Friday, November 28, 2008

DO YOU KNOW THE VEDAS?

The arrogant Brahmin had asked this question to the poor, illiterate boatman, who was peacefully rowing the scholar to the other side of the river.

"No sir, I don't," the innocent boatman had replied.

"What? You've wasted your life," the arrogant Brahmim had shouted.

"What about reading and writing; at least you must be able to do them?"

"Sir, I am a poor soul of this village; I have never entered the doors of a school."

"Ayyo Rama, what a waste of life!"

"Can you not speak Sanskrit, at least?

"No sir; I can not."

"It is a criminal waste of life, in deed!"

By now, the boat had reached the deep-middle of the river. A ferocious wind blew, causing a violent storm, and the boat began to go down. The highly learned man was all panic personified, and began to tremble. "Please help me; please save me," he cried for help before the calm and composed boatman.

"Have you learnt swimming, sir?" the illiterate, and low-caste, boatman asked.

"No, I haven't," the scholar begged for help.

"What a waste of life!" the poor man threw his hands up, as the boat went down, taking along the arrogant.

This is the ancient tale from our Panchatantra. All of us have grown up on the diet of these stories. At least, I have. Today, as our brave defence men, commandos, and police continued to fight out the hardened terrorists and rescue the innocent hostages from them, I received this message on my cell phone:

"Where is Raj Thakeray and his 'brave' sena?
Tell him that 200 NSG Commandos from Delhi( NO Marathi manoos! All South and North Indians) have been sent to Mumbai to fight the terrorists, so that he can sleep peacefully. Please forward this message so that it finally reaches the coward bully."

Even for a moment, I did not consider this message to be a 'hate message'.

If at all it contained anything, it was: PAIN ... ANGUISH!

I chose not to forward the message. Instead, touched by it, write on it. And, here I am.

Why should I 'tell' Raj Thakeray this truth?

Even if I write on this subject, with all my passion, a half-a-dozen-pages thesis, it will serve no purpose. I, immediately, applied the truth to my own life. I kept it for myself ... so that, I can walk on this God's soil - a little humbler, and a little more grateful.

Can any one change the minds of these young terrorists? Please try.
Try that of a religious fundamentalist.
Try that of a cunning politician.
Try yours and mine, when our hearts are hardened.

Yes, only the fools and fanatics are so sure of themselves!
Others are not. They know that their lives are inter-dependent; that, they need the low caste, illiterate boatman to row them to the shore!

The gun battle at the Luxurious hotels of Mumbai is still not over as I write this piece. In a little while from now, the brave men from all the wings are expected to mount the final onslaught on the heartless 'fool and fanatics'. So that, we the mortals, the less sure ilks, can go to bed tonight relived ... a little humbler and
a little more grateful.

I really do not know who forwarded that message to me, today. But, whoever it is, it has reminded me of the plain, and the ancient, truth:

that, I may know the Great Vedas; but, if I do not know the swimming, I do need the simple boatman's hand.

And, I really do not know how to swim this 'river'!


GERALD D'CUNHA

Thursday, November 27, 2008

TWENTY-FOUR BY SEVEN

For the last two days, I have been having a very bad cold. My head was heavy and eyes were sleepy. So, after taking a strong doze of medicines, last night, I went into a deep sleep. My son stayed late to study for his board exams; my wife had to leave early this morning, and hence, went off to sleep early, too.

At 11 in the night, the SMSes stared flashing. "There has been firing at several places in Mumbai by the terrorists," our son knocked on our bed-room door to break the news. But, my sleep wasn't broken. After he left, my wife hit the bed again. But then, she struggled to catch sleep after that. At 1.30 am, my mobile phone rang; she picked up. My younger brother from Navi Mumbai spent the next half-an-hour giving her the 'live coverage' of the going-ons. This time, she tried to wake me up. "Listen. It seems, they are showing on TV the live coverage of the terror attack on Mumbai," she somewhat succeeded in breaking her husband's unusual snooze. "It seems the ATS chief, one encounter specialist and an ACP have died along with about 11 other police men. This is other than about eighty civilians." I heard her, voiced my concern over the episode, and then, my eyes closed. At three, she was, once again, up. My brother was giving her the fresh update. "The Taj is still burning; the Oberoi is still under siege." She did not wake me up.

At five, the SMSes began to do rounds, again: "All schools and colleges will remain closed today," "All Indians should show solidarity in this hour of crisis," "Donate blood for the victims of terror attack," ... My wife called up to check up with her colleague about their scheduled meeting. Obviously, it had been cancelled. Then, at six, she called her father who was in our hometown, Mangalore. He had gone off to sleep early last night; so, the news was first broken to him by his daughter.

Finally, at six, thanks to the screechy alarm, I had to get up to put my son back on his study-track. By now, I received my brother's one more call. He had spent the whole night before the TV!

And, I don't have to tell this: He wasn't alone!

In the morning, the discussion at our place centered around the same subject. "We don't watch TV; so, we don't come to know what is happening around," my wife said. "We should know," my son supported her view. Even I agreed; and, for once, it felt like we all missed the 'idiot box', badly. But, on a second thought, I found myself saying this to my son, "Why?"

Immediately, I realised that I had committed a harakiri by putting my foot in my mouth. The mother-son duo mounted a frontal attack on me. What I wanted to convey, was left unconveyed.

It was this.

Are we not over-reacting to this crises? Yes, it is really sad and frightening. Yes, like any human being, I too am concerned. But, why do I allow the 24x7 TV bombardment to disturb me so much. I am already disturbed; and here is the relentless onslaught on my peace of mind. By getting myself informed and updated about all and sundry trivia of this attack - what quality difference did it make to me as a citizen? Did it help me to become a gentle soul, or to become a more honest, compassionate and responsible citizen? Why should I sit, hooked to the TV, the whole night? Why should I buy half-a-dozen newspapers to read the same news? Why should I send a hundred messages? Does it mean, I have become a fine soul, overnight? Is this attack as sinister as the attack on the Twin-Towers in New York? Were there round-the-clock live news-coverages when bombs rained on the Pearl Harbour, and when the History's only atom bombs devastated Japan? How do I 'know' about these incidents, even today, as if they happened yesterday?

