The Rainbow

Rainbow over coastline, Haena Beach, Kauai, Hawaii, U.S.

Chasing his corporate dream Nishant had literally been living out of a suitcase for the last couple of years. His air miles had kept pace with his rise in the company but now it had started to take a toll on him. He remembered the day when he was straight out of college and had gone to see off his uncle at Bangalore’s old  airport. Watching the plane take off  he had thought “Will I ever be able to fly and see the world?” His wish was granted and how.

Nishant traveled constantly, like a zombie on auto pilot, he got a signal for another meeting from his secretary and started from point A to point B whether it was Paris or Portland it did not matter. At home, his wife and 4 year old daughter had given up on him, getting used to living life in his absence. They had created a world of their own and Nishant was not sure if he was part of it or not.

Today, Nishant was flying from Bangalore to Chicago on Lufthansa which was his company’s preferred Airline partner. He entered the airport and encountered a familiar scene. All around him was a maze of people – Techies, corporate executives, family’s going back after vacation, old folks on wheel chairs travelling all the way to show themselves to their grandkids. He was so used to it that from the look on their face and the way they dressed he could tell who was a first time traveller or a typical IT guy going onsite or a business man raring to get that big dollar deal. But what he always found amusing was that people wore overcoats meant for freezing temperatures from Bangalore itself! His wife had told him that her friends did it so they could save space in their suitcase. Thinking of his wife he recalled how things had changed between them over time. In the beginning Aditi used to pack his bags and his daughter would make “come back soon” cards for him with her crayons. Both of them always came down to see him off and waived till they lost sight of him. Now he woke up by the alarm on his cell phone, got ready and left his home quietly so he does not disturb anyone. They slept in separate rooms for this reason or that’s what they told each other. The truth that both of them knew was that they had lost that loving feeling.

The Luftahansa counter was at the far end and he waded through the commotion to reach the comfort zone of his business class check in counter. It was another thing that  Nishant knew that the welcoming smiles were as fake as his own. Battling sleep the only thing he was looking forward to were shots of Talisker to help put him to slumber.

Just then something caught his eye.

The frilled white top and faded jeans stood out amongst the black and grey formals. Curious, he changed his posture to have a closer look. His guess was right. She was a young girl in her early twenties. Even he was not that old Nishant thought. Just 34 – and a young achiever! He smiled at himself and thought – old habits die hard. To avoid getting distracted he started to look at the billboards around on the walls of the terminal building. Most were bright and beautiful with a promise of a happy family life. Nishant resolved he would not look at the girl again.

But the more we try to get away from something, the more it charms us towards itself. Nishant found himself stealing glances overlooking how indecent it would seem if someone finds out. She was at the counter now and the clerk was issuing her boarding pass.”Chalo it is over….you go your way baby I go mine” Nishant mused as he pulled out his passport from his laptop case.

At the lounge he gulped a few drinks and sat down to read as there was still time. He loved reading. It offered a journey into another world, a world he had always longed for but had never found. A world of stories,of characters,of far off places in mountains or next to the beaches. He had picked up a book of stories by Premchand from the Airport book shop . Nishant loved Premchand from the time he was a student. To him, Premchand knew the human condition like no one else. His stories though set in rural India had emotions and relationships so well thought out that one could relate to them no matter where they came from and who they were. His characters were so real that one felt as if they had met this person sometime. If he didn’t fall asleep, he planned to finish the book by the time he reached US.

The mechanical voice of the lounge executive announced that the Flight to Frankfurt was ready for boarding. Nishant grabbed his laptop case and started walking towards the gate. It was 1:45 am already and He was looking forward to a good sleep. “Guten Abend” he said to the hostess and took the left turn towards business class seating. Dumping his belongings in the hatchet above he ensconced himself in seat 2 C and asked the stewardess for a glass of water. The whiskey had made his throat dry and to avoid jet lag he wanted to make sure was hydrated. He took out his book from the laptop case and put in the pocket in front of his seat.

Nishant took off his shoes and pulled back his seat to relax. It would take a while for the plane to be airborne so he thought of finishing the story he was reading in the lounge. As he moved forward to take out the book, he was distracted by a sweet fragrance. He looked up and could not believe his eyes.

It was her – the girl whom he had seen at the check in counter!

Nishant had a strange feeling. He didn’t know how to react or if he should react at all? He hoped his eagerness did not show up on his face. Nishant realized that the girl was not only beautiful but there was something that was pulling him to her – like a magnet. Her big brown eyes, her long straight hair, her flawless complexion somewhere on the darker side and her figure that made her absolutely desirable. Attraction is not about someone being perfect – it’s about someone being just right for you. Each of us has an idea of beauty, almost like a frame waiting for that perfect picture. Only if you are lucky you come across a face which so exquisitely matches your imagination. A whole lifetime can pass before such a miracle happens and sometimes even that is not enough. Nishant was witnessing one such miracle.

She was on seat 2 D.

