Friday, November 11, 2011

Parental Bonding

Anjali had to wait for almost three years after marriage, before the twins arrived; within two minutes of each other. Unlike twins, both the boys were quite different from each other in looks, weight and other physical features. But they were both cute, cuddly, fair-complexioned, with lot of hair on the head, and appeared to be quite alert for newly-born. Her husband, his parents and her parents too who had come from far-off Uttar Pradesh on the occasion, were all on seventh heaven for the bonanza of getting two sons and grandsons at one go, respectively.
Both the boys grew up fast into an adorable pair, and the gaze of passers-by would compulsively turn to the occupants of the pram when they were being taken for an outing by their attendant. They were in great demand by the neighbours who would occasionally take them to their homes to play with them. Naturally, the mother was highly protective of them, and would not readily agree to part with them against such requests; but when her mother-in-law offered to take the elder one (by virtue of having arrived two minutes earlier) to Delhi for a month, where the kids’ grandpa was working, she could not say ‘no’. The girl was stressed too much looking after two babies, and was not averse to a break, particularly because this boy was singularly attached to the grandmother. After fifteen days, Anjali could not bear the separation, and the elder lady was summoned back with the baby.
When the boys were four years old, the family including the grandparents decided to have a short holiday in the United States of America, courtesy some relatives and friends in that country. They travelled across USA with the toddlers in arms or on the strollers, seeing almost all the sights to be seen, and were duly dazzled by the highly developed and beautiful country, with almost limitless opportunities for advancement of the ambitious entrepreneur. Anjali’s husband took a spot decision, kept strictly to himself to start with, to move over to the Mecca of the adventurous to try his luck, whatever the consequences. On return to India, he scaled down his well established business, handed over the reins to his youngest brother, and left for the El Dorado with only a few thousand dollars in his pocket. Helped by a relative and his friends in the US, he could establish a foothold, and called his wife and kids also after about one year. The family took residence in the state of Texas, and after four years moved over to Virginia, next door to Washington DC, where Anjali’s husband started his own business.
The boys continued to retain roots in the country of their birth, speaking fluent Hindi and grew up to healthy and active adolescence. They were quite serious about their studies even in the changed environment. Both were devoted to their parents, who in turn were extremely attached to the children, as are most of the Indians settled down in the USA. The father had to spend lot of time to nurture his business, but the mother who was whole time tending to the boys, could not bear to be away from them even for a few hours. Elder boy was a wizard in Mathematics, and the younger one developed an excellent command of English language; with the result that he gained admission to TJ School (Thomas Jefferson School), one of the most prestigious institutions of US. Both graduated from school education this year, and due to their excellent scholastic achievements, got admitted to the best universities of the country for professional degree courses. They were seen off to their respective colleges at Michigan and Illinois by the parents two months ago.
On return home after seeing the children off to the distant places, both the parents started feeling very lonely, particularly the mother, who was housebound all the time – the father, of course, spending most of the time of the day at work. Visualizing the predicament the girl was in, and having experienced such agonies myself in the past, I decided to empathize with Anjali (not her real name), who is my daughter-in-law -- the wife of our first-born. I called her long-distance, and asked her how she is coping up with the loneliness. She replied, sounding cheerful and trying to camouflage the obvious pain she was in, “Well, I am managing somehow. I do not have the heart to go to the boys’ rooms, and these are exactly as they were left by them when they left home. I will not be able to stand the sight of empty rooms, with their clothes, books, paraphernalia and their smell lingering in the air, which only a mother can discern .” I could sense the lump in her throat at this point of time. She however continued bravely. “Their absence sometimes hits me like a rock, and I start feeling absolutely wretched….” With this, she broke off, unable to mouth her words. I felt I had touched a raw nerve. I said, “I understand how you feel. Imagine how we felt like when eleven years ago all four of you suddenly left our home and hearth for distant shores. The happy time we spent with all of you, the laughter of children, the patter of little feet and the pranks they used to play around the house still haunt us from time to time. We realized that you all will now come here only once in a blue moon, as guests. Both I and my wife shed silent tears for days, till time, the biggest healer, dulled the pain of separation. And then two years later, our youngest son along with his wife too went away to the USA to seek a new career.” I was not sure she was still on the line. I said, “Are you still there, dear?” “Yes, Yes, I am listening. Please go on”, she replied. I continued, “If you want to make a straight line drawn on a paper look shorter, the best way is to draw a longer line alongside. And please remember, priorities of an Indian couple undergo a quantum shift once a child is born to them. They start living and dreaming only for the happiness and wellbeing of their offspring; their own wants take a backseat. That is why we did not raise any objections when our two sons expressed their intention of migrating to destinations half-way around the globe. So please start living in the present, and look forward to the boys’ next visit home a few weeks hence.” There was a short pause; after which she said, “ Thank you Papa, I will remember what you have said.” With this, she rang off.
I hope she will be more composed when next time I talk to her.
Author: S.S.Seth

