Wednesday, December 31, 2008

THE CRITICS

The podium is, really, a lonely place. You may be a speaker or a lecturer, but when you stand there - you stand there, alone. Whenever I find my students insensitive to this reality, I make them aware of it. "Do you know how lonely this place is?" I ask them anguish writ large on my face. "You will know it, only if you come and stand here."

Most of the times, that works. Their faces show the transformation. But, there are times, it doesn't. Being vulnerable, only backfires. I still remember an episode.

Manish and Gaurav had been giving me a tough time, for some time. For no reason, they would comment, make the atmosphere loose and put some innocents students into trouble. And, that would continue for months, in spite of my requests, and even warnings. They would make even my warnings sound like some jokes, and extract laughter out of them.

That was the time I would become wild.

"You are going to invite trouble for you," I would caution them.

They would still think I was joking.

"You are forcing me to do something which I don't like doing," I would yell.

"Then, why don't you do it?" Their body language would challenge me.

So, provoked and hurt, I would drag them to the center stage, and shout, "Stand here for ten minutes and see what it takes to do that. I will take your seat."

Forget ten minutes. Within two minutes, the only thing that would not happen was they wetting their pants! When others gave them the taste of their own medicine, I would simply watch. "You bullies, you will either learn now, or never." I would tell in my wounded heart.

That weapon I hated to deploy before my students. I had a greater responsibility towards them : to help them transform. It was expected of me to show an unusual amount of restraint, maturity and strength. I, therefore, always opted for the 'gentle and firm' route. Never that of aggression.

But, then, even Jesus Christ had resorted to whipping and ransacking in a temple, to flush out the rogues. Even Mahatma Gandhi had been brute, some times, to his wife and sons.

I never regretted my action.

Gaurav left my class. Manish became my friend.

Why do I write about this ten-year-old episode, today?

Because, critics some times, behave like that. They misuse their position, their power. They destroy, not only business, they ruin reputation as well.

Yesterday, I read a book review on a reputed business magazine. The reviewer, a lady, had slaughtered the author in the cruelest manner one could imagine, right from the word go. It was sadistic, to say the least. The author of the book, a respected consultant, with many previous books to his credit, does not need this lady's certificate to prove his credibility. Still, I put myself in his place, and bled.

A friend of mine, Giri, showed his disgust in another manner: He immediately shot an e-mail to the editor of this 'reputed' magazine. "Are you sleeping when you edit?" he asked him bluntly.

Once, I watched Mrs. Indira Gandhi answering a crowded press conference. "Doen't it reflect poorly on the credibility of your government," the nasty reporter had pricked her. "With due respect, may I know the credibility of your news paper."

The bully needed a 'Kali' to tone his tone!

So many times, our cricket players just have to pocket the 'insult' - not criticism - hurled upon them by all those air-conditioned-room-bound commentators. It is easy for these commentators to play to the gallery - entertain - my making their nasty comments. Some of them had never played cricket in their life, or been pathetic players themselves. How coolly, today, they sit on a judgement seat and and tarnish the reputation of young players!

The irony is that, they get paid nasty sums for their 'nastiness'!

Ditto for all those film critics. Once, I read what Kay Kay Menon said in an interview:

"A critic is a person who leaves no turn unstoned."

There are good critics, there are bad critics, and there are corrupt ones, too. And, that is as in any walks of life. It is a 'job' and a job done for money, fame and power. The same motive, the same drive, and the same ambition.

Yes, angels do not write reviews; they do not become critics. It is only one of us!

Let us take heart!

"I was a huge fan of Khalid Mohammad. I used to long to read his film reviews on TOI on every Sunday," a lady told me some months ago. "But, the day I saw his own first film, I lost faith in whatever he had to say, then on!"

There are 'professional' critics for every thing, today. Yes, for every thing under the sun. There and critics for critics ... I may be one of them, today ... doing my job all free of cost!

Hello, can you take the brush from M.F.Hussain and paint those horses? He is going to be 100, soon.

If you can, comment on his work. Other wise, take a chill-pill and leave the old man alone.


GERALD D'CUNHA

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

THE LITTLE NUTS

I had tough time with Rahul, this year. A 11th standard student that he is, he is the quintessential 'black sheep' in the flock. If a butcher comes calling, you are sure to say. "Take this one." So fed up, the shepherd is!

Kavita, a T.Y. B.Com, girl is somewhat a similar goat. Headstrong and articulate, but difficult to graze on the dotted lines. Difficult to tie down. "Here is one more," you would tell the butcher!

I had become very angry with them at several occasions; sermonised them; and, finally, when nothing worked, given up my hopes. I had this nagging inkling in my conscience that, both of them might dislike me for that. That, if the butcher, by default, asked them, in stead, they would certainly scream, "Here is he; take him!"

So 'harsh' I must have been for both Rahul and Kavita!

But, that was my 'guilty conscience' ... My unfounded fear. May be of losing my sheep, my goat.

This Christmas, both of them called me to wish. And, I not only felt very pleasantly surprised, but also very 'relieved'. They did love me, did look up to me ... and, they said it, openly, while talking. "Sir, you are doing it for our sake, for our life," they both admitted.

I felt like yelling at the butcher, "Hey you, go back. I love my flock ... I won't spare any."

Rohan learnt from me some fifteen years ago. After completing his MBA, he joined Citibank and moved up rapidly. For the past five years, he has been based in Malaysia. But, on his each visit to India, Rohan would come to see me. He claims, I have made a difference in his life. And, I don't have to tell you, how nice it feels, when some one says that!

Today, Rohan was here in my office. He had come to invite me for his wedding. I would proudly go for his wedding to shower on him my wishes. He has been a terrific 'sheep' of mine, and all along!

As I was talking to him, this morning, I remembered my own professor, who caused a revolution in me. Ours was an all-boys college. There were about 120 students in the class. I was, most certainly, the least visible, the least significant. At least that's how a teen-aged boy would feel about himself, when he is intimidated by a monstrous 'inferiority complex'. I had no goal, no desire, no hope till this teacher stepped in our class. The day he did, he also brought along an inner explosion. I would simply sit there, lost in that 'crowd', watch with delight, completely awe-struck, this unusually simple soul - but, paradoxically the most dynamic and authentic one - and dream to become like him.

I told Rohan about my teacher, my hero. "Unlike, you guys, I never, ever spoke to my teacher. I had no guts. I simply sat there and worshipped him; dreamed to become like him ... That's all."

The rest happened on its own. The seeds sprouted. They just exploded!

I have never, ever met my teacher after that. Perhaps, it was out of the reverential fear, that I still have in my heart about him.

I want to tell him all this. I want to tell him what a difference he made to me even without looking at my face, or uttering a single word. It was like the healing that 'tough' Jew - Judah Benhur - received just as the shadow of Christ fell on his longing soul. Yes, in that inspiring movie -'BENHUR'! And, yes, it was the shadow of the Christ on his way to the Calvary ... stripped, mocked, tortured and condemned to be hanged. The shadow of this hero!

I simply get goosebumps, whenever I think about all this!

A message on my cell-phone, during this festive season, beautifully conveyed this truth. It reminded me that the little squirrel 'accidentally' drops, here and there, the 'little nuts' while having them. How blissfully unaware it is as to how many robust trees those tiny seeds would give birth to ... Yes, one day!

Rahul, Kavita, Rohan ...and my 'little squirrel', my mighty hero, Prof. B.S. Raman ... I remembered all of them, today.


GERALD D'CUNHA

Monday, December 29, 2008

THE HUNGER IN YOUR BELLY

Anupam is barely eighteen. On Sunday, I attended a homely function of the inauguration of a training organisation - MINDFLEX. Anupam had persuaded at least a dozen brilliant people - his uncles and even teachers - to join him in creating this outfit. He became its Director.

