Whither Excellence?

While travelling on the newly constructed or expanded six-laned national highways, one cannot help admiring the quality of driving that has improved so much during the last decade or so. No doubt, the road infrastructure throughout the nation has gone better and is still being made even better. Our honourable minister Mr Nitin Gadkari seems to be obsessed with laying new roads at a breakneck pace. His detractors may contend that all this is being done for some vested interests. But that’s not the issue I want to get into. What I have noticed while driving on these roads are the loose ends which have been left unfinished or under-finished. For instance, the rain water drains that run along the highways are faulty or not functional at all. The edges of the roads can be scraggy or uneven. The road signs can be badly placed or altogether missing. Even a cursory glance can tell that the infrastructure lacks the finesse that would impart a pleasant look and of course, make it last longer. It’s not only true for roads. It’s true for almost every public structure. The newest buildings may have dripping coats of paint, uneven plastering, badly levelled floors and what not. The question is why can’t we bring a thing to near perfection? Is it because the public money is nobody’s money? Or we have developed an attitude of taking the things too casually. Or the public servants do not bother how the public money is utilized or plundered.
And perhaps this is the reason; we are having a lot of buildings but hardly any monument. Post partition, we hardly have any structure that coming generations can be proud of. The awe-inspiring temples of the South or the forts of Rajasthan or the Mughal monuments remain unmatched. It is quite an acclaimed fact that the Taj remains probably the most symmetrical building of the world. (For those who have seen Taj Mahal, the asymmetric graves in its basement were not the architect’s fault). Some of the readers may say that these structures were built by tyrants under the yoke of the whip. They were spending the looted money. Agreed. Still, they saw that the amount they were spending did not go waste.
Meenakshi temple, Madurai is over a thousand years old, the Taj Mahal was completed in 1653, the Amer Fort, Jaipur continues to exist in its present form since the sixteenth century – do we have any such masterpiece of the contemporary times? Please don’t cite the Statue of Unity. It’s pretty new and thus its lasting value is yet to be ascertained.
Satinder Sartaj, the celebrated Punjabi singer in one of his songs says
Chaar hi tarikya naal banda kare kam sada
Shounk naal pyar naal laalach ja dande naal
ie a man performs a job only in four ways viz his liking, love, greed or when forced or terrorized. When public money is involved, there may not be terror but there must be a fear that the person responsible for spending is accountable and answerable.Some of the readers may laugh at my unrealistic and almost impossible musings. But this casualness, indifference or carelessness can be infectious. It may not spread as rapidly as the current pandemic but it will slowly and surely advance in an unobtrusive manner and by the time we detect it, it would have spread to our families engulfing our sons and daughters in this mire of mediocrity.
I know that perfection can never be achieved. However, we have to realize that perfection may not be attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence. And excellence never goes out of fashion. We watch a lot of people come and talk on television but when we listen to Harsha Bhogle or Amitabh Bachchan or Shashi Tharoor, we sit up and are all ears because these icons are nearly perfect in their oratorical skills. Excellence lies in taking care of details. Sholay, Mughal-e-Azam or even Titanic – are excellent films because of the way detailing have been done in all the aspects of cinema.
As mentioned earlier, perfection may not be possible but excellence can be pursued. Let there be any field. I may quote a story; I am not sure about its veracity. I heard it when I was very young. The story goes like this. A king in China wanted to get a palace constructed. He asked his architect after approving the plans and blue prints about the number of bricks to be needed in the construction. He wanted the palace to be constructed with a unique sized bricks and the die for it would never be used again. He asked the architect to take some time for calculations.
After a week or so the architect gave the exact number of bricks required. The king looked at the figure quizzically and asked if he was sure about his calculations. The architect nodded reverentially. The king ordered him to calculate again because he would put him to gallows if the bricks turned out to be less or more. The architect retreated to his work station and after a couple of days came to the court and requested the king to increase the quantity by one. The king was aghast. He questioned him again if those were his final calculations. The architect moved his head in affirmation. The king warned him of the consequences if the numbers varied later on. The architect stood his ground. It is said that on completion of the palace that one extra brick was left over and the king put it on a public display as an example of perfection.
This story may be a myth but another one I am going to narrate is absolute truth. A student of mine was working with a national news portal. Though he was very meticulous himself, his immediate boss was a few notches above him in perfection. He told me about an incident. He said that he had written a story after months of research and had got the final draft ready after numerous revisions. He admitted that he was proud of his attempt and was sure that his boss would certainly approve it. When he submitted it to her, she went over it twice, thrice and the fourth time with a smug expression hardly finding any mistake or suggesting any change. After fifth or sixth reading on her screen, she moved the cursor and put a comma in one of the sentences and muttered approvingly, “Now, it’s perfect.” That’s the kind of bosses we need.
So, the next time you find a new railway over bridge or flyover in your city, do check whether its underside has been properly developed or maintained. Do notice whether the landing of the over bridge or the flyover has smoothly merged with the road, whether the debris have been removed from the sidings or not. Otherwise do tweet to Mr Gadkari. Jokes apart, we all need to inculcate the spirit of excellence. We may not achieve perfection but our pursuit for it should be relentless.