Is this information or is this sensationalism?

Can I not get myself 'adequately' informed about the state of affairs around my city, my state, my country and the world without getting hooked to this addiction called 24x7 live-coverage? Will the world become a better place to live in, through this kind of information? Will it reduce terrorism? Will it help bring peace and harmony around?

In 1984, when Mrs. Indira Gandhi was brutally assassinated at her residence, by her own security guards, her only surviving son, Mr. Rajiv Gandhi was somewhere in the remote Assam doing the poll campaigning. He heard the shocking news through BBC news on a pocket transistor. That night, we saw him back in the Capital, huddled with his friends and well-wishers. The same night, in a simple and brief ceremony, he shouldered upon him the painful burden of running the nation. I am yet to see a son near his mother's massacred dead body - so poised, so stoic-like!

A few years later, when his own body was blow off to pieces by the human bombers, Mr. Rajiv Gandhi had already passed on this legacy to his own widow and children.

There weren't mobiles, and round-the-clock news coverage hadn't caught-up, yet. And, yet, we all survived; our nation survived ... Life goes on. Maybe like a roller coaster.

But, then, when it wasn't so?

I left for work, as usual, at 7.45 this morning. Before leaving, I had a glance at the TOI headlines: 'WAR ON MUMBAI'. Just outside my neighbours' doors, the other newspapers stared at me: 'MUMBAI MASSACRED', 'MUMBAI UNDER SIEGE' ...

My autowalha was an elderly man. Like me, he too had left his home to earn his daily bread. Both of us were 'informed' about the tragedy in our beloved city. Both of us were equally unsure whether we would return home, at night, in a single piece! But, out we were ...

Around 9.30 am, I finally decided to watch the TV coverage for a short while in one my friends' house near my Classes. Like so many others, he too had spent long hours before the TV, already. When I appeared there, he surfed all the channels for me, so that I could get the 'maximum information'. I saw the hijacked-police-jeep shot repeated at least 'ten times', when I was watching one particular channel ... Yes, the same shot!

And, they call it 'round-the-clock information'!

When I left that place after twenty minutes, my head ached like a hell!

Frankly, I hold this kind of onslaught as more destructive to the human mind than those sporadic ones by the Ultras. At least the Ultras don't bombard like this 24x7x365. Not in our living rooms and bed rooms, at least!

I wanted to convey this view of mine to my wife and son, before I was silenced by their onslaught!


GERALD D'CUNGH

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

DON'T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF

On another day, I would have worried about using the title I have chosen for this article. For, it is the title of one of my favourite inspirational-books. This little book - a true classic, in my view - contains dozens of small articles which help us calm down whenever we get worked up on our daily, small stuff; yes, whenever we 'sweat our small stuff'. The ideal place to park this book is: the pillow side. So soothing it is!

Richard Carlson, the author of this book, tells us, in the introduction, the story behind the title. He tells, that he had gotten the famous author, Dr. Wayne Dyer, to endorse one of Carlson's earlier books. He had written to Dr. Dyer for a similar endorsement for the next one as well. But, there was no response from the famous author. Meanwhile, the publishers of Mr. Carlson's new book decided to carry Dr. Dyer's previous endorsement on the new cover, too. When Carlson saw the cover of his new book, he immediately slipped into a panic mode! "Thousands of copies of the book are already printed and published, without obtaining the permission for the use of the endorsement it prominently carries on its cover." ... Carlson began to worry about its fall out. His conscience restlessly began to burn; it was against the values he wrote and preached about. After a great deal of sweating and worrying, he asked his publishers to withdraw all the books from the market. In the mean time, he wrote about his blunder to the famed writer, and asked to be forgiven.

A few weeks later, a mail arrived:

"Richard, please don't sweat the small stuff. And, it's all small stuff!"

The boulders around Carlson's conscience, instantly, fell off! So touched he was by this simple, yet profound, gesture, that he decided to write his next book on this universal human trait of 'panicking' - worrying over the little things in life. Rightly, the book bore the title: "DON'T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF ..."

Had I written this blog piece on another day, I, too, would have sweat over the use of someone else's copyright material. I would have restlessly worried about its supposed consequences. Yes, I would have. But, on another day; not today.

Why? What is special about today?

I will tell you.

All of us are endowed with some strengths and some weaknesses. I am endowed with mine. And, one of the most notorious weaknesses, in my case, is my poor management of finances. Though I have come a long way in this respect, in recent years, the flaw still persists. And, I am still careless and absent-minded on money matters. Maybe, I am too philosophical about all these things ... "My kingdom does not belong to this world," ... Maybe, I have taken Jesus Christ's words too seriously!

The reality is that, I am no Jesus Christ, and my 'kingdom' does belong to this world! I am too frequently awakened to this reality, and, often, rudely, too.
Yes, often by my hardcore-pragmatic wife or by our tough tax-collectors, and often by Banks or my Insurance companies. "Give God what is God's; and give Caesar what is Caesar's," ... The Banks and the tax-collectors draw my attention to the the 'Caesar's' emblem on the coin.

"If you don't pay our taxes, we will hound you;" ... "If you don't repay our money, we'll take away you home;" ... "If you don't pay our premiums, your policy will lapse." I am, luckily, quite careful about my taxes and repayments. Maybe, I am too frightened of the hounds, and of living on streets. But, about the insurance premiums, I am still careless, and my policies go on a lapse mode, quite often!

A 'big' problem?

