Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Telegram critical, reach immediately!

Along with the death of old technologies a part of our culture dies and our sense of belonging undergoes a change. Isn't this true when typewriters were shelved, when landline telephones gave way to mobile phones and now it's time to perform the last rites of the telegram. These are things we grew up with. We listened to songs on postman delivering letters, we heard movie dialogues on telegrams like "chitthi ko taar samajhna aur jaldi aana..." and we had the hero and the heroine singing romantic songs across telephones. While my parents' generation listened to songs like "mere piya gaye Rangoon kiya hai wahan se telephone..." my generation heard songs like "daakiya daak laya..." Sadly today neither Rangoon exits (it's Yangon) nor does the classic black dial-type telephone nor does its tring tring and postmen are such a rarity!

So this is the inescapable order of evolution and change one adapts to and we seem to be witnessing change like never before, with things getting dated at the drop of a hat. From this perspective, telegram did survive for long, serving us for 163 long years. And it's soon to be a part of history on 15th July 2013. Well, the present generation may not even be able to understand the significance of the telegram and its legacy.

This was when getting a phone connection was a luxury and there was no other means to communicate long distance other than posts. This was when we used to wait for the postman to hear from relatives and friends. This was when letter writing was an art and composing a telegram was a science (demanding brevity of message and economy of words). During those days it was typical to receive telegrams for urgent communication. Not to mention the trepidation with which we received the telegram and opened and read the message, expecting some sad news. Here is the list of standard coded telegraphic messages and greetings.
We used to live on the CIEFL  (now EFLU) campus and we never received posts at home; the posts were sorted out and delivered to the staff members in the office itself before lunch time (for morning post) and before office closing time (for evening post). So, we would wait till my father came home for any letters and greeting cards from relatives and friends. But, it was a different story with telegrams or wires. Telegrams were delivered at home. The postman would normally ring the doorbell and sometimes shout “telegram...”and I remember the apprehensive feeling - not knowing whether it was good news or bad. As it turned out often - the news was mostly related to some family member being critically ill or passing away. Of course there was some good news too, like someone getting blessed with a child or someone visiting us and so on. My other connection with the telegram was the location of the campus near Tarnaka which literally means the Telegraph Office.

As a kid, I remember accompanying my father to the telegraph office to send greetings for weddings and other occasions. "Twenty five" would be the standard coded message he would send which was de-coded as "Convey our blessings to the newly married couple.” Much before texting and SMS came into existence, telegrams have taught us the economy of text and accuracy of meaning with messages like "reached safely" or "call immediately" or "arriving tomorrow."

My last experience with a telegram was the one sent by my father when I was in Bangalore, staying with a friend during my student days. It said “your presence required immediately" and when I read it, I went cold with fear not knowing the context and guessing what really had happened during my absence. This was the problem with telegraphic messages - they were so cryptic that it was difficult to decipher the context or the reason. I had to immediately get in touch with my parents to find out what had happened and why they had to send a telegram.

What else could my father do when there was no phone at my friend's house in Bangalore and posting a letter could take long. If I remember right, the reason for the telegram was not so important or urgent - it had  something to do with my presence at Open University exams invigilation.  My father, being a strict disciplinarian and over-cautious about my professional concerns, found telegram to be the best way to tell me about a professional issue! Simply can't imagine how his mind worked at that moment!

I'm sure all of us had some nervous and emotional moments with the telegrams. In another instance, one of our uncles who was critically ill had passed away and we received the telegram conveying the news. And my father was in the office when we received the telegram, so the challenge was to break the news carefully, as it would disturb him emotionally. So we had to ‘hide’ the telegram till he had his evening tea and relaxed, only them we told him about the death.

Telegram does sound anachronistic in today's fast paced world. However, let's not forget that there were millions who depended on this one-way communication tool for immediate long distance messaging. For thousands of bicycle pedaling postmen it was a means to connect with their customers socially and emotionally.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Mesmerizing Munnar
With the summer at its peak in Hyderabad, sweltering at 43 degrees Celsius, a quickly-planned escape to the hills was the best thing to surprise myself.  I decided almost instinctively Munnar should be my destination, since this is one of the intriguing places I missed experiencing during my last visit to Kerala. I planned to go via Coimbatore and organized my trip with the help of a travel service in Kerala. I’m glad my choice made my journey as interesting as the destination!