My latest blog dated 28th April, 2021

The Unkindest Cut

In a Doordarshan interview of 1980s when Amitabh Bachchan was at his peak, the superstar is supposed to have remarked that he had enacted the scenes of his parents’ death so many times that he had no idea how he might react when his actual parents passed away. I was very young when I watched this show and quite a few things he had mentioned etched on my mind permanently. He had also admitted that the colour on his hair came from a tube and he found his hair growing at the places where they were not at all needed and they were refusing to grow where they should be. Indeed it was a sensitive and candid confession from a profound artist. It was not a superstar talking; it was an ordinary human being talking about his insecurities, pains and agonies.
I never knew that I will have to pass through somewhat similar situation. Having known for some time that I was living with partner from whom the life was oozing away surely and steadily , I had to make sure that nobody knew the actual position. I knew the end would come soon but how soon? No idea. When it came, it was swift, unexpected and very sudden. I was just away from her for 20 – 25 minutes, stretching my back after a very hard and hectic day. I had told the nurse in the ICU that my door would be unbolted. She knocked and I immediately went along with her, only to see a supremely calm face of my dear wife, with eyes half opened and a battery of nurses, doctors pumping her heart vigorously and rigorously. The expression on her face and the attending doctor told that it was all over. Though I knew her end was imminent, I had no idea that it would be blink and miss kind. I was just away from her for a few minutes and she had done the vanishing trick. For a second, I went totally blank. I just kept looking at the staff trying to revive her. The doctor said that she has not responded to any of the injections that had been given.
I came to the room, gathered the things, phoned home and started the waiting game for the formalities. My vision was blurred by the flood of tears, the tears that had been forcefully hidden for the last forty two months and four days. I had tried my best to keep the seriousness of the disease strictly to myself. I knew even a casual slip of tongue by anyone would be a kind of death decree for the patient. All these years I have been preparing myself for the shock but everything went haywire when the actual moment came. Like a zombie I went through the formalities, rituals and the likes.
Her presence is missed every moment. Tears do not roll down easily now but a hollowness in the belly continuously gnaws the entire being. This personal grief cannot be described in words. Amitabh Bachchan was quite right when he admitted about his emotions about his parents. Tolstoy writes, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” I would like to modify it by saying, “All happy moments are alike, and every unhappy moment is different in its own way.”
Many a time, I have termed my writings as my weekly or fortnightly ramblings but this particular piece of mine is actually a rambling piece. With thoughts still incoherent, the mind still in daze and soul in a state of shock – it’s difficult to be clear headed. I might have given this exercise a miss but I didn’t want to disappoint my departed wife who would without fail enquire whether I had written and posted my blog. This one is dedicated to her.
My readers may excuse my too personal outpourings this time. I could not think of any other topic to write upon.

The 35th blog!

Is More Always Merrier?

