Wednesday, January 23, 2019

A ragpicker's tale

© Prashant C. Trikannad
If you're commuting by Mumbai's notoriously popular suburban trains, called locals, and you're looking for something to post or write about, all you've to do is keep your eyes and ears open, and a story will present itself.

A lot happens on the Lifeline, as the city's tri-suburban rail network is known. There is plenty of humour and laughter, fights and rapprochement, love and prayers, singing and dinner preps, forty winks, small trade, celebrations and more. With an estimated 7.5 million people travelling in nearly 2,500 trains daily, or roughly 2.7 billion people every year, it's practically a city on wheels. Even hell on wheels, for people also die, either falling off overcrowded trains or crossing the tracks. When the trains stop, as they often do during floods in monsoon, Mumbai grinds to a halt.

© Prashant C. Trikannad
The other day a scavenger, unable to gain a foothold in the luggage compartment next door, boarded my second-class coach with his large filthy sack of discards and was promptly taken to task by other commuters for blocking the entrance.

"How dare you call this trash?" he shouted back in Hindi. "This is my livelihood. This is my income. The little I get out of it."

A dozen voices fell silent. None could argue with that. Whatever else he may be, the ragpicker was doing his job, as first among equals in a city of unequals.

Friday, January 11, 2019

The Tree Analogy

A gentleman on LinkedIn put up a nice analogy of a tree, comparing its different parts—leaves, branches, trunk and rootsto the people we meet at different times in our lives and our association with those people. It could last a very short time or it could last till death do us part.

The person invited readers to share their own analogy of the tree. Here is mine.

Roots: My inner spirit
eternal and deathless

Trunk: My physical being
transient, here today and gone tomorrow

Branches: My thoughts — growing in all directions, and yet going nowhere

Leaves: My Speech
scattered and blowing in the wind

In essence, Roots is all that matters. Everything else is transitory.

This was fun.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Thank God it's Friday

Every Friday evening, I leave the office feeling exhilarated. Happy to be alive. Happier than on a Monday morning when I have to drag myself out of bed, into the bathroom, and to work. Author Ray Bradbury described that break-of-the-day experience, peculiar to the human race, like stepping on a landmine and blowing to pieces.

I used to feel the same way back in school. Only now I don't wear a uniform, though I still carry a shoulder bag, an ID, a tiffin, a bottle of water, report to the boss instead of to a teacher, sit on a swivel chair instead of on a wooden bench, and do office-work instead of homework. Of course, I now earn money instead of pocket money. Minus taxes, nothing beats a paycheck, not even an A+ report card.

Photo by Tyler Nix/Unsplash
Not a refreshing thought on the first day of the week. Ideally, Monday ought to be a day for counting our blessings, a day for dropping prejudices and starting over with a clean slate, a day leading up to another week of exciting possibilities and productive results.

As I make my way from the office to the station, on Friday evening, as pleasant as only a Friday can be, I think of all the things I can (and mostly) indulge in over the weekend—dine out with the family, catch up on my reading, watch a good movie, write a book review, meet up with friends, meditate more, go for walks, write a short story, play chess, add a chapter to my nonfiction book, travel, visit literary blogs, paint a bit, sit with my comic-books, solve crosswords, listen to music, play Scrabble, walk my dog, stay up late Friday and Saturday, sleep in late Saturday and Sunday.

I can hear a voice telling me, "That's a lot of stuff. Do you really do all of that?"

"Actually, I do, though not necessarily in that order." I answer. "I like to toss it around from one weekend to another."

Weekenders like me are a privileged lot. Pampered like a spoilt child. People who treat their two precious weekly offs like they're on a little vacation all the time. They even take their five-day week for granted. "It's only Monday, I wish it was Friday already."

Photo by rawpixel/Unsplash
But millions are not so lucky.

As I greeted family and friends four days into the New Year, I read a piece in the newspapers that both elated and dejected me. The new government in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh had introduced a weekly off for all its policemen. The cops were to be entitled to the off on any one day of the week. For some, it was the first time in over three decades of service. Until now, they had to take casual or earned leave to celebrate birthdays or attend weddings, take their families on vacations or just sit at home and relax.

