Posted on Jan 6, 2005

H.

His mother was insane. She died even before he was one year old, leaving him on the footpath.

Someone picked him up, took him home, became his father. He got a new mother. She had six children to raise, she did what she could to feed them by working at nearby houses. She protected him with the ferocity of a tigress when people ridiculed him.

He grew up with a slur.

He went to school, the cheapest one in town. And dropped out when he was ten, when his elder brother wanted him to earn his keep.

He became a mechanic in one of the the little garages that serviced scooters.

He learned. Someone who ran a bigger garage noticed. He was sent for training, with a better job on return.

He would not smoke, nor drink, nor go out with friends. But he would watch every movie that came to town. When people assigned him new nicknames, he smiled.

Someone arranged him a loan to start a garage on his own. He started one in a thatched shed next to his house. It grew.

His step-brothers were jealous. They wanted their share. He took another loan and paid them. They left to new pastures.

They did not want to take their parents with them. He did not want to let them go either.

He does not live in a tear-jerking script. He repairs real scooters. He watches real movies. He feeds his old parents.

He is my friend. I am proud.

He is not a millionaire. He would never be.

But our society needs more like him. Our economy too.

He would never read this post.

The End.

Posted on Jan 4, 2005

Wings of the Tsunami

She used to bring us fish.

She would come like a dry leaf in a slight breeze, bringing with her the heady fish-smell. My little son, who loves fish would welcome her arrival with jubilation, and would encourage her with his excitement as she bargained with my Ammama (grandma).

Much to the frustration of Ammamma. She is a tough lady. Her prime motto in life is to beat the hell out of all the evil vendors in the world who charge her exorbitant prices. She will quarell with the fish-lady for half an hour, will ask for a price that is 50% of the quoted price, and settle somewhere at 60%. Then they will chat for another 15 minutes as the fish-lady cleans and cuts the fish – about her two sons who do not take care of her, about the unmarried daughter, about her grandchildren, about the sun, the weather, the sea, the fish, the un-sharp knife. The ritual continued, week after week, much to the satisfaction of both the vendor and the customer.

Then the tsunami struck.

We did not know where our fish-lady stayed. We knew that she lived by the sea. A week passed without any news, and we were worried.

Finally, she came down on Friday – still a dry leaf – soaked and re-dried. She had not lost her house, but she lost all her belongings. Her sons were now homeless. She did not know how they will build their lives back. The relief and fear were still painted under her sunken eyes. Ammamma consoled her, offered her food and money. She did not eat, perhaps because she remembered her grandchildren who would be hungry. She took the money, and left, and promised to come back some other day.

My son who was excited at the prospect of eating fish, was disappointed. He perhaps could not understand why she did not bring fish on that day, or why she would not bring it for some more days, or why we would not buy fish for many more days. I told him that big waves came and took her house, but that was perhaps not a credible excuse for him. For he would not know that death and destruction had flown so close to him, touching him with the tip of a wing, as Kamala Das wrote in one of her poems.

Posted on Jan 4, 2005

On Reflections

Reflections

Abhilash’s blog. He becomes especially eloquent when he writes of media or journalism, of nostalgia for Kerala. He writes good critiques on the social psyche too.

This post is not to thank him for the Orkut invite he sent. :-)

Posted on Jan 3, 2005

OIL

Rough quote from an article in Business Line:

United States probably did not name the invasion of Iraq “Operation Iraqi Liberation” because it reads ‘OIL’ when abbreviated.

:-) I liked that.

Posted on Jan 3, 2005

The Rumor Mill

It was the week of the tsunami. It is _the_ topic of discussion at every social gathering at Chennai and every new anecdote from the disaster carries excellent conversational value. I have read about myths and fables evolving over generations, but here I am participating in the making of a giant myth, colored by the collective imagination of a society that has always loved the dramatic. All these anecdotes – they may be true to the core, or blown out of proportion, or created from void by some imaginative mind – are the little threads that make the fabric of this new myth.

