Wednesday, February 10, 2021

A Forced Lefty

 As I was handing over the keys of my car to a valet at a hotel, I realized that I had gradually become a left-hander over the last two months. I was, otherwise, a compulsive right-hander as far as a physical exchange transaction was concerned. I would unfailingly check others and shamelessly point out to shift to the ‘right’ hand from the ‘wrong’ one.  You don’t forget some of the rules ingrained into your psyche by your orthodox upbringing.

I have been going through an excruciatingly painful bout of ‘frozen shoulder’, that had only worsened over the last two months. And all this while, how and when I have unknowingly and seamlessly shifted from being a northpaw to a southpaw – I have not noticed.

Being a keen student of behaviorism, I wanted to see if this motorial malfunction of my right arm and thereby the renewed activism of my left hand has brought about any cognitive change in my personality. Enough reams have been printed by the research scholars on the intellectual primacy of the left handers. Some of these studies have concluded that the left handers do well in mathematics and in sports as well. 

To check the impact of my renewed status of handedness, I challenged my daughter to play a game of table-tennis with me. While I could never match her TT skills with my right hand, I thought with a transformed hand orientation, I should be able to beat her. But the result was much worse. I consoled myself that such a change required some practice to adjust and get some expertise and hence would need time and moved on.

Next morning, there was a big news about the hefty fines introduced on traffic violations. The whole social media was full of memes around this topic. Some carried a chart of fines and penalties imposed on different kinds of violations, a few others painted scenarios and asked one to guess the total amount of fine chargeable as per the new rules. This was pretty straight forward, I thought.  But every time I tested my mathematical prowess, it proved otherwise. I misjudged a penalty or overlooked some compounding.  My new found left handedness did not add to my proficiency here either.

As I entered the kitchen I saw my wife struggling to take out a bottle from the top shelf. I stretched my left hand to reach out and said – I may not be able to lift my right hand Honey but my left hand is always there for you. She smiled and a silly me went on to say – or you get a home slipper with high heels. She never liked commenting on her height and snarled at me – you are getting too lefty with your comments these days. Better do your physio more seriously and get back to the right sooner. And I retracted immediately, realizing that the cognitive change had indeed happened but on the ‘wrong’ side. 

Panchatantra 2020


Sundervan was an ideal, self-governed reserve forest that was completely at peace with itself. Here all the animals lived in absolute harmony that would have put to shame the person who gave a negative connotation to the term ‘Jungle Raj’.  A few incidents in the past few weeks, however, had disheveled this fine equilibrium at Sundervan and it was chaos everywhere.

In the past few weeks, the inhabitants of the forest had found many of their friends and family members killed by some other animals. A few others disappeared mysteriously.  Some inhabitants had accused the members of the Tiger family responsible for these crimes as they claimed to have seen them carrying out these killings. Tigers, on the other hand, claimed innocence.

Bholu Bear and his trusted troops, who were responsible to maintain law and order in the jungle, had meanwhile used their spy network to keep an eye on the movements of the suspected animals. And on one of their pursuits, they captured a Tiger red handed while committing the crime. But during the course of their investigation, they realized that what they had captured was, in fact, not a Tiger but a Hyena wearing the skin of a Tiger.  The Hyena further revealed that over the past few months, a few hundreds of Hyenas had crossed over from the adjacent forest and had penetrated into the various jungle colonies masquerading as Tigers. The tiger skin was so well stuck to the Hyena skin that it was not easy for a common jungle inhabitant to identify.

Sheru, the King of Sundervan was deeply concerned with the developments and had immediately ordered to identify all the Hyenas amongst the Tigers. A whole battalion of Bholu’s cadets were pressed into service to spot any Tiger and pull its skin to ensure it was not a Hyena.  While many Hyenas were identified and captured in the process, this had put the genuine Tigers into much inconvenience and pain. More than the physical discomfort, it was some sense of humiliation that was causing considerable consternation amongst the genuine Tigers and they were resenting the very idea of this exercise. A few other animals were also sympathetic to them.

After letting them to vent their emotions for some time, Sheru stood up from his seat. It took a little more time than the normal before all the animals took note of it and retreated to their seats, albeit a little reluctantly. The Sundervan tradition did not allow any animal to make a statement out of turn, while the King was standing on the dais.

