Archive for the ‘school’ Category

ROMANCE – A Love Story

December 26, 2008
ROMANCE

By

VIKRAM KARVE

  

[Dear Reader, here is one of my earliest mushy love stories for you to read this festive season when romance is in the air. Do tell me if you liked it]

 

 

            HIS STORY

 

Sanjay stared blankly at the TV set, never so frightened, never so alone.  He couldn’t believe the news.  The plane had crashed.  There were no survivors.  His wife was dead.  This was one contingency that he had never reckoned with.

 

  Sanjay had spent a good deal of time worrying about what would happen to Shalini, if he had died.  In fact, he had always presumed, and even taken for granted, that he would die first and had accordingly planned meticulously and made elaborate and adequate financial provisions for her in case something should happen to him.

 

  But he had never for a moment considered what would happen to him if Shalini died.  She had been an integral part of him and he couldn’t even imagine living without her.  He felt emotionally shattered.  He wanted to cry but tears refused to come in his eyes and his throat felt dry.  He lapsed into a zombie-like state of shock.

 

            His recollections of the next few days were just vivid flashes in a void.  At first, in desperate hope he had rushed to the airport to check the passenger list, hoping that by some miracle she had not been on board.  Little realizing that it was he who had seen her off.  Then there were condolence visits, and the airlines insurance forms.  He didn’t want any money, or condolences.  He wanted his wife back.  Heartbroken with grief and a strange fear of loneliness, Sanjay had sunk into a state of suspended vacuum, devoid of cognizance.  

 

            As he gradually came into consciousness from his drunken stupor, Sanjay realized that he had lost control over his life.  He opened his eyes with trepidation.  Everything looked blurred.  Slowly things began to come a little more into focus.  He was in a train – lying down on the lower berth in a first class compartment.  On the opposite berth sat a family – a young man, his wife and their small daughter.  The man was looking at him in disgust, the wife with pity, and the daughter with fear.  Sanjay felt ashamed of himself and closed his eyes, in embarrassment, trying to escape from reality.  As he lay on the berth indulging in self-commiseration, Sanjay had the lonely realization that there is indeed a moment when a man has no friend.  There was no one to share his grief.  Wallowing in a mood of self-pity in his private self-created hell, Sanjay had developed acute social phobia.  He was afraid of meeting people, attending social gatherings.  He had internalized his feelings to such an extent that he had even become a victim of agoraphobia – a fear of being in open or public places.  It was a crippling illness.  He was scared of leaving his home, afraid of even going to his office and meeting his colleagues.  Sanjay was rapidly sinking into the depths of a loneliness induced melancholic depression – to the point of no return.  The end of the road was in sight.

 

            “The most important thing is the ability to loosen and get rid of something that is worrying you, and forget your sorrow,” advised Anand, Sanjay’s boss.  “Life must go on.  What you need is break, a change of scene.  There is a technical seminar in Chennai next week.  I am sending you to attend it.  It should be of professional interest to you – in fact, I have intimated the organizers that you shall be giving a lecture regarding the successful project you completed last year.  Get busy and banish your sorrow.”

 

            “It’s easy to mouth platitudes,” thought Sanjay.  He tried to prepare the lecture but could not concentrate.  He had been totally overcome by feelings of hopelessness and a sense of failure.  He had lost his self–confidence.  He looked at his watch – it was six o’clock in the evening; his train was at eight o’clock .  The thought of traveling, facing so many people at the seminar and delivering the lecture – all these induced a strange fear in him.  He was overcome by phobia.  In his frustration, for the first time in his life, he began to drink.  Trying to escape from reality, he drank quite a lot – almost the whole bottle of whisky.  He could vaguely remember Anand taking him to the railway station and helping him to the train.  Anand’s parting words had an ominous ring about them,  “It’s your last chance Sanjay.  To get hold of yourself.”

 

            Sanjay entered the auditorium and stood near the door, his eyes adjusting to the darkness.  Slowly things began to come into view.  He was late.  The seminar was already in progress.  The auditorium was small and compact.  It was shaped like a quadrant of a circle, with a raised podium in the central.  The rows of seats were arranged in the fashion of curved arcs, split radially in the centre by the aisle.  Each row was raised behind the one in front, in elevated steps, thereby affording each member of the audience a clear view, not only of the speaker, but also of each person sitting in the audience.  Sanjay sat down on a vacant seat in the last row and surveyed his surroundings.  His eyes had adjusted themselves to the subdued lighting and he could see clearly now.  Most of the participants appeared to be professionals, smartly dressed in formal suits, with a sprinkling of academics easily distinguishable by their patent attire of bush-shirts and sandals.  There was also small group of women, dressed in formal saris, sitting diagonally opposite across the aisle.

 

  As he surveyed the group, his eyes suddenly lit upon a stunningly attractive woman wearing a blue sari.  She was a real beauty.  She radiated an extraordinary sensuousness; of such a degree that Sanjay just could not take his eyes off her.  He felt as if his eyes had locked on to her face.  She exuded a captivating aura about her, which ravished his now hungry eyes.  He feasted his eyes on her lovely face.  She looked pristine – so fresh, so pure.  He was oblivious of his surroundings; he only had eyes for her.  Sanjay was in a haze of delight.  For the first time since his wife’s death did Sanjay feel completely relaxed; once again, he was in harmony with himself.

 

 At first, didn’t notice the lights being switched on.  He had been completely absorbed by her radiant sensuousness, almost in a trance.  As she got up from her seat, the woman turned and looked at him.  Their eyes met.  He hoped that his genuine adoration had not gone unnoticed.  She gave him a glance that could have meant anything.  No response.  He was disappointed.  But he was not going to give up so easily.

 

 He caught her eyes again, looking steadily and directly:  passionate admiration and yearning radiating from his eyes.  She held his gaze in a kind of challenge, there was a lengthy pause and then she smiled.  He felt relieved, and elated.  The frank admiration in his eyes had won him a smile.  Her large youthful eyes were now fastened on his.  There was a language in her eyes, which Sanjay could not fully fathom.  Happy and gay, her eyes conveyed a certain naïveté tinged with curiosity, possibly approval.  For Sanjay, it was a moment of supreme satisfaction.  He felt renewed and refreshed.  Suddenly, contact was broken as somebody blocked his line of sight.

 

  Everyone was walking towards the exit for the tea break.  Sanjay had now lost sight of her.  She had gone out for tea.  Sanjay kept sitting.  The auditorium was now empty.  He closed his eyes in introspection.  He felt calm and serene.  In his mind’s eye he could clearly visualize her exquisite face and magnetic eyes.  And her tantalizing smile – teasing, almost naughty.  Sanjay could not begin to describe the sensation.  She evoked in him.  Certainly it was pleasurable and had a soothing effect on his frayed nerves.  A much needed palliative.

 

            When Sanjay opened his eyes he noticed that the woman had shifted her seat and was sitting alone, across the aisle, much closer than before, affording a better view.  She was looking at him in a canny manner, and when he caught her eye, she quickly turned her gaze towards the podium.  Sanjay experienced an encouraging flush of self-confidence.  He got up from his seat, moved forward, and took up a strong tactical position.  He now had an unobstructed, clear view of her from the most favorable aspect.  He noticed that her eyes had been tracking him.  He looked into her eyes and smiled.  There was a conspiratorial look in her expressive eyes, at once inviting, and taunting.  She was teasing him with her eyes, as if her stimulus had evoked a response; or was it vice – versa.   

 

            Encouraged by her enthusiastic response, Sanjay indulged himself lavishly.  He made love to her with his eyes.  She responded with unrestrained zeal, genuine exhilaration pouring out of her eyes.  As their mutual visual interplay became intense, Sanjay was transported to an ecstatic state of supreme bliss.

 

            Mesmerized in her enchanting eyes, Sanjay was in a delightful trance, oblivious of his surroundings, forgetting his grief.  This immensely enjoyable experience had, at least momentarily, liberated him from his inner tyranny.

 

            As he walked back to his hotel in the evening Sanjay was bubbling with joy.  He experienced a unique state of awareness and self–confidence.  Renewed and invigorated, he felt on top of the world.  His lecture was scheduled the next day.  His would work hard and make it a success.  He had to do it, at least for her.

 

 She was his inspiration.  He felt confident.  He was going to give an impressive performance; make a lasting impression on her.  She would never forget him.  Luckily he had got his chance and he was going to make the most of it.  As his thoughts ran on, he felt charged with energy. Sanjay had bounced back into life again.  He felt buoyant, as though he had traveled through a long dark tunnel and, suddenly, burst out into the bright open countryside again. 

 

 

HER STORY

            Rajashree lay on her bed, sleep eluding her.  She was in a state of pleasurable excitation.  She felt good; on top of the world.  The day had passed in a haze of delight.  Rajashree had never imagined that such a seemingly trivial experience would give her so much pleasure and bring happiness into her life.  But this was no synthetic experience.  It had been genuine and real – had actually happened to her – and was profoundly affecting her.  She explored her own feelings, the stimulus of the welter of events and her response.   

 

            When she had first noticed the handsome, bearded man staring at her, she had uncomfortable but had resigned herself to his ogling – what she believed was a masculine propensity in Indian society.  Maybe he was just looking in her direction, since she was sitting with a group of women.  She decided to ignore it. In any case, she couldn’t do anything about it.  

 

But curiosity got the better of her.  After some time she looked in his direction through the corner of her eyes.  He was still looking at her.  She got confused.  “What was his motive?” she wondered.  Was he trying to seduce her?  She dare not smile back or appear too friendly lest he misinterpret it as a sign of easy availability.  Rajashree felt irritated at the invasion of her private space.  His visual intrusion was disturbing the equilibrium of her personal inner zone. 

 

            Suddenly the lights came on. As she got up she came into eye contact with him.  She tried to avoid his gaze.  But she could not avert the magnetic pull of his eyes.  She looked straight into his eyes, trying to project defiance.  But when she saw the genuine ardor and frank admiration in his eyes, her defenses broke down and she smiled.

 

            At the tea break, as she picked up a cup of tea, Rajashree searched for him.  He had not come out.  Rajashree sat down in a remote corner.  Sipping her tea, she explored her feelings.  The seemingly trivial encounter had definitely raised her spirits.  She felt good.  Fresh, buoyant and youthful, Rajashree was no clairvoyant to look into the province of Sanjay ’s mind, but she was curious to know the extent of his feelings.

 

            “What does he want from me? “ she wondered.  “Is he really attracted to me or is it my vicarious imagination titillating me?”

 

            Rajashree made a spontaneous decision, trusting her intuition.  If he was playing a game, she too would join in.  A bit of harmless flirtation never hurt anyone.  She went into the auditorium and sat on a vacant seat much closer to him.  She noticed that the man was sitting silently with his eyes closed, as if he were meditating.  Even as she was feeling a flush of disappointment, he suddenly opened his eyes.  The astonishment evident in his surprised eyes made her realize that she had been ogling at him unabashedly.  She quickly turned her eyes away in momentary sense of guilty embarrassment, and then recovered.

 

  He had shifted to a better position and was smiling at her.  She felt a tremor of anticipation at his positive response and teased him with her eyes.  She surrendered herself and her inhibitions to the mysterious rhythm of their spontaneous interaction and locked her eyes into his, radiating unconcealed feelings of joy.  As they made ethereal love to each other with their eyes, she experienced immense enjoyment and unparalleled pleasure.  It was the first genuine physical attraction she had felt for anyone since her bitter divorce.  It had been a long time ago, and not since then had the mere sight of a man aroused the womanhood in her to such an extent.

 

 

 

THEIR STORY


 

            Sanjay delivered the lecture with newfound verve, radiating self-confidence and professional competence. Rajashree was sitting in the first row.  From time to time, Sanjay looked at her.  She was directly concentrating on him; the language of her eyes clearly projecting approbation, assurance and encouragement.  Silently, she cheered him on.  She was Sanjay’s inspiration, his motivation and, at that moment, his raison d’etre.

 

            “As the applause died down, Sanjay sat down on the stage.  He looked at Rajashree.  She gave him a canny look of congratulation, got up from her seat and left the auditorium.  Sanjay, desperately wanted to follow her, but he was helpless.  The chairman was delivering the vote of thanks for him and Sanjay couldn’t possibly leave the stage.

