Amma and Her Newspaper

I set to read newspaper one fine morning downstairs with Amma as always going in with maximum enthusiasm at her command in making tea for her beloved son. As she was walking in the kitchen, she murmured that she did not get to read the Hindi newspaper yesterday. As she completed her sentence, something hit me. The newspaper had been delivered for sure and I had read that myself. So how could she not get that to read. I could read the sense of resignation in her statement as she moved further by few inches into the kitchen to make tea. Because of her age and weight she makes penguin like steps to move, but she moves with determination for sure. Her weight also does not help but her will power is still strong enough to move inch by inch to make tea for her kids. She is perhaps happiest when she does that. Even at this age she is the last to eat at the dinner table and she is proud of that. I could listen her murmurings coming from inside the kitchen as she was preparing tea.

I got uncomfortable on hearing her not so much expressed pain of missing the newspaper and could visualise the whole day as she would have tried to get hold of her daily dose of news. I have seen her since last 4 decades and more reading the newspaper daily immediately after finishing her first daily tranche of work in the morning. She did not studied beyond 9th but that had been no impediment for her reading a newspaper as avidly as possible. She would not recall the names of all foreign politicians as easily as I could and sometimes she would mix and mismatch the news and curse the one who was gentler, she has been more than aware of what has been happening around her in India. She can win I believe any quiz show if she had to face contestants similar to her background. She gets angry sometimes more than she ought to, when ever she reads news hurting the interest of the nation. She would not stop short of prescribing immediate and on the public square sort of punishments for the greedy and the culprits. I remember her reading same news multiple times whenever there was any, about her native place. I still remember her preserving a copy of the newspaper which had published the news of a dacoit attack in her native village Ujhaiyya sometimes in 1980s. That copy of newspaper neatly folded might still be there somewhere in her closely guarded old steel trunks. She still guards them well!!

So in this backdrop it was a heart wrenching moment for me as I could visualize that how hard and how helplessly perhaps she would have tried the day before to search for the newspaper as she is an octogenarian and finds difficult to walk without the support of a walker. I could not help myself for my visualization of her looking for the newspaper here and there and sometimes waiting in vain for that to arrive from outside. She might have gone out too albeit with much difficulty to see if the hawker had thrown it somewhere in the small garden on the front. She would have asked her woman Friday Rita too to look for the newspaper and finally settling down to resign to fact that she could not get the newspaper. As on the day I was out to office till late, she could not have got any other help to get that so she could have preserved her half a century ritual of reading a newspaper for an hour or so. In fact she uses newspaper to sleep also as many times I have found her sleeping and snoring post lunch beneath the two folds of newspaper. Perhaps the tough bone-breaking daily routine would squeeze out even the last ounce of energy by afternoon and she would sit down to read the remaining newspaper after having her lunch and more often that not she would fall asleep in next 10 minutes.

As I understood her pain, I went upstairs to look for the newspaper as sometimes they do get mixed with my steady supply of newspaper. I found her Hindi newspaper hidden in those multiple reams of read and unread newspapers. I picked that up and went downstairs to deliver that to her. Though the day had passed by, she was happy to see that and without saying any other word, kept it on the table besides her to go through it, later in the day . Finding her settled,  I sat down to sip the tea and just then few drops rolled down my memory lanes marking a path on my cheeks.

The Midnight Lucknow Station

Main Entrance of Charbagh at Midnight

Main Entrance of Charbagh at Midnight

Waiting midnight at 3:00 am at Charbagh Railway station for my daughter coming back from her school trip to Jaipur and around, I was seeing a different sort of railway station altogether. It is not that I had not seen it for a long time or I had not been there at that unearthly time ever, but earlier I had not been at this odd time to receive somebody, and therefore had the time to see around. While usually you find a perennial stream of crowd jostling to rush in or rush out of this British period iconic station, at this wee hour of morning you would find more person sleeping at the platform than walking at it. The people who have to find a connecting train perhaps in the morning or who have nowhere to go right in the midnight and no connections to flaunt to get a cozy wait at AC or VIP lounges, have surrendered to the call of the sleep and were lying in all shapes and sizes. They have surrendered to the circumstances and have no compunction in prostrating themselves at the platform in whatever little spaces they could claim to and with whatever little they could their bed. Usually it is recycled poly sheets or any piece of cloth or any newspaper spread. It’s a surreal feeling of socialism at it’s best where the poorest and not so poorest were sleeping side by side, snore by snore. I used this forced opportunity to pause and look around, though I would not have minded to sleep beside them in that milling cloud. On my part sitting at one of the rare benches of the railway station to wait for her daughter who was coming back after a cherished trip, I was feeling like a responsible father. I smiled at the scene around me and just then the train carrying my daughter chugged in at the platform.