To start with, Sheru made it clear to the animals that Bholu and his cadets were performing a duty as mandated by him and therefore, if there was any inconvenience to any of the inhabitants, he owned up the responsibility for the same. And then he turned towards Gaja, who was lost in his own deep thoughts, and sought his advice on the prevailing situation.

Gaja moved slowly to the center of the dais, all along lost in his thoughts, perhaps making up his mind as to what would be his messaging at this critical juncture.  He cleared his throat and provided a brief update on the sequence of events that had led to the current imbroglio. Then he looked towards the streak of Tigers sitting in a corner and chided them almost holding them responsible for the situation. He thought, if the Tigers were circumspect, if they were vigilant enough from the beginning, they could have avoided this ugly state. Were they just careless or was that a case of callousness. Given the fact that Tigers can smell their brethren from a distance, how come the presence of a set of imposters amongst them never raised a doubt in their minds. Gaja’s tone turned stern now - You could have smelt out those frauds, you didn’t. You could have observed their distinct mannerisms; you chose not to. You would have noticed their suspicious movements; you ignored. You thought they wore your colours, so their quirkiness would not harm you after all.  But they tainted your own colour.  And now they have entrenched themselves so deep into your lives that you have almost forgotten your own smell to be able to isolate them.

Sheru realized he had to step in now. He asked Gaja, almost pleadingly – Is there another way to insulate the real ones and still sieve out the imposters. One that would not cause pain to our genuine Tigers. Gaja looked at Sheru with a resigned gaze and said - There is too much negativity around. Weeding out harmful influences should be your priority now. Even a small chunk of negative stimulus could eat up the entire positive life for breakfast.

You are the King and we expect you to take tough decisions in the interest of this jungle. If that doesn't please all, so be it.  And to mitigate the pains of the Tigers, I would advise them to go to the cadets voluntarily at their convenience. That will speed up the process and will also lessen the pain for them - both physiological and the psychological. Faster they help us identify the fraudsters, quicker will be the relief. If it was an elephant skin instead of the tiger, I would have surely been keen to be the first to get myself cleared.

As the crowd dispersed – some looking happy, a few others looking dejected, Sheru asked Gaja – will this work? Gaja continued with his wisdom pearls -  I am under no illusion that all of them agree with me here. But I can guarantee you, if we do not recover from this fast, this will generate enough hatred amongst the jungle inhabitants and will spread like a fire that will engulf all of us. It will be a civil war that none of us would be able to stop. Most of us will die and those who survive will not have a good enough reason left to survive. You are the King for a reason. You need to think holistically and follow your ‘Raj-dharma’.


World is not a stage


The newspaper this morning carried an interesting piece of news on a certain standup comedian being barred from flying by a few Indian flyers.  The comedian, apparently, had repeatedly tried to provoke a news journalist into a confrontation that never happened but the standup act was not appreciated by the airline and was reported to the regulating authority.

I have often noticed that people who achieve success in one field are often enticed into expressing their views on subjects where they have no expertise. While some demonstrate utmost honesty and integrity by declining to comment there are others who unwittingly get drawn into a controversy.

One thing that people fail to appreciate is that they excel in one field and hence have a set of followers but that followership does not necessarily transcend into another field. A successful actor expressing views on society; a cricketer entering into politics with a certain ideology; another public figure with no background of history talking about historical facts or a politician with no understanding of finance commenting on the state of economy – often end up making a fool of themselves and lose their followership.

There have been very successful examples of many popular cine personalities successfully converting their followership into politics as well but very few have been able to sustain it. And they are exceptions.

Another aspect of such indulgence is to appreciate one’s domain and its canvas. You may be a news anchor but know that what you officially broadcast is different from what you say in private – those are leaks. You may be a humorist and can pull off by caricaturing an individual on a comedy show but when you do it in an open public place, it is a blatant violation of the person.

I support certain politicians on some specific work that they do; I love my favorite cricketers on the ground; and I love film personalities for their skills on the screen but that doesn’t stop me from caricaturing them in private (in a private circle of 4 people; never know when and where the sec 144 is in effect) and I enjoy it.  My friends like it and enjoy it. But that doesn’t give me the right to mock them in public or challenge them on those very topics. There is a thin line between humor and satire but there is a wide chasm between a humorist and an activist. We should know where to draw the line.

Shakespeare was a great playwright without doubt. But he was not a sage whose writings can be taken as a gospel truth. Else, only after a misadventure you may realize that the world is not a stage after all, where you can invade into someone’s personal space and get away with that.

