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, September 25, 2010

103. Missed Meeting

There are some persons whom you keep on meeting, whether you want or not. You get so used to it that you stop thinking about these people and these meetings.

There are others, whom you know, you will have to meet. You know you have no choice. So you try to keep it as short as possible. You rush through it.

Today was one of those days when I wanted to avoid meeting these two types of people. Not because I hate them, they are not worth that intense feeling, but they tend to draw you out of yourself. Today was one of those days when I wanted to be with myself. Now I am happy because I have been almost successful at not meeting any of them. This is sheer luck, nothing else.

On the other hand, there are others, whom you badly want to meet, but somehow do not meet when you need them most. You expect, you even try but somehow you cannot reach them. They either have become stranger to you or there is some kind of stress in your relationship with them. Sometimes people are simply busy; there is a distance which you cannot cover. Sometimes, the urge of meeting is not mutual. One end of the line is closed down without the other being aware of it.

There is yet another category. Some people you want to meet, but never meet. You go so near but miss meeting them. Not even a formal meeting. You like these people, you have a kind of dream of meeting them; you respect them and would take extra efforts to meet them. Mostly these people are public figures, famous people.

I once had a good opportunity to meet well known Marathi poet Kusumagraj. I adore his writing and meeting him was a life time chance.

Kusumagraj Pratishthan (Foundation) had declared a competitive examination focused on Marathi Literature. I generally keep away from competitions. But I respect and like (well, these two are not necessarily mutual feelings!) Kusumagraj so much that I thought responding to the appeal by the Foundation was the right step. If you love someone, you need to turn that into an action desired by that person. So I appeared for that examination. It was not a typical classroom examination but an open book examination. I studied different aspects of Marathi literature and enjoyed my study for months. Then within a stipulated period, the writing was to be submitted to the Foundation.

It was a coincidence that I won the first prize. I was invited to Nasik. The invitation letter said that Kusumagraj would be present for the prize distribution ceremony.

I was based in Pune then and was associated with an organization as a Full Time Activist. My colleagues from Nasik arranged organizational meeting on the same day. I was intelligent enough to understand that they had arranged it so that I could participate in the Foundation prize distribution ceremony. I was tempted to meet Kusumagraj and so I happily accepted to facilitate one day meeting.

When I reached the venue of the function, the Pratishthan people welcomed me. ‘When would I be able to meet Kusumagraj?” I asked eagerly- a bit like a child.

“Sorry, but he is not attending the function.” One of the office bearers of the Pratishthan informed me.

I was so disappointed that I lost the interest in the ceremony. I almost turned back but stopped not realizing what reason I should give for turning away from the function. I am a very transparent person and people generally can read my face easily – especially sensitive people. One of the Foundation volunteers fully understood my disappointment. He hastily added, “If you insist, we can arrange your meeting with him. But remember, for just couple of minutes because he is really not keeping well. He would not like to disappoint you like this because he has read your writing (the one that was submitted to Foundation) and he appreciated it so much.”

For a moment I was in a dilemma. Here was a chance to meet a Jnyanapeeth Award winner poet – a poet and writer whom I respected. But at the same time he was not well. He was not in a position to meet me; otherwise he would not have denied the meeting. If I insisted, he would meet me no doubt. But by troubling him in such a way, what was I going to get?

Did not his poetry and his writing always give me immense joy and happiness – whether I met him or not? Did not his words convey me what was to be conveyed? What was I going to say him when I meet? Saying ‘Thank you’ to such a great person was out of question. Except for satisfying my ego, I was not going to get anything by meeting him – when he did not want.

“It is alright. I do not want to trouble him when he is not well,” I said and attended the function till the end.

Some of my friends were very angry with me for not insisting meeting Kusumagraj. But I do not regret the decision. In its real sense, I do not miss meeting Kusumagraj. This is possible because my relationship with Kusumagraj is nurtured through his powerful words – both poetry and prose. The bridge is already functional – without personal interaction. Meeting him in person would certainly have been a memorable moment - but not meeting him never destroyed my deeper sense of his being part of my world.

Kusumagraj is always there when I want him, when I need him most.

We never met, but he has always been part of my life. I never miss him. That is such a luxury.


Saturday, September 18, 2010

102. Good Contacts

“Madam, why did you pay him five hundred rupees?”

