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The doorbell rang. No, not again. This modern gadget can be a bit of a nuisance, sometimes.
I was in the bathroom. Must be some useless caller. I ignored it. It buzzed again. The visitor was persistent.
“Who is it?” I shouted from the bathroom.
“Courier,” came the answer.
“From where?” I queried.
“From the bank…cheque book,” I thought I heard.
Ok, I remembered, I had applied for a new cheque book at my bank. Now this was important. “Alright, wait a few minutes… I am coming,” I shouted back.
I quickly finished my bath, hurriedly got into my clothes and answered the door. It was from a bank alright, but a credit statement related to a card I was not using anymore. Still I got couriered statements of regularly.
This made me furious. “Where is the cheque book?” I almost shrieked.
“What cheque book?”
“You said cheque book.”
“I said bank…your credit card statement.”
“I don’t want this statement. I don’t use this card anymore. Anyway, why didn’t you just shove the letter under the door? It was not that important a document…only a credit card statement, for God’s sake, not a cheque book,” I banged the door on him.
This sort of thing happens all the time. One would be really, really busy and running late, the doorbell would go ding-dong and it would be a salesman selling door to door something one would never use all one’s life or a service provider offering free services for a gadget one doesn’t even own.
Then, there would be these glorified beggars with a receipt booklet of some obscure organisation asking for charity, just taking a chance. Or some sadhus going on a pilgrimage. All able-bodied people, begging on some pretext or the other.
The doorbell buzzed again. Murmuring, I approached the door. There he was, a young man in his early twenties. He smiled. “Didi, I have come from the school for the handicapped,” he said very slowly in a highly slurred speech.
Oh no, not again, someone’s come begging for charity. Sorry, I was about to say.
“Didi, I have come to sell some products we make at our school, would you like to buy some?”
“What do you have?” I asked almost disinterestedly.
“Oh, things like perfumed candles, incense sticks, greeting cards,” he said as he eagerly shoved some of the cards into my face. They were very beautiful, the cards with flowers, landscapes and smiling human faces adorning them.
I bought some gladly. The cards had a heart-warming message at the back — self-help, not charity is our motto.
“Thank you, didi,” he went away but not without leaving a smile on my face.
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In life, skyline keeps on changing. The chaotic tumble of progress, the simultaneity of events and an unemotional network of computers, censors and signals have accelerated the pace of change. Life has become an open port perpetually on the boil with no steam vents.
Every age has an aura, an atmosphere, a vibration that is characteristic and unmistakable. Presently anxiety is the murmur of times, and discontent is the medium of the age. Smooth as a snake, change can be seen from real life to reel life.
Corruption has gained acceptability. Acceptability is the first step to respectability. Money has become an effective lubricant of the political and administrative machinery. Recently an old farmer-friend came to see me. He told me that he had come for some work. He was all praise for the bureaucrat who had accepted bribe in his office. He told me that the bureaucrat was a man of principles, frankness and straight-forward conduct. He had told him that instead of Diwali gifts, he should pay him cash. “Khandani aadmi hai” (He comes of a good stock).
People who should have been in Tihar Jail have reached the chambers of governance. Most of the politicians have been “thana-level” operators. An MLA, who was the chairman of a corporation, misbehaved with his lady PA. There was a lot of furore. I knew him and asked him about the incident. He said, “Eh taan facility hai” (This a facility with the job).
Power vendors and influence peddlers have an effective presence in the corridors of power. Pimps and touts can be seen in the company of bureaucrats and ministers. They make easily available, easy glow damsels who are in a perpetual state of tumescence. They cultivate influential people with their husky bedside manners. These princesses are used for striking big deals. Some of the ministers and bureaucrats are shrines of sin. The corridors of power resonate with the cooing of psycophants. Some of them not only lick but slurp also and feel happy when their slurp is heard. The strong coating of Indian inhibitions has been replaced by perversion, prurience and pornography. Cellphones, booze and high infidelity are the symbols of new age.
Visible change can be seen in reel life. There is thirst for trivia. What a Meena Kumari or a Madhubala could convey through a glance is now pointedly brought home to the audience by reference to “Choli ke peechey kya hai”. Begum Akhtar’s “Mohabbat teray naam pe rona aya” has been replaced by “Anarkali disco chali”. “Badnam Munnis” and “Jawan Sheelas” dominate the silver screen. Our erotomania has taken us to eroticism. Now nothing is erotic. Love requires decency, silence and privacy. It is as if Mona Lisa has revealed the secret of her smile.
