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The taming of the brew!

Daju’s designation declared that he was the ‘office water-carrier’. His job required him to fetch water, cook food and keep the office clean . No one in my office, wanted to eat the food he cooked. They preferred to do the cooking themselves. There was not much work in the office where I was the district-in-charge. It was a government office in the foothills of the Himalayas. Still in my early twenties, I was struggling to grow a mustache then. I hoped it would give me a serious and more of a mature look. I was having a tough time controlling my staff. They were all older than me by at least five years.
We had a staff count of five including Daju. As the boss there, I lived in an all wood cabin. This was my office cum residence. Next to me on a hill slope, lived the other staff members, some with their families.

Daju is not a name. It means brother in Nepali. Everyone called him that. I do not remember what his real name was, for this story is more than two decades old. He claimed that he was originally from Tibet. His story was that he had sneaked into India as a young boy and joined the army. There he managed to get court-martialed for picking up a fight with a senior officer. For sometime he did odd jobs and moved around. Roaming around he reached this village, liked it and settled down. A Buddhist by birth, he was converted to Christianity by the over-enthusiastic local pastor. A decision the pastor lived to regret for the rest of his life! Daju was a reluctant convert. He rarely if ever went to church. Yet he married a local woman and built a small hut for her. Daju and his wife had six children. Five of them lived with him.His eldest child a boy was working somewhere in Mumbai. Their hut was next to my house.

Every morning at five, Daju would come in and start his days work. Life in the hills started early. In India, due to certain unknown reasons, we have the same time across the country. This even though the country has three time-zones passing through it. Due to this, in the north eastern states, we can see the sun rise at five in the morning and set by four in the evening. The early morning appearance of Daju’s did not trouble me. I had a habit of waking up early since I was a child. Daju would sing old hindi movie songs while he cleaned the dishes. He was blessed with a great singing voice. After the dishes, Daju would wash my clothes, hang them out to dry and then disappear for the rest of the day. Years ago, when he had joined the office , after washing the dishes he used to go off in search of water. Water then had to be fetched from a small stream a few hundred meters away. That was until someone had the brilliant idea of connecting a pipe from the source to the house. With that one stroke of ‘brilliance’ the post of a water carrier became redundant. Over the years, the post in-charge never reported the availability of portable water and Daju kept his job.

For all his good nature Daju had a slight problem. His gentle and would-not-hurt-an-ant nature would under go a dramatic transformation the minute he consumed liquor. Once he had downed a few pegs , gentle Daju would become the epitome of nastiness. He would stand on the street outside the office and vent out his anger and frustration on the world. He would abuse one and all, using the vilest language that could be imagined. The target of his abuses could be anyone ranging from his wife to anyone who unwittingly happened to cross his path.

Since I was new there I was his preferred target. When he was in his Jekyll and Hyde transformation phase, it did not matter to him that I was his boss. He was not bothered by the fact that if I wanted, I could with a stroke of my pen have him terminated. Noting mattered to him. He would stand outside my office and abuse me. His voice loud enough for the whole village to hear, he would make fun of me. The villagers were poor and almost no one owned radio’s or TV sets. Daju was their only source of entertainment . They would all gather around and listen to him and enjoy the show. It was free entertainment and it was fun as long as they were not the target of his barbs. This went on for about an hour or two and then he would calm down, go to his hut and sleep for the rest of the day.

The next day, instead of Daju, it would be his wife who would come in to clean up my office. She would do her work quietly, while I worked in my office. A day later, Daju would be back at his usual time. He would singing soulful renditions of old classics and work his way through the dishes then my clothes and sweep the floors . Not a word was said about his theatrics of the previous day and life would be back to normal.

I was not sure how to react. I was too young to catch hold of him by the neck and advice him and too old to understand that firing him was not the solution. My staff members told me to ignore him. They told me how my immediate predecessor had submitted a complaint in writing to the head office. The result of the complaint was that Daju’s salary was frozen at rupees six hundred per month. His counterparts in other offices got a thousand rupees more. I could not imagine, how he managed to feed his family of five on six hundred rupees a month. This was back in the 1990’s but even then five hundred was a small amount.

The first time he did his Dr. Hyde transformation, I was shocked. I kept a low profile in my office that day. I hoped that people would not have head everything that he had shouted about me. The second time this happened I was prepared. Even then the after effects of this public slandering took a couple of days to wear off. I knew this could not go on for ever. The problem was I did not know what to do. Then fate stepped in.

As I must have mentioned some where in the narrative, that I had the habit of getting up early. Father was an army officer and had the bad habit of waking us up early. I do not remember ever having slept beyond six o clock in the morning. This habit gave me a few extra hours in the morning to kill. I used to do yoga in those days- Yes back then I used to be flexible. Every morning after waking up at five I used to put in an hour of yoga. I used to wind up the session with a few minutes of meditation.

One day I had reached the end of my yoga session and was meditating – basically sitting in the lotus pose with my eyes closed when I heard Daju coming. He was humming a song . The room I was in, had a window and through the window, I could see him peeping in to check if I was awake. Through half half-closed eyes, I could see Daju peeking through the window. Then I heard him gasp. His grip on the window-sill loosened and he fell down. Daju may have been in his fifties then but had the agility of a monkey and the strength of a bull. It took me a few seconds to realize what had happened.