A few days ago, I had to go to self-isolation suspecting the pandemic of the century. Thankfully, the report came out to be negative and everybody at home as well as friends heaved a collective sigh of relief. When you are confined to your room and have little energy to undertake any work, you just cannot help spending your maximum waking hours before the idiot box which incidentally has been rechristened ‘the smart TV’. Though TVs claim to be smart, they have made the viewers suffer from the abundance syndrome. With countless channels and numerous apps like Netflix, Prime, Hotstar, Voot etc, it becomes really difficult to restrict yourself to a particular programme or a channel.
In my case, I found myself surfing various apps for quite some time before finding something to my taste. Once I realised that I had almost spent twenty minutes to find a short but beautiful telefilm that was just nine minutes and a few seconds long.
With so much content at your fingertips, you still find exploring for more, expecting something better – just like women in garment stores when they make the shop assistants display the entire stock and they still not able to decide. Now, I completely empathise with ladies.
Having surfed the entire menu, most often I would ultimately end watching the different episodes of a Pakistani TV show that has comedy, satire, music and information. No doubt, it did breathe anti – India fire sometimes. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the rest of the segments of the programme.
Whenever I indulged in this channel surfing or content sifting exercise, my mind invariably went back to the late 1970s when we used to have only one black and white channel and the transmission was restricted from 5.30 pm to 11 pm. Even a much advanced TV of our neighbouring Pakistan, the signals of which could be received on the bordering areas, had its transmission for six hours or so in the evening. But what craze we all had for this limited telecast that included informative though unentertaining programmes like Krishi Darshan, Mera Pind Mere Khet etc. Jalandhar Doordarshan did a skit in which the butt of the joke was Doordarshan itself. The skit was about the loss of the recorded tapes of a TV programme. The exasperated and traumatised lady programme executive is at her wit’s end for this loss/theft. The entire skit was about that almost in tears Doordarshan official and her desperate pleas to a police official to help her. The kind hearted inspector uses all his resources and is able to find the spools at last. The much relieved Programme Executive profusely thanks the inspector who gushes and blushes at such effusive praise from a lady. And in the end, he casually inquires about the programme which was in the tapes. The Doordarshan official replies, “Rachna”, a boring literary programme. The inspector hits his forehead with his hand and slumps to his chair. The expression on his face clearly said – much ado about nothing.
Anyways, let’s come back to the problem of plenty. With rise in prosperity, purchasing power and consumerism, we now have more options to choose from in almost all spheres. A few years back, there were a handful of eating joints that had home delivery facility available. When you wanted to order your food from outside, you relied on these vendors with their limited and specialised menu or you went out and got your food packed from your trusted nearby restaurant or dhabha. Now with Swiggy and Zomato at your command, you can order almost anything from any part of the town and get your food delivered comfortably at your doorstep. However, you must have faced the abundance syndrome here as well. Quite often, when the family or friends decide to order food, all of them start browsing the delivery apps on their phones. It’s very difficult to arrive at the consensus quickly.
There can be a clash on the choice of cuisine – Indian, Chinese, Mughlai, Thai, Italian, Mexican or street food. One of them would suggest ordering a dish each from four five different vendors. Another would object because this may lead to an unsynchronized timing of delivery. The dessert may be delivered before the main course. Some would argue about the size of the portions or inconsistency in the tastes of different food joints. And there can also be some wastage of time on the availability of discounts. The debate may rage for some time till an elder or a dominant member screams and commands them to order quickly as he/she has to take his/her diabetes or cholesterol medicine and has to maintain a reasonable gap between meals and sleep. Sheepishly, the ordering starts, only to discover that their favourite joint is no longer accepting the orders. Or because of the pandemic induced curfew, the food shops have downed their shutters.
Such are travails when you have excess of choices. However, some of us can say that the he “problem of plenty” affects only a small percentage of the overall population. Ironically, only they can recognise this problem introspectively, for the majority of the others still do not have enough even to meet their needs. Given that, those amongst us who are fortunate to have this freedom of choice, must also understand to use that freedom responsibly – by seeking inwards with honesty to recognise what is essential and what isn’t, and then consciously giving up the latter. But in India, the ‘the small percentage of the population’ has more purchasing power than the entire Europe put together. Evidently, it reflects an increase in the prosperity. If we enjoyed the times with limited options and limited budgets, we must also rejoice when we have things in abundance.
Before I wind up this piece, another little observation. Don’t we now face the dilemma of choosing the dress of the day when we stand before our spilling – at – its – ends – wardrobe? Or at lavish buffet spread on marriage banquets? More about them, some other time. Meanwhile, remember more is not always merrier. Smart TVs have shown that.

My latest blog dated 14th April, 2021

The Much Travelled Roads

After almost a gap of one and a half years, we, a group of four friends, drove to Chandigarh from Jalandhar. The newness, the broadness and the smoothness of the road took all of us with a pleasant surprise. Most of us gushed at the rapid pace of the new infrastructure that was emerging everywhere in the country. Driving is indeed a pleasure now. The days when we would tell the distance between two cities in hours (a la USA) and not in kilometres/miles seem to be quite near.
As the conversation about the road ended, I continued to gaze outside. I have travelled to Chandigarh umpteen times and I am familiar with a lot of landmarks. But that day, this much travelled route seemed strange. Though we all were chatting, this strangeness of the road continued to nag the back of my mind. No doubt, the new road alignment, over bridges and flyovers swallowed quite a few of the cities, towns, and villages contributing to a drastically different look to the route. For the sake of speed and comfort, we miss now the romance of those stopovers en route. Anyways, we have already accepted the vanishing towns on the highway. So what was the reason for this unfamiliarity? It was on the return journey in the evening, during the quiet intervals, in the car I managed to zero upon the probable causes.
Those who have travelled on this route would remember that for almost 30 kilometres, the road travels along a broad canal which is full of water almost throughout the year. And tall, stately trees lined the road. It used to be a sight to behold when the road curved along the canal and the trees from both the sides of the road formed a kind of canopy on the road, shading the travellers from the scorching sun in the summer or providing breath taking light and shadow patterns on a balmy winter afternoon while the canal gushed quietly.
However, after the new alignment the canal barely gets noticed while the trees have been sacrificed for smoother, faster and better journeys. Now while you drive, you are confronted with a wide, bare and an almost characterless road. Your eyes are blinded by the glare of the sun in the afternoon. The trees that took a long time to blossom were chopped in no time. A trip to Chandigarh was always eagerly looked forward. The drive along the canal, the customary tea /breakfast halt on the eating joints along the canal – also contributed to the excitement of the trip. We did halt this time but the charm of that little sojourn was quietly missing.
A similar feeling had engulfed me when we got a railway over bridge built over a railway crossing just adjacent to our college. I remember the thrill of using the over bridge for the first time. The traffic snarls because of the closed railway crossing were now a thing of the past. But the road was not the same. Again, for our comfort, hundreds of trees had to lay down their lives, silently and unflinchingly.
I am not against the newer and better infrastructure. But the short-sightedness or a visionless approach of our planners and executors hurts me. The road making is not just laying the road and collecting the toll tax. The coming up of a new road raises quite a few opportunities. It changes the complexion of the area. Many new enterprises come up with it. Many a business is gobbled by it too. I don’t complain about it because for the greater good some sacrifices have to be made. But my point of concern is why the chopped trees are not replaced with the new saplings. Why the contractors are not entrusted with the upkeep and maintenance of the plantation around the highways? Why it should not be responsibility of the toll tax collecting agency to see that the trees are sown and taken care of?
There are so many such routes that have lost their scenic beauty in the name of development and progress. I can’t help mentioning the Hoshiarpur – Hariana – Garhdiwala – Dasuya route. Those who remember the road of the last century will agree with me that it was one of the most picturesque roads of Punjab. The saplings are still available, the trees can still be grown, and the new roads can still look beautiful provided our planners and executors have a vision. Our well educated civil engineers, urban planners who are behind the infrastructure are well qualified and highly educated. They feel it beyond their dignity to learn anything from the past. The Wikipedia entry for the GT Road mentions that fruit and shade trees were got sown by Sher Shah Suri. Other rulers built Serais, some got parks developed alongside. The Britishers carpeted it and developed it massively from 1833 to 1860 creating several facilities along the way. But no ‘illiterate’ ruler allowed the permanent and free guardians of the roads to be cut. On the contrary they continued to add new and better ones all along the routes. Perhaps, the fast whizzing air conditioned cars do not need a shady haunt. Nevertheless, the trees can provide nesting place to thousands of birds or a resting place to the owner of a swanky Mercedes while his driver changes a flat tyre. And this piece might not have seen the light of the day, had I not been blinded by the glare of that treeless road, a fortnight back.

