Evening at Zambezi River, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, May 2015
and so does everything around... the situation, the people, the perspective, the needs.... and we too change.... the wise and courageous seek change.. because only change is constant!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

87. Systemaniac


I enter into a Shopping Mall. While keeping my office bag at the reception counter, I pull out a cotton bag. The security person objects and informs me that I am not allowed to carry anything in the Mall. “I do not want plastic bag that your store gives, so I am using this cotton bag. You can check it. ” I explain as if I am guilty.

“No madam, you can’t take it inside.” He is adamant.
I speak about pollution, Municipal order against carry bags etc. but to no effect.
“I am sorry Madam, but rules are rules. We have strict orders.” The security man says.
Next moment I am out of the Mall.

The Mall it neither bothered about losing customers, nor about pollution; it is worried about its Rules.


I am staying alone in a Government guest house. I go to the Dining Hall for dinner. As I have late afternoon lunch, I just want a cup of milk. I know that they serve milk in a big glass. So, I specifically order for ‘cup of milk’ and add that I do not want ‘glass of milk’. The waiter comes back within a minute and informs me that menu card does not have ‘cup of milk’. I smile. I have traveled and talked a lot during the day, I am tired. I do not have energy to discuss the issue.

I tell him, “Ok, you charge for a glass of milk but give me only a cup of milk. I do not want to waste milk.” He nods.

He comes back and tells, “No madam, we cannot give you a cup of milk. You will have to take a glass of milk. ”

Why? Rules are Rules.


“I would really love to kick you out of here,” my reporting officer says coolly.
“Did I do anything objectionable?” I ask, feeling confused and of course insulted.
“You don’t follow the systems,” the reporting officer is happy to bring out the ultimate weapon.
“Can you give me some example?” I ask politely.

The reporting officer quotes one incidence, conveniently forgetting that I had taken written permission in advance; not from anyone else, but from the same reporting officer. I know how much of system people follow, I am not stupid. Only thing is they don’t say anything against it – they just break it. On the other hand, before I take any action, I communicate to the concerned. In a way I am an easy target.

“However, I cannot kick you out, because your work is indeed excellent” laments my reporting officer.
“ Ok, I will submit resignation.” I try to be helpful. What is the fun if the reporting officer does not want you and that too because you are excellent?
“But that won’t give me satisfaction of kicking you out,” reflects the reporting officer. I admire the honesty.

The conversation is only one way, linear, hierarchical. It can happen only in this way because that is the Rule. The System gives one way power to some and makes many others vulnerable. One’s insecurity is another’s power.



That is the buzz word. That is the most powerful word in the era where ‘Survival of the Fittest’ is the Mantra. Recently I read that Herbert Spencer who coined this term admitted later in his life that ‘fittest always may not be the best’. People can think about philosophy only when they stop participating in any kind of race. If one is competitive, one cannot really grow on the level of ideas – is my experience, I am sure that is yours too.

Most people love systems, either because it gives them a position of privilege or a comfort of stability. Some love systems just by habit and some others because they can’t think of any option. What is a system and what is a good system are subjective definitions. They keep on changing. Even a persons’ perception about the system changes as the person experiences it differently at different times.

I have nothing against systems. When many people are together, rules and regulations are necessary. A system is supposed to be a rational one, no space for emotions and personal favors. I generally follow systems if they work for the advantage of more.

But I am not ‘systmaniac’ like all the people I mentioned earlier. I am aware that certain aspects flower only outside the given framework. Having such moments and freedom in life, where one can cross such barriers is an ultimate luxury. Each one of us has the potential to blossom beyond the stereotypes we are taught to accept, live and expect. But these moments are rare; rest is to be brought into the fold of a working system.

If is only when the soul of the system is lost, when it starts destroying individuality beyond admissible limits, I rebel against the system. When people become maniac about the systems, someone has to demonstrate the futility of that system. Verbal rebellion is not much effective. One has to give up the benefits of the system to make a change. One has to take a stand – intellectual, moral, and social – whatever it is. It is not easy. One just wonders how all those ancient ones who brought changes in the systems had the courage to stand against the tide. One admires the people all around who are in the business of ‘making a change’ – at whatever level micro or macro!

Changing the systems to keep their relevance is not only an intelligent task; it is also creative and exploratory journey. The failures lead to new directions as one gains insights.

When one starts treating RULES as GOALS, that is a sure sign of a systemaniac.

There is very thin line between follower of a system and a systemaniac. We need to be aware and keep asking questions to ourselves – that strengthens immunity against systemania!

Friday, May 21, 2010

86. Connection

What one thinks is long forgotten, suddenly rushes in, without warning, without indication, without any premonition.

That is what I experienced today evening.

It was 5.30 in the evening; I was in the crowded Laxminarayan chowk. The road coming from Gultekadi area is bit narrow. I wanted to go towards Mitramandal area so at the signal I moved to the left of a water tanker. The indicator showed green and without having to take a moment’s stop at the signal I rushed forward.

For a second, I smelt diesel, must be coming from the tanker, I thought.

