Lift for Love – A Story

The newly built 15-storey building on the outskirts of Hyderabad had a rush of activities with families moving in one after another and occupying their new homes. With a truckload of their belongings, arrived on one fine morning a family of parents, their 20-years old son, Dev, and their German Shepherd, Zico. As the parents oversaw the unloading of the furniture, Dev went to the entrance of the building with the dog on the leash and started climbing up the stairs to reach their condo on the tenth floor. Zico loped beside him to keep pace with his long strides, panting.

The packers carried their belongings to their new home, set the cots, kept the furniture in place and left. The family had lunch and Dev had a good nap in the afternoon. In the evening, Zico started wagging his tail and growling and barking at his master. It was the time usually when he would take him for a walk. Today the dog was demanding this treat from his master more aggressively.

Representative Image (Picture Credit : http://www.unsplash.com)

Dev put Zico on the leash and took him out through the front door, holding the leash tightly in his hand. Going to the middle of the floor, Dev found that the lift was moving down fast from the fifteenth floor. He pressed the button, and within a few seconds, the lift came and stopped at the tenth floor. A girl of his age was standing there with a pug on the leash. She was tall, dusky and had nice flowing hairs. As the door opened, Dev smiled at her and entered the lift along with Zico. She smiled without raising her head, avoiding an eye contact with him.

Zico started growling a bit which frightened the dog. But Dev remained unperturbed, knowing that it was usual for his pet to show his superiority at every opportunity, which made him proud rather than concerned. It was all fine until a sudden power outage brought the lift to a complete halt just as it was about to reach the second floor! The lamp went off and it was little dark inside. Zico suddenly pounced on the pug and held it on its neck! Dev could not control him by pulling the leash. The little dog was traumatized! The girl picked up and calmed her pet by holding it close to her chest.

After a few minutes, the power was on and the lift started moving again. The girl pressed the button for the second floor, and as the lift stopped there and the door opened, she hurriedly went out with her dog, mumbling, ‘Savage! What kind of training has it got?’

The lift went down to the ground floor. Dev came out of the lift and stood in front of it for a while, expecting her to come down so that he could apologize, but the lift moved up to second floor and thereafter up again to the top floors. He was not at all happy about upsetting a neighbour and that too a pretty girl with whom he should rather make friends.

Dev went out of the complex with Zico. He shouted at the dog, ‘Who told you to attack the puppy? You’re a dog after all. A dog will forever be a dog. Your species can never be civilized!’ Zico cringed a bit at the sudden scream of his master whom he had never seen so angry. His master taught him to be aggressive at times and was happy when he drove away street dogs. On occasions, he also gave a pat on his back. Now what crime had he committed that made his master so furious!

The next few days, Dev did not take Zico out for the walks, which made him extremely restless in the evenings. Dev’s father used to take him out in the mornings. Afterwards he stayed home all day, bored and depressed. Dev’s mother, Srilekha asked, ‘What happened, Dev? You don’t take him out now. Why?’

‘You ask him why,’ Dev replied. ‘He attacks neighbour’s dog. How will I make friends?’

‘OK, he’s made a mistake. Don’t we make mistakes?’

‘Mistakes? He needs some lessons in civility.’

Zico understood all these arguments were about him, so he sat and stretched his neck on the floor, sporting an appearance of regret.

Representative Image (Picture Credit : http://www.unsplash.com)

Days passed. Dev would sometimes oblige Zico by taking him for a walk and sometimes not. As Dev would shut the door while going out alone in the evenings, Zico would protest strongly by barking. Zico would then go to the balcony and watch downward helplessly as his master would walk down the road in front of the building or drive away on his bike.

One day, Zico looked down to see something completely unexpected of his master. Dev had the pug in his lap and the girl they met on the lift that day stood beside him, giggling! A few days later, Zico saw her again in a nearby park, where his master took him for evening walk. The girl also came to the park along with her parents and her pet. As her parents were away for a walk, the girl secretly waved at Dev raising her hand only by half. Dev smiled and waved back at her, mimicking her way of it, which made her almost burst into laughter. Zico felt his master was now friends with this girl, so he should treat her as someone of his own and not as a stranger.

Srilekha came to know from newspaper one morning that a dog park had been inaugurated in the city. She suggested to her husband, ‘Zico is getting bored. Dev does not care for him much nowadays. Why can’t we take him to the dog park? All of us will enjoy!’

Zico was in the dog park a few days later along with Srilekha and her husband. He was surprised to see so many of his ilk there – Labrador, Bulldog, Pug, Dalmatian, Indian Spitz, Dachshund and Doberman. He felt like chasing them all and send them out of the park. But then he met a German Shepherd – a female one. His usual aggression gave way to tenderness and love! He sniffed at her and rubbed his body with hers as their masters stood appreciating their new friendship. She ran playfully, inviting him to follow her, and Zico did so with glee. They had to part after an hour of playing in the park, but Zico had a new feeling, a new spurt of emotions which he had not experienced earlier.