Nishant requested for another glass as he gulped the one brought by the hostess. Soon the plane took off changed its course to move northwest. Nishant wanted to roll up his sleeves but he felt as if his every move was under a scanner. He remembered he had felt the same when he had fallen in love the first time. “Take out your Premchand and read. A book in Hindi won’t spoil your impression” He chided himself but his hands did not follow his brain. He closed his eyes and sat quietly. Half an hour had passed and he could no longer pretend to be asleep. He opened his eyes and found that she was reading the In-flight magazine. By her watch it was 2:30 AM. Her hair was falling over her hands tempting Nishant to touch her but he figured out that she was a bit afar. “Damn business class ! Why do they have the seats so far from each other?” he thought and pulled away instead. He tried to sleep but it won’t come. Normally, he would have been dreaming by now. But his dream was sitting next to him so how could he sleep.

To end the dilemma he pressed the button and called the hostess. “Do you have Lemon tea?” he asked.

“Yes Sir, we do have.Do you care to have one sir?”

“Yes please, and please get sugar separately” Nishant cursed himself for not remembering that they always did. This was the business class of a premier airline not the student canteen of Lucknow University.

“Lemon tea and low sugar. You are such a fraud!” his inner voice mocked him.

“OK – I do like Red Label boiled 5 times with 3 spoons of sugar because it keeps me alert. I wish to sleep now and Lemon tea will help ” Nishant argued.

A fresh thought came to his mind. One should always try and make friends with fellow passengers and how can you do that unless you start a conversation. Nishant mused and opened his eyes to look over his shoulder. She was asleep. The magazine was lying flat on her chest. Did he expect that she would be awake and looking for someone to talk to at 3:30 in the morning?” Nishant realized his stupidity but felt relieved as he won’t have to put up the show anymore. He felt at peace with himself. Finally, alcohol did the job and he drifted off to sleep.

When he woke up it was 9:30 by his watch. He never set his watch to foreign time zones, it made him feel connected to his home. He wanted to stretch but he didn’t. She was still sleeping and he did not want to wake her up. Also, this way he could look at her without getting noticed. Soon the plane would land and he would never see her again. Why didn’t he talk to her? He could have at least asked what she did or where was she going? What was her name? Who knows they could have become friends. The plane started its descent into Frankfurt. As the moment of truth approached his heart began to sink.

At about 10:00 AM the plane landed at Frankfurt airport. It was cloudy and it looked like it had rained earlier through the night. Everything was clean and fresh. The plane began to taxi.

Nishant felt as if someone was looking at him. He turned around and saw that she was eyeing him. She smiled. He smiled back.

“Can I show you something?” She said.

Nishant was out of his wits. “Ya sure” He nodded.

“What a beautiful rainbow” She said pointing out of the window.

Nishant bent a little towards her to get a clearer view. He could smell her. It was Davidoff Cool Water.

“Actually, I wanted to speak to you the whole night” she said as Nishant pulled himself back.

“I saw Premchand’s book in your seat pocket. It’s quite rare to get people who love Hindi literature in Bangalore. From my school days I really like his work. His characters are so real and his grip on human emotions is better than any other writer. A true master he is” She added.

Nishant didn’t know what to say and blurted taking the book out of the seat pocket      “You mean this book?” She nodded with a twinkle in her eyes.

“But you looked so serious and busy with yourself. I just didn’t want to disturb. In fact, if you would not have smiled back I would not have had the courage to show you the Rainbow”.

They had a few minutes to chat and she told that she was on her way to Los Angeles. She had won a scholarship to pursue a degree in management and as a special gift her father had bought her business class tickets. Nishant introduced himself and she said she would want to become like him one day.

They went together to Baggage claim area and bid good bye. Nishant turned away to catch his next flight to Chicago. He could see her going up the escalator. Her words were still echoing in his ears:

“If you had not smiled back, I would not have had the courage to show you the Rainbow.”

 

बनियान


आज सुबह देखा

तो एक गठ्ठर पड़ा था 

कपड़ों का बेड पर

शायद फोल्ड होने के लिए

रखा था दोपहर तक

जब काम कुछ हल्का हो जाता है

घर में 

कपड़ों में बनियानें थीं

मेरी और मेरे बेटे की

जो अब कुछ कुछ

बराबर हो चुकी हैं

साइज़ मे

ज़रा गौर किया तो देखता हूँ

की छोटी वाली चमक रही हैं

एकदम बढ़िया क़्वालिटी 

और किसी में कोई छेद नहीं है

बड़ी वाली बनियानें 

मटमैली सी थीं

पतले कपड़े की सस्ती वाली

अरे अंदर ही तो पहनना है 

वाली मिडिल क्लास मेन्टेलिटी

का बोध कराती हुई 

कुछ में छेद भी थे 

वो अभी इतने बड़े नहीं हुए थे 

कि सौ रुपया खर्च किया जाए

और फिर हवा भी तो आती है

ताज़ा ताज़ा 

पर मैं सोचने लगा की ये फर्क क्यों ?

तब याद आया 

कि बेटे की मां उसके लिए

लाती है बनियान 

और मैं खुद अपने लिए खरीदता हूँ

पापा भी तो यही करते थे..

