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!

Friday, January 28, 2011

118. Concern

I had to travel from Jodhpur to Udaipur.

The primary teacher at Shiv (in Barmer district) Mr. Balaram had assured me that the Roadways (State Transport) has a good frequency of buses from Jodhpur to Udaipur. I wanted to leave Shiv early in the morning - but that meant disturbing the whole family: I was staying in the house of Mr. Balaram. So, after his insistence I agreed to catch 8.00 am bus which was supposed to take me to Jodhpur by 11.30. With the simple calculations everyone assumed that I would be able to catch bus at 12.00 noon and would safely reach Udaipur latest by 5.00 in the evening. It meant at least 9 hours journey at a stretch. But I had no options.

The Private Bus arrived at Shiv at the right time - sharp 8.00 in the morning. With the usual village concern, the driver and conductor were requested to take care of me. The conductor nodded and offered 'best' seat to me. From the window I was able to watch beauty of Rajasthan.

Suddenly the bus stopped. On the road, a group of 10 young men were waiting for this bus. The driver and the conductor got down. There were loud discussions - I could not understand the cause as they were speaking in the local language. But something was serious. After lot of deliberations the matter was resolved and the driver and the conductor returned to the bus unscratched. Looking at me, the driver smiled, and said, "Don't worry Madam". I know when to worry and when not to worry - I knew that the situation demanded the second strategy, and hence I was relaxed. My only concern was lack of knowledge of local language - I almost missed that exciting conversation.

Shiv- Jodhpur bus reached at Jodhpur at 12.15 in the noon. I was not worried as I was told that the Jodhpur -Udaipur Roadways has a good frequency. The auto rickshaw driver suggested that I catch a private bus, but I rejected his suggestion and went to Roadways' terminus.

After reaching there, I was informed that the 12.00 noon bus had left and the next bus was only at 15.00 hours. On my question "'how much time it would take to reach Udaipur?"- I was told that I would reach after 10.00 in the night. The journey from Jodhpur to Udaipur was of more than 6 hours and not 4 hours as I was told.

I came out of the bus stand. An old auto rickshaw driver approached me. I told him that I want to catch a bus for Udaipur and asked him to take me to the right Private Bus terminus. He looked at me.
He asked, "Are you from Udaipur?"
"No, I am going there for work", I replied.
"Do you often go to Udaipur?" he had one more question.
"Oh! Not many times.. but I have visited the city earlier." I patiently answered.
"Are you traveling alone?" he asked another question.
I was little worried about this conversation. I mean it was none of his business.

"Yes, I am alone." I told him.
"Do you have any relatives in Udaipur?" the man was unstoppable.
"Come on Uncle, let us go", I tried to pass that question.

"Now, don't misunderstand me. But if you are traveling alone and you are new to the city, it is better you travel by Roadways," he said calmly. I was amazed at that statement.

I gave him a neat look. He looked tired, little older than his age. He was clearly a poor man, in need of money. His eyes were soft. He was not smiling because he understood that I was irritated at the conversation, but he was firm. I was not sure what to make of this.

"See Madam, I can take you to Private bus stand and I will get 50 rupees for the drive. But the Private Buses are reckless sometimes. The road is lonely, if some accident happens on the way, what will you do alone in the night time? The road does not have mobile range at times. So, I think it is better for you to travel by Roadways." he added very softly but confidently.

I could understand his concern. I had a fresh experience of Private Bus in the morning itself!
"The accident can happen to Roadways too", I muttered - not challenging him as such - but provoking him a bit.
"You are right Madam. Accident can happen to any bus. But Roadways drivers are not drunk - not at least when they are on duty. If something goes wrong, Roadways has its network and they will provide alternate vehicle to travelers up to Udaipur. Roadways won't ditch you on the road, it won't leave you to take care of yourself." he added.

I started smiling. That gave him more courage. He added, "And Private bus will wait for passengers and waste lot of time. On the other hand, Roadways bus moves on time. You will at most reach by 9.30 even if you catch a Private Bus at 1.00 noon. Why not wait here, have food, read paper, and then travel safely?"

I decided to follow his advice. I turned. But stopped. I said, "I understand that by giving me this advice, you have given up an earning of fifty rupees. I would like to pay you something for this good advise. I appreciate your concern. " By saying this I handed him a fifty rupee note.

He refused. I felt guilty because he actually was offended by my offer. I said "sorry" to him.

