Archive for August, 2015

Soulful Strangers

Soulful Strangers 

By  Mohinder Pal Singh

As  I  boarded the  Pragraj  Express from Delhi the  2-tier AC  cabin  was totally  unoccupied till  now. May be  it was still about  fourty five minutes   to  go for the  departure at of 9.30 PM.. Having gone through a  hectic  day in Delhi I  was very  tired . I  dumped  my luggage  under the seat and  opened my  dinner  packet. After  a  quick  dinner  of  sandwiches I plunged  myself  into a  bestseller  book,  Start Up Nation  which I had picked up from the Wheelers  book  stand  on the platform. The  silence of the cabin and  the chill  of  the  AC  was  soon  disrupted by  a sweet  shrill  of  a  women, “ Its here  ,  seat  number 37” I heard  her  saying   to her accomplices.  This  was  followed  by  a  peep  through the  curtain and the  cabin  was  soon filled  by  two young  men  , a  young  lady and lots of  fragrance.  Was  it Musk or Mackie?  I could not  decipher  the  scent or  the  source of  the perfume,   but seeing  the  demeanor of the  people  I reasonably  presumed it  was  from the young  lady. The  younger  of the  two  men kneeled  and  respectfully  pushed   a  leather  bag  under  the  seat  and  the  three  settled  down.  The  elder of the two  who  seemed  to be  in  the  mid thirties sat  next  to  me and the younger  one  opposite  me   and the  lady  besides him.  Within  seconds of settling down the  trio burst  out  laughing   and  jeering  at  each other playfully. The lady  was  full of  life and  seemed  to  be  making most  of  the conversation  and  after  every sentence of hers’  the  trio would  laugh.

I lost  concentration  in  otherwise  a  very interesting book.  I  raised my eyes  slightly   and  of course  my glance first   went  to  the  young lady  who  seemed  to be busy  in nattering something.   A close  ogle  made  me feel  she  was a  slim and  elegant  looking women in her early thirties with  wheatish complexion, big eyes full of  mischief , five ear rings in her ears and iphone  in her hands.  A constant  ribbing smile  on  her  face gave  her  a  look which  showed  her  in  command of the  situation. To me  the trio seemed  to be  office  colleagues  going  for a meeting. I  kept  this  information  aside  and  went back to  reading. ‘Why  should  I  get distracted  from  co-passengers ”I  thought .  But  the  trio seemed  to  be  in some  special  mood,  the  pitch of  the  jokes  went up  and   on one  occasion I could  not control my laughter after  I  heard  the  pun. Though I turned my face away for a moment  so that they could not see  me smiling  but  the   conversation was  interesting  and  light. At times  the young lady  laughingly  pocked  a  finger  into the  tummy of  the young man sitting beside  her   who would  jump up laughing..  They  soon opened  a  packet of  chips  and  shared   but surely   did not  consider  it  to extend  the  gesture  to a   Sardar trying to  concentrate on   a  book.

With just 10  minutes  for the  train to  leave both the men  began to say goodbye and got up. That’s when  I realized that I  am  going  to  have  the  sole company of  this chirpy lady during the journey.  As  the  two  men got up to  leave , the elder one  simply smiled and said  ‘see you, take care’  but   the younger  one  suddenly  bent  down and touched  her  feet, “ bye  bhabhi” . I  was  more clear about their  relationships now.

As  brother duo  moved  out,   the train snailed out    of the  platform,  her  smiling face  was  suddenly  serious. We  were now  sitting opposite  each other  like  strangers. I looked  up  and we  exchanged a  expressionless  glance. But  yet  beneath her expressionless  face  I could  see  a  pleasant pleasing personality  which was  chirping  till a  minute  back…

Having  known nothing about her I thought it  to  be pointless  to  start  a  conversation  in  this  short    9-hour   journey. It  was  9.30 PM and  soon  everybody  would  be  asleep , so I went  back to  reading  my book. From  the  corner of my  eye I could  see  her  also  taking out a  book  from her purse and  open the first  page.

Next  one hour passed fast. Ticket Collector   came   and  went  by. Both  of us were  sitting opposite but  reluctant to talk.

By 10.30 PM she  spread the   bed sheet on  the  berth  and   lay down .  Other  passengers in others  cabins too  were  in the process  of going to bed.

I  just  asked her  that  “ Maám do you want  me  to put  off  the  main light  , I wish  to  read but  I can use  the  reading  light.”

The  moment I finished  my question , I  could  see  a  smile  on  her  face, “ I was  waiting  for you  to decide”. I too  want to read  my  book” she  answered  politely .

“Oh  really , then we  can  read  with our  night lights  on   and  why  keep the main light on.” I  replied  reciprocating  her  question and  the  smile.

“sure” she answered.

“Are  you  going to  Allahabad? She asked..

“Yes, and you?” I replied.

And from  that  point onwards there was a  long endless conversation… It  went on and on from  our  professions  to  our   children,  their  schools  and  the markets  of Delhi, Allahabad  ,   the  purpose of  her  visit  to Allahabad  and  mine to  Delhi, shopping  malls  of  Delhi  and Allahabad. The  time  flew  and  before  we  realised  it was 2 AM  and had  to catch  up with  some  sleep.  We  forgot  it  was  a  journey  and  we  were  so engrossed  in  our  chat  and  sojourns of  each others’ lives  . I  always found it  easier  to talk  to  strangers  because  you  can  talk  uninhibited  and  disclose   only as  much  you   wish to.  At  times  total  strangers  also give  you  some very soulful  advice.   The  conversation with this  co-passenger  was  proving  to  be  one  such  soulful chat,  which  was  full of  life. Not  a  single  moment was  boring.  In  fact it  was  overflowing  with emotions, information and  advices.