She was really happy to find me right in front of my bogey and as she alighted, hugged me. Both of us came out of sleeping labyrinthine negotiating like a skilled driver through the lanes of sleeping millions. We were happy to see that not many were disturbed in this whole process……

Charbagh Railway Station Platform 1

Charbagh Railway Station Platform 1


When Gandhi Saved Me…….

mahatma-gandhiji-essay-english-essayIts 2nd October today and hardly anyone in India will miss the fact of today being the birth anniversary of the father of the nation, the man who extricated India from the clutches of Britishers. He was a great soul recognised both locally and globally and has the distinction of having statute of almost every capital of the world. He deserves a special place in my heart as he saved me too once. Yes, but for him I would have been in a different job and who knows, would have been a dissatisfied soul. Actually, he helped me more meaningfully than he helped Munna Bhai in the Bollywood movie Lage Rahe Munna Bhai ! The year he helped me was 1997, a good 49 years after his unfortunate death. Yes, it’s true.

By 1996, at the age of 25, I had cleared the IAS Allied Services of Union Public Services Commission and the Dy S P by U P State Public Services Commission before that. However, I was still aiming for the post of SDM, for which there were just 10 slots under unreserved category and I had to do extremely well. I had cleared the rather tough prelims that year and knew somehow that was going to be my last good chance to get to the still best services of the Provincial Civil Services of U P. It still is. My optional subjects were Political Science and History. I was very confident of Political Science but History was not my best one. I had done well in General Studies and other compulsory papers and was cruising smoothly till I faced my Waterloo moment in the 2nd paper of History. That paper was about the Modern Indian History and as I started reading the question paper, I realised that somehow out of 12 odd questions, I was not thoroughly prepared for even one. I had to attempt just 5 out of twelve questions including two compulsory ones, but I was not sure about which question to start with. I still don’t know why all the questions looked so tough to me that day. I got nervous and felt like that my chances of getting into SDM were all but gone, as with not even one question being properly answered, I could not hope to get the top of the table to secure one of the ten seats of the SDMs. I felt exasperated and started to curse myself. It looked like the end of the road for me.

I had to spend three hours still, so I started reading the question paper again. Suddenly, I looked at the 12th question of the paper and I noted that it was about the life and teachings of Gandhi Ji and its seminal role in the struggle for Independence. I paused at the question to reread it. I had been a good student of Political Science and one of the finest teacher of Political Science, Prof R K Misra had taught me well about him. In fact Prof Misra had explained the life and teachings of Gandhi Ji, so thoroughly to the entire class, that I knew almost everything about Gandhi Ji and his idea from the perspective of a student. I smiled at this little ray of hope and and thought of starting with answering Gandhi Ji and  then finish other four answers to the best of my capabilities and leave the rest to the wishes of the almighty. I was sure that if I started well and did build the flow of writing, I could give a good shot to my aim.

With a sense of new-found confidence, courtesy Gandhi Ji and Misra Sir, I started writing about Gandhi in right earnest. I wrote everything I knew about him in next 45 minutes, about his ideas about Non-violence, theory of trusteeship, his theories about hating the British ways and not the Britishers per se and his ideas of civil disobedience and it’s contribution to the freedom struggle and finally his ideas to keep all sections of Hindus and Muslims to keep together to save the fabric of India as a nation of all and not just for Hindus. I remember as I was writing about Gandhi ji, my pen was flowing like a sword as it about a person whom, I felt like knowing very closely. That was the power of the ideas of Gandhi on me.

After consuming more than slotted time for the question on Gandhi, I moved on to answer other four questions of the subject and with the newly gained confidence and with the flow developed finished off the rest of four questions in the nick of the time. At the end of the three hours, I was largely satisfied and relieved. Though it was not my best performance, it was not very bad either. I knew if I did well in other papers, I could make it. I thanked Gandhi profusely and Misra ji and came out of the exam hall.

