Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Ghost Stories From The Raj - edited by Ruskin Bond

The subject of ghosts itself may not be of any importance as most people would perceive it, but it does attain significance when people’s belief in ghosts dictates their habits, practises, the way they handle their practical problems and certain aspects of their lifestyle.

To give you instances, in certain parts of the country, belief in spirits dictated the way legal documents were drafted. British officers had to draft them specially for these landowners in villages.
Spirits were relied upon to settle land disputes, to prevent encroachment.
Fear of spirits prevented theft of crop.
People built shrines to protect themselves from man eating tigers.
People refrained from exploiting and looting hidden treasures for they believed these were guarded by spirits.
People killed others for ‘bewitching’ their children or cattle.
People avoid going near trees that they believe are haunted. They also show preference to certain tress during planting of trees.
Mothers weep when they lose their son but weep more bitterly if he has been invested with the holy thread but not married, for they believe such boys turn into spirits and have to wait really long for reincarnation.

This book, is a collection of ghost stories, some of them based on fact, penned by British officers who lived in India during the British Raj and encountered strange experiences.

I have noted the summary of each story. This is for my own sake for I will not read the book again but would like to have some notes for easy recollection or reference.

The wondrous narration of Jon Campbell – Gunfounder to the mogul emperors (1654 - 1667) - from Indian State Railways Magazine (April 1933)
John Campbell and other officers learn of the treasure obtained by Asaf Khan, a general in the army of Jehangir, by looting and plundering Hindu places of worship that were adorned with riches such as golden cows. They dig the house for the treasure now guarded by devils and spirits. When the devils appear, they protect themselves by reading the Bible and obtain the treasure.

The Men Tigers – from Rambles and Recollections of An Indian Official by Lt. Col. WH Sleeman of the Bengal Army, Vol 1
In places central India, people faced the menace of tigers killing men and escaping all efforts to hunt them down. The common people as well as the Raja himself believed that these tigers were guided by the spirits of men who were killed by these tigers, who rode on their head and guided them away from danger and towards prey. So their reaction to the menace was offering sacrifices and building shrines to these spirits. The tigers who could not be controlled thus were of a different kind – they were men who turned to tigers by eating a certain root and turned back to men by eating one more of the root. There were others who had mastered the science and practised it, while relying upon an assistant to them the antidote to turn them back into men – by putting a necklace around the tiger’s neck etc). Sometimes these assistants, initially brave, had fled or fainted after the man had transformed into tiger and roared, leaving the tiger on the loose, creating havoc. The difference between real tigers and these men turned to tigers was that the latter had no tail!

Haunted Villages – from Rambles and Recollections of An Indian Official by Lt. Col. W H Sleeman of the Bengal Army, Vol 1
Among the agricultural and landowning classes in villages, there existed firm beliefs that lands were guarded by spirits.if these spirits were not appeased, then the landowners were liable to face trouble – their cattle or children meeting with accidents, being bitten by snakes, thrown and beaten etc. But these same spirits when appeased, also guarded lands from trespassers, theft of crop and encroachment and thus save the owners all expenses of going to court, settlement of boundary disputes etc.
In one particular instance, in a certain village, at every new settlement, the proprietor insisted upon having the name of the spirit of the old proprietor inserted in the lease instead of his own name. Mr. Fraser was requested to redraft the legal document, which after inquiry and consultation with other people, he had to do. The actual proprietor was inserted as manager or bailiff. Oncewhen Lt. Col. Sleeman of Bengal Army was in charge of Nursingpore, a cultivator ploughed beyond his boundary to add half an acre to his own land. That night, his son was bitten by a snake and his buffaloes were seized by murrain. He confessed his sin in a temple and vowed to build a shrine on the spot. Soon after, his buffaloes and his son, all recovered.
In another case, a village had been deserted though it was most fertile, for people believed it was haunted. English governors and officers undertook to disprove the belief but when they visited the place, they met with strange incidents like sightings of snakes. Once a measuring rope broke into pieces.
People used, in order to protect lands, stick up something in the field, or tie something to the tree in the name of a spirit, who from then on, took responsibility of the fields’ safekeeping. Anyone stealing crop would become ill. And only after confessing his sin to the proprietor and ask his pardon, he would be spared for the proprietor then pacified the spirit by smearing cow dung on the forehead of the sinner.