In between the conversation I was  wondering  as  to  what is happening?  How  this small  journey  is teaching me  so  many lessons. I  thought  life  is made  up  so many such journeys.    But  whether  it is a small   or a much   larger  journey  called  life , each  has  three  typical  phases, the  Nascent  or  the  Learning  Phase  where  you  keep  observing  what  is  happening  around  you, followed  by  the  Engrossment phase  where  you  are  totally  embroiled in  the  journey  as such. The  final  is  the  Near-to-Home Phase which  tells  you  that  the home   is  close   and  the  past  was   a  journey and  not  the  destination. The  childhood  is  an  example  of  the  first   phase  when  the  child  is  simply observing  the society  around  him   and he  is  deciding  his  options of  living in it . The  second  phase     ,  the  engrossment  phase   where  the  complexities  of  life and  ambition  take  over  everything  and  you  forget  that   you are  actually  in  a  journey.  You    forget  that  you  have  to  reach  a  destination. You forget that  this  life  is  a  journey and  has  a  true  home  at  the  end  .  You  tend  to  be  so entangled  in the  journey  itself that the you forget   the  purpose why  you  had  under taken  this journey and  where  it  will  lead to.  Sometime  you  deliberately  wish to  elude  the  thought  that  there  is  a  final  destination. The  present  looks too  sugary   to  leave.  This short sojourn seemed similar to  the  journey  of  life. After the initial  two  hours  of  silence   the  next  two  hours  seemed  so  engrossing  as  if this  small  cabin  was our  world. There  was  nothing and  nobody   beyond  that. I  don’t  even  remember  which  stations the train went past  or  at  what  pace  was  the  train  moving. I  found  the  attitude  being  reciprocated  from  the young  lady too who  was  so engrossed  talking  about  herself  and her  work.

I think the last  two  hours  were  truely  the  engrossment  phase  of  our journey…  we even forgot  to  ask each  others’ name. We  seemed  to  have  known  each other  so well  that asking   the  name seemed  so  naïve.  How could you  ask  such  a  rudimentary  question after  knowing   so  much  about each other.

Somewhere   during the conversation she  yawned  and  we  both  looked at our  watches. It  was  2.10 AM. Instantly  we  both  knew  it was  rather  late and   said  ‘good  night’ . The moment  we  switched off our reading lights,  I  think  we both had blanked out.  At  least  I  did who had had   a  very  tiring  day.

I  suddenly  woke  up  with a  call  from   my  wife    at  6 AM  .  She  wanted  to  know  if  the  train  was  running on  right time.  And  what time  should  the  driver  be sent  with the car to the Railway station? I  got  up from the  bed  and  found  my  co-passenger  was  still  sleeping.  I wore  my  slippers and  went  to  the washroom. On  return  a  glance  outside  told  me we  were  very  near our destination. When  I  returned  I  found  my  co-passenger was also up  and  busy  on  her  phone.  She  too  seemed to be getting calls and  was busy giving  directions  to  someone  about the   train  arrival .  She  looked  at  me  and  we exchanged  “Good  morning”.

This  was  followed  by  a  call from my  driver  who  had  to  declare  that  he  had  reached  the  station showing  his   concern  and  punctuality. And   then  a call  from  my  daughter  who  was  still in  bed  at  home  and  in her  sleepy voice was  anxious  to     know  what gift I  had  brought   for her.  In  front  of  me  I  could  see  she  too had  got   quickly  embroiled   on her  home  front with calls  from her husband,  maid,  daughter etc..  And amidst all this  the  train entered Allahabad Station.  I could  see  my driver  and  she  could  see  her  father  from  the  window….

As  always  this  was  the  third phase  of  every journey    when  we  are  closer home.  The reminders bring  us  back  to  where  we actually belonged  to. In the train the  calls  from  home  made  us  forget  the  lives  we  were  living  in the  cabin of  the  train  from  11PM to 2  AM chatting endlessly about  our college  lives and  interests.  And  in  true  journey  of life  ,   old  age  beckons  everybody  to  his  true  home.  Wrinkles, Diseases  ,  body pains  on  a  once  fit  body  are  some  of the  calls   which  remind  us  that  we are  near  our life’s  destination.  Some of  us  wake  up  from  these  calls  and  some  don’t .  Those  who  wake  up  get  time to pack their  bags  and  prepare. Those  who  don’t   dock at their final   destination  in  slumber.  Destination we  all  have  to  reach.  Any    journey     which  beguns  has to  end..

So  this small  train   journey  too was  very  near  the   end  …..

While  both  of  us  were  still  on  our  calls ,the  train came  to  a  jerking  halt at  the  platform , we   picked  up  our bags …  and  got  in  the line to alight from  the   train…  Once  on  the platform, I looked  round . I  could  see  that  an elderly   man  was  walking towards  her.  I kept a silent gaze at  her  to  steal  a  glance   and  say  good  bye. But her father  was  very near . For a  moment  she  turned back, found   me  and    we  exchanged a  final glances but without  smiles. It  was  a silent  goodwill and  a final goodbye from  the  journey. And  then her hand  was  held  by  her  father  and  my bag  was  taken  by  my  driver. We moved  away towards separate exits.

The journey  with this  co-passenger  was short but  memorable. We  had  known  each other so  well. I just remembered that we  had   neither  exchanged   names  nor telephone  numbers .

So at the  end  of  this  soulful journey we  were  strangers  again…..  as  we  were  at  the  beginning of  this journey………

As  we  would  be  at the  end  of the  journey   of  life  with  all  the  friends  we  make  here…….


