Posts Tagged ‘life’

Call me obdurate, hard-hearted, compassionless, but I always thought, that crying is the defense of the feeble minded. I was of the opinion that (and I may be wrong), people who break down at the slightest whiff of saddening air only do so to grab attention or in self-pity. Under no circumstances is shedding of tears an option for me to vent my grief. This gene, I believe, has been passed down to me from my mother, a very strong woman. It usually takes a lot to ruffle my lachrymal apparatus. As far as I can vividly recall, instances in my life when I came close to crumbling under the pressure of dejection are so few, that I can count them on my fingers. And instances when I actually caved are even fewer and there was always a very strong reason behind it. But there are also times when you are only consumed by a sense of gloom clubbed with compassion, but it doesn’t actually crack the pot of tears waiting to be broken. The pathos of the situation just gives you a doleful muse and leaves you pensive. You don’t shed a tear but silently ponder over situations life sometimes bares you to. Life shows you how it can cruelly play around with your emotions and remind you how helpless you can be when it does that. Believe me, I’ve been there! This is to tell you how it feels to be caught in such a spot. These were no life altering incidents and might even sound trivial to many, but they are certainly something that I will never forget. They will always linger on, in a dark corner of my otherwise empty head.

It was a cold December morning and I was up early, to study for an exam that afternoon (not something I do very often!). My mother was already up as usual, finished her early morning puja and kitchen purging and was preparing for a new day. I was in my room trying hard to pull my slothful self out of bed. When I finally did, I trudged over to the balcony to feel the morning chill. I was admiring the rising sun and the morning buzz as I shivered in the winter zephyr. I turned around to get back in when, from a distance, I heard a woman wailing. It was a long, forlorn cry that struck me hard. I looked over to see who it was and why she was crying. I noticed that she was with her maimed husband who was pushing himself on a flat trolley as she walked next to him. They were almost naked, with only a few inches of clothes to hide their shame. They were desperately wailing, sobbing and crying out for a piece of cloth. Now, such a sight is not in the least unusual, if you’re living in India. You practically grow up with beggars all around. But something about this hapless couple was very unusually rueful. And there I was, draped in a warm cuddly razaai watching these two unclad people who were in a desperate need for it. It was heart-wrenching to hear their sobs. My eyes almost welled. As I contemplated on giving them some clothes, I turned around to see my mother holding a small bundle of old and unused sarees. As her lips mumbled a silent shlokam, she gestured towards them. I was so terribly moved. I ran into my room, grabbed a bunch of unused clothes and wrapped them up in the razaai I had draped around me. I took the two bundles and ran out to give them to the helpless couple. As the woman clutched the bundles, I saw a look of heart-felt gratitude on her squalid face. She showered blessings on me as she took them. But the joy of having helped a person in need didn’t last long. Their cries haunted me. Their sorrow echoed in my head and killed my concentration as I sat through the examination that afternoon. I was so disturbed by them for some unfathomable reason, that I couldn’t sleep for the next two nights. Sometimes I still hear their voices and sense their destitution, even today. I hope they’re doing well. I really, really hope so.

While that got me thinking for about two days and occasionally afterwards, this incident had me for a week. Hailing from an orthodox family and hence being slightly religious, I used to visit the near by temple in my locality every Saturday. For a long time, I noticed this old lady who begged at the gates along with a few others. She was a regular, like I was. I would give her something every time I went to the temple and she would bless me in gratitude, like all beggars do. We wouldn’t talk or greet each other, a smile is all we shared. One saturday she didn’t show up. I thought she was probably taking a day off. She didn’t show up the next week either, or the next week or the week after that. Her continued absence bothered me. I asked one of the other regular beggars if he had seen that old lady. He nonchalantly replied – “She died about a month ago.” A sudden chill and a rude shock! I was not prepared to hear that. While I usually sang out loud like a mad man on the loose as I walked, that evening I walked the whole distance back home in mournful silence. I couldn’t eat or sleep that night. I mourned that old lady’s death for a week after that, with sleepless nights. I didn’t visit that temple for more than two months afterwards. I felt no kinship with that woman, but I still mourned her death. Strange, but true.