Then he said., "Don't count everything in money. It is my duty to make you aware of the dangers. I am happy that you are not adamant. I am glad that you will reach safely and that is my reward. Women when travel alone, should be more careful" he said.

Then he hastily added, "not because you are not empowered enough, but because the society is not sensitive enough!"

If only everyone around has such sensitivity! If only everyone is concerned in Right Way!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

117. Quick Shake

My body, mind and intellect are at loggerheads again.

I know it is not the right time for this to happen. My problem is : there is never a right time for it to happen. Every time I excuse myself on this point, they become adamant. Especially at this hour, I have no control over them. I do not have a wrist watch or a wall clock. But somehow I can always guess time approximately correctly. This must be around 1.30 in the morning, I know.

The windowpanes are making noise. The bed is behaving as if it is contemplating to hurriedly initiate a Rock Dance. The dogs are barking. The crows and kites are engaged in producing frightening calls. People are shouting loudly. First I thought I must be dreaming. But I realize that it is an Earthquake. My intellect orders me to RUSH DOWN – ‘Safety First’ is the right approach in such situations.

However, mind rejects the suggestion of the intellect. (I know, I should not do this!) It decides to ‘experience’ what is happening. The body and mind have their own conflict, but when intellect arrives in the picture, the body always associates with the mind. Like politicians, nobody is a permanent enemy of the other in my own world too.

I am awake, but not frightened. I am not panicking. I am not running away. It is foolish of me to act in this way, but I can’t help. I am listening to the trembling Earth. I think she is saying something, but can’t make out what it is.

The tremor lasts only for few seconds. Two seconds? Three seconds? I am not sure. It ends as if before it began.

I stretch my hand towards my mobile handset to see what time it is. It is 2.00 in the morning. The silence falls – that means not much damage done by this.

I always wonder about Earth. In a way, she is bound by Natural Law, Governed by unknown Forces. Who decided that the Earth should move round the Sun? Who decided that Life should evolve on the Earth? Did the Earth had her choice or she - like all of us - is just a part of the Cycle? In this way we are similar to Earth – we get what we did not ask for and we have the responsibility to carry it on well.

Sometimes I wonder that like me (and you of course), whether Earth too has a mind and an intellect along with her material existence. No, I don’t mean to say that Earthquakes happen to punish bad people, or that is the way of the Earth to take revenge. I don’t think Earth is that MEAN. It must be something like - she is trying to throw her binding in some way, maybe she is just yawning or stretching herself a bit .. who knows?

Does Earth too have a Goal to achieve? Does she have a plan to move on? Is she bothered about her destruction? Does she have hopes? Does she aim to reach somewhere? What is her destiny? Will she be destroyed one day? Then what will happen? From where she came and to where she would go? Does she experience the feelings of happiness, joy and pain? Maybe not measurable on human scale – but on HER scale? Does she speak? Does she have a language? Does she feel lonely? Does she dream? How does she face the boredom? What inspires her to carry such a burden of humanity and other species? Do they mean anything to her or not at all?

Sounds like human life ..... isn’t it?

I start towards my office at 9.00 a.m. – seven hours after the Tremor.

The moment I put my feet on the ground (I live on the second floor) – I ask the Earth (speaking to oneself is a sign of madness, but I have always been that Mad!),

“Are you OK? What happened? ”
Earth smiles listlessly. But she is clearly amused.
“I am perfectly alright my child. HOW ARE YOU?” she asks smilingly.
“I am fine. That was a Quick Shake indeed,” I tell her.
Earth smiles at me. I smile at her.

I move on.
With an assurance: that in Life and in Death, the Earth is going to be with me.
I will never be alone.
My destiny is part of Her destiny, though Her destiny includes many more such tiny destinies.
We may explore it together, or we may explore it separately – but explore we will.
And where we reach is not important, how we travel is important!

To make best of what we have is the right approach to make a right beginning.

The Quick Shake clearly destroyed something in me ... and gave way for new things!

Monday, January 10, 2011

116. Bargain

“Behanjee,” (Madam), someone was calling me.
I stopped, came out of my thought processes, and looked around.
A young man, probably in his late 20s, was smiling at me.
I did not know what to make of that smile – from a stranger.
But smile always creates positive feelings and reciprocation.
So, without my knowledge, I responded with a smile.
That must have given him more courage.