And suddenly it reminded of a small village. The village adults were excited because a new railway line was being installed in the village. There were suddenly too many new people in the village with hundreds of vehicles. The workers and their ‘sahib’ were staying in newly built homes called ‘quarters’. It was like a city. A city was shaping within a village.

We see small trucks. There is a miracle. With one single action the driver pushes the backward portion of the truck in such an angle that it drops the stones and the soil without any human intervention. When the material is completely dropped down, with a single action the driver brings the portion back to normal. It is a magic for us. However, we (the children) keep away from it. There is a fear: a fear of unknown, a fear of strangers, a fear that someone is destroying our world and a fear that everything is going to change suddenly. All of us are attracted towards that vehicle called ‘dumper’ but we keep away.

We children gather at the lake. We have a serious discussion at hand. Now to think of it, it was indeed a small lake, but for us then it was the world. “Now they are going to dump all that soil in this lake, what will happen to our fish?” one worries loudly. We look at the water. We look at the fish. They seem to be happy and careless as usual. “Hmm, they do not know what is coming to them,” adds another one very philosophically.

‘What is this railway like? And why are they bringing to us? Where will we all go?” is the third query. “And who is this Sarkar they are talking about all the time? When he comes to our village we will throw stones at him. Then he will have to run away with his railway,” fourth point of view is expressed.

“I don’t know why the elders are treating these people well. You see how much tea they drink, even there is a tea shop there,’ fifth mystery to be solved. “Let us run away from this village, my mama’s village has a lake, there are many fish and there is a school too. Let us go there,” that is the sixth option. Questions follow each other without any way out.

Someone laughs at us. We are frightened. We tightly catch each others’ hands.

The truck drivers have come for a stroll at the lake after long working hours. They are listening to our loud discussion and can’t help laughing at us.

“Do you want to drive a truck?’ one of them asks smilingly. Without knowing what it means, I say ‘yes’. My group looks at me as a traitor. But I do not want to miss the adventure. “Come all of you. Will teach you to drive the truck.” one more invitation and that is enough to tempt rest of them.

We rush towards the dumper. Now we are excited, we are shouting, laughing, and teasing each other. The five of us are in the dumper along with the driver. He pushes the key and suddenly there is an unknown smell, very strong and very peculiar.

That was the first time I smelt diesel.

When did it happen? In the antiquity, I guess. I was six or seven years then. I left the village at the age of ten and never went back there. I never remembered this incidence.

But today with that one second of diesel smell, everything came back to me in a crystal clear way. I could smell the dumper, I could smell the lake, and I could see the clear blue skyline disappearing behind the tress. I could hear the laughter of my friends; I could feel the fear of all of us. Though I do not have any contact with anyone of them, they are there with me. Not just the friends, but the place, the earth, the sky, the water, the ‘me’ of that time.

It is strange that there is such a strong connection within the subconscious.

Whether I am physically connected to a place or not does not matter because the subconscious connection exists. That is actually stronger than the physical connection.

Some day in future, my present will become my past. What I will remember then probably will be only such intense moments. If I live superficially today, I will have nothing to remember tomorrow. For making the future connection, I have to live passionately in the present.

The connection of how I live will remain forever for me!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

85. Escape

It would be wrong to say that Ashwin woke up with a start.
Actually, he did not sleep even for a minute last night.
But as it happens on such occasions, he finds himself in the state of doubt.
Is he dreaming?
No, in a flash the horror comes back to him.

With a quick bath he is ready. It is just 6.30 in the morning.
“Have a cup of milk, Ashwin. Eat some biscuits. Even yesterday you did not eat anything, it will be very late for lunch,” his mother is pleading.
Ashwin tries to hide his disgust. With full knowledge of the situation how can she talk about food?
He just nods indicating emphatic ‘NO’.
“I will be there around 9.30, once Sharadabai finishes her work. I think it will not be late. When is Rajesh reaching?’ Mother asks.
“No idea. I will find out.” Ashwin is wondering what all these utterances mean
‘And she is worried more about the housemaid completing the work rather than …’ he thinks bitterly to himself.

He had been to Shantanu’s house a thousand times before, almost every day. But today it is different.

From playgroup to 12th class, they studied together, and only few months ago were separated by their academic interests. But every evening, whether it was 10.00 or 11.00, they met without fail. Constant SMSs, chats, emails were of course no alternative to this face to face meeting. There was absolutely nothing in Ashwin’s life which was not shared with Shantanu and Ashwin was sure that the same was true with Shantanu.

Now there will be no more sharing, no more fun, no more jokes. No more crying on Shantanu’s shoulders.
Because, Shantanu is no more.
The accident was fatal.

Ashwin still remembers those earnestly looking eyes of Shantanu. What was Shantanu thinking? What did he want to say? What happened to all those feelings, dreams, and experiences of Shantanu?

Hospitalization, Police inquiry, Coma, Life Saving Drugs, Ventilator and finally the lifeless body of his best friend …all this happening within 48 hours.

‘This can’t be true, I am having a bad dream’, Ashwin is trying to console himself.