This was way before the previous two incidents. January 26, 2001 – a major earthquake rocks Gujarat. All major news channels did a commendable job in covering the misery of the people and increasing their TRP ratings. I wonder if news channels will ever realize their ‘social responsibility’. Anyway, a national news channel was covering a collapsed school in central Ahmedabad. The surviving children were being taken to the nearest hospital. One video showed a 12 year old girl on a stretcher, with broken limbs. She was evidently more worried about her missing father than herself as she wailed “Mera baapu! Mera baapu!“. I don’t know if she ever found her father . I don’t even know if she herself survived the injuries she suffered, although I hope she did. I was at the dinner table when I saw that depressing video and, needless to say, not a morsel went in after watching it.  Her face is still vivid in my memory and her cries still haunt me. I know, this sounds ridiculous to some, but it’s true, that’s how ridiculously emotional I can get sometimes.

December 26, 2004 – the sea breached its frontiers with land and wreaked havoc. The town of Nagapttinam, TN was the worst hit in India. Again, the new channels celebrated their ever-growing TRP ratings, with their respective coverages. But Barkha Dutt is one journalist I’ve always looked up to and admired her for her professionalism in reporting, be it the Kargil conflict, the military coup in Pakistan or the Boxing Day Tsunami. Her coverage never lacked the professional character that many reporters are sadly famished of. She covered the tsunami in the same spirit. But she’s human after all – she broke down on camera when she visited a make-shift relief center. And one cannot blame her for it – there were mothers looking for children, children pining for their parents, some looking for entire families. It could not get worse, the death toll and the number of missing kept rising by the minute. In any case, Barkha Dutt’s report on the relief-centers was gripping. After watching the report, I fervently looked for the smallest of opportunities to volunteer in the camps in the affected areas. I finally found one with Red Cross, Hyderabad. The center was looking for volunteers and I gave in my name through someone I knew. I was to board one of the special trains to Chennai in a couple of days, when suddenly, I got a call from RC. They said they already had enough volunteers and didn’t need more. I was heart-broken. I tried persuading them into letting me go, but they had already decided not to. Every time I watched the visuals of the devastation after that day, I wouldn’t be able to sleep that night. I would be overwhelmed with a sense of guilt. The thought that I didn’t do what I could, gnawed at my conscience.

These incidents did not affect my life in any manner, but still remain fresh in my memory.  They always will. These were times when life reminded me that I am human and that I am susceptible.

On a closing note, here’s a music track that is often voted ‘the saddest classical composition ever’ – Samuel Barber’s ‘Adagio for Strings’.

PS: Now try reading the post with the track playing in the background! But don’t cry, please.

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WARNING: Owing to the ridiculous length of this post, I have been forced to split it in two parts. Please bear with me and be kind in your responses. This post, as the utterly unimaginative title suggests, is a narrative of the events of that day and the post that will follow will be a narrative of the night. This one has exceeded 2200 words but I promise the next one will not be as long. Please do not curse! Let the suspense bring you back to my blog!

There are times in our lives when a spate of things transpire in quick succession as the day progresses and even before you know it, the day is gone!! You fail to notice that the sun hath come and gone, and then he hath risen again! Then when you look back, you can’t stop wondering if all that actually happened in a span of twenty-four hours. A day’s length of twenty-four hours sometimes doesn’t really seem enough.

This was in my final semester of Engineering. It was the 9th of March, 2005 and Hyderabad was beginning to brace itself for the impending tropical summer which, by the way, turned out to be one of the hottest summers of the decade! (Go figure!!) I digress. I’m sorry. Anyway, the day’s beginning was largely uneventful. My dad’s cataract operation was scheduled for 9 am that morning. So, my dad, mom and I promptly showed up at the hospital ten minutes ahead of schedule and the doc, as always, ran late by another ten minutes (Indian doctors!). His arrival got the hospital, which was still basking in the morning sun, to its usual buzz with sporadic greetings of “Good Morning Doctor!” from the really pretty receptionists and others around. My dad was his first patient for the day. The doctor quickly changed into his surgeon’s garb and got the operation rolling. The operation lasted an hour and a half, after which my dad was transferred to the outpatient ward where he could rest for a while before heading home. Even on a hospital bed, my dad couldn’t resist being the busybody that he always is. He knew he couldn’t go anywhere, so he already planned ‘my’ day! He wanted me to run a few errands at the bank for him.