In about a year, Zico reconciled himself to the whims of his master though he was quite happy in his outings with him. It was the same routine of taking the lift and going down to the ground floor and then wandering around the streets or playing in the nearby park and coming back home, but he enjoyed it to the fullest. One day, while going out for a walk, they met the girl and the pug again in the lift. Dev greeted her warmly, ‘Oh hi, you’re also coming!’ Then they came closer. Zico looked up to see his master approaching her to plant a kiss on her cheek. The dog kept staring at them and as his master did it, he closed his eyes and looked down as if in acceptance of what the chance meeting a year back had eventually blossomed out into.

It was love of a kind different from what was between him and his master – a kind which he only had a feel of but did not know much about and for which his master was ready to put him aside and make way for himself. It would be wise to make friends with the girl and her pet rather than sulk about their warming their way into his master’s heart. He would now rather be a part of this new spring in his master’s life than protest and invite his wrath, Zico thought.

Musical Evenings

One of the most important ingredients of the evenings in my life has been music. In my boyhood, when I used to return home after playing football in the afternoon, my elder sisters in the village would be rehearsing musical notes ‘Sa Re Ga Ma…’ or some songs like prayers, Rabindrasangeet (Rabindranath Tagore’s songs) etc.

I would walk back home, tired and hungry, listening to the lovely music – the next activity in my routine being a few hours of studies. The brief musical interludes then energized me to read for two or three hours before going to bed.

Representative Image (PC : Pixabay)

Flute is one thing village boys are good at playing. So quite often flute music would come wafting from a distance through the darkness in the evenings. The melancholy tunes of the flute filled my mind with both joy and sorrow. The silence in the evening was the perfect foil for the music to travel and reach a large audience. As painting requires a canvas so does music need silence to be heard in its purest form.

I also hear birdsong before sunset. Birds also perhaps sense that evening is the best time to warble and send their music into the air. Notes sung by one are picked up by the others in the vicinity who replay the same and thus they continue their musical conversations for some time.

Music is abundant in nature, birds being just one of their best exponents. In the rainy seasons, the swish of the rains, wind coming in gusts and rustle of leaves together create a music that has a particular rhyme and rhythm.

Besides, it is again music in which human creativity is at its best and is endless. I studied in a residential college. The alleys of college campus very often resonated with evergreen  Kishore Kumar songs, ‘Pal pal dil ke paas’, ‘Aanewala pal janewala hai’, etc.  that blared from the college hostels in the evenings. Those songs brought a spring in our steps as we moved inside the campus.

I used to enjoy songs differently though. Doors shut and lights switched off, lying on bed, I switched on my radio at the time of scheduled musical programmes and listened to the songs telecast by the radio centre. And before exams, when I had to stay up and study till midnight,  music helped me reset my mind for long hours of studies.

After I moved to Hyderabad for my job, the evenings are even more musical with community programmes and musical concerts happening every now and then. I hear great singers singing Hindi playback, ghazal, khayal, classical, etc. I marvel at the talent of the lyricists, composers, singers and instrumentalists who put together all the elements to produce great music.

The lyrics carry a wide variety of emotions. A song that is rich in lyrics can be inspirational and can make great impact on our minds. Songs with good lyrics and melody touch a chord and soothe my mind. Rabindrasangeet carries deep emotions and makes a great impact on one’s mind.

The vagaries of life make us pass through never ending twists and turns that make us both laugh and cry. I have at least one thing to fall back on in all circumstances – musical evenings

Cycling in A Park

Yesterday I went cycling to Pala Pita Park at Gachibowli, Hyderabad, which has been developed exclusively for bicycle rides. A park for cycling has two admirable aspects about it – firstly, the park itself that offers lung space and a pleasing sight to our eyes, and secondly, the cycling that exercises our muscles and refreshes our mind and spirit.

Inside Pala Pitta Park

Pala Pita Park has both of them in equal measure. Cycling tracks wind their way through trees and bushes, and seem to take us deep into the unknown. The long paths without any traffic and the excitement of the fellow riders inspire one to keep on pedalling till the time it is dark and the park authorities blow whistle for visitors to leave the park. By that time, the body gets exercised, and mind become de-stressed.

Bicycles are available on rent from the park office. I hired one of them and went for the ride. The tracks are undulating as usual for the terrains of the Deccan Plateau, making the ride more enjoyable. While riding, I could hear the birds chirping in the trees and see peacocks roaming around the open spaces of the park. I stopped at the turnings and took a few clicks on my mobile camera.

