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!

Monday, November 22, 2010

111. Free Lunch

“There is no such thing as a Free Lunch” is a popular saying – which indicates that for everything apparently free, one has to pay a price – directly or indirectly. The term often appears in Economic Discussions – and has serious connotations than this post is trying to portray. The concept has Ecological as well as Scientific implications. Broadly speaking, I agree with this term – when it is seriously discussed.

However, I cannot help smiling whenever I read this phrase or hear someone casually referring to it.

Simply because: I have had hundreds of Free Lunches. I had them in the past; I still seem to have those coming to me and I guess they will come to me in future also.

I am of course not referring to my friends who often offer me “Free Lunch.” The moment I enter into their house, the first question they ask is, “when did you have your last food?”

The question is just rhetoric. Because even before I think ‘what would be the appropriate answer, ’they present me a plate full of food which is followed by tea/coffee/milk.. whatever they think I like. None of my friends have ever expected any return in the process. Even when they visit my home, most of them plan it in such a way that they bring major food. I have to arrange just for daal-chaawal and may be drinking water. I have many such “Free Lunches”.

What my friends in return want is: I should be happy.

Generally speaking we all do our duties appropriately: I mean they feed me and I remain happy. When one is well fed, one is happy.

Interestingly I meet lot of strangers, who have offered me “Free Lunch”.

Once I was traveling to Nagpur by Maharashtra Express. The train is ‘Express’ for namesake only as it takes more than 19 hours to reach Nagpur. I always thought it to be the worst train – but I found another worse one – worst than Maharashtra Express – that is Shalimar Express – a Mumbai Howrah train. But about it sometime later.

The train (Maharashtra Express) leaves Pune in the night at about 11.00. I had a hectic week ahead and I had just come out of another hectic week. Some work related things were becoming stressful than I could manage. I had not slept well for almost a week because I was reading an interesting book. Altogether I was tired. The train reaches Nagpur at 3.00 in the afternoon, it has no pantry car, and nothing interesting is available on the platform food stalls. I often skip eating during travels.

So, after the TT checked tickets at 11.30 in the night, I decided that I will sleep well and get up only at about 2.00 next afternoon.

So I slept. And I always sleep well.

I suddenly woke up because an elderly lady was lightly shaking me. I woke up with a start. The woman in her 60s, smiled at me. She was bit shy. “Are you not feeling well?” she asked. “Oh! I am perfectly alright,” I answered, still confused about what business she had with me. “Do you need any help? Is everything alright with you?” I asked, thinking that she needed some kind of help.

Then the woman was mischievously smiling. She said, “If you are alright, just wake up. It is already 12.00 in the afternoon and I am worried because you are still sleeping. Get fresh and come back.” I was astonished with the order. I am not used to taking orders – neither do I give orders. But anyway, I had enough sleep and thought it would be interesting to chat with this elderly woman.

The moment I was ready for a nice chat, she opened her Tiffin box, filled a paper plate with homemade food and offered me. She had two more plates – one for herself and one for her husband. I was surprised. She explained, “My daughter stays at Amaravati. She arranged to send fresh food at the platform.”

I was not comfortable with the idea of consuming food offered by strangers. I said, “Oh! Thanks and please go ahead. I am not hungry.”

On that Uncle laughed and laughed loudly which made me feel guilty. He said, “When traveling we feel more hungry. And you are younger than us; you are just like our daughter. How can we eat without you? Come, join us. You must be hungry now.”

I was touched by their simplicity. And I realized that I had my last food more than 24 hours ago. I was deadly hungry. I ate with relish. They enjoyed that scene. Uncle opened thermos and offered me a hot cup of coffee. That was ultimate luxury. I had another cup of coffee with pleasure.

Then we were properly introduced to each other – formal name, occupation etc. They invited me to visit their home at Nagpur. I accepted the invitation with a smile –knowing fully well that we may never meet again.