I know, I must be a 'big fool' to think so! They have made the whole insurance experience so hastle-free and pleasant. There is ECS, There is e-payment, there are insurance agents, or - if nothing else - there is my sensible wife. If I really want to sort out this little problem, I can ... and, in no time. The point is: "If I really want to!"

As I told you earlier in this article, of late, I have started making some progress in this area. Things are not that bad as they used to be once. I was feeling quite happy about this achievement. I was feeling, that I was on way to recovery; I was feeling, that I was in control. And, suddenly, out of the blue, arrived this intimation from one of my insurers: that, one of my policies is the fresh causality of my carelessness!

"What?" Disbelief and disagreement were my first reaction.

"Oh, no; not again." Disappointment and frustration were the next.

Hopelessness and self-torture were the last off-shoots.

This was all in the morning, today. A small stuff played a big havoc. I sweat and worried on this till I was able to see the silliness of mind-game, till I remembered the gentle title of my favourite book: 'DON'T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF ...'

Yes, till my mind got back into the 'relapse' mode: from 'carelessness' to 'carefreeness'.

And, yes, till I typed the title of this article ... never sweating and worrying over the supposed consequences of my piracy.

On another day, I would have!


GERALD D'CUNHA

Monday, November 17, 2008

MY POT-BELLY

Yes, I don't like my pot-belly.

And, that's the first step to send it in.

No, it is not.

Then, what is?

Loving a lean, flat and healthy belly is.

Yes, the more I remain an anti-pot-belly crusader, the more it bloats. All my resolutions go for a toss as soon as I make them; my efforts remain half-hearted ... and, lo! there it grows: my majestic pot-belly!

So, I decide, instead, to be a pro-flat-belly activist. I fall in love with it; day in and day out, I visualise it. I feel the smoothness, the well-being. My resolutions are motivated by my love for health, and not the hatred for my bloated tummy. My efforts are constantly prompted by my positive life-energy of love ... love for something beautiful - my lean body, my health, my longevity.

Habits get formed, over a long period of time, through our repeated actions and non-actions. What begins as a result of an impulse, when persisted upon, come to stay with us permanently. It becomes a compulsion, a mechanical response, a habitual behaviour... eventually, our character, our personality. All habits are formed and sustained like this ... be it our simple habits of eating, drinking and sleeping, or, our serious addictions to tobacco, alcohol, drugs or porn, and, even, lying, cheating and wife-beating. In no other manner, a habit is formed, or come to stay.

To do away with my habit of lying, first of all, I must be aware of the impact my constant lying leaves on my well-being, the damage it causes to my self-esteem. Next, I must desire greatly a life of healthy self-esteem; I must desire an integrated and confident life. The more I focus on this upbeat state of life, the more I gain the strength to drop my old habits, to break away from the old patterns. It is the sheer force of desire - and love for something of lasting value, of greater significance - that helps me navigate through this crucial transition.

Yes, what we deeply love, we attract. What we constantly focus on, expands in our life.

And, oh yes, a pot-belly, included!


GERALD D'CUNHA

Friday, November 14, 2008

THE TOXIC ELEMENTS

The old man had seven children - three sons, and four daughters. And, he died with his boots on. At 80.

This man came from a very humble back round, worked very hard to give a decent education to his seven children. When he died, he left for them a large house that had five bathrooms. The daughters had been married, and they stayed separately. Two of the three sons were married and stayed under the same roof. The youngest of the siblings, the unmarried son, was a spoilt brat. For him, everything had come on a platter. His two elder brothers worked hard to keep up their father's legacy. But, the last one, was born to ruin it.

Troubles began to brew up soon after the old man's demise. The youngest one, who was a college-dropout, would come home, late in the nights, fully drunk. His mornings began only at ten. Then, a towel tied around his waist, he would wile away his time, just because 'his' bath room was occupied by some one else. He would never, ever enter another! Yes, no matter how much more time he would have to wait, and no matter how much arguments erupted from his silly behaviour. The gentle persuasion and stern warnings did not seem to affect his thick skin. Finally, fed up, the other brothers decided to do away with this useless character. A couple of show-downs later, he was given his share and was shown the door.

It took not even a year, for this young man, to blow off his father's kitty. When he hit the dead end, he returned to his brothers. They took him in, and gave another chance.

But, now the situation in the joint family turned very disturbing. The old habits not only never died, but they also grew uglier. The wives and children of the two elder brothers had come to their wit's end. Their patience had dried up, and they exerted pressure to 'clean up' the house. Finally, the two elder brothers, gave a small amount of money and threw the black sheep out of the herd.

The young man, who once waited for hours - draped in his princely towel - refusing to enter any other bathroom, now lives in a dirty shanty. And, he has to, indeed, wait for hours to enter the common toilet!

A friend of mine wanted to groom and mentor one of his relatives. In spite of his wife's protest, my friend allowed this young man to live in his house. He spent a lot of money to get the fellow trained - on his travelling, food, clothes and entertainment. Then, the young man was absorbed in my friend's family business. But, what my friend received, for all this, was nothing but frustration. Everything had come to this young man easily, he had hardly faced any struggle, he had never learnt to value money, time and hard work. My friend tried every possible means to set things right with his prodigy. What he didn't realise was that it was not his life that had to be set right, it was his prodigy's ... It was his business.

Then, finally, one day, when my friend realised this truth, he said enough was enough, and he asked the young man to get out, fend for himself.

Another friend of mine had to throw out one of his managers, after twenty-long years, in a similar fashion. All these years, my friend tried not to disturb his useless, ungrateful, manager's family by firing him. Finally, when he realised that this thick-skinned man had become a White Elephant - a millstone around his neck - he did not hesitate to pack him off.

I myself had to sever my relationship with one of my old friends, very lately. In friendship, we tolerate a lot of things, put up with each other's shortcomings and irritating behaviours. But, there also comes, sometimes, a time when we realise that it is too difficult to keep up the relationship, for its sheer high maintenance cost. We realise, that it has gone beyond repairs, and it is neither worth putting together, nor worth keeping.