“I have good caps. Purchase one,” he pleaded.
I gave a neat look. He was a roadside vendor; selling winter wear like scarf, cap, socks, gloves etc.
I nodded and was to move away; when he hurriedly added, “It is very cold. You are shivering. My caps are good. Use one and you will know that what I am saying is true.”

It was Saturday; about 1.00 in the afternoon. I was going to the bank to update passbook. Delhi winter was at its most severe form. Fog had engulfed the day and was complemented by chilly wind. The Sun was hiding all the day.
I like winter and I like fog.
Actually, I like Nature as it is. Nature has its own tune. It is fun to have something in life which is very loving but aloof from you. You can’t grasp Nature, can’t control Nature, can’t touch Nature… and still it is with you all the time – nourishing you, helping you to live happily.
So close, yet so distant!

I generally don’t complain about weather.
Don’t be surprised if I repeat myself with same zeal in summer and monsoon.
Even if my mind is young, I tend to forget that the body is aging. It needs protection not only from external environment but also from my wild mind. As the young man had rightly pointed out, I was shivering and I had hardly noticed it. Right, I needed some protective winter-wear!

“Ok, which cap is good for me?” I asked.
He showed me 4-5 different caps. I asked him to choose one for me (I am a lazy shopper!). That purchase done, he said he had woolen socks. I purchased those too.
“How much to pay?” I asked.
He calculated and told me, “One hundred and thirty rupees.”
I handed him one hundred rupee note and one fifty rupee note.
The man gave me three ten rupee notes back.
“You have to give me only twenty,” I said and gave him ten rupees back.
He did not take that money.

I thought he must have miscalculated.
He smiled mischievously.
He said, “Generally customers never pay the price we ask for. They negotiate, they bargain. But you did not ask me to reduce price. It is good to have a customer like you. So I am reducing ten rupees for you on my own.”

I was touched by his action.
Giving unasked is a virtue which you find around luckily.
And giving unasked – to a total stranger!

Being in good mood, I decided to play a little mischief.
I asked the man, “How much one would pay for these items normally, if bargained?”
He was hesitant. His smile disappeared. His eyes narrowed. A line appeared on his forehead.
I laughed. I said, “Young man, I am not going to ask you to reduce anymore. I am happy with the discount you have offered. But I am asking out of curiosity. May be next time I would bargain. So, I should know the right price range.”

He did not trust me fully. But somehow he decided to take a risk.
“Hundred rupees,” he said slowly and gave me an anxious look. He obviously feared that I was going to ask him twenty rupees back.

I smiled, little to him, more to myself and moved on.
If a young man; who is poor; can knowingly give up benefit of ten rupees – for a stranger, unasked for
Certainly, I, not poor, can knowingly give up benefit of twenty rupees; - for a stranger, though indirectly asked for!

The smile, the trust, the surprise, the fun, the experience, the joy… I had - was much more valuable than twenty rupees could buy for me anytime.
That day I had a memorable bargain. Don’t you think so?

Monday, January 3, 2011

115. Benefit of Doubt

“What is your name?” he asks.
I am little reluctant to answer that question.
Not that it is an uncommon question. I am not shy about disclosing my name.
But here I am – pressing my cell phone buttons to make a call and it is transferred to someone else. I think it is a cross-connection. But no, the unknown man claims to be from the office of Telecom Service Provider. He tells me that a process of ‘Customer Verification’ is on. Until I verify my identity, all my outgoing calls will be automatically transferred to him. In short, I have no alternative but to answer his queries.
I do not like such ‘no alternative’ situations. That tempts me to search for alternatives.
Somehow, I tell him my name.
“Tell your full name”, the man shouts from the other end.
I hesitate for a moment and then tell that too.
“Are you married?” he asks next question.
Now I feel that the person at the other end, whosoever he may be, is crossing the limits.

Question about marriage is not uncommon. If you permit me a little exaggeration, I would say that I have answered this question at least one crore times! Generally people like to ask these questions about family, education, marriage, children, job, even salary – and they don’t feel comfortable until those are answered. I don't ask such questions unless the situation demands, but accept when others ask it. I have been interacting with rural and tribal communities for more than two decades. I have to answer this question almost every day as I keep on meeting strangers. I believe in egalitarian approach and hence I accept that people have every right to ask me questions – any question they want to ask. Asking questions to others is my job: and not answering those would be authoritative. I generally trust people and don’t mind sharing ideas, thoughts, feelings, and facts of life with them. At certain times, with certain persons if I am not comfortable answering questions, I generally tell people that. I say, “Would you mind if I don’t answer this?” And every time I have said this, people have accepted my answer with smile and sensitivity.