 

 Time crawled.  Sanjay became anxious.   The chairman was going on and on with his long-winded speech.  Sanjay looked at his watch.  He realized that the chairman had spoken only for five minutes.  But these five minutes were the longest five minutes of Sanjay’s life.

 

  He was desperate to meet her; afraid he would lose her, forever.   She was the one bright spot in his present life.  He did not want to lose her.  In his frustration, he mentally cursed the speaker for taking so long.  Finally, he could take it no longer.  He excused himself and left the auditorium.

 

 Outside, he frantically searched for her.  But there was no joy – he drew a blank wherever he looked for her.  Sanjay was crestfallen.  His mind went blank.  Suddenly he felt a tap on his shoulder.  He turned around in anticipation.  He was disappointed.  It was some other woman – one of the seminar delegates.  Probably wanting to compliment him on his lecture.

 

            “Mr. Sanjay Kulkarni?” the woman delegate queried, her eyes arched.

 

            He nodded in affirmation.

 

            “A letter for you,” she said, giving him a synthetic smile; and before he could react, quietly walked away.

 

            Sanjay tore open the envelope and began to read the letter.  His pulse had quickened and it was only with difficulty that he could concentrate and focus his eyes.

 

            “Dear Mr. Kulkarni,” the letter began, “or shall I call you Sanjay? Don’t wonder how I have found out your name.  It was announced before your lecture.  I cannot express in words, or begin to describe, the sentiments and feelings you have evoked in me.  The language of our eyes was something that surpassed the language of words and speech.

 

  I want to cherish those wonderful moments – the sublime experience.  It was the one bright spot in my depressingly vapid life.  I never imagined that such a seemingly trivial occurrence would have such a profound influence on me.  The appreciation and love in your eyes aroused the dormant woman in me.  For years, after my bitter divorce, I had repressed my natural feelings, forgotten the simple joys of living.  

 

 I saw true love in your eyes and that is why I am afraid of meeting you.  I do not want our beautiful sublime relationship degenerate into something physical.  I feel as if I am caught between two fires – my sense of values and my emotions.  I am experiencing the conflict between the practical and poetic vision of life.  Our strange and brief encounter has awakened the womanhood in me.  I feel youthful and invigorated, but also lonely and vulnerable.  I have fallen in love with you.  That is why I am scared of facing you.  I am afraid I shall ruin everything by succumbing to temptation.  It may lead to something that we both may later regret.

 

            It may sound strange but the lively experience has also awakened the motherhood in me.  It may appear irrelevant and trivial, but it is true.  I had put my daughter in a boarding school in Ooty.  Maybe I wanted to shield her. Maybe I felt I had no time for her. Only my ambitions, my career mattered.  I had got my priorities wrong.  I was chasing rainbows. 

 

            Thanks again for the wonderful and enchanting experience.  I enjoyed it thoroughly.  I now feel in harmony with myself; don’t want to hide from myself.

 

  I shall always remember this wonderful encounter and cherish the simple joys of living.  As we made love to each other with our eyes, it appeared as if I had journeyed inwards to explore my true feelings and discover myself.  It has been an enjoyable romance – for this once. Let’s keep it that way.

 

            With love and best wishes,

                                                Rajashree.”

 

 

                        Sanjay felt jubilant.  Rajashree had fallen in love with him.  He rushed to find the woman who had given him the letter.  Rajashree was staying in the guesthouse – about a mile away.  Sanjay was tired, exhausted, but he walked his fastest mile to the guesthouse.  He saw Rajashree standing at the entrance, a suitcase beside her.  As she saw him, she blushed with surprise.  She felt like a prisoner being caught while escaping.

 

 “Where are you going?” he asked her.

 

            Rajashree had recovered enough to smile back, “I am going to Ooty to meet my daughter in boarding school – to bring her home.”

 

            “I am coming with you,” said Sanjay, and he took Rajashree in his arms held her tightly and whispered in her ear, “From now on, we shall make our journey together.”

 

 

 

 

VIKRAM KARVE  

Copyright © Vikram Karve 2008

Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.

 

 

 

 

[A Fiction Short Story]

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The Day After I Quit Smoking

January 18, 2008

THE DAY AFTER I QUIT SMOKING 

 By

 VIKRAM KARVE

One of the things that deters smokers from quitting decisively in one go is the fear of withdrawal symptoms. This results in smokers resorting to half-baked remedies like gradual reduction, nicotine patches, low tar cigarettes and various other futile therapies. In my opinion this exaggerated importance given to withdrawal symptoms is just a big myth, a ploy, an excuse by addicts to avoid giving up smoking. The so-called withdrawal symptoms are nothing but craving. The best and most effective way of quitting smoking is to just stop smoking, totally, in one go, and then never to smoke again. Don’t be afraid of the so-called “withdrawal symptoms” – you can easily tackle the craving. You can take my word for it – I successfully did it and conquered the craving for smoking once and for all.

I’ve written earlier and described how I quit smoking. I’m sure you must have read it in my blog.

 [In case you haven’t read it just click the link below – but remember to come back to this article!]

 http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com/blog/post/2006/12/how-i-quit-smoking.htm

 Now let me describe to you the day after I quit smoking. I woke up early, at five-thirty as usual, made a cup of tea, and the moment I took a sip of the piping hot delicious tea, I felt the familiar crave for my first cigarette of the day. I kept down the cup of tea, made a note of the craving in my diary, had a glass of hot water (quickly heated in the microwave oven), completed my ablutions, and stepped out of my house, crossed the Maharshi Karve Road, and began a brisk walk-cum-jog around the verdant tranquil Oval Maidan, deeply rinsing my lungs with the pure refreshing morning air, which made me feel on top of the world. The Clock on MumbaiUniversity’s RajabaiTower silhouetted against the calm bluish gray sky, was striking six, and I felt invigorated.

I had overcome my craving, and not smoked, what used to be my first cigarette of the day. I then went on my daily morning walk on Marine Drive to Chowpatty and on my way back I spotted my friends ‘N’ and ‘S’ across the road beckoning me for our customary post-exercise tea and cigarette at the stall opposite Mantralaya. I felt tempted, but my resolve firm, I waved to them, looked away and ran towards my house. They must have thought I’d gone crazy, but it didn’t matter – I had avoided what used to be my second cigarette of the day.

 I made a note of it my diary, as I would do the entire day of all the stimuli that triggered in me the urge to smoke – what I would call my “smoking anchors” which could be anything, internal and external, tangible or intangible – people, situations, events, feelings, smells, emotions, tendencies, moods, foods, social or organizational trends, practices, norms, peer pressure; and most importantly how I tackled and triumphed over these stimuli.

After breakfast, I didn’t drink my usual cup of coffee – a strong “smoking anchor” which triggered in me a desperate desire to smoke, and drank a glass of bland milk instead, thereby averting what used to be my third cigarette of the day. It was nine, as I walked to work, and I hadn’t smoked a single cigarette.

It was a long day ahead and I had to be cognizant, observe myself inwardly and devise strategies to tackle situations that elicited craving for smoking – recognize and neutralize my “smoking anchors”, so to speak. Anchoring is a naturally occurring phenomenon, a natural process that usually occurs without our awareness.

An anchor is any representation in the human nervous system that triggers any other representation. Anchors can operate in any representational system (sight, sound, feeling, sensation, smell, taste).

You create an anchor when you unconsciously set up a stimulus response pattern. Response [smoking] becomes associated with (anchored to) some stimulus; in such a way that perception of the stimulus (the anchor) leads by reflex to the anchored response [smoking] occurring. Repeated stimulus–response action, reinforces anchors and this is a vicious circle, especially in the context of “smoking anchors”.

The trick is to identify your “smoking anchors”, become conscious of these anchors and ensure you do not activate them.

The moment I reached office I saw my colleague ‘B’ eagerly waiting for me, as he did every day. Actually he was eagerly waiting to bum a cigarette from me for his first smoke of the day [“I smoke only other’s cigarettes” was his motto!].

I politely told him I had quit smoking and told him to look for a cigarette elsewhere. He looked at me in disbelief; taunted, jeered and badgered me a bit, but when I stood firm, he disappeared. I removed from my office my ashtray, declared the entire place a no-smoking zone and put up signs to that effect.

The working day began. It was a tough and stressful working day. I was tired, when my boss called me across and offered me a cigarette. I looked at the cigarette pack yearningly, tempted, overcome by a strong craving, desperate to have just that “one” cigarette. Nothing like a “refreshing” smoke to drive my blues away and revitalize me – the “panacea” to my “stressed-out” state! It was now or never!

I politely excused myself on the pretext of going to the toilet, but rushed out into the open and took a brisk walk rinsing my lungs with fresh air, and by the time I returned I had lost the craving to smoke and realized, like in the Oval early in the morning, that physical exercise is probably the best antidote.

 People may think I’m crazy, but even now I rush out of my office once in a while to take a brisk walk in the open and not only do I lose the craving for a smoke but I feel distressed and invigorated as well. Conversely, once I rushed into a “no-smoking” cinema when I desperately felt like a smoke while strolling in the evening. Often, after dinner, when I used to feel like a smoke, I rushed into the Oxford Bookstore next door, for a long leisurely browse till my craving dissipated.

And, of course, one has to change his lifestyle, activities, and, maybe, even friends. Always try to be with likeminded people who you would like to emulate – if you want to quit smoking try to be in the company of non-smokers. It was simple after that, but my diary for that defining day makes interesting reading of smoking anchors – saunf or supari after lunch, afternoon tea, the company of smokers, paan, coffee…

But the crucial test came in the evening. My dear friend ‘A’ landed up for a drink. Now ‘A’ is a guy who doesn’t smoke in front of his kids and wife (I’m sure she knows!). So since he doesn’t smoke in his own home he makes up in other people’s houses. But mind you, he doesn’t bum cigarettes – in fact he gets a pack and generously leaves the remaining behind for the host.

We poured out a rum–paani each, clinked our glasses, said cheers, and sipped.

‘A’ lit a cigarette and offered the pack to me. At the end of a hot, humid and tiring day, the fortifying beverage induced a heavenly ambrosial sensation which permeated throughout the body and what better way to synergise the enjoyment than to smoke a cigarette along with the drink and enhance the pleasure to sheer bliss.

Till that moment, for me, drinking and smoking were inextricably intertwined – they complemented, accentuated each other and accorded me the ultimate supreme pleasure. I enjoyed my smoke the most along with a drink.

I realized that drinking was my strongest “smoking anchor” and if I had to quit smoking permanently I would have to give up drinking forever.

 So that’s what I did. At this defining moment of my life, I quit drinking forever. It’s been almost four years now and I do not smoke and I do not drink. I will never smoke again – I have quit smoking forever.

I may be tempted, but I know I can overcome the urge, for I have mastered the art of taking charge of my “smoking anchors”. And from time to time, I shall look at my old diary to remember and cherish that cardinal day of my life – ‘the day after I quit smoking’.

 Dear Reader, do comment and give me your feedback. Did this work for you?