The Return of Imray – Rudyard Kipling
This is a very well told story with humour and felicity of language. The narrator visits Strickland in his bungalow which Strickland had rented after its previous occupant, Imray went missing. After sunset, there are movements in the house of someone invisible – a presence felt but not seen. Strickland’s dog too behaves strangely. It does not sleep in its own bed but in the Verandah corner. His eyes follow someone, as he stands with his body taut and all hair erect. One evening while hunting down two snakes caught in the folds of the ceiling cloth, Strickland prods at what seemed like a buffalo wrapped in cloth, resting on the beam. The bundle falls down and turns out to be Imray’s body. A tricky enquiry by Strickland of Bahadur Khan, the servant reveals that he had killed Imray because Imray had bewitched his four year old son after patting him on his head. The boy had died of fever soon. When he was about to be taken captive and handed to the police, it turned out that one of the snakes had bitten him and spared him the shame of being taken by the police. That night, the dog did not sleep in the verandah but jumped back to his bed.
An innocent act of patting on a child’s head and a coincidental fever had resulted in the killing of the English officer!

The Summoning of Arnold – Alice Perrin – from East of Suez (1926)
Arnold is burning in separation of his wife who had to return to England for a while due to poor health. She, Lilla, had said to him that if she died, she would come straight to him first aand Arnold believed it and also that she would come and fetch him. If she died. That night, Arnold screamed ‘Lilla Lilla’ and was found dead the next hour. There was strong smell of chloroform in his room. Even after thorough searching, no bootle of chloroform was found anywhere. They concluded that he had committed suicide very carefully. The next day, a telegram arrived announcing that Lilla had died under chloroform during an operation.
Had she come then, as she had promised to see Arnold and fetched him?

Chunia, Ayah – Alice Perrin – from East of Suez (1926)
An Indian Ayah insulted by her English employer kills the child who is her charge by strangling her. The English couple leave the city and the ayah finds employment elsewhere. But she hears cries of the child outside the door of the house. She stands against the doors to prevent the child from coming to her. A few days later, she becomes possessed and is confined to an asylum where she pats an imaginary baby to sleep...

Caulfield’s Crime – Alice Perrin – from East of Suez (1926)
Caulfield is known for his ill temper but he is a good shooter. One day, he takes a friend to the countryside for shooting. While they were resting in a clearing, a fakir, with sharp teeth, long matted hair, glistening eyes and ashes smeared all over his body asks for alms, he throws a stone at him and shoos him away. Then just when Caulfield is about to shoot, the Fakir disturbs the birds and they all fly away. Caulfield shoots the fakir and kills him. Since killing a local is no joke in those times, they hide the body and return to their camp to have dinner. After dinner, they return to the spot to find a jackal with a grey streaked coat and one ear missing, making a meal of the body. They shoo it away and bury the body. They return to their quarters. Caulfield begins to frequently hear the howling of a jackal around his house and when they see it, its the same jackal with one ear missing. He is convinced that the spirit of the fakir has entered the body off the jackal. Even when he spends the night in his friend’s house and not his own, the jackal follows him there too.
One fine day, he dies of hydrophobia. There are no teeth marks on his body and he has not been bitten by a dog. The servant however reports the sighting of a jackal around the house. As his friend takes his lantern to leave to his house after seeing the last of Caulfield, he sees a jackal. It has one ear. It enters Caulfield’s house but when the house is searched, there is no jackal to be found.

A Ghost in Burma (A Story Based on Fact) – Gerald T Tait - from Indian State Railways Magazine (December 1928)
a group of English officers were posted to Burma to survey the countryside. After a long and hard day of fighting the impenetrable forest they sighted a strange bungalow perched on top of a precipice overlooking the Salween river. They chose to rest there for the night after protests from the coolies who insisted they would not sleep there in the night but outside in the clearing several meters away.
A brick cube in the courtyard was the most curious feature of the place – one of the officers who knew architecture swore it was 5000 years old and belonged to the Sumerian period, indicated by the cuneiform writings on its surface and the plano convex handmade bricks. During their first night in the place, one of them, Alaistairs woke up screaming, having felt cold hands around his neck.
The next night, Peter stood at his window with his arms stretched out to get some fresh air. The window was set into a smooth bare wall that overlooked the Salween river a thousand feet below with no foothold, no support for anyone, not even a lizard to get to the window. He feels cold clammy hands pulling him out of the window. He shrieks and his two other friends pull him away and the cold hands slip. They decide to check on Alaistairs anyway. When they go out, they find him lying on the cube in the courtyard face downwards, dead, with distinct markings of two hands on his throat. Was the Sumerian cube some ancient sacrificial altar?