Then the ride also reminded me of the days in my boyhood when my legs would be itching to go cycling every afternoon. I was born and brought up in a village in Jalpaiguri district of West Bengal. I would cycle along the village paths bifurcating the agricultural fields and the road that connects my village to the National Highway. I went from one end of the road to the other and did the same over and over till the time the Sun was setting and it was time to return home. But I never really felt tired of cycling.

In those good old days, there were not so many bikes and cars as we see in the streets nowadays. Very few could afford expensive vehicles and people mostly used bicycles. And there were two or three brands of bicycles – Hero, Hercules and Raleigh. The design was just plain and simple with straight cross bar and the handle bent inward. People used bicycles for going to office or market, making short trips and carrying goods. My private tutor used to ride to our home on a bicycle. The tinkle of bells indicated to me that he arrived.

Inside Pala Pitta Park

Nowadays newspapermen, milkmen and postmen still use bicycles as they ferry newspapers and milk packets or deliver letters to people’s houses. It is convenient for them to move through the narrow paths and alleys, and to mount, ride and then dismount within short distances. But with economic progress, people now have bikes and cars. The streets are owned by cars and bicycles are very rare in the roads in cities or even villages. If one wants to cycle for nothing but just exercise, they have to use the extreme side of the road, intimidated by the large vehicles.

The saving grace is that people today are health conscious and have taken to regular exercises in a big way. While bicycles are not used much for commuting or going to market, youths or even middle-aged people can be seen setting off early in the morning or late in the afternoon on the less crowded roads, wearing helmets and they ride long distances for pleasure and exercise. What was a necessity once for day-to-day activities now has to be nurtured as a passion for exercise.

As for myself, I still enjoy cycling but not amidst the din and bustle of the city’s roads. Ideally, I would love to cycle on a village path or a park like Pala Pitta undisturbed by the noise of traffic or the fear of being hit by a bike or a car. For me, it is as enjoyable as boating in a lake or swimming in a pool.

Horror at Midnight – A Story

A phone call late at night might be one of distress and I always pick them with a sense of foreboding. So when my mobile phone rang that night, I woke with a start, but perhaps I was a bit late, considering that the call came to an end as soon as I rose to collect my phone from the table.

But what I saw immediately afterwards made me spring to my feet. To my horror, the windows of my room were open! A strong wind was entering my room, and my bookshelves and almirahs were being rattled by it. My parents and wife were away for a few days. It was just not possible that I had not shut the windows before going to bed.

I stood there perplexed when suddenly the door creaked open and a voice was heard in the darkness, ‘Uncle, Ramukaka has fallen sick. He needs your help.’

I was frightened to have a stranger at my doorstep at that hour and my heart was palpitating. I switched on the torch of my mobile. A boy was standing at the door, his eyes downcast and his face etched with sadness.

Ramu he was talking about was our gardener for a long time. It was only in the afternoon that day that he came to my house along with his son, Pilu, to weed our garden. But this boy was not known to me, so I asked, ‘Who are you and where are you from?’
‘I’m his nephew. He’s suffering from chest pain and has to be rushed to hospital,’ he said.
‘Is Pilu not at home?’ I asked.
‘Whether he’s home or not, would you not help when your servant is in distress and seeking your help,’ the boy rebuked me.
I slipped on my trousers, wore a T-shirt and got ready to go to my gardener’s home. I quickly shut my windows, locked my room and told him, ‘Let’s go.’

The boy went forward and I followed him. The path he was taking me through was leading to the old part of the town and it was lined with trees on both sides. It was pitch dark as the moon was covered by clouds and the night was windy.

The wind was coming in gusts and swaying the trees, making strong rushing sounds. And from the top of a tree an owl was hooting relentlessly. I was a little jittery but held my fears in order to help someone in his hour of need.

Then there were more surprises waiting for me along the way. As we came to a crossroad, I could see from a distance tiny glows, most probably from mobile phones, moving from left to right and hear people chanting prayers.

It became clear to me that someone had passed away and they were carrying him to the cremation ground by the side of the river. The boy asked me to stop and let the funeral procession pass. I had goosebumps and my abdomen sank! It was an unlikely time to carry a dead body for cremation but in Covid time anything was possible, I thought.

As the funeral procession passed the crossing, I asked the boy, ‘How far to go?’
‘Not far. We’re just reaching,’ he said.
We started walking again and went past the crossing. Going about half a kilometre, he turned to an old house, which I noticed earlier but never quite bothered to know whether anyone lived inside. Peepal trees sprouted from the cracks in the red brick walls of the house. The boy opened the gate and ushered me in. The gate made a creaking sound as he opened it.

As we entered, the denizens of the house were disturbed and a squadron of bats went flying past us immediately. There were many small rooms which were dusty and abandoned. The boy led me to a room in the extreme corner, which looked habitable. I saw Ramukaka lying on a bed there, writhing in pain. Seeing me, he nodded his head and gestured me to a stool near him. He told me, ‘I’m suffering from severe chest pain. Please take me to hospital.’

