Monday, November 24, 2008

Days of Innocence ....

Opening my office dak pad on a Monday morning is hardly an enjoyable exercise. While mindlessly marking the letters to various sections this morning , I suddenly found an envelop bearing the name of NAAA- our academy in Shimla . I was asked to ‘pin down the elusive quality that distinguishes us from the rest’ by the Director General of the Academy . He had asked me to ‘distill this essence of ‘Life at Yarrows /Academy’. Aha, now that is something ! I stopped reading rest of the dak and like a true general of CAG’s army I rose to the call of the service , picked up my pen and decided to start writing right ahead . The pen did not move for many minutes.
I was trying to think of days when office building did not remind me of the important meeting at 4 for which I have yet to write a brief or when ATNs, memos, IRs , and record productions were merely academic subjects and not hard core realities of life . I pushed aside all these dementors like realities by happy thoughts of our dreamlike existence in our beloved yarrows. I had to write my most favorite reminiscences , a Julie Andrew kinda list of my favorite things that fill my mind in times of need . The list got muddled up in my brain. There were room secrets, batch secrets and taboos …Just can’t tell everyone about those .Then there were unspeakable facts …I had to respect those. There were also things that may be seen as clichés , I would avoid those too …..and rest , by jove, they are so personal, would anyone get the ‘feel’ of it just by my poorly drafted words. (I sincerely regretted sleeping in those classes of drafting ‘complete, concise and correct reports’). How I wish I could borrow Dickens’ words. I would have then famously said about those days that “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness ,it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity,…..we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.” The dementors came back to me despite the image of yarrows still wet in my eyes – may be the contrast was just too much.
It was just this morning only that I was thinking of Sisyphus. Am I going to spend my life like that? Even gods, for some reason decided that there is no dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labour. His scorn of the gods, his hatred of death, and his passion for life won him that unspeakable penalty in which the whole being is exerted toward accomplishing nothing. Just nothing. This is the price that must be paid for the passions of this earth. Am I a Sisyphus coming back to the plains -- down with a heavy yet measured step toward the torment of which he will never know the end .May be not….the dreadfully dull and meaningless daily existence may not be the stuff made of dreams but then it is not a torment—it is great fun also .At least sometimes. On some moments it is worth living. It is worth bearing when those moments are not there … After all, a long walk, a refreshing bath, a cold breeze and lots of memories…. above all my imagination, my ability to enjoy all this –that is also a part of my being. How it can be a torment then .Perhaps these patches of indescribable pain – the feeling of spending time in vain , make me appreciate the moments when life is not so bad.
Oh, but it was definitely better in those days . Then I thought of Yarrows and the exact words came from Mary Hopkins
Once upon a time there was a tavern
Where we used to raise a glass or two
Remember how we laughed away the hours
And dreamed of all the great things we would do
Those were the days my friend
We thought they'd never end
We'd sing and dance forever and a day
We'd live the life we choose
We'd fight and never lose
For we were young and sure to have our way.
Those were the days, oh yes those were the days !
Then the busy years went rushing by us
We lost our starry notions on the way
If by chance I'd see you in the tavern
We'd smile at one another and we'd say
Those were the days, oh yes those were the days

Just tonight I stood before the tavern
Nothing seemed the way it used to be
In the glass I saw a strange reflection
Was that lonely woman really me………………
Oh my friend we're older but no wiser
For in our hearts the dreams are still the same
Those were the days, oh yes, those were the days

PS: No this is not what I will write in my Julie Andrews like list to DG (NAAA). I will find words to tell the tale – my tale, for that .

Monday, November 10, 2008

Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy....

Hey was it not very hot just yesterday? Were we not fanning ourselves desperately while sipping iced tea only the other day ? And today morning suddenly I sighted the first shawls and sweaters on co-commuters. All at once, it is not comfortable to get up from bed in the mornings or to go swimming in the pool . It seems winter has approached and its time to sip ginger tea at every possible opportunity. Time to take out the woollen sweaters from the closet. Time for huddling together. For warmth. For comfort. Visible breath, which amused me endlessly as a child . Even the topics of conversation have changed. Winter time is as much a festival time as it is a time for shopping. You want to be out in the sun for every big or small task. Seasonal sweets of jaggary and til are appearing on the confectionery shops . I am again feeling envious of people enjoying the sunshine while I concentrate on the files and figures of Income Tax in this close office room .Evenings are foggy and sunshine is pleasant . I think of Eliza of My fair Lady asking for only "a room somewhere,far away from the cold night air,with one enormous chair."to brave the winter . But then she also dreams of "Lots of chocolate for me to eat.Lots of coal makin' lots of 'eat.Warm face, warm 'ands, warm feet. so loverly sittin' absobloominlutely still.I would never budge 'till spring Crept over the windowsill." Yeah that is really something to ask for the winters !

