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If I can just give to the world more than I take from it, I will be a very happy man. For there is no greater joy in life than to give. Motto : Live, Laugh and Love. You can follow me on Twitter too . My handle is @Raja_Sw.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Drift


In hindsight, I suppose it had to happen sooner or later.

Our relationship, at the best of times, had been struggling for real warmth. Cosiness was a level it never ever came close to.

At other times, it was about two indifferent people. Living together, but indifferent to each other’s existence.

She would do her thing, I’d do mine. She was musically-inclined – especially interested in classical music. I tried getting into that world – but found myself completely out of my depth in it. She was interested in fine dining, with a meticulous interest in learning new recipes and experimenting with food. And while I appreciated this, and even participated in some of these experiments, I wasn’t quite able to garner anything close to her level of enthusiasm for it.

My interest, on the other hand, lay in news. I was a news junkie – every day, I’d follow every little news item of the day. From multiple sources. Analysed in detail by multiple experts. I’d make my own analysis of it all – and even try to explain it to her. Not that she was really interested in it. Her interest in the news was at a headline level – five minutes of the headlines.

I must admit she never once complained that I didn’t share her interests. Nor did she ever make a fuss about the fact that I was always glued to the news. In fact, she just wasn’t the type to complain. She seemed happy to be left alone to do her thing. And to let me do my thing. Sometimes, we’d go hours without speaking to each other, even if we were in the same room!

That the marriage lasted as long as it did, seems now, in hindsight, as some sort of mini-miracle. I can’t help wondering how we went on for so long.

Eleven long years. Yes, that’s how long we stayed together.

And long years they certainly were.

Pretending that everything was fine. Pretending that this was how married life usually panned out anyway. Pretending that being together was the most important thing anyway.

We didn’t have fights or anything of the sort. Most couples do tend to have tiffs – we surprisingly had very few of them, if at all. In fact, I cannot remember any.

And yet, there was no love in our marriage. We were two individuals, living together under one roof. That was it.

To the outside world, we were a fine couple. We didn’t have many friends - and the few we had were not particularly intrusive anyway. Although there was that one occasion on our tenth wedding anniversary when one of our friends gave us a surprise visit and almost caught on to the sham that our relationship was. We were not celebrating the occasion – and we had to think up a reason quickly for him.

That was the tenth anniversary.

I don’t even remember the ones before the tenth. They are a blur – much as those years are.

By the time the eleventh came around, I guess I should have been more prepared. For the eventuality that there wouldn’t be a twelfth.

But I wasn’t. To me, life with her, even if it wasn’t with her in a traditional sense, wasn’t really bad.  Ok, so we’d never really been madly in love with each other but we’d been together for a big part of our lives. Surely that counted for something. And she had never once hurt me, even if she’d not been exactly generous in showering love.

I figured it was the same with her. And maybe that is why we’d been together all those years. Without love, but caring enough about each other, not to think of rocking the boat.

No, I wasn’t one bit prepared when she broached the subject.

“How old would Jack have been, you think?” she asked me one evening after dinner. Normally she would have been preparing for her post-dinner dose of music, just as I would be getting ready to catch the latest breaking news happening around the world. But that evening she actually started a conversation.

Jack - one of the middle-aged men we often came across in the neighbourhood. We didn’t know him very well, but he was a cheerful sort and we’d exchange greetings with him whenever we’d see him.  A pleasant man, who seemed not to have a worry in this world.  Until he suddenly collapsed one day on the street and was rushed to hospital, only to be pronounced dead on arrival. A massive heart attack, they said.

“I don’t know – maybe 55?”

“Poor guy, that’s no age to go”.

I didn’t say anything. This had happened just a few days earlier and I was still a bit shaken by Jack’s death – it had all been so sudden. He’d never looked ill, or been ailing in hospital, or anything of the sort.

“I think life’s too short to let it just drift”.

I still didn’t say anything. I saw it as just a philosophical remark, not as a lead-up to anything significant.

“Maybe we shouldn’t waste it anymore”.

I looked straight at her. This was suddenly looking like more than just philosophical. What was she really trying to say?

She looked straight back at me.

“Look here, we’re not getting any younger. I’ve been thinking of talking to you about this for a while now, but just didn’t know how to bring it up. Now, after Jack…” Her voice trailed away.

“What are you trying to say?” I was beginning to realize this was the most significant conversation we’d had in ages.

“Well, you know we’re not really the greatest couple out there. We’re not going to win the World’s Best Couple prize or anything”.

“No, we aren’t”. I managed a bit of a hollow laugh. It was the truth, there was no denying it.

“So I was just thinking, we’ve been together so long but in effect…” She paused, then resumed “In effect, we’ve just been drifting all these years, don’t you think?”

