Monday, March 26, 2007

MONDAY MUSINGS

Graduation and The Convocation Day

For me, Graduation is only a concept. In real life, you graduate every day. Graduation is a process that goes on until the last day of your life. If you can grasp that, you'll make a difference. My advice to my students on their graduation day has always been “Life is your college. May you graduate well, and earn some honors!”
Personally I avoid convocations. I do not relish the idea of wearing a gown and sweating it out for the next 3 hours listening to speeches. Convocation day is that day of the academic calendar when the Chairman, Director and the Chief Guest all get a chance to wax eloquence. But if you have served under the same Chairman and Director for many years, then their first speech would be modified in the years to come; sometimes the only modification could be the change in the year. Also, I can’t bear to see my students cry. Year after year students have leaned on my shoulders and cried. It can get embarrassing too.

Sunday Sermons

I hate sermons. I have been a vociferous critic of Sermons at Mass on Sundays. I appreciate a short message of recollection based on the Gospel passage of the day. I hate the preaching; that can go on for as long as 30 minutes - sheer drivel at times. Just yesterday we had this young priest; who at the sermon sang a song in Telugu (to an audience that was trying to figure out the language) and then explained it in English! What a bloody waste of time! The Catholic Church should seriously do a rethink on sermons during mass. It can get worse during a Wedding Mass or a Funeral Mass. The priest overcome with joy, grief or sheer power, can have an acute attack of ‘verbal diarrhea’. A quote from Oliver Goldsmith comes to my mind – “You can preach a better sermon with your life than with your lips”

Have you noticed?

India has an affluent middle class that has grown in just a few years.
We have more millionaires today than ever before.
We also have more poor people than ever before.
We have more street children & more missing young girls than ever before.
We have more rogues, ruffians, riff-raff and dons than ever before.
Eradicated diseases like Tuberculosis and Malaria are returning with a vengeance.
We do not have a single city with enough drinking water.
We do not have a single clean city; all our cities have garbage removal and disposal problems.
Our politicians no longer even pretend respect for the public.
The numbers of criminals who are MLAs have increased.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

CRIME AND PUNISHMENT

(A recent incident involving one of my student prompted me to bring the following sequence of events to light.)

There was this quiet boy in my class. He never spoke much. He used to walk with me to school as he stayed close to my house. He was an above average student. I liked him and over the years we had become friends. The year was 1978. I was in the 7th std. One day, we missed him on our way back from school. As dusk settled down, his mother came to my house accompanied by my friend. I could make out that he was in pain. His face announced that he had cried. I put my hand on his shoulder and he winced in pain. I was unsettled, where could he have gone? His mother quietly removed his shirt and made him show us his back. There were welt marks on his skinny back. He had been beaten with a thin reed, popularly called ‘nagara bethha’. Amidst sobs he told me that the Headmaster had beaten him. He was playing in the sandpit. It was a bit late in the evening to be playing. So the headmaster had walloped him. His eyes pleaded with me. “Tell my mother. She doesn’t believe me”. I turned round and told all present that we had this monster of a Headmaster. He loved beating students; just like that. My mother was sympathetic; but his mother wasn’t. Later we came to know; that night she beat him with a belt. She wasn’t willing to buy his sand pit story.

The year was 2004. I was at IIMK. My mother called me up. She had some disturbing news. The innocent boy, whom I had referred to above, had been arrested by police for drug trafficking. His mug shot, holding a slate, had been posted on all local newspapers.

Ever since that horrible evening in 1978, my friend had changed. From a quiet honest lad, he transformed into a ruffian and by the time we were 17 years old he had turned into a druggie and a drunk. Later on he was to reform. But that was for a short time. One fine day he fell of the precipice into an abyss of misery.

In 1984, we made a startling discovery. The headmaster who had beaten my friend was a homosexual. He took perverse pleasure in beating boys. From headmaster, he was made a warden of a young boys hostel. It was a ‘befitting’ reward for the rogue. His case came to light when a college student accused him of lewd behaviour. Then on he slipped into oblivion. Did I mention that he was a priest?