The result was out in next few weeks and I was more than happy to see my roll number in the list of persons called for interview. I really smiled at that moment and once again, thanked Gandhi Ji. I knew, but for him, I could not have even attempted all five questions. The answer related to the question on him had certainly given me a good head start and made all the difference.

I appeared in the interview and since it was my 4th at the U P Public Service Commission and as I was slected already in two others, I did my confidence best. I was not sure when would the result be out, so slept well for next few days. Then one fine morning in those days of no mobile and no internet, got a telephone call from one of my class mate, Pratibha. She told me, “Jitendra, you have topped the exams!” What? I topped it? I could not believe that for next few minutes. I took many more minutes to sink in the feeling of being the topper of the exam in which but for Gandhi, I was doomed, literally. That’s the magic of the father of nation. I thanked him again. Today 19 years down the road, I am in job, because of him.

Gandhi Ji changed my life too!

Bombay Velvet


One of most awaited movie of 2015, Bombay Velvet was released today. The movie based on the novel by the same name by Gyan Prakash tries to present the Bombay of 1960s. Gyan Prakash has co written the story of the movie too. The Bombay of 60s was known for smuggling of gold, Jazz Bars, rivalry among builders and emergence of media as the game changer too.

The movie tries to project the era through protagnists Johnny Balraj played by Ranbir Kapoor and Rosie played by Anushka. The protagonists are of ofcourse surrounded by many characters, shady and otherwise,  including Karan Johar as one Khambata. The film starts with a backdrop of 1949 India and travels up to Bombay if 1969. Johny Balraj played by Ranbir Kapoor is a pugilists and street fighter. He wants to be a big shot like those of big guns of Hollywood films and does not mind even dying in the process. Anushka has played Rosie escaping from Portuguese controlled Goa and settling in Bombay as a Jazz singer and falling in love with Ranbir Kapoor and his earthy charm. The role of media and newspapers in settling personal and financial disputes is amply highlighted. The political-bureaucratic-Police-Builder nexus is well articulated in the movie. The cinematography and the costumes and the over all setting of Bombay is well presented in the movie. The setting is authentic and enjoyable.

The story of film lacks the novelty factor as the story of ‘Bombay’ has been well used in multiple movies. There is no surprise element therefore in the plots narrated through. Acting wise Karan Johar does not look and act villainous and is a week part of movie actually. The role of Johnny’s friend played by Satyadeep aka Chiman Chopara is watchable. Kay Kay Menon too adds his style and humour as a crime specialist. On the whole movie is watchable but without meeting the too high expectations of an ‘Anuarag Kashyap’ film. This is not his best film for sure. I will give only 2.5 star to this much awaited film.

To Be or Not To Be: To Brush or Not To Brush

brushing-teeth-animationI was bemused to know that noted author Robert Fisk, in his book ‘The Great War For Civilization: The Conquest of the Middle East’ has written that even while hiding in mountains and caves in Sudan and Afghanistan, Osama Bin Laden used to brush his teeth with the twigs of Miswak, a product of Salvadora Persica tree called as Arak in Arabic. Going through his routine, I flashed back to my memories of Neem twigs used for brushing my teeth whenever I visited my native village in Farrukhabad. Time has passed by since then and in now hyper consumerist culture, the tooth brush and toothpaste are sold aplenty even at village corner shops. One daily routine of every body in the modern world revolves around finding a tooth brush and tooth paste as soon as one wakes up. While a tooth brush may be a twig of Miswak, Neem or Babool or a modern handle with bristles, the supporting substance may be a paste or a powder.

This daily routine at that morning hour when you were just out of your bed and your eyes were half open is no pleasant experience though. I can say with four decades of brushing-my-teeth-daily-experience, that it’s not an enjoyable act. That it is good for health and hygiene is indisputable, but it’s an activity which is done as a sort of personal duty and not something to be cheery about. If you add to this morning duty, the need and the rigmarole of brushing your teeth before going to bed, it becomes a real tortuous task.