“Well…I don’t know about that” I was trying to make it sound better than it was, but I knew it was the truth.

“Come on, you know that’s how it’s been. We haven’t really had much of a truly married life, have we? We’re together…but we’re not REALLY together, are we? You know what I mean”.

I knew EXACTLY what she meant. But I was just too taken aback for words.

She went on “So I was just thinking. The way Jack’s gone…you never know how much more we have. You and I. I’m not sure we’re doing the smart thing by just chugging along like this”.

I was still too stunned to say anything. My wife had never been one for many words – in fact, that might have been one of the reasons we didn’t really connect very strongly. She’d been happy to live in her own world, as I’d been in mine. Sharing thoughts and ideas had never been her strong point. Nor mine, for that matter.

But she was not done yet.

“I think we should live the rest of our lives at least on our own individual terms. The way we’d like to. Whatever’s left of it.”

This was about the most direct statement yet that we were going to split – without saying it in so many words.

“What are you saying?” I was beginning to understand exactly what she was saying – but it was still taking some time to sink in.

“All I’m saying is, maybe we should just go our own separate ways from now on. Yes, that’s what I think I’m saying”. Her voice faltered just a bit, as if that last bit had come out only with great effort.

I think I also just caught a glint of a tear in her left eye.

“But…I don’t know.” I was struggling. She’d said it – and now it was my turn to respond. “We’ve managed ok so far. Ok, so it hasn’t been a “dream come true” sort of married life but hey, we’ve pulled along for so long already, haven’t we? It’s been what, eleven years now? Going on twelve?”

I could now see more than one tear. Welling up.

“That’s what we’ve been doing, John. Pulling along. Just pulling along. And I don’t think that’s what married life is meant to be. Let’s face it  - we don’t exactly have anything in common, we hardly talk to each other. We’ve somehow gone on for eleven years -  and I don’t have a problem as such with you, but…but…”

Her voice cracked – she couldn’t go on. She was now weeping.

I instinctively put my arm around her and pulled her towards me to comfort her. I might not have been in love with her in the usual sense of the term – but if she was weeping, I was weeping too. Within.

“I think we can work it out, honey”.  I managed to say.

“No, we CAN’T.” She pulled away and sounded surprisingly animated. “You know this is the ONLY way. We don’t have an eternity to live – and I don’t want us to go on like this. I don’t want you to waste your years with me…and I don’t…”

She didn’t have to complete her sentence. I knew where it was going – she didn’t want to spend the rest of her years with me. More accurately, she didn’t want to WASTE the rest of her years with me. That was what life with me would mean for her – a waste.

I didn’t know what to say. I knew I should say something – but I just didn’t know what.

“I think it’s all for the best”. She was now more composed. “It’s not like we have children or anything. Nobody’s going to get hurt. It will take a bit of adjustment, that’s all. But that’s for the best”.

She had made up her mind. Strangely, in all these years that we’d been together – when our relationship had been lukewarm for the most part  - I’d never seriously thought it would come to this. I’d been happy to pretend that everything was fine. And I had been pretending for SO long, I had been deluding myself for SO long that I had built a comfortable rosy glass image of our life.

Only now, that glass image was being shattered to smithereens.

She went silent. Clearly she’d said all she wanted to say – and was waiting for me.

“Looks like you’ve made up your mind then?”

She nodded. “It’s not just for me, John. You will do much better without me, I’m sure”.

I wasn’t so sure. I hadn’t ever thought about it – and clearly she had. At least for the last few days. I wondered why I hadn’t noticed her behaving any differently the last few days. And then realized, I hardly ever noticed her, how she behaved, what she did. She’d just been there – all these eleven years.

“Are you ok?” She could see me struggling to take all of this in. I wasn’t good at dealing with even small surprises. And this was like a “wham!”.

“Yeah…yeah…I’m…I’m ok”. I managed to blurt out. I wasn’t ok but I wasn’t going to collapse in a heap. I had to deal with this – and I had to deal with it by myself. It suddenly struck me that I’d have to deal with quite a few things by myself from then on.

“You’ll be all right?”  I managed to ask. Not that it seemed a particularly necessary question. She was dealing with it all much better than I was. But then she’d had more time to think about it.

“Yeah. I think it’s for the best, John. And we can always meet up from time to time. It’s not like we’re at each other’s throats, are we?” She said with a laugh. Yes, she was dealing with it much better than I was.

“No, it’s not”.

So that was it.

We completed the formalities in less than two weeks. Eleven days, to be precise. It took exactly eleven days to end eleven years of married life.