– आहँग 

Pedro

It was my second day in Lisbon. I had to be back for some urgent work and it was such a shame. I had always wanted to visit Portugal and the reason was not exactly tourism. Vasco de Gama with his curious name and all the tales of his exploration was an object of fascination during my school days. I had always wondered why would someone risk their life and steer into the unknown for the sake gathering riches. It had to be something bigger an adventurous spirit, a wanderers curse, destiny or who knows even Gods own will. I had always imagined Portuguese as industrious folks who were willing to cross the mighty oceans on ships they built with their toil, their grit and with their bare hands. This myth was broken when I visited Goa I found the people there quite chilled and laid back – they won’t even go to Panjim from Palolem unless they were pushed into it. Perhaps all the riches that De Gama hoarded had made them lazy. The question that how on earth did Vasco De Gama brave the mighty oceans in his quest for making a fortune remained and may be the answers that I was looking for in Goa were waiting for me in Lisbon. It was some five hundred years ago but I could still get some clue if not through human endeavor then by divine intervention.
I was packing my stuff when the phone rang. It was Anant, my 12 year old son.
“Hi Dad”
“Hey buddy. How are you doing? Tell me what you want.”
“That’s not fair. I was missing you.”
“C’mon out with it. Are you done with your football and friends? Dad I was missing you.”I mocked.
“OK listen. You know there is a football final today between Portugal and France. How about getting me a Ronaldinho jersey from there? It will be so cool.”
“See I told you it had to be some gift for you. I will get it but remember the last time I got you a Manchester United one it cost me a bomb.”
“C’mon Dad it was a fake. You know it”
“No it wasn’t a fake. It was of dubious origin that’s all. You want the jersey or not”
“Ok whatever. Just get something that looks original. I don’t want my friends to think that you are a cheapo”
“Let me come back and I will tell you what a cheapo is. Bye” Both of us laughed and I kept the phone down.
I changed into Jeans and a linen shirt and carelessly stashed away my suit into the suitcase. I had hardly anything to pack so I was in the lobby for the check out. The clerk at the counter was a lively good looking girl, possibly in her 20’s. She had big bright yes and long black hair which she had streaked with shades of light gold. I thought she would have easily passed off as an Indian if you saw her somewhere in Mumbai or Delhi. I gave my credit card and room keys and checked if there were any cabs available for a drop to the airport. The Oitavos resort was in Cascai just outside Lisbon and was located in a somewhat secluded spot next to the beach.
She asked me “What time is your flight?”
“It’s at 9 in the evening”
“But then isn’t it too early? It’s just 2 in the afternoon now. What will you do at the airport?” She said smiling.
“Good Question” I said wanting to match her friendliness.
“May I suggest something if you don’t mind?” She said.
“Ya sure.I am always open to ideas especially when they come from pretty ladies” I said trying to flirt.
She had finished the checkout process by now and handed over my card and invoice to me with a mischievous grin on her face.
“Well, have you been to Lisbon before?” I said no and added that having to go back without seeing the city was such a disappointment.
“Let me check if I can arrange something for you. I will try if the same cab which drops you to the airport can give you a short city tour. Hope you don’t mind paying a bit extra as it will not be a regular airport cab”
“I am fine as long as I have enough money to go back to India. I trust you”
She made a few calls after that. It seemed to me that she was not able to get the right deal. I didn’t mind it at all as I was in no hurry. It was a pleasure watching her make an animated conversation in Portuguese, negotiating on my behalf. As a man you never want to let go of a legitimate reason to stare at a beautiful sight so I started enjoying my few minutes of ignoble behavior. Finally she kept the phone down and addressed me” Your cab will be here in the next one hour or before that. It’s not an airport cab but a Private city Taxi.”
“Thank you so much. By the way does the driver speak in English?” I asked. She gave me a are-you-crazy look and confirmed “Of course, Yes. Your driver will also be your guide”. “I am sorry Miss.” I said and smiled back telling her to let me once the car is there. Meanwhile I will grab a quick lunch at the restaurant, I thought. All I could eat was boiled Potato and Rice so it had to be quick anyways.
After about 45 minutes the bell boy came to me. I was catching up on social media making use of the free wi-fi in the hotel. He said the Cab has arrived so I put my laptop in the bag and walked out after him.
“This is your cab Sir and he is your driver” the bell boy said gesturing towards a decade old Mercedes Benz which was an old but in good condition. The driver jumped out of the car. He was a bulky man, not fat but over weight just like me. He would have been in his early 50’s and with his gold framed specs and grey hair looked more like a University professor than a cab driver. He was immaculately dressed for a cabbie – wearing a dark grey trouser and a crisp white shirt. Wrinkles were beginning to show on his white skin and they got highlighted when he gave a wide grin before introducing himself ” Hello Sir. I am Pedro. Your driver for today” Instinctively I held out my hand for a handshake and he grabbed it with both his hands shaking it vigorously, the smile on his face and the sparkle in his eyes made the welcome genuine and heartfelt. I had a feeling that we will have a good time togeher.
As the Merc swivelled around the corner of the street and came on the main road the vast blue ocean next to the road greeted us. It was a gorgeous sight. Having arrived at night I was half asleep when I came in so I had no idea about the road being next to the sea. Sensing my excitement, Pedro switched his role to a tourist guide ” Sir, we are in Cascais which is like a town outside Lisbon. I will be taking the longer route as it is more scenic and you can see a few things on the way. This road we are on will run next to the sea right up to Lisbon which is about 20 Km or half an hour away. Do you wish to see anything special? “He had turned back slightly to address me. “Honestly I don’t know much and I am not sure what I would like to see but if possible I would like to see the tomb of Vasco d’ Gama.”
I told him.
” Sure we will go to see the tomb of Vasco D’Gama. You are from India. Right?
“Yes I am. And have always been fascinated about this great explorer. We were taught about him in our school books. I think he was an amazingly brave man to have dared to cross the ocean to explore an unknown land. And that too with such basic equipment hundreds of years ago”
“You are right.Da Gama led two of the Portuguese armadas to India, the first and the fourth. The latter was the largest and departed for India four years after his return from the first one. Vasco da Gama remains a leading figure in the history of Portuguese exploration. You would not know that the Portuguese national epic, Os Lusiadas, was written in his honor. Because of him for a 100 years Portugal had supremacy over the sea route from the African Cape. The English, French and the Dutch could catch up much later. If you ask me Sir, Vasco D Gama is considered our national hero. Never has Portugal been at the top of world economy as it was during D Gama’s time. It’s said that in his first voyage he got back with riches that amounted to 60 times the cost of the voyage. Can you imagine that?”