A homosexual and a mother lacking in trust had transformed a helpless twelve year old lad playing in a sand pit into a druggie, a drunk and finally into an accused in a drug peddling case.

What crime? What punishment?

Friday, March 16, 2007

GREAT EXPECTATIONS!

(This is a work of fiction. Resemblance of any character to any living person is purely co-incidental. Needless to say, the whole situation is a figment of my imagination)


She was apprehensive. The candidates coming out of the interview seemed stressed. She wondered what was going on inside. Should she accost the next candidate and ask him what was happening? What was the line of questioning that was being followed? Why were the candidates stressed?
Her mind went back to the Group Discussion. She had stepped into the small room and was stunned. There were 20 people for the GD. A middle-aged buxom lady who made her sign her attendance and gave her a badge greeted her. She glanced at the panel. They were three of them. There was a young lady – definitely not a lecturer. She must be an alumnus. She was smiling and whispering to the person on her right who was a rather balding man; with a French beard. He was nodding his head and smiling but all the time his eyes were flitting across the room taking in minute details of the candidates. He made eye contact with her. She held his gaze for a while, then looked away. She felt uncomfortable. He was a Professor for sure, she thought. The third person, of this trio, looked bored. He was younger, seated on the right of the professor. He too is a professor she thought. She wondered; what were the subjects they taught?
She turned to have a look at her rivals on the group discussion round. There were two other girls. They were nervous, she could tell. There were 17 boys. Well, she told herself, as she scanned them just two of them were worth a look-see. The others weren’t what she would term as worthy opponents. The older Professor too was sizing them up with a faint smile on his face. Once again their eyes met. His gaze was piercing and observant. He was sizing up the group. He leaned towards the young girl and whispered in her ear. She looked startled as a gazelle would on hearing a sound. She too gazed at the group and nodded to the Professor. The younger professor stood up and announced the rules of discussion. He droned giving an impression that he was repeating the instructions as a monk would repeat a litany of the saints. The topic was announced - “The relevance of Gandhisim”. She was bored. She glanced around and found to her amusement her ‘rivals’ put down points furiously. She made a few mental notes on what she was going to say; that is, if she got a chance.
The discussion began and as usual it was a shouting match. She was reminded of a fish market. The two girls too pitched in with shrill voices. She heard one of the participants speak in broken English and what he said startled her. He was pointing out that Gandhism was relevant even today. Wasn’t Sonia Gandhi running the Govt? She was stunned. She leaned forward and in a clear distinct voice told the boy “We are talking about Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi here”! There was a momentary silence. She continued, “According to me Gandhism is relevant for all ages, but today, in modern India it has lost its relevance” Her last words were drowned as the other candidates continued their shouting match. She sighed and looked at the panel members. The young lady was keenly trying to follow the gibberish. The older professor looked relaxed as if he had made up his mind. The younger professor was jotting down points furiously. Was this exercise necessary she thought? What was the purpose? The discussion was lost in the din of every participant trying to put in his two penny worth.
She was brought out of her reverie by the buxom lady telling her to get ready for the interview. Her turn came up and she was ushered into the room. Just as she had imagined, the older professor was sitting in the center. He smiled at her. But it was his eyes. They were already reading her. She fended the questions from the younger professor. He was asking her what she was prepared for. She felt comfortable as she waxed eloquence. She was conscious of the older professor’s gaze. She turned to look at him. He was tugging at his beard. “On a scale of 1 to 10, how did your GD go?” he asked. She paused and then murmured “4”. “Why”? He countered. She was about to give him a piece of her mind but held back and said “I could not get in my points”. He looked at her and said “That wasn’t supposed to be your answer. Tell me what’s on your mind”. For a minute she was startled. He could read her mind? She decided to let them have it. She was agitated. How could you put in 20 people and ask them to discuss? Wasn’t it illogical? Didn’t they know that it would be a fish market? Why have the exercises at all? She paused for breath. The young lady on the panel though taken aback could not hide a smile. The young professor was staring at her, his mouth open. But the older professor laughed. “You still managed a relevant point,” he said. “Tell me, list 3 negative points that you have heard of this institute”. She looked straight at him and said “Firstly, the location, secondly, the infrastructure & finally I have been asked not to sign up for food in the mess”. The agitated younger professor was about to say something when the older professor interjected and said “This place has six flights a day from Mumbai, five from Bangalore and International flights from six gulf destinations. There is a 6000 acre SEZ coming up close by which will bring in employment opportunities. And you say there is a location disadvantage? Bricks and mortar don’t teach you anything. If it is a good faculty, you can sit anywhere and study and if the faculty is bad, you can sit anywhere and study. And about the food, let me see what can be done.” He smiled. She felt uncomfortable. The young lady asked her a few pointed questions and then it was all over. She was ushered out of the room.
Had she made the grade? She was deep in thought as she reached for her mobile phone. She better call up home; her mother would be fretting.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