There are more things, A Tale of the Malabar Jungles – H W Dennys – from The Madras mail Annual (1930)
Peter visits Anderson who lives alone in seclusion in the Malabar jungles with a few tribes in villages nearby. He finds Anderson strange, in keeping with his reputation in that area – his house had domes and minarets and it was decked with Persian carpets. Nevertheless, he is a great shooter. They leave for the jungle to find some game. Just a day before their departure, strange things begin to happen. Anderson demonstrates the powers that he has acquired. He makes a stick move just by looking at it intensely. He asks peter to think of an object and then reads his mind and materializes the glass tumbler out of thin air. He says the tribes in the jungle posses these powers too but he is ahead of them. But he yet to learn how to make these objects last and not disappear after he has stopped focusing on them.
The next day, they walk back from the jungle with only their walking stick alone, having handed the rifles, guns and other heavy equipment to the coolies so they could walk fast and free. Suddenly the tall grass before them parts and a rogue elephant appears before them. Peter runs for his life but turns back when he realizes Anderson is not following him. Anderson has, by the use of his powers, turned the walking stick into a rifle and shot the elephant on its forehead. The dying elephant falls on Anderson and kills him too.
But at last, Anderson had mastered the art of making the objects of his creation last, for Peter, after narrating the story produced from his pocket the bullet that was found in the elephants forehead, though the rifle itself had turned back to a walking stick!

The Aryan Smiles – by J Warton and N Blenman - from Indian State Railways Magazine (June 1933)
Mike, an Irishman works a station master in the Punjab Delhi Railways. He is dead and in a mysterious way.
He was hot tempered and liked to use his whip. One day, he told off a mendicant in the station garden cooking food on a patch of grass. The mendicant laughed. Enraged by his insolence Mike whipped him. The mendicant put out the fire, smeared the ashes all over his smarting wounds, held up his hand heavenward and muttered curses and oaths about Almighty, Retribution, Flames and Fire...
The next day, while having his meal at his friend’s place, Mike felt very hot and removed his coat. Then he suddenly screamed that his body was on fire and immersed himself in waist high water.
The next evening during his customary walk in Roshanara Gardens, he disappeared altogether. Upon being informed by his horse cab driver who had been waiting outside the garden, his friend searched for him, lantern in hand, in all the dark patches in the garden. Reaching a dark patch under a peepal tree at the edge of a pool he asks the driver to come over but the driver refuses to go under the tree for the sake of love or money. When friend asks why, driver tells him that no Hindu in Delhi would go under that tree. The spirit of a Pir baba of the time of Aurangzeb dwells in the tree. Did the friend hear the sound of hookah? It was the Pir baba smoking. “it must be the croaking of a night bird” laughs friend of Mike. The Pir had been harassing Hindus who ccame to the sacred Peepal tree having forcefully occupied a place under that tree. The Hindus believed the tree had become cursed and kept away. When the Pir died, he was buried under that tree. But two Hindus exhumed his body and threw it into the pool. Since then, the Pir’s spirit had haunted the tree. Even as the diver narrated this story, it rained and a lightning struck the tree. Part of it fell into the tank and the remaining stood charred on the bank. Not finding Mike anywhere they began dredging operations at the tank. The clue was Mike’s whip which floated in the tank like a fishing rod. Mike’s body was found was found a vessel filled with soil and under that an old copper hookah!

Panther People – by C A Kincaid – from Indian Christmas Stories (1936)
Briggs was driving through Dharwar jungles of Kanara district when suddenly an Englishman appeared on the track. His name was Savile and Briggs offered him a lift. While having breakfast in a clearing, Savile asked Briggs if he had heard of people who had the power to turn into a panther and back to men. Savile proceeded to tell his story – he and his wife had, years ago, accepted invitation from friends to camp in the jungle. During the day they shot tigers and bears. Savile and wife had separate tents for the night as she found Savile’s snoring disturbing. In the mornings, there were excited mentions of the findings of pug marks of a panther outside the tents. One night Savile kept vigil, gun in hand. At 2 in the night he saw a panther passing by his tent and entering Travelyan’s tent. Following it, he found it standing by a horrified looking Travelyan. He shot it and upon approaching it, saw the dying creature turn into a woman that was his wife. Travelyan then spilled the story – Savile’s wife entered his tent every night in the form of a panther, then turned into the woman that she was and made love to him. Later she had turned into a panther again and returned to her tent.
By this time, the others in the camp rushed to the spot. Not believing the story they handed Savile over to the police. He spent 3 years in a prison. He had been released just then and was without money or job.
So saying he stretched himself, slowly turning into a panther. He growled at Briggs and asked him to hand over all his money. Briggs distracted him by shouting ‘Buffalo, Buffalo’, the only animal a panther is afraid of and struck Savile in his jaw and drove away. Savile recovered and followed him and tried to climb into the car but in vain. Giving up, he turned into human form, thanked Briggs for the breakfast, asked him to find him a job and disappeared into the jungle. When the records at Yeroda jail were checked the name Savile was not found. Was Savile an assumed named? Or was it really a panther that had turned into human and not a human?