Sunday, October 9, 2011

I And My Drivers

I bought my very first car, a green Fiat, forty one years ago at a price of Rs.19,000. Only three brands of cars were available in India at that time; Ambassador, Standard Herald and Fiat. Whereas the first two brands could be picked up straight off the showroom, one had to wait for five to seven years after registration to get a Fiat car; that was the popularity rating of this brand. But since I belonged to a Public Sector Undertaking, I was entitled to the Central Government quota; so for me the waiting time was only three months. I toured half the country with my small family in this car, thanks to LLTC ( Liberalised Leave Travel Concession) which I was entitled to, till I sold it off fifteen years later for Rs.40,000. Parting with this workhorse was painful, but I had to bid adieu to the green beauty as I had to purchase my first Maruti 800 car which was reputed to be having 80% imported components. Mustering Rs.19,000 in early seventies was absolutely back-breaking for me, but paying off Rs.50,000 for the Maruti was not so much of a pain, as I had to arrange only Rs. 5000 extra, having remitted the booking amount of Rs.5000 for the new car some two years earlier.
Driving a new car is always a pleasure. The controls are smooth, the purr of the engine is intoxicating and you feel the motive power of the vehicle at your touch. As my three sons grew up and could handle the family car on their own, there was always a fight amongst them for the driver’s seat. Eventually they all got the driver’s license, and during family outings I could never get to the steering wheel. The distance to the destination was carefully calculated, divided by three, and the three boys would take turn in covering the distance allotted to them to the best of their driving skill. We could never imagine that we will ever need a professional driver to handle the car. In course of time the three of them moved away to their own work destinations, had their own families to look after, possessed their own motor vehicles, and I was left with a car exclusively to myself. And having retired from the steel plant service, I got a new job with a private company at their Works some twenty eight KM away from my house.
Motoring down to work, and then back home fifty six KM every day was fun to start with, but became a pain after a few days. My employers agreed to give me the services of a professional driver, in addition to the free supply of petrol which I was already getting. The driver allotted to me was a young fellow, a daredevil to the core, who considered my Maruti to be much smaller than what it actually was, and used to maneuver it through impossible nooks and corners. I had a feeling that had my car wings, he would have certainly made it fly high up in the air. Average speed of the car used to be 70 KMPH, notwithstanding the usual potholes on the 2-lane road, herds of cattle ambling on the road every 100 yards, pedestrians and cyclists criss-crossing at will and other motorists trying to overtake us even at this speed. I used to keep my eyes closed, with lips uttering a silent prayer all the time the car was in motion. A month of being driven up and down to work broke my spirits and I requested my employers to withdraw their driver, and let me choose one myself. Another one month went off with me self-driving before I managed to get a driver, who approximately fitted my advertised specifications. This chap was an older man, and as a driver, an exact opposite of his predecessor. I think my sixth sense got him by rebound. He was caution personified. Any obstacle or unexpected obstruction on the road will make him bring the car to a complete halt. The horn switch was his favourite control device, and he would take not less than one hour to cover the 28 KM distance to my destination. I would comfortably go to sleep with him on the wheel, and wake up only when he would nudge me at the end of the journey. The arrangement worked admirably well for close to 18 months till I moved to New Delhi to join another firm.
On return to my home and hearth after a two year sojourn to the National Capital, I started my last innings of active service with a local firm. A colleague of mine named Mr. Banerji was living not much far from my house, and to economize on fuel, we formed a car pool. Three days of the week, I would take my car to the work site, and the other three days, his car would be used, driven by his driver, named Surendra. Surendra appeared to me to be a reasonably good driver, but my colleague’s chatter about his driving skill, or rather the lack of it, and about his uncouth habits was endless. “ Again you have come in chappals? How many times I have told you that driving in this footwear is not permitted?” With this, he would just peel off the prohibited footwear from the hapless driver’s feet, and throw these out of the car. Surendra was made to drive the car barefoot, thereafter. After having lost two pairs of chappals, he got the message, and bought a pair of sturdy boots. On way home after duty hours, we quite often took detours to buy fish and Mishti, of which this colleague of mine was very fond. Both these eatables were taboo to me, as I am pure vegetarian and a diabetic. But the compulsions of car-pooling made me tolerate the extra time spent in the car. This arrangement too got unstuck after one year as Mr. Banerji left for Calcutta (now Kolkata) in search of greener pastures. I took pity on the orphaned Surendra, and took him under my wings.
Surendra proved to be a dependable chap, although not much of a skilled driver, and a little deficient in his aural faculty. We discovered this hearing impairment of his soon enough in spite of his concerted efforts to hide it; and then started giving him some leeway to reassure him of his acceptance in our set-up. It occurred to me that most of the criticism he collected from his previous employer was because of Surendra not being able to properly hear his commands, rather than the lack of finesse as a driver. After about two years, I gifted Surendra to my son to assist him in his business, as a jack-of-all-trades. This guy has now become a valued member of his current employer’s team, the Man Friday for the Organization. I do use his services off and on; but he is no longer my personal driver.
I used to feel quite comfortable at the wheel, but my family members were not sharing my self confidence as a driver. Somehow a boy with a driving license was pushed to me for a driving test, on passing of which he could be attached to me as a full time driver. After having a cursory look at his driving license, I handed over the ignition keys to him, and sat next to him to watch how he drives. The car was moving in a zig-zag pattern, which I thought was the result of the fellow still trying to get the hang of the non-familiar controls. Before I could react to the strange movement of the car, he turned the car left, trying to go up an over bridge; when suddenly a motor cycle coming straight on the road in the same direction rammed head-on the right side of my car. The impact of the collision was so intense that the handle of the bike pierced the front door of the car, making a big hole. The bike rider fell on the road. When he got up, I noticed with a profound shock the policeman’s uniform peeping out of his jacket. As a class I am extremely scared of the khaki uniform, leather belt with the brass insignia, and the black cap which adorn this particular species of humanity. The policeman did a limp-walk for my benefit, and uttered a loud “Aah!”, although I was sure that he was not really hurt much. I offered to take him to the doctor’s clinic for the medical attention and get his bike fixed at my cost. He uttered another “Aaaah!!”, louder than before. I produced a red one thousand rupee note from my pocket, and suggested that may be this amount just could cover the cost of his and his bike’s repair. I saw flash of greed and a flicker of smile on his face. His limp vanished and he stood up to his full height with alacrity. He plucked the currency note from my hand, picked up his bike, turned and vanished down the over bridge. I left the prospective driver standing on the road, didn’t tell him a word, and took my car straight to the garage for repairs. The experiment cost me close to ten thousand bucks. With this, I mothballed the idea of having a personal driver, ever.
With the kids having grown up, their needs of moving from place to place have increased. They have to be taken for coaching classes, to their friends for studies and recreation and sometimes to the school, which is quite far away. Besides, a handy-man is needed for various domestic chores which arise from time to time. My son wanted to employ an odd-job-man-cum-driver to meet this demand. No suitable person was available at affordable price, in spite of sustained efforts. However, in late August this year Bhagwan appeared at Bhakta’s door. Ajay Kumar, an experienced driver was hunting for a job, and as he himself revealed, he had visited 25 houses without success. He appeared to be a smart young man, and my son decided to give him a chance. His driving license was verified, a short driving trial taken, and he was asked to report for duty. Again, I was appointed as the official driving-skill inspector, by popular choice. Ajay’s first action as a driver was to check all the CDs lying in the deck-compartment of my car, and take out the only CD with collection of contemporary songs, rest all being CDs of old classical and semi-classical numbers of my choice. He pulled out the MP3 CD of Lata Mangeshkar’s ever-green classics from the deck, threw it on the back seat with disdain, and inserted his chosen CD in the player. I brought down the ear splitting volume of music to a reasonable level, and ordered Ajay to start off the car, and take it to my grandson’s school. I got impressed by his skill at the wheel very soon. He was missing other cars, two-wheelers, pedestrians, bovines, canines and stationary objects by inches, and braking my car hard to make it stop behind the vehicle it was following by a whisker. I could not really see much of his driving feats, as my eyes were mostly shut out of fright. Waiting for the child at the school, I asked Ajay about his antecedents, for we were totally unaware of his bio-data till then. He informed me that he was an orphan, as his parents had died when he was an infant. He was married, and his wife was four months pregnant. He had left his previous job as driver of a school bus, as he did not like the job and particularly, the behavior of his boss. His house is about eleven kilometer from our residence, he informed, and he will have to walk this distance, up and down every day. He has no mobile phone or any other means of communication to remain connected to his sick wife. He is very poor, and just survives eating dry roti and pickles. Within next about ten days we discovered that he was a stark liar, and wanted only to extract from us as much money as possible as advance against his first salary. He had two elder brothers to look after him, he had a good bicycle, two cell-phones, and that he was sacked by his last employer because of irresponsible driving habits. I had by that time paid him Twelve Hundred and Fifty Rupees to let him buy a second hand bicycle, for the treatment of his wife and generally to keep his body and soul together, believing him to be truth incarnate. Meanwhile my car collected testimony of his reckless driving with two dents in the rear; first when he reversed the car without looking back and hitting a parked motor cycle, and second time, braking too hard to avoid a pedestrian while the car following us was not quick enough to stop in time. Things came to a head when he refused my wife’s instructions to water the plants, as he thought this type of work was far below his dignity. Next morning he informed us that he was quitting, as his brother had promised to get him a better paid job; and demanded that we should immediately pay him his arrears. I muttered under my breath, “Good Riddance!” and promptly cleared his accounts.
The present incumbent is named Bunty (not a generic name), and has been employed after lot of tb ( thok-bajao ). He looks to be a safe driver, and an obedient employee. I hope he will last.
I have dwelt on this story in some details to focus at certain precautions to be taken while engaging help for domestic as well as official assignments. I hope my readers will find these of interest, looking to my predicaments as mentioned in preceding paragraphs. These are:
**Never employ a person without references and without scrutinizing his antecedents in depth.
**Don’t entrust your costly assets, your life and that of your near and dear ones to a newcomer without a dry run and sufficient trials in safe environs.
**When the odds are loaded, don’t wait for the second mistake of the incumbent. Take
controls away from him/her immediately.
It is better to be safe than sorry.
Author: S.S.Seth

