Thursday, April 26, 2012


According to me, this world is filled with extremists. There are those who practice materialism in its ugly form and go to any and every extent to exploit, manipulate and reduce others in their quest to unlimited wealth and most of the times glory as well. And then there are a select few (a bunch on the verge of extinction) who lead their lives as epitomes of selflessness and fight for all the people who are oppressed or denied their right to live. The world calls them “Revolutionaries”. These demigods normally lead a troubled but fulfilling life and die with no wealth and limited glory but find immortality in the hearts of all the people they touched and healed. And then there we are, caught in the middle, in no man’s land, leading a life of a dream interspersed with ambition. We want the wealth but our conscience comes in the way (hopefully) when it comes to exploiting others. We dream to be a messiah and fight for a cause but we lack the temerity, discipline and will to give ourselves up. Some people call it normal life; others ordinary!

We don’t have to look hard for the first type; ironically they are well documented and celebrated and for the third type, we only have to look inward. But what does a revolutionary look like? Well, pretty much like you and me, a little thinner and beaten down may be but not necessarily! He (or she) may be less educated than us but certainly more learned; most certainly well read with an eclectic passion for poetry; a consciousness driven more by moral values than materialistic incentives. He wears restlessness and anger on his sleeve and he fears death as much as we do though for different reasons. But there is just one thing that really defines a revolutionary: Love. It may sound ridiculous but it is the love and compassion for a fellow human being that makes a man fight. And he would most certainly have an insatiable hunger to explore the world which gives him a whole new perspective of life and wakes him up to the injustice around. A revolutionary would have most certainly seen the world before the world sees him!  

Until a week ago, the only thing I knew about Che Guevara was that he was an important figure in the Cuban revolution and the only image I had was a stylized visage from a famous photograph that can be seen everywhere worn as T-shirts by youngsters. I am not sure how many of them know his fascinating story, but I sure didn’t. And a small peek into his life tells you what a revolutionary is. But to me the story of how he became one is even more fascinating because it is not about heroic feats but about 2 lives with similar aspirations and dreams running in parallel for a while and how one metamorphoses into the other. Born in a well off and respectable family in Argentina, Ernesto Guevara was an intellectual right from his early days with great passion for poetry, literature and sport. He studied medicine and his hunger to explore the continent he had only known in books took him on an 8000 kilometer journey through Argentina, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Columbia, Venezuela and Panama that would fundamentally change how he viewed himself and Latin America.

Filled with restlessness and an impassioned spirit, fueled by love for the open road, accompanied by his best friend Alberto Marrero and an old motorcycle that peed oil, Ernesto embarks on a journey that would take him to the farthest reaches of human spirit. In Chile he has his first tryst with a patient when he abandons his date to examine an old lady and feels completely powerless as he sees a plea of forgiveness and solace in her dying eyes. Then he finds himself enraged by the working conditions of the miners in Anaconda copper mine. His overnight encounter with a persecuted communist couple in the Atacama Desert brings him face to face with flesh-and-blood victims of capitalist exploitation. In that cold night, amidst those tragic and haunting faces he starts to feel closer to the strange human race. The deeper he goes into the Andes Mountains, the more indigenous people he encounters who are homeless in their own land. Here the crushing poverty of the peasant farmers who worked small plots of land owned by wealthy landlords takes a heavy toll on him.

The world has already changed in his eyes when he and Alberto arrive at the San Pablo leper colony in Peru on the banks of the Amazon River. About 600 patients live on the South of the river while doctors and caretakers live in the North side. The segregation pains him. He and Alberto refuse to wear gloves and shake hands with patients who call them “real men”. He coaxes a young patient who has lost hope into operation by saying: “You have to fight for every breath and tell death to go to hell”. He sings and dances with them, plays football and literally lives with them. Their camaraderie and spirit make him wonder how the highest forms of human solidarity and loyalty arise and persist among such lonely and desperate people. On the day before they are supposed to move on with their journey, his birthday is celebrated on the North side. He decides that he has to celebrate it with the patients and not finding a boat, just swims across the Amazon fighting bouts of asthma, and lands in the arms of his loving patients. It was then he knew where he belonged. The journey went on, after hugs and an emotional good bye, but something changed inside him that day. 