The house I was in was as I have mentioned, made of wood and was old. There were small cracks in the ceiling through which sun light crept in. The sun’s rays would cut though the room in laser like beams. One of the beams was falling on my head. There I was seated in a perfect lotus pose, eyes closed, deep in ‘meditation’ with a halo around my head. For poor Daju that was a sight that took him back to his roots. For a few seconds the Buddhist from Tibet in him was awakened.

Daju was a different man after that ‘vision’. Later that day one by one my staff members came and spoke to me.

“ Sir, what have you done to Daju? He came to my house and apologized for his behavior! This has never happened before in my three years in this post,” said one of them.

“ Daju apologized to me too!” said another member standing next to him.” Did you ask to apologize?”

Later that day Daju came up to me. I was busy at working on some report to be sent to the main office. He stood near the door waiting for me to look up.

“Yes Daju? Is there anything you wanted to say?” I said.

“Sahib, I want to apologize for my behavior over the past couple of days. I have a problem with alcohol. I know that. I cannot control myself when I am drunk. I promise that will not happen again.”

Having said that and without waiting for a response from me, he walked away.

Not that he stopped drinking. He drank but in moderation and when drunk he would come towards me and from a distance shout, “Sahib, I am drunk now. You know what happens to me when I am drunk. I become an animal .I am going towards the forest and will be back later when I am sober!”

With that he would walk away. He would hide somewhere for a few hours returning only after ‘everything’ was normal. The one year I was in that post, he never shouted or abused anyone. He became an ideal villager, a good father and a responsible husband.

Today there are a number of types of yoga – Hatha, Ashtanga, Viniyasa yoga. Some have easier to remember names like hot yoga, beer yoga as so on . I think based on my experiences with Daju, I will create a new variety – Watch yoga. Change your life by watching someone else do yoga!

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A random act of kindness

It was supposed to be a punishment transfer. In my case, I got it because I had just joined a government service. I was packed off to a remote village, high up in the Himalayan mountains. There were no tarred roads in the village. A dirt track linked it to civilization. A bamboo hut with a corrugated-sheet roof became my office cum residence. On records, I was the district-in-charge and had a staff of four who reported to me. These four were local villagers and hardly ever attended ‘office’. Most of the time I was alone in my office. I read books and listened to music a lot those days.

I was twenty-four year old and took all this as a challenge. There was no work as such. We were there to keep an eye on the village and its inhabitants. I would send out long reports to bosses in distant cities. To while away the time I went on long walks around the village. That was how I made a few friends – two shopkeepers and a beggar. The villagers were poor and the shops in the village stored few provisions. My radio operator knew how to cook. He taught me how to boil rice and make chapattis. That was how I survived during my one year in that village.

One day around halfway into my posting, I had to meet the District Magistrate who was visiting the neighboring village. I went for the meeting along with one of my staff members. It was a distance of about five kilometers. Over the muddy roads it would have taken about three hours. We took a short-cut. Walking through the mountain pass and stepping around massive trees we reached in about two hours. Needless to say, I was tired. My assistant suggested we rest for some time at the house of his friend.

The house was more of a hut with cracks in the mud wall. It was dark inside. By the time my eyes got accustomed to the light inside I realized that the family was having dinner. It was about four in the evening. People in the hills slept by six, so dinner was early. With no electricity and no money to buy oil for lamps, there was no point keeping awake after dark.
Without a word the lady of the house put out another plate for me. There was no table. The family – My staffer’s friend, his wife , the man’s mother and his four children were all sitting on the floor eating out of steel plates. The children were staring at me as they gulped down handfuls of rice mixed with a watery stew. As I stood there in my designer jeans , t-shirt and brand new sports shoes, I was acutely aware of their tattered clothes and the ragged condition of the hut. I did not want to eat. These people were poor. I was a tough for them gt enough to feed their children. Add to that an extra mouth to feed… I refused

“ Sahib, they would feel bad if you do not eat!” my staffer said.

I looked at their faces, they did not understand my Hindi and I could not speak their language. I could see that they looked offended.

I sat down on the mud floor and began eating. Silently we ate. Nine of us in a dark room as pigs ran outside the house. It was getting dark and I did not want to be late for the meeting. So I gobbled up what was plied on my plate. The second I finished the lady of the house filled my plate with more rice. I protested and she gave me another hurt look. She pored a watery stew and added huge chunks of some vegetable. The food was bland, it had no spices, no taste. All that it had was a pinch of salt to make it edible. Again, I finished off the entire plate. This time I covered the plate with my hand to prevent her from filling it again.

“We have to leave,” I said, more to the people in the house than to my staffer.
I thought I would give them some money but was prevented by doing so.

“They will feel bad. You are a guest in the house. Guests do not pay.”

I felt odd but thanked the people in the hut and quickly walked out. No one came out as I left. With two plates of rice in my stomach I was finding it difficult to walk but we had an appointment to keep and I returned to my world.