The Old Graveyard at Sirur – by C A Kincaid – from Indian Christmas Stories (1936)
Not far from the officers mess at Sirur (some distance from Poona), was the old cemetery. There was a tombstone larger than the rest at the centre, and when the Indian troopers passed by it, they saluted. When Kincaid, who during one of his visits to the place saw this. When he enquired about the reason for it, Rissaldar Major Shinde told him the story of Colonel Hutchings. Several decades ago, when a 15 year old widow about to perform sati had flinched before the fires and shouted for help, colonel Hutchings passing by with his Mussalman troopers, and had saved her after a fight with the dead man’s kinsmen, killing one in the fight, and carried away the girl and married her. The Shindes whose family honour had been thus humiliated planned to kill both the Englishman and the widow, but had been unable to. After many years, they found the opportunity when Colonel Hutchings was riding in a palanquin to shoot a blackbuck or a Chinkara, men from the Shinde community attacked him and killed him. The palanquin bearers had run to the widow and informed her and she in turn informed the police. The police hanged two of the men. Before the Shinde men could kill the widow, she took opium, died and was buried beside her husband. Ever since, the colonel was found sitting on his tomb, sometimes with his wife by his side. When the troopers saw him on the tomb, they saluted him.
Kincaid having heard the story and drove to Sirur, with the Rissaldar Shinde on full moon night. There he had a Kodak camera placed on a tomb a few feet away, setting prolonged exposure. When the photographs came, surely the Colonel was there and also a hazy figure of his wife beside.

The Munjia – by C A Kincaid – from Indian Christmas Stories (1936)
Mahadev, a bright Brahmin boy from Nasik catches plague. His mother is worried, of course because he is dying, but more because he has gone through the thread ceremony but is not yet married. It is believed that if a Brahmin boy after thread ceremony dies unmarried, he will become a Munjia – a type of spirit, who is not ready for reincarnation but has to take abode in a peepal tree. Further, to be delivered from his state of suspension, he has to enter the body of a person, and when that person dies, he may be leave this world and enter the other world. Mahadev dies. Everyone in Nasik wonders where in town the Munjia will take his abode. One day when a horse cart was on its way to the railway station, soon as it passed under a peepul tree, the horses ran in a fright into the country side plunging the cart into a ravine, killing women and tree.
Mahadev had taken his abode in this peepul tree which was outside the town near the Englishmen’s quarters. Mahadev watched out for someone yawning so he could enter their body through their mouth. But people were careful and never yawned without snapping their fingers in front of their mouth, scaring munjias. But one Englishman, Colin Travers yawns without precaution and the munjia enters his body. He has the option to end his own life (Colin’s) or to kill someone and be hanged towards deliverance. Killing oneself or Atmaghat is a great sin. Mahadev had already sinned by entering the body of a beef eating Englihman and would not be born a Brahmin in his next life. So he decided to take the other option. When Colin reaches home, he takes a sword hanging on a wall in the hall and kills his wife and another woman. He goes to the police station and confesses having killed his wife out of jealousy and suspicion. The court believing no sane man would do so gave him penal servitude for life instead of death sentence. Disappointed, Mahadev, (now Colin) decide to kill in the prison to obtain a death sentence. He asks for Indian clubs for morning exercise. The authorities pleased with his good behaviour give them to him. Colin runs about killing with those clubs until a guard shoots him down. Thus Mahadev is delivered. All English officers wonder why Colin did what he did ending a promising career.