Day 1: Call of the hills
The route Coimbatore-Pollachi-Udumalpet-Munnar takes almost five hours in a car. I enjoyed our journey through the coconut farms in Pollachi and the sight of several windmills towards Udumalpet promised a bright future with wind energy. We stopped for lunch at the Gowrikrishna restaurant at Pollachi. The signs of summer were all over Anaimalai forest that was completely dry, and seemed to wait for some showers desperately. As we crossed Chinnar forest, the landscape changed completely with whiff of fresh and cool breeze blowing from the hills. Since it was a Sunday, the climb through the meandering roads was filled with local picnickers stopping their vehicles wherever they found some place.

While it was nice to see the crowds enjoying in the lap of nature, it was not so pleasant so see them littering the roadsides with loads of plastics and non-biodegradable waste. I wish Kerala government had some strict rules about being clean and green! After a drive through Anaimalai and Chinnar forests, we entered Marayur, the sandalwood area that was properly protected with barbed fences.

The road from Marayur to Munnar is lined up with vendors selling mangoes, corn, carrots, beets and other stuff.  Then it was Munnar – the breathtakingly beautiful misty mountains carpeted with acres of tea plantations. The slopes and the undulating hills, dotted with small houses with the gentle and cool breeze made me wonder if it was all real! To experience the verdure of the tea plantations was like a dream come true for me! As our car made its way through the bends and curves, I was constantly looking out at the verdant hues of tea all around me. I simply love tea – in whatever color and form, and the aroma from the tea factories added to the tea-ness of the journey. We reached the hotel towards evening and took rest, enjoying the views from the balcony.

Day 2: On top of the world
I woke up to the pleasant chirping of a variety of birds. The stagnant stream, beside our hotel room,  surrounded by huge trees provided perfect setting for an avian symphony as it were. Soon, there were many birds and many sounds – all in harmony, singing in the glory of nature. As the sun got warmer, the mist on the window panes started melting... After our breakfast, we proceeded to some ‘sight-seeing’ – well, while you are in Munnar, every sight is amazing, every view is picture perfect with the cloud kissed hills. We visited the Madupetty dam, the Echo point and the Top Station. Other than the Top Station, there wasn’t much to see at the dam or the echo point. Again, the places were not maintained properly – littered badly and carelessly.

 The view from Top Station is absolutely stunning. To get to the view point you need to get down the uneven steps , through the sky tunnel to catch a glimpse of nature as it would feel at 6000 feet above the sea level. The panoramic view of the Munnar valley and the western ghats is simply mind blowing from this point. On the way I got to taste a new fruit called tree tomato.  We did not visit other tourist spots like Eravikulam Wildlife Sanctuary, the Elephant Park or the Lakkom waterfalls. These places were filled with tourists and it required lot of walking and waiting which was not suitable for my septuagenarian mother.

In the evening we went shopping for spices and chocolates – the ubiquitous stuff in Munnar. The weather was even more pleasant after some afternoon showers. We also got to taste some freshly made banana chips thanks to our driver Robinson, who doubled up as guide throughout our trip.

Day 3: Of the tea, for the tea and by the tea
The most memorable part of this day is the visit to the tea museum – something unique about Munnar. The Tata Tea Musuem (Kanan Devan Tea Plantations) is an educating and enriching experience. The museum is closed on Mondays.  There’s a small audio-visual presentation with a movie telling us about the history of Munnar which is almost synonymous with the history of tea in this part of the world. The film was educational and provided necessary information to appreciate the place even more. The film is followed by a live demo of the processing that shows different stages of treating the tea. You may simply love the ‘greenish’ smell all around you if you are an ardent lover of tea, like me:)
You also get to see some period furniture and gadgets displayed at the museum. The visit ends with a cup of tea served from the instant tea vending machines. I wish they had served better tea, what after that brief ‘lecture’ on the best ways to enjoy the tea, the machine way is definitely not the best! Perhaps this is a practical option considering the huge number of visitors they get every day. The museum tour ended with some real good tea shopping.

 We also visited the rose garden, which was more like a nursery with the best dahlias, gerberas, roses, daisies, arum lilies, periwinkles and lots of varieties of colourful blossoms. Here the people seemed more impatient in clicking their pictures with all kinds of cameras and phones, than waiting for some minutes to relax and appreciate the beauty of the flowers. Somehow camera crowding mars the experience of nature, which would have otherwise been spared of this rush of posing for pictures and posting them instantly.