That journey brought Ernesto in close contact with poverty, hunger, disease, injustice and inequality. He witnessed the inability of a father to treat a child because of lack of money and was pained by stupefaction provoked by the continual hunger and punishment that led the same father to accept the loss of a son as an unimportant accident. It was this journey that convinced him that in order to help these people, he needed to leave the realm of medicine, and consider the political arena of armed struggle. And this journey eventually kick started the journey of Che who would go on to change the way the world viewed Latin America. From that moment onward, every man or woman who trembled with indignation at injustice became his comrade!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


Bhanumathi felt a strange emptiness. It felt she was done with life. It didn’t make her sad, but she wondered if life was always going to be peaceful and boring hereafter. She thought she better get used to it. There would be no more crazy mornings, rush hour traffic or piles of files on her desk waiting for her autograph. No more doctors, businessmen, contractors and elite from all walks of life waiting to talk to her outside her office and no more funny meetings with MLAs and ministers. And more than all that she will miss her peon Subbiah getting her hot bajjis and tea for her every afternoon. She thought: No more fun! It was her first day of retired life. She was no more the Collector of Coimbatore!

Ramamurthy was perched gingerly on the sofa and was peering laboriously into the sports page with his fat spectacles. The Indian cricket team hadn’t exactly made him proud. He was also grumpy this morning because his filter coffee was late by an hour. He was worried it would affect his biological cycle. Bhanumathi ignored him as she sauntered to the kitchen and started to brew fresh decoction. Ramamurthy ambled in, intoxicated by the mystic aroma. Bhanumathi gave him a stare and he went back and hid himself behind the sports column again. For the first time in years, they sat on the verandah, legs outstretched, sipping fresh coffee and watching passers by with the amusement of a new born. She felt that life was not that bad actually.

Her thoughts were interrupted by Ramiah the post man. “Letter for you amma!”
“Are they calling you back?” chuckled Ramamurthy.

Bhanumathi ripped open the letter with a restless curiosity. It was from Mrs. Anjani Dutta, her best friend and mentor who was the former Collector and now happily retired in Calcutta. Her eyes lit up with a fiendish glare as she read the letter.

“Dear Bhanu,
Hello my dearest Collector amma (oops... did I miss an ex?) I have been waiting for this day for nearly 2 months now. Remember the “retirement mourning party” you hosted for me. It is my turn to rub some salt! As you welcome emptiness into your life, I am going to help you do some soul searching to find creative ways of killing time. As cruel as irony is, you will very soon be introduced and sucked into the world of television soaps! Add Ramamurthy’s 24/7 cricket to that and I can’t help wonder how much torture will you be able to endure!

Oh poor thing! How are you going to survive that bad bad world of the blood sucking saas and the revenge seeking bahu? How are you going to keep track of the innumerous characters and their complex relationships as they engulf the TV screen and your mind without leaving an aorta of space? How will you tell the great great grandmother from the great grandmother? I will throw a tip at you here. Look at their hair. The one with snow white hair is “The Great Great” and the one with a single strand of black hair (you have to look very carefully) is “The Great”. And then it gets easier as you can keep track of the other “Maa”s and “Baa”s by the different stages of their black hair-dyes.

Relationships though are a totally different beast. You see it depends on a lot of factors like the whim of the director, the availability of actors and the creativity (or more so the lack of it) of the writer. So don’t freak out when you see a guy getting married 6 times or if the leading lady’s husband changed from last week. You see even “Baa”s switch husbands as veteran actors too are busy and the show must still go on. And if you suddenly wonder why the story is going completely off track, the star vamp lady would have probably gone on maternity leave.

Oh no... I see another problem. You are such an impatient brat. You cannot even wait for the decoction to brew at leisure and you will keep tapping the filter on its head. How are you going to watch a seriously funny argument take place over a whole week or a silly marriage that spans at least 2 month?  Here is a solution for that too. Pick 4 serials but don’t watch them daily! Watch them on alternate days and trust me you can easily follow the story. And guess what, you should form focus groups with your neighbors and you can predict what will happen next week. It is an amazing “feel good” exercise as you will realize how much more intelligent you are than that celebrity director!

