Facing destiny

Destiny can play strange tricks on the mind, making you deviate from your chosen course of action, and many men, over the course of centuries, have succumbed to their destiny, literally. What is it that makes a man leave a pre-determined path and embrace and accept his destiny, many a time knowing all too well that nothing but certain death awaits him on the path of destiny.

A soldier for instance – eulogised in Hindi cinema as the blustering patriot in love with the country, addicted to a higher social calling. Bunkum, every bit of it. I have always had my doubts about the jingoistic patriotism thrust upon our soldiers to feed our popular perception. A soldier fights to die or to win because that’s his destiny, and he accepts it, without complaint – that is the real source of bravery. Yes, adrenaline too plays its part, for caught in the throes of a passionate combat with the enemy, the love for life can make you embrace death.

But just what is it that makes men give up their planned course of action? Is it just a headstrong attitude, a rush of blood? Nah. The rush of blood happens much later, in the final attempt to conquer the summit. It’s a recognition by men faced with a choice that they will never be truly happy till they give in to the desire of one final fling with destiny, no matter what the consequences.

It’s a recognition that deep inside, having fought destiny all through their lives, it has become part of their DNA and no matter how much you try to ignore the voice of your DNA, you will eventually capitulate. Sometimes, to fatal consequences, sometimes to life altering consequences. Sometimes, to celebratory consequences, sometimes, to a lifetime of repentance.

Every man who risks heeding the call of destiny, also knows somewhere in his heart, that it could lead to the end-game of his life – whether metaphorically, or literally. He also knows that avoiding destiny could also mean a lifetime of avoiding your own gaze in the mirror, and knowing that, can wreak havoc with the mind.

So be it, to each, his own destiny. As I await mine.

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Kiss, and make up

Perception is a pretty strong thing – it’s basically our vision based on our past experiences. It makes us see things the way we understand them, which is why two opposing opinions may be individually right to their proponents but appearing wrong, for all the wrong reasons, to the two warring parties.

Which is exactly what happened recently – perception, aggravated by hastily drawn conclusions, from both sides, resulted in a near-death experience. In a way, it’s good that lovers fight – something they say about the bond becoming stronger post a real good sparring! Neither really wanted to lose one another, which is why, much like the India-Pakistan dialogue, the lines of communication were kept open! Fortunately, they worked.

Sometimes, you need to let out steam, and only then can one understand the intentions of the other person. Hopefully, I’d like to believe that she understood that life can not be lived by constantly looking over the shoulder, it can only be lived by looking ahead. Unfortunate as the past experiences may have been, on which one constructs the edifice of one’s perception, with every new person you meet, one should start with a clean slate. Unless, of course, the instinct or the gut feeling says otherwise – in which case, you’ll be well-advised to listen to your inner voice.

One also needs to learn that certain actions, harmless in their own individual right, may be viewed slightly differently by another person, especially if that person happens to be of the opposite sex, given the different ways in which both sexes think. Even if the action is good, and the intentions are honest. Guess sometimes, you just need to give it some time. As they say, give some time to love, and give love some time.

She may not admit it, yet, or ever, but anyone would have said that despite her strong denials to the contrary, her feelings went much beyond the realm of fondness. It was apparent in the tone and tenor of her voice – she was upset, rightly as she believed, incorrectly as I thought – that while she may not have said it yet, but it was love right through and through.

Anyways, all’s well that ends well – love is not a game of one upmanship. As long as she believes she’s put her point across and is happy, I am happy.

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A born loser

The road to hell, it is said, is paved with good intentions. And no good deed goes unpunished. Which basically means that despite all your good intentions, if someone has reached a conclusion about your character, no matter what you say, how you say, there’s little chance of a rollback of their opinion about you – unlike the budgetary proposals in the Parliament. Ask me – been there, done that, and not too long back.

I have often wondered if honesty is really the best policy, especially when it comes to good intentions. What if not knowing something could actually prove beneficial for you in the long run – would we hide the truth, or just outright lie? I am not saying I have been an honest broker all my life, but when it came to her, I promised myself, and her, that no more lies, half-truths. Just the truth – brutal, frank, and total, no matter what the consequences.

Well, the consequences came via a sms. Sorry, they were reiterated via a sms. That helping someone in need can have disastrous consequences for long-term life plans, is something I am just coming to terms with. Would I change anything, if I could revisit the past? I don’t know. Would it be worth it? I thought it might be, but on second thoughts, shouldn’t a person accept you for who you are – warts, moles, blemishes, et al? After all, the other person is accepting you for who you are – so shouldn’t there be a fair reciprocation?

Unfortunately, not too many things in life are fair. In fact, some pearls of wisdom even state that life itself is not fair. So be it – we have to learn and live. Sure, the guilty-till-proven-innocent maxim is not fair, but that’s the way the cookie sometimes crumbles. All that is left for you to do is pick up the pieces and move on, wishing the person well in life and trying hard not to have any expectations.

So don’t get worked up too much over a heart-break, it happens and you’ll live to see the next day’s sunrise. Trust me, this comes from a ‘seasoned’ professional!