An hour in the afternoon was spent wandering around the tea gardens, trying to soak in the abundance of the green wonder. I took pictures of the tea gardens and photographed myself trying to pluck a leaf, just to see how it feels! My bonding with tea was complete!

Day 4: Reluctant return 
There weren’t as many birds as the previous days, but I could hear at least seven different sounds from different directions. I recorded the sounds as a souvenir from these lovely birds in blue, black, brown, yellow and green. After breakfast we checked out of the hotel and started our journey back to Coimbatore. As we were moving away from the misty mountains and the tea carpets, a strange kind of feeling overpowered me. I knew I would miss Munnar in the most Frostian way – I really had miles to go...though not as many promises to keep!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Aditya's life after Maths and Physics

 A short story*

Aditya was lying in a pool of blood; absolutely aghast were Suresh and Reema, standing in front, surrounded by onlookers, neighbours and relatives. The ambulance could be heard from far, and now, it was just about to reach the apartments. Reema was barely able to stand the plight of her son, she fainted and Suresh was reeling under the worst shock of his life, pondering... “What made him do this? How could he jump from the terrace without even thinking twice, so impulsive? Haven’t we provided everything he wanted, where did I go wrong as a father?” He was filled with all kinds of thoughts – regretful, irrational and remorseful. As the boy was being lifted and placed in the ambulance, a note from his trouser pocket just fell on the ground, it read, "I cannot continue to study this way, I don't like it."

Reema was taken to the family doctor for immediate medical care. Though she was conscious, she was freezing with fear, she feared that worse could happen to her only son. Gradually, as the initial shock was wearing off, she screamed loudly and cried inconsolably. It was difficult for Dr. Ashok to pacify her. The relatives and neighbours gathered around her and tried to tell her that Aditya will safely return home. But nothing could control her at the moment; she was filled with intense grief at her son’s attempt to end his life. “He’s just sixteen and he is such a bright child, he never troubled us and always listened to us, I’ve always tried to be his friend, he used to share everything with me, how could he think of leaving us...we have so many expectations from him.”

“Calm down Reema, take care of yourself, he’ll be alright... we all understand, both of you have been such wonderful parents, please avoid thinking negatively, Aditya will be fine soon”, comforted Ranjana, her sister-in-law, who lived in the same apartment complex.

Aditya was battling for life in the operation theatre. The fall from the seventh floor was almost fatal, damaging his brain and bones. There was very little the surgeon could do. “We have just completed the surgery and sent the patient to the ICU, let’s wait for twelve hours for the patient to respond”, Dr. Taneja told Suresh who had gone completely pale with the news reaching his office first thing in the morning. He still could not figure how getting less marks and a lower grade in two subjects could make a strong-willed boy like Aditya to take this extreme step. Tears were rolling down his cheeks and his brother Rajesh could do little to help him. The hospital provided Suresh a specialist in trauma care. Reema joined him a little later. As soon as he saw Reema, he broke down again and held her closely as both tried to console each other. They refused to eat anything, they even refused to drink water. All they did was to pray for the recovery of their son.

Twenty four hours had passed after the surgery, there were no positive signs.  Aditya had gone into coma – the doctors declared. The police arrived at the hospital and inquired about the incident. Suresh was not in a condition to talk to the police. A family friend visited the police station and provided all the details. The police decided to postpone the inquiry on humanitarian grounds.

The parents could not bear to see their son lying still, speechless, motionless. They would not budge from the bed, both of them trying to speak to him and tell him things that they thought he would like to hear. “Alright, Aditya, if you did not like Maths and Physics, you could have changed your subjects, why didn’t you tell us earlier, were you so scared of your dad and mom?” Suresh whispered to Aditya.

Days turned into weeks and it was already fourth week in the hospital. It was feeding time one afternoon and Reema was trying to help the nurse in feeding Aditya. She held the nurse’s hand tightly and started weeping, remembering the day when Aditya came to know that he hadn’t done well in his 11th grade public exams. Aditya was a sincere and hardworking student and took his studies seriously. However no matter how hard he worked, he could not secure top marks or the best grade in the class. Often, he used to question himself, “do I really like Maths and Science” or “have I chosen these subjects because I cannot displease my parents”, Aditya was old enough to know what his likes and dislikes were. He excelled at creative writing, table tennis and music. It was his passion to write blogs, short stories and poems. Often, he would write them secretly not letting his parents know that he was wasting time on useless things.

