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!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

114. Value of Money

“Don’t ask what money can do? It can buy you Pizza and Coke.”

I read that line about a decade ago; I felt that it is telling only partial truth. The value of money is much more than these mundane things.

“What is the value of money?” is obviously a strange question. The value of money is clearly pointed on the note/coin/currency that we use. Even non school going kids can identity various coins and notes and know its capacity (and limits) to purchase things. What we do not generally understand is that the ‘Purchase Power’ changes from place to place. I am not talking about the changes happening due to currency – like when one visits Europe or US of A. There too the value changes have many socio-economic dimensions. But even within India the value of money changes.

I know, you don’t believe in this statement. Even I would not have believed in it had I not this experience!

When I first visited Chitrakut (to be more specific Karvi, the district place) I faced the problem of local travel to a great extent. Chitrakut being a religious place was always crowded. But in such cases, people travel in large groups. The Government Guest House where I was staying in; was about 15 kilometers away from my office, so traveling everyday was a must. Even with such a large number of visitors to the city, the public transport system did not exist then. People were left to the mercy of private transport. All the parties, the local administration, the local transporters and the people seemed to be satisfied with the arrangements – and all was peaceful. It was weird to call that ‘peaceful’ because every day I saw hundreds of people (all men) with their gun on their shoulders. The gunmen drinking cup of tea; the gunmen laughing loudly on joke; the gunmen consuming food together was a common scenario.

My colleagues were naturally concerned about my safety and security. One of them used to pick me up in the morning; and someone would drop me in the evening on their motorbike. But I was concerned that just to ‘take care of me’ people had to travel 30 kilometers extra – which I thought was a waste of their time and organizational money. And by that time, I was so frequently visiting the place, that I was no more a complete stranger to the local situation.

One option was to take a ‘six seater’ auto rickshaw. Of course, here ‘six seater’ is just a name given to that particular vehicle. Unless and until there were 15 passengers, the vehicle won’t start. Being part of crowd is one thing, but being part of crowd where people are drunk and smoke .. I was finding it difficult to travel. Being an only woman in the crowd worsened the matters many times. With all this, I had to take another 15 minutes walk or take a bicycle rickshaw to reach my office. That added not only cost but time too. Once I traveled the 15 kilometer distance by bicycle rickshaw – but it took such a long time and I was feeling guilty while looking at the tired face of the bicycle rickshaw man!

I was no doubt trying to figure out the best way to travel from the guest house to the office. One morning, one six seater rickshaw driver was waiting for passengers. I asked him, “How many passengers sit in the front?” He looked at me very strangely. He told, “Sit there, the front seat is empty now”. But I asked the same question again. Without much elaboration he answered “three” – meaning three passengers sit in the front row – at the side of the driver. Then he asked me where exactly I wanted to go. I replied. Then he started shouting “five rupees seat, five rupees seat” in search of more passengers.

I told the driver,” I will sit in the front portion. I will pay you for three passengers, don’t allow anyone else to occupy the front seat.” The driver was confused. Here the custom was - if a group traveled together, they would negotiate with the driver and get concession for one or two people. He did not understand why I was ready to pay for three persons when I was traveling alone! My calculations were indeed simple. By spending ten rupees extra, I was trying to gain some comfort, some convenience. However, in that area, to have extra ten rupees to spend, was a luxury. And to spend ten rupees extra was a sign of richness.

I was constantly trying to convince the driver about this arrangement and he was not convinced. He was just smiling and chose to ignore me. When the security person of the guest house saw that I was talking to the auto driver for a long time, he rushed in to find out the problem and to help me. He listened to my proposal seriously and told to the driver, “Madam is from Bombay.” That worked as a magic.

That was a scene which was watched by many for the next few years. A woman sitting alone in the front of a six seater rickshaw! After every two minutes, the rickshaw would stop to accommodate new passengers; people would rush to the front seat with joy as they saw only one lady sitting there; the driver used to shout – “go to the backside”; the passengers kept wondering why they are not allowed to sit in front and why the driver is taking his rickshaw empty! Then some passenger sitting in the back (in the crowd of another ten people) would whisper, “Madam is from Bombay” – as if that was the sufficient explanation! And it always proved to be a sufficient explanation. But still someone would add, “She is traveling alone, but paying for the other two seats too.” That was beyond anybody’s understanding. The wondered, they gossiped, they looked at me, and they thought various thoughts.