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Education Enables

Getting a suitable domestic help in urban areas in India is becoming increasingly difficult. Since we are having a servant quarter to offer to the likely candidate, we were placed in a slightly better position. So when Verma family, husband, wife, a son, a daughter, and a grown up brother of the husband offered to move in, we had an internal debate. Oh! What a large family. They will gobble up our water and electricity resources, and considering that they may have occasional visitors too, our house may become some sort of a serai. Eternal noise, with the rumbustious younger siblings fighting daggers drawn, as is customary, was another issue for consideration. But the family appeared to be neat and clean, with good reputation, as Mr.Verma was known to us for some time as a good and popular sweetmeat maker of the area. The grown up brother was a contract worker in the steel plant, Mr.Verma engaged mostly in his cooking assignments outside the house, children likely to be away in their respective schools, the bespectacled wife who was our main target for being appointed as the maid-in-waiting appearing to be sufficiently dim-witted; this was the combination which could be acceptable inspite of having large number of parts. There being no other alternative available at that point of time, we said, yes, and the crowd marched in pronto. This was some five years ago.
Mr.Verma was totally illiterate. I offered to teach him the Hindi alphabet, as a starter. But he was adamant in not learning, for he considered that he was a good cook only because he was illiterate, and even a rudimentary knowledge of letters will separate him from his art irrevocably. His wife could read and write a little bit of Hindi, but also appeared to subscribe to the theory of proficiency in cooking and literacy being incompatible to each other. We were informed that the children were earlier forced to join the school by their uncle, who himself did not have a formal education, but was an avid reader of Hindi newspapers. This guy appeared to be the most reasonable of the lot. The son, however had a surfeit of his father’s genes and never put his mind to studies. Only the daughter, who was about thirteen years of age, was good in studies and showed some promise in this direction.
After about one year of their having joined us, Mr.Verma started developing ambitions of making it big, and assembled a mobile fast-food stall. The shop became something of a hit in course of time as the quality of fare served was quite good. He borrowed more and more money to keep the joint running, and expanding it further, without knowing how to regulate the growth of his business, or where to stop for a breather. The end result was that he failed to timely repay the instalments on the loans and got into the debt-trap irretrievably. One fine morning after intense pressure was mounted by the loan sharks for repayment, he just disappeared, never to show his face again in this city or anywhere in its proximity. The loan givers pestered his family members for several months, confiscated the mobile cart and then faded away from the scene, realizing that nothing more could be achieved by knocking at our doors. All this time we shielded the Verma family as they were serving us loyally. The maid was working quite sincerely doing all sorts of odd jobs around the house willingly, although she was visually-challenged, and was drawing a princely sum of two hundred and fifty rupees per month from the state government, as compensation. We had developed sympathy and sense of protection for the lady for the misfortune of her husband having deserted her, and for her infirmity. Other family members also were doing their bit in running our household. A sort of equilibrium had thus been achieved. And then suddenly, another bolt from the blue struck the Verma family. The youngest member, the ten-year old boy, could not withstand the pressure of studies and constant exhortation of elders to do better on this front. Following in the footsteps of his father, and having inherited from him the habit of usurping others’ money, he too disappeared to an undisclosed destination with some four thousand rupees in his pocket.
We were all deeply upset, and his mother was simply devastated. She stopped taking any food, and was crying all the time. Her husband who left her about a year and half ago was a grown up man and could take care of himself, but the son was a mere child, she used to tell everybody. Was he able to feed himself? Did he have a shelter over his head? Was he even alive?, she went on thinking on these lines and the thoughts used to be followed by fresh bout of crying. I contacted the local City Superintendent of Police along with an influential friend of mine to lodge a formal complaint about the missing boy, and sought his help in locating the boy. There was no result. I came to know later-on that such complaints are not followed up vigorously as the Police have to handle more serious assignments in their normal work schedule. We did our best to console the maid, but she became something like a zombie, and lost the will to live.
A local shop keeper who is also a family friend of the Vermas brought a good news one day that he had seen the missing boy a day earlier in a nearby town, where he had gone in connection with his business. The boy is working as a waiter in a road-side eatery, he informed, and when he addressed him by his first name, the boy disowned his own name and just bolted from the place. The owner of the eatery was quite helpful and sympathetic, and surprised the boy by arranging a meeting with his mother and uncle next week in his own shop. The boy although cornered, refused to return home, but agreed to remain in touch with his mother by telephone, and occasionally visit her at his convenience. This too was a big relief to the beleaguered mother, as she found her son hale, hearty and happily living his own life; and she came back home quite satisfied.
The girl-child in our psyche is not only a non-asset, but a positive liability. She has to be kept under close supervision lest she goes astray, and married off at the first opportunity. So, why spend money in educating her? Our maid servant was firmly convinced of this philosophy, and didn’t like her daughter studying any further. We tried our best to convince the lady otherwise, giving her several examples, including one from our own close family when the daughter looked after the ageing parents with great love and care till their last days. We even agreed to bear all the expenses of educating her daughter as long as she cared to continue her studies. The mother reluctantly agreed, but the girl was quite enthusiastic about further studies. She passed her class twelve examination in first division last year and then did a course to acquire proficiency in computer application. Her education continues even now for a bachelor’s degree in commerce, and on computer-application, on part time basis. She came to know from her friends that there are many openings for young educated girls in the hospitality sector, in malls which have mushroomed in the state capital during the last few years and in a multinational fast food joint, the branch of which had opened in our neighbourhood recently. She applied for the job, and due to her good educational record and knowledge of computers, she was selected in all the establishments. Both her mother and uncle were quite upset by this development, as once the girl accepts the job, they thought they will lose all control over her, and maybe she could fall in bad company due to lack of their supervision. The girl had by now achieved the age of eighteen, and was mature enough to take her own decisions. She dug her heels in for taking up a job, assisted indirectly by us; and as a compromise formula she was allowed to join the fast-food outlet, which is situated close to our house. The gross salary offered to her in this place was the least of the three options, but still more than the combined take-home pay of the other three earning members of her family.
In a short time, she developed good credibility in her place of work, due to hard work, her basic intelligence, pleasant personality and courteous behavior. Her fast-food shop which was a favourite destination for my grandchildren anyway, became more so because of the personalized care now being given while servicing their order. Orders for supply of food items are being accepted in this joint telephonically, but sometimes we place the order personally also, as the shop is situated close by.
A few days ago, I walked into the shop, and asked the manager to call Miss Verma. The manager who had seen me on earlier occasions also chatting with this girl did not take kindly to this request. He said, “Sir, I will call her, but tell me why you want to meet Miss Verma? And how do you know her?” I liked his protective instinct, as there are a few young girls working in the outlet; and it was good of the guy to feel responsible for them. Meanwhile the girl also came out from inside the shop, and overheard the query of the manager. I could read the concern on her face, as my reply could lead to lowering of her social status amongst her colleagues. I said to the manager, “Son, this young lady shares her residential address with us. Her mother is our governess, and she manages our household. I have come here to place order for some food items.” The manager seemed to be satisfied; and so was the girl, as evidenced by the broad smile on her face. I took the seat at a corner table, waiting for my order to be processed. And having nothing better to do, I started having some random thoughts, with the Vermas centre-stage.
God Almighty has ordained that all features of the universe should have balance, and so should the sex ratio of human race. For every male child born somewhere, a female child also takes birth such that parity is maintained on overall basis. Any act to artificially disturb this balance by termination of pregnancy with female child can upset the societal fabric of the race, and is fraught with grave danger. Still, when a girl child is born in many regions of our country, it is an occasion of great disappointment, particularly when it is the first or subsequent issue. The fact is, and it has been proved time and again, that daughters are more affectionate, devoted, helpful and loving towards other family members, and specially towards the parents. The preferential behavior towards the male child has therefore to end. On the literacy front, the percentage of literates to overall population of India has increased from 12% in the year 1947 to 74% in current year, which is an encouraging figure. But the literacy figures of males and females in the year 2011 are 82% and 65% respectively, which again shows a bias against females. The percentage of formally educated persons, of both sexes, has also to increase exponentially. History has shown that no nation can advance towards leadership position till its citizens, both men and women, are well educated. Unfortunately, in many parts of the world, women are oppressed, kept under wraps, insulated from education and treated as second class citizens. Such societies can never raise their standard of living or make a mark in the comity of nations; in science and technology, in sports, in humanities, in literature, in healthcare or in any branch of human endeavour. For example the nationalities of Nobel laureates or Olympic medal winners can be seen for comparison. It will be found that higher is the level of education, more stellar is the performance. This message has to go down to people, loud and clear.
Suddenly I heard my order number called on the intercom system, loud and clear. I picked up my parcel of food, paid my bill, and made my way home.
Author: S.S.Seth
Published in Daily ‘HITAVADA’ on Sunday, July 17, 2011