Its strange that my visualisation of winter is different for different places . When I think of winter in Lucknow, I always remember sitting in my lawns with winter flowers all around, but for Shimla it is biting chill of snow melting and a of ice-cream cone at the Mall. And whenever I think of winters in Calcutta I think of Christmas celebrations and the amazing range of sweets available only in these months. Of course in plains the winter months are very uncomfortable , specially if one has to go out for work and if there is so sun for days . While I prepare myself for the notorious 'dilli ki sardi ' I can't help feeling good about it too. After all I missed this kind of northern winters for last 4 years in Calcutta . I cherish all the memories of winters in various cities I have lived so far but interestingly,my most favourite winter imagination is of what I found in BBC adaptations of Victorian novels. I long to see the harsh winters in the English countryside and the joy of sunshine after that. But on second thoughts I feel that I may find it very romatic but that must have been a difficult time for people who actually lived in that period.Speically for the poor and the workers . Here is poem describing winter time and the winter-y concerns. It is by Robert Louis Stevenson.
Late lies the wintry sun a-bed,
A frosty, fiery sleepy-head;
Blinks but an hour or two; and then,
A blood-red orange, sets again.
Before the stars have left the skies,
At morning in the dark I rise;
And shivering in my nakedness,
By the cold candle, bathe and dress.
Close by the jolly fire I sit
To warm my frozen bones a bit;
Or with a reindeer-sled, explore
The colder countries round the door.
When to go out, my nurse doth wrap
Me in my comforter and cap;
The cold wind burns my face, and blows
Its frosty pepper up my nose.
Black are my steps on silver sod;
Thick blows my frosty breath abroad;
And tree and house, and hill and lake,
Are frosted like a wedding-cake.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Loss

A very dear friend lost his father recently. This was fourth such case in my friend-circle. When one reads about such deaths in newspapers or on general discussions they seem so small insignificant incidents. They sound very much part of the natural system . But when something like this happens in your own family or in your friends’ you feel very differently. God forbid if you yourself happen to lose a parent, it’s a tragedy beyond comparison . It is one of the downsides of being an adult that you come closer to the loss of your parents. We all know it has to happen one or the other day…but one can’t be really prepared for it. My grandfather died when my father was already in his fifties . They had a typical father son relationship with disagreements combined with fondness and very little talk. But in the last few days when my father was alone with his old man the relationship changed dramatically. I never saw my father being so emotional before. Probably for the first time since his achieving adulthood , he had time to pause rest of the world and spend time with his father. He came to know a very different person from what he remembered from his teenage days. My grandfather’s life struggles, his ideals, his poetry all appeared before him in a very different light . And then the inevitable happened. Papa grieved the death much more than he himself expected. For rest of his life he kept his father’s last scrawlings on his study table .
Unlike this relationship, both I and my sister were always very close to our father. He was always our best friend, our favourite punching bag and our ideal .In the year 2000, just after I wrote the main exams for civil services , my father was detected with cancer. It was already in an advance stage and we were told that it is now a matter of days- and so it was . I can never express in words how I felt in those 15 days of his illness and 8 years since then. When he breathed his last, we were holding his hands. We were too numbed by the shock that for days we could not accept that this has happened. The world around us was, of course creating enough nuisances to keep us away from the estimation of the loss. But can you ever measure the loss? It’s like erasing a basic postulate of your world. It’s like telling you in the middle of a jigsaw puzzle that the rules have changed. Its like removing a thick layer of blanket from your shoulders and exposing you to the cold of a winter night. It is worse.
It is generally believed that people get over all pains and that time is a healer in such cases, but I disagree. You just learn to live in an incomplete world. In a world where at every important stage your mind will ask, how your father/mother would have reacted to this . You never realise the importance of having your parents around till the day you lose one of them. Loving one’s parents is so different from any other relationship. You love your father even if he never made any money . You like your mother even if she has a buckteeth . Some time back I got a mail-forward presentation on how the relationship with parents change with time. As toddlers we love them unconditionally, as kids we look upto them as ideals , as teenagers occasionally we feel embarrassed by them , as adults we feel they don’t know anything about the world and then when the fear of losing them sets in , we again want to be kids holding their hands tight , with the conviction of a small boy trying to stop the weather with a stick in hand .
My granddad , an urdu poet, wrote in one of his poems –
हमारी मौत भी एक मौज है दरिया-ऐ- हस्ती में / बस एक गोत्ता लगाना है यहाँ डूबे वहां निकले !
( our life is like a wave in the sea of existence , its just a matter of a jump, you dive here and rise there ) . I find consolation in the thought .