So, I discarded one such friendship. And, along with it, all my misery and guilt!

A woman I know came out of her messy marriage. "I did not come out of a messy marriage; I came out of a toxic chamber," she says, looking back with tremendous relief. "You try to work things out, and you work hard and long at it, with all the patience at your disposal, you hope against the hope, and, finally, when you realise that the toll on your emotional health is too much, you walk out."

Whether it is friendship, marriage or any other relationship, it all boils down to this basic truth:

In life, there are some relationships, which have a very 'high-maintenance' cost. And, as in the case of a White Elephant, we have to make a choice: to keep them, or to do away with.

Similarly, there is that friend, a prodigy or your own brother, who might have become a 'toxic element' in your life. And, yes, it is for you to decide what to do with him.


GERALD D'CUNHA

Saturday, November 8, 2008

THE GLOOMY SKY

The world is not perfect; its principles are.

When you go about your life expecting the world to be perfect, you only end up being cynical. On the other hand, when you keep faith in its rock-steady principles, you become buoyant, zestful.

This morning, I felt a strong urge with in me to pray for this wonderful 'boon': of being zestful, hopeful and buoyant.

I realise that, often, many small irritations, small misunderstandings in my life, make me edgy, pessimistic and give up soon. I tend to lose trust in people, their goodness, their sincerity easily. I see myself making gloomy predictions; and, I remain immobile, unenthusiastic and skeptical about other people's ideas and plans.

A couple of my students remain absent for my class, least bothered to inform me - it is enough to make me conclude: "The times have changed; there is no respect for teachers."

The fact that ninety-eight percent of the students attended the class, bothered to take me into confidence - yes, this fact goes completely unacknowledged!

Similarly, one or two stray cases of 'bad debts' are, sometimes, reasons big enough to smell everyone with suspicion.

At some other times, when I get into loud, ugly arguments with my wife or son, I tend to slip into my cave and sulk: "It is best not to keep any hopes, any expectations on them." In addition, I, also, tend to spread this 'gospel', fervently, to others!

An over-charged light or telephone bill means: "They are up to loot you."

A half-percent hike in my housing loan, or a similar drop in my F.D. account - and I am sure to comment:"The banks have no ethics."

When I come across, here and there, some cynical people, I go overboard: "The world is filled with this breed."

The fact that I belong to the same 'moan-and-groan' breed, for a moment, goes into a limbo!

I had to suspend the writing of this piece for a while, because, Viraj had come to talk to me. The subject?

Viraj got married to an educated girl about four years ago. Within six months, they had trouble with each other, and began to live separately. The divorce proceedings prolonged for almost three years in the court, and finally, Viraj came out, battered and burnt. During this period, he had switched his employer: He joined the revered investment bank - Lehman Brothers! And, as his strange destiny would have it, the bank collapsed within six months of his joining. Luckily, the Indian chapter of the bank was taken over by another Giant, and Viraj survived ... but, not before fear and panic sent shock waves through his limbs, not before his aged mother spent almost a month in the hospital, unable to withstand the shock, and fearing the worst.

Viraj, understandably, is disturbed. He is yet to come out of the harsh tentacles of these dual blows. The cooing period seems endless, the hope dim.

"I am unable to shed my gloom," Viraj told me. "My parents want me to settle again, but I am afraid. I am unable to put behind the painful experience. I have this vague suspicion about every woman, now; I seem to have lost trust." He continued, "Though job-wise, I am safe, the bankruptcy jolt has turned me very skeptical about security in life ... Where is the security? I spend sleepless nights wondering. I have come to you to see if I could find some books to read or some Workshops to attend. I am open to the idea of seeing a Counsellor. I must; I am breaking."

I spent my next one hour talking to Viraj.

What a coincidence?

I showed him the subject of my writing, the text I had typed ... and, I could experience this: the more I spoke to him, the more I began to express trust in the Universe - its goodness, its mercy, its divine protection. I heard myself telling him with tremendous amount of certainty: "Viraj, trust me. The Universe protects; Life is good; people are good; the situations change; the gloom doesn't last; you have to get up and say, 'I refuse to give up on life, on people, on hope'."

Viraj was listening. His eyes did not lie about it.

By the time he left, I decided to get up and see the bright world outside. Nothing in the sky had changed, just because some irritations had turned me cynical. "They are clouds," I said. "They shall pass."

When the mighty Hitler died, he must have presumed, Germany, too, would. But, she didn't. What died was: the monster his cynical mind had created - 'NAZI' ... the Third Reich!

Gloom is just a perception of my cynical mind. Joy is my Germany!




GERALD D'CUNHA

Friday, November 7, 2008

THE ACID TEST

"Why, what is my mistake?" Rahul, my 11th-standard student yelled back at me in the packed class room. The room could feel the weight of his bloated pride. Unnerved, I went close to him, held him by his arm, and roared with the matching pride, "Your mistake was: you argued with me, your teacher. Go out, I will speak to you after the class."

Rahul collected his books, and went away, with out waiting to meet me.

Now, it was the second 'sin', Rahul committed. Unable to bear this, I went on a marathon speech before the rest of his clan. I was angry, hurt and even frustrated by the 'arrogance' and 'attitude' these little kids threw around their teachers, their total disrespect, their insensitive behaviour, their indifference to advice ... and all that which I stood for, and they didn't. "There are two people in your life... and never, ever argue with them," I shouted. "Your parents and your teachers."

The class listened to me, almost spell-bound. Maybe, frightened!

Rahul, Harshal and Viren. In the entire class, I have problem with only these 'three-of-a-kind'. You start with the obvious strategy: making them sit away - much away - from each other. Still, look at this: You try to draw Viren's attention, Rahul has to turn towards him and say something, which would make our Harshal laugh, which, in turn, would make our Rahul 'bugged' and say something nasty, which would make Viren say, 'shut up' ... all in chain reaction ... and all this as others get disturbed and even fed up with ... And all this, as I, their teacher, watch helplessly.