Anupam hails from a simple South Indian family, which is anchored spiritually, like a rock. For this family - yes, right from his grand parents, parents, uncles and aunts to all his cousins - the Purpose, Commitment, Dedication, Service, and Simplicity are deeply embedded 'Values'. They run in their blood. When I came close to Anupam, about a year ago, I had immediately smelt his 'blue blood'. And, as one of his uncles in his speech put it, so dramatically, on Sunday - yes, I had sensed that 'hunger in his belly'!

"He would be the man to watch for," I had openly said. "He would go places."

Sunday was the first milestone. The 'prophecy' had just begun to unfold!

The goal. How does one find his goal in life?

In spite of all the books that I have read and written, in spite of all the training programmes I have attended and conducted, and in spite of finding the goal in my own life, the answer to the above question still remains a big mystery to me!

Perhaps, there are more than one answer to this.

Perhaps, for most of us, Life is a vast maze ... Some find their way out faster than others. But, then, just as they come out, often, a new maze awaits for them! Again, the quest resumes ... and, yet again, and again!

This is the beauty of Life. The mystery makes it magical. The quest brings profundity and strength to it. And, for some, the quest itself may be their goal. The way itself their destination.

Yes, the goal in life does come from the awareness of our personal strengths, skills and talents. From sensing early, and clearly, in life, what excites us ... what we keep doing without being told ... the work that doesn't tire us ... the task that doesn't come on us like a burden, that which makes us happy and fulfilled, that which we do - not for money alone, but with a deep sense of pride, with a silently blazing desire of leaving some imprints, our legacy, behind.

Yes, goal in life, comes when we begin to dream in our 'wakefulness'. When we begin to trust in our innate goodness, in the mighty Universe around us ... and, when we get up and say 'YES' to the Universe, to Life.

When that happens, why for some early and why for some late ... This remains still a mystery for me!

In my own case, it happened much late. Unlike Anupam.

I am happy for Anupam. I am proud, as he counts me as one of his teachers, and one of his 'heroes', too. So, blessed are we, all!

Just after the function, that evening, while having our refreshments, a middle-aged woman approached us. "Sir, I have a son who is in junior college," she said. "I find him absolutely goal-less ... How can we make him goal-oriented, focused in life?"

Before any of us could say any thing, the mother found it difficult to stay there with us. She moved away, and wept inconsolably! Anupam's mother did the rest.

Why did this woman - a mother of a young man - sob so much just touching upon this subject?

That was something to haunt me nightlong, after I went home.

What would have been our answers to that woman? I thought hard.

Who gave me my goal? And, why did I bloom late?

Who gave Anupam his goal? And, why did he bloom early?


GERALD D'CUNHA

Sunday, December 28, 2008

THE SMALL WISH

The only child born to them, was born deformed. The child is, now, about twenty-year old; and, ever since it was born, it has never opened its eyes, never recognised its parents, never been able to get up! They have kept this child in a wonderful - very expensive - facility in Bangalore. Though this middle-aged couple lives abroad, they make at least two trips to India, every year, to 'see' their child. And, the only wish they have harboured in their hearts, all these years, is: "We just wish our child to recognise us."

That's not destined to be. Yes, despite they spending lakhs of rupees on this 'little' wish!

Whenever one of their friends plans to visit Bangalore, this couple has a special request to make: "Please visit our child; talk to her; give our love to her ... click her fresh pictures and bring us."

Their friends do.

Kartik studied under me in his final-year of graduation. He, too, was the only child of his parents. He was a mentally challenged child. His parents, too, had a single wish: to make Kartik a graduate, and, that is - along with the 'normal' children.

They succeeded.

But, to achieve this goal, Kartik's parents had to make tremendous amount of sacrifice. They were ordinary people, with ordinary means. But, the kind of commitment and dedication they showed towards this less-privileged child was extra-ordinary. Kartik's mother, in particular, worked extremely hard for her son. Her patience was super-human! What was, even more, inspiring was, that the retired grand parents of Kartik, locked their home in Chennai for a whole year, and came over to Mumbai ... just to be with their grand son, to offer him whatever moral and physical support they could. And, finally, when he graduated with fifty-five percent, they all wound up their affairs in Mumbai, and went to Chennai, to live together, as one family!

You can imagine the kind of joy and jubilation Kartik's parents and grand parents must've experienced on the fulfilment of their 'simple and small' desire.

Perhaps, it is quite difficult for us to fathom this, unless we put ourselves in their place.

Perhaps, it is impossible to do that ... as long as we make those huge demands on our own children. Yes, our 'normal' children. Our demands are:

- Our children should study, and study hard ... score not less than 98% in the Board exams;
- They should get into the stream we have dreamt for them;
- They should be exceptionally focused and competitive;
- They should be enviably confident ... People must sit up and notice them;
- They should earn well, too well ... and earn fame as well.

And, there are half-a-dozen more desires. And, we want our children to fulfill them ... for us.

My son is preparing for his Board exams. Every time, my wife and myself, in the name of our love and concern for his future, go for after his throat - and, when we all get stressed up each time we do that - the faces of that 'little' girl at Bangalore and that 'little' son at Chennai come before us ... and, the 'little' dreams of their parents, too.

That's the moment, we realise how blind, how thankless we can be, at times. In deed, most of the times.

And, how spiritual that moment could be!


GERALD D'CUNHA

Saturday, December 27, 2008

MY SIMPLE GOD

On the night of this Christmas, I had a strange dream. In the dream, I saw myself in a party. There were about thirty of us. There was music, dance, drinks, food and merriment. Everyone seemed to enjoy it, except me. Because my mind was caught in the web of comparison, that night. Like a video man's camera, my mind kept shifting its focus from one person to another in that room. And, suffered.

"I can not dance like Ivan and Betty," my mind complained. "How, spontaneous, how graceful they are!"

"Novel and Nora move around in the crowd with elan," my mind noted. "They look so confident."

Brian sang and Stany played guitar. "Every one went ga ga over them; they can make even a passive crowd come to life." my mind reasoned.

Lancy was the emcee. "Wow, what a vivacious man he is! He can tickle our funny bone, make us smile,laugh and even feel young. I can never do that," I was restless.

"Look at these couples - Prem and Priya, Nelson and Merlin, Rohan and Stella, Mac and Clera, John and Rose ... they can be so lively in party discussions. Look, how comfortably they hop from one subject to another ... They seem to be so well informed," my mind was telling. "I get tongue-tied after two minutes. I just run out of ideas, and struggle for words."

"Jimmy and Rita come about so sophisticated."

"Navil and Diana are so easy going, and open."

"Max and Sheeba look stunning even in such casuals."

"And, there, even Fr. Rian is able to make heads turn."

Every one is not just fine, he and she are great!

It is Christmas. The night my Lord was born. Such a simple God ... born in a manger, to a carpenter father and a simple village woman. We were there to celebrate the birth of this God. Yes, we - His followers. What an irony! My mind was caught in the worst kind of web - the web of comparison. The most sophisticated, the wealthiest and the highly learned men and women - in fact two-third of the world - follow this God, who was nailed almost naked, like a criminal. I was there in that party, on the Christmas night, only looking at the mortals, His followers ... and unable to see this truth: My Lord was epitome of simplicity; yet the most powerful, and most inspiring one!

The mind was caught in the web of comparison. It was suffering.

It was the Christmas night. And, it was a strange dream ... almost, scary.

Then, the bells began to chime, and the skies began to open, and a white angel appeared. He said:

"Hark! The Lord, the Christ, has asked you to write all that you feel and as it is."