I put my hand on his chest to give him a massage. Oh, my goodness, his heart had stopped beating and his body was icy cold! I kept a finger on his pulse. There was no pulse either! I had no clue to what kind of sickness it was, so I turned back to ask the boy. But he was not to be seen anywhere nearby! All my instincts sensed danger! Then I was terrified to see a hairy hand extending around my waist to grab me, and as I turned my head, Ramukaka’s head partly turned into a skull and his canine teeth seemed longer than usual.

My immediate reaction was to run and I ran fast to be out of the old house. I looked back to see if anyone was following me and ran even faster to return to safety.

Reaching home, I checked my phone and saw the missed call and then an sms from Pilu. ‘My father’s no more! He’s suffered a massive heart attack. Burning ghat is busy during daytime because of Corona deaths. I’m taking him for cremation right now.’

Peter and Paul ring in 2022 (A Skit)

The Sun is rising on the first day of the new year, 2022. Paul is one of the early risers among the crow community in the Tali Park. He wakes up and flies to his friend Peter’s nest to greet him with a rhyme.

PAUL: Hello, Peter,
Mr. Late Riser,
Crow name spoiler,
Get up and see the new dawn,
Good moments don’t last long.

(Peter takes a moment to respond to his friend’s call – it is a little earlier than his usual waking time in the morning.)

Sunrise (Image Credit : http://www.unsplash.com)

PETER:  What’s happened? Sounding so poetic today! Let me have a drink. I’ll soon be back.

(Peter flies to the lake inside the park, has a drink and quickly comes back.)

PETER:  So what rhyme were you singing?

PAUL:  Idiot, this is the new year! Year 2022! See the wonderful sunrise in the new dawn! Ah, see the crimson hue in the sky! Is it a time to sleep?

PETER:  Oh, I see. That’s why you’re so excited!

PAUL:  Naturally so.

PETER:  But is the sunrise different from any other day? Is the crimson hue brighter than usual?

PAUL:  Oh, you’re being cynical as always. This is the beginning of the new year. You have to be optimistic.

PETER:  What optimism? Is there fresh air to breathe? Is the food safe to eat? Will the new year be any different for us – the crows? Will the cyclones stop coming? Will humans love rather than hate us?

PAUL:  Oh, Peter, will there ever be a moment in life without any problems? You have to live with them. And when it’s time to celebrate, you celebrate, or else life will be boring!

PETER:  Yes, they were celebrating it with song and dance yesterday night. I was watching them from the top. Then they started bursting firecrackers. I choked and almost died. Is that the way to celebrate, tell me? The air is already polluted and now you make it dirtier.

PAUL:  Oh, that’s pathetic. Are you fine?  

PETER:  Is the food safe to eat? They’re using pesticides to kill insects, rats and using chemicals for all purposes. They’re poisoning us slowly and silently. Vultures have almost become extinct! We don’t know when it’ll be our turn to die.

PAUL:  By polluting the environment, they’re, in fact, digging their own graves. They live in this world for many more years than us and therefore should be more concerned. But now it seems they’re realizing what harm they’ve caused to life on Earth.

PETER:  We’ve the right to live in this world. We don’t need their mercy.

PAUL:  You’re right. The world is ours – and literally so. They live in small compartments while the entire sky belongs to us. Why don’t we take advantage of it and move elsewhere?  

PETER:  That won’t save you from cyclones, you know. My nest was blown away twice. Thank God, I was not and am alive to tell you my story. I sheltered under the roof of a building and saved my life.

Ripe papaya in plant (Image Credit: http://www.unsplash.com)

PAUL:  That’s worrisome. But that’s a natural phenomenon.

PETER:  Natural phenomenon? You know so many things but not this or are just pretending not to know. It’s again pollution that’s warming the ocean. Thus, more and more cyclones are happening.

PAUL:  Ok, Peter, no point arguing on this. I can’t force you to celebrate. If you don’t want to celebrate, so be it. But be thankful to God, we’re alive despite all this. At least, be grateful to the mother Earth. She’s completed another journey around the Sun. At least say cheers to her!

PETER:  OK, cheers to mother Earth! And I’m done with my lecture. Tell me what you want me to do.

PAUL:  Papaya? Are you interested?

PETER: Yes, very much.

PAUL:  Can you see the spire of a temple above the trees there? There’s a clump of papaya near the temple. It’s a little far from here. But it’s worth the effort.

PETER:  Oh, I know that very well.  

PAUL:  But there’re scarecrows.

PETER:   Oh, they’re quite funny. I love them and find it amusing that those fellows invented this stupid thing to keep us away. What made them think that we will see those zombies and fly away, frightened?