I can talk about at least fifty such experiences. The co-traveler, a man in his 30s; was feeding me all the way from Pune to Kanyakumari. We had interesting talk about Thiruvantantpuram, Pune, his kids, his parents, his wife, my job, my association with Kanyakumari and so on. An elderly couple: sharing homemade food with me at Hyderabad airport – we chatted about their son and grandchildren. It was their first flight, so we talked about flying experience.

So many such incidences! Sometimes I wonder that there is something written on my face that makes people (even strangers) to feed me with love and care.

In these cases, there is no prior bond, there is no expectation, there is no further relationship.. and still I am offered a “Free Lunch”. These are completely “Free” for me.

I am not sure about the social and environmental costs though!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

110. Wrong Choice

I am in a crowded market area. Like all cities, this city also has a parking problem. The area reserved for parking is never sufficient for the growing number of two wheelers and four wheelers. So, common people park wherever space is available and pray for luck. The Traffic Police van with its subcontracted young men in the vehicle moves on and picks up vehicles that are parked beyond the reserved area. I have hardly seen a traffic police in these vans.

A two wheeler is parked outside the marked area. This time a policeman is there and he orders the men in the vehicle to pick up the vehicle. He is marking the space by chalk – generally the name of the police station is written there by the police so that the vehicle owner knows where to go and pay the fine.

A woman rushes in. She has just missed it for few seconds. She pleads to the policeman. He says, “Sorry, I cannot help. Go to this place, pay the fine and get back your two wheeler.” He signals the van to move on. But those young guys choose to stay.

The woman, in her 30s is furious. She starts shouting. She complains about the lack of space for parking. Suddenly she realizes that the time is running out. She opens her purse. She takes a fifty rupee note and offers it to the policeman. It is clearly a bribe. The policeman refuses – maybe he is sincere or maybe there are many onlookers – I do not know. But the fact is that he refuses to accept that fifty rupee note. The woman insists, she pleads, she requests, she apologizes.

I can’t help taking part in the action. I politely say, “Madam, please don’t offer any bribe to him. As he is suggesting, go to that place, pay fine, get receipt and get your vehicle back. It is a matter of just 10 minutes.”

The policeman looks gratefully at me.

But the woman snubs me, “It is none of your business. Get away”. She screams at me.

Everybody around laughs at me. Even the men in the pickup vehicle laugh loudly. I feel insulted.

The loud laugh of the young men gives the woman a better idea.

She rushes to the pickup vehicle. Offers a fifty rupee note. There is some sort of negotiation. She adds two more ten rupee notes. The woman gets her two-wheeler back. She gives a triumphant look to the policeman. She turns towards me and gives me a wicked smile.

The policeman looks at me helplessly. I avoid him and turn back. I do not have the courage to share the wound of the policeman.

Another time. Another place. Another situation. Another set of people.

I am sitting in a conference hall. There are four LCD monitors for the presentation, more than three AC are running on, chairs are luxurious, everything is luxurious. There are more than 20 chairs in the conference room. But ours is a meeting of a very small group. We are just six people. The meeting is yet to start.

As is the custom, water, tea and biscuits are ordered to the office canteen. A man from canteen arrives and starts placing water bottles in front of every chair. I know that only six of us are expected for the meeting. I bring it to the notice of the concerned person.

He tells the canteen man, “We are only six. We do not need so many water bottles. Take away rest of those.”

“Sir, you seem to be new here,” the canteen man replies calmly. “This is the way things are done here. Drink as much water as you want and leave the rest to me to manage.” He smiles and moves on.

My colleague is helpless. He avoids looking at me. I avoid any eye contact with him. Both of us feel guilty. After few minutes when another colleague arrives, we feel relieved.

I know this is a clear case of corruption. For provision of six water bottles, a bill for 25 water bottles would be put forward and approved. Everybody will have his/her share in it.

However, I am helpless again. I can do nothing in this situation.


It always starts on a small scale.
Then we ignore it; sometimes due to sheer lack of pro-activeness; sometimes due to our helplessness.
It happens in our presence and we choose not to act.
We take it for granted that such small things are part of life.