“Wow Pedro. You know so much. I rightly thought that you were a professor when I saw you the first time” I joked.
Pedro seemed a bit embarrassed” It’s nothing like that. Actually, I wanted to study world history when I was young but I had to leave my studies at 18 after my father passed away. Being the eldest I had to take care of the family. Sir, with such a great history, I feel sad that Portugal is a very small country today which no one cares about. If we did not have a bit of Textiles and Tourism we would have perished.I feel bad about it”.
“Coming from India, I totally understand how you feel. Ours too is a great country but it does not have its rightful place in the world thanks to our politicians and corrupt officials. But Yes there is hope and thing seem to be changing for better.”
I tried to offer some consolation.
“It’s different for India. You have a big population and lot of Industry. Portugal is very small, we struggle for our identity now. By God’s grace we have reached the football finals and today is the big match. If Portugal wins at least we can create an impact in the world news. It will really be a moment of glory for my people. This match is like everything to us today”.
I was pleasantly surprised by the sense of national pride and glory in someone who drove a cab for a living.
“I will pray that Portugal wins.” I said.
“Amen. That’s so kind of you” Pedro seemed to be relived and back in his spirits now.
The drive from Cascais to Lisbon was beautiful. The road meandered parallel to the sea on one side and the houses and streets on the other. The similarity to Goan architecture was striking in many of the buildings. Lisbon was full of tourists and looking at them Pedro suggested:
“Sir, I think you must come to Lisbon next time with your family”
“Yes, even I was thinking about it. There are so many people here and they seem to be having a good time”
“Actually, Lisbon is much cheaper than other European destinations and one could enjoy a lot for less money. It’s a different thing that we Portuguese revel in sadness” Pedro said rather thoughtfully.
“How do you mean? Revel in sadness?”
“It’s kind of difficult to understand for outsiders. We actually have a word for this joyful sadness. It’s called Saudade. No other language has a word quite like this so I can’t even translate it for you.”
“I know what you mean. In Goa they have a word similar to this. It’s called Susagade and means chill out. You guys have a way of coming up with unique words” I said smiling.
“Saudade is a longing, an ache for a person or place or experience that once brought great pleasure. It is akin to nostalgia but, unlike nostalgia, one can feel saudade for something that’s never happened, and likely never will. At the heart of saudade lies a laid back sense of absence, of loss.I think our country has become a good example for it.” Pedro mocked.
As we entered the city our first stop was The Belem Tower. Pedro told me that it was built in 1500 as a fortress to guard the entrance to Lisbon’s harbor, the Belem Tower was the starting point for the voyages of discovery, and for the sailors it was the last sight of their homeland. It is a monument to Portugal’s age of adventure. Pedro was very considerate and dropped me at a point where I have to walk the least. What surprised me was that as soon as he parked the card he jumped out of it and came back to open the door for me. This was something totally unexpected. I was reminded of the Taxi drivers of New York and the cabbies of London who would throw you out if you wasted a minute! I got down and spent some time looking at the monument imagining the ships sailing out, the sailors praying to Our Lady of safe home coming and that how a sailor would have felt going out into the unknown some 500 years ago. I took off my shoes and let the Ocean wash my feet. I had a strange feeling that the same water stretched out to Calicut where D Gama and his crew landed . There were some small shops selling knick knacks. Among them was an old lady selling mulled wine in cups. I bought one and sipped it on my way back to the car. By this time Pedro had already parked at a different spot so it was easy for us to get out of the place. We didn’t have much time and this little gesture saved us a few precious minutes.
“So what next Mr. Pedro?”
“We will now go to Jeronimos Monastery. It is a symbol of Portugal’s power and wealth during the age of Discovery.Vasco da Gama and his crew spent their last night in Portugal in prayer before leaving for India. It was built to commemorate Vasco Da Gama’s voyage and to give thanks to the Virgin Mary for its success. Vasco da Gama’s tomb is placed inside by the entrance, as is the tomb of poet Luis de Camões, author of the epic The Lusiads in which he glorifies the triumphs of Da Gama and his compatriots. I think you will really like it.”
Pedro drove quickly but with precision as if he knew the angle of each bend of the road, even the pace of traffic as it approached us. He was deftly quick but unhurried. Pedro had told me that he has been driving on Lisbon streets for past 20 years. I could see that in his driving.
The monastery was really quite impressive. After seeing the tomb of Vasco D Gama I took a short tour of the place to get a glimpse of its superb architecture.
The cloisters were magnificent, each column minutely carved with coils of rope, sea monsters, coral, and other sea motifs bringing the spirit of sea adventures to life. There was also the entrance to the former refectory that had beautifully reticulated vaulting and tile decoration on the walls depicting the story of Joseph. The church interior was spread out with octagonal piers richly decorated with statuettes,outside was a garden consisting of hedges cut in the shape of various municipal coats of arms of Portugal.
I had taken enough pictures to boast of my audience with the great Vasco Da Gama who changed the history of the world through his spirit of adventure. I came out and could not see Pedro. The parking space was a bit far so I had taken Pedro’s phone number. As the phone began to ring I saw Pedro approaching and waiving his hand so I could spot him. Once again he stopped and jumped out of car to open the door for me. I told him it was absolutely not required. He said it was his duty to make sure his guest is comfortable. I knew He was not going to give up easily.
“Are you hungry Sir. We have the famous pastry shop Pastéis de Belém close by. It is not to be missed when you are in Lisbon”. Pedro asked me.
With all the walking around I had built up an appetite and we decided to make Pastéis de Belém our next stop. It was a typical pastry shop in the city center. I was intimidated by the que in front of it but Pedro who had walked after me sensed my apprehension. “It won’t take long. They are very fast. Most people go for their famous egg Tarts and coffee for the take away. The seating place is inside where they spend more time and even the service is a bit leisurely.”
