Sunday, 24 April 2016

The Tiny Tale of the Two Teens on Either Side of the Wall in My Hall

The clock was striking six in the evening and the tiny dynamo Sarfaraz Khan was pumping his fist after hitting yet another six.

The gentle sobbing became audible from across the wall, even as the roar of the crowd was subsiding.

The boy on the other side of the wall kept on crying as he was talking to his Baba back in Bengal over the phone on the hardships at work.

I got up, switched off the TV and returned to my room.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Good Samaritans of La Spezia

Today is world kindness day, they say! And we have been asked to share our own stories of incredible kindness- of our holiday being saved by a stranger's help in a distant land.

We were on a cruise to the five islands, Cinque Terre, on the Italian Riviera this past July. Soaked up in the Mediterranean sun, we arrived at the La Spezia port, late in the evening. The lone family man in the group had a long shopping list mailed in from his wife, so we got down near the big shopping mall on the way back to hotel, located a bit far, at Lerici. As it happens, so often, the shopping went on and on, till the mall downed the shutters. The bright lights within gave no clues whatsoever on the impending darkness outside the mall. And soon we were out in the darkness carrying giant carry bags in either hands.

There were no sign of taxis nor of any other means of public transport and we stood staring at each other and the speeding cars here and there. We were stuck there in a strange and distant land, not a single pedestrian anywhere to be found! 

Out of nowhere, a small car appeared and stopped near us. The young man at the wheel smiled at us and asked us, "hello, where do you want to go?" Being the elder in the group, the younger guys looked at me inquisitively. With the readings on the Italian mafia pushed back to the corner of my mind, I nodded to the group to get in to the car. 

Once inside, we didn't even know the direction to go or the place we should get down. The young men were discussing among themselves in the native tongue and finally stopped near a bus stop. They got down from the car and gave clear instructions on the bus we had to board and where to purchase the tickets. 

 Alexio (left with thumb up) and his friend posing with us

The Bus Stop

The wait

we were shaken, off our prejudices, as they sped away:)

We do not know, if stopping one's car in the middle of the night, for total strangers from distant lands, counts as an incredible act of kindness on the part of Alexio and his friend. But on that midnight at La Spezia, for the two Chinese and two Indians stranded in the streets in a strange land, the two young men had virtually descended from the heavens, guided us to safety and sped away smiling!!

Saturday, 21 March 2015

The Hoops of Steel: a Roadside Rendezvous with my Teacher turned Colleague :)

"Each man's life touches so many other lives, and when he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?" 
Clarence Odbody, Angel II Class 

All men have their angels watching over them and at times they do come in flesh and blood too, an old friend, sometimes or an old student, and even an old Teacher at times of severe stress! 

It was a hectic and extended Saturday at work and I was driving back at a frenetic pace. The elderly gentleman was struggling to cross the road, wonder for how long, and I applied the brakes and the car came to a halt a few metres down the road. Rushing out of the car, I ran towards him and called out, "Sir, you aren't going across anytime soon".

He turned, surprised and burst into a loud laughter on seeing the familiar face, of the student turned colleague. We had a friendly chat even as I waved the vehicles to a halt and led him across the highway to buy a few bananas for dinner. And I brought him back, to my car, where my own student turned colleague was waiting for us.

Once in the car, he switched to the Shakespeare mode as was vogue, in his prime. And he turned Polonius this time to tell me.....that it's friends like you that people need....... 

"Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel."

and he kept on repeating.....

"with hoops of steel"

"with hoops of steel"

.....and I didn't cry, for that was my steely resolve :D

Thursday, 19 March 2015

On Adversity.....

The post was originally scribbled down, sometime ago, from random readings to inspire someone, subjected to a bad dose of adversity, back to normal. It is being posted here with minor modifications after an accidental sighting of the same person who, by a queer twist of destiny, chose to join sides with one’s own sworn adversaries. 

Adversities are unavoidable in an increasingly competitive and vicious world. Adversities can originate from the actions of the society or the people around us and at times, sadly and surprisingly, even from one’s own family or friends. Maintaining our focus in the face of adversity is a tough task. All of us may have to come across problems in life and most problems are not without solutions. We have to develop the mindset that no matter how bad things may appear, we will survive. And once we tide over an adversity, we will emerge stronger to meet greater challenges. There may be innumerable examples of people from every walk of life surmounting adversities of various kinds from which we can draw inspiration.

Adversity can originate from society when someone tries to rise above the levels of acceptance sanctioned by it. The American Democrats have the mascot jackass or the donkey for their party! How come the party of Roosevelts, Kennedys, Clintons and Obamas associate themselves with that "stupid" animal? Having grown up as an orphan boy who refused to bow to the adversities in life, Gen. Andrew Jackson was the first commoner without an aristocratic lineage to seek the Presidential office. The conservative press ran a vitriolic attack on him, digging up information on his past. He was derided as the "son of a common prostitute" and the "paramour husband of a convicted adulteress". His heroic retort was "I never war on the females, it’s only the mean and cowardly that do". When he was referred to as Andrew "Jackass", an obvious reference to his lack of 'noble' birth, the defiant Jackson adopted the nickname and decided to use the image of that gentle yet strong-willed animal on his campaign posters. He was elected not once, but twice, perhaps the first orphan to be democratically elected as the President of any nation. It got stuck and later the US Democratic Party founded on the principles of Jacksonian Democracy adopted the Donkey as their symbol. That's some way to turn the tables on one's adversaries! 