Then, the angel disappeared. I woke up ... and wrote:

"And, my Lord wants me to write; and, I CAN!"

It was a strange Christmas. It was a strange dream ...

And, strange are His ways of touching us ... Of making us feel special, worthwhile and confident.

HE ... My simple God.


GERALD D'CUNHA

Friday, December 26, 2008

ONE FOR MY SON

Sometimes, in the midst of my frantic efforts to meet my financial commitments - particularly, my mortgage payments - I get this thought:

How nice it would have been, had my dad left behind a house, some property, for me, his son, before he died! How peacefully I could have spent 'all that energy', and money, for more 'productive' purposes! How well we all - myself, my wife and my only son - could have 'enjoyed' our life today!

But, then, it is just a passing thought. My father, a simple village man, did whatever he could, for his five sons, and went. I do admit that the struggle to meet my financial deadlines, often, bogs me down. I do wish I had it all provided ready for me, so that I would have to struggle less, lead a smoother life.

When that thought - soaked with self-pity - passes, I hear a loud voice inside me:

"Thank God, he did not leave behind the 'pot of gold' for you. You would have failed to discover the gold within you!"

I seriously feel, that is true!

Today, I have only one son. Like my dad did, I too am trying my best to give him a good start. Luckily, he doesn't have to earn money to pay his school or tuition fees. Many other children have to. Luckily, he doesn't have to go walking to his school; he goes and comes by the auto ... Many have to go walking for miles.
Luckily, there is a roof over his head, enough food on his plate, enough entertainment, good clothes, good school. He does not have to feel embarrassed about all these things. Many children have to.

But, then, that is how I see it. Does my 16-year-old son see it that way? Are his realities not different, today? Doesn't he mingle with so many 'well-off' kids in his school, who come and go by the chauffeur-driven cars, carry the trendy stuff? And, doesn't he wish for a 'better' life ... Yes, a 'better dad', in that sense?

I seriously feel, at times, he must be feeling so.

Because, I still do!

Aruna, my friend Vikram's wife, struggles extremely hard to ensure a decent life-style for their family. She was instrumental in they moving their family to a better suburb, in sending their only son to a better school, enroll him for half-a-dozen talent and skill enhancing classes. She was the one, single-handedly, made their second house, especially for their only son. And, she is a doting mother, and an extremely hard-working young woman.

Vikram is proud of his wife. What he could not do, his wife succeeded in doing.

Some days ago, I was with Vikram. We were talking about this subject. He shared with me an advice Aruna had received from one of her bosses, while she was running around for that second house. "Aruna, don't be desperate to achieve this goal," her boss had told her. "Remember, if your son is good - a suputr', he will not need it; if he isn't - if he is a kuputr, he doesn't deserve it."

I told Vikram, "Mohit (their only son) is a suputr; he may not need the house ... But, certainly, he deserves it."

It was my prayer.

Along with that prayer, I also pray, all these fortunate kids should spend some time in those tiny - all-in-one-room - houses, in which some of their schoolmates stay. Yes, that little one-room ... in which the Daddy, mummy, brother, sister,grand parents, uncles and aunts, and even God, stay. They have to see how these less fortunate kids value every toe-space in that room; how spic and span they keep their little shelters; how tastefully they decorate them on festive seasons. Yes, to see how they invite all their friends and relatives - feed them, offer them to stay ... There is still 'space' there!

And, these kids are proud of their parents, their legacy. So many of them, come up in life as extremely successful individuals, and they do wear a very healthy self-esteem around their hearts!

So, whenever that passing thought stares at me, I ask my self:

"Am I a 'suputr', or am I a 'kuputr' of my dad?"

I also ask:

"Is my only son a 'suputr' or is he a 'kuputr' ... of mine?"

We both are 'suputras' ... I can speak for both! We both may not 'need' that additional inheritance of our dads ...

We deserve much more!


GERALD D'CUNHA

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

THE GIFT OF MAGI

"One dollar and eighty-seven cents."

This is how O. Henry's short story - 'THE GIFT OF MAGI' - begins. I am yet to come across a Christmas tale, as moving as this one. It's simply an ageless classic. Simply immortal!

It is a story about the true spirit of gifting and sacrifice. It is about the silent strength of true love ... It is about trust, faith, simplicity and, above all, the true spirit of Christmas: the imitation of the Christ!

It is, a true challenge ... for any one. Yes, whether you are a Christ's follower or not!

This story can not be retold, here, the way the great author had done. Any attempt to do so - is like desecration of the Sacrament! So precious it is.

Suffice this much:

Only one day to go. Tomorrow would be Christmas. In a small apartment, Della counts her savings. It is one dollar and eighty-seven cents! All those pennies saved over the months, with small little sacrifices, with love, with the sole objective of making a Christmas present to her beloved husband, Jim. She is dying to surprise him, in the evening, when he would return home.

Jim, too, wants to surprise her sweetheart. And, he, too, is broke!

Each of them has a precious possession: Della has her knee-long golden hair; and Jim, his rare golden watch. So, they long to surprise each other this way: Della would sell her hair, to buy an exquisite golden chain for Jim's gold watch; while Jim would sell his gold watch to buy lovely combs - carved out of pure tortoise shell and jewelled rims - for Della.

Della is waiting with abated breath, and Jim returns home, with quiet pride. The surprise is only a heartbeat away!

Till they realise the magnitude of the sacrifices they have made for each other!

We had this little fable for our studies in our 12th standard. About thirty-five Christmas seasons have passed by. And, till this Christmas, it has stayed alive in my heart ... making me humble, making me hopeful.

It is not 'Turkey', wine and cakes for me this Christmas. It is 'Goose'. Yes, goose pimples!

They are asking me, "What are you going to do tonight?"

"The mid-night mass," they all know it.

"What about the party ... the celebration?"

I thought of telling them about Della and Jim's celebration, in stead. Probably, they do not know about it.

Tomorrow will be Christmas.


GERALD D'CUNHA

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

GETTING MARRIED

"Are you married?"

"No, I am happy."

After, ten years, I met Neeraj, last evening, with his wife and their little kid. I reminded his wife about the dialogue we had.

"Are you married," I had asked Neeraj.

"No, I am happy," he had replied.

This time, I asked both of them, "Are you happy?"

They looked at each other and laughed.

Not long back, I was with a young man called Amit. He was to get married after a week. So, just as a friend of mine, Glen, bumped in, I instinctively wanted to introduce Amit to Glen.

"Glen," I said. Then, as it happens in my case, often, I forgot Amit's name! "He is getting married next week." I tried to bail myself out.

"Hi," said Glen, stretching his hand to Amit.

"Hi," Amit responded.

But, the hands did not unclasp.

"I was wondering, whether to say 'Congrats', or 'I am sorry'," Glen pulled the would-be bridegroom's legs.

"I was wondering," said Amit, " Why was I introduced with 'He is getting married'... and not with my name. I am Amit."

Seventeen years of married life had taken its toll on my memory, I thought. "Oh! Just a slip of my memory," I informed, hiding my embarrassment.

Still my battered mind was young enough to take me back to an incident, which, again, was seventeen-year old.

I had gone to my student, Raju's textile shop to invite him for my wedding. As I was talking to him, a lean and young man approached us. "Your bother?" I asked Raju, offering my hand to the young man.

"No sir, my dad," corrected my student!

I couldn't believe that. The man looked so young! Nevertheless, I continued, "Sir, I am getting married."

"What? Getting mad?" the senior yelled.

My nervousness had distorted my speech, no doubt. But, it couldn't have sounded so bizarre, I thought. But, I tried to put a sporting front.