Your next strategy: Let them know, that you don't like or approve their behaviour. And, so, tell them loudly and clearly to stop it. "Mend your ways, before you invite some trouble."

They are super cool about it. Super indifferent. So, you adopt your next strategy: You talk to them privately; that, too, individually. Else, the chain reaction would spoil this attempt, as well. They listen, and promise to mend their ways. You feel relieved by it. You hope, things would change for the better.

Just after two days, Behold! There they go again!

You are 'bugged'. You react, shout, preach ... and, they blissfully 'giggle and laugh! "Get out all of you; Come with your parents, if you wish to continue here."

Viren's mother is not prepared to accept the fact that her son is a culprit. "It is Rahul; he makes my son laugh. It has been going on since class five."

Hashal's father, holding is son by the arm, confers on me the power of attorney: "Sir, mein aapko full right detha hoon - Is ko pakadke maaro ... Saala, ye isi tharika se sudrega."

Rahul's mom tells me: "Sir, we all are frustrated with him at home. He doesn't listen to any of us. For every thing, he has to argue and back-answer. We have given up on him."

Now, tell me: What should I do with these 'three musketeers'? Harshal ko pakadke maroon? Or, declare Viren - 'Not Guilty'? Or, continue my obsession to 'fix' Rahul?

I am really confused. As of now, Rahul has gone, least bothered to even meet me after the class. Probably, he thinks he hasn't done any thing wrong.

That means, I have!

Now that I am not 'inside the furnace'. I am able to see that, I have a choice here. That is:

I can be be either 'right' ...
Or, I can be at peace with myself.

"Never, ever dare to argue with a 'chor' or a 'police'" ... Probably, I can advice my students with this one. Yes, as one more choice!


GERALD D'CUNHA

Thursday, November 6, 2008

GYAN BAATNA CHAYIYE

Whenever I am in a new place, and ask a stranger for direction, the stranger turns out to be one of these two kinds.

The first kind: This stranger seems genuinely happy and proud to help me. He realises that I am a stranger in his locality, that I need his help. So, for him, it is a matter of pride, an achievement, to be of help to some one. In fact, I have seen, some of them going out of their way to to make you comfortable. You feel glad about it; you feel appreciated and respected.

I believe, there is a direct link between this experience and one's self-esteem. My self-esteem goes up, because, I feel appreciated and cared for. The good Samaritan's self-esteem goes up, because, of the feeling he gets within him - that, he is helping somebody, a stranger. When he shares his knowledge, his strength, he has to feel good about it, he has to grow stronger. It is an act of self-empowerment.

Possibly, many of us have seen this when we visit some remote villages. The way these simple folks show their enthusiasm - when we, the well-groomed city-folks, approach them for some guidance - is amazing. They seem simply in awe of us; they drop their work and come with us, for miles, to help us. I am sure, by doing this, they feel good about themselves, they feel empowered.

Needless to say, these simple souls have no idea as to what self-esteem is all about. This term is not there in their rustic vocabulary.

The second kind: Well, this kind is is arrogant, indifferent and even suspicious and insecure. Mostly, and sadly, this kind belongs to big cities like ours. They are least concerned about you, the stranger. Self-esteem, empowerment, sense of contribution ... well, they care two-hooks for all these sentimental ideals. They pretend to be busy, and their response is either a cold shoulder, or a blunt mumbling. They ARE in a position to help you. But, they are never aware of its importance; never have they thought of the impact of it on a stranger's life. Leave alone, on their own!

Once, I was talking to this small-time business man, standing next to his luxurious car. Though illiterate, he did own a few business establishments, and a very big ego. As we were talking, a simple-looking passerby approached him and said:

"Sir, idhar post office kidar hai."

I did not know. And, as the stranger had asked directly this businessman, he responded with this:

"Aage jao."

"Aage kidar," the man sought clarification.

"Aage bolana; jaake dhoond. Saala." The luxury-car owner shooed off the stranger, like an irritating fly!

What could I do, at that time? I was too disgusted with this 'attitude', to even respond. For a while, I turned numb!

Yes, at that moment, I did nothing. But, I took an oath, then and there, that I would never, ever abuse my knowledge ... Whatever knowledge be it. And, I promised to myself: I would, always, share it ... and, share would I willingly and enthusiastically.

Many years ago, I worked for a short period in an Insurance company office. I was a stranger to this city and fresh and inexperienced. In addition, I was pathologically nervous at work place! Obviously, I made several mistakes while working. What I still remember, even today - yes, after three decades - are the faces of these two middle-aged seniors. One understood my plight, and helped me out with suggestions, and encouragement, filling me with hope, raising my confidence. The other would directly make a beeline to the Department Head's cabin and crib about me. And, he did so for every fresher, I was told!

The first gentleman would 'share' his experience and knowledge with me ... In the process, he made me a little stronger, and a little more hopeful. He empowered me through his gentle gesture. After three months, when my term completed, he took me to a nearby Irani restaurant, and there - over a sandwich, pastry and tea - he further shared with me some more good things, which I still cherish.

I remember nothing about the other guy. Except the fact that he was a cribby character, a sadist.

I love this scene In 'Lage Raho Munnbhai'. Munna is desperate to get into the 'Gandhiji radio show' scheduled to be hosted on Gandhi Jayanti by the girl for whom he has fallen head-over-feet. Munna's sidekick, Circuit, has rouded up half-a- dozen history professors - the scholars - to answer the questions for Munna. A huge pile of goodies are kept dangling before the eyes of these wise men, tempting them to be enthusiastic about their participation. Every one is tempted; every one is excited to win, and, thereby, walk away with the goodies ... except one: Prof: Attuputti. He voices his protest. Circuit tries - first with loving words, then with the stick - to convince this upright professor. It is a heart-warming scene. You love this Circuit, when he counsels Prof. Attuputti: "Gyan baatna chayiye re; thu kya usko pakadke baita hai."

