Who am I?

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I am not religious, but I don't mind calling myself spiritual. Religion, I believe, has, over the millennia, been used as a prop to perpetrate a lot of human suffering. Faith is what matters. I don't believe in the definition of God as a creator. According to me, my God resides within me. Some call it conscience, some call it the sub-conscious, some call it the soul. I don't mind calling it God. So by definition I am not an atheist or an agnostic, but by essence, I may as well be. My God does not reside in a temple, church, mosque or gurudwara. It is right here, within me.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Crooked Nose

Had I not looked straight into the depths of his eyes, or not made the loud pounding of my heart visible on my face, or looked right through him as if he did not exist, he would not have hit me with the bullet that ultimately sealed my fate. He was a tall guy, one who is so conspicuous that one has to notice him, even when one does not want to. He implicitly imposes authority, his physical stature mandates it. The way he walks speaks about his personality borders on aplomb, but as he walks closer, it suddenly falls short and stumbles into the black abyss of abomination. It is something in his face that does it. For thousand bucks, I cannot point at a feature on his face and tell you what is in it that causes so much revulsion to every self-respecting human being. One is tempted to believe that it is his eyes. But it cannot be. His eyes are cold as stone and not even deceit stands a chance to spawn in there. No, it is not his eyes. Is it his jaw line – the carved line that cuts a perfectly sharp angle, like the antediluvian man that a 3rd grade child would draw in his sketch book? But the jaw line also gives away a certain ruggedness that is associated with every third person in the street. No, even that did not set him apart at the top of the pedestal of hatred. I will tell you what it is. It is his nose. The crookedness of it is hidden behind a certain swell of the tip, swollen like a balloon full of water. The crooked nose smiles vengefully behind the comfortable curtain of the swell, which makes the hatred apparent but the reason for that hatred is hidden behind this deception played out by his nose. 

The moment I saw him, I knew I was done for. This was the precise reason I could not figure out a way to run away from there. Hell, I could not even grab at my otherwise sharp instincts that alarm me when something’s amiss. The moment that I saw him hit me with such forceful fury that I was left groping in the dark for a certain sense of clarity, for my self-respect which had ditched me right at that moment, and for my self-preservation skills as I call them, those that had saved me countless times before. 

I wasn’t a bad guy. The way I justify it is that I kill people for a living, that’s it. Everyone has a piss in his life. Mine’s this, right in front of you. I kill people. I do not like doing that. Do you like being a banker? Do you like being the insurance agent who no one likes and who ends up alone, like a dog that squats in the shadows, so that his own species don’t see him and spare him the spite? Even I do not like doing it. But I am who I am, and I do what I do. I have certain skills which I leverage to make the most of this short life. My self-preservation skills have saved me from the narrowest of alleys and stupidest of murders, but this time was different. As soon as I saw the inspector walking towards me, I knew my end was nigh. And I gave up, because I started breathing heavily, and I like to believe that my pupils also dilated, so shaken up was I on seeing him. I had heard stories about him, but a thousand words could not have the effect that one close look had on me. I was already enslaved by his nose, that crookedly deceptive nose. I could make it out only when my mind reached that abyss where the aplomb turned to abomination. But he knew it all along. I could see it. He had his finger on the trigger. All that he had to do was to pull it and the work was done. All my motives, ambition and confidence had taken flight long ago (or so long ago it seemed). I was paralyzed by anger, if you have ever had that feeling. I looked into his eyes. And into the black bottomless abyss that stared at me. That was it. I closed my eyes and breathed a deep, soothing breath. The crooked nose had done its trick.

Monday, September 3, 2012

A Day of 'Umang'

Most of us live our lives cautiously. Self-preservation applies not only for our physical selves, it is equally true for our conscience, heart, soul, or whatever we may call it. We tread the conventional path for the fear that we may get lost in the woods of the unknown. We dread the moments which make us uncomfortable, those which we have never experienced before. Even though we might hold high the ideal that we grow the most from our new experiences, when the moment arrives we unconsciously try to make excuses – we develop body aches, we fall ill, our heads start to pain – everything imaginable. I did not make an excuse. But I was jumpy, I was curious and I did not know what to expect. I have never spent a lot of time with kids, apart from at Prerna where we go to teach rural kids. But that too was not for a long duration. This was a whole day. And these kids did not have parents – either they had passed away when the children were quite young, or, unable to bear the financial burden of yet another kid, they had abandoned them. Either case, they had not known their parents. I knew I was doing something very special, and even before I began my day, I knew it was going to be the most special 15th August that I have ever experienced. 

Social Entrepreneurship and Consulting Cell (SECC) of Symbiosis Institute of Business Management (SIBM) Pune has time and again given me an opportunity to put a stamp of meaningfulness on my existence. This was another such special opportunity, right at my doorstep, yet again. We at SECC were organizing Umang, an Independence Day event where we planned to invite 25 children from an orphanage in Dapodi near Pune, and spend the entire day with them, starting from a performance by them at the Independence Day function held at our Lavale campus, to food and interactive indoor as well as outdoor games, and ending with an animated movie in the Convention Centre. Every one of us at SECC was excited about the initiative and instinctively knew that it was going to be something special. 

I woke up quite late at 7:30 am. The function was supposed to begin at 8:15 am sharp. So I hurriedly took a bath and got ready. Adding to my bewilderment, I could not see a soul on my way to the function. I dreaded that this could only mean that either the function had not begun at all, or it was already over. But as I approached the flag hoisting area (of all the things you will miss in our campus, walking is not one of them), I could hear an intermittently thunderous sound. At the clearance, as I began to see the huge number of people gathered for the function, I was stupefied. Having missed last year’s Independence Day function, I had no clue the gathering is this huge. Students from a variety of colleges under the Symbiosis umbrella seemed to be present there. I quietly slid next to the team, the volunteers, and the kids. Now everyone knew I was quite late. 