My latest blog dated 17th March 2021

The Travelling Itch

Pandemic confined the entire world to their homes for a good part of the last year. The itinerant travellers or those with an uncontrollable wander lust were perhaps the most harried lot. Their social media accounts were without new posts from picturesque locations or resorts. If the pandemic is a world crisis, this was also a mini disaster for the Indian tourists.
Of late, Indians have probably become the fastest growing nation in terms of travellers -domestic as well as international. The urge or itch to travel is so overwhelming for a few that they have no qualms in paying EMIs for their travels, almost a rarity a decade back. Going to trips by taking loans is not the only thing that has emerged in the recent times. If we observe closely, we may find that the traditional way of travelling has drastically changed. Earlier people went to the celebrated tourist hot spots and enjoyed the sightseeing. Monuments, beaches, planetoriums, and museums, sunset – sunrise points and the likes were on the list. The average middle class traveller gave more importance to the number of points in the itinerary during the trip. The hotel was just a place to spend the night after a hectic sightseeing. The hotel’s location in the heart of the city or near to the tourist or shopping attractions was the most sought after.
However, lately the trends have changed. Life has changed as well. There has been a plethora of tourist resorts that have emerged in offbeat places which promise everything within the property. These kinds of resorts take care of you right from the airport or railway station. Most of them are located in such places that there’s hardly anything around them. The hosts take care of everything. They just want you to relax and enjoy the property. If there’s something worthwhile sight nearby, you would be taken there by the hotel. But quite a few of the guests these days decline or skip such offers. They just want to laze and relax in the property where they can have booze, food and entertainment.
Not a bad idea when you are leading a very fast paced and monotonous life and yearn for a real break, far from the humdrum, noise and pollution. You just want to remain busy with nothing during that break. The hospitality world knows your plight and has developed packages that relax and rejuvenate you.
Holidaying in such a property situated far from the maddening crowd does make a lot of sense. Sometimes, you are even envious of your friends and relatives who can afford and manage such charmed holidays. However, staying in this kind of a self-contained resort, hotel or property in a bustling city which happens to be a tourist destination for historical or religious reasons, is unpalatable. Suppose, you are in Lucknow,Hyderabad Delhi or even Amritsar and are putting up in some Taj, Hyatt or a Marriott property. It would be really unwise of you to depend solely on your hotel for all your meals or entertainment. The hotels in such culturally rich places do go an extra mile to recreate the famous local delicacies but they cannot replicate the romance of enjoying the original. Clarks Awadh may serve delectable galouti kababs but still may not be able to match the original Tundey Kabab.Radison Blu, Amritsar may engage the best chefs, use the best ingredients but still can’t match the authentic Dal Fry of Kesar da Dhabha. There can be umpteen more examples. But the point I am trying to make is that the self-contained properties are no match when you want a real getaway but they are not at all recommended while visiting a real tourist place. Unless and until you soak in the flavours and fragrances available locally, you would not be doing justice to your visit. If you have not tasted, at least a few of the celebrated delicacies of your place of visit, your visit will remain incomplete. The hotels may be very comfortable with outstanding spread of food; they still cannot match the tastes of a local legend. If taste does not matter to you, if you are not interested in the atmosphere of the place, the reading of this piece might be a waste of time. However, if you are genuinely fond of travelling to new places, meeting local people, enjoying local specialities, discovering things on your own, you would certainly agree that we have to get out of a cocooned resort or hotel. And mind you, the pictures you click in the narrow alleys, enjoying lip smacking food from a popular vendor or shopping for local goodies in traditional bazaars will elicit more oohs and aahs than the typical and routine type holiday pictures. If you have doubts, try once what I say. But do follow the pandemic guidelines and SOPs.