 VIKRAM KARVE

 Copyright © Vikram Karve 2008 Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work

vikramkarve@sify.com

 http://www.linkedin.com/in/karve

 vikramkarve@hotmail.com

 http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com

Book Review – The Importance of Living

September 18, 2007

BOOK REVIEW [A book that enriched my life and taught me the art of living]   Title: THE IMPORTANCE OF LIVINGAuthor: LIN YUTANGPublished: 1937 (New York, USA), Indian Edition: 1960 JAICO MumbaiISBN: 81-7224-829    There is one book you will never find in my bookcase – you will always find it by my bedside near my pillow. At night, just before I go to sleep, I open this book to any random page, and read on till I drift off to blissful idyllic sleep. The name of this book, which has had a profound defining effect on me, maybe even subconsciously shaped my philosophy of life, is called: The Importance of Living written in 1937 by the Chinese philosopher Lin Yutang.  But first, let me tell you a story, maybe apocryphal, about a scholar who had thoroughly studied the Bhagavad Gita for many years, considered himself an expert, traveled far and wide delivering discourses on the teachings of the Gita and was widely acknowledged as an authority on the subject. His ultimate desire was to deliver a discourse on the Bhagavad Gita at Benares, which was the sanctum sanctorum of learning. So he went to Benares, and impressed by the scholar’s erudition and fame, the King of Benares invited the scholar to deliver a discourse on the Bhagavad Gita in his court. All the wise men of Benares assembled to hear the Scholar, but just as he began to speak the King interrupted him and told him to read the Bhagavad Gita one more time in the evening and deliver his discourse the next day. The Scholar was furious but he had no choice but to comply with the king’s wishes. As he read the Bhagavad Gita with full concentration in the evening, he realized some new meanings and updated his speech accordingly. Next day the same thing happened – the moment the scholar began to speak the King interrupted him and told him to read the Gita once more and then come the next day to give his lecture. And again as the Scholar read the Gita he comprehended some new wisdom – something he hadn’t perceived before. So he incorporated his new findings and proceeded to deliver his talk. Again the same thing happened – the king interrupted him and told him to again read the Gita once more before he gave his discourse. And again the scholar discovered some new wisdom in the Gita. This cycle went on for days and days till the scholar realized how ignorant he was and how much more there was to learn from the Bhagavad Gita that he gave up the idea of delivering the discourse and decided to totally devote his entire efforts to the study of the Bhagavad Gita. Days passed, and suddenly one morning, when the scholar was deeply immersed in his study, the King went to the scholar’s house, sat before him with folded hands and requested the scholar to enlighten him about the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita.  It’s the same with any great book. Every time you read it, something new emerges, and you realize you have so much more to learn from it. I have read The Importance of Living innumerable times, again and again, with renewed pleasure, and every time I read it I imbibe a special different philosophical flavor, and grasp new wisdom, which delves on all aspects of the art of living, and I have realized that there is more significance and value in Lin Yutang’s magnum opus than I am capable of appreciating. So let me not be as presumptuous as to attempt to evaluate this classic treatise – I’ll just try to gently pilot you along in random vignettes to give you a flavor of this delightful philosophical gem. Let’s open this delightful book to a few random pages, read some lines to give you glimpse into the wisdom on the art of living contained in this masterpiece. In the section on Leisure and Friendship are these words: “Only those who take leisurely what the people of the world are busy about can be busy about what the people of the world take leisurely”. Reflect on this, let these words perambulate in your mind for some time. There is nothing that man enjoys more than leisure. The highest value of time is when you are doing what you love and want to do. During leisure you are free to choose what you want to do and enjoy doing. Leisure enables you to realize the highest value of your time!  Tell me, why do you work? Is it for job satisfaction? Or is it to earn money so that you can enjoy satisfaction off the job? In fact, most of us work for our leisure, because there is nothing we enjoy more than leisure. Elaborating on a theory of leisure the book says: “Time is useful because it is not being used. Leisure is like unoccupied floor space in a room…it is that unoccupied space which makes a room habitable, as it is our leisure hours which make our life endurable”. Those who are wise won’t be busy, and those who are too busy can’t be wise. Enunciating the distinction between Buddhism and Taoism: “The goal of the Buddhist is that he shall not want anything, while the goal of the Taoist is that he shall not be wanted at all”, the author describes the tremendous advantages of obscurity, and deduces that only he who is not wanted by the public can be a carefree individual. It is true isn’t it – only he who is a carefree individual can be a happy human being? Lin Yutang deliberates delightfully on his philosophical view: “Nothing matters to a man who says nothing matters”. “How are we to live? How shall we enjoy life, and who can best enjoy life?” The feast of life is before us; the only question is what appetite we have for it. The appetite is vital, not the feast. This delightful treatise gives us insights on how to develop, enhance and refine our appetites in order to enjoy various facets of living. The capacity for true enjoyment comes from an inner richness in a man who loves the simple ways of life. There is always plenty of life to enjoy for a man who is determined to enjoy it. You may find some of the author’s views a bit passé – “mere relationship between man and woman is not sufficient; the relationship must result in babies, or it is incomplete” or “woman reaches her noblest status only as a mother, and that wife who by choice refuses to become a mother… loses a great part of her dignity…and stands in danger of becoming a plaything” or “a natural man loves his children, but a cultured man loves his parents” or “The art of attaining happiness consists in keeping your pleasures mild” or “It is against the will of God to eat delicate food hastily, to pass gorgeous views hurriedly, to express deep sentiments superficially, to pass a beautiful day steeped on food and drink, and to enjoy your wealth steeped in luxuries” – think about it, reflect a bit, and you may detect a iota of authenticity in these nuggets. The book has fourteen chapters, embellished with epigrams, teaching stories, ancient wisdom and wit, on various aspects of the importance and enjoyment of living and once you start reading it this book is indeed so engrossing that it is truly unputdownable. The Importance of Loafing, The Enjoyment of the Home, Nature, Travel, Culture, The Arts of Thinking, Eating, Reading, Writing, Loving, Happiness – the range and variety of topics covered indeed make fascinating reading.  Reading is the greatest of all joys. Extolling the virtues and charm of reading, Lin Yutang says: “The man who has not the habit of reading is imprisoned in his immediate world…the reader is always carried away into a world of thought and reflection”, and on writing: “a writing is always better when it is one’s own, and a woman is always lovelier when she is somebody else’s wife”. “He who is afraid to use an ‘I’ in his writing will never make a good writer” and “anyone who reads a book with a sense of obligation does not understand the art of reading… to be thoroughly enjoyed, reading must be entirely spontaneous…you can leave the books that you don’t like alone, and let other people read them!” The best way to read The Importance of Living is to open any page and browse whatever appeals to you, randomly, in an unstructured and haphazard manner. Think of yourself as a traveler in the philosophical or spiritual domain. The essence of travel is to have no destination. A good traveler is one who does not know where he is going to; a perfect traveler does not know where he came from! A true traveler is always a vagabond – he travels to see nothing, to see nobody, with plenty of time and leisure, with the true motive to become lost and unknown.  Are you the ambitious competitive go-getter obsessed with an overpowering desire for achieving quick success – craving for power, wealth, fame, and the status and money-oriented aspects of life? Do you value material possessions more than peace of mind? Is external achievement more important than inner tranquility? If your answer to any of the questions is “Yes”, then please don’t bother to read this book now, as you may be too “busy” in your own competitive rat race of your own making and probably you don’t have any time to “waste” on anything that doesn’t give you something tangible in return – a solid material ROI (Return on Investment) for investing your valuable time and effort reading this book. But please don’t forget to read The Importance of Living after you’ve burned out, had a heart attack or suffered a nervous breakdown – when you’ll have plenty of time and, perhaps, the inclination, to reflect, contemplate, and delve more deeply upon the more intangible philosophical aspects of life – and ruminate on how you could have obviated that stressful burn-out, agonizing heart attack or traumatic nervous breakdown. Here’s Lin Yutang’s take: “Those who are wise won’t be busy, and those who are too busy can’t be wise.” If you are happy here and now, wherever you are, in whatever state you are, and you are truly content with what you have, you place living above thinking, and are interested in savoring the feast of life and its joys, then this witty philosophical treatise on the art of living in its entirety is the book for you. The Importance of Living presents an uncomplicated approach to living life to its fullest in today’s rapidly changing, fast paced, competitive, ambition dominated, money and status oriented, commercialized world, enabling each one of us to enjoy inner peace and happiness. Sometimes, it is a great pity to read a good book too early in life. The first impression is the one that counts. Young people should be careful in their reading, as old people in eating their food. They should not eat too much. They should chew it well.  Like you should eat gourmet food only when you are ready for it, you should read a good book only when you are ready for it. Mature wisdom cannot be appreciated until one becomes mature. But The Importance of Living is a book for all ages. Of 1937 vintage, an ancestor and precursor of modern “self-help” books, it is a delightful philosophical treatise, which advocates a humorous and vagabond attitude towards life and deals with a variety of topics encompassing the art of living. Is such a happy and carefree philosophy of life relevant today? Why don’t you give it a try and see for yourself! Slowly, relaxingly, thoroughly, peruse this classic masterpiece, absorb the witty wisdom, reflect, try out, practice and incorporate whatever appeals to you in your daily life, ruminate, experiment, enjoy yourself, have a laugh, change your lifestyle, enhance your quality of life, elevate your plane of living, and maybe your entire way of life may change forever.  Dear Reader, I commend this delightfully illuminating book. Though enunciated with a touch of humor, the thoughts are profound. Do get a copy of The Importance of Living and read it leisurely. I’m sure you will find a copy at your nearest bookstore or in your library. And don’t forget to tell us how you liked it, and did it change your life for the better.      

VIKRAM KARVE

 vikramkarve@sify.com vikramkarve@hotmail.com http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com http://www.linkedin.com/in/karve http://www.ryze.com/go/karve    Book Review of THE IMPORTANCE OF LIVING by LIN YUTANG[A book that enriched my life and taught me the art of living] Reviewed by VIKRAM KARVE    

Lovedale – a short story

August 20, 2007

LOVEDALE

 

(a short story)

 

by

 

VIKRAM KARVE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lovedale. A quaint little station on the Nilgiri Mountain Railway that runs from Mettupalayam in the plains on a breathtaking journey to beautiful Ooty, the Queen of Hill Stations. On Lovedale station there is just one small platform – and on it, towards its southern end, a solitary bench. If you sit on this bench you will see in front of you, beyond the railway track, an undulating valley, covered with eucalyptus trees, and in the distance the silhouette of a huge structure, which looks like a castle, with an impressive clock-tower. In this mighty building is located a famous boarding school – one of the best schools in India. Many such ‘elite’ schools are known more for snob value than academic achievements, but this one is different – it is a prestigious public school famous for its rich heritage and tradition of excellence.

 

 

 

Lovedale, in 1970. That’s all there is in Lovedale – this famous public school, a small tea-estate called Lovedale (from which this place got its name), a tiny post office and, of course, the lonely railway platform with its solitary bench.

 

 

 

It’s a cold damp depressing winter morning, and since the school is closed for winter, the platform is deserted except for two people – yes, just two persons – a woman and a small girl, shivering in the morning mist, sitting on the solitary bench. It’s almost 9 o’clock – time for the morning “toy-train” from the plains carrying tourists via Coonoor to Ooty, the “Queen” of hill-stations, just three kilometers ahead – the end of the line. But this morning the train is late, probably because of the dense fog and the drizzle on the mountain-slopes, and it will be empty – for there are hardly any tourists in this cold and damp winter season.

 

 

 

 “I’m dying to meet mummy. And this stupid train – it’s always late,” the girl says. She is dressed in school uniform – gray blazer, thick gray woolen skirt, navy-blue stockings, freshly polished black shoes, her hair tied smartly in two small plaits with black ribbons.

 

 

 

The woman, 55 – maybe 60, dressed in a white sari with a thick white shawl draped over her shoulder and a white scarf around her head covering her ears, looks lovingly at the girl, softly takes the girl’s hand in her own, and says, “It will come. Look at the weather. The driver can hardly see in this mist. And it must be raining down there in Ketti valley.”

 

 

 

“I hate this place. It’s so cold and lonely. Everyone has gone home for the winter holidays and we have nowhere to go. Why do we have to spend our holidays here every time?”

 

 

 

“You know we can’t stay with her in the hostel.”

 

 

 

“But her training is over now. And she’s become an executive – that’s what she wrote.”

 

 

 

“Yes. Yes. She is an executive now. After two years of tough training. Very creditable; after all that has happened,” the old woman says.

 

 

 

“She has to take us to Mumbai with her now. We can’t stay here any longer. No more excuses now.”

 

 

 

 “Even I don’t want to stay here. It’s cold and I am old. Let your mummy come. This time we’ll tell her to take us all to Mumbai.”

 

 

 

“And we’ll all stay together – like we did before God took Daddy away.”

 

 

 

 “Yes. Mummy will go to work. You will go to school. And I will look after the house and all of you. Just like before.”

 

 

 

“Only Daddy won’t be there. Why did God take Daddy away?” the girl says, tears welling up in her eyes.

 

 

 

 “Don’t think those sad things. We cannot change what has happened. You must be brave – like your mummy,” says the old lady putting her hand softly around the girl. The old lady closes her eyes in sadness.There is no greater pain than to remember happier times when in distress.

 

 

 

Meanwhile the toy-train is meandering its way laboriously round the steep u-curve, desperately pushed by a hissing steam engine, as it leaves Wellington station on its way to Ketti. A man and a woman sit facing each other in the tiny first class compartment. There is no one else.

 

 

 

“You must tell her today,” the man says.

 

 

 

“Yes,” the woman replies softly.