But I had not missed the beginning of the event. A group of dhol wallahs were wearing white clothes, with a yellow turban, and were beating dhols with absolute gusto! It was mesmerizing, and their energy was contagious. It was followed by a short speech from the Vice Chancellor of the Symbiosis International University, and a few performances by some professors. Then the whole SECC team was called upon by the SIBM Pune director, Dr Vivek Sane, and we, along with the kids went towards the stage. Some of the kids had prepared a dance performance for the occasion, and we were anxious and looking forward to their performance. But as soon as their performance began, we knew it was special. The shortest and the tallest of the 20 kids who had finally come were present in the group of eight that was performing. Their dance brought out huge cheers from the crowd, and everyone loved their performance. The passion and enterprise that clearly came across impressed one and all. Needless to say, we were proud of them. 

After their performance, but before the function ended, we took them towards the mess for breakfast, as the weather surprised us and the sky was clear which made it hot enough so that it was difficult to sit in the sun for long periods and some of the kids were getting uneasy. A special breakfast was arranged by the campus authorities for the day. We prepared plates for the kids and it was a pleasure serving them. What surprised us was to see how well behaved the kids were. Each one of them waited for the food plates to arrive for everyone (we were able to fill the plates only one by one), and then, before beginning their breakfast, they said a thank you prayer out loud. We looked at each other with impressed looks. Not just this, but they had the courtesy to say ‘thank you’ when we served them the plates. Most of them seemed demure in their behaviour and for the moment, we could not locate the loudmouths or the bullies that one can expect in a group of children with varied ages.

After the breakfast, we took them to the Recreation Centre, where we played games like Dog & the Bone and Musical Chairs and danced with the kids. The smaller ones came up to us and asked us to hold them from under their arms and swing them in circles. It was fun, but one had to spin another kid in the opposite direction so as not to feel nauseous. After this we took them to our huge badminton court where we played Dodge Ball with them – the kids formed a circle and we, standing in the middle, had to dodge the footballs hurled at us by them. It was a delight to watch the kids in pure rapture, while some drifted away to other corners of the court to explore unchartered territory and satiate their curiosity. This was followed by a session at the basketball court, where one of our team members picked them up one by one, held them high in front of the basket and they had to score. 

While this was happening, I saw a small kid lurking on the periphery of the court, dawdling among the bushes, playing with small flowers that were strewn all over. I asked him his name. He promptly answered “Kailash Parvat Thanda Tel” (Kailash Parvat Cooling Oil). But, he said, other children call him “bhaiya”. Even though he may be younger than most of them, they called him so, for reasons unknown. Kailash’s stand was vindicated when another kid approached us and called him “bhaiya”. Kailash started talking in a drawl, with head movements towards the sides, typical of a kid his age. He told me that he joined the Saraswati Ashram over a year back. I silently wondered where he was before that. Initially, he did not like the place as it was new. But slowly he started knowing the fellow kids and now he liked it there. Our conversation was broken when I saw that we were taking the kids to the mess area as it was time for lunch. 

The kids could not have a heavy lunch, as most of them had stuffed themselves during the breakfast. After the lunch, we took them towards the Convention Centre where we had planned the screening of the dubbed version of The Lion King for the kids. By now, we were joined by a lot of volunteers from the first year, and some of them brought chocolates for the kids. We were floored when, as the movie started, a kid came up to us with a packet full of empty wrappers. He was apparently collecting wrappers from everyone who had had sweets so that we don’t strew them on the floor in the Convention Centre. Such good manners are hardly seen among us adults today. And these kids were, time and again, proving the quality of their upbringing. Before the movie began, we sang a few songs on the guitar. A moment of painful irony presented itself when we, for a lack of choice, started strumming Papa Kehte Hain. We figured it is a song that everyone would have heard. But Chinmay stopped the strumming as soon as he started it, as we realized the cruelty that presents itself in the song. We pretended as if nothing had happened and proceeded to another song, but in our hearts, each one of us felt the searing pain. 

After the movie, which everyone seemed to have enjoyed, we took them for a round of the campus. They went wild over the soft green grass at the helipad and jumped and somersaulted like crazy. We also sprawled on the grass and took in the essence of the moment. From there, we went back to the convention centre where we danced and sang. It was a beautiful moment and it was a treat to watch everyone, the children as well as the volunteers, in a moment of such utter delight. 

We keep saying that the world has become fast-paced, and that people have become selfish and don’t have time for each other. This myth was up in smoke in no time, when we saw how everyone from our college was chipping in in their own special way. The ones who were comfortable being with the kids danced and sang with them. The shy ones came and helped in any way they could. Some distributed sweets. Some brought a cake for the kids. We even saw a few students from other colleges contributing in their own way. It is times like these which bolster my faith in the goodness of humanity.   

Also, there was a sense of protectiveness among the bigger kids towards the smaller ones which is not seen anywhere among unrelated children. Like I said, no one seemed to be the bully of the group, and the elder ones held hands of the younger ones and guided them. This sense of camaraderie is something that we found missing in the rural children of Nande, who we go to teach weekly as a part of Prerna. It is debatable if the social structures of family and relatives and neighbours is not the strength of a well-groomed character. Rather, it is the values that the child imbibes through learning, and even without parents, a loving caretaker can make wonderful people out of small kids. This, among many others, was a learning I went away with on one of the most special days of my life.