He was right. Our turn came in not more than five minutes. The que was well organized and was being served by several counters inside the shop. The counter clerks as well as the customers knew exactly what they weredoing and everything moved with clock-work precision. I bought two servings of egg tart and coffee, one for me and one for Pedro. We took our packets of food in one hand and coffee in the other and walked back towards the parking lot. The tarts were Oven fresh and made a great combination with coffee. I checked with Pedro about his family and told him about mine. We chit chatted about how different yet similar it is to grow up in Bangalore and Lisbon. The more I talked with Pedro the more I appreciated his knowledge of various subjects, his clarity of thought and his polite manner of putting his view point across. When we saw the statue of General Albuquerque, for example, at the Central Square, Pedro was quick to add after his description of the great conqueror that coming from India I may have a different view. Had he not been forced to discontinue his education he would have made a great teacher. Life had dealt him a bad hand and here he was trying to make the best of it.
We were ready to go once more and Pedro informed me that he will now take me to the Alfama neighborhood which represented the oldest part of Lisbon. We will be driving through to the highest point in the city and would start heading towards the airport on our way down.
“Pedro I need to buy a football jersey for my son. He is a big fan of Ronaldinho and will be supporting your team today”
“Really Sir ! I thought that France was the favorite team.”
“No he is supporting Portugal as I am travelling to Lisbon. He supports Manchester United otherwise.”
“Isn’t it amazing how sports unites and also divides us at the same time?”
“Ha ha you should have been a philosopher too. But I think sports unites us more than it divides us because one sports man knows how hard he has to work to reach the top. He respects his opponent and knows that either of them could win. Can we say the same thing for politics?”
“Just before we enter Alfama there is a showroom of Adidas. We can stop there and buy the jersey.”
“No I don’t want to spend a fortune. My champ won’t bother about them once the world cup is over.”
“Ok then I know where we will get a copy. Do you know I was born here?”.
“Oh that’s great. Let’s start our age of discovery then”
The Alfama neighbourhood was quite a step back in time. A village within a city, it comprised narrow streets, tiny squares, churches, and whitewashed houses with tile panels and wrought-iron balconies adorned with pots of flowers, drying laundry, and caged birds. Pedro drove through the zig zag alley ways like a true local. I imagined him playing in these streets as a kid, hanging out with his friends as a teenager, cycling up and down the slopes with little care in the world. Pedro took me to the shop which was on the way but tucked away a little in one of the narrow alleys. He said it belonged to his childhood friend. The shop had a variety of T shirts in all shapes and sizes. They were also selling ceramic wares along with some other curios, gifts and keepsakes. The shopkeeper was very polite and gave me a good discount on the shelf price. Having got the jersey We drove up to the highest point in the city. But time when the car stopped I jumped out and pretended to open the door for Pedro. He laughed and said “I like doing that. It’s my duty” I said “No its not. And even if you think it is I am not used to such majestic treatment. Just like you I am a working man who deserves no special treatment” Pedro smiled back at me and we started walking up to the view point. There were a number of tourists but the place was not crowded. There was enough place for us to stand and have an uninterrupted view of Lisbon city. The red roofed building many of them with painted domes looked magical in the setting Sun. At a distant I could see the ships sailing by in the Ocean and the Tagus river. It was quite windy and a TV crew was struggling to set up their shot. It was amusing to see how they moved their equipment from one spot to the other to avoid the gust. I asked Pedro to click a few pictures of me. He turned out to be a great photographer and I had several perfect shots of myself with Lisbon in the background. I asked Pedro for a picture together to which he readily obliged. We stood behind the iron grill with padlocks for some time just absorbing the serenity of the moment. There is something about the time when the sun is just about to come up and when it is just about to go down – time just seems to stop as night hands over the baton of creation to day and vice versa. It is in this change that the message of infinite continuity hides somewhere. We can hear the hum of life clearly at these times only if we are still enough in our actions, in our thoughts.
The ride to the airport was uneventful .Lisbon is a small airport and there was not much traffic on the way. Pedro was his usual courteous self and put my bag on the trolley so I can carry it without a hassle. I told him how thoroughly I had enjoyed his company and that I will always remember him when I think of this trip to Portugal. I tried to thank Pedro with a small tip but he refused saying that I was more of a friend than a customer. I couldn’t agree more and we bid farewell.
I arrived in Bangalore a little after midnight. As I pulled my bag out of the lift I heard a loud roar coming from my apartment. I was greeted by a band of boys dressed in French and Portugal T shirts. The French had just missed scoring a goal and the Portuguese supporters were ecstatic. The atmosphere in the living room was electrifying and resembled a stadium. However, I was too tired to enjoy the game and went to sleep.
I woke up next morning and life started as usual. I had to catch up on a few things, make a phone call to my parents, update my colleagues about the meeting, stack up groceries and so on. My son was still sleeping. Around noon when he finally woke up he came to me and asked
“Dad did you get my Ronaldinho Jersey?”
“Yes I did and you will be glad to know that it’s the latest design. The picture you sent me was from last year. What I have for you is the latest and the greatest. By the way who won the match – France or Portugal?” I asked.
“Portugal won the world cup by 1-0 and it was so awesome. Imagine I will wear this Ronaldinho Jersey coming straight from Portugal. I will certainly score many goals in the evening game today” His imagination was running wild.
I was reminded of Pedro and how both of us had prayed for Portugal’s win just yesterday. I checked my phone if I still had his number. It was there in the last dialed list and instinctively I pressed the call button. After a few rings a voice answered at the other end – “Hello”
I knew it was Pedro. “Hi, it’s me calling from India. Portugal won!!”
I will have to become a writer to describe the happiness in Pedro’s voice.
“Oh my dear Lord. You remembered me. I am sure it’s your prayers which have been answered. I can’t tell you how happy I am. Thank you so much”
“I wanted to share your joy. I knew how important it was for you and I did sincerely pray that this happens. I am so happy for you and your people”.
I kept the phone down and pondered for a while. Whenever I think of Portugal or football or Vasco D Gama or buying a fake football Jersey Pedro will get exhumed just like Da Gama who was originally buried at Fort Kochi.