PAUL:  OK then, let’s go and meet them.

Peter and Paul fly to the clump of papaya where the ripe fruits are hanging tantalizingly from the crowns of the plants. They peck holes in the papayas and start feasting on their soft red pulp. They quickly devour two or three fruits to celebrate the new year as the scarecrows stand overseeing the plunder happening under their noses. 

Winter Mornings

Coiled up in bed,
If done with pillows and blanket,
Venture out
In the warm sunshine
And behold the dews,
Tiny and still,
Last through the early chill,
Adorning the blades of grass,
Bright and fresh,
On a lazy winter morning.

Get a little far,
And be lost in the ethereal mist,
And behold a few
Walk, wrapped in clothes,
And disappear into distant paths,
While others sit hunched,
On a fire,
As flames kiss
Their dreamy eyes,
Lifting their spirits high.

On the wayside,
If you see marigolds shine
Know it’s their time to reign
It’s their way to beguile
In their golden red, yellow smile.
And if you see guava, oranges or grapevine,
Juicy and luscious,
They’re there,
The toast of the season.

Still a lot more hidden
A lot more to be found
From its bosom
But feel blessed
It’s all so awesome –
The gifts of
Winter mornings.

Old Theatres and Golden Days of Watching Movies

You see them by the side of a road, at the corner of a town or beside a busy market. The buildings with auditoriums inside are standing there, forlorn and abandoned, waiting with a faint hope for return to the days of long queues, houseful shows and a spellbound audience. But ten or fifteen years back, no one imagined this was what they were destined to be for these theatres were then a great source of entertainment.

I was in my hometown, Maynaguri, a few days back. Wandering aimlessly in the streets, I went to one corner of the town, where there is the theatre, Bharati. The marquee has been closed for the last few years. I am keen to see it open again, so I asked a bystander whether anything was being done to restart the shows. He told me that the owners were indeed keen but would like to combine it with some other business to make the whole thing profitable.

Theatre, Bharati, in my hometown, Maynaguri.

Elsewhere in the country too, single-screen theatres are struggling to survive with audience turning to television, internet, streaming platforms and cinemas in the multiplexes for entertainment. Technology and lifestyle have changed the way people now watch films. Now they go to the malls, do shopping, have lunch or dinner and choose movies from multiple screens available there. The digital screens offer better viewing experience with improved picture quality, sound system or even 3-D view.

However, at one time, there were only those single-screen theatres with projectors and they were part of our growing up into adulthood. My schooling was at Jalpesh and Coochbehar of North Bengal, and then I spent my college life at Howrah. During those days, every Friday, town criers used to come in cabs or rickshaws in the mornings to announce the screening of a new movie. I had to strain my ears to hear those announcements. After the morning hours of studies, I used to go to the market to see the posters, which was a welcome distraction from the daily routine.

Going to cinemas, however, required consent from parents and arrangement of tickets. Parents were concerned about our losing focus from studies and going astray. This concern only resulted in seeing only a few of them, whether it was in company with them or with friends. On those rare occasions, we used to take rickshaws or ride to the theatres on bicycles. After watching movies, we would go to a restaurant, eat egg-rolls or cutlets and come back home. Thankfully, with the artistry of great actors and directors, and music by master musicians, remarkable art films and blockbusters were made those days, and the old screen hardly made the fun any less for us.

Then there were those guys who maintained hairstyles like those of the matinee idols, roam the towns on motorcycles, loaf about the teashops and perhaps watched each and every movie screened in the town. I envied them for their freedom and way of life. Sadly, they are the kind of boys that our parents tried to keep us away from and feared we would be like, if allowed to watch more films.

While too much of anything is bad, it is tough to survive in this complex world, being innocent of things happening around us – styles and fashion, love and romance, crime and violence, and inequalities in the society. Those screens were our windows on the world and helped us grow as adults by both educating and entertaining us.

In later years, when I was a grown-up, I had the freedom to go to the cinemas with friends and colleagues. I spent the time in theatres, when I had few hours’ break during journeys just long enough to squeeze in a matinee or evening show. The theatres – Bharati, Rupmaya, Dipti, Lipi, Kamala, Bhavani, etc. just to name a few – were there almost everywhere in the country to entertain me.

‘Old order changeth yielding place to new.’ The world keeps changing and there is no point holding on to the past. Screens in the multiplexes offer better viewing experience, making it impossible for the old theatres to compete with them and survive, especially in the cities. But in small towns like mine, there is now no screening at all as for many reasons cinemas have closed. People are obsessed with televisions or smartphones, but they can hardly replace the experience of big screens and social viewing. I believe audience in small towns will return to these theatres, if they upgrade their facilities to suit the taste of the modern viewers. Coupled with these, incentives from governments can help. The theatres in small towns must survive and the show must go on.