Then it became a routine. It was a win-win situation. It was convenient to me, because by just paying additional ten rupees, I was able to travel more comfortably – saving trouble of my colleagues to pick and drop me. The auto drivers had to wait less for two passengers. Initially they had apprehensions, but once they realized that I pay those ten additional rupees, they were enthusiastic to have me.

I was conscious that I was lucky that I had those ten extra rupees to spend. I never asked passengers to get down and go to the backside, if someone was already sitting in the front, I would not take that auto. But auto drivers knew my time of travel, so they themselves would ask passengers to make the front portion free. None of the passengers ever objected to it. Nobody said, “She might have money, so what?” No one told me to “travel by your own car” if you want so much luxury!

During the four and half year period, I visited Chitrakut area at least 25 times, and the local journey was made in this fashion – by paying for two more persons!

Actually I tried to purchase comfort of ten rupees, but in the process I realized that I was having ‘Power’ of ‘Ten Rupees’. It was not an unlimited power – it was limited, it was gross but it was also subtle! The power of money is not about what is indicated on the currency – it is always about what it can give you in comparison with others! When we earn money (and we always want more money), we are certainly aware of this subtle nature of power that money brings in. The urge to happiness is natural, is also the urge for power natural? I do not know.

Can we do away with the urge of power? Because what I have experienced (and you too might have experienced) is once we start comparing ourselves with others, the happiness and satisfaction wane. Money is no doubt needed for food, clothes, shelter, education, entertainment, health! But it is up to us to decide how much we want and if we can stop running after money, we may be less powerful... but in reality we become more powerful!

The value of money is much wider, subtler and deeper than it appears!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

113. Lost and …

I can never forget that announcement at Allahabad Station. It was constantly mentioning one term ‘Bhule Bhatke Shivir’ – ‘A temporary place for people who are lost’. It was the Kumbha Melaa time and my colleagues had interesting versions to tell me about this Bhule Bhatke Shivir. It was mainly for the people, mainly old people who were lost in the crowd. My colleagues told me that many people bring their old parents to visit Kumbha, tell them to wait at one spot in the name of fetching some food or water etc and they never return back. The old people wait for, hope for, they are not able to tell the exact name of their village, block, district etc. These old people are deliberately ‘lost’ by their younger ones and they never are ‘found’.

The term ‘Lost and Found’ was not new to me then. I have been a member of organizing team for many events – Rallies, Camps, Treks, Meetings, Functions, Surveys, Protest Marches, and Excursions etc. On each of these occasions, we needed a person to take care of ‘Lost and Found’ section. People can lose anything when they are in a crowd – from their young children to money purse, from their railway pass to identity card, from pen to pin… anything on the earth. (I am not counting psychological aspects of such loss here - loss of mind and loss of identity! They are dealt with in another world – the world of Gurus and Spirituality. I never had much to do with those kinds of places.) The ‘Lost and Found’ section according to me was always a place of amusement. It was a place of a drama in real life. It was a place where all emotions could be seen in its most intense form.

But I hardly ever got to be stationed at the ‘Lost and Found’ section. The responsibility was generally given to one of the elder persons in the group. We used to call this group ‘Retired but not Tired’. They had enthusiasm enough but not the physical energy to be on their toes all the time. So, the running here and there job was done by youngsters and the elders sat at the table. Now looking back I realize that we actually needed mature persons to handle the situation. Old people with experience of life probably can handle the situation better (I am not saying that all old people are mature and all youngsters are immature.) The joy of those who found what they had lot must have been a treat to watch. However not everybody is lucky to find back what is lost, and their despair one cannot watch objectively.

Each one of us has lost something which we never found back. After understanding the announcement at the Allahabad station, I was happy that I never had to take the responsibility of the ‘Lost and Found’ section. It is not that I cannot stand pain – I have seen a lot of it, it is not that I cannot live with disappointment – I have that too in life. But somehow to manage one’s own affair is easier than managing feeling, emotions, and life of others.

It is not easy when one goes through the experience, when it actually happens!

It is bit ironic; but I am more attached to places than persons! May be I can afford to be myself with places. With persons, one has to compromise sometimes; though luckily not all the times and not with all the persons I meet! And I have found managing my affair with places a little difficult than managing loss of connection with persons.

I remember one such moment.