However, answering questions face to face is different – here it was on the phone.
Answering questions of those with whom I spend some time is different – here it was not the case.
Answering questions when I too have liberty to ask questions is something different – here it was one way, which I completely dislike.

I decide it is time to be assertive.
“Sorry Mister, I don’t think this question is necessary for customer verification”, I try not to be rude, but certainly I am not polite.
“I have no means to verify that you really are from the Telecom Service Provider, so, I won’t share this information with you,” I add.
I continue, “Even if you are from the Telecom Service Provider, you can’t ask for such personal information”.
“Then I have to deactivate your connection,” the man is adamant enough to irritate me.
“You cannot deactivate my connection without a cause and without a prior notice,” now I am getting angry.
“Either you answer this question or your phone will be deactivated,” the man threatens me.
I refuse to answer.
Next minute my cell phone is deactivated. Not only Outgoing calls but Incoming too.
It is 7.30 in the evening.

For last three years I have been using BSNL CellOne. I had no issues with BSNL; it actually provided me best range in the remote areas. BSNL roaming is not that costly. When I moved to Delhi, I found DOLPHIN (BSNL in Metro cities) had a very poor range. I was not able to receive calls properly – the voice always cracked. Due to lack of good range, communication was often disrupted and hence I opted for another service provider. I was wise enough to keep on BSNL connection too. That was about one and half month ago.

The Service Provider did not send and SMS/Mail to intimate that a process of Customer Verification was to take place. Instead of calling me, they just interrupted my outgoing call, which was irritating. In addition to that the tone of the person who spoke was not cordial. And the deactivation of the phone really tested my tolerance.

I contacted the dealer from whom I had purchased this new SIM, but he was not able to offer any help. I could not do much in the night.

When a system goes wrong, it is always tempting to curse the system. However, experience has taught me that a single insensitive, irresponsible, irregular, irrational, selfish, arrogant person can make the system appear wrong and brings out all the disadvantages of the system. But one has to distinguish between an individual and a system. If the System is wrong, I fight with it. However before taking such a step I ensure that I am not equating individual with system and vice versa.

Next morning, at about 10.40 I wrote a message to the Nodal Officer (thanks to JP, for such a great help! It is funny that we have met only once but are good friends through chatting and emails – thanks to internet!). I copied the message to Customer Care (which I got from their website) and one Senior Official whom I had met couple of times in professional meetings. I explained what exactly had happened, told them that “I fully understand the need of Customer Verification”, but expressed my disillusionment with the way they did it. I added, “I feel that you are treating me as a criminal for no apparent fault of mine.” I also gave them few suggestions about ‘how to make customer verification process customer friendly’. With that I provided my residential address and workplace information for verification.

I expected that they would take at least 24 hours to sort the problem out. I was not sure that just an email would trigger any process on their part. I was planning to follow it up on phone.

To my utter surprise, and the credit must be given to the Service Provider; within an hour I received response regretting “the inconvenience caused”. There were detail instructions about reactivating mobile at my end. I followed those instructions and the connection was reactivated.

One insensitive, immature person: the system goes wrong.
One sensitive, mature person: the system works well.

I have doubts though.
Is every complaint processed with this speed? Was this attention given to me as a ‘normal’ customer? Or was it because I am associated with some ‘important’ workplace? Was it because I copied to a very senior official – whose email id (and introduction) I just happened to have!
Will they stop asking such personal questions during Customer Verification process? Will they really improve their process? Will they be more sensitive and polite?
I don’t know.
I give them a ‘Benefit of Doubt’.

We all do this – time and again.
2010 brought too many scams; we give ‘Benefit of Doubt’ to 2011 – wishing all would be well.
In fact, the system of Democracy is all about ‘Benefit of Doubt’.
Sometimes your colleagues, neighbors, people you know, friends behave in an unexpected way and you give them ‘Benefit of Doubt’.
Sometimes you are different than what you were so far, and by bringing in logic, constructing logic to justify your behavior you give yourself ‘Benefit of Doubt’
If it creates happiness, satisfaction, trust, confidence; I would prefer to give (and have) ‘Benefit of Doubt’ rather than the cold logic of rules, regulations, systems, norms and tradition.