I’ve never met her since. Both of us moved out of our apartment – it was a rented one anyway. She did give me a forwarding phone number. I did speak to her once – about three months after we’d split up. It was one of those spur-of-the-moment things when I just wanted to know how she was doing. Or, to be more honest, wanted to hear her voice. We spoke for just a couple of minutes – but that was enough for me to realize that she’d moved on. She asked me how I was doing – I lied, saying I was doing fine. I wasn’t – but I wasn’t going to let her know.

It’s been three years now. My life’s taken a different turn. I now live in a different city. I’ve made new friends. I do sometimes think about the past – but then I realize that life is full of chapters, and the past is a closed chapter. One has to live in the moment – and look ahead.

And if there’s one thing about life that is an absolute truth, there’s no room in it for “what ifs”.

*Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction and bears no resemblance whatsoever to the reality in my life.* 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Paani, paani re... Water! Water!


Shekhar Kapur, noted film director, is far more than just a film director. He has been taking up various public causes from time to time - most recently, and vocally, on water.

Today he has published an article in Tehelka magazine, raising some extremely pertinent questions. Whose water is it anyway? Who owns the groundwater? Who owns the rivers?

His article can be found here.

Inspired by his article, I have penned a few lines myself on this subject.

Paani, paani re (Water! Water!)
-----------------
Kabhi kudrat ki den thi
Amoolya aur bharpoor
Humne hi nahin ki qadr
Hai hamara hi qasoor

Hamari ye nadiyaan
Aur poonji neeche zameen ke
Sabko hamne hai kiya nasht
Rahenge na hum kaheen ke

Makaan banaayen hum zor shor se
Aur tanker se paani mangwaayen
Jo haq hamesha tha har kisi ka
Usi par hum ab mol lagwaayen

Abhi to hai shuruvaat kisse ki
Abhi to hona hai bhayankar
Jab gali gali mein jang chhidegi
Bachaane na aayega Ram ya Shankar



Translation

Once it was a gift of nature
Invaluable and plentiful
It is we who failed to respect it
It is we who are to blame

These rivers of ours
And this wealth under our land
We have destroyed them all
We will end up nowhere

We build buildings with great enthusiasm
And we order water in tankers
What was once every man's right
We now put a price on it

This is just the beginning
This is going to get even scarier
When there are battles on every street
Even your Ram or Shankar (Shiv) will not come to save you!



Transliteration

पानी पानी रॆ
-----------------
कभी कुदरत की देन थी
अमूल्य और भरपूर
हमने ही नही की कद्र 
है हमारा ही कसूर

हमारी सारी नदियाँ 
और पूंजी नीचे ज़मीन के
सबको हमने है किया नष्ट 
रहेंगे ना हम कहीं के

मकान बनाएं हम ज़ोर-शोर से
और टैंकर से पानी मंगवाएं 
जो हक़ हमेशा था हर किसी का
उसी पर हम अब मोल लगवाएं

अभी तो है शुरुवात किस्से की
अभी तो होना है भयंकर
जब गली गली मे जंग छिड़ेगी 
बचाने ना आएगा राम या शंक












Maharashtra Drought - Reading a farmer's mind!


The Indian state of Maharashtra is facing a drought of gigantic proportions. Vast sections of the state are reeling under drought. 

The deputy Chief Minister of the State, Ajit Pawar, visited the affected areas. He was once Water Resources Minister of the State and, thanks to some shocking decisions taken in his time and large-scale corruption, is largely responsible for the current state of affairs.

In a speech during his recent visit, let alone being of any help or support to the locals, all he could do was to mock at their situation. He made a shocking statement saying something like "What do you expect me to do? Urinate to fill the dams?"

THIS is the level of sensitivity of some of our politicians! This remark just exemplifies the huge chasm that exists between those in power and those on the ground.

I tried to put myself in a farmer's position to imagine what he must be going through. This poem is a result - a reflection of his mind.


-------


Kadakti hai dhoop

Pyaase hain honth
Bache hain bilbilaate
Par ek boond paani nahin

Patte hain sookhe
Daraar hain zameen par
Baarish ki nahin aasha
Haalaat ye insaani nahin

Kis ko sunaayen dukhda
Kya kya hum bataayen
Aankhon mein khud dekh lo
Kya dikhti hairaani nahin

Aaye the sheher se wo
Dekhne haalat apni
Hans diye munh par wo
Jaise unki pareshaani nahin

Jald aayega wo din bhi
Baari hogi hamaari
Dikhayenge unko hum
Chalegi unki man-maani nahin


Translation

The sun beats down relentlessly
The lips are parched
The children cry non-stop
But there's not one drop of water

The leaves have all dried up
There are cracks on the ground
There's no hope of rain
These are inhuman conditions

Who do we tell our tale to
What all do we tell them
If you just look into my eyes
Can't you see for yourself my misery?

He had come from the city
To check out our condition
He laughed at us to our face
As if it is none of his problem

That day is not far away
When it will be our turn
Then we will show you
You cannot always get your way!!!