Over the years, I have seen and read a lot about acts of charity,generosity and kindness but I am yet to come across an incident which comes anywhere close to what I experienced in that hut three decades back. It takes a big heart to give when you have almost nothing of your own.

Dancing with the daffodils…

Delonix regia - Royal Poinciana - Gulmohar 02

It was a bright, sunny day with clear skies in May The chill of winter was fading out and the Indian summer had not yet fully set in. I was fourteen years old and in my last year at school. My father was in the Army. We lived in an old bungalow, in the middle of a hectare of land. At home, all our blankets had been spread out in the compound. They were not needed anymore and were being sun-dried, before being packed away. We had a massive gulmohur tree in the compound. The tree was in full bloom and looked something like the photo here. This is not a photo of the same tree, but I think you get the idea.

I saw my blanket spread out under the massive canopy of the Gulmohur and with nothing else to do ran over and stretched myself full length on it. As I looked up, I could see that the flowers of the tree stopping the rays of the sun from reaching me. I did not mind. A gentle breeze was blowing and before I knew it, I fell asleep. I must have slept for a couple of hours. Then a kick woke me up. It was my sister’s way of waking me up for lunch. I did not get up immediately. I lay there for a few more minutes. The sun was now right in the center of the sky, but the dense foliage above kept things cool all around me.
Three decades have passed and now I am in my late forties. I have traveled across the country and seen a lot of places. Somehow, when ever I try to think of a peaceful memory from my past it is the few hours that I spent under the shade of the gulmohur that come back. Those couple of hours when I slept peacefully in the shade remains the best memory I have from my childhood. I never understood poetry but I think this was what Wordsworth was trying to convey when he wrote

.They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils…..

What makes us human?

Why do we blog? Why do we write poems or churn out epics and paint beautiful pictures? What makes us write stories about school-children waving magic-wands and fighting evil wizards or what is it that provokes us to make movies which boldly go where no one has gone before? I think the desire to share, imagine and describe the impossible is what makes us different from other species. The capability to foresee, invent and predict life as it should, would or could be in a hundred years is what makes us humans different from the other species that crawl,slither or walk on this planet. Having said that does this rare ability make us better than the other species that inhabit this planet? Looking at the way we humans have been busy destroying the planet over the centuries I do not think we as a species have lived up to expectations. That is sad…

The Football epidemic – cause and cure

fifa world cup

Every four years a strange disease sweeps across the globe. People from different races, cultures and tribes, start showing similar symptoms. Strangers start talking and best friends become enemies. Employees trudge into workplaces like zombies. There is no known cure for this malady. It does not differentiate between doctors, scientists, politicians, beggars or billionaires. Luckily the infliction lasts for a month. It dissipates the way it appeared, slowly. For days after the fever had abated some of us walk around with a silly grin on our face while others wander around with drooping shoulders and talk to themselves. The name of this disease is ‘ Football Mania’ and in case you are still wondering, it comes along with the football world cup held once every four years.
I was struck by this illness way back in the eighties. An article in the Readers Digest mentioned about a man named Paolo Rossi. He was a football player from Italy. The article described his skills on the field in detail. We had a black and white TV then and I decided to watch and validate this article for myself.
My father was an army officer. Unlike most men his age or in his profession he did not like to watch sports on TV. He also did not like to watch the news, soap operas or movies. Now he must be in his eighties and we are still not sure what exactly are his areas of interest. Sorry I digressed. Returning back to 1982 it was not exactly easy to watch TV in a house, knowing that somewhere in the background my father lurked. Yet somehow I managed it and ended up watching almost all the matches. The 1982 World Cup was the first world cup I ever saw and unknowingly I was infected by ‘Football Mania’.
Over the past four decades I have watched most of the matches of the World Cups. The only times i missed them was when I was traveling or posted in remote corners of the country – in places where there was no electricity or TV. I saw Germany,Brazil,Italy, France, Spain all become champions. Between them they covered most of the continents. Coming from a nation of one billion plus – India, it hurt. We are a cricket nation. We think breathe and dream cricket. We do not stand anywhere when it comes to Football. Even tiny Nepal defeats us! Thank God for Bhutan we somehow manage to get a few points but that is about it when we talk about India’s Football talent. That brings me to another feature of these world cups. Every four years the citizens of various countries temporarily ‘adopt’ the nationality of countries playing in the World cup! That is if there is a match between Argentina and Germany and I do not like the Germans, for the ninety minutes plus extra time if any, I become an Argentina supporter. I boo every time the German’s get possession of the ball and cheer every time they are shown a yellow card! After the final whistle is blown everything returns to normal and I am back to being an Indian busy applying for a German visa! Now isn’t that the perfect example of international brotherhood? To highlight this point further let me quote an incident which happened two days back. When South Korea defeated Germany and indirectly helped Mexico enter the next round, we witnessed something similar. People in Mexico went up to the South Korean embassy and thanked the Ambassador and even got him to take a few sips from a bottle of Tequila!

To those not interested in sports such behavior may look weird but then isn’t it a noble and better way to solve our issues and differences? ‘Fighting’ or rather competing on a sports ground rather then going to war and destroying each others on battle fields?