My dad’s errands, thankfully, didn’t last the whole day as I had initially anticipated. I was out of the bank by around 1 pm and was contemplating on returning to the hospital. I was walking to the bus stop when I ran into one of my friends B, who was on his way to the lab where he and a bunch of my other good friends were working on their final semester projects. Incidentally, the bank was just a stone’s throw away from the lab where they worked. He invited me to the lab where he said the rest of the group was. He said their work in the lab wouldn’t take long and that they were planning on shifting base to N’s place afterwards anyway. So, I called my mom on my dad’s cell to check on my dad and also informed her of my plan. She didn’t object to my leaving since my brother was on his way to the hospital to take my place. At this point, I can sense vibes from unforgiving readers thinking – what kind of a heartless, irresponsible son leaves his father in pain! Please! My dad was doing absolutely fine and I didn’t leave him writhing in pain. So, cut me some slack! My intentions are not to be judged! I am none of the adjectives stated above. Besides, my brother was there.

Anyhow, as promised, my friends wrapped things up at the lab and soon enough we were at N’s. It was mid-afternoon by then. We realised that none of us had broken bread since morning. So, we decided to hit the local restaurant for a grab and then go catch a movie. Little did I know that this was the juncture where time and fate decided to play a twisted little game of their own (I’m sure they both smirked as this happened!). Three of us – B, SB and I – hopped onto SB’s modest Honda Activa. The other two – N and KN – decided to cruise on N’s pre-historic Suzuki (or that’s what we all thought it was!). We had come to a major round-about where we hadn’t noticed that the traffic police was on the prowl for unsuspecting violators. Yes, you guessed that right! Two is company, three is a crowd. Three on a two-wheeler – violators, we were!

“Oye! Bandi pakkaki teesko!” (“Oye! Pull over by the kerb!”) bellowed a stocky man from the far side of the road. It was a cop walking straight at us. My first impulse was to jump off the vehicle and make a run for it, and not look back!! But I decided to stay put. SB, who was in the front, was already panicking. We were left with no channels of escape, so we pulled over. The cop immediately confiscated the keys to the vehicle. Thus began the saga of haggling over keys and negotiating the penalty for riding with two pillions. The cop was relentless. His citation ran a whole grocery list of violations and the penalties added up to Rs. 850 (or was it a thousand?). At the back of my head, I was praying for some bard to fly out of thin air and drape the three of us in a cloak of invisibility! But in reality, we resorted to a fair bit of imploring, offering what little we had and threatening to use influence, to persuade him. We effectively employed three of the seven prescribed means of persuasion (thanks to our holy scriptures, the Agni Puranam in particular!): Saama, Daana and Bhedopayas. But our ‘police uncle’ seemed cruelly rigid in his enforcement of the law! The ‘honest cop’ that he was, he didn’t budge! Instead, ‘he’ decided to employ the fourth means on us, the Dandopaya!! Sigh!! How were we to know that our ‘saintly’ adherence to the scriptures would come back to bite us in the @$$ like this! Kharma! Kharma! Well, the vehicle was seized and we were asked to reclaim it from the police station when all dues were paid. We even tried to play the ‘student’ card – “Sir, students sir. Please Sir!” (with a drained, forlorn look of helplessness with lips about to pout) – which often did the trick with traffic cops, but this guy was as unyielding as ever!

Meanwhile, on the other side of the road, were N and KN intently following the goings-on on our side. They were watching everything as if it were a movie. I guess they were only waiting for someone to fetch them pop-corn (Poor guys! Not that there was anything for them to do at that point anyway)!

Now for a change of scene – At the traffic police station; this time, all five of us ran from one officer to another for over an hour constantly begging them to reconsider the penalty and return the vehicle. SB tried calling a relative for help, but to no avail. Thanks to our persistent beseeching (playing the ‘student’ card now and again), one of the officers finally agreed to write off the citation for 550 bucks and not a penny less! Exhausted from all the pleading, we gave in (like we had a choice!). Poor guy, SB had to shell out a major part of his fees for a computer course he was taking. As the money changed hands, our hearts dropped to our ankles and my head went ‘Swaha! Iti!!’

Starving as we still were, after the whole misadventure, we trudged our way to the nearby bakery. For obvious reasons, the movie was now out of the question and we decided to go our separate ways after the meal.

On that note, ended this part of my day and I was least expecting what was to come. Sigh again!!

INTERMISSION!!

(At this point, you may stretch a little and take a break, for the story doesn’t end here. I promised you a whole day’s log and that’s what you’re gonna get! So, if you’ve come so far, you might as well follow it to the finish!! O Come on! Don’t give up now! I’ll make it more interesting. This is where the ‘well endowed nurses’ come in too! So, read on!)