I visited my college after a decade. I had spent five eventful years there. I was so attached to that place once – lot of friends, lot of dreams, lot of passion, lot of debate and discussions,.. so much was associated with that place. I went with expectation to recapture those moments. Suddenly I realized that I was alien to the place. The building was the same – with some modification, there was a crowd, but I stood alone there, without any connection with that place. I could have met some teachers, office clerks, and peons…. But I did not feel like meeting anyone of them. I understood that the college building has no place for me and it was better to withdraw from that!

And I can recall many more such places in my life. The loss of connection happens all the while.

People and Places come in life, become friend, become integral part of life, you share with them a lot of things and one fine morning you realize that the connection, the relationship is lost. Some connections die suddenly, some die a slow and painful death.

Reason? For no apparent reason.

There is an advantage in some things which are Lost and Never Found.

Because sometimes when you find those lost things again, you are disappointed. You do not have the same bliss and peace with those things again as once you used to have. Some things are actually better Lost forever than Found.

May be that is the reason I do not mourn losses – of places, of persons.

I create new connections, I nurture new relationships, and I re-invest in living with the same innocence, same trust, and same enthusiasm.

I have Lost myself so many times through the series of such happenings!

And I have Found myself again and again!

And to tell you the truth, I have changed so much in the process.

So, I, my life can be termed as “Lost and Never Found!”

Saturday, December 4, 2010

112. The Mystery

This post has been published by me as a part of the Blog-a-Ton 17; the seventeenth edition of the online marathon of Bloggers; where we decide and we write. To be part of the next edition, visit and start following Blog-a-Ton.
“Dadu, speak out, don’t keep quiet,” Namita pleaded.

Dadu was Deepankar, Namita’s elder brother. She was three years younger to him, but Dadu and Namita were very close to each other, as if they were twins. They had no secrets from each other – till recently, Namita bitterly thought. Something was troubling Deepankar, and he was not sharing it with Namita.

Dadu did not speak. He just looked at his sister. Clearly he was in two minds. For a moment, Deepankar was ready to speak, however he controlled himself.

“Dadu, please…,” Namita was almost in tears. She was frightened by his stare. What must be troubling him, Namita could not think of. Deepankar had a very good job, was happy, had good friend circle, steady relationship with Ashwini – their proposed marriage was accepted by Deepanakr’s and Ashwini’s families very recently. Namita knew Deepankar had no addictions. What could be the problem? Namita stared back at her loving brother. Deepankar did not say anything and stormed out of the room.

“Now where has Deepu gone like that? Did you fight with him again? You are such a spoilt girl, you even make your simple brother angry…..,” that was certainly grandmother speaking. She loved Deepankar more and could never digest the fact that everyone loved Namita too, in spite of her being a girl.

“Oh! Grandma, nothing. He is in a hurry,” Namita tried to explain. Her cell phone rang at the right time and she could excuse herself.

‘What is the mystery?’ Namita kept on thinking.

That evening the family had a small conference. Everyone had noted that something was troubling their Deepu, and everyone was anxious to support him. Problem was; nobody knew what exactly the issue was and what kind of support Deepankar needed.

“Did you talk to him?” Papa asked Namita.

“For God’s sake, why don’t you directly speak to him? Man to Man talk might be better,” Ma as usual had different opinion than Father.

“Had he any fight with Ashwini, lately?” Ma added hopefully but taking precaution that she sounded anxious. She had never much liked the idea of Deepankar getting married to Ashwini. She had chosen one of her friend’s daughters for that role. But alas! There was nothing wrong in Ashwini too and hence she had to accept Deepankar’s choice.

“Not that I know off. In fact, here comes Ashwini, you can ask her,” added Namita bluntly knowing well her Ma’s destroyed wish.

Ashwini joined. She immediately understood what the conference was all about. She added fuel in the fire with right tone and right words. No, she did not know what Deepankar was worried about and he had been avoiding speaking to her on that subject. In fact, in the last two weeks Deepankar had not spent his usual Saturday evenings with Ashwini. She had come to ask Namita what was wrong with Deepankar.

Now that caused more trouble in that small conference.

“Is he losing his job?” Pa thought aloud.
“Pa, you forget that just ten days ago he told us that his office is sending him to some conference for Paper Presentation,” Namita was feeling hopeless with the discussion.

“Nobody believes in me. This year you did not worship Lord Ganesha properly, see the result. Our golden boy is suffering now….,” grandma’s direction was as expected. Whatever good happened in the family was due to God’s Grace according to her. Logically, whatever problems, troubles came, it was God’s punishment.