And, how can you forget that other Professor's enthusiasm and face? Because he shared, willingly and enthusiastically, all the 'gyan' he possessed, he walked away with all the goodies from Munnabhai: The Toaster, Mixer, Cooker, Music System and of course, the 'istri', 'istri'!

I loved him.


GERALD D'CUNHA

WHY DID I CRY TODAY?

It happens, sometimes, when I read about Christ's life. Or about the lives of my other heroes - Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. Either I experience goose pimples, or I simply cry.

I have failed to understand the mystery behind this phenomenon. Why do I get the goosebumps? Why do tears roll down my cheeks?

Maybe because I admire them so much. For the kind of challenges they faced, the goodness they spread, for the leadership they provided. I am incredibly inspired by them. I am overwhelmed by the impact they have left on the mankind. Yes, may be because of these reasons, my hair stands straight, my eyes weep.

A small challenge makes me chicken out, develop cold feet. When faced with discouragement and criticism, I tend to turn cynical, and give up. And, I am talking about small challenges, the ordinary battles of my life. My heroes took upon them tasks of Herculean proportion. The mortals never dare near them. That's why their lives are legends; that's why, the price for their leadership was so high.

I know, I need courage and strength to face my own little challenges. I know, I need inspiration. So, when I read about the lives of my heroes, my fears dissolve, my heart gets filled with courage and strength. I find hope; I find the reason to hang on.

And, today, when every TV channel, every newspaper - on every nook and corner of the world - hailed this dark and lean man called Barrack Obama, my body froze, and eyes welled. I felt, "Here is a man - and he will be special, his struggles will be special, his impact will be special." I had this familiar sensation, this hunch about it ... and, I simply cried.

The world Obama is going to lead is not faced with ordinary challenges; they are mighty ones. And, I have a strong impulse within me, that this leader, this Star, has risen on the horizons at the right time, for the right cause.

Hail Obama! I am already inspired!


GERALD D'CUNHA

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

JI SIR

There is heavy leakage out side my office. A crack in one of our building pipes is responsible for this. It is one week now, since I lodged a complaint. Our plumber has come, at least four times, to 'see' the problem - the mess the leakage has caused out side my office ... and, on each of his visit, he has been extremely courteous to me!

"Plumber bhayya, dekho kitna gandha ho gaya hai; please, isko teek koro."

"Ji sir."

After two days: "Plumber, kya hua?"

"Sir, aaj pakka kar ke dhoonga."

"Pakka?"

"Ji sir, bilkul."

" Pakka khabhi?"

"Aaaj gyara bhaje, pakka."

The next day: "Dekh, tumara jabhan ko koyi respect nahin ye kya?"

"Sir, aaj teen bhaje tak, aap ka kaam ho jayega."

"Dekh raja, tum jawan ho. Aisa kaam karoge toh, kaun rakega? Achcha kaam karoge, toh achcha hoga life."

"Ji sir, bilkul sahi kaha aap ne."

Three days are over. The 'jawan raja' is still hell-bent in teaching me a lesson or two on this great virtue called - 'Patience'.

The pipe is still leaking, the mess is still piling up ...

But, by now, I am sure, this plumber is a God's angel who has specially come down to make me a 'refined' human being!

Ji sir!


GERALD D'CUNHA


7th November, 2008:

P.S.: In life, after a certain point of time, we 'get used to' everything. After one week of pleading, cajoling, threatening, when nothing changed -- neither the leaking pipe, nor the mess, nor the 'Ji Sir' -- I dropped my 'agitation'. The repelling sound of the 'water fall', the 'aroma' it emanated, the 'manna' from the heaven, and the sight of the 'courteous' angel ... oh! everything began to appear 'perfect'!

Today, I had been out. In the afternoon, when I reached my office, I was 'shocked' to see something wrong: The pipe had been fixed!

Even Jesus Christ took three days to come out of the tomb!

It took exactly three days - from the death of my agitation - for our plumber to come out of his tomb and fix the pipe. And, for me to come out from mine, too!

The leakage has stopped, both, outside and inside. The mess is cleared, too!

Monday, November 3, 2008

THE BEAR HUG

After a very long time - fifteen years, to be precise - I had been to this Colony, last evening. I wanted to visit these two families.

The first one of these two families, was a very small family. When I last saw them, they were three: the husband and wife, who were in their mid fifties, and their young son. Yesterday, when I entered their house, an old, sick woman, supported by a walker, opened the door. She recognised me; I didn't. It was the same woman, who was once so full of energy and so full of hospitality.

"Aunty," I said, " I am very sorry, I couldn't recognise you."

"It's alright. It has happened with many people," she said, asking me to sit.

Her husband, she told me, had passed away about thirteen years ago, in a massive heart attack. Her only son was married to a working girl after five years. Her world began to crumble, she told me, immediately after that. The girl couldn't stand her mother-in-law. From the day one, she started nagging her husband about his mother. In the start, son tried his best to pacify his wife, hoping that she would eventually make adjustments. But, things became worse, day by day. The Kitchens were separated; the mother-in-law had to cook for her own self; the son was blackmailed not to touch his mother's food, and there were frequent fights, loud arguments, threats... The son was torn between the two, even tried to subdue his wife by physical assault, and ,finally, in frustration, one day, consumed poison to end his troubles. But, a quick interference from some neighbourhood youngsters saved him ... Only to suffer more!

The daughter-in-law turned only harder and harsher. Then, one day, with her husband, moved out to stay in his company accommodation. The mother-in-law's health began to deteriorate more and more - with worry, loneliness and sorrow. She told me that the son does visit her, once in a while, with out his wife's knowledge. The grand child is, already, poisoned by his mother, and never allowed even to be 'touched by his grand mother's shadow'!