Can you even imagine that? An entire week without a single off, for weeks, months and years together! That too, in these times when the world of human resources is empathising with employees and finding new ways to make life less stressful in the workplace. I still can't wrap my mind around it.

And guess what happened when the police reform was announced? Some of the cops who got their first weekly break allowed their children to miss school and took them out on picnics and visits.

As Sub-Inspector Uma Shankar Mishra of Habibganj police station in Bhopal city told The Times of India, “It feels awesome. I stayed with my family and even tried to finish as much pending work as I could. It's the same feeling you get when you take a first vacation. I joined the force in 1981 and this is the first time I got a weekly off. It helps relieve stress. I have my entire family with me today. My sons have grown up and there are daughters-in-law. Today, it really felt like family."

From all the depressing news that leaps at you from the front pages of newspapers nowadays, this came like a breath of fresh air, smelling of cinnamon mint.

For several years, I worked six-day weeks and grumbled about it. Then I worked only first and third Saturdays, and still complained. Now that I get two weekly offs, I can't have enough of it. I think the reason I feel that way about my weekends is because, as I grow older, I have learnt to value my time more and use as many days available to me to do all of the stuff I mentioned above and more, for those are the things that give me a sense of purpose, and immense joy and satisfaction.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Writing on the move

Photo by Ilya Ilford/Unsplash
One of the earliest lessons I learnt in journalism over three decades ago was to write anything, anywhere. In those days there were no instant texting devices like smartphones. You had to rely on a pen or pencil and a pocket notebook. If you were waiting for a bus or a train and you observed something interesting, you were advised to pull out the little book from your pocket and jot down whatever you saw, like cops at a crime scene. It was a good suggestion but I found it rather cumbersome and never followed it up.

My course lecturer told me, "Don't forget to mention the date, so ten years from now you'll know exactly where and when you wrote it down. Who knows, one day it could become part of a story or novel you're writing."

Now you can type out your experiences, ideas and thoughts on your phone in the blink of an eye and even forward it to friends and strangers on social media. Either way it was meant to cultivate the habit of writing, anything, a lead, a verse, a limerick, a story or just thoughts. A walking (digital) diary of sorts.

That little writing tip often comes back to me when I'm travelling. For instance, last evening, as I was returning home by train from another city, I wrote this little piece of flash fiction, a story in 25 words, on my phone.

Kunjambu was 58, a dignified and soft-spoken white-haired gentleman, almost grandfatherly in his manner, a night away from retirement, a suicidal bullet from solitary death.

Maybe I'll expand it into something else. I have opened the window a crack. Why not open it fully and admire the view outside? Like they say, when opportunity (or an idea) knocks...

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

'What we become depends on what we read'

English painter-illustrator Helen Allingham's 1879 painting of Carlyle. © Wikipedia
What we become depends on what we read after all of the professors have finished with us. The greatest university of all is a collection of books.
— Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), Scottish philosopher, satirical writer, essayist, historian, mathematician and teacher.

I came across this telling quote of Thomas Carlyle while searching the internet for quotes about book-reading, and I liked it instantly. Then as I read about Carlyle, I saw his wonderful portrait by English painter-illustrator Helen Allingham, and I liked that too. I think what Carlyle is essentially saying is that, while academic learning is a necessity, to the extent it provides us with a formal education, it has its boundaries. You don't stop learning upon the acquisition of a degree and a job. You continue to learn and broaden your mind, you stretch your imagination, through books, travels and sometimes by merely listening; provided, of course, you still have the desire to walk on the path of knowledge long after you've walked out of the university. When I read the words 
What we become... I can't help thinking that Carlyle might have been referring to metaphysical learning—and that comes from deep within us, our inner experience.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Poetry: I Never Had a Friend

Prashant C. Trikannad

Photo by 2Photo Pots/Unsplash
I never had a friend
Till I found a book
And opening a secret door
Beckoned me to enter.