It was almost 7.00 in the evening. Yesterday I had a hectic day – yesterday morning from 4.00 till 1.30 today morning. So, I was feeling bit tired– especially after a heavy lunch with three of my friends. I was relaxing. I was listening to one of my favorite pieces of classical music with eyes closed. And then suddenly this query is little surprising.

“Oh! Ashokjee, it was very late and your friend dropped me with great care. I am really thankful to you both”, I try to convince the speaker at the other end.

“Did he ask you for more money? Why did you pay? You should have paid only three hundred and fifty rupees. Next time, we will settle the accounts.” Ashokjee is not satisfied with my answer.

“No, Narayanjee did not ask for extra money. I paid by my choice. It was kind of you to arrange drop for me.” I try to explain. But Ashokjee is not satisfied. He insists, “Next time, we will settle the accounts.”

I have known Ashokjee just for a week – and I am using the word ‘known’ in a very broad sense. Only last Friday, I returned from a 10 day long travel (to Bihar and Uttar Pradesh). When I came out at the Pre Paid Auto Booth at Pune airport, I realized that there were no auto rickshaws. Two flights had arrived at the airport at almost the same time and hence there was shortage of auto rickshaws – taxi service is not popular in Pune.

A man was standing near the booth. “Are you alone?” he asked. After I nodded, he asked “Is you baggage only this one?” I answered. Then he took my bag and took me to a rickshaw parked at a distance. Then I realized that he was not a police man but an auto rickshaw driver.

It takes about one hour to reach my home. On the way we talked. Actually Ashokjee talked and I listened. He is an office bearer of Rickshaw Drivers’ Union at the airport. He had stories to tell - of various customers, police, and other auto drivers. He had many experiences to share. I listened attentively and I enjoyed those experiences. Within minutes I realized that I was talking to a ‘good’ hearted man. We may have different occupations, but our attitude towards work matched and I felt that I was able to connect with him easily.

While dropping me at home, Ashokjee gave me his mobile number. He ensured that I store it in my cell phone. I did not want to hurt the feelings of the man: so entered the number. Somehow I forgot to delete it from my phone. I actually forgot about the whole experience.

Yesterday I went to Delhi for couple of meetings. I took 7.00 am flight to Delhi. Did my work whole day, which was more than satisfactory. My return flight to Pune was 20.50 Kingfisher flight.

Reaching to Delhi airport, it became clear that my flight to Pune was delayed. I opened laptop, connected internet and kept on working for couple of hours. At 9.00, it dawned upon me that the flight was still not announced. I realized that I would be reaching Pune after midnight. I realized that getting auto rickshaw in those hours would be most difficult.

I have good many friends whom I could call and ask me to pick up from the airport. But I did not want to disturb them without exploring other means. While checking one SMS, I suddenly saw the auto drivers’ number in the contact list. I decided to take a chance. I called him and asked whether he could drop me home after midnight.

Ashokjee confirmed. He told me, “As soon as you land, give me a call. By the time you come out of the lounge, I would be there.” I was happy with myself on this idea.

My plane landed at 12.20 early morning. I called Ashokjee. “Madam, sorry, I cannot come, but I have arranged an auto for you. When you reach Pre Paid Auto Booth, ask for Narayan. His vehicle number is 3893” explained Ashokjee. I was bit worried with this sudden change, but had no options.

When I inquired about Narayanjee outside, a tall man came forward. He asked me to wait and drove out his auto from the parking lot. On the way we talked. Again I listened and Narayanjee talked. This driver had waited for more than two hours for the arrival of my flight. He was staying at a distance of 12 kilometers from my place. He had waited because he respected Ashokjee. He felt that it was his responsibility to drop me home safely.

Honestly speaking, for a moment I was scared, especially while traveling during the lonely patch in Khadki area. Our mind can think of worst possibilities, and I thought so. I was not sure whether to travel alone in the midnight in the auto of an unknown driver was a wise decision. In the past I have come out of such situations without scratch, but that does not mean that I keep on testing my luck. I should have asked my friends to come and pick me up, or at most I should have waited at the airport till 5.00 in the morning. I was anxious, but I kept on talking.

After a few minutes of conversation I realized that I was once again lucky to meet another good man – dedicated, committed, simple, and honest. Why both Ashokjee and Narayanjee should feel obligation to ensure safe travel for me was beyond my understanding. I was touched by their act of taking care of me. They were treating me as an old friend (a family member would be a better word – suited to their personalities) and in the process they did not expect me to pay a penny more.