“Everything was done properly. Now, don’t you start that discussion again! You should understand that times have changed,” Pa was really angry with his mother. Right from childhood, he had to spend lot of time in worship and rituals. He hated that.

Grandma said, “I am worried about Deepu, nothing else.” Everybody kept quiet on that. Nobody knew how to break the silence.

That was done by Anil, Deepankar’s childhood friend. He entered whistling as usual and was happy to see all – especially Namita. “Where is your Prince Charming?” he teased Ashwini. With a frown he realized that the atmosphere was not cheery as usual. “Is everything alright?” he asked cautiously.

“Anil might know,” Pa said.
“What is it Uncle that you want to know?” Anil was now confused. He looked at Ashwini. He now feared that the news was of break up between Deepankar and Ashwini. He never had imagined that.

“Has Deepankar been smoking or drinking lately?” Namita’s father asked solemnly.

Anil was caught in two minds. He knew that the family did not know of Deepankar’s latest habits and new infatuations. A drink is necessary for socialization, but he was sure the old generation won’t appreciate this fact. He did not want to betray his friend. His silence made everyone uncomfortable. Sensing that, Anil hastily added, “Oh! Why do you think so?”

Father and Mother became more anxious with this evasive answer. A tear rolled down on Ashwini’s cheek. Namita sharply looked at him. There was a clear question in her eyes: “you too?” which Anil wanted not to notice. Grandmother said something which nobody could properly hear.

“Now, Anil, I am asking you a question. Instead of answering, you are questioning me back. How do you expect me to interpret your answer?” Father shot back.

“See Anil, Deepankar is neither eating properly, nor sleeping well and he is not speaking to any one of us. We are all worried. Do you know what is troubling him?” Ma added politely. She did not want to hurt her future son in law - though that idea was taking shape in her mind only very recently.

Anil was confused. Yes, he remembered that Deepankar had been very introvert during last fortnight. He was not seen on Orkut, not on Facebook. Anil recalled that there was not a single Twit from Deepankar in the last 10 days. He also remembered that the cows were not milked on Deepankar’s Farm and the Artichokes were weathered on his farm. Deepankar had not sent any SMS lately. It struck to Anil for the first time that something was indeed wrong with his dear friend. How can one live without virtual presence?

“Namita, bring Deepu’s bank passbook. I want to know,” Pa ordered.
“Oh! Papa, you can’t do this. This is not fair. Let us wait and talk to him. You can’t treat him like a kid or a culprit,” Namita cried.

Silence followed. Everyone had some idea but was ashamed to share the ghastly idea with others.

The Mystery was looming over the room and the minds of all those people, who loved Deepankar.

Deepankar was very happy. He could not wait for the elevator. He took two steps at a time and was surprised to see the home door open. He was still more surprised to see such a crowd in the hall. But he was happy to see them all at that moment. He wanted to share his joy with them.

“Hey, here is a surprise for all of you,” he shouted.

He did not notice that they all exchanged hurried looks.

“I got 150 votes and First Prize.” Deepankar laughed loudly and shook Anil physically with tremendous joy. He wanted to hug Ashwini, but suddenly realized that his parents were there and so controlled himself in time and captured the second option. He was so happy that any stranger even would do.

“What?” everybody screamed. That was followed by more confusing remarks.

“My Goodness!” Father remarked.
“Oh! It is only that…” Mother said.
“You are stupid,” Ashwini murmured.

“Oh! You know that for the last two months I am writing a blog. I participated in a competition my post was selected for the first award. 150 votes and First Award! Imagine the success! Hurrah.. You know what I wrote…” Deepankar was in high spirits. Without listening to any of those remarks, he continued.

Suddenly Deepankar realized that nobody was paying attention to him; everyone looked relieved rather than happy. He looked at Namita for explanation. She was controlling her laughter. Anil was grinning. Father looked at Namita and she started laughing loudly. Everybody joined.

Only Grandma seemed to be glad and touched him on his head. She said something about Lord Ganesha.

“Oh! This is my first award in Writing and they don’t even bother to congratulate me!” Deepankar sighed.

“What is this Mystery?” Deepankar asked himself. However he spoke loudly in his anxiety.

“Oh! Nothing…” everybody said unanimously.

“Come Dadu, write a blog post about this experience,” Namita said. Everybody laughed and disappeared in different directions. Even Ashwini went to kitchen with his mother, Anil and Namita went together ….

Leaving Deepankar alone; wondering about The Mystery of the laughter; of Ashwini and Mother joining hands; about Namita and Anil…

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