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The other side of the coin

It started out as a discussion in the edit meeting and my colleagues, all hardcore Mumbaikars, unlike me who’s an expat, were chorusing about the travails of daily commute on the auto-rickshaws in the city. It’s the usual litany of complaints against the autos – refusal to ply on specific routes, overcharging, faulty meters….the list continues.

Now I come from a city where autos and their drivers are tough breed – refusal to ply short distances, charging arbitrary fare on the pretext that the meters don’t work, refusal to ply certain routes because they don’t get any return fare from that area, or overcharging to compensate for the lack of any return fare as if it were the passenger’s fault and of course, little help from the Aapke liye and aapke saath Delhi Police who following the letter of the law say complaints against autos need to be made at the nearest police station, and can’t be taken cognisance of on the roadside. I can personally vouch for such an instance – being stranded on NH1 around the time when Cinderella’s coach was to turn back into a pumpkin.

So even though as denizens of two mutually antagonistic cities I could empathise with their grudges against auto drivers – and to be fair, it’s not just my colleagues who’ve suffered, other residents in this city have a bagfull of complaints, and not just against the autos but also against the cabs – there is an unreported side too.

One of the complaints from commuters against the auto drivers is their propensity to make a few bucks extra by not returning the balance amount under the pretext that they don’t have any ‘change’. I am not doubting the veracity of those who’ve had such an experience, but at the same time, one can personally vouch for having come across several instances when auto drivers have willingly foregone a few bucks since they did not have return balance amount, accepting fare less than the metered amount. So say, if the fare totalled Rs 33, they have settled for Rs 30 when I have handed over 40 bucks as they did not have the balance amount of Rs 7.

And it’s not just one instance – there are several such instances I have had over varying distances and fares. Additionally, considering I have a fixed route from my residence to the suburban train station daily, I have become familiar with the meter reading and sometimes, when I have noticed the meter reading increasing at an unusually rapid pace and brought it to the notice of the auto drivers, they have without any grudge acknowledged the fault by saying that I could pay what I regularly pay for that route and not once has there been a complaint by any auto driver that I had short-changed him.

Which is why I also decided not to grudge a couple of rupees extra if the auto driver doesn’t have the requisite balance amount and the nearest rounding off figure was on the higher side rather than on the lower side. So, say, if the fare came to Rs 28 or 29, and one pays up 30 bucks, if the auto driver doesn’t have any ‘change’, I have let it be and let him keep that one or two bucks extra.

After all, they also let go of a few extra bucks when they are ‘short-changed’.

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Unfairly fair

To be fair – and this word will used a lot in this blog, pun intended and unintended – I used to be mildly amused by the skin whiteners, aka fairness creams, that retail by the dozen. While the hackles of many have been raised by the product, generically identified as fair and lovely, though many other branded variants are in vogue, the fact that they were lapped up by women at large wanting to be a paler shade of themselves was reason enough for the market to develop. It wasn’t really fair, and one could argue about it on the grounds of ethics too, but it was tolerable – irritating and annoying no doubt for some people, but tolerable, and amusing to some extent.

Of course, things became even more amusing when the men were brought into the picture, quite literally, with fairness products for those carrying the XY chromosome – fair and handsome becoming the generic for its category. One can imagine Shahrukh Khan endorsing such a product – he after all is the poster boy for all the wimps in this country – but it was quite an irony to see a hulking six-footer of a man like John Abraham also get into the act. And of late, there’s Shahid Kapoor too. Guess if the price is right, these guys might even agree to endorse tampons or sanitary pads for men – if such a product were ever devised and needed by men (personally, if you ask me, I’d rather be dead before that day comes).

What however has raised temperatures – among the women quite naturally, and even among men – is the latest skin whitening product that targets a women’s private areas. Frankly, while the product and the thinking behind it can be classified as disgusting, on another plane, one wonders if such a product will even have a market and consequently, is it possible it will die a natural death – a still-born in advertising parlance?

Fairness creams for the skin usually target areas that are ‘naked’ in the public domain – face, hands, arms, legs and so it’s understandable that appearances for those areas would matter a lot. Not that one endorses such thinking, but like I said earlier, irritable, but tolerable.

One is however yet to come across a woman strutting her private stuff in the public domain – so just why would a woman even think about using such a product for a body part which will never be seen in the public? It seems like a classic case of a company launching a product without ascertaining the market requirements.

That the very idea of such a product offends women’s sensibilities is understandable – in which case, women should boycott the product, maybe even the company that manufactures it. And why just women, men should chip in too – who knows, today, these guys have launched a vaginal whitening cream, tomorrow, it could be a penis whitening product, no doubt endorsed by some Bollywood actors.

The larger point here of course is the obsession with fair skin tone – and here, it’s the users themselves who are to blame. If the very notion of using skin whitening products is offensive, shouldn’t women stop using them? And why just stop there – shouldn’t people who endorse such products be socially outcast? Not just the endorsers, even people who buy such products and use them should actually be looked down upon and maybe even boycotted from all social interaction.