My tryst with it started as early as 8 am on 26th December when the tsunami was still on its way to the Indian coast. There was a phone call from a friend who was visiting Bangalore – “I just heard that there was a huge earthquake at Chennai, is that true? Are you safe?”. It usually takes a lot of violent shaking from my wife before I wake up from sleep, so I am not the best earthquake detector in the world. But my grandma should have known – she wakes up at every movement that she perceives, and that includes some supernatural vibrations that I cannot even comprehend. I consulted her and told my wife who was on the phone – “Chennai is the same as it was when she left, though it may be sad that she is coming back :-) ”.

Then it just started coming in waves – the entire Chennai is getting washed out, ten thousand people died in the Marina beach, all structures are washed away. It took a quick visit to the deserted beach to confirm that this was not really true – most of the concrete structures were still there, with some damage. It was the huts and small tenements of fishermen that were affected the most, and they just got washed away, carrying so many people with them. They were unprepared to handle the tsunami that came in with no warning, but the the large number of casualties had a lot to do with the poor state of their dwellings too.

On 27th, the government got into the act too. There was this new tsunami warning that got people into real panic mode. The office was rife with rumors – you know, the new tsunami has just struck, this time it is huge and the water has come inland for three kilometers, entire Triplicane area is flooded – it just came on and on till I started to get worried about the safety of my grandma and son who were at my house three kilometers far from the beach. I called home, and grandma was worried – “come home son, people are saying that water came as far as Taramani and Velachery, we may need to leave”. Fortunately, the admin at HCL did a great job to talk to the concerned officials and confirm that there was no ‘new’ tsunami, only a swelling in the sea.

The newspapers did their bit to bring stories from afar – tales of how some tribes in Thailand survived by the foreknowledge they got from their myths, of how a little British girl saved hundreds of people after she remembered the symptoms of a tsunami from her geography class and alerted them, and so on. We will hear more in the days to come.

There was this one from grandma about some people going to beach to scavenge stuff that got washed ashore, and then selling them at dirt cheap prices. There were good bargains to be made, she heard. Before I made up my mind on believing that, my wife came up with a better one. “You know what happened in Kerala, they were looting the houses of people that abandoned their houses when the tsuami struck. Worse, some people even spread rumors about a second tsunami so that they could loot the abandoned houses”. Ah, the cruelty of man – another cliche of the ‘n’th degree!.

There was also the one that came in between after Karunanidhi got hospitalized with a back pain. The rumor was that he was in serious condition, and that mob was getting violent in some places. I never really understood the reason for the mob to get violent, but I was thankful – Nisha came back from office earlier, a welcome break for us.

I grew up hearing grandmothers’ tales of the flood of ’99. (It actually happened in 1921-22 in Kerala, and the ’99 refers to the year in the Malayalam calendar). Those were tales of endless destruction – no description of any disaster that I ever read, no disaster movie that I ever saw came close to the scale of what they painted. It does not really matter to me that my grandmothers were perhaps less than 5 years old when it really happened, it does not matter that it never appears on the world disaster map.

Perhaps, generations to come will carry the tales of this tsunami in their mind, as the epitome of destruction. I should not really be bothered by the half-truths – I have to be glad that I am a participant the making of a myth.

“The thing about a myth is not whether it is true or not, nor whether it should be true, but that it is somehow truer than truth itself” – from Schindler’s Ark (Thomas Keneally).

Posted on Jan 2, 2005

Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

This is a famous book by Stephen Covey. It continues to have a transforming impact in my life.

I internalized the Quadrant-2 approach to time management that Covey espouses, and it has given me a lot of success in the last two years.

This post is a tribute to this good book.

Then, looking deeper, it is interesting to see how the approaches to personal effectiveness from the western world are moving towards the ideas from the eastern philosophies. The holistic approach to personality development, focus on personal integrity and ‘duty’, the emphasis on balance between roles in life – all these remind me of Bhagavad Gita and writings of Swami Vivekananda.

Posted on Jan 2, 2005

A Good Start

What would be a better day to start off with my first blog? A new year starts today. I never bothered much about these special days though – it is just so unfair to the other days which are equally beautiful.

Chennai is recovering from the Tsunami now. It was really bad that we could not evacuate people in the two full hours between the earthquake and the big wave. As a friend put it, we develop technology to get instant updates and then use it to get score updates of ‘fixed’ cricket matches.