KN lived not too far from where I did. So, the two of us took a bus to get home (the louwelee 225D Veera!! I’m sure those from Hyderabad know what I’m talking about! Aaaah!! The Luxury!!). At this time, the sun was about to retire for the day. On the way, KN decided he wanted to meet his brother at his hostel, and asked me to join him (the poor brother was condemned to a hostel for the last few months of his +2! You know how the drill is for IIT-JEE, EAMCET, K-CET, this CET, that CET blah, blah, blah!! I felt so sorry for him. It’s really not fair stripping a kid of his/her life in the name of competition and a-happy-life-afterwards esp. a few weeks before his/her ordeal!! It is a fad across AP to send kids appearing for these exams to a hostel (of a very reputed poaching….err….coaching centre) during their last few days to make their studying more ‘rigorous’. Gaaaaawwwwd!! Spare the poor souls!!). Pheww!! Anyway, I hesitated at first but then finally got talked into it. We got off at a stop near the hostel. I told KN I had to call home and tell them I was going to be late. Needless to mention, my parents were already home and of course, my dad was fine!

I called home from a PCO. My mom answered. (All original conversations were in Telugu)

“Hello Amma! How is Nanna (dad)?”, I enquired.

“He’s fine. Where are you?”, my mom was a little concerned since I hadn’t shown up all day and now it was past 8 pm.

“Not too far, I’m in KKP. Ok, listen! I’m gonna be a bit late. I’m with KN and on my way to his brother’s hostel nearby. We should be done soon. So, I’ll be home in a while”, I assured her.

“Okay. O by the way, S had called for you. He called like four times in the last 10 min. He seemed a little worried. His sister called too”, my mom said. I could tell that she was sort of misgiven about the whole situation. S being one of my best friends.

“What? 4 times in 10 min.? What’d they say? Did they tell you why they called?”, I asked, apparently worried and about to break sweat.

“No. But they wanted you to call them back immediately. I tried asking, but they said nothing. Why don’t you call them right away and find out what the matter is?” she suggested.

“Yeah…..sure……I….I’ll…..call them…..Ok….Bye”, I stuttered and hung up. I usually dread such phone calls which ring with a very dubious tone, and keep me on tenterhooks about the actual matter!! Not to mention, calls at unearthly (late night) and unholy (around dawn) hours which usually carry dreadful news!! My skin was completely blanched at that moment.

KN who was next to me the whole time was now concerned, “What’s the matter? Is everything okay? You look like you’ve seen a ghost or something.”

I told him what had happened and picked up the phone to make another call. This time to S.

His sister answered.

“Hello Akka! This is K. My mom said you and S had called home like four times. Is something the matter?”, I asked, dreading the answer. My mind had already wandered far and was infested with God-knows-what-happened kinda thoughts.

“Yeah, K. Can I call you back in like 10 min?” she said in a trembling voice and she was about to break into tears.

Even before I could say something, S grabbed the phone from her, “K? Is that you?”

He sounded sober to me, but apparently something was wrong.

“Yeah S, this is K. What happened? Is everything alright?”, I asked.

“Yeah! Yeah! Nothing serious but can you come home at once?” S requested.

“Certainly! I’m on my way! But are you sure everything’s okay?”, I queried, still concerned.

“Yeah! Don’t worry. Just come home. I need to…….”, S tried to assure me and left that sentence unfinished when, in the background, I heard his sister suddenly break down and he started yelling at her in an incoherent manner. In the midst of all his yelling the phone went blank.

That wasn’t quite reassuring! I just stood there sweating bullets.

“What’s happening?”, a really worried KN asked.

A crude narration followed. KN suggested we go to S’s at once and make sure all was well before we jumped to conclusions. I agreed and we started walking to S’s place, not too far from where we were. Through the walk, I was completely preoccupied. My head was about to explode with all the questions – Why did they call me so many times? Why did S insist on my coming at once? Why was S’s sister crying? Why was he yelling at her? S was never worried about anything and I had never seen him angry (or even frown, for that matter) in all the years that I knew him. He was always this jolly guy, without a care in the world. But why did I sense a kind of apprehension in his voice when I just spoke to him? I was so lost in fear and my train of thoughts that, time and again, I’d stop suddenly, looking into the emptiness, deep in a reverie until KN would call out my name or rock me back to reality. I had too many questions, but no answers. Only way to dispel my fears was to get to S’s place as soon as possible!!

P. S.: I’m sorry, the ‘well endowed nurses’ will appear in the next part. The incentive was tempting wasn’t it?