"Don't you worry," intervened the son, my student. "They both are same."

No wonder, after such a long married life, the father still looked like his son!

On my way home, my bruised mind could recoup one more episode.

This time, it was in a sweet shop. "Hello sir," it was Karuna, one of my ex-students.

"What a pleasant surprise," I said sincerely. "Your dad?" I enquired offering my hand to an old-looking man who was with her.

"No sir, my hubby!" Karuna was large-hearted. But, her hubby was not. The handshake conveyed what an 'unpleasant shock' it was!

"Are you married?"

"I am happy, I AM."


GERALD D'CUNHA

IN GLORY OF GOING GREEN

A skinny fellow is desperately trying to woo a pretty girl. In the middle of his frantic efforts, another - not so great-looking - guy comes in the picture ... The pretty babe is all floored! The next moment, you see her cosing up with this intruder ... while our 'devdas' is left kicking in the air, screaming his lungs out:

"WHAT IS THAT HE HAS ... THAT I DON'T?"

The camera zooms in on 'that' thing: 'The winner's underwear'!

I do not know how many, today, remember this TV ad of a famous underwear manufacturer. But, I still do ... because, I used to simply love it!

They say: When you fall in love, you turn pink; when angry, you turn red; when scared, you turn yellow ... and, when you are jealous, you go green.

This article is about going green ... The ecstasy and agony of being jealous of someone.

"Woman, thy name is envy," when Shakespeare said it, years ago, I wasn't born. Otherwise, he wouldn't have done that blunder of inviting trouble for himself. Women know how jealous men are ... And, I know how jealous I am.

And the last thing I want to hear from you is:

"Why are you jealous?"
"Don't be jealous."
"Stop feeling jealous."

Arey, yaar ... the fact is 'I am jealous'!... And, how do you want me to stop it? By telling lies? Or trying to destroy it, running around , the way a dog chases its tail?

I have tried them all. Now, leave me alone with my 'devil' ... I will deal with him, in my own way.

There are a dozen barbers in the narrow by lanes around here, and, every year, you find a new saloon, with new 'gadgets'. And, believe me it doesn't disturb me at all. Ditto for a hundred Udupi's, or a thousand paan-beedi shops. I am cool; why should their invasion disturb me?

They don't invade my territory, after all.

Like a dog, before I settle down, I mark my territory. And, warn the other dogs - and even the cats, rats and crows - 'You better stay away'! Dare they, I not only turn red, I turn green and yellow, all at the same time.

Jealousy is born from my fear and insecurity. And, I do feel scared when someone ventures close to my territory ... I turn pale, yellow. I start worrying over losing my hold, my territory; I start worrying over 'he' taking away my 'glory', my name ... my babe. If, by chance, he does, my eyes turn green.

Yes, ONIDA, you are right. "The neighbour's envy is the owner's pride!"

My anger stems from my deficiency, my inadequacies ... and, like the traffic signal, they all go up one by one: yellow, red and green. They are all cousins, related!

To me, the traffic signal has one more light, and that is: PINK! Whenever I experience this lack about my self-worth, whenever I see - rather 'perceive' - someone taking away my 'pretty babe', I first go pale yellow, then red, then green and, after all this is come and gone, I turn pink.

It signals this: "You skinny man, you already have what 'he' has. Just look down; just believe in it; just love your own stuff ..."

And, believe me, this happens, invariably, every time, when - like that 'patloo' - I, too, find myself kicking in the air and screaming my lungs out: "WHAT IS THAT HE HAS, THAT I DON'T?"

I blush. I turn pink. I start accepting and caring for myself ...
I experience a very real spiritual growth!

I realise, turning me green, is God's way of revealing my self ...
It is the gateway to the heaven called LOVE.


GERALD D'CUNHA


P.S. By the by, 'Going green' also means: becoming a vegetarian, or a peace-lover.
True, it does. But, my traffic signal has an additional colour, you see!

Monday, December 22, 2008

SOMEBODY AND NOBODY

It was the lawns of a posh club on the western suburb of Mumbai. Six of us, including my wife and son, had settled around a large table and were enjoying the grand wedding reception. There were hundreds of guests, and the venue was stunning, with liquor freely flowing, and the sumptuous snacks and dinner. The December chill and the moonless sky, along with the subtle background music, had added romance to the ambiance. We were joking, laughing and sharing, completely oblivious of the time. No one bothered us, except the occasional 'hello' from some familiar faces, or 'please help yourself' from the hosts, or a passing video camera. It was the quintessential 'good time' ... and it was all ours.

But, after a while, it was not to be 'ours'. It became 'theirs'.

The celebrities started dropping in. And, there was great buzz around. "Look Subhash Ghai," some shouted. Mr. Ghai was with his friends. Unlike we six - who were all suited and booted - he wore a simple pant and shirt. Yet, people gaped at him. "Hey, it is Siddharth Kakkar and his wife," ..."There, he is Saambha," ..."His name is Mac Mohan,"... "I know," ... "See Bindu there," ... "Boy, she still looks hot," ... "Gosh, Govinda looks so trimmed," ... "Look at his ear rings; cool."

The party was not to be what it was for us before these famous guests made their appearance. Men, women and children made beeline to them for an autograph or a photograph. And, they obliged without a fuss. Some carried the souvenir on the back of their visiting cards, some on the tissues from their table, and some on their train or BEST bus tickets. But, all of them were so thrilled and happy.

"What a sorry sight!" one of us commented. "Why do people give so much importance to these glamour guys?"

"Precisely for that reason. They are glamorous, famous." added another.

"There are hundreds of guests out here, some of them highly placed in life ... very intelligent, very contributing kind ... and there are so many well-dressed people out here, and still no one seems to be interested in all this. They want the glitter, the cosmetic stuff," continued the first. "Dud heads!"

"See it this way," said the third. "You and I can sit here for hours, enjoying quietly our party. Nobody is a pain for us. But, look at these celebrities. They can't even eat peacefully."

"We are lucky," I agreed. "Blessed are those who are 'nobodies'!"

"Blessed? My foot. I don't mind exchanging our tables," said a young man. "It is not a big deal, after all, to sign a few autographs or pose for a few pictures. Success and fame do come with such frills. One should be prepared for it."

"It is a choice," my wife joined.

A smartly dressed man was taking around his tall and handsome son, who was equally dressed well, to all around the tables were the celebrities had settled. He wanted his son to be photographed with every celebrity present there. He succeeded.

"Look, the father is making his 'choice' for his son," popped a comment.

And, when all this was happening, all around, one of us went about his affairs, as though nothing unusual happened. He seemed to be unruffled by all this.

"Was he really unaffected, or just pretending to be?" I thought aloud.

Whatever it is, the men, women and children who jumped excitedly, seemed the happiest. They just did what their hearts simply wanted them to do: Take autographs, take pictures with their screen idols ... It brought smiles on their faces, they could go back home and talk about their 'achievements', show their souvenirs. The celebrities, no matter how gaped upon and nagged, could go back a little more fulfilled, because of their own 'achievements: for making their fans happy.

And, what about us - the spectators, the 'Scrutinising Committee'?

SOMEBODY is unhappy: because, nobody allows him to enjoy his evening.
NOBODY is unhappy: because, everybody is gaping at SOMEBODY.

What happened to the December chill, the moonless sky and the soft
music?

What happened to the romantic evening?



GERALD D'CUNHA

THE PROBLEM

One unhappy man can not make another happy.

When Ramesh calls me up, I know, he is unhappy, stuck in something, down in spirits ... and, he needs my help. He wants to talk to me.