Traditional values of civility, decorum and restraint have disappeared. There is a smell of sorrow, smudged rages and dead brain cells. Life has become an archive of unhappiness and catacomb of darkness. Memories of old straight-forward days and decent people remain fresh. The songs are over, but the melody lingers.
Raji P Srivastav
The peer learning that occurs on school campuses can take the credit for grammar viruses that incubate, thrive, flourish and mutate into more lethal strains with time. Children seem to pick these up from spores in the air and bring the germs home in spite of parental admonitions to speak correct English. “Mummy, the bus came,” from the lips of a pre-schooler is excusable because it conveys accurately the status of the bus– that it has arrived. But it is odd to hear from a child not so young: “How much toffees will come in Rs 10?” Toffees coming? How have they arrived, and from where? What is alive in school will get into college, which is officially the stage to announce to the world that you have arrived: no homework, or uniform, and often, no class, unless one is very unlucky. Adolescent nirvana: the advent of canteen as the hub of all socialisation. Classrooms are incidental to the great college experience. There is nobody to edit one’s bloomers, no one to say what is wrong or better, because to write and speak as you like it is hip. There are a hundred ways of spelling Ma’am: Mam, M’am, Ma’m, mam’, Maam, Madm, M’’’am, Mm’e, and even Mmmmam—no matter that only one is correct. Since variety is the spice of life, we love devising new variants of the spellings.
In my days (agreed, it was a very long time ago), teachers could smell bad spellings or wrong usage from miles. The words we would misspell consistently were “embarrassed”, “vacuum”, “balloon”, and “woollen”, if you did not count “onomatopoeia” or “diarrhoea” (because these were of foreign origin). Beyond these minefields, we wrote straightforward English with reasonable accuracy. We knew where to put inverted commas and what to do with vernacular words—you italicised them. If we made a mistake, we apologised shame-facedly and went back to the dictionary to check. Placing the tricky apostrophe correctly within “Its” brought with it a triumphant adrenalin rush. Dictionaries back then were neither reference books in huge libraries with miles of occupied shelves nor miniature prayer booklets that you could slip into the pockets of your jeans. It was a real book, which you carried in your school bag because you needed to consult it when in spelling dilemma or vocabulary crisis. To my liberated young friends, who believe in reinventing the starchy rules of grammar and think spellings are personal to the user, I only want to ask: “How much Saridon will come in Rs 10? My head pains badly after reading your lingo.” Better still, I can join you by saying: “Jus lurve your style—its 2 gud!”
I’M sure we all look back upon our childhood with pleasure and reminisce about the magical times. My childhood also had all the magic of an Alice in wonderland.
My first memory as a child is of helping my father apply ointment to the broken wing of a dove and feed her medicine and rice. I can still feel the thrill of satisfaction when the dove soared into the sky with her mended wing. I can still remember the overwhelming joy when the dove kept coming back to our house every day as if to express her gratitude for our help.
After this episode everyone in the vicinity, be it the milkman or the dhobi or the vegetable vendor, brought birds with broken legs or wings to our house for recovery. So at times we had a mélange of parrots, sparrows, blackbirds, doves in the house squawking, twittering or cooing for attention.
As I grew up, depending upon the local animal populace, my motley crowd kept changing its profile. Sometimes it was made up of squirrels, kittens and guinea pigs whom I guarded fiercely against predators. At other times it constituted caterpillars that I would bring home just for the pleasure of seeing them miraculously transform into beautiful butterflies.
Once I was lucky to have a tank full of turtles in the backyard. At another time a white rabbit strayed into our garden. It had been ravaged by a jackal and trembled with fear at the slightest noise. But slowly it recovered and we became inseparable like Mary and her little lamb.
Perhaps the dearest member of my animal coterie was a Neelgai. There was a forest fire in the area we stayed in and the ‘jawans’ rescued a Neelgai calf from the fire. The poor grief-stricken motherless calf gave up eating and drinking. Upon me fell the onerous task of cajoling the calf to drink milk from a bottle.
I would patiently pet the neelgai and feed it milk every day before going to school. A strong bond developed between us but there was grief ahead as the fully recovered calf had to be sent back to her own habitat. I missed her but my dad would drive me down the forested area once in a while and the fully grown neelgai would leave her herd and stand in the path of the jeep as if to greet us.
These childhood friends were not like the spruced up pedigreed pets of today but they made my life magical with their raw spontaneity. My animal coterie is lost in the mists of time but even after several decades brings a happy smile to my face.