 

 

 

“You should have told her before.”

 

 

 

“When?”

 

 

 

“You could have written, called her up. I told you so many times.”

 

 

 

“How could I be so cruel?”

 

 

 

“Cruel? What’s so cruel about it?”

 

 

 

“I don’t know how she will react. She loved her father very much.”

 

 

 

“Now she will have to love me. I am her new father now.”

 

 

 

“Yes, I know,” the woman says, tears welling up in her eyes. “I don’t know how to tell her; how she’ll take it. I think we should wait for some time. Baby is very sensitive.”

 

 

 

“Baby! Why do you still call her Baby? She is a grown up girl now. You must call her by her real name. Damayanti – what a nice name – and you call her Baby”

 

 

 

“It’s her pet name. Deepak always liked to call her Baby.”

 

 

 

“But I don’t like it! It’s ridiculous,” the man says firmly. “Anyway, all that we can sort out later. But you tell her about us today. Tell both of them.”

 

 

 

“Both of them? My mother-in-law also? What will she feel?”

 

 

 

“She’ll understand.”

 

 

 

“Poor thing. She will be all alone.”

 

 

 

“She’s got her work to keep her busy.”

 

 

 

 “She’s old and weak. I don’t think she’ll be able to do the matron’s job much longer.”

 

 

 

“Let her work till she can. At least it will keep her occupied. Then we’ll see.”

 

 

 

“Can’t we take her with us?”

 

 

 

“You know it’s not possible.”

 

 

 

“It’s so sad. She was so good to me. Where will she go? We can’t abandon her just like that!”

 

 

 

“Abandon? Nobody is abandoning her. Don’t worry. If she doesn’t want to stay on here, I’ll arrange something – I know an excellent place near Lonavala. She will be very comfortable there – it’s an ideal place for senior citizens like her.”

 

 

 

“An Old Age Home?”

 

 

 

“Call it what you want but actually it’s quite a luxurious place. She’ll be happy there. I’ve already spoken to them. Let her continue here till she can. Then we’ll shift her there.”

 

 

 

“How cruel? She was so loving and good to me, treated me like her own daughter, and looked after Baby, when we were devastated. And now we discard her when she needs us most,” the woman says, and starts sobbing.

 

 

 

“Come on Kavita. Don’t get sentimental,. You have to face the harsh reality. You know we can’t take her with us. Kavita, you must begin a new life now – no point carrying the baggage of your past,” the man realizes he has said something wrong and instantly apologizes, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it.”

 

 

 

“You did mean it. That’s why you said it! I hate you, you are so cruel and selfish,” the woman says, turns away from the man and looks out of the window.

 

 

 

They travel in silence. An uneasy disquieting silence. Suddenly it is dark, as the train enters a tunnel, and as it emerges on the other side, the woman can see the vast green KettiValley with its undulating mountains in the distance.

 

 

 

“I think I’ll also get down with you at Lovedale. I’ll tell them. Explain everything. And get over with it once and for all,” the man says.

 

 

 

“No! No! I don’t even want them to see you. The sudden shock may upset them. I have to do this carefully. Please don’t get down at Lovedale. Go straight to Ooty. I’ll tell them everything and we’ll do as we decided.”

 

 

 

“I was only trying to help you. Make things easier. I want to meet Damayanti. Tell her about us. I’m sure she’ll love me and understand everything.”

 

 

 

“No, please. Let me do this. I don’t want her to see you before I tell her. She’s a very sensitive girl. I don’t know how she’ll react. I’ll have to do it very gently.”

 

 

 

“Okay,” the man says. “Make sure you wind up everything at the school. We have to leave for Mumbai tomorrow. There is so much to be done. We’ve hardly got any time left.”

 

 

 

The steam engine pushing the train huffs and puffs up the slope round the bend under the bridge. “Lovedale station is coming,” the woman says. She gets up and takes out her bag from the shelf.

 

 

 

“Sure you don’t want me to come?” asks the man.

       

“Not now. I’ll ring you up,” says the woman.

  “Okay. But tell them everything. We can’t wait any longer.”

 

 

“Just leave everything to me. Don’t make it more difficult.”

 

 

 

They sit in silence, looking out of different windows, waiting for Lovedale railway station to come.

 

 

 

On the solitary bench on the platform at Lovedale station the girl and her grandmother wait patiently for the train which will bring their deliverance.

 

 

 

“I hate it over here. The cold scary dormitories. At night I miss mummy tucking me in. And every night I count DLFMTC ?”

 

 

 

“DLFMTC ?”

 

 

 

“Days Left For Mummy To Come ! Others count DLTGH – Days Left To Go Home.”

 

 

 

“Next time you too …”

 

 

 

“No. No. I am not going to stay here in boarding school. I don’t know why we came here to this horrible place. I hate boarding school. I miss mummy so much. We could have stayed on in Mumbai with her.”

 

 

 

“Now we will be all staying in Mumbai. Your mummy’s training is over. She can hire a house now. Or get a loan. We will try to buy a good house. I’ve saved some money too.”

 

 

 

The lone station-master strikes the bell outside his office. The occupants of the solitary bench look towards their left. There is no one else on the platform. And suddenly the train emerges from under the bridge – pushed by the hissing steam engine.

 

 

 

Only one person gets down from the train – a beautiful woman, around 30. The girl runs into her arms. The old woman walks towards her with a welcoming smile. The man, sitting in the train, looks cautiously trying not to be seen. A whistle; and the train starts and moves out of the station towards Ooty.

 

 

 

That evening the woman tells them everything.

 

 

 

 At noon the next day, four people wait at Lovedale station for the train which comes from Ooty and goes down to the plains – the girl, her mother, her grandmother and the man. The girl presses close to her grandmother and looks at her new ‘father’ with trepidation. He gives her a smile of forced geniality. The old woman holds the girl tight to her body and looks at the man with distaste. The young woman looks with awe, mixed with hope, at her new husband. They all stand in silence. No one speaks. Time stands still. And suddenly the train enters.

   

“I don’t want to go,” the girl cries, clinging to her grandmother.

 

“Don’t you want to stay with your mummy? You hate boarding school don’t you? ” the man says extending his hand.

 

 

 

 The girl recoils and says, “No. No. I like it here. I don’t want to come. I like boarding school.”

 

 

 

“Come Baby, we have to go,” her mother says as tears well up in her eyes.

 

 

 

“What about granny? How will she stay here all alone? No mummy – you also stay here. We all will stay here. Let this man go to Mumbai,” the girl pleads.

 

 

 

“Damayanti. I am your new father,” the man says firmly to the girl. And then turning to the young woman he commands, “Kavita. Come. The train is going to leave.”

 

 

 

“Go Baby. Be a good girl. I will be okay,” says the old woman releasing the girl.

 

 

 

As her mother gently holds her arm and guides her towards the train, for the first time in her life the girl feels that her mother’s hand is like the clasp of an iron gate. Like manacles.

 

 

 

“I will come and meet you in Mumbai. I promise!” the grandmother says. But the girl feels scared – something inside tells her she that may never see her grandmother again.

 

 

 

As the train heads towards the plains, the old woman begins to walk her longest mile – her loneliest mile – into emptiness, a void.

 

 

 

And poor old Lovedale Railway Station, the mute witness, doesn’t even a shed a tear. It tries. But it can’t. Poor thing. It’s not human. So it suffers its sorrow in inanimate helplessness. A pity. What a pity!

 

 

 

 

 

VIKRAM KARVE

 

Copyright 2006 Vikram Karve

 

 

 

vikramkarve@sify.com

 

vikramkarve@hotmail.com

 

 

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com

 

http://www.linkedin.com/in/karve

 

http://www.ryze.com/go/karve

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A SMALL GIRL’S TALE

July 11, 2007

A SMALL GIRL’S TALE

 

(a fiction short story)

 

by

 VIKRAM KARVE        It all started when God took my baby brother away. Poor thing! God took him away even before he was born. And Mamma was never the same again; she changed forever.     We were so happy then. My Papa, my Mamma, Granny and me. We all lived in a cute little house in a place called Madiwale Colony in Sadashiv Peth in Pune.     In the morning Papa caught the company bus to his factory in Pimpri and Mamma walked me down to my school nearby on Bajirao Road. And the evenings we all went to the Talyatla Ganpati temple in Saras Baug, played on the lush green lawns, and if Papa was in a good mood he would treat me to a yummy Bhel prepared by the man with the huge flowing beard at the Kalpana Bhel stall on the way back.     On Sundays we would go to Laxmi Road for shopping, Misal at Santosh Bhavan, Amba ice cream at Ganu Shinde and, maybe, a Marathi movie at Prabhat, Vijay or Bhanuvilas.     And once in a while, Papa would take us on his Bajaj scooter to Camp, or a ride on the Jangli Maharaj Road, or to picnic spots like Khadakvasla and Katraj lakes, or up Sinhagarh Fort, and once we even went all the way to Lonavala; Papa, Mamma and me, all riding on our beloved and hardy scooter.     It was a good life, and we were happy and content. Two things are a must for a happy home – firstly, you should love your home, and always want to go home (your home should be the best place in the world for you); and, secondly, your home should love you, want you to come, beckon you, welcome you and like you to live in it.  Our cute little house in Sadashiv Peth with all the loving people in living in it was indeed a happy home. And I had lots of friends all around.     One day they all said Mamma was going to have a baby. Being a girl myself, I wanted a baby sister to play with, but Granny scolded me and said it must be a baby brother, so I said okay – I would manage with a baby brother.     And suddenly one day, when Mamma’s tummy was bloating quite a bit, they rushed her to hospital, and God took my unborn baby brother away. And Mamma changed forever.     I sat beside Mamma in the hospital and consoled her, “Don’t worry. God will send another baby brother.”     And on hearing this Mamma started crying and said she would never have a baby again and I was her only baby.   She looked pale and had a sad look in her eyes for many days even after leaving hospital. Most of the time she would sit alone brooding by the window or moping all alone in her room.     “She’ll go crazy sitting in the house all day. She must do something!” everyone said, but Papa was adamant: “Who’ll look after the house, my mother, my daughter?” he asked.     “Don’t worry, I’ll manage everything,” Granny said, so Mamma joined a Computer class nearby. And soon she started becoming normal again. “She’s a natural programmer,” everyone praised her, and when she finished the course she was offered a good job in a top software firm.     “No way,” said Papa, “I’m the breadwinner. I don’t want my wife to work. I want her to look after the house.”     “MCP,” said everyone to Papa. I didn’t know what MCP meant, but it made Papa very angry.     “Let her work. I’ll manage the house,” Granny said.     “Don’t worry, Papa. I’m a big girl now and can look after myself. I’ll study regularly and come first,” I promised.     And so, Mamma started working. And when she brought her first pay and gave it to Papa, he said proudly, “I’ll be the last person to touch my wife’s money, to live off my wife.” So my Mamma gave the money to Granny and Papa didn’t say a thing, he just sulked for days.     Life was hectic now. Mamma got up very early, cooked the food, did the housework, got ready and then both Papa and Mamma caught their respective company buses to their faraway workplaces – he to his factory in Pimpri and she to the IT Park. And after that Granny made me ready and I walked down Bajirao Road to my school.     One day my Mamma’s boss came home with Mamma. He said the company wanted to send Mamma abroad to the US for working on a project. He had come home to convince Papa to let her go. I thought Papa would argue, and hoped he would not let her go, but surprisingly he meekly agreed, probably thinking it was futile to argue, and Mamma went away to the States for three months.     Then there was an IT boom. That was a turning point in our lives. Mamma started doing better and better. Papa felt jealous that she was earning more than him, so he took VRS and started a business selling spare parts. And then a competition started between them, and soon they were making so much money that Sadashiv Peth wasn’t a good enough place to stay in any longer as it did not befit their new found status!     So we moved to a luxury apartment in a fancy township in a posh suburb of Pune, and I was put in a school known more for its snob appeal than studies. Our new house was in a beautiful colony, far away from the city, with landscaped gardens, clubhouse, swimming pool, gym, and so many facilities. It was so luxurious, and people living there so highbrow and snobbish, that Granny and I were miserable. “It’s like a 5 star prison,” she would say. She was right in one way. For the whole day when we were away she was trapped inside with nothing to but watch soaps on cable TV.     I too missed our cute old house in Sadashiv Peth, the Bhel, the trips to Saras Baug and Laxmi Road and most of all my earlier friends who were so friendly unlike the snobbish people here. Oh yes, this was indeed a better house, but our old place in Sadashiv Peth was certainly a better home!     But Granny and me – we managed somehow, as Mamma increased her trips abroad and Papa was busy expanding his flourishing business.     And suddenly one day God took Granny away. Mamma was abroad in the States on an important project and she just couldn’t come immediately. She came back after one month and for days Papa and she kept discussing something. I sensed it was about me.     And tomorrow morning, I’m off to an elite boarding school in Panchgani.     I don’t know whether what has happened is good or bad, or what is going to happen in future, but one thing is sure: If God hadn’t taken my baby brother away; I wouldn’t be going to boarding school!        