Suresh was working as a Delivery Head at an MNC and Reema was working as a Quality Analyst in a software firm. Both were post-graduates in Science; apparently, their limited knowledge and deliberate ignorance about various options in higher education made them close themselves to other options and choose the science stream for their son. Reema was very particular from the day Aditya was admitted in the primary school that he should fulfil her dreams in pursuing Artificial Intelligence at a premier university in the USA. For Suresh, there was nothing before and after engineering subjects. He devalued humanities and arts and never paid attention to Aditya’s love for writing and music, let alone encourage him in developing his interests.

Aditya was eight when he participated in the annual event at school. For an eight year old, he could sing marvelously. The parents attended the school function and saw Aditya getting first prize for singing in the under-12 group. Aditya’s talent was appreciated by the principal and the teachers. To some extent, looking at the boy’s passion for singing, the parents enrolled him in music classes but this was not done whole heartedly.  Their encouragement was not genuine; it was more of a gesture not to displease him.  Aditya was not strong enough to put his foot down and reject the science stream for his higher secondary school. He gave in to his parent's pressure without even objecting to it and joined the college that coaches students for all the competitive exams in the field of engineering and medicine. He was slogging throughout the day and night. He could not pursue his other interests like writing and music. He hated the way they made him mug up and prepare for the exams at the coaching classes.

Both Reema and Suresh appropriately moulded Aditya from his childhood, sending him to every possible competitive event in Science and Maths, enrolling him all the hobby courses that could blinker his vision to focus only on Science. They loved their son so much that they wanted him to fulfil their dreams and expectations, little worrying about what the boy was good at, what his natural talents were, what his dreams were and not even giving him time to blossom and open up.

In a way, Aditya had very little of his choice in his scholastic and extracurricular life. Everything was chosen by his parents. He was sent to chess coaching because Reema felt that learning to play chess would help him grow intellectually too.  At one phase in middle school, the boy was made to study advanced Mathematics just to prove to the rest of the students that he was exceptional in Mathematics, little realizing that his wizardry in maths could make him lose friends who saw him as a geek showing off his advanced knowledge and disturbing the class with his pre-studied answers. Often the teacher in the class would shout at him, “Aditya, don’t reveal all the answers, just because you have solved the problems beforehand... let other students solve the problems by themselves.”

“Aditya, have you started preparing for the national talent search exams?” Reema would make sure that he prepares well for the exams and scores highest. But, sadly that was not to be. Aditya failed to qualify in the talent search and the parents were disappointed. For most part, it seemed like their mission in life was to show to the world that they have a son who was simply exceptional in Maths and Science and who would excel in these subjects with highest honours.

Sad, but it was not true, this was not to be.  Their son was neither a wizard nor a magician to meet all the expectations and perform miracles, he was simply a teenager like many other young adults growing up to explore, discover and learn. Though he was a bit of a loner, he enjoyed the company of his close friends and wanted to have fun. The fact that Aditya never complained about his forced choice of studies doesn’t mean he was happy with it.

As he was being treated in the state of coma, the parents were regularly undergoing trauma care sessions with an expert at the hospital. The specialist had told them enough about how some children would passively go through the emotional and intellectual turbulence and rarely react or never show it overtly. This was the case with Aditya. He swallowed his feelings and his resentment and pretended that he could complete his studies as per his parents’ wish. Perhaps he feared his parents’ reaction if he had told them the truth about his actual preferences for higher studies.

Somehow, the love and the bonding between the parents and the child seemed to rest on a series of misgivings about each other.

It was the thirty-fifth day in coma when Aditya breathed his last.

He entered a life beyond Maths and Physics.

*This story is inspired by the mad-rush-for-maths-n-science syndrome that affects millions of teenagers in India, thanks to the parental pressure and social compulsion.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Sugarfree, rich chocolate brownie and 'resistible temptations'

The sight of sumptuous 'snacks' on the evening flight was simply irresistible. A large chocolate brownie in a layer of warm-and-melting rich chocolate sauce, potato cutlet with curried paneer, a nice and fresh vegetable sandwich and some freshly made hot tea! What else does one need after a tiring day mostly spent travelling. I was hungry too; I found the snacks to be great accompaniments with the fun movie I was watching. 

After finishing the sandwich and the cutlet I wondered whether I should really go for the brownie - couldn't resist and gave in. All the same, a thought about the unwanted calories was making me feel slightly guilty now that I recently started on a fitness plan, on a serious note. As if this was not enough, my co-passenger who seemed to enjoy his snack suddenly realized he should cut down on sugar. 