Jokes apart... There is really a serial that is a class apart from the others and that which I have been watching ever since I retired. It is called “Kyunki Saas Abhi Bhi Bahu Hai” and trust me there is no retirement for or from this one! I am sure my letter would have partially killed your appetite for these small screen gems. But I don’t want you to completely miss this once in (and for) a lifetime experience. So once you have had your share of fun and frolic, you should pay me a visit so that I can share more pearls of wisdom with you. Hoping to see you soon! 

With love

Suddenly her entire future ramp walked in front of Bhanu’s eyes shedding gloomy tears of a slow death. She felt a sudden rush and frantic need for some bustle. She stormed into the living room where Ramamurthy was sitting on the edge of the sofa, his body moving towards the TV at 0.01 miles per year. “What happened to that Europe tour you were talking about?” she asked matter-of-fact-ly!

“What Euro…” Ramamurthy looked bamboozled like he had just swallowed a dead duck!

“Stop watching that stupid match and for once make yourself useful! I don’t want to die in front of a television.”

Monday, April 9, 2012


There is a scene in the movie where a small boy we all now know as the 14th Dalai Lama asks his close friend and tutor Hienrich Harrer: “Do you think some day people will look at Tibet on the movie screen and wonder what happened to us!” It was a moment of truth that evoked a deep pain in my heart. The inescapable truth that a civilization is slowly being wiped out of the face of the earth slowly dawned on me. I generally don’t think of writing about something until it disturbs me enough and I felt that this masterpiece which projects humanity through the lives of two very distinct individuals deserves to be celebrated.

Make no mistake. This movie is not about Dalai Lama or the Tibetan race. The movie is about Hienrich Harrer, an arrogant, cocky, self-absorbed Third Reich Poster boy and a star Austrian mountain climber who sets out to conquer the Nanga Parbat, the unclimbed mountain in the Himalayas and leaves behind a very pregnant wife in a selfish quest of singular glory. This movie is about his transformation from being a self centered egoist to a human being with genuine love and compassion and the enlightenment of simplicity.

Hienrich Harrer is a loner by choice, superiority is his only code as he fails to coexist in the expedition which is ended by bad weather and further marred by the World War as the climbers are taken as prisoners in British India. He slowly sheds his outer layer of stoic arrogance as the memory of his now new born son keeps haunting him. We see the first glimpse of his ego’s downfall in jail when he receives divorce papers from his wife. There is a terrifying scene in which Harrer repeatedly throws himself onto the barb-wired fence as a self-inflicted punishment for his self-inflicted agony.  

Harrer eventually manages to escape prison along with the captain of the expedition Peter Aufschnitter and a riveting tale of their friendship ensues. Together they wander endlessly across the towering mountains for years, seeking refuge and finding none, fleeing bandits, eating their own horses, trading their costly accessories for handful of food, inhaling the springs, battling death like cold in winter and finally landing in Lhasa with the help of a first aid instruction paper disguised as some special entry permit. The kingdom that is closed to foreigners welcomes them with outstretched hands and scripts the most wonderful chapter of their lives.

The seven years in Tibet is not just for Hienrich and Peter but we too live and breathe Tibet along with them and immerse ourselves in their wonderful tradition and culture. The roof of the world, Tibet, is most intriguing and at the same time most isolated. Its civilization, though medieval in nature, is one with a golden heart and unlike any other. A civilization that doesn’t stand a chance against any other in terms of prosperity, wealth or sophistication but has more peace, compassion and simplicity than the entire world put together.