VIKRAM KARVE

 Copyright 2006 Vikram Karve    http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com   

vikramkarve@sify.com

  vikramkarve@hotmail.com  

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Freedom

July 9, 2007

FREEDOM

 

By

 

VIKRAM KARVE

       

                Anonymity. That’s what I like about Mumbai. As I lose myself in the sea of humanity leaving Churchgate station in the morning rush hour, I experience a refreshing sense of solitude. I notice that I am walking fast, in step with the crowd, as if propelled by the collective momentum. I experience the tremendous advantages of obscurity as I lose myself in the huge enveloping deluge of people. That’s freedom – the power of anonymity.

   

                But I am in no hurry. I have no office, no destination to reach. I had come here to spend some time with myself. Where no one would be watching me. And I can do as I please. That’s freedom – to be able to do what I want to do.

 

                I stand outside the subway at Churchgate. Should I turn right, walk past Asiatic, Gaylord, and Rustoms towards Marine Drive on the Arabian Sea? Or go straight ahead, past Eros, to Nariman Point? Or walk to my left, between the Oval and Cross Maidan, towards Hutatma Chowk? I feel good. On top of the world. I am free to go wherever I please. That’s freedom!

 

                The essence of travel is to have no destination. A good traveler is one who does not know where he is going to reach before he starts his journey. One decides on the spot. Instinctively. Intuitively. Impulsively. Spontaneously. That’s freedom! To be able to do as one likes. To go where one wants. Yes. That’s real and true freedom!

 

                I choose the third option, leisurely walk on the pavement, looking at the boys playing cricket on the Oval to my right. The pavement booksellers near the Central Telegraph Office are gone. I cross the road and stand near the Fountain. Might as well ring up my husband. Not that he would bother. Indifference is the essence of our relationship. But the facade of conjugal conviviality has to be carefully maintained. At least for the sake of the outside world. That’s  what matters. To him, at least. And maybe for me too; at least till now,

 

                I search for a public telephone. I am not carrying my cell-phone. I didn’t forget it. I deliberately did not bring it with me. That’s freedom! Unshackling myself from my cell-phone.

 

                I find a phone, insert a coin and dial his office number.

 

                “I shall be late today,” I say.

 

                “Okay,” he replies trying to suppress his irritation. But I can sense his annoyance a hundred miles away. Transmitted through the telephonic waves. He doesn’t like to be disturbed at office. Especially by me. For he is always too busy with his affairs. I wonder who his latest conquest is. Last time it was that petite girl at his office. Who looked so innocent, so pristine, so pure. An improbable paramour for a man of fifty. That’s why probably she made such a good one for so many months. There were many before. Many will be there in future. Deep down I feel betrayed. It’s terrible to love and not be loved in return. I don’t know what to do. I feel a sense of futility and helplessness. That’s not freedom.

 

                What can I do? Walk out of the marriage. And do what? Perhaps I can have also had an affair. Tit for tat. I have the looks, but lack the guts. And that’s why I have no choice but to continue this futile and meaningless relationship. That’s not freedom. That’s cowardice, what they also call compromise.

 

                Everyone looks at us with envy and admiration. The successful husband. The charming wife. The ideal couple. ‘Made for each other’. And from time to time I hear myself tell everyone my biggest lie, “I’m so lucky. It’s been a lovely marriage. My life has been such a marvelous success.” Mendacity, hypocrisy, pretense – that’s not freedom.

 

                I window-shop on MG Road opposite the university till I reach Kalaghoda. There’s a sale almost everywhere. Have a glass of refreshing cold sugarcane juice on the roadside stall. Browse at the Magna Book Store. Hear the latest music at Rhythm House. See the latest paintings at JehangirArtGallery. You can see, feel, browse, hear whatever you want; need not buy – that’s freedom.

 

                I decide to have lunch. Stuffed Parathas at Café Samovar. Heavenly rich tasty stuff with an abundance of calories and cholesterol. To hell with self-imposed killjoy restrictions. That’s freedom!

 

                I sit alone in the long rectangular restaurant which reminds me of the dining cars on trains of yesteryears. I eat alone. I eat unhurriedly and consciously. It is sacrilege to eat delectable food hastily.

 

                Nobody stares at me as I eat slowly and mindfully, relishing the piping hot stuffed parathas to the fullest, dipping them liberally in the spicy chutneys with my fingers. I indulge till I am satiated. Follow up with ice cream. A delightful delicious meal enjoyed alone. Epicurean pleasure of the highest order. That’s freedom!

 

                 Once again I realize the benefits of anonymity. Nobody knows me. Nobody’s bothered about me. The place is full – with artists, art-lovers, office-goers, society ladies. All busy in their own world. Preoccupied with their own thoughts. No one gives a damn. This is Mumbai. Not our company township, and in it the exclusive residential campus near Pune, where my husband is the undisputed boss – the feudal lord, the ‘King’ – and I the ‘Queen’, pampered with all the comforts, fawned and flattered, by plenty of sycophants masquerading as friends, secretly envied by all, but trapped in a golden cage. That’s pseudo-freedom!

 

                 My daughter must have returned from college. She is independent. On her own trip. Having been given all the material comforts she desires. With every passing year the distance between us is increasing. I telephone from the phone outside the restaurant.

 

                “I’ll be late,” I tell my daughter.

 

                “So shall I,” she replies. “I am going out with my friends.”

 

                Brevity in communication. The hallmark of our family.

 

                I spend the next few hours doing what I always liked. Aimless loafing on Colaba Causeway, a brief visit to the Museum, gazing at the ships across the Gateway of India, a movie at Regal, a walk across the Oval, invigorating Irani Style Tea at the Stadium restaurant, sitting on the parapet at Marine Drive and watching the sun being swallowed up by the sea. I lose myself in my pleasure trip, in a state of timelessness. This is freedom – not the artificial sterile synthetic life I am living.

 

                The sky is overcast and it starts to drizzle. I walk leisurely on A-Road enjoying the weather. Mumbai is at its best in the monsoon season. I stop before my house. My old house. My parents’ house. The house of my childhood. The house where I grew up. The house my parents had to sell for my dowry. In the hope that I would enjoy a better life. And yes, they were so happy – for my parents, my marriage was a social triumph.

 

                  I feel a sense of nostalgia. I reminisce. There is no greater pain than to remember happier times when one is despondent; dejected with life. But it is also true that when one’s intractable desires are thwarted by reality, there is a tendency to hark back to happy memories. It is indeed at vicious circle. In which I felt trapped at that moment. So I turn away from my house of the past and walk into the present, back towards Marine Drive .

 

                The sea is rough. It is windy. I can smell the rain in the distance. I look at my watch. Almost 7 PM. More than ten hours since I left my house in Pune. I am enjoying the change of routine. A break. After a long long time. Most of us have a preference for some kind of routine or rhythm in our day-to-day life. But when the rhythm becomes sinusoidal, the routine overwhelms you. That’s when you got to break it. Like I had done. Today. At precisely 6.30 AM I had left my house. As usual. But today I wasn’t wearing leotards underneath. For I wasn’t going to the health club. I went straight to the railway station and caught the Deccan Queen. To Mumbai.

 

                It’s raining now. I rush towards Churchgate station. As I cross my favourite Chinese restaurant I wonder with whom my husband would be having his “working” dinner. He wouldn’t have missed me. We never ate together now-a-days. Except breakfast on Sundays. When he would bury himself behind the newspaper nursing a hangover. On other days he would be off to office by the time I returned form the health club. And I would busy myself with my daily routine. Everything ran like clockwork. Everyone took me for granted. There were no problems. That was the real problem. Oh yes! My problem was that I didn’t have any problems! Or did I?

 

                I catch a Volvo bus from Dadar and reach home late at night. It’s almost 11. There is no one at home. The servants ask me if I want anything and then go off to sleep.

 

                I wake up late in the morning. My husband gives me a beautiful diamond necklace. A gift for his darling wife.  As always. A gift to compensate his conscience for his misdemeanors – the bigger the misdemeanor, the larger the guilt, and the more expensive the gift.

 

                We sit at the breakfast table. No one asks me where I was yesterday. Maybe I have become redundant. Or have I?               

               

                “Be ready at 12. I’ll send the car. We’ve got to go for that business lunch at the Golf Club,” my husband snaps pepremptorily.

               

                Oh yes. I’ll go along. As ‘Arm Candy’!

 

                “And, Mom, after that you’ve got to come with me to the jeweler,” my daughter commands. That’s all I am worth these days, isn’t it? Just ornamental value.

 

 

                The moment they go away I break into a laugh. To hell with them! From now on I am going to be free. Do exactly as I want. Go wherever I want. Do whatever I please. Yesterday it was Mumbai. Today, where should I go – Lonavla? No, it’s too boring. Mumbai? – Not again! Bangalore ? – I’ve been there many times. Delhi? – Maybe! Why not head for the hills – Ooty, Mussoorie, Darjeeling, Simla?

 

                 Hey! Why should I tell you? I’m free to do as I please. I’m off on my own trip. That’s freedom!

       

FREEDOM – a short story

by

VIKRAM KARVE

 

Copyright 2006 Vikram Karve

   

http://www.ryze.com/go/karve

   

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com

   

vikramkarve@sify.com

Lovedale to Coonoor – Don’t Delve Too Much

July 5, 2007

DON’T DELVE TOO MUCH

(a fiction short story)

By

VIKRAM KARVE

            The moment I see Muthu, the office-boy, standing at the door of the class room I feel a familiar fear. I close my eyes and try to concentrate on Ms Bhalla who is reading aloud with dramatic effect Ruskin Bond’s story ‘The Woman on Platform 8’. It’s a moving story about a brief encounter between a woman and a motherless boy.

            I love short stories, especially Ruskin Bond, and Ms Bhalla is my favorite teacher. But it’s no use. I can’t hear a word she is saying.

            I open my eyes. Ms Bhalla is in a world of her own, reading away, book in her left hand and making gestures with her right. She hasn’t noticed Muthu, or the fact that almost everyone in the class are looking at him and not at her. So thoroughly is she absorbed in herself and so totally is she oblivious of her surroundings that no one dare disturb her.

            “………..I watched her until she was lost in the milling crowd,” Ms Bhalla ends the story with a flourish and looks at us triumphantly only to discover that most of her students are looking towards the door. Her expression starts changing.

            Before she gets angry someone says, “It is Muthu, ma’am.”

            Ms Bhalla glares at poor Muthu who sheepishly walks in and gives her the chit he is holding in his hand.

            I look down into my notebook trying to keep my mind blank, but even without seeing I know that Ms Bhalla is looking at me. “Shanta, go to the principal’s office,” she says, “and take your bag with you.”

            Take my bag with me? I feel scared, anxious. I hope it’s not too serious.

            “Must be a big binge this time,” I hear Rita’s voice behind me. Tears start to well up in my eyes. Rita is from such a happy family. Why is she so mean and nasty?

            I’m about to break down when I feel Lata’s reassuring hand on my wrist, “Let’s go, Shanta. I’ll bring your bag.”

            We walk through the silent corridors. Our school is located in one of those ancient castle type buildings – cold, dark and gloomy.

            “I shouldn’t have left him alone last night,” I say.

            “I feel so sad for uncle,” Lata says.

            “Whenever I’m there with him, he’s okay and controls himself. He loves me so much. I’m the only one he’s got in this world – after mummy died.”

            “He was improving so much and looked so good last weekend,” Lata says.

          Lata is my true friend who I can open my heart to. The others – they watch from a distance. With pity. And a few like Rita with an evil delight at my misfortune.