Raju Alteration Shop


It was another Saturday when John was heading towards Jayanagar for his monthly ritual of carrying a load of Sharon’s new wardrobe, that she bought from Myntra, for the alterations. He could never understand the difference a half-an-inch tucking on sides could make to a beautiful new outfit. He would always tease Sharon that it was just to prove a point that she was still an inch slimmer than the standard ‘M’ size that she made him run to this Raju shop every now and then.

While John did not mind doing a few odd chores on a Saturday while Sharon was at work,  this visit to Raju was the one he abhorred the most. Five days a week, John would be the boss in office and would get through his way, whatever be the challenge. He used his gift of gab to navigate through the maze of bureaucracy in his organization and never got suck at any point. But this Raju guy was one who wouldn’t listen to any of his talks and would dismiss him disdainfully ordering him to return only after 45 minutes. At those moments, John found his CA-topper certificate and the IIM-A degree strewn all over the place by this ITI certificate holder. Every time John was at his shop, it watered down all his ego pumped up through the week in office.

As usual, he dumped the clothes at Raju’s shop and handed over the small chit that had some numbers mentioned against each dress identified with color – the code that he could never understand but there seemed absolute harmony on that between Sharon and Raju. He then moved to the coffee shop across the road and took to his favorite seat by the glass window and opened his unfinished book. The boy at the shop knew him well and within no time served him with his favorite espresso.

John was not able to concentrate on his book as the person sitting on the next table was continuously on call and his conversation was distracting John. He was talking to a subordinate apparently – it is already late and if this does not get delivered before Sunday night, I do not want to see you in office on Monday morning – and he disconnected the line. John looked at him and gave him a smile. The face looked familiar. 

Are you from Mantri Paradise – asked John and the person nodded. Tough Day? And what brings you here – asked John. Well, some work for my wife. It might take some time so I parked myself here. Oh, Raju Alteration by any chance – John asked mischievously. The person again nodded. Hmm, 45 minutes? – one more salvo from John. This time the gentleman sounded more despondent – nope, 1 hour. Now, that filled John with a fresh air of exhilaration. That Raju guy did not seem such a baddy after all. His 45-minute wait appeared like a frequent flyer privilege as against the 60 minutes of a commoner.  John now happily immersed himself into the book for the next 30 minutes. The coffee tasted much better now.

Covid puts my 50-year-old affair to risk


As long as my memory serves, or should I say, from the time I had learnt to put together a few alphabets to make a meaningful word, I have been a regular reader of the Indian Express newspaper. I would have changed cities and thereby editions but my affair has continued unabated with the Indian Express – or The New Indian Express, as they call it in Bangalore.

During my early childhood in Kanpur, we did not have a local edition of the IE and we used to get the Delhi late Dak Edition, which used to come by the 12-Down Delhi-Howrah Express early in the morning. And we would know the day the train was running late as the paper would be delivered late that morning.  The Dak edition had its own pitfalls, as much of the news, particularly the ones on inside pages, would be stale. My love for cricket and the detailed analysis of the scoreboard would only be satiated by a visit to the neighbours or to the nearby library. My friends would wonder as to why someone would buy a newspaper carrying stale news but I had no arguments to convince my father, who did not consider the local papers like the National Herald or the Pioneer classy enough to dethrone the exclusive Indian Express from our subscription. Or, he too had an old affair that was difficult to annul, perhaps.

Many years later in life, when I was building my friendship with a lady colleague of mine, one of the common topics of discussion happened to be the Sunday Magazine of the Indian Express. It so happened that she had also grown reading the Indian Express in Delhi. Two different cities, two different cultures but one newspaper that hooked us together. We would recollect some of the regular columns and the columnists. Thanks to my elder brother, who was more voracious reader than I was – I had a fair idea of the background of many of the columnists that I could brag in these discussions.  So, I consider IE to be one factor that bonded us together and when we got married the affair with the IE continued.

Later, when my daughter grew up and we were to look at all the college advertisements in the newspapers, we knew that IE was not the right newspaper for that. But you don’t ditch your first love on such flimsy grounds, so we started subscribing to another newspaper in addition to the IE to ensure we continued with the affair and did our parental duties as well without fail.  And that continues till date.