After reaching home, I paid five hundred rupees to Narayanjee. He hesitated. He did not accept. But I insisted. I told him to share some money with Ashokjee. For me the matter ended there. I know paying extra money was not equivalent to the value of my thankfulness towards both the men – but that much I could at least do.

And here is Ashokjee today evening, not ready to accept that extra money. He insists that he cannot take that extra money.

When everyone is running after money and those who have money are interested in exploiting others, here are two exceptional men. They honestly feel that they do not deserve hundred and fifty rupees – the extra amount I paid them voluntarily for their service. They want to return that money to me. Ashokjee calls me and tells me that values in life are more important than money.

There is no dearth of good people in this word. I have always been lucky to meet good people – and mind you, they come from all walks of life. Good people, committed people, honest people are there everywhere around. I speak to people with open mind, appreciate them and I build relationships. The credit goes fully to those simple people. I am proud that I know such men (and women). I am sure there are many more around me. Instead of focusing on bad people in life (there will be always a few!), it is better to remember good people.

If you ever want an auto at Pune airport, I suggest that you contact Ashokjee and have first hand experience of goodness. You will certainly enjoy the interaction.

I am not going to delete his number from my contact list. I need Good Contacts.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

101. Image Building

I travel a lot. For many years my New Year Resolution has been ‘to reduce travel this year’ but I have never been able to achieve that. Frankly speaking I have never honestly tried to accomplish my resolution. Because basically I love the challenge of moving. Sometimes I feel that I like instability because it keeps me awake and keeps me related to everything around. Too much stability is harmful to me.

During most of my travels, I am the only woman in the group. When there are more than three people, we generally travel in a four wheeler. I have good relationship with most of my colleagues, so they take care of me and are sensitive to my needs.

Cultural norms about authority and position are very interesting to observe. For example, in most situations the best chair is reserved for the topmost person. The authorities are served tea in better cups (and possibly with better taste!). The boss would get the first glass of water and s/he will have the first and the last words. In many places, the subordinates would stand up when the boss enters – that does not mean they all have respect for him/her. But who cares? In many working cultures the position of the person in the vehicle is also seen as very essential to emphasize his/her authority. For example, in a four wheeler the front seat would be mostly occupied by the most senior person.

I have always found such norms very funny. I have never asked others to change it because most authoritative people are very sensitive about their power display and about their position in front of the group of subordinates. However, I have never followed those standard guidelines for myself. I like to shock people – not for the sake of shocking anyone but I believe that action is more important than mere words. So, whenever I have to travel in a crowded four wheeler I take the back seat and ask the junior most colleagues to occupy the front seat. As it is, we move in their field area and they should be treated well for the amount of work they put in. My young colleagues initially felt very awkward about the reversed position, but somehow they learnt to live with that. And we all were happy about it. Until that incidence happened.

We went to a small tribal hamlet. A large group of women was waiting for us. We all went to the hall where women had arranged the meeting. I was the chief speaker (rather the only speaker!) in the meeting. We had discussion for about three hours. We discussed many topics – the life of women, means of livelihood, workload, health issues, income generation opportunities, and social constraints, education of girls... and range of topics important to their life. We also discussed how they could collectively overcome certain problems and prepared an action plan for the next three months. The focus of the discussion was changing life through challenging situations collectively – in their context. Then we had few home visits which were useful in understanding the various activities women have undertaken and which brought change in their life.

The discussion was followed by a well prepared tribal food – which I enjoy very much. We all ate well and after handshake with every woman (they nowadays proactively come forward for handshake instead of the traditional ‘Namaskar’) we were about to leave.

As I was approaching the rear seat of the vehicle, one woman asked, “Tai, won’t you occupy the front seat?”

Before I could utter a word, another woman from the group answered, “How can Tai take the front seat when there are so many men around? Woman always has to remain behind, no matter how clever she is!”

I was stunned by her observation. Though I had an understanding with my colleagues, and they had never directly or indirectly forced me to remain behind, we all realized that my action was giving a wrong message to community women. The action and the message were in complete contradiction. It was contradictory to what I was speaking in the meetings and what my role required. I was talking about empowerment to them and I was presenting myself as ‘disempowered’ amongst men.

I realized that it is sometimes necessary to build appropriate image – appropriate to what you are speaking, appropriate to what your role demands – even though it may sound as an artificial action. People are bound by their contexts and they interpret your action in their own context.