As a man – and chauvinist is the accusation that’s been hurled at me time and again, maybe not without reason – just why would I trust a lady who goes to great lengths to hide what she truly looks like? For if a woman can go to that extreme to hide something as immaterial and as inconsequential as her skin colour, just imagine the lengths she could go to, to hide her true colours.

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Monkey business

Coming back to writing for pleasure, at leisure, after what seems like a lifetime of servitude to the 200-word copy that enriches my bank account month after month, makes one feel like a man coming home to his wife after a fling with his mistress. Not that I would know it personally – never had one of the two, while the other didn’t last too long!

I realised while chatting with a classmate that there’s a part of my life that seems so distant now, as if it was another lifetime altogether. And the realisation about this ‘missing’ part of my life came about through a discussion on monkeys. Yeah, right, go ahead, laugh, make those silly wisecracks!

It was, to paraphrase an old saying, not just many moons ago, but many full moons ago, about 16 years back, when life was uncomplicated. All one had to do was get up in the morning at 5, get ready for work and report for duty before 7 am and then stay on not just till the bovines came home, but even the bats came home. That, in a nutshell, was life in my previous avatar as a hotelier – again, of little repute, ill repute and no repute. Take your pick.

Given this schedule therefore, the singular off-day from work was more precious than Aladdin’s fabled treasure and more seductive than the mythological Menaka who disrupted Vishwamitra’s meditation. So there I was, waking up leisurely way past the sunrise time in the complacently paced city of Udaipur, stumbling out of my room at the hotel’s guesthouse where all the out station managers stayed in individual quarters.

The guest house admittedly was beautifully situated – right at the boundary of a forest that itself overlooked the famous lake, yes, the same that housed the Lake Palace hotel. And while the proximity to the forest ensured a continuous supply of oxygen, it also ensured regular and unannounced visits from our ancestors.

So on one particular off-day, having slept through the breakfast service at the guest house, I proceeded to the first floor terrace where the common kitchen was situated – having stored a loaf of bread along with a jar of mixed fruit jam the previous night that I had planned on having for breakfast with tea.

Being up unusually early – it was just 7:30 am – I was a bit surprised to hear some noises coming from the kitchen as I neared my destination. The door was slightly ajar, indicating some one was indeed present inside. All the other rooms, which were occupied, were closed, so I wondered who could it be. Shouldn’t have bothered.

What I saw next – and what I am about to narrate – can make it to Ripley’s believe or not and 16 years down the line, I can still vividly recall the imagery of that early spring morning.

Seated inside the kitchen were three monkeys – two on the cooking slab and one atop the refrigerator, who apparently was the leader of the pack. For convenience sake, I call him Henry (don’t ask me why, it’s just a name that stuck). The trio of course were quite obviously hungry, for Henry had led them into the kitchen and even as the other two sat, had proceeded to raid the refrigerator. Opening the door, he proceeded to take out the bread loaf and then the bottle of jam and a bottle of ketchup that was also lying there.

Standing there transfixed, more with fear than with wonderous amazement, I watched Henry unscrew the new bottle of jam, hop over to the washed utensils section and pick up a spoon, scoop out a spoonful of jam, tear open the loaf packing and apply the jam on the bread slice. Next, he served a slice each to both his friends (I say friends because they all looked of similar size and build) who relished the offering.

The next round of slices was served with ketchup applied after pouring it on the slice. Me, you ask? I just stood there, rooted to the spot – scared out of my wits having heard horror stories of monkey bites. I must have moved, for suddenly one of them looked towards the door where I was standing. I let out what I imagined was a blood curdling roar – I think it came out more as a shriek.

Henry launched himself like an ejected missile towards the door and I still don’t remember how I managed to shut the door and bolt it from outside – for the force with which he struck the door nearly sent me reeling over the ledge of the balcony. Shrieking like a mad man, I ran down stairs, waking up my other colleagues and the guesthouse caretaker. Like an idiot, I blurted out “monkeys, kitchen” before the caretaker understood and asked his helpers to get bamboo sticks.

Ultimately all of us carrying bamboo sticks and making a racket managed to scare off the monkeys. A decision was also made to keep some food on a daily basis for these rascals to prevent them from becoming too hungry and having a repeat incident.

What still amazes me – and I can’t get the picture out of my head – is the way Henry went about his business of preparing breakfast for himself and his friends, his grasp of how to apply jam on a bread slice, his knowledge of what was a loaf of bread, a bottle of jam and a bottle of ketchup and the function of a spoon. But what I remember most were his social graces – feeding his friends before he fed himself.

I don’t know what became of Henry and his friends – a monkey’s lifespan is usually two decades and it’s nearing that much time since the incident occurred – but it was something of a surreal experience to see that level of intelligence in a primate straight from the wild.

Of course Henry and I never became friends – I mean, he did ruin my breakfast. That’s unforgivable.

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R.I.P. Falak

On Jan 29, I wrote a post titled Picking up the pieces – about the infant Falak who was battered beyond recognition. Last night she passed away, ending her struggle to live. Rest in peace dear – like I said, you may be much better off out of this world than in it though one wishes you could have departed under much more peaceful circumstances.

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