My latest blog dated 3rd March, 2021.

The Unlearnt Lessons

The recent catastrophe in Uttarakhand jolted us all. As the initial news of the disaster came, almost every one felt a repeat of 2013 Kedarnath tragedy. A cloud burst was the ignition point for Kedarnath tragedy while the latest one was caused by a glacier burst. The havoc caused by the last week’s incident cannot be compared to the 2013 one but still it’s massive. The official death count is around 60 while three times more are in missing list.
Most of us would dismiss it as an act of God or nature’s fury. The environmentalists have I-warned-you-earlier sneer. Geologists had predicted this kind of calamity if we continued to plunder the fragile mountains. A few months back I had written on ‘The Forgotten Art of Listening’ in which I bemoaned the lack of attentiveness amongst us while listening. But I am afraid the governments are no better. They have mastered the art of ignoring. No lessons seemed to have learnt from the very recent catastrophes. The mountains are blasted with impunity for power projects, roads and tunnels with no method to dispose off the muck thus produced which is carelessly dumped there in the gorges.
The muck often stops the natural flow of water especially during rains, forming temporary lakes and when the volume of the water becomes too much for the muck to hold and it leads to the floods. The usual floods have water and some mud but we all noticed a thick muddy flow of water in both Uttarakhand disasters. In water one can hope to survive but there’s little hope of surviving such mud. Even the strongest swimmers can’t hope to stay afloat in the more-muck-less-water. If inhaled, it immediately stops the flow of air into lungs causing death.
Instead of learning from the 2013 tragedy, the governments seem to have given a blind eye. No lessons seem to have been learnt from it. I have not travelled much in Uttarakhand mountains but whenever I saw the area on television on Travel or adventure channels or vlogs, I admired the natural beauty but always wondered at the absence of trees which are in abundance in Himachal Pradesh, Meghalaya – almost similar states. If you watch Vijay Anand’s, Shammi Kapoor – Asha Parekh 1966 musical blockbuster Teesri Manzil which was extensively shot in and around Mussoorie, you cannot miss bare mountain slopes. The trees, forests, vegetation was pretty less even 55 years ago and obviously it had been depleted further since then. Many a story of Ruskin Bond poignantly depicts the disastrous impact of deforestation, mining, blasting on human life, flora and fauna. Having lived almost his entire life in Mussoorie Hills or in Shimla, Bond’s association with and understanding of the mountains is very intimate. His stories or essays often suggest to stop this reckless rape of the mountains. We, as tourists, are also guilty of disturbing further the fragile ecology of the hills. Though the harm caused by the tourists is not as savage as caused by blasting, tunnels and cutting the mountains.
Come summer and most of of us pick or rent a car, rush to mountains, stay there for a couple of days, return home leaving a trail of water bottles, chips packets, disposable crockery and a lot of carbon dioxide fumes choking and suffocating the beautiful mountains.
The life on this earth , they say, ended many time by natural disasters. So it’s not surprising that the present life would end too but why are we hastening this imminent doomsday? No doubt, the governments are devoid of vision, myopic and insensitive but we can contribute our bit by being more aware and making others aware. We need to question our governments about such huge projects in the mountains. We need to spread awareness about such things. The impending doomsday cannot be avoided but it can be delayed. A few more generations may be allowed to enjoy a civilization built painstakingly by an effort of thousands of years. If something is not done to stop this rot, the Chamoli disasters would periodically rock the region and cause greater ruins.
P. S. My last two Wednesdays went without my weekly blog. My very pressing family and professional engagements kept me away from my weekly ramblings. However, last week’s miss was due to plain lethargy. I must apologise to my small but very loyal readers. I would try to write every week inspite of insipid ideas and boring writing.

My weekly blog dated 17th February 2021 after a break of two weeks.