From that day,we (me and my colleagues) have developed a tacit understanding. When we are visiting a village, while leaving, I consciously take the front seat. It is because when we reach village, not everybody is around. But when we leave village, almost all women come to see us off. Their smile at my position in the vehicle is an award to me and a promise to them. For that to happen an effort of Image Building has to be taken, no matter howsoever I dislike it. Women’s dreams and their aspirations are more important to me when I interact with them – because I am imposing myself on their life without invitation. In my world, I can do whatever I want, but in their world I need to do whatever I indirectly promise them.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

100. Return

“Ok, that is done. Now, when do you want to return? 27th would do? ” Parag asked without moving his eyes from the laptop screen.
When there was no answer, he woke up from the magic of the screen and looked inquiringly at everybody.

His mother was looking outside the window. Did she not hear the question? Or was she thinking about it? His father was looking at mother intensely. Was there anger? Was there frustration? Was there some expectation? Parag could not tell.

Parag looked at Neha, anticipating some help. She just raised her eyebrows and stormed out of the room.

Parag felt uneasy. There was something that he did not know, something that he did not understand.

However it was all normal. Since his childhood he remembered his mother visiting Kanyakumari every year in December. 13th of December had been her specific journey date towards Kanyakumari. Now the family could afford to fly, but Nalini still insisted traveling by 1081 Down Mumbai – Kanyakumari express – which was express just for the names sake. It took as many as 48 hours to reach Kanyakumari. Somehow the whole family had grown with this intricacy of Nalini. So, mother’s ticket booking for Kanyakumari by 1081 Down was an annual ritual in the family. Even their relatives and friends knew it. And everybody was well aware that Nalini liked to make this journey alone.

But this time something was strange. Mother was unusually calm. Father was unusually tense. Neha was unusually anxious. Parag did not know anything because he had returned home after six months assignment in New York.

“Mom, when would you like to return?” Parag asked loudly.
Nalini looked at him. “I don’t know”, she said listlessly. Her detached tone left Parag cold. He looked at father.

“Come on Parag. Don’t worry. Your mother is not going to Kanyakumari for the first time. When she wants to come, she can book her ticket in tatkal quota or she can fly back. Now shut down your laptop, let us watch the cricket match together”, father added hurriedly.

Nalini looked at Pramod and smiled. That was a mysterious smile. Was there some fight between his parents? Was there any other man or woman in their life? Was mother not keeping well? But Parag decided to give up for the moment. He would have to talk to Neha to understand what it was all about.


Nalini smiled to herself. It was her twenty fourth journey to Kanyakumari. Of course, when she made the first one, she thought that was the last one. But somehow she was destined to travel so many times. Coming to Kanyakumari was like coming to home for her. It always had been.

Nalini loved the Vivekanandpuram campus. The statue of Swamiji on the Rock Memorial always inspired her. The waves surrounding the Rock were musical. The clouds created different colors in the water. The Meditation room was so peaceful. She remembered those visits at Goddess Kanyakumari temple at 4.00 in the morning. The cool breeze early in the morning and the devotional songs by M S Subbalaksmi were like a lost dream. Watching the rising sun from the beach always brought the repeated-ness of the universe to her. UtpattiSthitiLaya – she remembered Ayyarji’s voice telling her this philosophy. How she used to make fun of all that philosophy!

Nalini remembered the Pratahsmarana written by the great Shankaracharya; the yoga sessions; and her experiments with harmonium during devotional song sessions in the evening. She remembered tamarind collection, she remembered the heifer Kalyani that was born; she remembered her dislike turned into love towards Sri Ramkrishna Paramhamsa.

When Nalini came here 25 years ago, she came with passion, with commitment, with dedication. Her parents opposed her, but she made it. But unfortunately all that was short lived. Just like a dream.

Within two months of her arrival to Kanyakumari, her mother fell ill. Her father insisted that Nalini should return home. Nalini became emotional and decided to return home to meet sick mother. She planned to come back to Kanyakumari after a month. That was the worst decision she had ever made in life.

Because when Nalini reached her home, her mother was fully involved in planning Nalini’s wedding with Pramod. With so many guests in the house, with the distribution of wedding card, with no money in hand and with friends and relatives constantly surrounding her, Nalini could do not anything. She accepted her fate and without any protest married to Pramod.