The Pool – by John Eyton
There is a dark pool in a valley formed by the foot of God. By the pool, a white temple and a holy man with three straight lines in yellow paint. One day Mohammedans plunder the temple, kill the holyman and throw him into the pool. Rushes grow on the clear pool, people fear going near it as they hear sounds of wailing and shadowy figures in the night. Years later, the area is assigned to an Englishman who turns the place into an estate and dredges the pool though it is outside his area. The villagers resent it but he heeds not. When he sees people burning their dead by the pool, he writes to authorities asking them to stop them but they interfere not as the pool is outside the boundary of the estate. One day he sees a holy man by the pool and writes to the officials warning them that a temple may be built next on the spot. He catches malaria and is bed ridden for 15 days. When he recovers he visits the poolside and finds a white temple there.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Problem Of Good Upbringing

The problem with good upbringing is that it renders you unfit for living in a society full of people who have money but no breeding. Especially these days.

You wonder why people honk senselessly like they thought it sounded like the cooing of a cuckoo to the ears of everyone around, why they close all windows during the day and switch on the tubelight, why they want fan in full speed when it’s raining outside, why they shout into their mobile phones in public places, why they send useless good morning good evening messages resulting in a national waste instead of using the service for a specific purpose, why they watch television at midnight in full volume in a quiet neighbourhood when everyone is sleeping peacefully, why they listen to loud music when their neighbour’s children are having their exams, why they let loose their dogs in public instead of holding the leash tightly, causing dog fearing people to jump and sprain their legs or come under some heavy wheels...

All you ask for is decent behaviour of them and they look at you as if you were asking for some unusual favour.

It’s that time of the year when a crib blog is due from me.
Last year it was that idiot neighbour who drove home after midnight and reversed his car for full ten minutes and parked it with the precision of a micro chip manufacturing machine until the car was exactly parallel to his compound and exactly 12 inches away from it, while the high pitch reverse music sounded like an ambulance siren for full ten minutes. And this he did on a quiet road where only rats and cockroaches scurried about among litter and not a soul else. He probably respected their lives a lot and wanted to make sure they dashed to safety before he started his operation.

This year it’s these otherwise good natured but very rough people next door on my floor who had a metal door fixed to their front door after watching one of those horror programmes on Kannada TV channels full of thefts, robbery, burglary, chain snatching, murder and other stuff narrated by over-zealous hosts, much of which I am sure is concocted to create sensation and hike TRP ratings.

It begins with two faraway explosions in the morning. About 7:30. The uncouth servant girl walks in and out of that door running errands banging the door each time.
Fortunately it’s time for me to go to office.
But after 10 hours, I am back. In the evening.
I am happy to be home. I sit in my chair before my study table, book shelf in front of me, fresh flowers in a vase behind all ready to begin my day.
I hear a slight clinking sound. I wince preparing for what is to come. And then there is a crash. And this time, it is not a distant explosion. It’s right outside my door which is four feet away. It feels like someone hit me on my head with a hammer. And it’s not the maid servant. It’s the owner. Or her husband. Or her brother.
I have told them to close the door slowly. Not once. Not twice. Some hundred times. But no. They just don’t care. They simply have no concern for neighbours.

They leave in the evening for one or two hours to take their two year old twins out. During which time it is peaceful, as in garden. But before and after that, it is a war zone. Loud banging of metal doors against the jamb, people shrieking to one another as if shrieking each other to death. Death by shriek!

In my parents’ house in Mysore, we have 5 metal doors, not one; three on the first floor and two on the ground floor. And you can’t hear people opening and closing them. We have been taught to be that careful. We don’t leave the doors open wide for they may bang shut because of the wind.
I told the lady so and asked her to close it slowly. She was offended. She shouted back. ‘If I don’t close it quickly, the children will run after me and run down to the street. I can’t help it.’ I knew the children were blameless. She was merely using them to shield herself. When the milkman came a minute later, she told him in my hearing ‘are we mad to make noise just like that? I have kids to take care of. Have I gone mad to bang the door for no reason?’

I gave up. These days I sit prepared for the ordeal. The minute I hear footsteps approaching the door, I drop my book and my pencil in my lap and plug my ears with my fingers. After I know it’s over, I remove my fingers. Sometimes owing to error of judgment, I remove the fingers a little early and start when I hear the loud sound.

I do little things for them now and then, since they can’t go out to the market with the kids and all...bring books for the children, get flowers whenever I get flowers for my vase, get their umbrella repaired, buy articles like plastic box, vase, medicines and all... and yet when I ask them in return for nothing more than my fair share of silence and peace, they deny it to me.