Of Photo-ops and Selfies

On December 31, Union Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ announced that CBSE Class 10, 12 Board Exams will start on May 4 and will continue till June 10, 2021. Though it’s a very important announcement, I found the hon’ble minister himself briefing the media about this a bit odd. Had CBSE issued this news in a press release, it would have gathered same media attention and space. Why did the Minister feel the necessity of disclosing these academic tidings?
Our HRD minister is not the only public figure who never misses an opportunity that would bring the limelight on him. Almost every minister now prefers to make even routine announcements himself so as to gather more eyeballs. It seems that photo-ops are more important than the work.
With a long reach of the social media, it seems that it has become imperative for all the public figures to be active rather pro-active on their Facebook Instagram, Twitter etc. accounts.Most of them have highly professional teams that handle their accounts and dictate the timings, content and frequency of their social visibility.
As the public figures are role models, the masses look up to them and often emulate, copy or even ape them.
The ubiquitous smart phones and the availability of cheap mobile data has allowed the common man to realize his dreams and aspirations in downscaled manner. Like the public figures, he/she keeps his friends updated with his/her minutest of the activities. What do they eat, where do they holiday, which places do they visit – are promptly uploaded on the social media sites. Many an ordinary folk has made a career by becoming tik tok star, blogger, vlogger and so on. However, such success stories are like the proverbial salt in the flour. While there is a glut of stories which reveal idiosyncratic, rather idiotic behaviour on the social media. There are people who can’t probably breathe without posting it on Facebook or Instagram or updating their status (not in life) on WhatsApp. And one of the most ridiculous developments in the recent times is ” selfie ”. Whether it’s a tourist place, a college, a hospital or a funeral ground, you can easily spot someone taking a selfie. I have often noticed students taking selfies as soon as they park their two wheelers in the college parking, and then in class, in canteen, in corridors, in lawns and the same process is repeated when they make a return journey from the college to their homes. Selfie is useful when you want to click pictures of a group and you don’t want to stay out of the frame or when you are travelling alone. I have never been able to fathom friends moving in a group and still taking selfies. Why can’t they ask their companions to click them? In such situations, I have unembarrassingly asked the strangers to click the pictures of our group and they always do it smilingly. Have we become so self centred that we just want only ourselves in the frame? Is the ‘me’, ‘mine’ and ‘myself ‘ new mantra? All that training of thousands of years to live in a civilized co-existence seems to be dwindling rapidly.
Another thing that constantly nags me is the need of so many photographs. Why would a person need a picture of himself or herself in the parking? Why would you photograph the food every time you eat out? Why do people take a selfie before a washroom mirror flaunting their latest iPhone? Perhaps this anonymous remark
“Never before has a generation so diligently recorded themselves accomplishing so little”
holds true for this pic-addict generation.
And amid this photo-ops, whether the actual work gets completed, is a big question. During my after dinner stroll, I have often noticed, policemen in their PCR van taking a selfie at the location, sending it to their bosses or to the record portal and then promptly roll the windows of their official vehicle, switch on car AC and promptly go to sleep.
I feel almost ninety percent of photo ops done by the officials are just like that. There have been instances when people have managed the government grants twice or thrice by sending the pictures from different angles. Such photos may fulfil the formal conditions in the government departments but do they really tell the actual story – that’s debatable.
I may have digressed a bit from where I started. However, my readers would agree that the social media and camera in every hand has fed the spirit of narcisissm a bit too much for the comfort. While looking for some attractive memory, our successors may stumble upon our infinite photographs with a variety of pouts and unnecessary V-formation. They may have hard time decoding or deciphering our stupidities. Let a picture speak a thousand words rather than have a thousand dumb pictures. The great grand children of the HRD minister would certainly feel embarrassed if they come across the picture of the their renowned ancestor making announcement for board exams.

29th Episode of my blog!