Trunk call

Trunk Call

Sometime  in  1996  I  was  posted  in  a  remote  location  on  the border in  the  north. Life was  very  boring   and  the only   companion  used  to  be   a  transistor   which  would connect  us  to  the  world  through  AIR/ BBC news, Forces  request and  Hindi songs . Though  we had a telephone cable  laid  till our  location  but to  get  a  call  to  Delhi  we  had   to  go  through  three  exchanges at  Uri, Baramulla and Srinagar. As  the  distance increased the  decibel  of  the  speech  would  go  down. Srinagar  would  be  hardly  audible.  Being  newly  married  and  an unending urge  to  speak  to  ones  wife   the young officers   never  give  up.  A  trunk call  had  to  be  booked  in  the  morning with Srinagar exchange  and  then  the  wait  would  begun for  the  call  to  materialize.  And sometime  the  wait   would  stretch  for  hours  and  in  the  evening  the  booking    would  automatically get  cancelled    by  6  PM. Of  course   the  exchange  people  had  their  own  priorities  to  put  the  calls  through . We  knew  that  they would  give  preferences  to  hierarchy. But  we  would  also  not  give  up  and  religiously every morning  would  ring  up our  local exchange  and  pester  the  operator   to  put  our  call  through   on  high  priority.  At  times  some  of  us  would  make  a  small  talk   with  the  operator  and  try  to  find  out to  which  place  does  he  belong to. And  if  luck would  have  it  and  he  is  from  our   native place , would  quickly  switch  over  to  local  dialect and  then   you  were  in  for  luck  that  day. Anyway  out  of  the  five  young  officers in  the  headquarters me and one more  were newly  married. The  others  allowed  us  priority rights  over  them as they  were  bachelors.  When  number  of  days  would  pass  and  all our  normal  efforts  would  fail  then  sometime  we  would  threaten  the  telephone operators  with  dire  consequences  saying  that  we  are  going  to  put  up  a  complaint  that  you  are deliberately   not  putting   our  calls  through. The  poor  fellow  would  give  us  the  some  excuses   like, Sir  there  was  a  line-fault’  or there  was  lightening’ or  ‘the  rain’  etc  etc .  In  the  end  we  would  say, ‘we  understand  all that  but  then  today   you  must  put  me  through. Understand  yaar!  my  wife is  not  keeping  well.’ To  which  he  would  give    the  routine  reply, ‘ Sure  Sir’ and  then  amidst  the  daily  work  in the  office  the  wait  for  the  call  would  re-commence  with  a  new ray hope. Generally  Wednesday  was the  day  allotted  for  trunk  call  booking  for  our  area.

And then on  some Wednesday   finally  when the  call   would  get  through  and  then  the  melodrama  would  start. The  conversation would  be  like  this;

“tring  tring”

Hello , Hello”  I  would shout into the  receiver.

Sir  , you  had  booked  a  call  for Delhi?” would  come  a  faint  voice of  the operator at  Srinagar.

“Yes  , Yes,  I  have”. I  would   be  shouting   louder.

“Sir , had  you booked  a call  to  Delhi?” I could  hear  the  operator’s  faint  voice  again as  if  he  had  not  heard   me.

“Yes  Yes.  I  have  booked  the  call. Please  put  me  through” . I  was  shouting   louder  now  and  surely  the  clerks  working   in  the  adjacent  office  with  which I   had  a  wooden  partition     now  knew  that  the  their  Sir  is  about  to  have a  conversation with  his  young  wife. The  Head clerk  who  was  a  wise  old  man   would  quickly  tell the  other  three  clerk  in the  room , “you guys  go  for  a  tea  break”. The  clerks  would  smile  and  move  out.

“Yes,   Please  put me  through”. I  would  shout  again  in  the hope  that  the  Operator,  Thunder  or  Hail  should  not  snap  the  connection  to  my  beloved now .

Hello  Madam, can you  hear me? I  could  hear  the operator shout.  Which  Madam is  he talking  to ? I  was  becoming restless  now.

Hello  Operator, Hello” I  was almost  screaming.

Hello  Madam, There  is  a  call  from Uri”.   I  could  hear  the  operator shout  at  the   other  line.

I  just  hoped  that my  Mother-in-law  does not  pick  up  the  phone  like  last  time when I  got  through. The  precious   three  minutes which  I  get,  will get  wasted  in hearing her say,  Hello…..Hello …. Hello ….. Hello ….. and she  would  not  understand  that it  was  her  Son-in law  desperately  wanting  to  talk to her  daughter . And  after  three minutes as  per  the  orders  the operator snapped  the  line.  And  I  was  left  bereft . I  promptly  wrote  a  letter  to my  wife  that  I will call on Wednesdays  and that  she  should   keep  herself   around  the  room  in  which  the  phone  is  kept and grab it  the  moment  it  rings. I  also explained  in  the  letter what  she  should  do  when   you  when she gets a  call   and  can’t hear or  very  faintly  hear  some  sound    from  the  other  end. I  wrote   that  She  should  shout,  “Yes  , I can  hear you” into  the  receiver irrespective  of  whether  she  hears  anything  or  not. Only then  the  operator  will  put the  call   through. I  hoped  she   had  imbibed  my  instructions well.

After a  few  seconds pause  I  could  hear   a  faint “yes” from my  other side. It  was  my  wife’s voice. Finally  she  had  picked  up  the  phone.

Hello  Operator  , I can hear  her  please  put  me  through” I  shouted  restlessly  as    one  minute  had  already  elapsed  out  of  my  kitty  of  three.

Hello Madam, please  speak to  Sir.” said  the  operator.

Hello  Darling, can  you hear  me”? I shouted  in excitement

Hello, is it  you? hello  is  it  you?” There  was so  much  disturbance  in  the line that as  always I  could  hear  a very  faint  voice of my  wife.

I wondered  as  to  who  nominated  Mr    Graham Bell  for   Noble  prize   for  making telephone which  can’t  put  me  through  to  my  wife.. My  throat now  was  almost  choked  for I was  continuously  shouting  for  last  three  minutes. When  I  looked  outside  the  glass  window  of  my  office  the  clerks were   standing  and  taking  a smoke.

Yes it  is  me” I  tried to  shout  but  my  voice  stifled  now. I  took  a  sip  of water  from the  glass  on my table  and said , “Yes, can you  hear  me”.

“Yes, I  can but  very  faintly”  she  said.  She  could finally  hear  my  voice  and  I  hers. My  ears  could  not  believe   for  they  had  heard  the  voice  of  the  nightingale  again . Her  beautiful  smiling  face  came  in  front  of  my  eyes.  Just  listening  to  her voice  made   me  complete  again. Amidst  my snap  dream about  my  wife  came  in  a huskier   voice through the  receiver.

“Try  to  finish , try  to  finish ,Sir. I have  to  connect  the  next  call”.said  the  operator.