It’s the kids that I feel really sorry for.
I was really fond of the kids. They were cute. Unlike other children who cry all the time for God only knows what reason, these are happy children who smile and play all the while they are awake. It saddens me to see how they are slowly picking up all the wrong manners, habits from their elders and that servant girl in whose company they spend a good 10 hours of their every day.

And to think these are not people dwelling in slums but a family owning a three storey house in a premium area, two cars, two bikes and spend ten thousand rupees every month to buy toys for their kids!
Like I said, these are times when you find people having money but no breeding.

Monday, August 22, 2011

I Am Everything

Otherwise, talking about corruption is just ranting and harping. Such a tried and tired subject.
But once in a blue moon when someone moves Heaven and Earth to fight corruption (nothing less than that), like Anna Hazare is doing these days, then, that is the opportunity to express one's viewpoints on the matter without sounding boring and turning off one’s audience.

If you happen to be in the software profession, which every other fellow in Bangalore is today, then you see more than your fair share of ‘activity’.
Daily emails and forwards about
‘Who Anna Hazare is’,
‘What is Lokpal Bill’,
‘How Lokpal will help curb Corruption’,
‘Why Lokpal is being opposed’,
‘Add Anna Hazare on Facebook’,
‘Follow Anna Hazare on Twitter’
‘Sign up this form’
And sooooooo much more...

Oh! Make no mistake! These are not just talkers of hollow words. There is action too.
People left office in company sponsored cabs to a popular city square – Anand Rao Circle – and shouted slogans, waved banners and sang Vande Mataram.
And the next day employees of various IT companies participated in protest march from Cubbon Park to Freedom Park.

Very impressive.
Only there should have been some sort of filtering process to decide who qualified to participate in the activities and who did not.
For some of them, nay, most of them had no business to be part of any such initiatives.
They had no moral right to raise their voice against corruption.

If I were a caricaturist, I would have drawn a picture of ‘coal calling the pot black’.

Nobody thought there was a need for a filtering process. Like many of those things in life right there before our eyes for us to see, but we are blind to, this was one.

The attrition rate in Bangalore, in 2004, was 11 months. I don’t know about today’s rate.
That is, the average tenure of an IT employee in an organization was 11 months. In other words, on an average, an employee switched jobs every eleven months.
Why? ‘Better Opportunity’.
You start your career at 22 with 3 lakhs per annum. (That was the salary with which my dad retired after 30 years of dedicated service in Canara Bank). It was a lot of money.
3 lakhs per annum is way more than a 22 yr old today needs. But its not enough for him.
Even as he is training during probation, he gets a ‘better opportunity’ and resigns this one for a new job that will pay him 4 lakhs per annum.
It does not matter that the first employer gave him a job when there was recession and it doesn’t matter that he had made vows to all Gods in all temples for campus recruitment.

He completes 10 months there and then he gets this offer from a ‘reputed multinational’.
Manager requests him to finish the project he has undertaken but no, the notice period as agreed was 1 month. Why should he stay longer?
He will now get 6 lakhs per annum.
Just when he is on his way to his new office, first day, he gets a call from another employer who had interviewed him and now announces that he has been selected! What about compensation? 6.5 lakhs. Hmmm...
He takes a right turn at the signal instead of left.

He just completed 1 year in the company and he’s throwing a party! Yes. After all, 1 year is a long time these days!

He is now an expert at the game. He attends 3 interviews – A, B, C.
A offers him 8 lakhs. He takes the offer letter to B. For bargaining.
B has to now offer a little more than A.
8. 6 lakhs.
He takes that offer letter to C.
C offers him 9.2.
He takes that offer letter back to A.
A is desperate for resources. They can’t really afford it, but they offer him 9.5. That’s it? ‘Sorry sir, we can’t offer more’.

OK. He joins A.

When he was planning to quit A after 1.5 years, someone cautioned him “if you change too many jobs, it will not ‘look good’ on your resume and companies will hesitate to take you in future”.
So he decides to stay longer so his resume will show how ‘loyal’ he is.
So he refrains from quitting so it will be possible for him to quit someday (at all).

There is no dearth of glamorous sounding reasons to hide all this shameful treachery – technology roadmap, work culture, better infrastructure facilities, cricket club, swimming pool, company shares, flexible work timings...