Ramesh is 35, now. I had taught him in his final year of graduation, about fifteen years ago. Ever since then, he has been in touch with me. Just a phone call from him, and he is in my office, with his fresh problem.

Most of Ramesh's problems are work-related. He is a software programmer in a small-size company. Being a shy and nervous guy, he, often, goofs up at his work place. Yesterday, he told me this:

"My senior is good to me. He tells me that I need to 'listen and understand' my client's problem well. Because, I don't, I mess up on the solution."

"Right," I said. "then, why can't you 'listen and understand' ... Why can't you solve your problem?"

"I know, I should. But, every time a client tries to explain me his problem on the phone, my mind skips a few steps, and ends up creating solutions, that only add up to the problem. A job that should take ten minutes time, takes four hours ... and, that keeps repeating."

"Have you consciously tried to slow down while listening? Have you tried to drop every thing else and just listen, take down notes, ask for clarifications?" I asked Ramesh.

"Yes, I have. But, most of the times, I become anxious, stricken by a nagging fear of failure," Ramesh informed. "I know my problem; but, I find myself helpless."

"Have you tried to relax, let go your anxiety ... say, by praying for help from a Higher Power?" I questioned.

"Yes, sometimes," Ramesh replied. "But, I think, my trust level is too low." He continued, "I become hopeless. When I reach home, I go into a silence, almost depressed. I find it difficult to communicate freely with my wife and other family members ... I become irritated, angry. They fail to understand my case, because I don't tell them all this."

"So, do you think, you are facing a problem that has no solution; that, you have hit the dead end?" I provoked Ramesh to think.

"No I don't think so. There must be, and there is, a way. But, I can not see it, as of now. I need you to show me this way," Ramesh did not lack trust in me.

"Can you take care of one day at a time?" I asked him. "Today is Sunday. When the evening approaches, you start experiencing the dread, you start feeling heaviness in your heart ... The thought of going to work the next day, consumes you with worry, you anticipate more failures, more criticism and more depression ... Your self-confidence comes down ... Your remain unhappy. So, just for this day, can you hand over your problems to a Power beyond you? If fighting your demons has not helped you, so far, can you try leaving the demons alone, at least for a day? Can you see what happens, what the demons are up to?"

Ramesh remained silent. Perhaps, he hadn't thought about it.

"Can you?" I prodded.

Ramesh simply looked at me. But, the look seemed less strained, less burdened.

The demons of the mind can not be fought by the demons of the mind. They all are same. Demons. You need the Angels to fight for you ... And, they reside in your heart.

Trust resides in your heart; hope too.

Last morning, when Ramesh called me, my own spirits were down. The demons had besieged my mind, and my happiness had been held hostage by them. Yes, I was unhappy, yesterday. And, how could one unhappy man make another happy? Did I help Ramesh solve his problem? Will he go about his office work less strained, less burdened?

"Just for a day," I had told Ramesh. Last morning, as I was talking to him, I too had let my demons alone, just for a day. By the time Ramesh left, my demons, too, had. My sagging spirit had soared high, again. Yes, I had bounced back, victoriously.

If Ramesh, can do that, I am sure, his confidence will soar high, once again. He just needs to surrender the reigns to his heart. The Angels will do the rest for him ... He will be a 'happy man'.

And, a happy man alone can make another man happy. Including his client.


GERALD D'CUNHA

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

SECURITY CHECK

In a hospitality business, the customers are called 'guests'. They are treated not just as kings, but as Gods! That's why, the other day, Mr. Oberoi, the owner of The Oberoi chain of hotels commented : "(Heavy) Security and hospitality business, normally, don't go together."

Mr. Oberoi was speaking to the media when the rescue operations were underway at the Oberoi Trident. His concern was understandable. The Five-star guests are so used to the royal treatment, that the hotel staff takes extra-ordinary precaution not to offend them, even to the slightest extent. A heavy security check is blasphemous, in such a delicate business.

Now, things are going to change. They are forced to. The guests be better prepared for a thorough security check. The questions will be asked, sternly, and they better get used to it.

It is easy - almost fashionable - to scream over the security lapses. Yes, at the airports and railway stations, at the malls and multiplexes, at the Hotels and schools. Every time, a bomb goes up, up also goes the outcry: "Lousy security".

Yesterday, I had to see an officer at TISS. I had been there several times, before. Normally, a visitor used to be issued a visitor's pass after filling in the basic details, and in he went. On his way back, the visitor was expected to surrender the pass with the Security officer at the exit gate. But, yesterday, when I went to the Security cabin to collect my pass, the routine and mechanical filling up the details did not work. The man in Uniform asked, quite seriously, as I was filling the form:

"Kisko milna hai?"

"Mr. Balerao," I replied, quite seriously, as well.

"Kya kaam hai?" the man-in-charge grilled.

"Cheque lena hai," I responded, a little irritated, as I wasn't accustomed to any such querries before.

"Cheque kis maamle me," the grilling continued.

"Refund amount ki cheque," I thought it was enough.

"Kounsa refund?"

"Saabji, auditorium book kiya tha; uska security deposit."

The pass, finally, came to my hand.

Yes, I have already told you, that I was irritated with the barrage of questions. I was so used to the 'mechanical' process, that any obstruction on my way was enough to unnerve me. I was a 'clean' man, a man of self-respect. I expected no questions. My ego wouldn't allow me to digest grilling from a security man ... and, obviously, I was mentally cursing the man ... who was simply doing his duty as expected of him.

And, look, when a bomb goes up, the citizens like me cry: "Shoddy security"!

All of us are used to pampering. All of us feel a 'high' when the Security salutes, and feel wounded when we are grilled. And, we expect such a security force to safe guard us from the criminals and terrorists!

We have made the security men our 'massage men'... We get our 'kick' from the ego massage they give us!

Many years ago, the prestigious Shanmukhanada Hall was completely gutted in a fire. That fateful evening, little school children were performing on the stage a candle dance. It took almost a decade - and crores of rupees - to rebuild the hall. But, when it was reopened, the security system fell in place. Now, they don't even allow to take inside a bottle of water, leave alone the burning lamps! I have attended so many annual-day programmes of my son's school in this magnificent venue. The two-thousand-plus-capacity venue always overflows on the annual-day functions. In the ten-minutes interval, it is crazy out there near the canteen space. In order to escape from that torture, some try to smuggle the snacks sometime before the interval, so that they can relish the same inside, in peace. But, I have found it next to impossible to carry out. So strict is the security!

Yet, once, in the darkness of the hall, a young parent, who was sitting next to me, whispered: "Please take."

"Batata vada!" I jumped, "how could it come in?"

"Shhhh! Eat it," he informed. "I do it every year. They can't catch me."

And, the other day, this brave citizen was one of the twenty-thousand-strong protesting Mumbaikars, near the Gateway of India. "Enough Is Enough," his placard screamed!

"If the fence itself starts eating the grass, who is there to protect the grass?" ... This is an old saying. The new one is this: "If the grass itself starts removing the fence, what is there to protect?"

We all need a thorough 'security check' ... At least , I do. The main purpose of this check is:

To find out why we get upset, and offended, when the 'Gate-keepers' stop us and ask us a few basic questions.

I have no business to shout at the 'Gate-keepers' - for whatever other reasons - unless I 'clear' my own 'security check'.


GERALD D'CUNHA

Thursday, December 11, 2008

THE BEST SCHOOL

Sumanna looked worried. Her six-year-old son, Parth, is a vibrant kid. But, of late, he has been facing some coping difficulties in the school. The teachers have been complaining, and the pressure is taking its slow and steady toll on the mind of the toddler. And, on Sumanna's as well.