            “Something must have happened yesterday,” I say. “I wish I had gone home last night. It’s in the evenings that he needs me the most.”

            “Shanta, you want me to come,” Lata asks.

            “Yes,” I say. I really need some moral support. Facing the cruel world all alone. I can’t bear it any longer.

            Ms David, our class-teacher, is standing outside the principal’s office. I follow her in.

            I nervously enter the principal’s office. The principal, Mrs. Nathan, is talking to a lady sitting opposite her. Noticing me she says, “Ah, Shanta. You daddy’s not well again. He’s admitted in the clinic again. You take the ten o’clock shuttle. And ring me up if you want anything.”

            “Can I go with her?” Lata asks.

            “You go back to class,” the principal says sternly, “you’ve got a mathematics test at 10 o’clock haven’t you?”

            “Please Miss,” Lata pleads with Ms David, our class teacher, but Ms David says, “Lata you are in the ninth standard now. Be serious about your studies. And today afternoon is the basketball final. How can you be absent?”

            I feel pain in the interiors of my mind. No one ever tells me to be serious about studies; or even sports.

            Lata gives me my school-bag and leaves quickly.

            Mrs Nathan takes off her glasses and looks at me. There is compassion in her eyes. “Be brave, Shanta,” she says. “This is Ms Pushpa – an ex-student of our school.”

            “Good morning, ma’am,” I say.

            “Hello, Shanta.” Ms Pushpa says. “I’m also taking the train to Coonoor. We’ll travel together.”

            As we leave the principal’s office I can feel the piercing looks of pity burning into me. The teachers, the staff, even the gardener. Everyone knows. And they know that I know that they know. Morose faces creased with lines of compassion. The atmosphere of pity. The deafening silence. It’s grotesque, terrible. I just want to get away from the place. These people – they just don’t understand that I want empathy; not sympathy.

            I walk with Ms Pushpa taking the short-cut to Lovedale railway station. It’s cold, damp and the smell of eucalyptus fills my nostrils. A typical winter morning in the Nilgiris.

            I look at Ms Pushpa. She looks so chic. Blue jeans, bright red pullover, fair creamy flawless complexion, jet-black hair neatly tied in a bun, dark Ray-Ban sunglasses of the latest style. A good-looking woman with smart feminine features. Elegant. Fashionable. Well groomed.

            We walk in silence. I wait for her to start the conversation. I don’t know how much she knows.

            “You’re in Rose house, aren’t you?” she asks looking at the crest on my blazer.

            Polite conversation. Asking a question to which you already know the answer! 

          “Yes ma’am,” I answer.

          “I too was in Rose house,” she says.

          “When did you pass out, ma’am ?” I ask.

          “1987,” she says.

            I do a quick mental calculation. She must be in her mid-thirties. 35, maybe. She certainly looks young for her age. And very beautiful.

            We cross the tracks and reach the solitary platform of the lonely Lovedale railway station.

            “Let me buy your ticket. You’re going to Coonoor aren’t you?” she asks.

            “Thank you ma’am. I’ve got a season ticket,” I say.

            “Season ticket?” she asked surprised.

            “I’m a day scholar, ma’am. I travel every day from Coonoor,” I say.

            “Oh! In our time it was strictly a boarding school,” she says.

            “Even now ma’am,” I say. “I’ve got special permission. My father doesn’t keep well. I have to look after him.”           

            “Oh, yes,” she says, and walks towards the deserted booking window.

            Lovedale is the most picturesque railway station on the Nilgiri mountain railway but today it looks gloomy, desolate. One has to be happy inside for things to look beautiful outside.

            She returns with her ticket and we sit on the solitary bench.

            “Where do you stay ma’am ?” I ask.

            “Bangalore,” she says. “You’ve been there?”

            “Yes”

            “Often?”

            “Only once. Last month. For my father’s treatment,” I say.           

            She asks the question I’m waiting for, “Shanta. Tell me. Your father? What’s wrong with him? What’s he suffering from?”

            I’ve never really understood why people ask me this question to which I suspect they already know the answer. Each probably has their own reason. Curiosity, lip-sympathy, genuine concern, sadistic pleasure! At first I used to feel embarrassed, try to cover up, mask, give all sorts of explanations. But now I have learnt that it is best to be blunt and straightforward.

            “He’s an alcoholic,” I say.

           Most people shut up after this. Or change the topic of conversation. But Ms Pushpa pursues, “It must be terrible living with him. He must be getting violent?”            

            “No,” I say. “With me papa is very gentle. He loves me a lot.”

            Tears well up in my eyes and my nose feels heavy. I take out my handkerchief. I feel her comforting arm around my shoulder and know her concern is genuine.

            Suddenly the station bell rings, I hear the whistle and the blue mountain train streams into the platform. They still use steam engines here on the Nilgiri mountain railway. The train is almost empty. It’s off-season, there are no tourists, and in any case this train is never crowded as it returns to Coonoor after transporting all the office-goers to Ooty.

            We sit opposite each other in an empty compartment. She still hasn’t taken off her dark sunglasses even though it is overcast and it begins to drizzle.

            She looks at her watch. I look at mine. 10 AM. Half-an-hour’s journey to Coonoor.

            “You came today morning, ma’am?” I ask.

            “No. Last evening. I stayed with Monica David. Your class teacher. We were classmates.”

            What a difference. Miss David is so schoolmarmish. And Ms Pushpa so mod and chic. But I better be careful what I say. After all, classmates are classmates.

            The train begins its journey and soon Ketti valley comes into view.

            “There used to be orchards down there. Now there are buildings,” she says.

            “You’ve come after a long time?” I ask.

            “Yes. It’s been almost eighteen years. I am returning here the first time since I passed out,” she says.

            “For some work? Children’s admission?”

            “No, No,” she bursts out laughing, “I’m single. Happily unmarried.”

            “I’m sorry,” I say, contrite.

            “Come on, Shanta. It’s Okay,” she says. “I’ve come for some work in Coonoor. Just visited the school for old times’ sake.”

            “You must come during Founder’s day. You’ll meet everyone,” I say.

            “Yes,” she says. “All these years I was abroad. America, Singapore, Manila, Europe. Now that I’m in Bangalore, I’ll definitely make it.”

            “You work?” I ask.

            “Yes. In an MNC.”

            She must be an MBA from a top business school. Like IIM. Or maybe even Harvard. Wish I could be like her. Independent. Smart. Elegant. Successful. I certainly have the talent. But what about papa? Who will look after him?

            I try not to think of the future. It all looks so bleak, uncertain. Better not think of it. I don’t even know what awaits me at the clinic. Just a few minutes more. It’s unbearable – the tension. Why do I have to go through all this?

            She’s looking out of the window. It’s grey and cold. Dark clouds. But she still wears her dark sunglasses. Hasn’t taken them off even once.

            Suddenly we enter the Ketti tunnel. It’s pitch dark. The smell of steam and smoke. It’s warm. Comforting. I close my eyes.

            The train whistles. Slows down. I open my eyes. She’s still wearing dark glasses. Maybe she too has something to hide. And me. What I want to hide, everyone knows; but makes a pretence of not knowing. At least in my presence.

            The train stops at Ketti. On the platform there is a group of girls, my age. They are in a jovial mood; giggling, eyes dancing, faces beaming, so carefree and happy. Their happiness hurts me deep down in my heart.

            The girls don’t get in. Dressed in track-suits, and Ketti valley school blazers, they are probably waiting for the up train to Ooty which crosses here. Must be going for the basketball match.

            A girl with a familiar face walks up to me with her friend.

            “Not playing?” she asks.

            “No,” I say.

            “I wish we knew. We wouldn’t have gone so early to practice,” she says.

            “Who’s captaining?” her friend asks.

            “Lata maybe. I don’t know,” I say.

            “Where are you going?”

            “Coonoor.”

            “Coonoor?”

            “My father’s in hospital. He’s not well.”

            “Oh! Hope he gets well soon. Okay bye.”

            The girls walk away whispering to each other. And I hear the hushed voice of the one I’ve met for the first time, “Poor thing.”

            “Poor thing.” The words pierce through my heart. “Poor thing.” The words echo in the interiors of my mind. “Poor thing!” “Poor thing!” “Poor thing!” The resonance is deafening. I feel I’m going mad. I feel Ms Pushpa’s hand on mine. A slight pressure. Comforting.

            The up train comes, the girls get in, and train leaves towards Ooty.

            Our engine’s whistle shrieks, our train starts moving. Outside it starts to rain. We close the windows. The smallness of the compartment forces us into a strange intimacy.

            “I’ll come with you to the hospital,” Ms Pushpa says.

            I know she means well, but nowadays I hate to depend on the kindness of strangers; so I reply, “Thank you ma’am, but I’ll manage. I’m used to it.”

            “Is your father often like this?” she asks.

            Why is she asking me all this? It seems genuine compassion. Or maybe she has her own troubles and talking to even more troubled people like me makes her own troubles go away.

            I decide to give her every thing in one go. “When I am there he’s okay. Controls himself. He loves me more than his drink. Last night I stayed at the hostel to study for a test. And he must have felt lonely and hit the bottle. I shouldn’t have left him alone. After mummy’s gone I am the only one he’s got, and he’s the only one I’ve got.” I pause and I say, “He was improving so much. Something must have happened last evening. Something disturbing! He must have got upset – really badly upset.”

            “I’m so sorry,” she says. Her tone is apologetic as if she were responsible in some way.

            “Why should you feel sorry, ma’am. It’s my fate. I’ve to just find out what’s upset him. And see it doesn’t happen again. Maybe somebody visited him, passed some hurting remark. He’s very sensitive.”

            Her expression changes slightly. She winces. “Does he tell you everything?” she asks.

            “Of course he tells me everything,” I say, “There are no secrets between us. I’m his best friend.”

            “I wish I could help you in some way,” she says.

            I don’t say anything. I close my eyes. What a fool I have been, I’ve told her everything. And I know nothing about her. Not even the color of her eyes – she hasn’t even once taken off her dark sunglasses, like someone who’s blind. How cleverly she’s manipulated the conversation. Maybe people who are happy and successful feel good listening to other people’s sorrows.

            I feel stifled. I open my eyes and the window. A shrill whistle and we pass through a gorge. Noise, steam, smoke, and suddenly it becomes sunny and the train begins to slow down. 

            “We’ve reached,” I say. We get down on the platform at Coonoor.

            “I’ll come with you,” she says.           

            “Thanks. But it’s okay. I’ll go by myself.”

            “Sure?”

            “I’m sure, thanks.”      

             Ms Pushpa takes off her dark sunglasses and looks at me. I see her eyes for the first time. A shiver passes through me as I look into her eyes. They are greenish-grey. She’s got cat-eyes. Exactly like mine.

            Suddenly she takes me in her arms and hugs me in a tight embrace.

            Stunned, I struggle, feeling acutely uncomfortable.

            She releases me and I just stand there feeling numb, confused.

            The whistle shrieks. I come to my senses. Look up at her. Her eyes are red and tears flow down her cheeks.

            Suddenly she puts on her sunglasses, turns and walks away.

            As I walk towards the hospital I think about my brief encounter with Ms Pushpa, her rather strange behaviour. It’s certainly not one of those hail fellow – well met types of time-pass conversations between co-passengers. But suddenly she’s gone and I don’t know anything about her. She hasn’t even given me her card, address, phone, nothing. It all happened so fast.

           I reach the clinic. Well laid-out. Neat. Spick and span. Anesthetic smell. An air of discipline. I walk through the corridor. I know where to go.

            “Yes?” a voice says from behind.

            I turn around. It’s a matron. I’ve never seen her before. Her eyes are hard, pitiless.

            I tell her who I am. Her expression changes. Lines of compassion begin to crease her face. But still, her face has something terrible written on it.

            I smile. I have learnt to smile even when I feel like weeping.

            I enter the room. Papa is lying on the solitary bed. He looks okay. His eyes are closed.

            “Papa,” I say softly.

            He opens his eyes. “Shanta! Come to me,” he says. I rush to his bed. He hugs me tightly, “Don’t go Shanta. Don’t leave me and go away,” he cries.

            “Don’t cry papa. I’ll always be with you. I’ll never leave you alone again,” I say, tears rolling down my checks.

            We both cry copiously. Time stands still. I sense the presence of people in the room. Apart from the matron, there is the comforting face of Dr. Ghosh and a young doctor in white coat, stethoscope around his neck.

