Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Part of the ocean

This is an excerpt from 'Tuesdays with Morrie', by Mitch Albom. It's a book that I would recommend to all readers - a bit on the philosophical side, but not lecturesque; in fact it is a wonderful account of a brave man's fight against a dreaded disease. This is one story that really touched my heart, and hence it is reproduced here.

I heard a nice little story the other day," Morrie says. He closes his eyes for a moment and I wait.
"Okay. The story is about a little wave, bobbing along in the ocean, having a grand old time. He's enjoying the wind and the fresh air - until he notices the other waves in front of him, crashing against the shore.
' "My God, this is terrible," the wave says. "Look what's going to happen to me!"
"Then along comes another wave. It sees the first wave, looking grim, and it says to him, "Why do you look so sad?"
"The first wave says, "You don't understand We're all going to crash! All of us waves are going to be nothing! Isn't it terrible?"
"The second wave says, "No, you don't understand. You're not a wave, you're part of the ocean." '
I smile. Morrie closes his eyes again.
"Part of the ocean," he says, "part of the ocean." I watch him breathe, in and out, in and out.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Q Mania

There are several reasons why I love my country. And there are also reasons why I love my county more than other countries that I've been to. And I shall now talk about one of those.

Queues. I simply love queues. That's both - watching and waiting in them. And nowhere in the world do we find such a wide variety in the kinds and causes for queues than in India. We have queues for almost everything here - right from paying electricity bills to waiting for water at the village tap. We have the long orderly queues and also the chaotic heap queues. In no other way is our unity in diversity better reflected than in our zest for forming and waiting in queues, no matter what or who we are. We don't need a reason to form a queue, nor an incentive - we line up outside schools for admission forms at least a day before the counter opens; no passport is got without waiting in a line at the passport office at least an hour before the day commences. Railway reservations are lost if you join the queue after the counter opens. Another interesting thing to be noted about our queues are the excellent space optimisation that we pride ourselves in. Not willing to waste even a nanometer of space in our already overcrowded country, we uncomplainingly stand pressed against each other in queues. Besides, in some instances, we also aim at time optimisation - like when traveling by a long distance trains. We don't believe in waiting in our seats till the train halts at the station; we start lining up at the door a good couple of stations before our destination.

I for one, am one of those types who simply loves such queues. Whenever I am not waiting in a queue, I am eagerly looking for an opportunity to join one. And I love them in all their variations - waiting for buying movie tickets, waiting at the McD counter for an Aloo Tikki, waiting at the bus stop to catch bus no. 524, waiting for my token number to be called out at Canara bank, being made to wait by Vodafone when 'the user I am trying to reach is on another call'... the list goes on. There was a time when I despised waiting in lines and complained of the time wasted and the 'ooff ye garmi' and so on. But I've gradually learned to accept and eventually love these symbolic representations of our people's culture.

I am now almost a queue addict. I normally watch cricket matches on the TV, but when I do choose to go to the stadium - it's not for the match, but the long queue to enter the stadium, and the even longer one to come out early if the team puts up a dismal show. Besides, I don't need a reason to stand in a queue - it's a birth right that no one can take away from me. Whenever I see a long queue, I instinctively walk up to the last person in the queue and ask 'Bhai ye line kis liye hai?' No matter what the reason may be, I nevertheless spend at least 5 minutes waiting in that queue for the sheer joy it provides to my mind. In fact, given the selfless kind of person that I am, I never miss the chance to share this joy with other fellow human beings. If some errant fellow tries to skip the queue and walks straight to the counter, I call out to him (no matter where my position in the queue may be; my experiences teach me that I have a voice loud enough to be heard by that fellow for my farthest position being 103rd) - 'O hero, kahan beech mein ghus rahe ho? Line mein khade raho!' And I think to myself - how can these people even think of breaking lines - not all in this world are lucky enough to be blessed with such long queues.