Yesterday, Sumanna came to talk to me after meeting her child's counselor. "The tests show that Parth's Emotional Quotient, too, is very low," she said.

First, it was the blow of the low 'Intelligence Quotient'. Now, this one. First, Sumanna had to do two rounds a week to her child's counselor; now, she will have to do four!

I remember, how desperate Sumanna was, a few years ago. She wanted the best schooling for her child. And so, she went about making frantic enquiries, all around, to short-list a school for the little one. She had come to me, too, to seek my advice. And, I still remember what I had told her: "Sumanna, don't be obsessed with the 'best' school; be obsessed with 'being good'."

"What does that mean?" she had asked me.

I had not answered her immediately. She kept looking at me, anticipating my answer.

"Do you consider yourself as a 'good' human being?" I asked Sumanna.

"That depends on what you mean by 'good'," Sumanna said.

"Did you study in the 'best' school in your time?" I asked.

"It wasn't the 'best'; it was a local school."

"So, you feel you lack something ... which those who studied in the 'best' schools possess?"

"Not exactly. But, I think they have an edge over us; they are smarter."

"They wear trendy clothes, talk the trendy stuff in a trendy accent, they flash the trendy gadgets, move around in trendy cars, chill out in the trendy coffee shops, change their partners as they change their shirts ... That's what your mean by being 'smarter'? That's what you miss?"

Sumanna did not reply to my question directly. She said this:

"In our times, we did not have so many options. It was relatively easy to settle for a school. Now, it is different."

"One of the functions of education is to 'toughen' us out for the challenges that come unannounced in life. If, by being 'best' you mean 'sophistication', I am sorry, Sumanna, these so called 'best' schools will only make our children 'sophisticated'. They may give us a strange 'kick' when we move around in a sophisticated society. That's all. A municipal school can prepare the child far well in that sense."

"But, being tough is not the only function of education," Sumanna countered.

"Agreed. Nor is stuffing the child with 'information' - be it of whatever kind." I said.

"I know, there is Value Education besides Knowledge and Skills," Sumanna concluded.

"And, who can sensitise a child towards the Values? Who can teach the child self-trust, make it aware of its hidden strengths and talents? Who can teach it to appreciate beauty of Nature? Who can teach it the concern for the under-privileged, the less fortunate ones? Who can teach the child how to bounce back after every set back; how to reconcile after every strife? Who can teach the child to be zestful and hopeful; and, who can teach it to share, be more pliable? And, which school will teach him to rejoice in others' glory, to genuinely appreciate his competitor? Is there a school that teaches him when to hold on and when to let go; a school that teaches him to accommodate his alcoholic father and frail grand parents? ... Did you learn these things from the school? Do you think, your son will learn them from the school? ..." I had challenged Sumanna to think.

That was some years ago. Now, her son, Parth, was schooling in one of the 'best' schools, around. Parth has two cousins at his place. And, Sumanna says, that he is a great kid at home. It is only in the school, that he has problem. She says, that Parth is extremely 'intelligent' and 'sensitive' in every respect ... but for his 'studies'. And, she says, that he is exceptionally accommodating and caring when it comes to his little cousins and grand parents ...

But, then, his Counselor has remarked: 'Low on IQ' and 'Low on EQ'!

Understandably, Sumanna can not swallow this pill.

Yesterday, when Sumanna came to talk to me, I spoke to her reassuringly. "Sumanna, do you think you are a 'good' human being ... fairly sensitive, fairly tough, fairly competitive?" I, again, asked her. "Do you think, you have done reasonably well in life, despite having come from a 'local' school?"

Tears began to roll.

Yes, Sumanna knew, that she was a 'good' human being; and, that she had done reasonably well in life.

"Trust the 'process' of education, Sumanna," I told her. "Parth is a 'good' child ... and, he, too, will do reasonably well in life."

"What do you mean by 'good'?" I had dodged this question of Sumanna, some years ago. I hope, in the depth of the silence she was experiencing, last morning, she must have received the answer.

I don't have to be - and, I am not - a 'qualified psychologist' to sense that. But, I am not a 'quack', either.

I know, I am 'good' ... and, I am not ashamed to admit, that, as a 'little Parth', I did go to a 'local' school.


GERALD D'CUNHA

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

SO, LIFE GOES ON ...

"So, Life goes on ... "

While I was having dinner at a wedding reception, last night, one of the members of our housing society made this statement.

Some months ago, a few members had disturbed the peace in our Society by mud-slinging and gross accusations - remorselessly, and relentlessly - until others stepped in to challenge them (This was after having failed to convince them.). The things came to a heady dead-end, and then, the administrator stepped in to take charge. Months have passed by. There is silence. All the participants of this 'great show' are going about their life, as they always did before. The issue is not solved; only, it is no more an issue!

So, last night, this gentleman reminded me about this truth: "So, Life goes on ... Doesn't it?"

Yes, Life goes on even after two decades since the Bofors scandal played havoc in our country. Governments fell and governments rose, but, Life in India goes on ... Yes, as it did before.

The Bofors issue is not solved; it's simply forgotten. The corruption is still rampant in our system; only the Bofors gun has stopped smoking!

Life goes on even after a thousand empires having come and gone ...

Life goes on even after a million earthquakes, cyclones, tsunamis and hurricanes ...

Life goes on even after a million wars, and the two World Wars ...

Life goes on even after a million bankruptcies and market crashes ...

Life goes on even after a hundred religions having come and gone ... a thousand Prophets, saints and, even, Gods having come and gone ...

Life goes on in spite of Tuberculosis, Cancer, AIDS and, even, Small Pox ...

Life goes on in spite of hundred types of 'sexes' popping up around ...

Life goes on, even though men like Hitler have come and gone ...

Life goes on, even though men like Christ, Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. have been brutally killed ...

Yes, Life goes on, even after a trillion 'mortals' like me have come and gone ...


Life is beyond me; I am not beyond Life. Life will go on - and beautifully, smoothly - even if I am not around. Germany if fine, very fine, without Hitler. So is Russia without Stalin or Lenin, and France without Napoleon. We five brothers are doing fine without our dad being around, today. So will our children, tomorrow.

Last week, our Home Minister Mr. R.R. Patil had to go because of the public outcry on his failure to protect us. Now, Mr. Bujbal has come in. Does any one remember, that just a couple of years ago, Mr. Bujbal was our Home Minister and had to go because of corruption charges? No one will remember the charges against Mr. Patil, if he comes back after a couple of years.

It is 'Public Memory' ... And, it is too short!

Life goes on ...

And, it will go on even after a thousand terror attacks ... plotted by a thousand Bin Ledans or Dawood Ibrahims.

The Cold War has died, so has the mighty Soviet Union. The sole Super Power, America, is on the brinks of a mind-numbing economic collapse. It will be like the collapse of a giant's spine. And, even when that inevitable happens, tomorrow ... Life will still go on!

There is that little insect that glows in the night. It seems, it goes around telling every one, that there light in the world - only because of it.

I am that little insect!


GERALD D'CUNHA

Monday, December 8, 2008

RANDOM ACTS OF KINDNESS

Many years ago, I was travelling in a business man's car. When we reached near a particular temple, his driver stopped the car. The business man excused himself and went inside the temple to pay respect to the deity, and returned quickly.

"I do this every day on my way to the office," he said, "With out His grace, nothing is possible."

"In deed," I agreed.

We had barely moved some distance, and this business man began to ask his driver about something. As the discussion proceeded, the businessman flared up and started hurling abuses on the driver. Obviously, the driver did not like to be insulted in front of a stranger, and showed some resistance from his end. This further infuriated the boss. I had to get down just a distance ahead. I have no idea what happened after that.

