Sushil, what you have done is a bit of kar seva. You should not become arrogant and insult the good work done by our guest. You should learn to treat them as your brother. Do we not pay Nair for our chai?” He then turned to the crowd and said, “ All of you should understand that the Panchas can only think of your benefit and we feel that this lad will bring prosperity to Rampur. So let us listen to his advice. He may be young but he is wise.” After a few more deliberations, the dashami was fixed as an auspicious day for inauguration by the astrologer. Dashami was five days away. The villagers were to tie festoons, prepare sweetmeats and invite their kith and kin for occasion. Four days flitted past in the celebratory work. All routine work was put away as mundane. On the eve of Dashami, few in the village could sleep out of excitement. The first person to be allowed to swim in the swimming pool was the only one to have the privilege of costless swimming. Who would be the lucky one?
Dashami dawned. The chirping of the birds seemed sweeter, the scent of the hay appeared to be the sweetest but the question uppermost was who would be the lucky one. As the sun went past the noon hour, lunches were had and the siesta was given a skip. The village school had declared a holiday for the momentous occasion. As the sun started its journey towards the horizon and the cool breeze set in, the drum beats from the grove suggested that the time had arrived. People clad in their best attire moved in various colours towards the pool with songs on their lips. At last, Rampur was on the development map.
As the people seated themselves around the pool, the lad took a huge glass bowl and showed a number of slips placed in it. He shuffled them and shook the bowl. He then requested the Mukhiya to pull out a slip. The whole crowd fell silent. The slip was fished out of the bowl by the Mukhiya and then the lad took the slip and said, “ The honour of inaugurating the pool goes to…….Abhiman”. A thunderous applause rent the air. Abhiman was a twelve year old boy who was loved by his friends for his pranks. Abhiman walked to the side of the pool and was garlanded amidst the sound of the bugles. The mangal vaadya was playing the tunes that would befit any marriage. Looking around, Abhiman casually removed his shirt and vest. He removed his shorts and placed them in the custody of his trusted friend Ajay. Clad for the occasion, he strode to the side of the pool and was ready for the plunge when he was suddenly pulled aside. The hands that pulled him belonged to the young guest of honour. The lad reprimanded Abhiman for attempting to jump the gun. A cap was placed on his head and a water proof brief provided. Once these were donned, Abhiman’s hands were placed behind his back and tied. The legs of Abhiman were also tied. He was then gently pushed into the waters while a person blowing a whistle gestured to him to move on. Abhiman was an ace diver in the well but was used to the limbs. The tying up of the limbs being unexpected he found water gushing into his mouth and nostrils. Abhiman battled to keep his head above water. After splurging the water, he screamed to untie his limbs. As the whistle blew, the crowd also joined in the excitement. An announcement was made that if Abhiman was declared a good swimmer then he should have crossed the pool. Here he was battling to keep himself afloat. After some time, Abhiman shouted,” I do not know swimming. I will learn from the coach. Leave me today.” He was pulled out of the pool by throwing a buoy around him.
Once outside the pool, Abhiman wondered why one’s limbs should be tied and that too to the back. People told him not to make excuses for his failure. Failure is the stepping stone for success, he was reminded. Abhiman’s father, enrolled himself and son for the swimming course. They were then told of the dress code for which separate charges were to be paid and the material collected. Abhiman’s father then invited the lad for tea.
At Abhiman’s residence, tea and snacks were prepared and served to the guest of honour. Abhiman’s father praised the young lad for his vision and then enquired about his experience. At this point, a lady appeared at their doorstep and said,” I dropped my ring while drawing water from the well. Could you please fetch it for me?” The lad said,” I am only an expert in setting up swimming pools and the coach is an expert in training. You should get an expert swimmer for the job. The toll free number is available and I can share it with you."
Abhiman quietly followed the lady to the well retrieved the ring for her and returned. From the next day he went to the pool for his swimming classes. This time he found he was asked to swim freely. A certificate of training was issued at a valedictory function. Development of the youth of Rampur had begun in right earnest.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
India is a secular country. Ram and Rahim are one. Ishwar Allah tero naam are oft heard statements and assertions. Few practice and fewer imbibe the spirit in others. Ibrahim was an illiterate colleague of my father. A short plump man, Ibrahim was a much revered and eagerly awaited visitor to our home. He always carried an assorted sweetmeat box which would be reverentially handed over to my mother and we were queried on our progress in academics and cultural activities. This taught us the joy of sharing since each sweet had to be divided for every one to savour the taste of it.He would cycle more than 30 kms to my place and would always come up with innovative ideas. He was the one who taught me to cycle and he was the one who identified the cycle to be purchased for me. Later down the years when I decided to part with the cycle, he bought it for his son. May be more as a memento or memoir rather than out of need.
For us he was Idea Ibrahim.In our childhood days when we aspired to be the teacher and the boards were not commercially available in the market for children, Idea Ibrahim put a few planks together, added a coat of cement and painted them in black. A neat blackboard was made available. This is one of the most cherished possessions which we would not part for the world. The blackboard represents fulfilment of aspirations, the fulfilment of desire and most of all a symbol of the undying love for us and the enterprising nature of this man who if nurtured could have made the country proud.
Much later we realised that this man stood for many more values. Integrity and devotion were among them. The man would pray at Udupi, Velankanni and Nagore for the welfare of his family and his well wishers. The concept of Ishwar Allah tero naam was truly in his blood and he imbibed the quality in us that if we pray to any God it was for the humility to the ultimate and not out of the arrogance of the knowledge that we had identified Him.