Gingerly, I stepped inside
The book by my side
"Don't be afraid," she said
Holding me by the hand.

We walked, we leaped
Through hidden passages
Filled with golden letters
And meaningful words.

"Where are we?" I asked
"What is this beautiful place?"
"This, my friend, is where I live
And you can live with me too."

I never had a friend
Till I met a book
Who read me tales
To love and to treasure.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

The art of the matter

You will never know you still have it till you give it a shot again. That's how I rediscovered my aptitude for art and with it a passion I'd long forgotten. I gave up drawing and painting more than two decades ago. But guess what? Turns out you don't easily forget the things you learnt in the distant past. Like cycling. Whether you're 8 or 80, you will never lose your balance on the two-wheeler. It all comes back.

Last weekend, I opened an old drawing book and sketched two of my favourite comic-book characters — Asterix and Obelix by Uderzo and Goscinny (below left) — and it came out pretty well even if I say so myself, though I ran out of page. And then I drew some more, and had a lovely weekend. 

© Hodder Dargaud
© Prashant C. Trikannad

Hobbies and pastimes are excellent habits for instilling patience, concentration and perseverance. They fill you with a sense of joy, purpose and freedom. It's important for me to do the things I enjoy doing outside of my 9-to-6 existence.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Alphabet Quotes: W is for Wisdom

“Just as treasures are uncovered from the earth, so virtue appears from good deeds, and wisdom appears from a pure and peaceful mind. To walk safely through the maze of human life, one needs the light of wisdom and the guidance of virtue.”
— The Buddha

“We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future.”
— George Bernard Shaw

“For beautiful eyes, look for the good in others; for beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness; and for poise, walk with the knowledge that you are never alone.”
— Audrey Hepburn

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

“What makes Superman a hero is not that he has power, but that he has the wisdom and the maturity to use the power wisely. From an acting point of view, that's how I approached the part.”
— Christopher Reeve

Monday, November 19, 2018

Poetry: The Divine Image

William Blake

© Oxford University Press
To Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love,
All pray in their distress:
And to these virtues of delight
Return their thankfulness.

For Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love,
Is God, our father dear:
And Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love,
Is Man, his child and care.

For Mercy has a human heart,
Pity, a human face:
And Love, the human form divine,
And Peace, the human dress.

Then every man of every clime,
That prays in his distress,
Prays to the human form divine,
Love, Mercy, Pity, Peace.

And all must love the human form,
In heathen, Turk, or Jew.
Where Mercy, Love, & Pity dwell,
There God is dwelling too.

William Blake (1757-1827) was an English poet, painter and printmaker.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The story of a haircut

Photo by Ewout Paulusma/Unsplash
This morning, I took an ’aircut, the “h” being silent almost silent in my case. The hairdresser spent a ridiculous amount of time, nearly half an hour, sipping a cutting chai and snipping the top of my head. Being a weekday morning, there was just me and another guy in the saloon and plenty of scissors around. As he fussed over my hair, I could picture him saying under his breath, “Here’s one, oh, and there’s another,” and do a fist pump. I’d never seen such optimism in a barber. I took it as a positive sign.

I looked at him in the mirror and thought to myself "Maybe, just maybe, he can see something I can't" and for a moment hope sprang out, and then I looked at the few wisps of hair — the rear guard — paragliding through the air and landing on my blood-coloured apron. The last of the Haircans. One of them said to me, within hair’s breadth, “Don’t worry, General, some of us are still holding up there. We ain’t going down without a fight,” saluted smartly and was gone.

And then the hair-cutter patted my head with both hands and said, unintentionally, I think, “Don’t use a comb. Pat your hair in place like this, thup, thup, thup. It will seem as if you’ve more hair than you do.” I never thought of that, you know. You get a haircut and you get a hair-tip. Since it's of no use to me, I'll put it on the market.

Well, at least something came out of my hairsplitting adventure.