THE DREAM (A collaborative Short Story)

(My collaborator for this short story is Mr. Jayesh Jagasia, a PGP Student at IIMK.
Jayesh was branded insane when he quit his software job to pursue a career in motoring journalism. As a correspondent for CAR India and BIKE India magazines, he led a tough life - road testing some of the best cars in the country and then writing about them. After living the good life for a year - driving fast cars, eating good food and staying out of five-star hotels (all at someone else's expense) - he gave it all up.
Jayesh was branded insane when he quit his motoring journalism job to pursue an MBA at IIMK. The tag has, since, stuck.)

I woke up with a start. The damn electricity department was at it again - unscheduled power cut at a godforsaken hour. It was dark around me and it was humid. Sweat puddles were forming on my stomach waiting to trickle down on to the bed. Flashes of lightning at a distance seemed to play with the shadows in the room. I reached for the torch by my bedside. The beam of the torch fell on the still ceiling fan before I directed it to the alarm clock on the bedside table. It was five minutes past two. I reached for the bottle of water. It was empty. I cursed the electricity department as I heaved myself off the bed, and on bare feet wandered into the kitchen for a drink of water.
The distant roll of thunder accompanied by a sudden waft of cool breeze assured me that the long awaited monsoon was arriving. It was the 6th of June or was it the 7th... who cared? The rain was overdue. I opened the door of the refrigerator and groped for the bottle of water. It was then that the phone rang. It startled me. It was quite an eerie sound at such a very early part of what would be a wet dawn.

Clutching the water bottle I stumbled into the living room. The flashes of lighting were becoming brighter as they guided me to the phone, which was sitting on the desk by the window. I stumbled to the phone and picked it up in the midst of the fourth ring. "Hello". My voice seemed stuck. I cleared my throat. The voice on the other end was muffled. It was that familiar voice that I hated. “Did you do my work you bastard?” he said. Just then there was a discharge of lightning and the phone went dead. I must have muttered something as I dropped the phone on the cradle. The clap of thunder that followed startled me.

I was annoyed; he has the gall to call me at two in the morning and call me a bastard. I wasn’t upset with the name; I have been called worse names in the past. I wondered if he was drunk. The voice was menacing, as it usually was. Not that I was scared, but it annoyed me. Why at two in the morning? He could have called me at a convenient time.

I opened the door of the balcony and stepped out. A mixture of warm air followed by a waft of cool breeze hit me. The first drops of rain fell to the ground. The earth welcomed the first rain with a warm scent of mud. I paused and took a deep breath. Another discharge of lightning streaked in the sky. For an instant it lit up the earth beneath. The clap of thunder that followed was loud and long. I pondered a while longer then stepped in and closed the door of the balcony. The rain was coming at a steady pace bringing a coolness that was much needed.