This thought is more unbearable for the ailing woman, than all other!

I was there with her for an hour. When I left, looking at her wet eyes, and sad plight, I couldn't hold back my own tears.

"Such a warm family, such a zestful human being ... how could Life be so harsh for this family, for her?" ... I kept thinking, on my way to the second house.

The second house has been, always, a large family. Fifteen years ago, two married brothers stayed in this one-bed-room flat with their mother and children. The school-going children called their grand mother - 'Dhadhu'. So, she was 'Dhadhu' for all the Colony children. She loved them all, gave them her bear hugs, treated them with sweets and her special dishes. Her sons and daughters-in-law respected her, and in return , the 'Dhadhu' adored them all. It was such a happy sight, such a warm atmosphere to be in.

Last night, after my heart-wrenching experience in the first house, I silently began to wonder: "What might be the plight of this big family, now? What might be plight of our 'Dhadhu'?"

"Dhadhu, one uncle," shouted a cute-little kid, who opened the door for me.

"It's not 'one uncle', it is my son," the ever-green "Dhadhu' gave me her bear hug, as she informed her great-grand child. "This is Karan's grand daughter... Bhadi shaitan hai," Dhadhu pulled the 'big Satan' close to her bosoms.

I was told, that her other son Kunal, with his family, stayed in the next wing of their building. "But, we all meet here at night for our dinner," Dhadhu told me."Have dinner with us today, they all will be happy."

She enquired about my family. "Why didn't you bring them? Come again with them, I want to see them."

I gave my promise to 'Dhadhu', "Dhadhu, I will definitely be there for the dinner next time I come to see you with my family."

As I left behind these exactly contrast memories, I began to wonder aloud: "What must be the secret of happiness in this family? How come 'Dhadhu' continues to be a 'Dhadhu' even for her great-grand children?"

By the time I rang my own door bell, I fairly got a hint: the magic of 'Dhadhu's bear hug - 'the jaadhu ki jappi'!


GERALD D'CUNHA

LOST IN OUR OWN WORLDS

This morning, I was standing out side my class and talking to a friend of mine, who is a doctor. While we were talking, a gentleman, whom we both knew very well, was passing by, dragging a nice trolley bag. As he neared our spot, the doctor said, "Hello" and offered his hand to the gentleman. The gentleman said a half-hearted 'hello', and went his way, without responding to the doctor's hand. My smile and hello went completely, unacknowledged.

"Strange," I reacted, immediately to the doctor.

"He seems to be lost in his own world," the doctor empathised with me.

We continued our discussion. Just after two minutes, the gentleman's wife appeared. When she approached us, we both received a broad smile along with a warm 'hello' from this gracious lady. We both said "Hello, how are you ma'am?", together.

"I am fine, thank you," the lady stopped for a while.

"Are you heading for outstation?" the doctor enquired with the lady.

"No, I am heading to a hospital; I will be be operated today," the lady told us, with a graceful smile.

"Why? What operation?" the doctor was quick to ask.

"Uterus. They are planning to remove it," the answer had a great deal of honesty and dignity about it.

The doctor asked her a few things, and she replied to him with remarkable self-composure.

"Don't worry; everything will go fine," the doctor assured her.

"Wish you all the best, ma'am," I joined doctor.

"Thank you so much," the lady said with lots of warmth, as she paced ahead to join her husband, who was a little restlessly waiting in his car.

We both saw into each other's eyes, and remained silent for a while. Both of us were thinking the same thing: "How silly, how prejudiced we can be, sometimes!"

Just two minutes before this graceful lady appeared on the scene, we had already judged and labelled her husband. Yes, just because, our hello and handshake were not responded to well enough. We had already concluded, "He seems to be lost ... Lost in his own world!"

But, lost he was.

And, weren't we, as well?

It took a graceful lady's 'Hello', to bring us back to a 'sane world', and make us accept this humble truth!


GERALD D'CUNHA

Saturday, November 1, 2008

THE SETTING

Now and then, these questions pop up in my mind:

What happened to the Bofors kick-backs charges? Mr. Rajiv Gandhi's Congress government had colapsed because of these corruption charges. What happened to the former Central Minister, Mr. Sukh Ram, after he was arrested with crores of rupees cash in his house? What happened to the huge suitcase, which Mr. Ram Jethmalani, late Mr. Harshad Mehta's advocate, had shown us on a TV press conference, alleging that the cash was given to the then PM Mr. Narshimha Rao? What happens to all those IAS and IPS Officers once they are caught in the ACB raids? To those ministers once they are exposed by the TV sting operations?

What happens to the corruption system?

About thirty years ago, for a brief period of three months, I had worked in the Fort area of our city. I was new here, and hadn't travelled by local trains before. On my uncle's advice, one morning, I bought a monthly second-class pass, and pushed myself into the 8.00 a.m. packed VT-bound Local. After throwing myself out of the compartment, as the train came to a halt at VT, I tried to elbow myself out through the crowd. I was already late for work, and I was on a temporary pay roll. Suddenly, someone tapped me on my shoulders. I saw a Mumbai train-T.C. for the first time!

"Show me the ticket," the man in black coat ordered.

I pulled the freshly bought pass out, confidently.

After quickly flipping through it, he asked me to come to a corner. I wondered why. Once there, he questioned me,"Are you educated?"

Well, I knew that I wasn't there before him for a Railway-TC interview. Still, nervously I mumbled, "Yes."

"Then, can you read this, young man?" he showed the rear side of the pass:

"INVALID UNLESS SIGNED!"

I almost fainted.

"Sorry sir," I said hoping to get the pass back from him, so that I could quickly sign it and rush to my office.

"Remove ten rupees fifty paise," he commanded.

I looked at him horror-struck.

"Fine," he shouted.