Friday, December 10, 2010

Unwelcome Phone Calls

I do not welcome a call on my cell phone while driving, as it diverts the attention, and is even illegal to use in some states while you are in the driver’s seat. It was therefore with some irritation that I switched on the device to answer the call on the third ring, while proceeding to my office the other day. Maybe something really important my wife needs to convey to me, I thought. It was a stranger’s voice who called me by my exact name and requested me to spare him a moment’s time to talk about something very important for me, with all the humility at his command. He introduced himself as the Special Officer of XYZ Insurance Company whose insurance policy I had bought some two years ago, and unfolded a scheme which would make me richer by about forty five thousand rupees in a period of one month. His talk continued for about seven minutes, outlining his plan, which in essence boiled down to my giving to his contact person a crossed cheque for Rs. 21,000 in the name of XYZ Insurance Company as seed money to win me the promised bonanza by the end of next month. The seed money will also be returned to me along with above sum, he assured me. He wanted my consent right at that moment, or latest by 3 PM the same afternoon, when he would call me again. His glib talk and attempt to corner me for an immediate response sent my antenna up, and I asked him to call me only at 5 PM, and not earlier. In the meantime I called my friend, the Manager of the local branch of the XYZ Insurance Company, who had earlier sold me the investment-cum-insurance policy. He expressed his ignorance of the special scheme narrated by the Unknown Caller (U.C.), earlier in the day, and wanted me to be wary of such traps.
At 10 AM next morning I again got a call on my cell phone from a Delhi based land line having the number similar to the U.C.’s, except that it had two last digits different. This time I felt no irritation; only a sense of fulfillment of an expectation. It looked like a game of cat and mouse, I being the cat for a change. I pulled the car to the side and killed the engine, preparing for a long talk. The familiar voice, dripping sweetness, started repeating what he had told yesterday. I cut him short and said, “Look here Sir, I fully remember what you told me last morning, and to prove that, I will do the talking, and you will please listen. Do you agree?” He replied with some hesitation, probably because the matter was drifting in an unexpected direction, “Yes, yes, by all means. Please proceed.” I continued, starting off with his exact words as heard by me the previous day, “I am extremely indebted to you for trying to help an old man like me with money which I certainly need. But unfortunately I do not know you. I am unfamiliar with your name, address, telephone number and exact position in XYZ Insurance Company. I tried to contact you back yesterday on your calling number displayed on my mobile, but your telephone was either engaged or not attended. So you are beyond my reach even before we have started any transaction. Suppose I hand over my cheque for Rs.21,000 to your contact, what is the assurance that I will get back Rs.66,000 next month or ever in my life time? What do I do in such a condition, except curse my gullibility in believing a total stranger like you? You will no doubt pocket your commission of Rs 2000 or Rs.3000 or whatever is the prevailing rate of the Company for enticing new ‘bakras’ for a scheme which may even be age barred for a man of my years…..” Nonplussed, U.C. interjected, “Sir, how can I get any commission from the Company? I am not a private player. I am their paid employee, and get only a regular salary.” I however cut him short once again and said, “You had agreed to listen to me first. Please do so as I have not finished yet. After talking to you yesterday, I called the Manager of the local branch of XYZ Insurance Company, and he advised me to tell you to contact him and make him aware of your scheme as he himself never heard about it. In case he clears it I will certainly pay any money he advises, but not a paisa without his telling me to do so. His name and telephone numbers are as follows……” There was a soft click on the earpiece side of my mobile. U.C. had rung off.
I was wondering whether such a call could be termed as an unsolicited call from a telemarketer and qualify for a fine of Rs.2.5 lacs, as mooted by the authorities for enactment of rules with effect from January 11, 2011. And then I remembered another incidence when my gullibility would have put me in the red for several thousands of rupees, a few years ago. The story goes like this.
I got a call from a local landline number, congratulating me for having been shortlisted as recipient of a highly subsidized holiday package in one of their several holiday homes spread across the country. I along with my wife are invited, he said, for a presentation by them in a local hotel at 3 P.M. next afternoon, followed by high tea and a special gift for important participants like us. With the lure of free chow chow topped by a gift, and also next day being a Sunday, made me say, yes; we will come. When we reached the venue at the appointed time, we found the hall nearly full, with about 30 couples like us, and 8 hosts. Some of the participants were known to me. The registration formalities were completed quickly, and the guests were divided in five groups. Each group was addressed by a well attired youngster, with a fine gift of gab. We were shown well thumbed glossy magazines with pictures of beautiful hill stations and exotic places of tourist interest. All the documents were superscribed in bold print with the logo of their firm, M/S ABC Holiday Homes Private Ltd. The prices asked for different packages appeared to be quite reasonable, with free transport from and to the concerned Railway Stations or Airports. Complimentary breakfast and/or dinner were thrown in as extra attraction on different days. On the whole, the offers appeared to be too good to be refused point blank. But the rub was—the prices were still in several thousands of rupees, and they wanted us to commit our acceptance or otherwise immediately, before leaving the hall. I wanted at least two days time to decide in consultation with my son, who was away on tour, and to mentally convince myself that I could really afford to spend the large sum of money at that point of time. The Organizers, however were not prepared to grant us any further time to give our final decision. With a heavy heart, we said ‘No’, and quickly left with the gift, a cheap porcelain flower vase, missing the high tea.
A month later I happened to run into one of the participants who had said ‘Yes’ after the presentation, and asked him as to how the holiday with M/S ABC Holiday Homes Pvt. went. The gentleman exploded with all the expletives in his vocabulary, and said the trip was a complete wash out. It was a thoroughly ill organized tour and the Company did not deliver most of the freebies they had promised, giving unacceptable excuses. They do not own any of the Holiday Homes they had shown in the pictures; they get these on off-season rates from second class dirty hotels, who fail to get clientele in normal course. He had to abort the trip half way, and returned home. He said he intends to report to the Authorities against the Company. I wished him good luck in getting even a faint scent of the Organizers, who must have by now vanished into thin air.
Unfortunately, such fraudsters are still in business, as only quite recently one of my friends reported to me enthusiastically the receipt of a similar telephone call, to which he intends to respond positively, he said. I recounted above story to him which came to him as a big damper.
Any law on the anvil against such scam mongers?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Welcome Sunset Years