 ***

Saturday, April 06, 2013

My Experiments with Truth - My Darling Niece



An experience today of a friend of mine, playing a computer game with his son, reminded me of my experience a few months ago with my 6-year old niece.

She was on the iPad, playing a game. (I don’t remember what it was called, but it involved connecting dots of different colors).

Now, of the many modern-day skills that I do NOT possess, one that I am particularly inept at, is computer games. Indeed, I AM the dumbest guy in the whole wide world when it comes to computer games of ANY sort. The last game I remember playing was Pac-Man, way back in the 1980s. And I was hopeless at that too. And there was another game with bricks falling from the ceiling onto the floor, where you're supposed to to prevent the bricks from hitting the floor. When I'd play, within five seconds, all the bricks would be on the floor!

I’ve not really played a computer game since those extremely humbling moments of the 1980s. I’ve been very occasionally persuaded to take part in a game, got myself thoroughly thrashed and humiliated – and left the field, cursing myself, and vowing never to go near  one of those “things” again.

But here was my sweet little niece on the iPad – playing this game like it was 1+2. I watched her with admiration and amusement as she made her rapid moves in the game, muttering to herself occasionally, completely oblivious to the world around her.

I was happy to just be around her – let’s face it, if you want to bond with a little kid nowadays, you need to probably first bond with the gadgets and devices that they bond with. :-)

She looked up and saw me. Then, giving me the sweetest of smiles, she thrust the iPad in my hand. “Here, Raja Peppa , you play” (In Tamil, one's father’s older brother is called Peri-appa, which she pronounces as Peppa).

My immediate instinct was to run away as far as possible - but that would mean running away from her. And that, I wouldn’t ever want to do.

So I said, in as calm a tone as I could muster, “It is ok. You play. You’re doing very well”. And handed the iPad back to her.

I didn’t quite realize that when she’d said “you play”, it wasn’t a request. It was an order.

“No, peppa, YOU PLAY”. And the iPad was back in my (trembling) hands.

I looked around – there was thankfully nobody around. “Ok, so what do I have to do?” I asked her in a soft voice.

“You have to connect. Pink to pink, red to red, blue to blue, green to green”.

“Ok, let me try”.

Needless to mention, I messed up. Bad.

Red wasn’t connecting to red, not without being intercepted by blue. And, just when I thought I’d been very smart by somehow, circuitously, making the green connection, I found it totally messed up the pink line. So I had to undo it – and was soon back at square one.

I will grant it to her – she was patient to start with. Very patient. She kept muttering something under her breath – I think she'd got it all worked out in her head in five seconds, and was just repeating the steps to herself.

But the patience had to wear out sometime. Her initial encouraging comment of “You can do it, Peppa” became a “It is SO EASY!”, with a sigh and a look that clearly translated in simple English to “What is WRONG with this guy?”.

As I continued to fumble, the refrain became "Even I (emphasis on I) can do it, it is SO EASY! Peppa!”. (Children have this very mistaken impression that whatever they can do, adults can do so much faster and better. We all know how true THAT is, when it comes to computer games).

After a few minutes, she said “OK, give it to me”. Again, not a request. An order.

I was more than happy to comply with it. “Phew, THAT went well!” I thought.

But she wasn’t done yet.

She lowered one level (I think from 5 to 4) – and the iPad was back in my hands.

This now became even MORE embarrassing – clearly my targets had been lowered, because her expectations had been lowered. And that's never a particularly healthy boost to one’s  self-worth.

I will not attempt to describe in detail the next few minutes. The muttering, the expressions of incredulity at the pathetic sight that lay before her. And the constant “It is SO EASY, it is SO EASY!”.

The level went from 4 to 3. And 3 to 2.

At 2, when there was not a SHRED of self-worth left anymore to be demolished, she finally said “Ok, now GIVE it to me!” If resignation has been written on any face quite as explicitly and unforgivingly as that, I hadn’t seen it in my life yet.

My limitless shamelessness meant that I happily took the cue and gave her back the iPad, without the slightest protest of “Give me a few minutes. At this level, I should be able to do it”.

But within a few seconds, the iPad was back in my hands.

With the level ZERO.

“ NOW YOU SHOULD BE ABLE TO DO IT, PEPPA!”.

I will not embarrass myself further by telling you how it went from there.

Good thing kids have short memories.

And, it's a good thing that, for all the advancement science has made over the years, it's yet to come up with a way to measure embarrassment.


UPDATE: After my sister-in-law read this post, she asked my niece whether she remembered this incident. And apparently she still remembers it! Ok, probably not the details, but she remembers that I tried my hand at the game. Apparently she told her Mom "He tried". I'm happy if THIS is her lasting impression of the incident. :-)