The Veggie Seller..

Paris is an old city and when you are in the city centre everything has a sense of nostalgia. My hotel too was an old building facing an open park like area called Square d’ Anvers. It had a circular staircase made of wood that made a creaking noise with every step and the rooms were so small that they ended as soon as they started. The funniest thing was the shower enclosure in which a large guy like me had to enter in the state of ‘attention’ make a swirl without spreading my arms and pretend to come out refreshed.Then there was this awkward thing about how the French write and Pronounce so differently so I had to try every version of SquareD Anvers with the Taxi Drivers to come back to my hotel ! Surprisingly it seemed all of them had there own way of saying it and finally I Had to say ‘whatever’ just take me there.

I had been in the city for a week now and was looking forward to the first weekend having slept late as we usually always did. It was a bright Saturday morning and I was lazily lying around in my room. The weather was nice which meant you could open the classic door sized french windows without getting Frozen. When I looked outside I could see a hum drum of activity. There were lots of Vans parked outside on the road and men were busy setting up temporary stalls on the pavement of the park. It was quite similar to what we had back home as in Wednesday Bazaar Flea markets. The only difference was that it was much better organised and professional.

While the stalls were being given the final touches the vans started unloading their content and setting their house in order so they can occupy the stalls as soon as they were ready. What was interesting to note that while there was so much activity there was no noise or confusion and everyone seemed to be in a relaxed and happy mood. I guessed it was perhaps a regular feature so all of them knew exactly what they were doing or they had to do.

My curiosity grew as more and more vans downloaded their merchandise. It was amazing to see the sheer variety of goods – Bakery, vegetables, meat and Poultry, knick knacks, Herbs and spices, Dry fruits,accessories, Plants, Cut Flowers, Decorative stuff, painting replicas and so on. However, loosely the whole pavement was divided into two parts – one for Fresh produce,bakery and meat which was perhaps the largest, then for Herbs, Plants, flowers and few stalls at the end were setting up for decor and Accessories.

By this time I had started to feel a bit hungry and realized that the On the House in house breakfast served by the hotel would get over in another half an hour or so. I took a quick shower, changed my clothes and feasted my self of freshly baked croissants, fruit bread, Cheese cake and Coffee. It was the same stuff everyday but the good thing was that it was fresh ! After the breakfast I came back to my room and started doing the usual stuff to kill time – check emails, facebook updates and so on. By this time it had become quite sunny and warm so I shifted my chair along side the large window to enjoy the warmth. I noticed that the stall right in front of my window was getting ready too. There was a van parked next to the stall and they were unloading crates filled with fresh vegetables pumpkins, cauliflower, carrots, tomatoes and lots of leafy greens  the names of which I had no idea. Just then I noticed something unusual, the girl setting up the stall was not somebody you would identify with being a vegetable seller !  With her looks she was more suited to be a model donning haute couture than to be selling veggies on the street side.