The  dammed  operator. He  always  butted in too  early. I  had  hardly  spoken for   few  seconds, I  thought. My  mind raced  fast, I just had  a  few  seconds  left before  the  operator  would  disconnect.

“I  love  you.” I  gathered  all  my  courage  and  shouted  at  the  top  of  my  voice.

And before  I  could  hear  the  answer  from  the  other  end the  line  snapped.  I  could  see  the  clerks   turn their heads   around  outside  the  window  with  a  smile. I  innocently  kept  the  receiver  back  in  its  place, sat  on the  chair  and  opened   the  next  file . From  the  corner  of  my  eye I could  see  the   old Head  clerk  signal  the  clerks  to  come  inside  now.

For  me  the   wait for  next Wednesday    had  started again.

Empower the Old in Society

Empower the  Old  in  Society

Ageing is a natural phenomenon and the old  are  a  very integral  part  of any society. Seen  as  a bank  of  knowledge ,  experience and maturity  they  have  always contributed  to the  development till  a  certain age.  There after  they  need  help, assurance  and  support.  With  the  shrinkage  of  the  family  size  and  the  expansion  of  the  work areas  across  countries , the filial method  of  care  has  failed  abjectly.  It is  time  to  take  a  serious  note  of  it at  the  society  level.

As  per  the  UN  report  on  population by  2030  the  demographic  pattern  is  going  to  get  severly  skewed towards  the  old.  In  a  layman’s  term  the  issue of  old  and  the  old-age  care  is  going  to  be  a  major  matter  of  concern  not  only  for  the  society as a whole   but also  for  the  government. Analysing the  issue  of   old  age care  from  the  Indian point of  view ; as  per Manusmiriti  in  the  ancient  indian  culture  the  old  and  the very old  members  never  stayed  as  intrinsic members of  the  society after a  certain age. They  empowered  themselves well   for  this  phase  of their life  and  the  history  stands  testimony  that  they  were  never  a  burden  on  their  children. The  way  they  tackled  their  old age  was  exemplary.  They   first wriggled    away  from the  social  obligations when  they  crossed  the  age  of  around fifty  and  were  known  to  be  practicing  sanyas  ashram . In  this  phase while staying with  their  family  they would  stay  completely  detached   from  the  society. They would  devote   most  of  their  time  on  spiritual activities.  They  would  form groups  and  go  for  pilgrimages   to   mountains  or  even  far  off  places for worship. And  for such would  stay out  for  months. Such   journeys  would be  long  and  arduous,   some  would  even perish  enroute  and  would  never  return.  It would  be  simply taken  in  stride. Behind  them they  would  leave  their  household  chores  to  their    children  who  would  be  grown  up  enough to  understand  the  work  and  willingly  take  the responsibility to  carry  the  work  ahead ; be  it  farming   , trading  etc. Those  who  returned  from  the pilgrimages  would   be  living   a    spiritual  life  detached  from  the  routine  household  work and profession.

As per these  norms  these years herald into  another  phase  of   very old  age   i.e  beyond  seventy five  . For  those  who  survived  till  then  Manu  had  created  a rule  to say voluntary   good bye    and  move  out from  the  society ,  never to  return again. Such  elderly  people  would  stay  in  jungles ( may be  in  thatched  /temporary  huts) and  lead a   life  like hermits. This  phase  was  called  Van Prasth Ashram.  Obviously by facing  vagaries  of  nature   these  septuagenarians  and  octogenarians   would  not  last  for  long  and   would slowly and   gracefully embrace  death.

The  question is  why  did Manu  separate  the   old  form  the   mature  adults in the society  even  5000  years from  now. Ever  mused what  was  pressing  need  to  make  a  norm  of  such  kind?

First  reason   which comes  to  mind  is  that  probably  the  generation  gap   existed  even  at that time in the  society. The  old  must  have  had  their   ‘old and  trite’ ideas  as  ever and  the  young  their   revolutionary  ones.  And never  the  twain  would  meet. Secondly, if  the  old  continued  to live as  part  of  the  society  they  would  never  transfer  the  power to  the  next  generation. They  would keep a  firm  grip over   it  till  end  of  their  life. By  giving them a freehand  the  newer  and  better ideas  of  the  younger generation would  be  junked.  Thirdly ,  while a  person is  engaged   in any profession  ,  family  life  and  squabbles attached  with it  he  seldom  has  time  to  devote  to  spiritual  things. Manu  probably  believed  that the aim  of  this life was  to  have  purification of  mind  and  soul. To  seek  union  with the  super-soul was  only  possible if  a  person clearly dedicates some part of his life to this cause.

But  what we  see  today  world  over  is a  reverse gameplay of what was there in the ancient times. Varily  the  mankind  has trail blazed a   long  way  on  the wrong  path.

Today  with the plethora  of  diseases the  old are  becoming more  infirm  and dependent and   wish that  they should   be looked after  well.  The mature   middle  generation has very limited time  amidst  their professions  and  other chores. Families too  have  shrunk and the lone  child  feels over burdened  and  sandwiched  between  caring for  their own children  and looking after  the  ailing parents. This has  resulted  in  unhealthy  family feuds  and  separations. The  product of this  attitude  is  that  today  the  societies  world over are battling with  a  large number  of  cases  of  ailing old  being accused of  the  cause  of  the  domestic violence. The apparent reason seems that old   do not  wish  to  snap  their  umbilical  cords  with  the  children. They  demand  time, money and  sympathy  from  their  children  which they  are  unable  to  get.  Hence,   separations   are  pre-ordained . In  ancient times  the  old  did  not demand  sympathies but  rather  they  developed  tremendous  tolerance and  generally  moved  out  of  the  families  much  before  they  faced insult or  isolation.

As  result of  our own  doing  today  we  see   that  a  large  number of  old people are  left  by   their  children  to stay  alone or fend  for  themselves.  The  sad  fact is that this number  is  swelling  year  after  year. Till some years   they  are able to look  after  themselves , then  they  need  servants  and  finally  they are  a  totally  disgruntled,  psychologically   and  physically shattered. They   are  alone, isolated  and  await  death  in  a  very  merciful state.