The old lady who takes care of Harrer, the workers who refuse to work on a land fearing that they will hurt the worms in the soil, the minister who asks nonchalantly if one needs a reason for a good deed when questioned on his reason for giving refuge to these two foreigners and the young Dalai Lama who shows wisdom and character way beyond his age when he stands up to the Chinese Generals, refuses to leave his people behind and persuades Harrer to go back to his son, are all representatives of this spectacularly unique race. And when the Chinese invade Tibet, we are witness to the heart wrenching spectacle of a peace loving country vainly attempting to create a military of about a 1000 men to battle millions of Chinese troops. It pricks your heart to see a Tibetan soldier firing an arrow at a Chinese who shoots him with a machine gun. It is indeed a culture like no other and its loss is not just a loss for humanity but a loss of humanity.

There are some refreshingly funny scenes too as the two guys come alive at the first sight of a woman after spending years of dry and dead life. The scene where they sheepishly cringe when she measures them up for stitching their suits, their game of one-upmanship to impress her, Harrer’s ingenious idea of ripping his coat pocket to find an excuse to visit her again only to see Peter already there getting his pant mended and the ice skating lessons where Hienrich realizes that Peter is her man will all make you smile with abandon.

But at the same time you will always feel a strange undercurrent that reminds us of the uniqueness of the Tibetan civilization. The scene where Hienrich shows off to the seamstress describing in detail every glory that he has achieved is my second favorite one just for sheer genius and profundity of her response. “This is the difference between our civilizations. You admire the man who pushes his way to the top in any walk of life while we admire the man who abandons his ego!”

The scenes between Hienrich Harrer and little Dalai Lama are simply mesmerizing and define the new Hienrich Harrer. The intimate and playful relationship they share slowly grows into a love that is soulful, spiritual and filial. The scene where Harrer tells him about the absolute simplicity in climbing mountains which fills him with the deep powerful presence of life is as brilliant as the final one when little Dalai Lama tells Harrer that he was much too informal to be his father and asks him to go back to his son. Harrer, who left a son to conquer the Himalayas, conquers himself with the help of a son in Tibet who he finally leaves to go back to the son he left. This brilliant movie showcases the remarkable transformation of Hienrich Harrer and gives us a glimpse of an extraordinary civilization and its greatest spiritual leader through Harrer’s eyes.

Sunday, April 1, 2012


Chamak Bazaar was living up to its reputation, hustling and slithering with a shimmering daze. It was rush hour at Rownak street as shop keepers were in full bustle, yelling at the top of their voices, wooing customers with an intensity that would put modern day Romeo to shame and wandering into la-la-land for a split second as they heard the cash register ring as they closed yet another deal. Mr. Sloppy Pants was seriously not in sync with the festive mood out there. He almost toppled an apple cart, banged into a flower woman narrowly missing her hand print on his face, kicked a poor dog with a broken leg and haggled over a pumpkin with the vegetable vendor who got so irritated that he gave it for free to the lucky bystander.

Dhanraj was watching all this with amusement and curiosity in equal measure. He was particularly interested in Mr. Sloppy Pants who was wreaking havoc in the market place. Dhanraj was a master at the art of shadowing. He knew exactly how much distance to keep, how to be a nobody in a crowd and how to watch his prey from different strategic locations before moving in for the kill. But most importantly he had an eye for detail and he was adept at picking his moment. He was the smoothest operator around and was known as “Makhan Chikna” in elite circles. His eyes never missed a fat catch and the moment he saw Mr. Sloppy Pants, he knew he was in for a feast.

He didn’t have to wait long for the stars and planets to align in euphoric symphony to present the opportune moment. At exactly 6:00 PM, the church gong reverberated, birds and pigeons went helter skelter, Girdharilal pawn broker brought his shutter down with a menacing thud, Bansi whose white shirt had turned designer thanks to Mr. Sloppy Pants’ Banarasi paan was ready to land a knock out punch while Dhanraj effortlessly snitched Sloppy's fancy pocket as the poor dog barked in celebration of a poetic justice of some sort.  Dhanraj was off in a flash and while Mr. Sloppy Pants was still negotiating the furious Bansi, he had gotten off Rownak street, hopped 4 narrow lanes and had casually settled near the small pond beside the village school.