I was in this semi thoughtful mood when someone knocked on the door. I was waiting for a friend who worked with me and we had planned to complete some pending stuff from work plus have lunch together at the Indian restaurant. Sunil walked in with his usually cheerful smile all excited about the day ahead. Soon we opened out our laptops and started discussing about what all we had to accomplish.But with all the activity just across the window it was kind of difficult to concentrate. Some how we worked for an hour or so before we decided that it was time for Lunch.  The restaurant Au Palais Du Grand Moghol is  conveniently located around the corner and because of the customised service it offered to us regulars it had practically become more of a ‘mess’ than a restaurant. The owner Mr Gafur, a friendly old man always offered either a starter or a dessert on the house and even made stuff that was out of the menu – I mean who could boast of having Lauki ka kofta curry and besan baadam halwa in a faraway land.

After the heavy lunch, to avoid sleep we planned for a stroll and the best thing was to explore the flea market. We started from the  corner farthest from our hotel where the clothes and trinket stalls were. It was interesting to note that a couple of stalls which were selling Euro 2 clothing had the maximum crowd – all of them women ! They were all shapes, sizes, age, economic class and all of them had a Single focus, how to get hold of the best as quickly as possible from the heap which looked no less than a treasure islanD, at least to them.I realised that when it comes to women – SALE was the biggest leveller whether you were in the city of joy or the city of fashion. Moving on there were stalls selling fresh Bakery stuff croissants, baguette breads, Pastries, muffins, tartlettes, pies and Bagels.Let me tell you that there is nothing better than freshly baked French  Goodies especially if one has a sweet tooth ! At street smart prices we certainly had more than what we should have all in the garb of just tasting. Before ending our stroll we thought it might be a good idea to check out the vegetable stall and of course the seller ! I was curious to see Sunil’s reaction to the shop owner and just as I had thought he shared my surprise and excitement. Just as girls and women have a sixth sense that tells them ‘the look’ is not right, men and boys too have a common language that allows them to sniff something that is of common interest.We casually enquired the girl about some vegetable prices and so as not to arise suspicion bought a box of plums. Who would eat all that fruit we had no idea.We were particularly amazed by the confidence with the way she transacted with a cigarette in hand, the smoke from the cigarette puffs giving her an air of confidence and authority. I think it had more to do with our conditioning about women smoking in public than anything else.It seemed everyone in Paris smoked so it wasn’t really anything special.

We came back to our room and started discussing how life was so different here vs. back home In India.With the drudgery of having to work on a weekend the conversation soon drifted to working for a corporate vs. working for your own self.To put things into perspective Sunil pointed out to the vegetable seller we had just encountered.According to him She probably grew the vegetables in a farm outside Paris or bought them from an upcountry farmers Market, drove her own little truck, setup her own stall, decided the prices of the produce, transacted business at her time and finally went home satisfied after a days hard work. Her business could be small but at the end of the day she was her own boss…and she was doing what she loved or wanted to do. I argued that though it sounded quite romantic it involved a lot of hard work and thinking, even creativity. This further led to the conversation about how a typical day would be for her. We agreed that it was a lot of hard sowing growing and harvesting or even buying out wholesale at different markets and consolidating to make up the wide variety of product mix she offered. She would have to wake up quite early and by the time she reached back  home it would be late in the evening. But then the idyllic country life was any day more rewarding and healthy than the maddening city  ( which I didn’t quite agree as we were talking about Paris). Our debate had turned into a discussion and the discussion had finally yielded to a unanimous understanding that It is best to work for your own self and there is nothing like being your own boss. The grass being always greener on the other side notwithstanding.

It was evening time and the buildings around us had transformed into something magical in the soft and warm light of the setting sun. When you see all the carvings and beautiful architecture with statuettes of Cherubs adorning he corners of edifices it seems as if they were conjured up for this very moment. We had made some tea and we hanged on our balcony stretching out of the French Window admiring the lovely Paris evening. The pavement market had started to wrap up as it was going to be 5 o clock soon.France has socialist leanings and it is quite evident in the way they work. Though the work timings are strictly followed in most of the developed world especially in Europe the French have taken it to another level which is great because as Indians we are scoffed at for our 24×7 strife. We are the only ones who promise on a friday evening to have all deliverables ready first thing Monday evening. The fact that Indians work on weekends and sleep only 4 hours on weekdays is now an accepted concept across the global business world. Anyways lets move on…

I pointed out to Sunil how well Organised were the stall owners , everything seemed to have a place and fitted into each other to get perfectly into the small truck. They also had separate cold compartment for meat and perishables. Our veggie seller had also finished Packing up and lighted up a cigarette as she leaned against the back of her truck. Once again Sunil commented about the glow of contentment and satisfaction on her face. I laughed at him saying you can cut the philosophical crap….it’s OK if you just want to look at her. I went inside the room to keep the cups and was arranging the workspace to finish off the job at hand. Just then Sunil called me out to the window. What we saw was surprising, interesting , saddening, laughable …..all at the same time !

A black Renault Fluence Concept had pulled up below our window and the enterprising veggie seller was talking to the fat middle aged lady occupant of the car. It looked like she was explaining something to her. Once the brief conversation was over she took out a bundle of currency and handed it over to woman. The women counted the money and gave back a 100 Euros which was clearly the ‘Pay’ for all the enterprising, self gratifying hard work we had been debating about.