As  evolved  societies with  rich  heritages  it  is  time  that  we  need  to  re-think,  re-plan  and  change  the  dictums  so that the  old  can  live happily  and  die  peacefully. The  few thing which  the  old  people  need today  are  company  of peers, food,  shelter  and  medicines. And  wisely the society  of  Manu   provided  them  with  all this  even  thousands  of  years  back. Ironically   today  we  are not  able  to  do  so.  The  van  prasth  ashram  was   more  like seeking a  voluntary  death . When  the  old  moved  out  to  live  in the  jungles   they   were  vulnerable  to natural calamities  and  wildlife etc. It was a  well  planned  and  well thought after move  never  to  return  back to their  homes. But  to  perish in  silence  , to  perish  in bliss.

The  message  has  to  be  loud  and  clear the old  have  to plan  to   take  care  of  themselves and  not  be  a  burden on their  next  generation. They  should  detest  form emotional  blackmailing of  the  younger  generation. The  trend seen in the west of younger generation breaking  away  is  not far  from  our  shores  too .    They   have to  understand  and  devise  methods  to manage  their  old  age  phenomenon clearly . Only then  will  their  lives  be  happy ,,  content  and less  burdensome for  all.

The  writer is the  author  of  a  book- 31 December  2078 in which  he   builds  a  utopian society  where  the  old  are  expected   to  leave  the  society at  a  particular  age   and  move  out  into   well  managed  old  age  homes . The  old  and  the  young  generation  are   both in  a  blissful  state.

There is No Darkness in Darkness


Mohinder Pal singh

Once  during  my  travels  I  met  a  blind  person.  An  erudite old  man  who  had travelled  near and  far. He  was   a  thinker  and  a  poet .   We  met  once  at  a friends  place and  I  listened  to many of his  compositions .  His works were original and  sober. Leter  I  had  so  many questions  to  ask him  about  his  world  and how he  lived without  his  eyes. He  must  have  answered  them  so  many  times. He  spoke less but  his  replies  were  gracious  and  deep.    It only  indicated   that  he  had  experienced  life . A  life  of satisfaction, a  life well  accepted,  well  lived.

While  we  were  talking  there  was  a power  failure  and  suddenly  our  room  was  engulfed    in  darkness . I  got up  and  started  to  grope  for  a  candle in  the  darkness of  the  room.   A  couple  of  things  tumbled  here and  there  as  I searched.  After  a couple  of  minutes when  my  eyes were  adjusted    to  darkness  I  could  see  his  outline  figure.  He  was  unmoved    and unnerved  as  if  nothing  had  happened . I  was  still groping  in the dark to  trace  out  a candle.  He knew  that  the  light  had  gone  and  I  was  desperately  looking for a  candle but kept  quiet . Then  I  realised  he  was  blind and  may be  it  does not make much difference  to  him.

In  a  lighter  tone  I said  aloud, “Friend  for  you it doesn’t matter   whether  it  is  light  or   dark. For  you  it  is  always  darkness. Day  or  night  are  same  for  you.”

He astonished me  with  his  reply. He  said,  “Mohinder, I  have  no idea  what is  darkness. I  have  never seen what  is  darkness.

I kept  looking  at  him  through the  darkness  between  us. Initially  I  thought  he  had  made a light  reply  to my  light  hearted  comment.

“I  really don’t  know  what  is  darkness . For I was  blind  from  birth”. He  repeated.

Now  his  words  pierced  deeply  into  me. He  was serious.  I was muted at  the  moment. I  was  staring  at  this  old  man  who  had  seen thorough  this  world  without  his  eyes.He  had  seen  through  the  people  with eyes  without his  eyes. He    had lived  a  life   and  had  felt  blessed  every moment of  it.

“Even  to  see darkness   you  need  eyes  . What  is  probably  darkness  for  you  is  not  darkness  for me. For   I have  seen  no  light.” He  added  after  a moment of  silence.

After  a  while  I found  the  candle  and  lit  it. He  smiled . And  we continued  our  talk about  his life  and  mine.

When  I left him I  realised the  lesson I learnt   today. To see  the  light of the  day  and  the darkness of  the  night   you  need  the  light in  your eyes  .  For without the  eyes  both day  and  night  would  be  one. For  almightly  made  them   all  the  same,   all  the  time.

Sixth Sense

The Sixth Sense


As  parents  of  my  age  the  toughest time  is  when  you are   waiting on the roadside  while  your  child  attends a  coaching  class. Its  a  common  sight   outside  any  coaching  institute giving  IIT/ medical coaching in  the  cities.. Doting parents have  to  rough it out. Till  a  year  back   while  crossing  these coaching  classes  I  used  to  find  it  quite  funny  seeing these  parents standing  under trees   idling away  their precious  time  for sake of their children .   But  this  year  when  my  son  moved  into  class XI  my  wife  promptly allotted  me  the  responsibility   of taking  my  son to  the  IIT coaching  which  was  some  ten  kilometres  away.  On  the  first  day  of  the  coaching  class  I  was as   nervous as  my  son. He  was  nervous  about  the  teachers  whom  he  is going  to  encounter  in the class and I as to  how    will  I  pass this   one  hour of  blank  waiting.

Once  my  son  went  inside  the  institute,  I  parked  my  bike  under  a  tree   and  began  to  wonder what  to  do from 3-4PM?  What  an  unearthly time to  stand  under  a  tree in the month  of  August. Slowly  I  could  see  that many bikes and cars  come and  halt  under  the trees around. Those  who  came  in  late  had  to  bask in  the  afternoon  sun.  While  I  was  watching  the  inflow  of the  bikes and cars, I  could  see some  female  drivers too. “ahh  , I  may  have  good  company everyday here”. I  thought.