Mr. and Mrs. Sen’s Search for A Condo – Humour

Mr. and Mrs. Sen have saved for years to buy a condo with modern amenities and pleasant surroundings. There is no dearth of choices for them either in a fast-developing satellite town of Mumbai. Thus, flush with money, if they are now busy looking around the town for a suitable condo, that is only natural for anyone to do!

It is only that they have seen and rejected so many of them that one fears they will one day be left with no condo in the town to buy.

Today the couple has come to the site of Priya Constructions. The area is filled with dust of concrete; the skyline is dotted with cranes, scaffoldings; and one can get the smell of wet cement far from the site of the project. The ten-storey building they are interested in is quite big and is under construction with the structure ready and floors made, but the walls are yet to be built. The builder, Rajan Desai, waits for them as they drive up to the gate of the building.

Building under construction – representative image (Image Credit : http://www.unsplash.com)

RAJAN: (On mobile phone talking to a customer) Your cheque has bounced! I told you to do fund transfer or pay in cash. The problem is that you don’t want to pay.

(Seeing someone wave from a car, he goes forward and points towards the parking space. Mr. and Mrs. Sen park the car and saunter towards the gate of Priya Constructions.) Oh, Mr. Sen. You called me a few minutes back. Welcome…welcome. Welcome, Ma’am. Please come in.

(Rajan exchanges greetings with the couple and ushers them in. Mr. Sen casts a look at the building.)

Mr. SEN: You told me that the building was almost complete. But a lot of work is still to be done, which will take not less than six months.

RAJAN : Six months…yes, your guess is correct. But that is the time others will take, not us. Mr. Sen, Priya Construction is the fastest builder in the city. (Smiling) While they move like a sloth, we run. Don’t compare us with them. We’ll finish it within just two months.

Mr. SEN : Oh, I see. But you won’t compromise with the quality of construction, I hope.

RAJAN :  Compromise with quality? Never, Mr. Sen. Our track record speaks for us. Please see our other constructions in the city. They have surpassed all standards of excellence.

(They come to the ground floor of the building. Rajan takes a brochure kept on a table.)

RAJAN : OK, let’s take the stairs and go to the third floor. You’ll get a good view of the surroundings.

(Rajan takes them to the eastern side of the building on the third floor. There’s a pond below, which is almost dry with some puddles in the middle. Buffaloes are wallowing in the mud and a foul smell was coming from it.)

RAJAN: (Showing them the plan in the brochure) This’ll be a 3BHK flat. This’ll be your kitchen. This’ll be living room, this’ll be master bedroom and this’ll be your dining hall.

Mrs. SEN: (Smiling) Oh, this is the kitchen. Quite spacious! Nice!

RAJAN: You like it? That’s fine. Thank you, Ma’am. (Going towards the edge of the floor) Here’ll be your balcony. (Smiling) You can see the lake and enjoy your cup of tea in the morning.

Mr. SEN: What lake, Rajan bhai? It’s just a pond. That too is dry and stinking!

RAJAN: We’ll revive the lake, Mr. Sen, and there’ll be fountains in it. You won’t see what it’s now after two years. It’s in our brochure, you see.

Construction in progress – representative image (Image Credit : http://www.unsplash.com)

Mr. SEN: (Smiling) OK, but… many builders leave things unfinished.

RAJAN:  That’s what I said at the beginning. Don’t judge us, seeing what others do. We deliver what we promise.

Mr. SEN: That’s what we want…I appreciate it. Can we now see the other side of the building?

RAJAN: Oh, sure! Please come along with me.

(Rajan takes them to the western side. There’s a women’s college opposite the building and a road in between. It’s 10 o’clock in the morning and some girls are seen entering the college gate.)

Mr. SEN : What’s that? Is it a school?

RAJAN : No, that’s a women’s college. 

Mr. SEN : Hmm. A serious issue here!

RAJAN: What’s the problem, Mr. Sen? The condos in this side are selling fast. Most of them are booked and only three or four are left!

Mr. SEN: Rajan, do you have an 18-years old son at home? 

RAJAN: No

Mr. SEN: Then, you won’t understand. I don’t want anything to distract my son from his studies now.

Mrs. SEN: If you won’t take it, what’s the point wasting our time?

RAJAN : Would you like to see some flats on the back side?

Mr. SEN: That’ll be nice! Let’s go.

(They saunter towards the southern side of the building. The side is open to a forest. A few monkeys were hanging from branches of the trees and jumping from one tree to another and chattering.)

RAJAN: This is the green zone … urban forestry. You’ll get a lot of fresh air from the jungle. The municipality will not allow clearing of the forest, so no construction will come up there.

Mrs. SEN : Oh, Soumen, no, not these flats. You’re on tour most of the times. I can’t stay alone. Ghosts roam about this jungle. And these monkeys will enter our flat and trouble me.