"Please sir, I am already late. I know it was my mistake; the next time, I shall be careful."

"If you are already late, then, take out your money fast," he had decided to ruin my day.

"Sir, I really do not have money." At least, on sympathy ground, I thought he would let me go. I really did not have the money.

"Put your hands in your pockets," he thought I was lying.

I showed him all my pockets - of shirt, pant ... except of the underwear!

"Paanch deke bhaag ja," he tried to strike a 'mandovli'.

"Saab, kuch bhi nahin hai mere paas; aap dekho chaayiye to." I volunteered for the lie-test.

"Chal, bhaag," he shooed me off.

"Saab, mera pass."

"Paisa lekhe aa."

In the office, I narrated this story to one of my colleagues. I needed money to go back home, and I needed money to release my pass. My friend lent me the money.

In the evening, I tried desperately to trace the guy who had ruined my morning. But, in vain.

I had to buy a new pass for the next morning. But, I remembered, immediately, that I was an 'educated' young man, and quickly signed!

A year ago, a family I know had gone to attend a wedding at Navy Club at Colaba. It was a grand reception party on that Saturday night. As it was late, a young man, a guest, whom they knew, offered to ferry them back to our suburb. On the way, the cops on duty stopped the car. The young man, who was driving the car, had taken a few drinks; the booz-machine detected it. It was a special check, and the cops were reluctant to let them go, even after paying the fine. No one else knew driving. The young man requested others to take a cab and proceed. But, nobody liked that idea. Finally, all of them got into seperate cabs and headed towards home. The car headed the next afternoon.

By then, the young man was all sober!

Why I mentioned this episode is: even the head of that family, despite his sworn aversion towards corruption, that night, did try to change the Officers' minds with a few hundreds ... just to get away from that late-night inconvenience. Yes, as a matter of convenience. But, then, that night, the cops were in a different mood, altogether!

Yesterday, I had been to a Government office. We had claimed certain expenses in our audited accounts as 'Educational' and sought to be deducted. They had called us to give the detailed explanation. Our CA had to be out of station for some days, and the date for our presence had already expired. Mysteriously, the letter had reached us after the date! Being free, and equipped with all the explanations, I decided to see the junior officer myself. My CA, seasoned with all such matters, had foretold me the outcome: "They had called you just before Diwali. It is a straight and petty matter. Try to explain them. If you can't, cut a cheque for the additional demand amount and come out. It won't be more than a few thousand." He added, "They are simply trying to extract something for their Diwali. If you have no probem with that, say 'Happy Diwali' with a few hundred and close the chapter. But, never allow it to drag." (Once, he had told me, that the lawyers always loved to drag the matter, while the CAs loved to close the matter as quickly as possible.)

When I landed near the junior officer's table, two men were already sitting there to 'negotiate' their matter. Sighting me near his table, the officer asked, "Kya hai?"

I showed him the letter.

"Date pass ho ga ya, iska," I heard the obvious.

I gave the reason.

"Rukh na padega," he told, pulling a chair for me.

I sat there, witnessing the ongoing 'negotiations'.

The officer dialed a certain number and said, "Saab, Ramakant baita hai mere saamne. Lekhin, aapne balance nahin paunchaya."

No idea what the other man said.

"Dus mila hai, aur, dus balance hai," the officer continued.

No idea what the other man said.

"Ek minute hold karo, saab se baat karta hoon."

He pulled his 'sexy' mobile for further consultations with his 'big boss'.

"Bolta hai, do din ke baad dega," the junior gave the message to his big boss.

No idea what the big boss said.

"Teek hai; lekhin, aur time nahin milega bola saab ne," the junior officer warned the other 'saab'. The representatives, got up from their seats, shook hands with the officer, and left.

My turn. The junior officer began on a strict note, as expected. I kept my cool and gave all the explanations. Ten minutes passed, he couldn't make any break through, nor could he sense any thing worth pursuing in my case. It was a small matter, after all.

"Aao mere saat," he led me through some dark,shabby and empty corridors to present me before his 'saab', the big boss.

Another ten minutes, there. "Okay, this time, we will allow the matter to go by; I can't tell you about the future," the big boss let me off.

"Who has seen the future?" I mumbled in my mind, as I left the office of the 'big boss'... of course, profusely thanking for being merciful. The prodigy stayed back for further consultations and settlements.

I felt quite satisfied about the fact that I could successfully prove them that our expenses were, in deed, 'Educational' in nature. I also found the whole experience, there, very 'educational'!

Only, once before, I had been to that office. That was the time, I did not have to do any talking; the CA did. I still remember, what my CA had put into my ears, that day, showing me the the work culture in that office, as we waited for our turn to see an officer. "Even if any of these 'Johneys' volunteer 'to work free for me for life', I will never, ever keep them."

Why would they volunteer? I thought!

We, then, had discussed about the subject of corruption. Can it be wiped out from the system? He had no such romantic idealism. "My own profession, like lawyers, has earned a bad reputation. Some call us the 'White-caller Pimps'!"

I saw the suppressed frustration venting its way out through his eyes. "If we can not be free from corruption, individually, then, we have no business to expect so in the Society, collectively," he put it bluntly. "The system thrives on our collective human weakness ... All of us are a party to it; all of us are guilty."

"How could that junior Johney be so shameless? How could he speak in the office so openly, and so fearlessly, about the bribe?" I still did not understand.

"Because, he knew your weakness: you won't do anything about it," my CA said cryptly.

And, he was right. My only concern, last afternoon, was, to get out of that place as quickly as possible. Maybe, with a hole in my pocket as small as possible, too!

Though I have a nano-bit of Gandhiji in me, I surely know, that Bapu's India is not - and can not be - free from the afflictions of corruption and violence. And, I also know this: It is because of weak men like me, my CA and, of course, that 'small Johney' and 'big Johney' ...

We all did 'setting'!


GERALD D'CUNHA