Welcome Sunset Years

At a tender age the child is sent to school to amass knowledge, to imbibe discipline and generally to prepare him or her to face the world successfully in future life. This starts off a process that lasts till the poor fellow sees the last of the college after a long and tortuous journey, encountering sleepless nights, numerous ups and downs and occasional heartburns to reach better-than-others position in this cut throat and severely competitive world. Some are pressured to excel in arts, sports, theatre, debate, singing, drama and what not by their parents or guardians till they feel like crying “stop now, for heaven’s sake, enough is enough.” And then starts the hunt for a job, a suitable matrimonial match, advancement in career and finally ditto for their own children. This consumes the whole life till the age of sixty or thereabouts. No doubt, with the youthful exuberance, unbounded energy, tough challenges and the pleasure which comes out of meeting them head on, the life is on a song. The enjoyable moments pass off too soon, or so it appears. But the concern and the uncertainty of future remains at the back of the mind till all the problems are addressed and loose ends tied up. The crux of the matter is that there is not a day when you are free from any worry about tomorrow, or the day after. And finally a day comes when you see the last of your office, or factory, or business or whatever you have been doing for donkey years to earn a living. This day you start your retired life, and should carry a large placard at the back of your car proclaiming “J R”, or “Just Retired” in large bold letters. Yes, it should be in the style of “Just Married”, for this day is equally important. You may the same day acquire one more sobriquet, which carries lot of advantages with it, that is, you become a senior citizen of the country. And additionally, you can enjoy your preschool entry years for a much longer duration, with not a worry to bother you, and with a fully mature mind and physical capabilities.
Usually, the retiree is given a send off suiting his rank in the hierarchy, by his colleagues of the yore, accompanied by high sounding speeches praising the sterling qualities of the central person on the podium, qualities discovered by the speakers the same day or maybe a little earlier. As the last item on the agenda the retiree is asked to speak and give his parting advice on how to run the Department which due to his absence may crumble down the next day. This makes the hero of the day think, well, after all these years these buggers have only now realized my true worth, which may be somewhat late in the day. All the same he feels elated and overcome by emotion on parting with such doting colleagues, faces the microphone and babbles out some long forgotten anecdotes, and finally thanks those present for having given their wholehearted cooperation to make him successful in his long innings. Members of the congregation meanwhile wait for the long speech to end so that they can attack the goodies getting cold and soggie on the adjoining tables.
I wonder on the sense of duty and involvement of a relative of mine who continued to visit the branch office of a public sector undertaking from where he retired as the in-charge some ten months ago, to advise the customers and the staff on various matters, every working day of the week. He had to break this routine for about fifteen days due to sickness, during which period not a single phone call came asking the reasons of his absence. Nobody asked him why he did not show up for this long period even when he rejoined his voluntary duties. With this, he got the message and discontinued his self assumed responsibilities forthwith. I really appreciate the level of tolerance of the office staff for the intrusion of this person who was now an outsider for all practical purposes. This example shows that we all tend to glorify in our mind the role we had played in our previous avatar, forgetting the example of the hand in a bucket of water. The hand occupies a prominent place in the bucket so long it is there, but the moment you remove it, the water rushes in to move into the vacated place. There never is a vacuum. For the good of everybody, we should work in our active working life span in a way that our next man in command should be able to step into our shoes at a moment’s notice, if the occasion so demands. This advice is however seldom followed as it goes against the basic human nature of always preserving his importance and irreplaceability. A great sense of dejection and self pity therefore engulfs him or her on the retirement day, and he/she cannot help marching back in time to the thoughts of bygone days of glory and power, again and again.
A friend of mine based at San Jose, California, had mailed me few thoughts of a person who had retired some time ago, and requested me to forward this mail to at least 7 more persons. I am reproducing these as I find them quite topical and many more than seven people can derive the benefit on reading this article. The mail reads as follows:
“I will never trade my amazing friends, my wonderful life, my loving family for less gray hair or a flatter belly. As I have aged, I have become kinder to myself and less critical of myself. I have become my own friend. I don’t chide myself for eating that extra cookie, or for not making my bed, or for buying that silly cement gecko that I did’nt need, but it looks so avante garde on my patio. I am entitled to a treat, to be messy, to be extravagant. I have seen too many dear friends leave this world too soon; before they understood the great freedom that comes with ageing.
“Whose business is it if I choose to read or play on the computer until 4 AM and sleep until noon? I will dance myself to those wonderful tunes of the 60 & 70’s and if I, at the same time, weep over a lost love, I will. I will walk the beach in a swim suit that is stretched over a bulging body and will dive into waves with abandon if I choose to, despite the pitying glances from the jet set.
“They too will get old.
“I know I am sometimes forgetful. But there again, some of the life is just as well forgotten. And eventually I remember the important things. Sure, over the years my heart has been broken. How can your heart not break when you lose a loved one, or when a child suffers, or even when somebody’s pet gets hit by a car? But broken hearts are what give us strength and understanding and compassion. A heart never broken is pristine and sterile and never knows the joys of being imperfect. I am so blessed to have lived long enough to have my hair turning gray and to have my youthful laughs be forever etched into deep grooves on my face. So many have never laughed, and so many have died before their hair could turn silver. As you grow older, it is easier to be positive. You care less about what other people think. I don’t question myself any more. I’ve earned the right to be wrong. So, to answer your question, I like being old. It has set me free. I like to be the person I have become. I am not going to live forever, but while I am still here, I will not waste time lamenting what could have been, or worrying about what will be. And I shall eat dessert every single day, if I feel like it.”
My dear Readers, do you subscribe to the ‘I don’t care two hoots of what you think of me’ attitude of the author of above quote? Frankly speaking, I do. This is how a four year old will feel, before he is burdened with ever increasing demands from the forces controlling his life. But, unfortunately, the person who enters the qualifying zone of senior citizenship has to deal with failing health, uncertain financial security and above all, spells of boredom in suddenly finding that he has nothing much left to do. Having spent a few years of post retirement life, and being a senior citizen for over decade and half, I would venture to put forth some suggestions in the following lines which you may find of interest.
Some decades ago, the age of sixty was considered to be the gateway to grave; and the incumbent a burden on society. He himself would retire into a cocoon, shun the company of youngsters and count the days left for him to live as bonus. Nether world appeared to him to be close by, and he would plunge fulltime into matters spiritual, preparing for a better next life. Today, however things are much different. Thanks to the large scale practice of yoga, pranayam, regular walking, aerobic exercises, better healthcare and improved lifestyle, the life expectancy has dramatically increased. I see in my locality people well into their seventies and eighties walking in the park, socializing and enjoying life with their same age and even younger friends. Not that they do not have health problems, but they have learnt to live in the present, for the past is a closed chapter, the future nobody has seen, and the present is after all a present (gift) to you. The yoga and pranayam practice sessions run with full attendance every day of the week at the appointed hour, come winter, summer or rains. In the senior citizens’ club, like of which are now running in several localities of the city, lectures by health care professionals are being arranged by the office bearers. Such talks are hugely popular and beneficial to the participants.