Mr. SEN : My wife has a problem. She’s afraid of darkness and ghosts and spirits.

RAJAN: Ma’am I promise there’ll be no ghosts here. This side will be lighted and won’t be dark for you to be afraid. Besides, do they really exist?

Mrs. SEN : No…no. They’re there and I fear them! I just read in the newspaper yesterday that people in a colony are living in fear because of some strange things happening at night. I won’t take any risk. (She walks away.)

RAJAN: Would you like to see flats in the front then?

Mr. SEN: But I saw a signboard on the other side that read ‘This land belongs to some group of hospital’. That means a hospital will come up there.

RAJAN: No construction is going on for now. But even if it comes up, what’s the problem? You’re now middle aged. Hospital will be nearby. Good only, no?

Mr. SEN: No, Rajan bhai, I can’t bear to see the sufferings of the people! I’ll wake up in the morning and see people in pains! I can’t bear that.

RAJAN : (Keeping his hand on his forehead) Mr. Sen, on that side, there’s lake and you’ve rejected the flat. Then there’s a women’s college and you’ve rejected it. Now you don’t like a jungle, you don’t like a hospital either. Definitely, there’ll be something or other everywhere.

Mr. Sen : I love nature and like your jungle side flat. But my wife fears ghosts and what can I do about that? I can’t go against her. That leaves me with your lake side flats. Currently there’s a filthy, stinking pond. But you told me you would clean up that.

RAJAN: So shall I book one of the lake side flats for you, Mr. Sen? 

Mr. SEN: I’d think it over. I’ll call you, if I decide to buy one.

RAJAN: Thank you, Mr. Sen. Please decide quickly. This is the right time to book. As work progresses, price will only increase. 

(Mr. Sen shakes hand with the builder and takes leave of him.)

Mr. and Mrs. Sen drive away, leaving a swirl of dust. They are not likely to book a condo in Priya Constructions, but nevertheless they are quite happy about seeing it. Who knows a condo meeting the requirements of both of them may be hidden in it and not noticed by them? Now that they have seen it, they can rest assured that they have not missed anything. But having visited most of the constructions in the town, they have only a few of them left to be seen. One hopes that they are mindful of that and make a choice very soon.

Salaam Mumbai

‘Ee hai Bambai nagariya tu dekh Babua,’ (This is the city of Mumbai, my boy) I crooned to myself as I, along with my family, stepped out of Dadar railway station of Mumbai. That was in 2003 and I was in the city for the first time as we went to visit a relative there. Before that, the city was known to me in those days without internet through glimpses I had of it in Hindi movies, bioscope, postcards of its landmarks and images in newspapers and magazines.

On that visit, I was struck by the city’s skyscrapers, the dizzy heights of which filled me with awe and wonder. No other city in India has them in such heights and numbers! But then the city has sea fronts on its sides. Walking along the breezy Juhu beach and Marine drive relieved me of the dizziness. The atmosphere was relaxing and I promised myself a visit to these spots next time I am in Mumbai. 

Mumbai is a city of contrast. The opulence of the billionaires is as much in contrast to the poverty in the slums as the high-rises are to the depth of the Arabian sea. Pomp and splendour coexist with the stench and squalor. Asia’s biggest slum, Dharavy, are there as much as are the castles of industrialists, film stars and cricketer. 

But the city welcomes all with a friendly spirit. Ask a taxi driver where he is from. He would probably be from UP or Bihar. The city respects industry and enterprise as also talent in art. If anyone has them, Maya ki nagariya mein Badle jhatpat badle muqaddar ka lekh babuwa (In this city of wealth, writing on one’s destiny changes very quickly), irrespective of who they are and where they are from. Few cities in the world lift one’s destiny the way Mumbai does. There are so many instances of people rising from rags to riches.

The city was a beacon of hope for the educated youth looking for job opportunities. Later IT revolution created jobs in Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai and took away much of sheen from Mumbai. But the city still remains a destination for jobs in manufacturing and service as all major industries are headquartered there. Many of my relatives and friends are well settled in the city with jobs, condos, cars and other comforts of life.

The city is overcrowded and space is at a premium. One could see how people squeeze themselves in small compartments, which is not quite living in wretched conditions. They may have willingly embraced this life and are used to it. And who knows some of them might well be living their Mumbai dreams, trying to make it big in some walks of life? We hear stories of people making their beginnings in railway station and footpaths and later becoming successful in music, film, fashion or modelling.

Despite the paucity of space, the citizens of Mumbai zealously protect its green zones and wildlife. Sanjay Gandhi National Park spreads out to a large part of the city and leopards often come into conflict with people living in adjoining areas. Still the support of citizens for the forest and wildlife remains undiminished! Recent movement of Mumbai citizens for protection of Arrey forest is a shining example of their commitment to environment.