When I was a kid, I remember brushing my teeth in morning only. The wash basins were not at that time and I used to squat down besides a whole in the wall in bathroom. I used to quickly brush my teeth and come down to see my Amma. I would then use pallu of her cotton saaree, to wipe of the water from my face. She always offered me that even before I could extend my hand. It was such a motherly affection which drenched both of us. This routine is not there and I have grown older to use her pallu, though she would not mind for sure her pallu being used to wipe the face of her son, still.Brushing-Teeth_o_21227

The habit of morning tooth brush gradually got enshrined in the psyche, the bigger challenge came in the shape of very essential but very detestable need to brush the teeth, before going to bed. Its utility is again indisputable and is more than the morning brush. But to brush your teeth night by night just before going to bed is really one task, I hate most. This habit forced by scientific facts and boosted by bombardment of toothpaste and tooth brush commercials is with me for last 30 years. In fact I have become hostage to this habit. Now If I don’t brush, I curse myself the next morning and if I do brush, I curse myself for doing that in night itself. But every night for last 30 years I have gone through the Hamletian dilemma of prince of Denmark; to be or not to be or simply to brush or not to brush the teeth.

The Indian habit of eating sweet dish after the meals is phenomenal and we want to retain the taste of the food by rolling out tongue in the far corners of mouth and by trying to feel the taste of food from smallest molecules of the food tugged somewhere in the teeth or gums. So, who in the world, would like to brush his or her teeth after eating the  most delicious pudding or hot Gazar Ka Halwa or chocolate ice cream or even Gur(jaggery) on a wintry night. Who would like to supplant that sweet little taste with that of a chemicals laced toothpaste.

pg-06-bad-dental-habits-kids-babies-full (1)While my resistance to brush before bed is not waning any time soon, the real and fierce resistance comes from the two kids who have been forced, to join me in this venture or a misadventure as per them. Those sweet two, after finishing the meal would deliberately escape from me and would try to slip into bed and would take a comforter up to their neck and would pretend to be sleeping. When I will enter the room, I would look at them and would inquire little loudly, if the kids have slept?. They would not budge an inch and would even hold their breath to pretend deep sleep. I would unnerve them by saying loudly that I  had got a gift for the kids while coming back from the office and I forgot to give them.They would listen but still not move. I would then say loudly to myself that, O. K., I will give them to some one else. The kids would finally be trapped and would spring from the bed, asking for gift. Obviously once out, I would ask them to brush their teeth. They would initially get sulking, but my persistence and mild admonition will usually prevail and they would go for the detestable act of brushing their teeth in the bathroom. They would finish it off  though in shortest possible time and would rush to bed. This practice becomes even more challenging in winters and I would feel little awkward to either entice or pressurize them to brush. I would relent sometimes when I put myself in their shoes. I too, would not enjoy to leave my bed midway after warming up the quilt with own body warmth. In contrast, I really find out it amusing that Osama was so particular in brushing his teeth even in those mountains and rocks and perhaps even enjoyed it.  He was surely a different man!.??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

The Hudhud and I


Sitting at a safe distance of 1399 kms from Vishakhapatnam, few in Lucknow would have taken the cyclone Hudhud seriously beyond their general concerns for the natives of just truncated Andhra Pradesh. I too in last few days had watched it with the quest of my general awareness. The first question that came to the mind was, why this name Hudhud ? What it was after all ? I googled and came to know that the Indian Meteorological Department which by its precise forecasts in India has earned decent respect, issues cyclone advisories  not only for India but for seven other countries too viz. Bangladesh, Maldives, Myanmar, Pakistan, Oman, Sri lanka and Thailand. Under a standard practice supervised by the World Meteorological Organisation, it is customary that for cyclones arising in the northern Indian Ocean around these countries, every country gets a chance on rotation to name these out of a stock of names/titles pooled in 2004.  The title ‘Hudhud’ was suggested by Oman this time. That this catastrophe is named after the national bird of Israel (chosen after a  national survey there in 2008), can be a coincidence, but one has to be naive to believe that. The conservationists would certainly not be enjoying this unwarranted negative publicity. The extant bird Hudhud characterized by a crown of feathers is the Arabic name of the bird and is commonly known as Hoopoe. It is found in Europe, Asia including India and in north Africa. The poor bird in fact would not be even knowing that why it is being looked with so much disgust now in Andhra or even in whole of India.