            “Can I take him?” I ask.

            “Of course,” Dr. Ghosh says.” He’s okay now.”

            “But sir,” the young doctor protests and says, “He’s hallucinating….”

            “It’s okay,” Dr. Ghosh interrupts giving him a sharp look. “Shanta knows how to look after him; like a mother. Isn’t it Shanta?”

            “Yes,” I say.           

            Papa gives sheepish look. That’s what I like about Dr. Ghosh. The way he gets his message across. There is no need for him to reprimand papa. Especially in front of me. My papa’s own remorse is his own worst reprimand.

            We talk in silence. I don’t ask him any thing. He’ll tell me when he wants to.

            “You’re hungry?” he asks.

            “Yes,” I say. It’s almost noon.

            Soon we sit at the Garden Restaurant overlooking Sim’s Park. He takes his hands out of the overcoat pockets and picks up the menu card. His hands tremble. DT. Delirium Tremens. Withdrawal symptoms. Must have had a prolonged bout of drinking last night. I know what to do. Just in case. I don’t want him to turn cold turkey. 

            “Papa, you order,” I say and pick up my school bag and briskly walk across the road to the wine shop. On seeing me the owner puts a small bottle of brandy in a brown paper bag and gives it to me. I put in my school bag. No words are exchanged. No permit is required. It doesn’t matter that I’m a 14 year old schoolgirl. He knows. Everyone knows. Pity. Compassion.

            But I know that unseen eyes see, and tongues I cannot hear will wag.

            The silence. It’s grotesque. Deafening. Unbearable.

            As I give him a fifty-rupee note, the owner asks, “Saab – I hope he’s okay.”

            I nod. I don’t seem to have a private life anymore. Unsolicited sympathy is a burden I find difficult to carry nowadays.

            Papa has ordered Chinese food. My favorite. He has a nip of brandy. His hands become steady. We start eating.

            “She wants to take you away from me,” he says.

            “Who wants take me away? I don’t understand,” I say perplexed.

            “Yes. She’s going to take you away. She came last evening.”

            “Who?”

            “Your mother.”

            I feel a strange sensation in my stomach. The food becomes tasteless in my mouth. It seems he’s reached the final stage. Hallucinations. Loneliness. Driving him insane. He’s seeing images of mummy now. The point of no return. Fear drills into my vitals.

            “Please papa. Mummy is dead. You’re hallucinating again.” I say.

            “She came last evening. Wanted your custody.”

            “Custody? What are you talking?”

            “Yes. She wants to take you away from me.”

            “Who?”

            “Your birthmother.”

            “Birthmother?”

            “Yes.”

            “But mummy?”

            “Don’t delve too much.”

            In the evening we sit on the lawns of the club waiting for my birthmother. I feel like a volcano about to erupt. Daddy sits with his head in his hands; nervous, scared. Dr. Ghosh looks away into the distance, as if he’s in our group but not a part of it. I wonder what’s his role in all this.

            And opposite me is that hideous woman with suspiciously black hair. Mrs. Murthy. The social worker from the child welfare department.

            Social work indeed! Removing adopted children from happy homes and forcibly returning them to their biological parents who had abandoned them in the first place.

            And this birthmother of mine. I hate her without even knowing her. First she abandons me. And then after fourteen long years she emerges from nowhere with an overflowing love and concern for me. ‘My papa is a dangerous man,’ she decides. It’s unsafe for me to live with him. So she wants to take me away into the unknown.

            “Don’t worry,” Mrs. Murthy the social worker says,” Everything will be okay.”

            Yes. Everything will be okay. Papa will land up in an asylum. I’ll be condemned to spend the rest of my life with a woman I hate. Our lives will be ruined. Great social service will be done. Yes. Everything will be okay.

            Papa is silent. Scared. He’s been warmed by Dr. Ghosh. No outbursts. It’ll only worsen the case.

            And me. I’m only a minor. They’ll decide what is good for me. Of course they’ll take my views into consideration. I can see my world disintegrating in front of me.

            We sit in silence. Six-thirty. Seven. The longest half-hour of my life.

            “She said she’ll be here at six-thirty sharp,” Mrs. Murthy says, “I’ll check up.” She pulls out her cell phone. Signal’s weak. She walks to the reception.

            We wait. And gradually, a depressing and frightening darkness envelopes.

            Mrs. Murthy returns. There’s urgency in her step. “Her cell phone is switched off. I rang up the hotel,” she says, “It’s strange. She checked out in the afternoon. Hired a taxi to Bangalore. It’s funny. She hasn’t even bothered to leave a message for me.” Mrs. Murthy is disappointed and says angrily, “After all the trouble I have taken. She just goes away without even informing me. She promised she’ll be here at six-thirty sharp.” Looking perturbed, she leaves, promising to check up and let us know.

            After she leaves, Dr. Ghosh says to my father, “Come on. Let’s have a drink.”

            “No,” my papa says,” I don’t need a drink.”

            “Sure?”

            “Absolutely sure.”

            We take leave of Dr. Ghosh and begin walking home.

            “Papa?”

            “Yes.”

            “This woman. My ‘birthmother’. Does she have cat-eyes? Like me?”

            “Don’t delve too much!” Papa says lovingly as he puts his protective arm around me and we walk together into the enveloping darkness. And I can see light in the distance.

VIKRAM KARVE

Copyright 2006 Vikram Karve

vikramkarve@sify.com 
 

vikramkarve@hotmail.com

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com   http://www.linkedin.com/in/karve

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Lovedale

July 4, 2007

LOVEDALE

 

(a short story)

 

by

 

VIKRAM KARVE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lovedale. A quaint little station on the Nilgiri Mountain Railway that runs from Mettupalayam in the plains on a breathtaking journey to beautiful Ooty, the Queen of Hill Stations. On Lovedale station there is just one small platform – and on it, towards its southern end, a solitary bench. If you sit on this bench you will see in front of you, beyond the railway track, an undulating valley, covered with eucalyptus trees, and in the distance the silhouette of a huge structure, which looks like a castle, with an impressive clock-tower. In this mighty building is located a famous boarding school – one of the best schools in India. Many such ‘elite’ schools are known more for snob value than academic achievements, but this one is different – it is a prestigious public school famous for its rich heritage and tradition of excellence.

 

 

 

Lovedale, in 1970. That’s all there is in Lovedale – this famous public school, a small tea-estate called Lovedale (from which this place got its name), a tiny post office and, of course, the lonely railway platform with its solitary bench.

 

 

 

It’s a cold damp depressing winter morning, and since the school is closed for winter, the platform is deserted except for two people – yes, just two persons – a woman and a small girl, shivering in the morning mist, sitting on the solitary bench. It’s almost 9 o’clock – time for the morning “toy-train” from the plains carrying tourists via Coonoor to Ooty, the “Queen” of hill-stations, just three kilometers ahead – the end of the line. But this morning the train is late, probably because of the dense fog and the drizzle on the mountain-slopes, and it will be empty – for there are hardly any tourists in this cold and damp winter season.

 

 

 

 “I’m dying to meet mummy. And this stupid train – it’s always late,” the girl says. She is dressed in school uniform – gray blazer, thick gray woolen skirt, navy-blue stockings, freshly polished black shoes, her hair tied smartly in two small plaits with black ribbons.

 

 

 

The woman, 55 – maybe 60, dressed in a white sari with a thick white shawl draped over her shoulder and a white scarf around her head covering her ears, looks lovingly at the girl, softly takes the girl’s hand in her own, and says, “It will come. Look at the weather. The driver can hardly see in this mist. And it must be raining down there in Ketti valley.”

 

 

 

“I hate this place. It’s so cold and lonely. Everyone has gone home for the winter holidays and we have nowhere to go. Why do we have to spend our holidays here every time?”

 

 

 

“You know we can’t stay with her in the hostel.”

 

 

 

“But her training is over now. And she’s become an executive – that’s what she wrote.”

 

 

 

“Yes. Yes. She is an executive now. After two years of tough training. Very creditable; after all that has happened,” the old woman says.

 

 

 

“She has to take us to Mumbai with her now. We can’t stay here any longer. No more excuses now.”

 

 

 

 “Even I don’t want to stay here. It’s cold and I am old. Let your mummy come. This time we’ll tell her to take us all to Mumbai.”

 

 

 

“And we’ll all stay together – like we did before God took Daddy away.”

 

 

 

 “Yes. Mummy will go to work. You will go to school. And I will look after the house and all of you. Just like before.”

 

 

 

“Only Daddy won’t be there. Why did God take Daddy away?” the girl says, tears welling up in her eyes.

 

 

 

 “Don’t think those sad things. We cannot change what has happened. You must be brave – like your mummy,” says the old lady putting her hand softly around the girl. The old lady closes her eyes in sadness.There is no greater pain than to remember happier times when in distress.

 

 

 

Meanwhile the toy-train is meandering its way laboriously round the steep u-curve, desperately pushed by a hissing steam engine, as it leaves Wellington station on its way to Ketti. A man and a woman sit facing each other in the tiny first class compartment. There is no one else.

 

 

 

“You must tell her today,” the man says.

 

 

 

“Yes,” the woman replies softly.

 

 

 

“You should have told her before.”

 

 

 

“When?”

 

 

 

“You could have written, called her up. I told you so many times.”

 

 

 

“How could I be so cruel?”

 

 

 

“Cruel? What’s so cruel about it?”

 

 

 

“I don’t know how she will react. She loved her father very much.”

 

 

 

“Now she will have to love me. I am her new father now.”

 

 

 

“Yes, I know,” the woman says, tears welling up in her eyes. “I don’t know how to tell her; how she’ll take it. I think we should wait for some time. Baby is very sensitive.”

 

 

 

“Baby! Why do you still call her Baby? She is a grown up girl now. You must call her by her real name. Damayanti – what a nice name – and you call her Baby”

 

 

 

“It’s her pet name. Deepak always liked to call her Baby.”

 

 

 

“But I don’t like it! It’s ridiculous,” the man says firmly. “Anyway, all that we can sort out later. But you tell her about us today. Tell both of them.”

 

 

 

“Both of them? My mother-in-law also? What will she feel?”

 

 

 

“She’ll understand.”

 

 

 

“Poor thing. She will be all alone.”

 

 

 

“She’s got her work to keep her busy.”

 

 

 

 “She’s old and weak. I don’t think she’ll be able to do the matron’s job much longer.”

 

 

 

“Let her work till she can. At least it will keep her occupied. Then we’ll see.”

 

 

 

“Can’t we take her with us?”

 

 

 

“You know it’s not possible.”

 

 

 

“It’s so sad. She was so good to me. Where will she go? We can’t abandon her just like that!”

 

 

 

“Abandon? Nobody is abandoning her. Don’t worry. If she doesn’t want to stay on here, I’ll arrange something – I know an excellent place near Lonavala. She will be very comfortable there – it’s an ideal place for senior citizens like her.”

 

 

 

“An Old Age Home?”

 

 

 

“Call it what you want but actually it’s quite a luxurious place. She’ll be happy there. I’ve already spoken to them. Let her continue here till she can. Then we’ll shift her there.”

 

 

 

“How cruel? She was so loving and good to me, treated me like her own daughter, and looked after Baby, when we were devastated. And now we discard her when she needs us most,” the woman says, and starts sobbing.

 

 

 

“Come on Kavita. Don’t get sentimental,. You have to face the harsh reality. You know we can’t take her with us. Kavita, you must begin a new life now – no point carrying the baggage of your past,” the man realizes he has said something wrong and instantly apologizes, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it.”

 

 

 

“You did mean it. That’s why you said it! I hate you, you are so cruel and selfish,” the woman says, turns away from the man and looks out of the window.

 

 

 

They travel in silence. An uneasy disquieting silence. Suddenly it is dark, as the train enters a tunnel, and as it emerges on the other side, the woman can see the vast green KettiValley with its undulating mountains in the distance.

 

 

 

“I think I’ll also get down with you at Lovedale. I’ll tell them. Explain everything. And get over with it once and for all,” the man says.

 

 

 

“No! No! I don’t even want them to see you. The sudden shock may upset them. I have to do this carefully. Please don’t get down at Lovedale. Go straight to Ooty. I’ll tell them everything and we’ll do as we decided.”