One who gets 12 lakhs wants 16. He who gets 16 wants 20. And he who gets 20 wants 23 lakhs.
Is there an end to greed? When you earn 23 lakhs per annum, you surely intend to consume at that rate.
When you consume goods worth 22 lakhs in a year do you really how much you are consuming?
Do you realize the amount of resources you are devouring?
Do you know many people there are in this country and the total resources available to provide for all of them?

One flat and then 2.
Two cars, one splendour and one kinetic Honda all in just one family!

When you cannot curb the greed within you, what right have you to ask someone else to curb theirs?
For is it not greed that makes one corrupt?
You may not be legally corrupt, you may not be legally a criminal, but if you are greedy, are you not morally corrupt? Don’t you and that politician share the same greed?
Then what business have you got to ask that politician not to be corrupt, not to be greedy?

What are you prepared to do for this country? Would you travel by government bus twice a week? Once a week?
Would you stop after buying one house and not go on to buy 2?
Would you resist the temptation to change your mobile phone for a sexier model every year?
Would you stop eating chips and wafers like they needed no growing but dropped from the sky?
You wouldn’t. For all those email forwards of Vande Mataram and all those slogans and protest marches, you would not let go even the smallest of conveniences.

Greed is dormant in all people of all professions – teachers, lawyers, bankers, doctors, singers, actors.
But I think greed is most active in IT professionals today.
They are the best paid professionals in this country but there is none as greedy as them. None as hungry for more as they are.
And they are the ones sending most of these patriotic emails and fighting corruption on Facebook! They are the consumerists and they ask others to curb greed! Such a joke!

At the root of all social evil is reckless consumption and wastage.
At the root of the poison tree is reckless consumption and wastage.
You may pay monthly visits to old age homes, contribute to charity, (or if you are too busy, gift virtual trees and plants to each other on Facebook! ), swoon over an oh-so-helpless puppy that has hurt its leg and carry it to a vet and all and look good in your social circle, but if you continue to consume without any check and waste without a care, then you are merely clipping the twigs and leaves of the poison tree while watering its roots.

Someone at work described with a flourish, her visit to a nearby village and the urchins she had taught and the cricket she had played with them. The next day she dropped into a bucket of water, a new forty thousand rupee mobile phone she would no doubt have to replace soon! Such reckless wastage!
Do you realize the urchin in that village is who he is because you consumed such an expensive mobile phone? And do you realize his condition is going to get worse because you dropped it in a bucket of water?

All of us have different definitions of need and greed, what we must have, what we can do without and so all. Some people look at my pile of books and ask me jokingly if I am not causing trees to be cut down? I tell them, ‘I won’t buy a house, I won’t buy a car, I travel by bus and don’t go to shopping malls, so I can buy a few books without feeling guilty’.
Specifically what we will let go, will vary from person to person, but let go, we must; one thing or the other.
If we can watch our consumption pattern and wastage and gradually bring them down - cut this today, cut that tomorrow, we would be hurting the very roots of the poison tree. For sure.

And what we need in order to achieve that is the curbing of greed.
To curb greed, one small measure after another, progressively, should be part of the agenda of each and every one of us.
For all the problems that surround us – water shortage, power outage, narrow roads, traffic jam, robbery, murder, crime, inflation, terrorism, price hike - we hope for policies, laws and bills to solve them.
No politician, no government, no policy, no law and no Lokpal bill will be able to do anything if we individuals dont assume social responsibility. No environment will become greener no system cleaner and no society healthier if we continue to devour like pythons. Remember that at the root of all social, political, cultural, economic evils is reckless consumption and wastage by the INDIVUDIAL.

The solution to every problem truly, not just theoretically, but truly lies in ‘I’, the individual. Its right there before our eyes, a glaring fact. Don’t know how we miss it.

‘I’ AM EVERYTHING. Now that’s not narcissism.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Everest Calling - Phakding To Namche

18th April 2011.

Few things in life could be more painful than waking up at 6:30 AM on a cold Himalayan morning. That is also the time and place when hot water becomes worth its weight in gold. And that is the time and place when every soul thinks of the Sahara desert with a wistful yearning. That cold Himalayan morning is a very powerful context.

Breakfast in Phakding was two slices of bread with boiled potato sauté with turmeric, salt and some green leaves. Honey and mixed fruit jam were available too. Everywhere we went, throughout the tour, honey and a variety of jams and marmalades were available.

We were set to start our march to our next destination – Namche Bazaar – the distance we had to cover was one among the longest distances we would cover in a day during the trek.

I bought a contour map for Rs 200 INR from the counter, hoping to refer to it as I trekked to figure out the names of rivers and peaks that appeared by our trail. I did not make any use of it.