I took a long swig from the bottle of water and sat down on the bed. I felt a chill or was it my imagination. Lying on the bed I tried to sleep but I couldn’t. The combined effect of the dream and the phone call prevented me from falling into deep slumber. It must have taken a while for me to fall a sleep. The reassuring rhythm of the rain and the coolness that it had imported must have helped. I slept like a log. No dreams, nothing.

The whirr of the ceiling fan woke me up. I shivered in the cool breeze. My eyes fell on the clock. It was ten minutes past seven. I heaved myself from the bed and switched off the fan. The bed looked inviting but the toilet beckoned my swollen bladder…

There were only two calls that had to be heeded at all times. This was one of them. The other was one was the one that had rudely shaken me up last night. That word still rung in my ear. And it stung me hard. What business did the rascal have talking to me like that at that unearthly hour?

Someone up there, meanwhile, seemed to have a swollen bladder too. It was really pouring now - strange for this time of the year. Just as well, though. Yesterday's job hadn't gone off as easily as I had imagined.

My thoughts went back to yesterday's day at work. I had always thought that the fat pig would be nothing more than a cake-walk. It had turned very messy rather too soon. Some fight the pig had put up. The cool breeze brought me back. Bombay being Bombay - nothing had changed from 2005 to 2015 - the almost-instantaneous flooding at Bandra would only help matters. The rain would wash it all away. It would wash away the blood and the fingerprints. Fear would wash away the eyewitnesses. Time would wash away the memory. What would wash away the sin, though?

It was a lazy Sunday morning, and I was sitting in the balcony. My thoughts were a drift, just like those black clouds in the distance…

It had been three years in this profession now. The depression of 2011 still brought back painful memories. It was possibly the most inappropriate time to be doing an MBA. I was, and I couldn't help it. The fact that I was studying at India's best business school didn't help. Multi-crore salaries - the norm only a few years before - had all but evaporated into nothingness. The jobs had dried up, and desperation had set in. Everyone, after all, was doing an MBA only for the money.

Bhai had recruited from campus for the first time that year. When 'Bombay Supari' approached the Career Advancement Cell with the intention of participating in Final Placements, there was shock all around. The desperation drowned out every other feeling pretty soon, however. Bhai picked up seven 'Assignment Officers' that year. I was one of them. It was always going to be a tough life, a dangerous existence - Bhai had warned us. But then, those were desperate times. And desperate times call for desperate measures.

Three of my batchmates were killed in a police encounter within months of joining the 'Company'. With them, one part of me had also died. I stopped fearing death that day.

Bhai's behaviour had stunned me. Everyone could be replaced here, I realised that day. At most times, within minutes. Bhai didn't care about lives. Bhai didn't bother his conscience with the potential that these young men held - the potential that was being clinically destroyed. We were just soldiers in Bhai's pointless war. Nameless & faceless soldiers. Bricks in the wall.

From then on, my relationship with Bhai went downhill. Things had finally come to a stand the day before - just before the last bit of 'work' that Bhai had wanted me to execute in Bandra. Bhai remained obstinate - perhaps it was old age catching up with him. I had no option, but to go with his plan of action. Few people ever had an option when Bhai spoke. The pig had put up a fight. Wouldn't have, had Bhai heard me out for a few minutes.

Bhai would have to be taken care of, were the Company to flourish. Survive, even.

It was still raining; and pretty heavily too now. The rain would have washed away last night's killing. And it would wash away tonight's too. I checked the holster. The Smith & Wesson 0.44 was there all right. It always was. One-two-three-four-five-six. Wouldn't need all of them - but in the three years in the profession, if there was one thing that I had learnt, it was that one can never be too sure.

Bhai was alone in his room, as I had expected. He turned around at the sound of my footsteps. I pulled out the 0.44, took aim, and…

…I woke up with a start. The electricity department was at it again - unscheduled power cut at a Godforsaken hour. It was dark around me and it was humid. Sweat puddles were forming on my stomach waiting to trickle down on to the bed.