I have been to Mumbai many times later for personal and official work. My admiration for the city only grew with those visits and with time watching the way the city responds to situations of celebrations as well as of distress. The city’s legendary resilience enables it to come back to normal life quickly even after very tragic incidents. I had a feel of it when I had to board a train from Mumbai at CST railway station barely a month after 26/11 terror attack.

Trains are the fastest mode of travel in the city. The southern tip where the Gateway of India, Marine Drive and the Taj Palace Hotel are located is relatively calm and less congested. It is the ideal place for tourists to stay and relax with the view of the sea and get refreshed by the breeze from the Arabian sea.

Very often it is only a one-day trip for me to Mumbai and I have to return by the evening flight. Look downward from the flight, the city looks resplendent with lights from streets and high-rise buildings. Surrounded by the sea, the city lights remain concentrated, increasing the brightness of the place at night. I wish that the city retains its virtues and remains bright like this forever. ‘Jai ho Bambai dham ki.’ (Glory to the city of Mumbai.)

When Two Crows Chat – Humour

The time is not right for the crows of Tali park to engage in any activity. It is noon and the sun is beating down very hard, making everyone look for a shade. The park has a lake and clumps of trees that shelter a small population of crows. Two friends, Peter and Paul, slake their thirst in the lake and fly to a Peepal tree. There they perch on one of its branches and strike up a conversation on everyday things of their concern and life in general.

Image credit : http://www.unsplash.com

PAUL: Hello Peter, what’s up? Looking very worried nowadays?

PETER: Can’t you see why I’m worried? My wife laid eggs a few days back.

PAUL: Congrats! But that should make you happy. What’s bothering you, dear?

PETER:  Idiot, cuckoos. They’re too smart. They’re making sorties around here. If I look the other way, they’ll drop their eggs on our nest and fly away. But I’m chasing them. Too clever…ah? I’m Peter. Don’t mess with me.

PAUL: It’s all nature and instinct, Peter. Don’t get so worked up. It’s how they’re made.

PETER: What bloody instinct? Can’t they have their own nest? Can’t they raise their chicks? It’s all naughtiness and shirking responsibility and nothing else.

PAUL:  Oh, I see…you have made some new friends! But what about humans – your best friends? You’re at peace with them now?

PETER:  What are you talking, Paul? They’re endangering our lives. They’re using masks and throwing them on roads, footpaths and dustbins. We have to go out and forage for food. Who knows, one day we’ll be infected with the virus and meet the same fate as theirs.

PAUL: They’re getting vaccinated. Why still they need to wear masks, I don’t understand.

PETER: Even otherwise they’re masked. How does it matter whether they wear it or not? Let Corona go. But they must wear masks forever.

PAUL: Don’t be so cynical, Peter. Not all of them are like that. A few of them are.

PETER: Paul, most of them are. They’ve so many pretensions. They look so generous, gentle, and kind to each other, but that’s only a mask. Actually, they are jealous inside and harm each other every now and then. They show off too much. Lies come out of their mouths like fountains. They change colours faster than chameleons do. I caw strongly in protest, but it makes no impact. I hate these humans.

photo courtesy : http://www.unsplash.com

(A bat comes flying in suddenly and goes past them.)

PETER: Oh, Paul, see the bat. Be careful! They’re the real culprits. They’re the carriers of the virus.

PAUL: You talk with half knowledge, Peter. The virus they carry and the virus that’s spreading the infections are not the same. 

PETER:  Don’t teach me about them. After all the virus they carry only has changed into the current form. My point is why they won’t have it. Do they take bath? Do they come in the sun? Then they poop, hanging upside down and make themselves dirty. If they don’t have the virus, tell me who’ll have it.

PAUL: Peter, don’t talk non-sense. They don’t poop upside down. They get themselves in position for that. Then they pollinate and help plants bear fruits. Look at their positive sides as well.

PETER: You always argue with me and side with others.

PAUL: Who’ll argue with you except a friend like me? But I’m not arguing just for the sake of it.  

(They hear a cuckoo call not far from where they’ve sat.)

PETER: You heard it? Very musical and humans die to hear this ‘koo-koo’, which heralds the spring. By looks also, they are beautiful. But I don’t see a species more exploitative than them. They raise their chicks in others’ home…just imagine. Now for a change, help me chase her away. Otherwise, she’ll do just what I fear. 

PAUL: If not for a change, at least for a sport, I’ll be with you today.

Peter and Paul fly in the direction from which the calls have come. A cuckoo whooshes from a nearby tree and is soon followed by them. They chase her up to the jungle at a distance and she disappears into it. Then carried by the momentum, the two friends fly even further beyond the jungle until they become silhouetted against the blue heaven.