The first things we saw when we stepped out.

It was sunny fortunately. For photography.

Our trail was by the Dudhkoshi river.

I think this is the Taboche peak considered holy. So people don’t climb the mountain. They believe if you climb it, villages at the foothills and surroundings face trouble – natural calamities and all...

Cherry blossom, we were told...

An old porter carrying his karma…

This was the entrance to the Sagarmatha national park. Mt. Everest is called Sagarmatha in the locality.

The ornamentation at the entrance.

Every hanging bridge was a thrill.

A picture taken from the shaking trembling bridge. Even one person walking on it at the far end would set it bouncing up and down.

We stopped for lunch in a place called Jorsalle.

Swami’s pedometer recorded 13.5 kilometers from the first hanging bridge after Phakding to Jorsalle – must be inaccurate – for we covered it between 7:15 AM to 10:30 AM.
We were 29 of us and we realized soon that we were not to trek together as one group. Some walked fast, some slow, some needed rest, some didn’t, some stopped too many times for photos, some didn’t. so we walked in smaller groups and sometimes alone.

When I reached Jorsalle, some of them had already reached. They cheered and clapped for me. We all cheered and clapped for everyone who arrived and this continued throughout the expedition.
We had lunch in two batches and after a few minutes of rest started again.

At one point we came really close to the Dudhkoshi river that tempted us to jump.

Porters resting. Boys from 17 to 21.

Announcing their arrival with clinging bells, horses came in a procession. Trekkers quickly moved to the mountain side of the trail and waited patiently. I needed some practice since I have this instinct to move to the valley side of the trail.

As we climbed, the valley below became more beautiful. Distance hid from view reeds and weeds and thorny dry shrubs, jagged cliffs and precipices became smooth, green remained while the browns and grays retreated, the roar of the river turned into a distant drone and silence descended from the skies.

It was getting cloudy.

Porters and trekkers on the trail who had earphones on and were listening to music, would you not listen to the music of the mountain and to it’s silence instead of film music?

Breadth, depth and height. That picture is the most special of all.

It started raining. Then it started raining hails. My jacket was in the baggage that the porter had carried away. I put on my hat. I remembered I had forgotten to pack my umbrella.
I got a little wet but did not care.
Arnab removed two small plastic covers containing what looked like handkerchiefs of silver. We started opening it. Fold after fold, fold after fold we unfolded it until it was the size of a blanket. I believe it protected 90% of body heat. I wrapped it around myself, all excited. It crackled like thin metal every time I moved an inch but it was cool!

Arnab put on his space suit, I mean his rain suit and minutes later, it stopped raining. Just when I smiled thinking that Murphy’s laws work at high altitudes too, it started raining again and that redeemed his effort.

When it stopped raining I had to remove the silver wrap around me and fold it. With help from a French guy who was passing by me, I folded it and no matter how much I tried, I could not reduce it to the size of a handkerchief.

All of them were pine trees. How I wish they were Devdar. How much fragrance they would have effused into the air! I thought of my stay in Gangothri, in the Indian Himalayas. It was surrounded by gardens and forests of Devdar and the whole place smelled of incense. If heaven had a smell, it had to be the smell of Devdar. I and Ranjana had woken up in the morning to the smell that had become suddenly strong. We stepped out of the room to find out that they were burning twigs of Devdar wood to het water for us!

For now, I had to be content with the scent of rain-kissed earth.

Drops of water at the end of every pine needle. Little bulbs.

After it rained the fog cleared, revealing to us three snow covered peaks rising from the tops of pine trees. A closer look revealed the colour of snow to be fluorescent blue at the tip of these peaks.

Namche. We expected it to be around the next corner and it turned out to be elusive.
But when we saw terraces with dwellings in their middle, we knew it would be anytime soon.

Trust me, this is how these peaks really looked. Like jewels. I do not believe in editing my pictures.
Sunlight, clear, sharp and unobstructed by clouds in a clear afternoon sky after rain was on these peaks and the snow reflected the light.

When we finally arrived, what met our eyes seemed worth the effort. Neat dwellings on terraces that gave you a view of the whole village and hid nothing, wayside shops selling colourful jewelry, trinket, shawls, sweaters, hats, bakery, pubs, Buddhist assortments… it was really a titanic amphitheatre embellished with life itself.

We walked in narrow busy lanes, wet and dry, and finally reached Himalayan Hotel.