Then  suddenly a  lady driven  car came  and  parked  very close  to where i was  standing.  For  a  minute  I sat  upright on my bike waiting  to  get  a  glimpse  of  the passengers. Then  the  door  opened and  an  over-obese  boy  got  down  and walked   towards the  class. From  the  corner  of my  eye I could  see an  equal  size  mom sitting  on the  driver’s seat. I  quickly  turned  my  face  away and  looked  at  the  traffic passing on  the  road.  It is   going to  be difficult to pass time  sitting  like  this on the bike every day.

So like a  sober  and  obedient  parent  I opened  a  book  and  began  to read.  The  parents of  IIT aspirants must also  be  well  read  persons. The super healthy lady in  the nearby  car  was  immediately  busy  with her  favourite  pass-time,  the  mobile  phone.  After  reading for  a  while I got bored  and  looked  around .  A thin  layer  of  clouds   blessed  the parents-in-waiting  by hiding  the  angry sun  of  summer months for a while.   I strolled around and  noticed a  vendor  selling guavas.  This  could  be a  good  time-pass, I thought.  In  winters  everyone in India  loves shelled  peanuts as  a  time-pass  but  in summer months these   half  ripped  guavas would  be  fine. I  bought a  handful of  them . While  I  was  carefully  nibbling a  Guava I  saw  a  small  boy ambling  towards  me. .  He must  have  been about  ten years  and  carried a  dirty bag over his shoulder.  Seeing  me  wearing leather sandals  he     dumped  the  bag down , sat  at  my feet and  took  out  a  shoe-brush. “I  am  hungry” he  said. “Can  I  polish  your  shoes?” He   pleaded.

I  took pity  on him and before  he  started brushing  my  sandals,  I  handed over  a  guava  to  him.

“If  you  are  hungry first  eat this”  I  said.

He  took a  bite, looked  at  me and said, “this  does not   taste  good. This  is unripe”.

And  in  the  next  instant  he  threw  it  away.

“They  are  not  bad. See  even  I  am eating  it”. I  said. But by  the time  I  had  finished  my  sentence  the  guava  was lying on  the  other  side  of  the  road. I  was shocked  at  the  fastidiousness  of  this  poor boy.

I  think  he said  he was hungry!

But what  to say now. One big Guava  was gone.

“What  would   be  your  age?”I  asked  him. I thought  this  boy  would  help  me  pass  some  time.

“May be  10 or  15” He  said laconically   and started  to polish the  sandals.

I  moved back  and  leaned against my bike. The  lady  in the  car  was glued  to the  phone  for the  last  fifty  minutes.

The  boy seemed to be  hurrying up  and  not doing  the polishing  properly.

“ What happened , why  are  you  in a  hurry? I asked.

“There    will  be heavy rain  in 10 minutes and my  shack   is one kilometre  away .  I  will  run  and  reach  home  before that.” He answered.

“How  do  you  know   it  will  rain in 10 minutes? I  asked.  And   I  took  out  my  newly  acquired  android  phone and   clicked  the  weather  forecast  application . It asked – Enter the city. I entered  – Allahabad. It immediately showed –

Allahabad Weather- Partly  cloudy  sky. No  thunder stroms till next 24  hours.

“Don’t Worry . It  will  not  rain”. I  said confidently. One has  to  rely  on technology now days and  not  beliefs.

Not  paying much  heed  to  my  prediction,  he  quickly finished  polishing  the  shoes .Took  the  money  and  ran. I  just laughed  at  the  kid . Thinking  how  naïve  are  these  local kids could  be.

After  five   minutes  my  son  came back  and  we  buzzed through the afternoon traffic. The  clouds  were  slightly  thicker  in the  distance. But  I had  full  faith  on  my android  application.

We  must  have barely  moved   about   two  kilometers  and  suddenly  there was   a  thunder and  then  felt  raindrops  on  my hand . Within a  minute there was  thundering  a  heavy   downpour started. We immediately  halted  under  a  shelter on the road side.

I  looked  at my   watch .  I was  ten  minutes  past  four.

I took  out  my  coveted  android  phone  and  put on the  hi-tech  application on update. Snap after  some  seconds  it  showed  me  updated  weather report.

Allahabad Weather-Partly  cloudy, No thunderstorms for  next 24  hours.

And  right  here  we were  trapped  under  this thunderstorm. I  quietly put the  phone  back  in my  pocket.  I  hoped  the poor  boy  with sixth sense had reached his shack  safely.

Angels of Life

Angels of Life

Sam  was  a  old  friend  and  for  the  last  fifteen years  or  so  we  were  playing golf   in  the  veteran squad  in  our  golf  course.. Today  he  passed  away after  a  brief illness. At   eighty five he was still   in green of health and till  two  month back we  were playing regularly. He  had  two children and  both  had  settled  in US. His  wife  had  passed away some years  back so  he  was  staying  alone  in  his bungalow..   But in spite of being   alone   he  was    leading a  satisfied life.  He  often  said  I wish  to  die  golfing and he hailed  the  old man’s enthusiasm. He  was  the  talk  of  the  golf course. During  tournaments he  was always  present  on  time  and  played  his  five  holes  slowly  and  steadily. In  the  evening  cocktails, which followed each tournament of the golf course   he  would  present himself most  immaculately  dressed  ,  take  his  drink  or  two  and  chat  with young and  old  at  ease. Every one  wished  him  hundred  years  of  happy golfing.

He  was  scared of only one thing;  to  be sick and be   bedridden . He wanted  to  pass away playing  golf. But  life  had  other  plans for  him.  Two  months  back  he  was  detected   with  some  innocuous  ailment of  stomach. I  spoke  to  him and  he  assured  me  that  he  was  fine  and  would  be  back on  the  course  in  three or  four  days. But  the  medicos  had  different  plans  for him. They  had  detected  something serious; invasion  of  cancerous  cells  in  pancreas, a  vital enzyme  producing  gland. The  treatment  was to  be a  long  drawn  one  which  not  only took  him  to  the  hospital  bed  but  drained  him  of  all  his  energy  and  the  zest  to  live. Once  in  the  hospital  he  told  me  he  wanted  to  go,   he  said  he  had  seen enough  and  everything. What more  is  there to see? “I   do  not  wish  to  explore  the   hospital  and  the toxic things  they call  medicines.” He  said. He had  almost refused  treatment  but  the  family  members wanted  it to  continue. He  was  too  weak to  even  resist.