After reaching my destination, I shared this episode with one of my colleagues. "How mechanically we pray! He had just come out of the temple, and the next moment, he was revealing his ugly self. It is hypocrisy," I voiced my disgust. "To me, being kind to your live fellow-man is far more important than folding hands before those lifeless idols."

"No doubt about that," my friend agreed. Then, a brief pause later, he added, "Who knows what he asked God ... It could be the the very virtue we are talking about ... A little self-mastery ... To be able to show a little kindness to his fellowmen. Yes, who knows?"

I immediately stepped down from the judgement throne!

I thought of writing on this subject - 'KINDNESS' - inspired by yesterday's TOI article on one of my ex-student, Vinod Shreedhar. Vinod was always a gentle soul. I was very happy to read in the article, how - through 'random acts of kindness' - he has been able to help this planet. When you think of it, it is the most proactive and potent weapon in every man's possession. Yet, the least recognised, and the most wasted. You can start from the very place you stand, and the very moment that is at your disposal. Yes, what a powerful device to make this globe 'less warm'!

I immediately called up Vinod and said, "Thank you."

My friend Manjeet stays with his elderly parents. As in the case of most elderly people, Manjeet has been on the receiving end of his parent's - particularly his father's - cribbing. And, as in the case of most children, Manjeet and his wife had found it extremely difficult to deal with. Initial reaction used to be: "How unfair!" ... "How ungrateful!"

Well, it took a great deal of introspection on their part, to develop empathy and be less reactive. The other day, when I visited Manjeet's place, he spent almost an hour talking on this subject. "The finest gift, you can ever give them, is your listening," he said referring to his elderly parents. "How much they have done for us, for all these years; and, here we are: fuming over their complaints. How many more years are left for them?"

Some months ago, I had attended a wedding. It was grand, and the family was extra-ordinarily gracious. Again and again, they would come to you, one by one, personally, and enquire about your comfort. I did feel good about it. But, then, a week later, when I was passing by their building, I heard a very elderly lady, draped in white, calling out, "Beta, mairbhani karke ..." I went close to her. She needed me to help her take to the 2nd floor house where her daughter stayed. "For twenty minutes I have been calling them out to take me up; but, they have no heart."

I was shocked. They were the same people, who, just a week ago, had gone out of their way to make us all 'comfortable'. Now, here was the reality ... of one's own mother being made to feel like a burden. The old lady kept grumbling till we landed out side the door of her daughter's house. The moment the door opened, I saw two smiles from the house lady: one for me, and one for her mother. The mother and daughter started yelling at each other so loudly, that I was able to hear it till I came out of the building gate.

"The elephant," they say, "has two sets of teeth: One to eat, and the other to show."

And, I know, I am back on the judgement throne, once again.

I have these two vivid memories to share, today.

One incident goes back to over thirty years. My final-year exams had just got over, and, I wanted to utilise my time well. A class mate of mine had a small business outfit and he was kind enough to employ me there as an assistant. I used to reach there early in the morning and open the shop. The next shop belonged to an elderly jeweller. He would arrive after some time. Every morning, I made it a practice to raise the shutter for him, and, also, to set his table. It came naturally to me; and, I kept doing it for about three months - when I worked there in my class mate's office - without any strings attached to my gesture. On my last day of work, I went to see the elderly jeweller. He told me about his 'heartless' young son, and cried. "God bless you my son," he said with choked emotions. "You will shine."

The second incident took place after four years, here in Mumbai. Some of us had come together to found an Institute. I had played the pivotal role in it, and with all my enthusiasm and passion, worked hard to make it succeed. One of my colleagues was doing his Public Speaking course from the famous Indo-Amarican Society. He had persuaded his trainer and batch mates to hold the farewell session in our Institute. About thirty of them showed up that Saturday afternoon. I wasn't the host; my colleague was. But, once it was organised at 'our' premises, I felt I too was the host, and went about giving my own touch. Then, the door was closed, and they went about their agenda. In the end, when they began to leave the premises, many of the young men came to thank me. I was particularly touched by what the trainer said as he shook my hands. "You exude tremendous amout of warmth and zeal; keep it up. thank you."

I was doubly touched when my colleague told me, later that evening - after every one had left - this: "Sir spoke for more than fifteen minutes on being sincere and kind, and he gave us your example."

I wonder, seriously, if it is in good taste to speak about me, here. I have always thought about these episodes and really, really felt good about myself. But, it is for the first time that I am sharing them with others. I sincerely hope, it will not be mis-interpreted as an ego-display.

Please believe me, it is not.

If at all I am talking about them, here, today, it is because of that story on my dear student, Vinod. Yes, he inspired me, and triggered off this deluge. Like him, I too believe: Kindness is not an 'act'; the act itself is kindness ...

And, it all should come, straight from within ... all randomly.

Thank you Vinod. I am proud.


GERALD D'CUNHA

Friday, December 5, 2008

OYE LUCKY

Normally, I do not decide to watch a movie, by the ratings of the critics. Because, I have been mislead by them too many times in the past. On the other hand, whenever I have sneaked into a cinema hall, without anyone having washed my brain, or just by default, I have thoroughly enjoyed that movie.

After the depressing one week, last evening, I really wanted to watch a light movie. Of all the Bollywood movies currently being screened around, I chose 'OYE LUCKY ... LUCKY OYE' to ease out my pressure and bring a smile back on my face. After all, the critics had given 3 1/2 stars for it, while all other movies had never made it beyond two. So, once again, I fell prey to the critic's verdict, and, along with my wife, settled down to watch this movie.

Till the interval break, neither of us could make where lay the head and where the tail of this 'Oye Lucky'. Instead of easing out my pressure and depression, it added an additional load to it. So, the moment the lights came up in the break, my wife shouted, "Oye, let's leave."

For once, we were in agreement; and, that too, perfectly!

"How can they make dud movies like this?" I voiced before her my irritation on our way back home.

"What funny things do people find in them to laugh?" my wife added.

"Maybe, the thought: How dud we all can be!", I declared.

At home, our son was surprised to see us so early. "What happened?" he asked.

"Faaltu," my wife reacted, "We left half-way."

"Oye, I warned you not to go," screamed our son. "I am Lucky."

He was.

I was thinking:

Why do we expect a funny movie to do away our gloom?

Can a movie do it?

Or, are we just trying to escape from our realities ... Sitting in the darkness and trying to laugh ... and pretending to be free from our problems?

Is the mind capable of being simple and light?

Can a mind, preoccupied with analysing and judging, be ever, truly, laugh?

At the dinner table, we all found ourselves thinking about our 'misadventure' and laughing. The movie couldn't make us laugh; our own silliness could. Son was teasing us, constantly, with 'Oye ...', and we were not throwing any resistance, were not taking anything offensively or seriously. Mind did feel light, and gloom did seem fading.

"You should have left your brains at home, when you went to see it," our son seemed to have the maximum thrill.

"Good," I said, and remembered my friend Bipin, who never watches movies in the theatres, no matter how good they are. Once, after watching 'Tare Zamin Par' three times in the Multiplexes, I had asked him: "Have you watched TZP?"

"Paagal hoon kya?" Bipin had responded. "Paisa dekhe Kyun rohneka?"

Oye Lucky, kyun?



GERALD D'CUNHA

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

THE LIBERATION

My auto stopped right at the spot. A particular opposition party had organised, on the roadside, the candle-light vigil for the victims of the latest terror attack in Mumbai. A lady leader was breathing fire and brim stones. For fifteen minutes, I got stuck there. But then, I got this 'opportunity' to listen to one of our 'netas'.

Hundreds of candles were lit ... half-a-dozen leaders spoke fervently ... and the crowd was directed to shout loudly -"Bharat Maata Ki Jai." ... "Shaheed log amar rahe."