Those Magnificent Invisible Men and Women

Sometimes, as a compulsive or a stubborn pen – pusher, I run out of ideas and often keep staring at the blank screen, waiting for some kind of inspiration or even a faint idea to write upon which continues to elude. Since I have to keep a self imposed deadline, I end up writing on whatever insipid, boring or monotonous thoughts that I am able to muster up. But this week I found plenty of topics churning in my mind.It was like a lady standing before her wardrobe overflowing with dresses, yet declaring that she has nothing to wear. It was like a teenager surfing the infinite content on Amazon Prime, Netflix, YouTube and entire DTH channels yet complaining there’s nothing to watch. So many ideas were brimming in my mind, yet couldn’t zero on one.
Usually, there’s a drought of ideas but this time even the flood was of little help. As I have to keep a deadline, I decided to fall back on the oldest thoughts that clouded my mind. And here I go back, say by four and a half decades, to share with you the things which used to rankle me then and still do sometimes.
Almost every Dewali, my dad, like most Indians, would take us to grandparents for a collective celebrations of the biggest of our festivals. Though our travel was just one and half hour train journey from Amritsar to Jalandhar, I vividly remember the excitement, the crowd, the joy on the station and in the train. I would ask my dad if the train driver, his helper, the guard and other people on duty would be able to reach their homes in time for the celebrations. He would try to explain that the running staff would change at Ambala, and they might join their families. It would be followed by my inevitable next question, “And what about the staff that takes over at Ambala?” “They may change at Delhi and they may have Delhi as their headquarters. They may make it to their kids though a bit late,” he would continue to reason. My curious mind would not be satisfied. ” What about the staff that takes over from Delhi? “, my obvious next question. He would laughingly say that perhaps it might be those who were not celebrating the festival that year because of some mishap. I couldn’t believe everything he explained but knew that fathers are usually short of patience so I trod with caution. The doubts remained.
The answer to these innocent queries came soon but not directly. I was in class fourth and had just been hooked on to The Tribune. One winter morning, the paper was late and I had developed the habit to scan the sports page before I left for school. The Indian cricket team was on tour to Australia and I wanted to enjoy the despatch from the down under. My time to leave for school was approaching quickly and the hawker was nowhere in sight. My grandfather, who was visiting us, observed me amusingly. I sipped my glass of milk as I craned my neck from the edge of my gate to the far end of the street. Still, no sight of hawker. I started
cursing, blabbering , muttering – all the limited swear words I knew at that time. My grandpa patted my head and said, “Don’t worry, read the entire paper when you come back from the school. Don’t spoil your mood. Always go cheerfully to school.”
When I came back, changed my uniform, washed myself and sat down for lunch, he handed over me the newspaper in the mint condition and said that he had not opened the paper because he wanted me to read it first. Happily, I reached the sports page and started reading it with my meals. As I was reading, he asked me if I knew where The Tribune was printed.”Chandigarh”,I replied without breaking my eating or reading. “It takes at least five hours for the newspaper vehicle to reach Amritsar. And then, the hawkers pick them to distribute in the entire city. We get it around 730 in winters. Don’t we?”, he continued. I nodded, still immersed in my food and news. ” It means,” he said,” that somebody drove from Chandigarh from midnight to early morning in this biting cold, missing his night sleep, braving the chill and facing fog so that you could read it in time. And don’t forget the hawker who was up there at Hall Gate at 5 o’clock sorting the newspaper and then peddling miles to distribute it. And you were cursing them, son?” Now I looked up with a bite in my hand and my mouth open. He smiled at his eldest grandchild,”There are so many people who work very hard, in difficult conditions, odd hours so that we may get things in time or we may stay comfortable. Look at the milk man. He has to get up at 3 – 330 every night to milk his cattle and then ride his bike to bring you the fresh milk for your breakfast. The farmers too leave their homes much before dawn to pick vegetables from the fields to supply in the market. Before cursing or swearing at any one mindlessly, do try to understand their position. “
Needless to say, it was a revelation, a realisation. It also answered the question which I had stopped myself asking from my dad. Now, I knew that there are so many people who sacrifice their comforts, their families their sleep to make people like us comfortable. The train staff, hospitals, power supply, newspapers, roadways employees – are some of them, the invisible people who make our lives smooth. No doubt, some of us would say that it’s their job. But we must appreciate that they took a difficult job that makes our lives easier. Lately, many more categories have been added like the delivery boys of online service providers or food delivery boys. Instead of cursing them or yelling at them or being downright rude to them, we need to be sympathetic and appreciative of their work.
My readers may ask that I have missed the soldiers. I know. Because for them, a passing reference will not be able to do justice to their work. As I mentioned in the beginning, writing about armed forces or soldiers happens to be one of the many ideas which are crowding my mind today. I would like to devote and dedicate my entire blog to them someday. Meanwhile, unlike a lady getting ready for an outing I have been able to find a decent dress, nay sorry, an idea to write upon. (The teenager is still undecided what to watch?)

My latest blog! The 28th Episode. Still surviving!

Rainbow in Someone Else’s Cloud

Recently, Kullu police arrested seven tourists for stopping their vehicle in the newly opened Atal Tunnel. They were dancing while the music played raucously from their cars. Not only they halted their car but also detained the traffic in the tunnel.Undoubtedly, this new engineering marvel is a huge tourist attraction but we must not forget that it is a road that links the area which were earlier accessible only for a limited period of time in a year.
It is now lifeline of the people beyond the treacherous Rohtang Pass who remained cut off from the rest of the world as soon as the winter set in. This technological wonder opens vistas of hopes, dreams and aspirations of the trans – Rohtang natives. And to become an obstacle or create hurdles on such a road is absolutely unpardonable.
Tourism, certainly , is a major contributor in the economy of the region. But it does not mean that you hamper or disrupt the life of locals. In a way, those unruly tourists misused their freedom. I am reminded of an anecdote which goes like this :A drunken man was going down the street in Baltimore flinging his hands right and left, when one of his arms came across the nose of a passer-by. The passer-by instinctively clenched his fist and sent the intruder sprawling to the ground. He got up, rubbing the place where he was hit, and said, “I would like to know if this is not a land of liberty.” “It is,” said the other fellow; “but I want you to understand that your liberty ends just where my nose begins.” That’s exactly what the Kullu police did.
Most of us Indians are quite notorious travellers. While travelling we forget, perhaps, the most basic travel wisdom – Climb the mountain so you can see the world, not so the world can see you. Instead of becoming the part of the landscape, we are visible as a sore thumb. Trying to get selfies in the most unusual places playing loud car music, stopping and dancing anywhere or littering the hills with plastic bottles, chips wrappers tetrapacks, disposable crockery are some of the characteristics of the itinerant Indian.
For such travellers, Rosalind’s comment in Shakespeare’s As You Like It, “A traveller! By my faith, you have great reason to be sad. I fear you have sold your own lands to see other men’s; then to have seen much and to have nothing is to have rich eyes and poor hands ” suits perfectly.