Over the years, the IE had disappointed us on a few occasions, for short periods of time, when we thought the content of the Sunday Magazine was not up to the mark or at least did not match our tastes. But we have moved along. One veteran columnist that we loved most for his versatility and the range of topics too had disappointed us in the recent past by writing only about one theme that did not match our political leanings. However, I took it on my stride as I have always been a votary of allowing a contrarian view. Though my love for his writings diminished. And we have continued with the subscription for the old-time sake. Sometimes, an affair would be on the rocks but the key is to sustain until you find some common meeting ground and we just did that.

Last few years, the Chess end-game and the Crossword features of the Sunday Magazine have provided us some family activity that we have been doing unfailingly on Sunday mornings. Even during these Covid times, when my apartment management stopped newspaper deliveries, we have been able to take a print of the crossword from the online Sunday Magazine and have continued with our tryst with IE. Now, having got used to my mornings without a tete-e-tete with IE, I am not sure when the restrictions are removed, whether I would restart my subscription immediately. My printer will surely be busy on Sunday mornings to ensure we get the weekly dose of our activity. So, the virtual affair might continue. But will it be the end of our tryst with IE print version, with its distinct and familiar font and style – only time will tell us.




Lost data packets in the pre-digital era

 The modern social media apps have shrunk the world. I have been able to connect with my childhood school mates even after a gap of forty years and despite moving a few thousand miles away from that place. But at the same time, I do long to connect with a few of the missing ones, who perhaps have not adapted to the modern digital milieu. My generation has been at the wrong end of this digital transition and while a few have sailed through this evolution, some have got stuck in the past and hence are in digital oblivion.

Not so long ago, when I was in my school, the only mode of remote communication was through snail mail. The telephone did exist but that was more a symbol of luxury for the middle class. Unlike the interactive chat today, the friends and relatives exchanged letters to communicate well-being, to share news or just to socialize remotely. I have grown watching my parents write letters regularly to our relatives in distant south. My mother wrote to someone or the other almost as a routine every day and my father would do his quota of communication every weekend. And it was my duty to run to the post box at a nearby cross to beat the deadline of the last clearance of the day. The postal system, in those days, could generate the same sentiment as the social media exchanges do today – albeit with a time lag and no smileys to conclude.

There were no digital footprints to track and trace old friends. If one didn’t maintain an address book and did not record the addresses, it was difficult to trace back a friend once the connect was lost. There was no social media search engine and there was no one orchestrating a lost data packet. Your postman was like an internet connection that came online only once in a day and downloaded messages sent to you a couple of days back. But the system worked wonderfully and was a witness to many emotional stories.

When I was in my High School, my elder sister’s marriage was fixed. We were in Kanpur but the marriage was to be solemnized in Chennai. Well ahead of time, my parents had written to all the relatives to book their tickets well in advance to be able to join us for the occasion.  The address lists were prepared to ensure that no one was missed out.

The list had all the relatives but there were none on my father’s maternal side.  He had lost his mother when he was just 9 years old. While my grand-father lived in Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu, my grand-mother’s origin was at a distant place called Trichur in the current day Kerala. He had lost touch with all his relatives from his mother’s side, but used to fondly remember a cousin of his, who, he last knew, was a head-master in the local government school.

My mother was a lady with a very strong determination. She would never give up on anything without making a sincere and most concerted attempt. She wanted to give a surprise to my father by reaching out to his long-lost cousin and inviting him to the marriage. She knew that my uncle would have retired by that time but knew how well the social networking worked in small towns. So, she wrote a letter addressed to the Head Master of the local government school at Trichur. She explained the situation in the letter and requested the enclosed envelop to be delivered to his predecessor. I am not sure if she got a response back.

A day before the marriage, early in the morning, one Mr. Seetharaman arrived at the doors of my relatives in Chennai, where we were camping before the marriage. It took sometime for my father to place him but once he recognized his long-lost cousin, he was in the seventh heaven. And then Mr. Seetharaman narrated the whole story of a letter from my mother landing at his doors with full details of the event and he had no second thoughts about joining this event despite his poor health.

In today’s digital world, the whole sequence doesn’t sound as providential as it would have been in those days. The social media search engines can track anyone with even the smallest of the digital trace. Whenever I narrate this story to my children they are not able to correlate to the excitement underlying my narration.  To them, I say that even in the pre-digital era my mother knew the IP networking principles well ahead of time. She knew how to transmit a packet of data by resorting to the best and most efficient route in the network – and without any packet loss. Modern technology has just replicated that.