It was supposed to be a dignified prayer meet. The prayer for the unfortunate victims, for the liberation of their souls. The 'netas' turned it into their election campaign; and, they did it so shamelessly, on the roadside. They promised the crowd, the 'gullible', the liberation of a different kind: the liberation from the 'corrupt' and 'incompetent' government. They promised them safety and security.

The candles were lit for this!

Last few days, so many people, at so many places, have been lighting the candles. There are school children and their teachers, there are office goers and their bosses, there are merchants and corporates and there are these politicians. Never before in our country, have so many people come out in so many numbers for a cause like this. It is really remarkable. I am truly moved to tears, by the mere thought of it.

But, I sincerely feel, for the liberation of the helpless souls, we should do something much beyond it. Maybe, much simpler, and much private. I truly, wonder: How can the candles liberate the souls of our slain fellowmen?

I know, I am thinking against the current. But, with all my honesty, and with all my sorrow, I do feel we should do something more private.

And, what is that? Perhaps, sharing one of my recent experiences might help answering this question.

About ten days back, along with one of my close friends, I visited a grieving family. The head of the family had passed away after a prolonged period of suffering. We spent about an hour with the family members. I am not very good in expressing my feelings at places like that. But, my friend, a spiritual counselor, is. He so beautifully expressed his feelings, offering them insights and strength. And, he shared with them his own story.

"I was the only child to my parents. My father was working and healthy. I was a teenager and life was all a bed of roses for all of us, none of us expecting any thing bad to happen. And, bad did strike, unannounced. My dad died of a massive heart attack, one night, leaving my mom and myself in the lurch. And, for years, I couldn't reconcile with this reality. 'How could he leave us like this?' In spite of all our religious ceremonies, which we performed unfailingly over all those years, I remained furious about my dad. I was unable to free myself from the state of victim hood. Then, one day, during my quiet moments, I simply received this message: 'Son, I am still suffering with the guilt that I left you and mom to fend for yourselves. Please forgive me.'. That was it. That evening, I, a 45-year-old man, placed my head on my frail mother's lap, and we both cried like two small babies. In the end, we profusely thanked dad for all that he did for us ... and there were such a lot of things that he did and we had not thanked him for. We kept thanking him and we kept crying. We assured him that we were extremely fine here, and, that he ought to be free of any worry or guilt about us. A huge rock fell off our hearts, and we felt an unusual lightness ... after a long, long time."

Then, my friend counselled to the grieving family: "Just express your gratitude, and do it with all the feelings of your hearts. That's the greatest prayer you can ever send for the liberation of his soul."

To me, it was, in deed, a liberating experience ... Just being a witness to this!

And, I sincerely believe, there is no other way more honest, and more private, than this - for praying for the liberation of our fellow citizens' souls.

Thank you. Forgive us. We promise to be good.


GERALD D'CUNHA

Monday, December 1, 2008

THE HERD

"Nice belt," he complimented looking at my belt.

"Thank you," I acknowledged his compliment.

"Where did you buy it from?" he enquired, feeling the leather with his hand.

"The roadside," I informed.

"Be serious," he checked the buckle.

"I am. I bought it ten years ago, and I use it daily," I added.

"And, how much did you pay for it?" he was still not ready to believe me.

"Sixty bucks."

Nodding his head in disbelief, he pulled his belt out. "Look at this. I bought it from a famous store for four hundred. It is supposed to be a 'fine Italian leather'! ... And, look at its state ... Not even a year; and, I don't use it every day ..." he said.

"I have experienced it countless times," I sympathised holding his Italian stuff which was in tatters. "I have three 'branded' belts at home, not even two year-old. I am afraid to use them even once a week, leave alone daily."

The rest of our discussion centered around this peculiar obsession of mankind, named: BRAND CONSCIOUSNESS.

"Pritesh, my son, used to take tuitions from a local tutor till he completed his ninth. He was doing extremely well. Still, for his tenth standard, my wife was unwilling to risk his future in this local tutor's hands. 'It is Boards! He has to go to the best coaching class.' she would scream at me. And, we spent a bomb on fulfilling that desire." A parent narrated this to me.

Pritesh secured a princely 65% in his 'Boards', and joined a local commerce college!

I know another man. He is the height of brand consciousness. He stays in the same flat for the past twenty years, and drives the same car for the past five years. Possibly, he can't keep discarding them, because he can not afford. Still, when it comes to his hair-cutting, his shoes and sunglasses, even his doctors and tailors, he is obsessed with the 'best brands'. He would harp about a particular cardiologist. "Do you know this: You can't get an appointment with him for the next fifteen days. He charges two thousand for the first visit, and one thousand for the subsequent ones." The saloon he visits, the tailor he frequents, and even the Guruji his family follows ... oh! all of them are 'the top class' and nothing less than that.

And, mind you, two thousand for ten minutes; maybe, twenty, at the most!

But, this man has no complaints. For, he considers it as his 'privilege' and 'honour' to be under such a great man's care!

The other day, my friend, Manjeet, bumped into some one - whom both of us know - in the Income tax office. Manjeet is an accounting professional, and he has consciously kept his show small. He likes to work at his own pace, and on his own terms. So, at the IT office, when the other guy looked panicked and lost, Manjeet tried to ease out his tension. After a while, when they were in the canteen, the other fellow boasted about his CA, "He is a big name; he has thirty people working under him."

"That's really great, my friend. Tell me, if so, why hasn't he sent one of those 'thirty' to this office, today? Why has he given you this stress?" Unlike me, Manjeet can coolly 'fix' people - where they belong!

"Today is the last day, you see; they are extremely busy," the faithful gave the reason.

My illiterate mother used to tell us in our village: "In the slaughter house, the sheep will trust none, except the butcher. Yes, it will offer its neck only to him, and so faithfully!"

Some months ago, I had this great 'privilege' and 'honour' of having a meeting with a 'famous' and 'highly connected' advocate. It was some property matter and a group of five of us had gone to meet him. The twenty minutes I spent there, inside his cabin, confirmed the folklore: what a busy man he was! He spoke on his four mobile phones and the board land line, simultaneously, as he discussed our case! Along with this, he also drank his tea, and dictated a great deal of notes to his Secretary!

"How can he focus on any thing like this?" I asked one of my friends later. "I found it difficult to open my mouth, thinking that I might distract him while talking on his phones. But, still, he kept prompting us 'Go on' ... 'Continue' ... 'I am listening'... God alone knows, what he 'listened' - and, what he registered in his mind - when we spoke to us."

"Arey yaar, they are incredible multi-taskers. You can't open your mouth when the other person is talking to some one. You know, these guys, can't open their mouths if a dozen people don't talk to them simultaneously. Didn't you hear him say, so proudly: 'You people don't get sleep, when there is tension; I don't get sleep, when there is no tension'?"

Ooph!

My friends, despite of my reservations, went by this 'big-fat-fellow's' clout and his sweet nothings. Eighty thousand went down the drain! But, no complaints. The sheep has to trust the butcher, you see!

The case is still not over for my friends!

Which home did you come from? Who were your parents, your grand parents?
Which school and which college did you come from? Who were your teachers?
Which village and which country do you come from? Who are your fellow citizens?
Which faith do you belong? Who are your deities and priests?

And, why do I ask you this?

Because, one of you must be so restless to provide your child with such a 'superior', such a 'world-class' education, that I am afraid, you may 'upgrade' his school half-a-dozen times, before he comes out of the high school!

It is time, we 'upgraded' our herd mentality ... and settle for a 'fine brand'.


GERALD D'CUNHA