So beyond this G.K. quest of a person selected through the competitive exams, loaded even more now in favor of these KBC questions, i was not expecting a real face off with the Hudhud. But I was wrong. The impact of Hudhud in its kinder avatar though, was gutsy enough to travel full 1399 kms sideways to be in the City of Nawabs. The onslaught started on 13th night itself after about 32 hours since hitting Andhra coast on 12th noon. It started with strong winds swaying everything it could including trees and electricity lines. Then the rains followed, initially slowly but unceasingly. This consistency was still on while i was keying in this article almost after 24 hours since it started last night. The drizzle slow and fast like the recent LOC firings was still on. The first visible casualty of this consistency was something which i fear most. The morning tea without the daily dose of newspaper ! Unfortuanately this was the fourth ugly break in the newspaper chain in the first fortnight of this month alone. Lucknowites had already missed the newspapers on 3rd, 4th and 7th Oct. due to  Gandhi Jayanti, Dussehera and Valmiki Jayanti respectively. But now this Hudhud Jayanti too ! It was not fair. I waited and looked down from my first floor balcony many a times hoping against hope that the my otherwise brave hawker would somehow emerge from behind the corners of the streets. The Hamletian choice of to be or not to be, kept me on looking for the elusive newspaper. Actually this disturbance caused in the morning and that too repetitively in this fortnight has left many like me out of focus often, as who would have not enjoyed the rains from the balconies  sitting in a  cane wood chair with a newspaper in the left hand and a hot ginger laced tea in the right hand. It would have been a bliss. But that was not to be finally and i cursed Hudhud for the first time in my life. I don’t know if Oman would be happy to know that !

The next big question was that whether the children would be or should be going to school or not ? The reactions of the kids on a rainy day is linked directly to their comfort in attending classes in these cut throat competitive schools. The reactions of my son and daughter were different therefore. While one was too eager to resign to the imminent fate of not going to school the competitive one tried all tricks to leave for schools. What a contrast it was ? The calls were made. The opinions were sought. The pros and cons were weighed. The previous examples of calculations gone right and wrong were quoted. The debate took place. Finally the call was, O.K. no school for today. The announcement was made finally and the Hudhud claimed its second casualty of the day in Lucknow.

The first thing the kids do after an unplanned school break is to open the tiffin quickly and finish it off faster than the morning prayers. Actually seldom do they get their tiffins hot to relish the food. Normally they eat it at recess but by then the food gets colder and bland. So today they were in no mood to miss this chance. Immediately as a father, i sensed the opportunity to give the kids tasks to do on a rainy day. But before i could announce anything, the kids had different plans. They decided to utilize the Hudhud inflicted sabbatical to complete their quota of morning sleep. It is a fact that the kids overloaded with homework and with slow dinners in front of t v sets showing soap operas like historically twisted but popular Jodha Akbar, do compromise on their sleep. So my kids latched on this opportunity  to replenish their sleep quotas. The kids with their uniforms still on minus only shoes, huddled themselves in pillows and comforters and as father i watched the proceedings with a smile. I would have done the same perhaps. I did not curse the Hudhud this time.

After these unscheduled take offs and landings, i finished my daily routine of some exercise and a had a glassful of  lukewarm lemon water and went on to get ready for my official duties of the day. Being in the  city administration i was aware that there were few planned dharanas or agitations today. I left for the office on time despite the drizzle andseeing outside  felt really good from inside the comforts of a car. The traffic due to rain was on lighter side but got slower. The agitationists of many issues in true democratic traditions swarm Lucknow everyday. Led by their senior union leaders they intend to remind everybody of the unfulfilled promises made by the political leaders. But today they were also not prepared for the Hudhud rains. Still they were more in numbers than our rain discounted official calculations. They took their time in doing agitation before  a rather easy dispersal. But the groups of Chowkidars proved more battle hardened and did not mind getting drenched by rains too. Along with senior police officers i had to go in the afternoon on the action scene in the heart of city and had to use all of my persuading skills to communicate to this red turbaned gathering. It was raining. I convinced them finally but not before getting showered somewhat in the process despite some decent umbrella support by my staff. The Hudhud too helped and we convinced them to go back to their native districts on the promise of facilitating their talks on subsequent Hudhud free bright and sunny days in Lucknow. I thanked Hudhud now for the first time in the day as without its support it would have been an even more tough task to convince this motivated and rather bigger gathering.

So now seeing all the shades of the Hudhud i decided to take a break and came back to change my clothes. I had a steaming cup of hot tea to ward off the rain effect. I realized that nature had its own way of balancing out the things. By late evening the impact of Hudhud was on decline. The Hudhud after showing its color in state capital was moving away to the western part of Uttar Pradesh. I took a deep breath. Finally, it was a Hudhud day in all its glory.

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