For the more fortunate, ones with a home and parents, the adversity can spring up from the least expected quarters, the attitude of one’s own family. It was Winston Churchill who had said, "Success is not final; failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts". Few could have known better! Independent and rebellious by nature, Churchill did poorly in school, for which he used to get punished severely. He was the lowest ranked boy in the lowest class, an embarrassment for the family. He was rarely visited by his mother and wrote letters begging her to either come to school or to allow him to come home. His father barely spoke to him and considered him "a washout" of limited intelligence that could never succeed in life. Left to himself; he discovered a love of literature and writing, which would help him enjoy his life. The father, a brilliant scholar but a failed politician, died prematurely. Churchill, the son, went on to become one of the most inspirational leaders the world has ever seen. 

Adversity can also arise from an unruly mob when you are someone who has to perform in public, such as a cricketer, precisely the kind that Adam Gilchrist had to face when he was walking into bat against South Africa in Johannesburg. Beset with problems on the personal front, he was welcomed by the crowd with banners asking "Who's the father of your child?" and yelling out names for answers. He responded by launching a savage assault on the South African fast bowlers. True, he cried after reaching his hundred, but thereafter he decided to enjoy himself. He even targeted an advertising hoarding, about 30 feet above the ground, beyond the deep midwicket boundary, hitting which carried a prize of a gold bar worth in millions. Gilchrist nearly found it and jumped up and down as he watched the ball move towards its target. By the time he had finished he had taken 204 runs off 213 balls. "Gilchrist was playing with them like a cat keeping a half-dead mouse alive for entertainment,"; wrote Wisden. "It’s the toughest thing I’ve had to get through in my cricketing career and my public life as a public person," he was to say later. But he did himself no harm in the end. 

Try imagining yourselves in the shoes of each of the great men. It is not difficult to grasp the tremendous battles that might have taken place within their minds. The strength to fight the adversity lies within each one of us. More often than not the problem lies within us, we can control it and its outcomes. There can be no solution to the problem if we fall into the trap of hopelessness. It drains our emotional energy and allows the adversity to nail us down. Do not bail, refuse to give up. Borrowing from Arthur Ashe; "regardless of how you feel inside, always try to look like a winner".

Finally, what if the adversity strikes us in the form of fate? Meet it, accept it and go out with grace like Lou Gehrig, or cheer up the people around you, even as you go, the Duncan Edwards way. After fourteen years and more than two thousand consecutive games when one has to say farewell to the game in the knowledge that one has to die soon, a slow and cruel death from what is now known as one’s own disease; what better words one can say to the innumerable fans anxiously listening other than "Today I consider myself, the luckiest man on the face of the earth"? 

Even if it is death itself that is staring at us, give it a fight, a la Duncan Edwards; that "unspoilt boy" about whom the legendary Bobby Charlton, so miserly with his praise for others,said "he was the only player that made me feel inferior". He had fought on for 15 days with the multiple injuries sustained at the Munich air disaster. The doctors were amazed at his fight for life. Finally when they had almost given up, he opened his eyes and looked at the gloomy faces around him and he asked "What time is the kick off against Wolves, Jimmy? I mustn't miss that match", that one last spark, before being extinguished! 

So next time you have an appointment with adversity, no matter what, do remember that you are not going to let it have its way. Be in control and have a great life, as long as it is yours.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

A Note from Nagasaki

Arriving at Nagasaki one night, our first destination next morning was of course the Peace Park. After the atomic bomb exploded, it was said that grass and trees would not grow on this spot for decades. However, this park is currently full of trees, flowers and art works donated by countries all over the world in support of the city’s prayer for peace. Not far from the peace park was the atomic bomb hypocenter. The original ground level is preserved and displayed there as an important evidence of the disaster.

After the peace park and hypocenter we entered the Atomic Bomb Museum. The museum covers the history in the form of a story. It begins with the disastrous scene of the attack and includes the events leading up to the dropping of the atomic bomb, the reconstruction of Nagasaki up to the present day, the history of nuclear weapons development, and the hope for a peaceful world free of nuclear weapons. There was a special section dedicated to Dr. Takashi Nagai, whose heart wrenching rendering of his experiences in the Nagasaki Medical College at the time of the bombing, read and reread, at first by my parents and later all by myself, one childhood memory I was carrying to Nagasaki. And the one gift I bought for myself at Nagasaki was Dr. Nagai's farewell book, "Leaving My Beloved Children Behind".

However it was not Dr. Nagai who refused to leave us as we were carrying ourselves out of Nagasaki. It was one boy captured by the American war photographer Joe O'Donnell. We passed by him again and again and read the passage by the photographer. It went something like this:

 "When I arrived at Nagasaki from Sasebo, I looked down at the city from the top of a low hill. I saw some men wearing a white mask. They were working near a ditch full of burning coal. 

I noticed a boy about ten years old walking by. He was carrying a baby slung on his back. In those days, in Japan, it was common to see children playing in vacant lots with their little brothers or sisters on their backs, but this boy was clearly different. He was barefoot. The infant's head was tipped back as if the baby were fast asleep. 

The boy stood there with a fixed expression for about ten minutes. The men in white masks walked over to him and gently began undoing the cords that were holding the baby. Then I realized that the baby was already dead. The men held the baby by the hands and feet and placed it gently on the hot coals.

The infant's body made a hissing sound as it was placed on the fire. Then it lit up in brilliant flames like a deep red of the setting sun. The boy stood there erect and motionless with his innocent cheeks shining scarlet. I noticed that the lips of the boy were also streaked with red as he watched the flames. He was biting his lower lip so hard that it shone with blood. The flames burned low like the sun going down, and the boy turned around and walked silently away from the burning pit."

We looked again and again at the photograph for some trace of tears beneath his eyes, we found none, probably blinded by our own moist eyes!

"May peace prevail forever"

from the atomic bomb hypocenter, Nagasaki, Japan