But he remembers what happened in full daylight. Shantanu was driving Ashwin’s new bike and Ashwin was sharing a joke with him. Ashwin painfully recalls every detail - right from the moment that Red Maruti car suddenly raced towards their bike to doctor’s declaration of Shantanu’s death. Could he have done something different to save Shantanu? Every second was combination of hope and horror.
Miraculously, Ashwin does not have even a scratch on his body; he is feeling guilty for that.

Ashwin looks at the sky, ‘Where are you Shantanu?’ he cries to himself.
Is there life after death? - Ashwin wonders. Will Shantanu share it with me? – He wonders.

Ashwin reaches Shantanu’s home, the door is open.
“Come”, uncle says in a listless voice. He has grown years in one night, thinks Ashwin.
“Oh! Ashwin, you come very early indeed,” Raghav, Shantanu’s brother in law indicates an empty chair to Ashwin.
“Rachana, Ashwin is here, bring some tea for him,” orders uncle.
Ashwin is aghast.

Shantanu’s body is lying in the hospital. Rajeshbhayya is coming from Saudi, and then the funeral will take place. How could these people coolly talk about a cup of tea as if nothing has happened? Have they forgotten that Shantanu has passed away? Ashwin looks anxiously at them. For a moment he wishes Shantanu would come and they would move around, may be after a cup of tea. Realizing the truth, Ashwin sighs.

Aunty comes out. Her eyes are red and swollen. She does not look at Ashwin. She just sits there. Everybody is silent. No words spoken. No eye contact. Just sound of breaths of so many people.

Raghav picks up ‘Times of India’ and starts reading sports page. Ashwin is shocked. How he can read newspaper now, thinks Ashwin.

“When is Rajeshbhayya reaching?” Ashwin wants to say something and says so without knowing it.
“Oh! Due to that volcano eruption in Iceland, the flight schedule is completely disturbed. Don’t know whether Rajesh will be able to reach or not. Will wait for his message for few more hours and decide about the funeral around 10.00,” one relative informs. Ashwin nods without knowing what else to say. Someone is talking about the police report and someone else is talking about funeral arrangements.

Rachana comes with cups of tea. She smiles at Ashwin, a sad smile indicating her sorrow.

Uncle takes a sip and calls Rachana. “I need more milk in the tea, have you forgotten?’ he is not scolding Rachana but the unhappiness is clearly expressed.

Ashwin’s head is spinning. That his mother talked about food, he could understand to some extent – she is happy because her son is alive. But Shantanu’s parents and family members apparently not affected by his death is something with which Ashwin is unable to cope with.

“Whatever was to happen has happened. God prefers young and innocent. We cannot go against wishes of God. But the rest of us have to continue with life. The human body has its own cycle and it will demand food and sleep. Aunty suffers from diabetes; she should eat and not wait for the funeral. Uncle suffers from hypertension, he too has to eat something before his morning tablet.” Someone is talking in hushed tone to someone else in the now crowded room. Ashwin can not help hearing it. He is speechless. ‘I am useless;’ thinks Ashwin, ‘I cannot remind them of my best friend. How easily they forget the person after he passes away’ …

Ashwin places himself in the situation from a different angle.
Suppose, he was dead and Shantanu was alive. What would be the situation then? May be, the set would change, different actors would be involved but the scene would be almost the same. Then may be his father would want more sugar in his tea and aunty would visit his home after Kamalbai finished with her work! What would Shantanu feel? What would Shantanu do then? Would Shantanu laugh? Would Shantanu feel like he is feeling now?

Ashwin wants to run away; to run away from everybody who is associated with Shantanu. He wants to scream, he wants to cry, he wants to sleep. He wants someone to understand his pain. He wants to take revenge. He wants to rip apart everything, including himself. He wants to fight. He is getting violent. He is absolutely frightened. He wants to be consoled. He wants Shantanu back.

Ashwin wants to close his eyes and wants never to open it. He wants to die too. The realization that ‘Shantanu is dead’ hurts him again, shatters him completely. Ashwin is helpless.

And Ashwin realizes the futility of relations, the meaninglessness of feelings, the temporariness of achievements, and the shallowness of connections. The moment clearly shows him the core selfishness of human beings. The realization transforms Ashwin, it matures him.

‘It is after all just a drama’, Ashwin is thinking. ‘You play your role, the exit and entry of others does not really affect you. All pain and tears for loss of others is just a momentary feeling. Life moves on as they say and rightly too’.

Ashwin has a lump in throat; tears engulf the world around. He is in an infinite vacuum. His body trembles.

“What are you thinking Ashwin? Your tea is getting cold,” aunty reminds him softly. Ashwin was always impatient with Shantanu’s habit of drinking ‘cold’ tea. Ashwin avoids stare of Shantanu’s mother.

'You are lucky, Shantanu', Ashwin says to himself. 'Mate, you died in ignorance, which is indeed good. You escaped the reality that nobody is yours, you are born alone and you die alone… rather you live alone too without knowing it…Good for you man. I am happy that you did not have to suffer from this reality.'

Ashwin feels very lonely. He has to live with this wisdom and loneliness forever.

No escape for Ashwin.