Dhanraj never went home immediately after the act. He was a pro and he knew better. He always stopped at a vantage point, surveyed his loot, pocketed the valuables and then dumped the rest into a well, garbage can or the pond. And then many a time he would walk back to the same place in search of a new target. This time though, he was rather disappointed to find only 15 rupees in the wallet. He was cursing his luck and was about to fling it into the pond when he noticed a sparkle in the wallet’s front pouch. He ripped it open and for a moment his mind was in a transfixed daze. There was a small golden ring shimmering in shy radiance. His heart was beating so fast he had to clasp it from popping out. But then something strange happened and he was struck by an emotion that was hitherto alien to him. It was an engagement ring and at that damn moment he had managed to think of Ratna. Something changed inside him!

It was past 10 o’clock in the night and Ratna was starting to get panicky. Dhanraj was never this late and she could not wait anymore to tell him the good news. But she soon realized she had bad news coming her way through Munna. She ran to the Rownak Nagar police station as fast as she could. After an hour long conversation with the inspector interspersed with constant buttering and persuasion, Ratna was ushered into Dhanraj’s cell.

“What in the name of God happened to you?” she was clasping her hands in utter disbelief. “Is this the Makhan Chikna who had never been caught in the act since he stole butter at the age of 7!”

“It is all your fault! You messed up my upper compartment.” His smile came back as he saw her and he told the entire story. She burst out into a fit of laughter that woke up the hawaldar who was dreaming of his Chammak Challo. “You actually went to put the wallet back into his pocket. You were the one who told me we should isolate every feeling of ours when we are on the job.”

He scratched his head in embarrassment. “I know. But it was an engagement ring and I don’t know what possessed me for a moment and I thought of you and the wedding ring I was never able to give you.”

There was a moment of silence as they looked at each other. Tears rolled down her eyes. “Shut up! Have I ever complained about that? You deserved those punches on your face from Mr. Sloppy Pants!” He laughed and held her hand softly.

She slapped him gently. “You idiot! That fellow is not getting engaged or married. I have never seen such a low and mean person like your Sloppy Pants.”

“What! How the hell do you know him?” Dhanraj looked baffled.

“Because I had seen that duffer in Kinara Ganj where I have been fishing for the last 2 months. He first came to the lady’s house and they had a big spat. Apparently he is a rich Seth who has been loafing around with quite a few women. In the end he slapped her and he took out the ring he had given her, spat on her house door and walked off mouthing obscenities by the dozen. I had been shadowing him for a while but I could never get too close to him and he left in a hurry!”

Dhanraj felt like an idiot. “Oh God.. All this for nothing! Damn my luck!” He banged his head on the wall.

“Okay.. now don’t put up an act here. The story doesn’t end there. I was walking back home today at about 8 when I saw Mr. Sloppy Pants sipping his coconut water at Ramu kaka’s shop. And this time I seized my moment. I went close to the shop and then slipped and went down with my basket. Mr. Sloppy Pants rushed to help in a flash and I managed to whisk his wallet with precision even you would be proud off.” Ratna was standing there with a broad smile on her face and the glimmering ring in her hand. Dhanraj jumped in the air and hoisted her above his head. Hawaldar woke up again even more irritated as it was Chikni Chameli in his dreams this time.

“You are a genius Ratna. You see.. All that training has to come to fruition after all. Wait till I get out. I am sure we will get shit loads of money for this one. If only I can get out soon enough…” Dhanraj paced around with excitement and despair.

Ratna was unperturbed. “That’s been arranged for as well. The inspector’s house falls in Kinara Ganj and he has seen me a few times. You see he has a thing for me and that was all I needed to work your release. And of course a fat commission too which we can quite easily afford. Now you will have to wait until tomorrow evening and I will get you out of here.” He was mighty impressed.

“You see I have a few Aces up my sleeve.” She chuckled.

“That I can see. I hope I am your only King!” He gave a wry and jealous smile!

She gave a sly laugh back. “Are you kidding me? You are a jack(ass)!”

“And one more thing! You are good at picking pockets, not the other way around. So you better stick to it.” She patted him lovingly on his head as she messed up his hair playfully.

                                                                                                                             - A SHORT STORY BY RAJ

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