He called the flight attendants and asked for some Sugarfree in his coffee. I found it amusing. I couldn't understand this not-so-elderly-gentleman insisting on Sugarfree while he was going easy on the chocolate brownie. I wondered how a little bit of sugarless coffee would help him balance the rich sugary high-caloried brownie, and cut down the calories if it's got to do with that! Is it like being penny-wise-pounds-foolish in weight loss jargon, I wondered! 

Well, to tell you the truth, I really don't bother about serious exercising, fitness regimes, diet plans or any of that kind of stuff - not because I get carried away by typical 'compliments' on my Facebook pictures, but ...either I'm too lazy to join a gym or it's simply something that doesn't get prioritized. Knowing well that this may not be the way to go as you add years to your life - occasionally I get into a little bit of Yoga and some stretching to go along with it. Though I might have 'looked the same after years' to my old friends but slowly and gradually the flab and the excess fat does get noticed and some 'symptoms' that demand some quick attention. Inevitable thing it is! Thus began my 'self-induction' program on topics like calories, cardio, abs, cross trainers, treadmills and so on.

Thanks to our sedentary life style and the lack of discipline, fitness topics are always hotly discussed and debated. It is so true to read ' sitting is the new smoking of our generation...' or celebrity-inspired bestsellers like 'Don't lose your mind lose your weight' and the plethora of TV shows on yoga, diet and fitness equipment. In fact, everybody seems to have an opinion on what works and what to eat. And, those slimming saloons that advertise with 'before-and-after' pictures must be contributing vastly to an industry that works mostly on its own terms and conditions! The commoditized weight-loss packages come with several conditions for lasting results - this is something I learnt interacting with my friends who enrolled for such programs. So how does one control weight by not getting caught in the commercial aspects and calories-based arithmetics? Is controlling weight the same as feeling fit? The former is about getting physical fit and the latter is more about feeling happy, confident, enthusiastic, energetic  etc  etc to do things, right?  

So, are there some things called ‘resistible temptations’?  Sounds paradoxical, doesn’t it? I’m sure there are whole lot of things that can be resisted. I had so many of them in front of me, when I was thinking about various options to stay fit. The feeling of ‘let-me-sleep-a-little-more’ after snoozing the alarm could be one of them. Or, simply keep procrastinating and enjoy the feeling that I'll do it some day, when time comes.  Or, let-me- skip-the –exercise-today-and –work-out-extra tomorrow’ could be another. Or, let me spend the whole day in front of the TV munching some snacks and go for a long walk tomorrow ! Or, let me not bother about what the physician has suggested and do my own things till something serious happens ! Or, Wait, wait, I'm not one of those who needs physical exercise, I used to be an athlete in my college’! Or, one last time today – will-enjoy-the-meal- and from tomorrow miss my meals to compensate. Or, a sudden inspiration to burn calories by rigorous training followed by complete inactivity. Or, enrolling in a hugely demanding fitness program and not following it up well – regretting it was money and not calories that got burnt! Or, keep adding to your wardrobe to accommodate the changing waistline.  Or, feel happy that you are a vegetarian and you’ll not have problems. Or... well, there could be so many more!

For me, it was like 'just do it', because too much of thinking is not good for health! In one of those moments when you get emotional about 'if I don't care about my health and fitness who else will' - I told myself that I'll work out in the way that suits me without denying  myself the pleasures of simple veggie food.

Given a choice I'd love to eat whatever I like without thinking or caring a bit for how many calories it has or how it adds to weight gain. A couple of years back I purchased the book "Don't lose your mind, lose your weight" more because it was available for half the price on a sale at Landmark. It was a latent desire perhaps...I was secretly longing to know what this size zero diet is all about! Now that I had bought the book, I skimmed through some pages and found some tips useful. For example, the author insisted on never having tea or coffee, in empty stomach first thing in the morning. I knew many people prefer to have their morning tea with biscuits or cookies. But I somehow never liked that combination. It would simply ruin the taste of the first tea of the day. I found my solution and it helps when you need to do lot of work in the morning. This is as far as diet is concerned. And what about physical activity, that burning-the-calories- type of stuff? For that too, I made a sound decision. And going ahead I feel I'll not think too much about how many calories the brownie will add and simply eat!