Proper diet and correct food habits are as important to a happy old age life as regular exercise. The advisability of partaking light vegetarian food with minimum spices, fat, sugar, salt and fried items cannot be over emphasized. Occasional binge of rich food and a peg or two of liquor, particularly in company, can be considered to be acceptable, for life should not be allowed to be a drag and not worth living. Variation in food items, meal to meal, will make eating a pleasant experience to which you would look forward to with anticipation. Diabetes and hypertension are two scourges which are on the rise and afflict many before they are sixty or thereabouts. Both of these are conditions which are irreversible, but with controlled diet, exercise and medication, if advised by the healthcare expert, normal complication free life is certainly possible. For diabetics, there is a raging debate about the use of sugar substitutes like Sugarfree, Equal, Splenda etc. and the medical opinion is divided whether these have harmful after effects or otherwise. In place of artificial sweeteners, it is possibly better to take half or quarter teaspoonful of sugar in a cup of tea or coffee to start with, and then stop the use of sugar altogether in course of time. Believe me, these beverages taste equally good without any sweetener also, once you get used to.
Smoking or use of tobacco in any form is strictly no no. In case you are an addict, it is advisable to get rid of tobacco at the very earliest. The concept that this habit can be tapered off to complete discontinuation is a myth. With certain determination, the use of tobacco has to be stopped at one go. Many of my known people have done so, once the conviction that smoking or chewing tobacco is certain invitation to catastrophe sets in.
If you have been a Government employee at the time of retirement and are entitled to pension benefits, you are lucky, as the pension amount is likely to get enhanced automatically with the increase of general prices. Not as much as to offset the rising prices completely, but may be to some extent. Those who separate out with a one time provident fund and gratuity payment by the employer are not so well placed. The rise of prices will always be much higher than regular income by way of bank interest on your investments. Investment in mutual funds can be a good alternative provided the right choice is exercised. Expert agencies may be consulted for guidance on intelligent investment, as a wrong choice may make you lose even the basic principal, which can never be recouped for want of a regular source of income. Total dependence on the children, who at least in India are usually willing to support the parents in their twilight years due to our cultural heritage, has to be resorted to as the last alternative. Legal recourse is available to those who are financially insecure and their children are not willing to support them at this time of need. Many parents have to spend a lonely life as the children migrate to foreign shores for advancement of their professional career. Well appointed ‘Old Persons’ Homes’ are now available at an affordable price. If you are reasonably comfortable from a financial point of view, go ahead and enjoy life as per the quote mentioned above. Please keep your property, both movable and immovable, in your own name or in the name of your spouse. A will (testament) should be drawn out with expert guidance, clearly listing out the details of your property and mentioning accurately the disposal of the assets, after your departure. The will should be signed by two younger witnesses who are not likely to predecease you in normal circumstances. The contents of your will can be disclosed to the beneficiaries of the same unless there is a special reason not to do so. Your near and dear should not be left to an uncertainty which will be resolved only after you are dead and gone. The disclosure to those concerned may give you an opportunity to make corrections and readjustments in the will document, if you so desire. But you are the final authority on how you wish to bequeath your self- earned assets. There is a school of thought that advocates your enjoying the fruits of your labour to the last paisa before you finally close your eyes. Well, you are certainly entitled to do so, but only after providing for your surviving spouse for his/her remaining years of life.
Those of you who are in reasonably good health, and get an opportunity to work in line with your qualifications and experience, may continue working as this will delay the retirement, apart from giving some financial support. Alternatively, you may join some social or community service, or religious activity if you are so inclined. With many avenues to keep one engaged, the passing of the time of the day should not be a bother at all. Personal computer, desk top type or laptop, can make you spend quality time till you become an internet addict, which condition I will never advise you to achieve. You can listen to and even download on the computer memory any song or movie of your choice any time of the day, and at no cost. Choice of music or movies you can pick up at the internet sites is very large indeed. Any query on any conceivable subject can be answered in a jiffy, thanks to sites like Google. For composition of text by way of letters or literary pieces on the computer Word Pad is extremely user friendly. You can blog, tweet, enter the face book or join any other social networking site to reach any number of people in the world, and make new friends. Use of e-mail and web cam will connect you to your friends and near and dear persons at the speed of light, across the globe and with minimal cost. You can book railway, airline and cinema tickets and hotel or resort accommodation, sitting in your home, and obtain the tickets or receipts using a printer without having to stand in long queues. Electronic trading in shares is a very popular activity, and has displaced the middle men to a large extent. The advantages of a computer with internet connection are really very great, and it is worthwhile investing in a laptop and net connectivity.
Persons who are not computer literate have an inborn resistance to learn the technique at this stage of life, which is quite understandable. But looking to the advantages, this resistance has to be overcome. Your children or grandchildren will be quite happy to teach you the use of computer, and you should not mind learning new things from the youngsters who are smarter than what we were at their age. Proficiency will come fast, with practice.
Solving Crossword and Sudoku puzzles is very interesting exercise, and both are intensely habit forming. These should be therefore attempted within limits, lest you are not left with time to do anything else. Reading newspapers, magazines, works of fiction and non-fiction etc. could be quite engrossing, if you are an avid reader. There are special magazines devoted to senior citizens with matters of geriatric interest. One such monthly magazine ‘Dignity Dialogue’ published from Mumbai landed on my table the other day, as one of my old colleagues had gifted me its subscription for a year. This is a good magazine and offers useful tips relevant to senior citizens. And then there is TV with umpteen channels, and FM radio broadcasts which span all waking hours. What about giving some quality time to your spouse and younger members of the family which you could never do in your active working life? With so many options to keep you engrossed, time should not weigh heavy on you. So far as I am concerned, I just don’t know how the waking hours pass. At the end of the day I am not able to count on my fingers substantive results achieved, except a Sudoku puzzle solved, some household gadgets repaired and a page or two typed on my Word Pad. There is always a big agenda left for the next day.