 

 

 

“I was only trying to help you. Make things easier. I want to meet Damayanti. Tell her about us. I’m sure she’ll love me and understand everything.”

 

 

 

“No, please. Let me do this. I don’t want her to see you before I tell her. She’s a very sensitive girl. I don’t know how she’ll react. I’ll have to do it very gently.”

 

 

 

“Okay,” the man says. “Make sure you wind up everything at the school. We have to leave for Mumbai tomorrow. There is so much to be done. We’ve hardly got any time left.”

 

 

 

The steam engine pushing the train huffs and puffs up the slope round the bend under the bridge. “Lovedale station is coming,” the woman says. She gets up and takes out her bag from the shelf.

 

 

 

“Sure you don’t want me to come?” asks the man.

       

“Not now. I’ll ring you up,” says the woman.

  “Okay. But tell them everything. We can’t wait any longer.”

 

 

“Just leave everything to me. Don’t make it more difficult.”

 

 

 

They sit in silence, looking out of different windows, waiting for Lovedale railway station to come.

 

 

 

On the solitary bench on the platform at Lovedale station the girl and her grandmother wait patiently for the train which will bring their deliverance.

 

 

 

“I hate it over here. The cold scary dormitories. At night I miss mummy tucking me in. And every night I count DLFMTC ?”

 

 

 

“DLFMTC ?”

 

 

 

“Days Left For Mummy To Come ! Others count DLTGH – Days Left To Go Home.”

 

 

 

“Next time you too …”

 

 

 

“No. No. I am not going to stay here in boarding school. I don’t know why we came here to this horrible place. I hate boarding school. I miss mummy so much. We could have stayed on in Mumbai with her.”

 

 

 

“Now we will be all staying in Mumbai. Your mummy’s training is over. She can hire a house now. Or get a loan. We will try to buy a good house. I’ve saved some money too.”

 

 

 

The lone station-master strikes the bell outside his office. The occupants of the solitary bench look towards their left. There is no one else on the platform. And suddenly the train emerges from under the bridge – pushed by the hissing steam engine.

 

 

 

Only one person gets down from the train – a beautiful woman, around 30. The girl runs into her arms. The old woman walks towards her with a welcoming smile. The man, sitting in the train, looks cautiously trying not to be seen. A whistle; and the train starts and moves out of the station towards Ooty.

 

 

 

That evening the woman tells them everything.

 

 

 

 At noon the next day, four people wait at Lovedale station for the train which comes from Ooty and goes down to the plains – the girl, her mother, her grandmother and the man. The girl presses close to her grandmother and looks at her new ‘father’ with trepidation. He gives her a smile of forced geniality. The old woman holds the girl tight to her body and looks at the man with distaste. The young woman looks with awe, mixed with hope, at her new husband. They all stand in silence. No one speaks. Time stands still. And suddenly the train enters.

   

“I don’t want to go,” the girl cries, clinging to her grandmother.

 

“Don’t you want to stay with your mummy? You hate boarding school don’t you? ” the man says extending his hand.

 

 

 

 The girl recoils and says, “No. No. I like it here. I don’t want to come. I like boarding school.”

 

 

 

“Come Baby, we have to go,” her mother says as tears well up in her eyes.

 

 

 

“What about granny? How will she stay here all alone? No mummy – you also stay here. We all will stay here. Let this man go to Mumbai,” the girl pleads.

 

 

 

“Damayanti. I am your new father,” the man says firmly to the girl. And then turning to the young woman he commands, “Kavita. Come. The train is going to leave.”

 

 

 

“Go Baby. Be a good girl. I will be okay,” says the old woman releasing the girl.

 

 

 

As her mother gently holds her arm and guides her towards the train, for the first time in her life the girl feels that her mother’s hand is like the clasp of an iron gate. Like manacles.

 

 

 

“I will come and meet you in Mumbai. I promise!” the grandmother says. But the girl feels scared – something inside tells her she that may never see her grandmother again.

 

 

 

As the train heads towards the plains, the old woman begins to walk her longest mile – her loneliest mile – into emptiness, a void.

 

 

 

And poor old Lovedale Railway Station, the mute witness, doesn’t even a shed a tear. It tries. But it can’t. Poor thing. It’s not human. So it suffers its sorrow in inanimate helplessness. A pity. What a pity!

 

 

 

 

 

VIKRAM KARVE

 

Copyright 2006 Vikram Karve

 

 

 

vikramkarve@sify.com

 

vikramkarve@hotmail.com

 

 

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com

 

http://www.linkedin.com/in/karve

 

http://www.ryze.com/go/karve

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LPO – Life Process Outsourcing – a short story by Vikram Karve

June 20, 2007

LPO

[LIFE PROCESS OUTSOURCING]

 

by

 

VIKRAM KARVE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One leisurely morning, while I am loafing on Main Street, in Pune, I meet an old friend of mine.

 

 

 

“Hi!” I say.

 

 

 

“Hi,” he says, “where to?”

 

 

 

“Aimless loitering,” I say, “And you?”

 

 

 

“I’m going to work.”

 

 

 

“Work? This early? I thought your shift starts in the evening, or late at night. You work at a call center don’t you?”

 

 

 

“Not now. I quit. I’m on my own now.”

 

 

 

“On your own? What do you do?”

 

 

 

“LPO.”

 

 

 

“LPO? What’s that?”

 

 

 

“Life Process Outsourcing.”

 

 

 

“Life Process Outsourcing? Never heard of it!”

 

 

 

“You’ve heard of Business Process Outsourcing haven’t you?”

 

 

 

“BPO? Outsourcing non-core business activities and functions?”

 

 

 

“Precisely. LPO is similar to BPO. There it’s Business Processes that are outsourced, here it’s Life Processes.”

 

 

 

“Life Processes? Outsourced?”

 

 

 

“Why don’t you come along with me? I’ll show you.”

 

 

 

Soon we are in his office. It looks like a mini call center.

 

 

 

A young attractive girl welcomes us. “Meet Rita, my Manager,” my friend says, and introduces us.

 

 

 

Rita looks distraught, and says to my friend, “I’m not feeling well. Must be viral fever.”

 

 

 

“No problem. My friend here will stand in.”

 

 

 

“What? I don’t have a clue about all this LPO thing!” I protest.

 

 

 

“There’s nothing like learning on the job! Rita will show you.”

 

 

 

“It’s simple,” Rita says, in a hurry. “See the console. You just press the appropriate switch and route the call to the appropriate person or agency.” And with these words she disappears. It’s the shortest training I have ever had in my life.

 

 

 

And so I plunge into the world of Life Process Outsourcing; or LPO as they call it.

 

 

 

It’s all very simple. Working people don’t seem to have time these days, but they have lots of money; especially those double income couples, IT nerds, MBA hot shots, finance wizards; just about everybody in the modern rat race. ‘Non-core Life Activities’, for which they neither have the inclination or the time – outsource them; so you can maximize your work-time to rake in the money and make a fast climb up the ladder of success.

 

 

 

“My daughter’s puked in her school. They want someone to pick her up and take her home. I’m busy in a shoot and just can’t leave,” a creative ad agency type says.

 

 

 

“Why don’t you tell your husband?” I say.

 

 

 

“Are you crazy or something? I’m a single mother.”

 

 

 

“Sorry ma’am. I didn’t know. My sympathies and condolences.”

 

 

 

“Condolences? Who’s this? Is this LPO?”

 

 

 

“Yes ma’am,” I say, press the button marked ‘children’ and transfer the call, hoping I have made the right choice. Maybe I should have pressed ‘doctor’.

 

 

 

Nothing happens for the next few moments. I breathe a sigh of relief.

 

 

 

A yuppie wants his grandmother to be taken to a movie. I press the ‘movies’ button. ‘Movies’ transfers the call back, “Hey, this is for movie tickets; try ‘escort services’. He wants the old hag escorted to the movies.”

 

 

 

‘Escort Services’ are in high demand. These guys and girls, slogging in their offices minting money, want escort services for their kith and kin for various non-core family processes like shopping, movies, eating out, sight seeing, marriages, funerals, all types of functions; even going to art galleries, book fairs, exhibitions, zoos, museums or even a walk in the nearby garden.

 

 

 

A father wants someone to read bedtime stories to his small son while he works late. A busy couple wants proxy stand-in ‘parents’ at the school PTA meeting. An investment banker rings up from Singapore; he wants his mother to be taken to pray in a temple at a certain time on a specific day.

 

Someone wants his kids to be taken for a swim, brunch, a play and browsing books and music.

 

 

 

 An IT project manager wants someone to motivate and pep-talk her husband, who’s been recently sacked, and is cribbing away at home demoralized. He desperately needs someone to talk to, unburden himself, but the wife is busy – she neither has the time nor the inclination to take a few days off to boost the morale of her depressed husband when there are deadlines to be met at work and so much is at stake.

 

 

 

The things they want outsourced range from the mundane to the bizarre; life processes that one earlier enjoyed and took pride in doing or did as one’s sacred duty are considered ‘non-core life activities’ now-a-days by these highfalutin people.

 

 

 

At the end of the day I feel illuminated on this novel concept of Life Process Outsourcing, and I am about to leave, when suddenly a call comes in.

 

 

 

“LPO?” a man asks softly.

 

 

 

“Yes, this is LPO. May I help you?” I say.

 

 

 

“I’m speaking from FrankfurtAirport. I really don’t know if I can ask this?” he says nervously.

 

 

 

“Please go ahead and feel free to ask anything you desire, Sir. We do everything.”

 

 

 

“Everything?”

 

 

 

“Yes, Sir. Anything and everything!” I say.

 

 

 

“I don’t know how to say this. This is the first time I’m asking. You see, I am working 24/7 on an important project for the last few months. I’m globetrotting abroad and can’t make it there. Can you please arrange for someone suitable to take my wife out to the New Year’s Eve Dance?”

 

 

 

I am taken aback but quickly recover, “Yes, Sir.”

 

 

 

“Please send someone really good, an excellent dancer, and make sure she enjoys and has a good time. She loves dancing and I just haven’t had the time.”

 

 

 

“Of course, Sir.”

 

 

 

 “And I told you – I’ve been away abroad for quite some time now and I’ve got to stay out here till I complete the project.”

 

 

 

“I know. Work takes top priority.”

 

 

 

“My wife. She’s been lonely. She desperately needs some love. Do you have someone with a loving and caring nature who can give her some love? I just don’t have the time. You understand what I’m saying, don’t you?”

 

 

 

I let the words sink in. This is one call I am not going to transfer. “Please give me the details, Sir,” I say softly into the mike.

 

 

 

As I walk towards my destination with a spring in my step, I feel truly enlightened.

 

 

 

Till this moment, I never knew that ‘love’ was a ‘non-core’ ‘life-process’ worthy of outsourcing.

 

 

 

Long Live Life Process Outsourcing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

VIKRAM KARVE

 

copyright 2006 Vikram Karve

 

vikramkarve@sify.com

 

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com

 

http://www.ryze.com/go/karve

 

http://www.linkedin.com/in/karve

 

 

 

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

June 12, 2007

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

  

By

  

VIKRAM KARVE

     

A renowned Trainer entered a hall to deliver a lecture on Motivation to the employees of a large industrial organization.  To his horror he found that the hall was empty except for a young man seated in the front row.

  

  The Trainer asked him who he was.

  

“I am a Cook in the Industrial Canteen,” said the young man.

  

The Trainer, pondering whether to speak or not, asked the Cook, “You are the only one here. Do you think I should speak or not?”

  

The Cook said to Trainer: “I am a simple man and do not understand these things.  But, if I came into the Dining Hall and saw only one man sitting there, I would certainly give him food.”

  

The Trainer took this to heart and, with full gusto, began to deliver his lecture.  He spoke passionately for over two hours.

  

  Immensely proud after his virtuoso performance, he felt highly elated and wanted his audience to confirm how great his lecture had been.

  

He asked the Cook, “How did you like my lecture?”

   

The simpleton Cook answered, “I told you already that I am a simple man and do not understand these things very well.  However, if I came into the dining hall and found only one man sitting there, I will certainly feed him, but I will not force him to eat the enormous amount of food I have prepared in the kitchen.”

     

VIKRAM KARVE

  

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com

  

http://www.linkedin.com/in/karve

  

http://www.ryze.com/go/karve

  vikramkarve@sify.com