“Why  the  doctors  want  to  give  me pain and  keep me  alive?” he lamented. But no one would listen.    “Let  the  angel  of  death come…to  me now” he  would  whisper softly . It  was then  it  dawned  on  me  why  the messenger  of  death is   called  the  angel of  death. At  some  stage in life,   just living has  no  meaning . Sam  knew that  death was imminent and he   did  not  want  it  to  be  dragged…  but  it  did.

He  was  suffering  .

The  angel  of  death  as  not  coming.

He  was  yearning for it, longings and wait was becoming unbearable.

Being  alive  was  more painful both  physically and  mentally. When  one  is  prepared  to  die   being  alive  is a  punishment. Each  breath is a   agony beyond comprehension  of  anybody.  Every day   in  the  last  two months  Sam had   waited  for  the  angel of  death to visit him  but  instead  he found  Doctors  and  nurses  doting on him. Twice a day they would come and  pierce  him  with new  medicines. He  called  them  the  demons  of  life. He  never  waited for  them instead he  hated them.  He  waited only   for  the  angel  of  death  which  would  finally relieve him  of  this  body  which  had  become craggy .  His  body  no longer happily housed his soul. The  soul  too had  already  detached  itself  from the  body . But  there  was  no  way he could  to  pull  it  away.  Another  day arose. He  found  me  by  his  side saying  some  soothing  words.  Putting  water  in  his  drying  mouth.  He  closed  his eyes. A  tear  trickled  down his  eyes. “Please  call  him  today” his lips  mumbled. I  closed my  eyes  and  prayed  for my  soulful  friend.  He  refused  the  next  spoon  of  water. I  insisted “Your refusal  will  not  goad  the angel to  come early,  Sam, rather  it  will  augment  your troubles”.

He  was  silent.

But  after a  while, his  throat went  dry  and  gasped  for  breath. I extended the spoon  of  water again. He took  it , for  he knew  he  needed it. Another tear  rolled  down. I put on some prayer  music  on  my  mobile and  his  tears stopped.     The  duty in the hospital  changed  and    the  next  doctor  on duty  injected  some  relaxation  drugs   which  put  him  into  a  comfortable  sleep.

I  went  out  for  some  chores  knowing well  that  this  will  keep  him asleep  for  at  least  four  hours.

His  son and  daughter  had  both  come down  from US for  10 days  and had already   gone  back. He did not have   much  attachment  left  with  them. He  almost ordered  then  to  go  back  and  lead  a happy  life. They  were both  good  children  and  wanted  to  take  him  along  much earlier but  he  wanted  to  be  independent  and  not  a  burden  on  anyone. After they  left  he  was more at ease. He  did  not  want  his  children  to  see his  misery.

When  he woke  up  I was  back on  my  seat  beside  him..

He  opened  his eyes  momentarily  and  smiled. As  if  he  had  seen a  nice  dream. This  was the first  smile  I  had  seen in his  last  two months  in  hospital.  His  face suddenly radiated with  a  glow. He closed  his  eyes after a  minute,  as  if  he  was  having  an encore of the  dream .  He smiled again, probably  the  dream had  re-commenced.

“He  has come. He has come” he  suddenly muttered.

“Who  has  come , Sam?” I said, slowly shaking  his  arm.

But  instead of  answering me  his  head slowly titled to one side. He  became still. The  angel  had graced  him finally. The  demons  of  life  could  not  hold  on  to  their clutches  anymore. The  angel  lifted  him into  his silky hands  and  carried  him into  the  clouds  and  left  the old body to  decay  and  drench  back  into  the  earth  from where  it  had emanated.

Mohinder Pal Singh  is author of book- 31 December 2078

Nampalli and the Sardar

Nampalli  and  the  Sardar

“From this  year  every new  entrant  in  the  hostel  will  be  first  interviewed  my  me  personally” . Shouted Fr Nampalli from a  distance,   to  the  student President of  the Hostel  while  the freshers  listened  at  a  distance. We  were  about  15  of  us  trying  our  best  to  get hostel  accommodation  in  one  of  the elite  college of  Darjeeling.  We  all  knew  that  if  hostel  is  not  given  then  we  will  have  to  spend at  least  four  times  the  money  to  hire  a  PG room  in the  town and   that  too   at a  distance of four  kilometres  from college.

“Stand  in  one  line ,  you Freshers!  and  take  out  your  admission  cards” reverberated  the  voice of Nim Tsering  who  was  the  hostel Student President. We  were  in  for  trouble  as  we  looked  at each  other so  as  to  be  asking  what will  the  life  inside  this  deadly  hostel. We  seemed  to  be  quite  unwelcome guests.  But  the  mystery  was  going  to  be  unfolded  in  the  next  one  month  when we  would  join.

I was  fifth in the  row. When  my  turn came and I  was  called  in  . I  climbed the  five  stairs  to  the  hostel entrance  and was ushered  straight  into  the Warden’s room. Once inside , I found  a stern looking  Father dressed in  the  traditional cassock   sitting across the table   table and two senior  looking people sitting  beside him. All  the gnawing  eyes seemed  to be  searching me.. I  wished  them and  sat in the  chair  meant for me.. After confirming  my  name from  a  list he shot  a  direct  question.

“ Do  you drink  Alcohol?”

“No  Sir”I  said

“Are  you  Sure?” He  said lookig  into  my  eyes.

“Yes Sir”

“Do you  smoke?” pat  came  the  next  question  and  this  time  his  eyes  pierced  further  deep into  me. I  was  a  bit  shaken up.

“Sir,  Sikhs  don’t  smoke” I  said  in  a  shaking  voice. For  a  boy  who  had  just  come  out  of  a  higher secondary  school in  a  small  town in  Punjab this  was  a  terrible  happening. But  heart  of  hearts  I  knew  I had only  come  here  because my  father  was  posted  to a  nearby  town of  Bengdubi  and all  other  colleges  in  the  area  were  infamous for  their  Goonda gardhi. And  I  knew  well  that  I can’t afford a PG  accommodation in this  tourist  town of  Darjeeling in  1985.