When the issues of big scams come out – say 2G Spectrum, CWG, Satyam etc., we passionately discuss.
We strongly believe that the culprits should be punished.

But have we not made a wrong choice when the occasion demanded us to act? At least I have: time and again.
Similarly there would be many others who would make wrong choices and decisions even now.

The difference is never of scale.
The difference is of choice.

And I know I have not exercised my choice well when situation demanded.
I am guilty of making a wrong choice when circumstances challenged me.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

109. Wishes

Sometimes I realize (fortunately) that I have strong likes and dislikes. I try not to express those, but they are somehow expressed frequently, though subtly.

For example, I don‘t like to do anything in bulk – I do it exclusively – whether writing a message or calling a person or spending time with someone. I treat every moment and every person as a special gift to me. I wish that everyone else has the same feeling about me. Alas! That is not the case. So, Deepavali time is bulk ‘wish SMS’ time. It scares me. I have written about it in an earlier post Wholesale , so won’t repeat myself.

During this Deepavalee, I just decided to enjoy ‘Wish messages’. I understand that these wishes are honest though most of them are ordinarily articulated and are sent in bulk. I received about ten standard messages – each message sent by a number of people – taking the cumulative messages to a ton. So many people remember me in good moments is a good sign. May be most people do not have time or courage to be original enough- and hence they forward what has been received. (I am doing the same here :-))

‘Wish You Happy Deepavalee’ was the most common message that I received. Some added ‘Good Wishes’ to that message.

However here are some special ones which I liked. May be you too would enjoy these.

One Acronym based message said:

This occasion gives You

D – Dhan (wealth)

I – Ishwarkrupa (God’s blessings)

P – Prasiddhi (Fame)

A – Aarogya (Health)

V – Vaibhav (again Wealth)

A – Aishwarya (again Wealth – though Dhan, Vaibhav and Aishwarya have deeper subtle meanings which are different – but let us not go into it now)

L – Lavanya (Beauty)

I – Ishwarsiddhi (attainment of God)? I am not sure of the translation

Another message was eco-friendly. It said:

“If you stop firing crackers, Show lighting on buildings by burning Oil Lamps; this Deepavalee will be definitely “HAPPY DEEPAVALEE”. This is demand of hour.. time.. era. Don’t waste our valuable resources. “

Third message was a reflective one. It said:

“One day our entire life might flash in front of our eyes. Make sure it is WORTH watching!”

Fourth message was on the same lines:

“May the outer illumination inspire us to search for light WITHIN.”

Fifth message was about happiness. It said:

“Like the fireworks sparkling in the sky, may your each day glow with joy and be bright with smiles.”

Sixth was a combo message: “A Happy, Peaceful, Safe, Joyful, Prosperous and Healthy Deepavalee”. ‘ALL in ONE’ kind of message – typically 21st Century message. We want everything instantly.

And the seventh was interesting: “Vaikunth se VISHNUJEE, Kailas se SHIVAJEE, Ayodhya se SHRIRAMJEE, Mathura se SHRIKRISHNJEE aur PRITHVI se swayam hum apko Deepavalee or Naye Saal kee hardik shubhakamanaye dete hai” (Lord Vishnu from Vaikuntha, Lord Shiva from Kailas, Lord Rama from Ayodhya, Lord Krishna from Mathura and from the Earth I wish you Happy Deepavalee and New Year.” (Now don’t ask here why Ayodhya and Mathura are not part of the Earth! You are not supposed to be logical when the intention is to make you smile!) I like this aspect of treating oneself equal to God. Why not?

I smiled at each of these messages. I thought over some of these messages. I never sent a message to anyone. Not even through email. I just called few friends, chatted with them, met some friends online – chatted with them.

Learning to accept wishes is essential element of growing with relevance. I think I moved a bit in this direction during this Deepavalee............ I am sure someone sitting in some corner must have wished me GROWTH along with happiness! Strong wishes always help us, push us forward: isn’t it?