I was once stationed at Panaji and the man had come on a surprise visit to the Old Goa church. I was on vacation at Bangalore. He caused enquiries about my acquaintances, friends, companions as well as the habits I was privy to. The man exhibited concern which made me a subject matter of ridicule by my peers on my return to Panaji. But Ibrahim could never be faulted. He is one of the few persons who was well above our age whom we respected but addressed by name. He was more an idea(l) to us rather than a colleague of our father.
How many could lay claim to this spirit of secularism? Undoubtedly he is one of the many unsung heroes who remains etched in many a heart.
It was one of those routine days when I returned from office to find my father suddenly making trips to a nearby hospital. I queried about his health. He merely stated a friend of his was in the hospital and he was paying visits. Few days later, my father stopped me at the gate and told me to visit the hospital and see whether Idaa(l) Ibrahim's desire for living could be aroused. I rushed to the hospital only to be told that his family members had settled the bill and claimed his body for the last rites. He gave us the slip but men of all walks of life, creed, religion and class paid tributes. He achieved their unity in his demise too. May his soul rest in peace.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
A mail from the alma mater had set all abuzz. Forwards flew thick and fast to friends who were on the mailing list. Suddenly, the urgency to add more links was felt. Facebook, Linkedin, Orkut etc became handy tools to ferret out names. Unfortunately, the names were not etched in the mind and most friends were remembered by their nicknames. The constraint was to be overcome and things had to be worked out and it was finally to happen on a Saturday in the end of November.
Another mail came in asking whether any one could volunteer to pick the coupons for the day. Issue was who could do so with minimal deviations and the figures were to be confirmed. Finally a short list of seven was drawn and I went to pick the coupons. On reaching the school, the security told me that the entr was permitted only from the other gate. A rediscovery of the routes was made through a ceremonial tour of the parking lot to reach the counter. Rushing through the things had made me forget basic things and I just chose to ask whether alumni coupons were available and on the slightest nod of the head, I asked for seven of them handing the money over the counter. The young lad who was tearing the coupons asked me to tell how many veggies and how many were not. Well this was a true bouncer. Couple of them I was sure were non-veg but Saturday was a question and others I was not sure which they would have converted. Sheepishly, I told him that I would inform him of the same after getting in touch with my friends. The lad looked puzzled. Still in uniform, he did not understand that over a period of time the time tested friendship would last but certain nuances of day to day life would be lost. One thing I could assure him was friends would not make an issue out of it and at best may use it as a stick to beat their old chum which was anyway acceptable. After all what would a reunion mean if one could not relive school brawls.
The day finally arrived. One of friends drove in to pick me up. We travelled back in memory when we used to travel in a factory bus for school kids ( well can afford to use the term kids) through the old misty Bangalore with all the chatter that would bug any driver no end to reach the school and imagine now the luxury of the four wheeler but the roads were packed giving us the feel that we were probably much slower.
The vehicle finally veered into the grounds of the school and with a cricket match on, a safe place was identified for parking and as we alighted from the vehicle we were greeted by Shashi a batchmate and with nostalgia filled we made our way towards the canteen and took the aisle down to the middle school grounds. Reaching the venue, we were told that a process of registration had been set up and we were given a label bearing our name and batch. A novel way to aid friends who may be meeting after the passage of a couple of decades. Pasting the badges on us we moved into the crowd to see another person the Shahrukh Khan of our times Vivek exchanging pleasantries with the Principal of our times. As we exchanged notes, our attention swirled to an elderly person being helped by a lady to make his way into the quadrangle. The tag on his shirt pocket read "1947". Boy!!! That should call for the HIP HIP HURRAYS!
The school bells rang to remind us of those good days and soon the ceremonies started by placing the Principals of the present and past on the dias along with the alumni officebearers. Speakers took turns to emphasise the importance of the gathering and marked the third Sunday of February as the Alumni day. Soon, it was the turn to felicitate the oldest teacher available , Mr Venkararaju and also the young man who left the portals of the institution as recently as 1947, a few months before Independence and a few years before we were born. This made us determined to see a full class get together at the earliest. Plans whispered we applauded the young gentlemen and then turned attention to the pick of some alumni recounting their days. Nostalgia in the form of cheers, jeers and chatter reverberated in the quadrangle.
The grace and charm of Ms D' Sa remained untouched by time. She had moved on to become the Principal and now a former Principal. By all accounts she remained the cynosure. Batches from the seventies to the twenty first century vied with each other for a snap. The charming lady obliged without a murmur. The streak of grey and the effort to climb the stairs were the only signs that betrayed her age lest she remained the uncrowned charismatic personality to the unabashed men around her.
Soon the dias made way for a cultural presentation. A multilingual dance performance by the students of the present day to their peers was the one to set the tempo. But the feast was yet to come. Drums were being circulated and soon a young energetic fellow took stage and started an interactive session with the tambolas. Young and old alike were swept into the music frenzy. Even the much feared principal of our days was seen to be sticking to the beats on his drum. This gesture from him made the atmosphere all the more festive. The crowd soon was enraptured in the beats. Chants of once more rent the air. Oh boy!!! the idea was novel but the spirit was old. Josephites made merry and soon it was dinner time followed by farewell time. Yes a farewell till a new re union.
FAITH AND TOIL is the school motto. Hopefully, the faith of the Josephites and the toil will restore the alumni to its good old days.