To sum up, my friends, I would say that you are only as old you think you are, as the body ages, but the mind does not. And it is better to be seventy years young than forty years old. You are getting wiser as you grow old. Somerset Maugham had said quite aptly in one of his popular books “From the earliest times the old had rubbed it into the young that they are wiser than they, and before the young had discovered what nonsense this was they were old too, and it profited them to carry on the imposture.”
You may share your views at : ‘’
Author: S.S.Seth

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Experiences Post Retirement

I superannuated after my over 35 year stint with the public sector behemoth, SAIL, about 18 years ago. Parting after such a long association and demiting office from near the top of the chosen profession left me with a mixed bag of feelings. A tug at the heart for sudden rupture of bonhomie with old colleagues at top and bottom rungs of hierarchy and with peers, and feeling of immense relief on offloading of the heavy responsibilities on somebody else's shoulders, were most dominating in my frame of thinking.
I had got the retirement order after a short extention, and could have got more extensions had I tried, but I found the private sector beckoning me with open arms and somewhat lucrative offers.So I said goodbye to my longtime benefactor and finally quit.The almost unlimited growth oppotunities, excellent work culture and long experience in handling men, material and equipment had prepared me adequately for tackling new challenges, and I embarked on my new avatar with enthusiasm.However, after starting off, one of the first lessons that I learnt was to hang my ego, whatever little of it I had, on a convenient peg in my house, before dealing with my new masters
. Various techniques in management of resources, finance, time, men, machines, oppotunities etc we had been taught sufficiently in reputed management schools and institutions in the country and abroad during the public sector life, but very little of an important skill, that is, how to manage the boss.And that too a boss who has no boss over him.I found that many of my erstwhile colleagues who too had joined the private sector on leaving SAIL, on superannuation or after taking voluntary retirement, did not survive in the new environment for more than a few months.The majority of private sector organisations, specially in our country, are family owned and family managed and headed by a senior member of the family, quite often alone when he is young, and later, with the assistance of his close kith and kin.The new entrant in such an organisation who has had a long innings in public sector companies is subjected to a cultural shock, at least in the beginning.He realises soon enough that the Managing Director who is also the owner of the company is a tougher nut to crack.
Very often this top man has had no structured management training and has built his empire by dint of hard work and after suffering many ignominies at the hands of Babus and upstarts of the Government and quasi-government organisations he had to deal with in his march to the top.He might have therefore imbibed a feeling of mistrust and dislike for the persons as a class who belong to this stock. His likes and dislikes ars usually quite defined and strong, and he would never like to change, if he could. And admitting that he made a mistake? No, never !. By the time the new fellow understands these facts and takes corrective action, it is usually too late.He is politely told that this company is too small for a talented person like him, and is presented the cheque for the days worked with a flourish.The survivor, if any, now encounters other dangers lurking around the corner.There is a large band of old timers, including confidants of the big boss or their close cohorts, who are watching the poor newcomer like a hawk. They would be happy to grab a chance to pass on to the top any information regarding the house rules flouted or the family traditions broken by the fellow during his learning process, who inspite of being stared at by people unseen by him, has to perform well in the area of his core competence for which he was hired. At this stage the new man has to do something spectacular, like using his old association and influence in his previous company for the benefit of the present employer.This is a dangerous ground.He will find soon enough that all respect and regards he had built up in his long service with the previous company will melt away in no time. His earlier subordinates whose career he had carefully nurtured in the past to take them to their present level of authority will start shunning him. Very soon he will become persona non grata where he was earlier ruling the roost..
The reader of this article may now tend to think that a retiree from a government or public sector company has got no place for him in a private organisation. and such an organisation is meant only for those who are born and brought up there itself. The fact is that many persons who had spent a very long time in ' Sarkari ' companies are doing exceedingly well after they have shifted to the private companies of family owned type or professionally managed corporate houses.The concerned person, of executive or non executive cadre, has to outshine in performance in the specialised field for which he was basically hired. Value addition should be perceivable, so much so that he creates an aura of irreplacibility around him.This stage obviously will take some time to be achieved.To start with, the new man has to assume a non-dominant position, with eyes and ears wide open to fit himself smoothly into the new position. A rudimentry knowledge of human psychology will be of great help to guide him to mete out the right treatment to the people at different levels he is dealing with.
For two successive years after retirement I was invited by my public sector employers to speak to their about-to-retire executives with a view to prepare them for the impending separation. Although I had not really retired from active working life, only there had been a change of employers, I decided to do justice to the presentation to my old fellow executives. With the help of some material available in the library ( Google uncle of internet was possibly not born at that time ), and the drawing skill of the renowned cartoonist Pandurang Rao, who was a close friend of mine, I prepared lot of transparencies.My two hour talks were acclaimed as hits.It appears that the Organisers of my lectures were not aware of my employment status, for I was not the right choice to speak on the subject at that point of time.But the participants appeared to be more knowledgeable. Immediately after the talk, I used to be surrounded by quite a few participants, some with their bio-data and job applications written out and ready to be given to me, asking to be considered for a job in my company or with some other likely employer known to me.
After having put in about fifteen years of service with private sector firms, both family owned and a corporate house, I decided to hang my boots, and finally took voluntary retirement four years ago. Enough of having a boss breathing down my neck, however good he may be as a person, and following an eight to five schedule, day in and day out.I could, after all these years, act on the advice I gave to the would-be-retirees many years ago on how to lead a meaningful retired life. So I am now game for organising training programmes for retirees, and also for those who want to bag a job with private sector players,and keep it for as long as they wish. Any takers ?