My love for queues transcends terrestrial bounds. Whenever I choose to travel by flight, I just cannot wait until the 'Fasten your seatbelt' sign is turned off. As soon as the plane lands on the ground, and taxies towards the terminal, I get up from my seat, pick up my bag from the overhead compartment and driven by instinct, go and wait by the door. Many a times, my co passengers have taken cue and lined up behind me, painting worried looks on the flight attendants' faces in the process. Even at the airport lounge, I don't prefer sitting in the comfortable seats and enjoying a brief siesta - the real joy is in queuing up at the boarding desk. In the flight itself, I don't prefer waiting for the restroom to be vacant before proceeding towards it - half the relief is in waiting in a line at the door itself. Besides, if I were to be sent to the moon some day, I am sure I would be waiting in a queue by at the space shuttle's exit right from take off. And right after getting off, I would be queuing up to board for the return journey.

Thus is my unconditional love for queues. And remember, even when you see me standing alone, I am just initiating a wannabe queue.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Ji Bilkul

"Chalo beta aaj ladki dekhne jaana hai! Tayaar ho jaao!"

As I had earlier mentioned on this blog, going home has become quite rare for me these days, and as a result I find myself facing huge backlogs when it comes to being up to date with familial matters. I came to know last week that one of my distant cousins, who happens to be almost the same age as me, was getting engaged to his childhood sweetheart the day before. 'What's the hurry yaar', I asked him as I called him up as soon as I reached home that day, 'Why do you want to spoil something that's going well for you!' The problem with all my cousins, elders included, is that they fail to appreciate my deep and well found insights into intriguing matters of human concern; my remarks are routinely taken jokingly at face value, and when I reiterate that I am serious, I inadvertently manage to cause some eyebrows to be raised. No wonder that my cousin chided me for this ground breaking suggestion of mine and said 'Bachhu, tujhe jab kisi se pyaar hoga tab tu samjhega! Teri shaadi ka time ab dur nahi hai! Tu bhi koi dhund le.'

I am sure he was joking about that 'teri shaadi' part, and more so, the 'dhund le' remark. I am confident that I will never be able to find the right life partner for myself, and hence I have never even tried to. But that brilliant sally my cousin used against me struck some hitherto hidden cord in my parents' minds, and I found myself hearing these lines yesterday -

"Beta, ab tumhari shaadi ke baare mein bhi sochna chahiye. Ye bache bhi kitni jaldi badhe ho jaate hain! Tumhare liye ek achaa rishta aaya hai, kal ladki waalon ke ghar jaana hai. Chalo tayaari mein lag jaao tum!"

I don't normally swear these days, and never would even dream of doing it in the presence of my parents. But this sudden shock managed to squeeze out a 'WTF' from my mouth, causing some more eyebrows to be raised. 'I have not even graduated from college yet!' was all that I managed to utter. What I really wanted to tell them was that I am in no mood to marry so early,that I haven't even met the right girl yet, that I won't marry before I settle down nicely into my consulting job, that I don't want an arranged marriage etc. But the best that I could come up with was that I haven't even graduated yet.

"Koi jaldi nahi hai, wo ladki bhi abhi student hai. Agar ab baat ban jaaye to tum donon aaram se apne man se shaadi kar lo. Koi jaldi nahi hai. Agle saal bhi chalega. Tab tak baaki tayari kar lenge hum," they replied.

Still a student! I was sure the poor girl would have no idea of the kind of activities our families were involved in. I then told my parents some of the points I just mentioned above in an attempt to make them see sense but to no avail. It seemed as if my cousin had just opened the floodgates for female bio-datas and horoscopes to rush into my (barren?) life.