Shiv Narayan Katha


My mother was the best raconteur I have ever come across in life.  She used to narrate lively anecdotes that would come out of her repertoire as vivaciously as the video streaming happens these days. My penchant for nostalgia often takes me back to those childhood stories and I share those with my family, just to further the chain of those memories for the next generation. One such story is that of Shiv Narayan and his trip to Rameswaram.

While working for Defence Accounts department, my father had a crack at the UPSC interview for setting up a new office of the Employees Provident Fund department at Kanpur. This was a new concept then and they were yet to establish their offices across the country. My father was the first one to set that up in Kanpur and then hired all the lower level staff locally. Being a small setup in those days, the employees moved closely with our family – which at that time consisted only of my parents and the elder sister. Even after my father moved back to his parent organization after completing his deputation, the connect continued.

My earliest memory of Shiv Narayan was the time when he used to come to our house at some monthly frequency. He used to be a watchman at the PF office and probably was amongst the first ones hired by my father. He would come and sit only at the doorstep or would quickly move to the balcony. Will do some dusting there on his own, will chat with my mother – sharing some information about how the people at PF office were doing. My mother would know many of those folks even after a gap of a decade since my father had left that organization. He will eat something and then sleep in the balcony for a while. My mother will serve him tea at 4 PM. And as he sipped the tea from the saucer with a roaring slurp, his long unkempt moustache will float in the saucer and that made quite a sight for me. He would then leave after bidding a ‘Ram-Ram’.

The discussions would range from the news about some Agarwal, Nigam, Pinge, Shrivastava or Tiwari – their families, their promotions and at times their conduct in office, which by that time had attained notoriety for ineptitude and corruption – to our studies, our schools, the difference between a PhD doctorate, that my sister was pursuing and the doctorate in medicine etc. I was too young to comprehend much of that but enjoyed the gossips nevertheless.

Shiv Narayan hailed from a small village near Orai, a town near Kanpur. He was not educated but would have been a literate per the government criteria. He had a strong desire to make a trip to Rameswaram for religious reasons. A very simple man’s simple dream. So, on one of their planned visits to the native down south, my parents decided to take him along and help him fulfil his long-cherished desire. It seems, on the way at Itarsi – where the train stopped for a long duration, he got a bit adventurous and got off the train to see the station. When the train started and he did not come in, my parents got worried. They thought he would have got into another coach and might join them at the next station – as the train did not have the vestibule between two coaches in those days.

At Nagpur, when there was no trace of Shiv Narayan, my father went to the Station Master, narrated the incident to him, showed him Shiv Narayan’s ticket that he was holding and requested him to send the details to the Itarsi Station Master. A telegram was sent with full details of the person and the ticket number etc. and my parents proceeded with their journey. In today’s mobile-phone dominated world, this sounds too primitive.

After reaching Chennai, my father made daily trips to the Central Station, expecting Shiv Narayan to appear from one of the trains coming from Itarsi but he didn’t succeed. After 3-4 days, one morning, a person knocked at my grandparents’ doors. He didn’t know anything but Hindi and my grandfather wouldn’t know Hindi. But Shiv Narayan saw his steel trunk kept at the portico and conveyed his identify through a sign language. My parents were very much there in the house and were too happy and finally relieved to see him safe. It seems, he got the telegram delivered to him by the Itarsi Station Master and he showed the same all through the journey – with his ticket number and my grand father’s address printed on it – and made it all the way to our house.

My parents then happily moved to our village at Kumbakonam and then my father took him to Rameswaram for his much cherished darshan of the God and the holy dips in the 21 teerthams. And all through my childhood, he had always quoted this trip to Rameswaram as his lifetime achievement and that he would always remain indebted to my parents for making that happen.

Reflecting on it today, I am amazed that those were such simple and easy times when there were no communication links like we have today and yet a person without a ticket, lost in a crowd at an unknown place, carrying very little money, could get help from all the people en-route to reach a house in a city where people did not speak his language. No railway employee harassed him on the way, no policeman took advantage of his situation and no fellow passenger exploited his vulnerability.

Shiv Narayan kept visiting us until I was in college with the same enthusiasm, albeit with reduced frequency, as he grew older and was not keeping good health. Later he passed away in the same servant quarters at the PF office. Not sure who informed us about that but I remember my mother going over there to pay her last respects before his family shifted the body to Orai.

Remembering that simple man with simplest of the desires from a small village near Orai and thanking my parents to have helped him fulfil his desire of traveling 2500 Kilometers down south to have the divine darshan at the holy Rameswaram.