Nalini had nothing to complain about Pramod. He was intelligent as well as sensitive. He cared for Nalini, he loved Nalini. He tried to make her life happy. He understood Nalini’s attachment to Kanyakumari more than anyone else. During the first year of their marriage, it was Pramod who suggested Nalini to visit Kanyakumari. Except for couple of years, when the children were very young, Nalini never missed her trip to Kanyakumari. Even when they were poor, Nalini’s visit to Kanyakumari was never cut off. Pramod took care of both the children when Nalini was away. He himself never visited Kanyakumari though.

Nalini never knew whether she returned every year to Kanyakumari or every year she returned home! She was not sure which was her home – Kanyakumari or the one in Mumbai?

For the first few years Nalini enjoyed her annual visit. She met some of her old colleagues, could read some books, and could spend lot of time on the seashore. But slowly things changed. The place lost its charm to her. Nevertheless she came, but the joy was fading away. She was in search of peace and joy, in spite of her visits here. She did not like the statue of Tiruvalluvur which was raised near the Vivekananda Rock Memorial. The cameras now were allowed on the Rock Memorial so it had become just like any other tourist place. She did not like the crowd in Vivekanandapuram. The recently built Ganesha temple could not make her happy. Within her heart she knew that she had lost the relationship with the place.
But then where did she belong if not to Kanyakumari?

Nalini was not able to face the question. She wanted to be neither in Mumbai nor in Kanyakumari. She did not want to stay anywhere and she did not want to return anywhere.


“Hello, by any chance you are Nalini?” someone asked her early in the morning on the seashore.

Nalini turned. “Soumya”, she cried with surprise! Soumya was her batchmate during her training days in Kanyakumari. They had been good friends. But then Soumya went to Arunachal Pradesh for wok and Nalini could never meet her during her annul visits. Later Soumya discontinued her association with Kanyakumari and Nalini stopped getting her news through her Kanyakumari colleagues.

Nalini hugged her with all passion. She laughed and cried. Soumya was quiet. She silently watched Nalini – and Nalini knew that questioning gaze very well. Nalini wanted to hide from Soumya but she also wanted her support.

It was evening time. Nalini and Soumya were sipping coffee in the canteen. They were talking for hours. They exchanged news for the last twenty years. And Nalini was complaining about the loss of the charm of the place.

“Do you still come here every year?” Soumya asked.
“Yes,” said Nalini.
“Why?” asked Soumya.
Nalini was surprised with the questions. “What do you mean by why? I love this place, you know.”
“Oh! That means you have made it a ritual”, Soumya laughed.
Nalini was irritated. “Don’t you often come here?” she asked Soumya.
“No, today I came here after twelve long years. I had been to Tiruvantapuram for official work, so came here for a day.” Soumya answered.
“Don’t you remember all those days? Don’t you want to re-live those? Are you not attached to this place?” Nalini asked a series of questions without a pause.

Soumya was smiling. “Why do you want to return to a place which you left by choice? Why do you want to cling to the past, which has actually disappeared? Why in the name of emotions you are spoiling your present? What is the point in replacing one attachment by other kind of attachment? Do you see how miserable you look? You don’t enjoy Kanyakumari now because you are imposing your personality on the place. You like to imagine that you would have been the happiest person on the earth, if you had not left, not married and remained here.” Soumya’s voice is steady but sharp.

“The fun in life is never to return to what you have left with full awareness. Remembering something once in a while is alright, but getting obsessed with past is a disease, it makes one weak. You can’t return to the past, you can only live in the present – the past might have been great and the present might not be that good, still one has to choose the present. You are committing a grave mistake by this annual ritual. Life needs to move on; otherwise it is nothing else but death. ”

"Return to present", were Soumya's parting words. Soumya was always like this – emotional but practical, rational but sensitive, always very balanced.

Nalini sighed. After saying goodbye to Soumya Nalini thought a lot over what Soumya had said. There was a point in what her best friend had said. Best friends always can catch you by ear and tell you some solid peace of truth which you have overlooked.


Nalini calls Pramod. She could sense his anxiety even from this distance.
“Pramod, I want to return to our home. I want to return with you. Why don’t you all fly here and pick me up? We will have a nice time here. You have never been to Kanyakumari, you will like this place.” Nalini says with enthusiasm.

Nalini can imagine Pramod’s happiness. She realizes how much he has suffered to make her happy. Her heart is full with love for Pramod, for Parag, for Neha, for Kanyakumari, for everything around, for Life. She has returned to her own self. Now she can live without any external support.