We looked at each other and what best explained our smiles is a German term called Shadenfreude or harm – joy as they say it in English.  It simply implies the pleasure one feels by seeing others failure or misfortune.

In our case it could possibly mean arête were not the only ones !

शाश्वत के संदर्भ में…

एक रोज़

मुझे साफ साफ याद है

शाम थी, दूर का सफर था

और मै चाय के लिये

उतर गया था एक गांव के पास

एक बूढा किसान

पास के खेत में बैठा

ना जाने शितिज के पार

क्या देख रहा  था

उसके चेहरे पर कोई

भाव नहीं था और ना थे

उसके मन मे दुख सुख

लोभ,मोह,चिंता …….

कहने को तो उसके पास

कोई काम नहीं था

पर  वो इस तरह

अनंत को ताड रहा था

जैसे ये भी कोई काम हो

मेरी चाय खत्म हो गयी

और मैं  चलने लगा

तो हमारे नज़रें मिलीं

और वो मुस्कुरा दिया

जैसे कह रहा हो कि

वो वक़्त को बिता रहा था

जैसे वो चाहता था

और वक़्त मुझ पर बीत रहा था

जैसे वक़्त की मर्ज़ी थी

कर्म मे बंधन है

क्योंकि अच्छा हो या बुरा

कर्म अहं को आग देता है

वक़्त को जीत लिया था

उस बूढे सम्राट ने

जो अब घर जा रहा था कि

कल फिर नये उत्साह, नयी उमंग से

दिन भर  कुछ भी ना करे

बस घूरता  रहे  वक्त को

अनंत काल तक….

‍‍~ आहंग

What it means to be living…

I was watching a documentary on creation of synthetic life on discovery channel and at the end of the film they put a very pertinent question : from time memorial we have believed that life is something special and mysterious but if it can be created within a lab we may have to rethink our theories on existence, life, nature and God.

Sometime back I had read a book called the Web of life in which the author had pointed out that while we think of ourselves as central to the world around us , we are in fact an accident in the nature’s scheme of things. It is the atoms within us which have decided for some unknown reason to arrange themselves in a certain manner that gives us our shape, form, color, emotions,skills and intellect. If they decide to rearrange themselves in a different way there is jolly little we can do about it except get mad or sick or even perish and become non existent giving back to the elements what we took from them.To that extent our intelligence, beauty(handsomeness), morality, emotions are all governed by the arrangement of atoms and molecules within us. As we grow older this arrangement perhaps changes in more ways than one and we become different not only by getting old by by having more wisdom from the experiences stored in our data warehouse.The quality of analytics depends upon the quality of data and the richness of data points and so is the case with our mind.

Before I digress from the original thought let us turn to the interesting bit – if what is being proposed in Paragraph1 is possible even to a small degree then what I have quoted in para 2 doesn’t entirely hold true. Which is to say that if the atoms within me start arranging themselves which causes me pain from arthritis I could seek a remedy or even a cure from the artificial life cells and atoms within them. So on one side there is an attacking army which I do not own and has decided to fight against me but on the other side I have an army of my own that can be trained and programmed to do as I please,wish or command.This is different from antibiotics which are temporarily hired mercenaries who will cause more harm than good if not ousted from the system in time. And when your heart breaks you can go to the ‘love doctor’ and he will fix up the atoms so that you become completely oblivious to the person whom you once thought be the most important in life. Alcohol is currently used for this but again it has a transitory effect and is not free from side effects.

It might seem to be like a simple story of good vs. bad or love vs. hate but it is anything but that. It is really the theory of our existence and the very meaning of it. If we can always be happy and healthy then why go to the mosques, the temples and the churches ? Who will bother about God and seek his Blessing ? Death and decay cause fear and fear gives rise to ideas of another life, another time , another place that is accessible through the idea of a supreme being who created everything and can therefore control it whether it is on the earth or in heaven. Religion and morality which occupy a large share of our consciousness and mind space will be gone as now there will be no need for a means to attain bliss or God. You can see this now if you compare the importance of religion in the developed,the developing world and the tribals who have nothing to bank upon but the Sky and earth.

When You are always happy and healthy and you have what it takes to enjoy life to the fullest. Feeling stupid get your brain scanned and go for some Brainy cells, Feeling weak go and get some Sporty cells, Got a disease get it flushed and replace the diseased cells with good ones and so on.

But one problem will still remain – if no one dies then where will all of us live. And if we stop reproducing where will the newness in our lives come from ? and even if we suppose that we will keep rotating the same people in different parts of the world for a change who will look after such a complex system of transfers ? Also what will it mean to love if You cannot start a family or live with the same person till the end of your days as there are no end of the days anymore ? In suspended time where all people are always there humans may become like mountains seas and rivers till one day someone says enough I want to die so I can give my life a meaning. And then more and more may follow so that they can laugh and cry and strive and achieve and love and hate and live and die.

The one who preaches death as a means of salvation – finding meaning will probably become Deepak Chopra in the new world and you will have a number of Nityanands cropping up to give solution to the ever living souls trying to find some meaning in continuing to live forever without death and disease.

So what am I trying to say here….nothing great really perhaps Craig Venter should put me on a panel that advises him on how to use this new technology so it makes sense for the people and profits for him.

And then the same can be passed on to the Angels who I am sure have started to feel bored sitting and smiling there in heaven for centuries now….