Author: S.S.Seth

Monday, March 22, 2010

Sibling Bonding

My elder sister was 8 years senior to me in age, and the eldest, 16 years. The earliest recollection of the latter one is of a young lady with a small daugter in tow, who used to come to our house once in a while as an honoured guest, with all members of the family fussing over the mother and daughter duo all the time.Not a very happy recollection as with the arrival of the guests, I was ignored in equal measure.This was somewhat painful as being the youngest child of my parents I was accustomed to getting lot of attention in normal course.The person who was doing the maximum doting over me was my elder sister who remained my only childhood companion till she herself got married off at the age of 16.I used to call her by her first name inspite of my parents' directive to show some deference to her by using a respectful adjective like Didi or Bahenji.She became my Bahenji only after the birth of her first child, a son.My fights with her were quite often vigorously physical till she finally left for her husband's place.
The most favoured child of my father was my elder sister, much to the jealousy of both me and our elder brother, and I do not recollect of him ever losing temper or scolding her for her misdeeds which in my childhood eyes were aplenty.We had a desk clock of English make Jazz, the only timepiece in our household.The clock had to be wound once in 24 hours to keep it going, the duty for which was assigned to my sister. Once while winding it she dropped it to the floor breaking it into two pieces, the back cover having come asunder.My mother was shocked.How shall we manage our routine now? The Master of the House has to go to his office on time, and the children to their respective schools, again on time.With no timepiece around, we shall be lost.This was a time when almost all machine items had to be imported from Germany or England, and timepieces including watches were proud possessions. But I was very much elated, and was waiting impatiently for father to come back home from office and thrash this girl of a sister for her carelessness.So finally the day has come when this darling of our father will definitely get a sound bashing from him, I thought.I was ofcourse wrong and had underestimated her cleverness.She accosted father at the front door, before he could even step into the house, with downcast eyes and a long face. "Babuji, I have done a grave mistake today. I have dropped the table clock and broke it into pieces.Please punish me." He put his hand on my sister's head fondly and said,"Oh my darling daughter, don't you worry. Such things do happen in life. We will get the clock mended." I was aghast and felt like crying. My mother smiled broadly, and muttered under her breadth, "you scheming girl."
Sister had a beautiful singing voice and tried her best to teach me too to sing.She used to take great pride when I would sing in my squeaky voice Noorjehan's old immortal songs to the family gathering.As mother was usually too busy in cooking and in her normal duties as a homemaker, she had little time for me. So sister was my mother too. I would sleep during nights only with her, snuggling close for comfort. One afternoon, she sat on a pair of scissors inadvertently and suffered a serious cut She started bleeding profusely from the cut.Seeing the free flow of blood, I started crying inconsolably and entwined myself to her, disregardful of the blood soaking me too. "Oh, my sister, please don't die.How will I live without you?", I wailed. She had to be wrenched free from me to be taken to the doctor who gave her six stiches to stop the flow of blood.The wound took two months to heal.
All what I have mentioned above would have remained dormant in the folds of my memory till my last day but for the fact that I started seeing every day encore of the same brother sister drama in my present household.My grandson, aged 6, and the granddaughter of 13 years are mostly in fighting mode. But reconcilation comes equally fast.Next conflict may assume more violent proportions with the boy usually assuming aggressively attacking posture.On hearing the turmoil the elders always advise the girl to restrain herself, being twice in size and more mature, and she, poor soul ,usually capitulates.But sometimes she is not able to digest the tantrums of the young fellow, and unable to give back what she is getting, her cup of woes spills over.Using the ultimate weapon invented by Queen Kaikeyi in ' Dwapar Yug ' and used by the feminine gender all over the world eversince, she retires into the ' Kope Bhavan'.
The boy is very fond of chocolates and demands one whenever he accompanies me to the market. But he never forgets to make me buy one more for the sister, which
he dutifully passes on to her.The girl also takes lot of pride in the achievements of the brother and watches his antics on and off the stage with great relish. The two are inseparable and feel desolate when they do not see each other even for a short while.
The emotions in this relationship of siblings runs deep; rivalry, jealousy, protectiveness, possessiveness, anger on dissidence, pride, friendship, magnanimity and unbounded love are few of them. Time and distance may dull these, but they remain permanently imprinted in the mind and heart.
My sister has passed away 5 years ago, leaving her children and siblings deeply grieved.
Be in peace Sister, wherever you are.
Author: S.S.Seth