After further attempts at trying to avoid the inevitable, I found myself getting ready for the 'ladki dekhne jaana hai' ceremony. I was told to wear the 'naya shirt liya tha na tumne abhi placements ke liye' and was forced to get a neat haircut and a decent shave. To tell you frankly, I hadn't personally cared as much for my appearance for my campus placements. But then I thought perhaps this ladki dekhna is some highly sacred ritual in the eyes of my family (and her too) so I went ahead with it just to make them happy. After an hour of enduring a painful and bumpy auto ride in a typical sweltering Mumbai-Sunday-afternoon, and another half of asking for directions we finally reached the 'ladki waalon ka ghar'.

A knock knock later I found myself facing this huge towering Aunty dressed in what looked an expensive, but sadly overdone saree and overloaded with (fake?) gold jewelery. 'Arey aaiye aaiye, hum aapki hi raah dekh rahe the. Ghar dhundne mein taklif to nahi hui na?' she demanded. Now the kind of guy that I am, who can just manage a 'but I haven't graduated yet' in front of my own parents, to no one's surprise, managed a humble 'bilkul nahi' in the all encompassing presence (laterally) of this Aunty. I could not even imagine how I could later call her 'Mummy' or 'Aai' or whatever name she was addressed by her daughter.

After a couple of minutes of was-and-whens and how-do-you-dos, we were served overly sweet tea and super oily samosas. The sight of this fat-saturated-meal gave me that 'Aha!' moment - the sort I get when I make such discoveries of the causes of some phenomena that I notice in nature (I didn't know what one calls such moments until Sagar pointed out this term to me yesterday; he tells me that there is a well defined term for this, but he doesn't remember the name now and chooses to call them 'Aha!' moments - well, this name works just fine for me). Anyway, getting back to the point, I partook of the diabetic tea and was nibbling at the 'samosa' (notice the quotes. They are there for a purpose) and then entered the 'girl' (No purpose here though). I am no good judge of girls, but from what I've seen and known, I could tell that she is a very good girl, beautiful, smart and with a good nature. Trust your parents on these issues. 'Hmm, not bad. Perhaps I should think of saying yes. I can then fearlessly date this damsel for a couple of years, all the while knowing that she shall be mine finally.'

My dreams were turning out to be just right when came in, umm, (to be kind) let me say an 'extended miniature version of the aforementioned Aunty'. This new entrant and the Aunty comfortably settled in into a couch (that I feel could have easily seated 4 my size). After the usual 'Aur beta tum kya kar rahe ho aaj kal?' and 'Bahut acha ladka hai humara', the Aunty said this - 'To aapko humaari Bindya pasand aayi?' with a huge grin that to me felt like a threatening smirk that screamed out - 'You better say yes or else...'

Wait! Bindya? I thought you introduced that damsel as Sapna. I was about to raise this basic doubt when I saw the new entrant blushing and smiling and shifting around in her place (took mighty efforts, that shifting I tell you - I pity the poor couch). Oh My God! This is Bindya?! I looked towards my parents. They looked equally shocked to me. My mom was almost telling me 'Ye kaise hua? Hume bhi nahi pata!' with her eyes. It so was that Bindya was the elder daughter, and the Aunty was hoping to dump her on my shoulders - she literally looked a burden to me. But thankfully my parents stood their ground and for once supported me in what looked like a lost cause to me. The Aunty was disappointed it didn't work out. I noticed that Sapna never even chose to throw a passing glance towards me in the midst of all this debate. And so too Bindya. 'Must have overdone my dressing style', I thought.

In the end, it turned out that the only person genuinely interested in me was the Aunty. I wouldn't have been surprised had she tried to elope with me in the same auto that we took to come there. 'Chinta mat karo beta' my Mom said as we were leaving, 'Aur bhi ache rishte aayenge.' 'Haan beta chinta mat karo, hum hai na', added my Dad. 'Oh please don't. Let me live my life. (Though I don't mind coming back here for Sapna). Next time let me handle this business, and please for heaven's sake don't choose a family obsessed with cooking oil and sugar!' - my mind was screaming out. But sadly, the only thing that I could tell them aloud was -

"Ji bilkul."