“I am  asking  you , you. Do  YOU smoke?

“No  Sir”. I  answered meekly. I   thought  I will  tell  this  to Dad  whose  colleague  had  told  him  that  Hostel  accommodation was   confirmed for me .

I  thought  it  would  be  the  end of  it  but  is  was  not  supposed  to be.

“Do  you  womanize?” He  asked  curtly   as  if  he  had  rehearsed  these  questions.

“What  is  that , Sir”. I  asked innocently.  Having  studied  in Punjab  till  now  my  vocabulary  of  English  was not  so good and I  really  did  not  know  the  actual  meaning of  it.

“OK  I  will tell you  that  there  were  two  boys  in  the  hostel here   who  used  to  do  all  the  three  things   and  bulk  of  their  times  they  would  spend on them. And   mind  you  one  of  the  them  was  a  Sikh like you . Or  rather a  spoilt  Sikh. As  I  also  know  generally a  sikh  would  abstain  from  all this.

By  the  way  there  are  lot  of  women of  ill repute  herein the town. Visiting  them  is  called  womanizing. Got  it? I  don’t want you  to indulge in  it. I  have  been told  by  an  officer  that your  father  is  an  idealist. But  I  am  still not  sure about   you. Lot  of  army  officers  children  are spoilt  brats which  their  father’s  don’t  even  know.” saying  this  he  was silent .

I  silently  nodded.

“You give  me  a  chance  and  I  will  throw out   from the  hostel  in one day,snap. OK”. He  commanded.

“You  can  shift  to  the room next to  mine. Room No 202.”

Then  looking at the  door he shouted,“Next”

As  I  moved out I  realised  that  I  am  going  to  be under  observation all the  time.

Within  next  one  month we learned about  the  two  hooligans who  were  sons  of  some  tea  estate  owners from Assam who painted the  town  red  and shocked  the  hostel and  college authorities when the  police  had  finally  laid their  hands on them. Next  day  the  College  Hostel was  in  headlines. .We  were  also  told  that after that  Fr  Nampalli  was specially  moved  in to  stay  in  the premises and occupied Room No 201.. Apart  from  this the  hostel  had some good traditions. Every evening there  was  a  muster. A  bell would  ring  at  6.30 PM and  all  the  90 boys  would  come to  stand at  the central  staircase of  the  three-storied hostel.  News headlines would be  given out  and then  the   prayer – öur father  in  heaven  holy  be  your name…. your  kingdom  come….. would  be said. Thereafter we all would  proceed  for  our  dinner.  Every Friday  was the Bath-Day. On  that  day water  would  be  heated  in  central boilers with  wood. Once  the water was hot  a loud  tong-bell  would  ring  between  8-8.30 AM and  everyone  would  run  down the  stairs to  the  bathrooms  on  the  ground  floor.  And  of  course  the  seniors  would  get  priority . Juniors  would  get  just lukewarm  water. But  that  too  was  welcome after  a  week. So  while  the  seniors  would  have  the  lavish  ,  well scrubbing bath  the  freshers  would  just  manage  a  quickie. Overall it  used  to  be  fun. Throughout  the day Fr  Nampalli  would  keep  his  room door  half  open and  keep a  oblique eye  on every one’s  movement. And  I  thought  especially  mine. The only  telephone was  in  Fr  Nampalli’s  room on which  our  parents  could  call. So  he  would  pick up the phone and  speak  to  our  parents before  calling  us.

Three  months  passed within  no  time. First  term  exam  were near. We  were  busy  in our  studies. One  night  Fr  suddenly knocked  at my  door  at  1 AM. I  opened  the  door.

“what  are you  doing  at  this  hour?”he demanded.

“Sir, Studying”. I replied.

He  could  not  believe. He  walked in  and  tried  to  smell but  there was  no smell. What  he  could  see  was  all books  spread around  and  loose  pages  of  notes.

“What  exam  you  have  tomorrow ? “he  asked.

“Chemistry, Sir”I answered.

He picked  up  some notes  to  see  if they  were  Chemistry notes  . They  were. He left.

Exams  continued for  the next  ten  days  . Thereafter  we  had  a  five  day  break. On  my   return  I  met Father Nampalli  at  the   entrance. There  was a smile  at his  face and  asked, “how was  the  holiday?”

I  could  not  believe  my  eyes. Fr Nampalli smiling that  too  at  me?

“Fine father”I  replied.

“Fr Masquitta  tells  me  that  you  have  scored  highest  in  Chemistry , Well done.” This  was  followed  by  a  pat  on  my  shoulder. I  was  taken  aback at  flip side of  Father’s  attitude. In  the  evening muster  father  announced  marks  of  all  the  freshers  and  also  made  everyone  clap  at  my marks.

Next morning at 7  AM  there was  a  knock at my  door. When  I  opened, I found father Namplali standing there.

“ I  am  going  to  be  out  for  the whole day today. I  will  be back  only  in  the  night. Here  are  the  keys of  my  room. If there are  calls, open the door and attend to it. But  don’t  let  anyone else  get into  my  room”. saying  this  he  handed  over  the  keys  of  his  room  to  me. I could  not  believe what  I  was  being entrusted with.

“Yesss Father.”  Was  all  I  could  mutter.

But  I knew today I  had  finally  flipped   the  image  of Sardar in  this  hostel.

After  a  year , the  same  father recommended me to  shift to  a better  college  in Mumbai because  the  town of  Darjeeling  was  badly hit  by strikes and unrest   and  the  studied were  suffering. He also   wrote a  letter  of   recommendation  to Principal St  Xaviers  College  Mumbai to  give  me  admission.. His  parting   lines in my autograph book  reads- “journey  of   a thousand  miles  begins   with  the  first  step,  never  be  afraid  to  take  it.

I  will  never  forget  you Father Nampalli.

** Its  a real Story