The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page. However, sometimes some travellers do not read pages, they tear pages. Travelling to distant places meeting different, people, making new friends, enjoying the local food and soaking in the novel landscape is the essence of tourism. The best travelling is, perhaps, discovering the hidden treasures by taking an unbeaten track, tasting the native delicacies in the labyrinthine alleys, sipping invigorating cup of tea or coffee at a roadside kiosk.
It’s not demanding for free WiFi or better DTH service in the hotel room. It’s not looking for your home cuisine some two thousand kilometres from your home. It’s not cursing the weather of your sojourn. Though our travel habits are changing gradually, we were earlier more concerned about the location of our hotel near the market for convenience of our shopping addicted wives or kids preference for hustle and bustle. Most men obliged because they wanted their wives and kids to enjoy on their own while they immersed themselves in prolonged drinking and card sessions. Travelling, for most of them, meant splurging money for a few days when women didn’t have to cook, kids didn’t have to study and men didn’t have to work. Any interaction with the place and people was just superficial. Largely their memories were restricted to the hotel rooms and the shopping they did.
On the contrary, real travelling is mainly absorbing the local tastes, colours and flavours. The respect for the natives is of utmost importance. The fools who were dancing in the Atal Tunnel had no idea about this. For the traveller, the place might be worth taking a picture for Facebook or making a Reel for the Instagram but for the localites it is means for taking sick to the hospital at the district headquarters or bringing their agricultural produce to the market or simply reaching their home in time for dinner with their family. As tourists, we need to be sensitive and sensible to the local people, their customs and habits.
Instead of being sticking out as a sore thumb like those drunk and dancing seven idiots, we should try to be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud.

My latest blog dated 13th January 2021. It’s the 27th Episode. And wishing a Happy Makar Sakranti to all my dear readers.

Complimentary Joys

Sometimes a word, a line, an expression or even a sight appeals to you so much that it gets permanently etched into your mind. My mind, like everybody’s mind, is a treasure house for such eternal imprints. Right now, I am reminded of R. K. Narayan’s The Guide which I read about three decades back. Here Raju, the guide while describing himself says, “Men and vehicles, hogs and boys – the panorama of life enchanted me.” I still remember that I had paused at this line when I was going through this R.K. Narayan classic. Probably it was the last sentence of a paragraph in the initial few pages of the novel. Like all great writers, R. K. Narayan was able to make his reader empathise with his protagonist. Every time I travel whether it’s train, bus, car or plane – this line always comes to haunt me.
Though I do not have an innate wander lust, I have travelled a bit. And every time, I travel, I carry a book with me. It’s another matter that I rarely read a few pages. Since my air travels have been short and within India, I never felt the need to carry any reading material. My inability to read much during the travel is because of the fact that the panorama of life enchants me too. I love the way landscape changes when a train leaves the station. From the tightly packed urban houses to the vast open countryside, the transformation is gradual but fascinating. Having a window seat earlier was a matter of luck, now it can be a matter of choice. However, it is a bewildering sight when you enter a Shatabdi coach with all the shades drawn. Invariably, I pull the shades up before I settle into my seat. If some fellow passenger gets disturbed, I still keep them half raised. I do it so, as it gives me chance to sight something interesting, unusual or delightful that triggers off my imagination and day-dreaming. For instance, I have often wondered how far would be the home of a lonely farmer ploughing his field with no human settlement near it or try to estimate the weight of the fodder or dry twigs being carried by a group of village belles trudging along the railway track or guessing the crops and so on. The speed of the train hardly has any impact on my train of thoughts. They can move much faster than the train or can stay still for several seconds. Quite often, one may come across a charming sight like a quaint village wedding procession or the playful mirth of a goat herd. The sights may not always be pleasant. These days a smoke belching factory in the middle of the fields or a glass chrome facade management or engineering college with its fleet of buses does break the pristine view – all in the name of progress.
In the same vein, the window seat in a plane offers its own delights. From a high altitude, you often innocently marvel that the landscape down below does look like Google maps or suddenly you realise that winding ribbon is actually a mighty river. Even the clouds or hazy skies outside the window have a charm of their own. And the best part perhaps is the night time landing. How slowly the darkness outside changes to twinkling glimmers of the approaching city as the aircraft makes its descent. As the big bird lowers its flight further, suddenly it dawns upon you that the shimmering lights are actually the head lights of the vehicles which now get clearer, brighter and bigger. In a few minutes, as the aircraft hovers over a resplendent airport and makes its final descent, you feel like the angels who are landing to oblige the terra firma.
When you have such sights to behold and admire, who needs a book? Not only you are lost in a world of its own, appreciating the bounties of nature or the achievements of man, you experience a divine calm as well. It also provides an opportunity to look inwards, to ponder, to reflect and to introspect. Many a dormant idea or thought may flash before your eyes. Some nagging problems may find a solution. Or you may recall a half – forgotten song or a couplet. While travelling when I look around and see my fellow passengers lost in their phones, tabs, laptops – it amuses me no ends. Engrossed in their personal screens, ears divorced from the surroundings with the trendiest headphones, I feel for them. They know not what they are missing. The movie on the laptop, the song on the ipod or the chat on the WhatsApp can be available at their homes and offices, but these sights come complimentary with the tickets and stay during the journey only.
Anyway, this was something about the complimentary sights and scenes. Moreover, there is a huge variety of co-passengers, vendors and crew who also provide a fabulous character study and a continuous source of amusement and experience. They come up with an enchantment of a different level. About that , some other time.

My first blog of 2021! Do read, like and comment!