June 8, 2015
Life is one big road with lots of signs and a series of natural and spontaneous changes. We are the only creatures on this earth to which God has given wisdom – enabling us to think and act accordingly as per our best interests and the interests of others around us. Sometimes, indeed our lives have gone topsy-turvy due to situations not of our making and out of our control. We indeed think and act perhaps in a right way at that given point of time but the reality may be totally different as we realise afterwards calling for retrospect and a correction in our behaviours. Likewise, the behaviours of others might have put us in an awkward position so much so it might be beyond repair. 'Reality' a stand-alone complex word in itself when preceded by the adjective 'harsh' turns out to be lethal. In this piece of writing, I have narrated five instances of 'harsh realities' that I have encountered in my life's journey.
Reality – a jumble of sorts
Reality – a combination of assorts
Reality – when 'harsh' precedes...
Is a disastrous word that rots!
On the City Bus:
It was vacation time and I was down in Mangalore from the Arabian Gulf. On one bright day, I was travelling on the city private bus to Hampankatta (city centre) which I normally do to avoid the strain of driving on the busy roads. The bus was full and I was content on occupying a standing space. Not long, I noticed a young man leaning forwards and recognising an elderly lady seated right in front of him, gesticulating to her saying 'Amma'.
The lady looked back at him, instantly recognised him and prodded to her husband who was seated next to her, near the window seat audibly saying, 'Look, the person who saved me from an accident the other day is seated behind.' The elderly man heard it well and pretended of not having heard anything at all and continued to look out. Seeing this drama, I for one felt bad as to what the elderly man would have lost if he had looked back, made some eye-contact with the helpful guy, acknowledging and saying a simple 'thank you.'
A little later after a couple of bus stops, the young man seemed to have reached his destination and got up to get down. While doing so, he passed the elderly lady focussing his eyes on her with an intention of saying bye. My heart sank when the lady in question had a look at him, then instantly turned her head away as though acting not having seen him getting down at all. Little did she realise perhaps, but for that helpful man she would not have been travelling in the bus together with her husband that day.
Reflection: Lord Forte, owner of one of the biggest hotel and catering Companies in the world, to his son Rocco: "Five thousand years ago what I am saying was right. In five thousand years what I am saying will still be right: gratitude, respect for other people, honesty, decency, cleanliness, politeness, good manners, integrity – they will never be old-fashioned."
The Passport Fiasco:
For a brief period, I was in the NCC Air Wing during my College years and in one such year I was selected for the Annual Training Camp (ATC) in Sambra, Belgaum in October 1986 at the Indian Air Force Station based there. Nearly 600 cadets from all over India were attending the camp and that was a spectacle in itself. It was a seven day camp and the experience of living in 'tents' on the open grounds in freezing winter conditions was a great experience. Gliding, Inter-state football matches, social service and variety entertainment filled up a part of it, apart from the regular routine what such a camp had to offer.
Here I met B V Arun Kumar, an NCC cadet from the host town of Belgaum, and soccer being our mutual interest of discussion, soon became good friends. He invited me to his residence in the city and with special permission from our Scouts Master Sureshnath did go and meet his Doctor parents and two siblings. Years later, after I went to Abu Dhabi, UAE he followed as he was successful in gaining employment as a Dentist in a Medical Centre and I, to some extent helped him to settle down. He has moved to the United States since.
He faced this unique problem while travelling in and out of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. A simple error committed by a Passport Officer in Bangalore was giving him sleepless nights and taking a toll on him whenever he had to fly out and fly in. Arun was born in Belgaum and is a Kannadiga. The Passport Officer had under the column Place of Birth, had put the entry as BELGIUM instead of BELGAUM replacing the fifth vowel letter 'A' with an 'I'. What a costly miss?
The Arabic immigration officers in Abu Dhabi had always doubts clearing this 'dark complexioned passenger' and many a times doubted the veracity of the Passport itself. First of all, they may never have heard of such a place in India when my friend used to explain with documents as proof. As a result, he was always delayed coming out and getting in due to extended questioning. What used to save him was he was a Doctor and worked for a reputed clinic with some powerful local sponsors.
It took him ten years to get that rectified during renewal of the Passport upon expiry in the Indian Embassy in Abu Dhabi itself. With Bangalore being the only Passport Issuing Centre those days in the State, he did not have enough time to go and submit it for rectification there and moreover was not sure of how many days it would take to get it back as he always used to fly on a short leave of a couple of weeks each, twice a year. Now, when I think of it, he looks to be lucky that he was not put behind bars for forgery. Times have changed however, with the awareness that many Indians may be born in Belgium with the Indian diaspora spreading far and wide but those were the days the Indians were at the receiving end.
Reflection: For the negligence of others, some other innocent souls have to bear the brunt. Wonder what type of Officers work in some Departments where they would not even know the difference between Belgium – a European country to that of Belgaum – a small city in western Karnataka.
The Bandaged Boy:
This story is from the late eighties. One summer when in Mumbai, I used to visit Byculla in South Mumbai to meet my good friend who had come down from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) on vacation. Getting down from the bus in front of Gloria Church, used to take the path walking under the flyover and onto the footpaths passing the Regina Pacis Hostel right opposite the Police Station, to my friend's parent's apartment block, located another 300 mts from there. In front of the compound wall of the hostel, on the pavement facing the road, I used to see this boy daily begging with a bowl with a bloodied bandage on both of his legs. Out of pity, diligently, I would drop a five rupee note (which was of value those days)on his begging bowl, while passing that way.
On my third visit on my regular route, being a bit early, I saw what I thought was the same boy being chased by a small girl in a 'playing game' going in circles in the same place where he used to sit to beg with that bloodied bandage. He seems to be perfectly alright …! I also noticed a white tempo parked nearby with the doors wide open with some commotion going on with a few kids inside but did not really bother to give much attention and just continued walking.
The next time and that would be the last time I would pass that way, as my friend was flying the same night, being a bit early like the previous occasion. I noticed the white tempo in the same spot, but instead of going straight passing the tempo just crossed the road towards the police station. With my dark glasses on and my gaze inside the tempo, could recognise the said boy having reclined onto a seat was being bandaged by someone below with an obscured view, some red substance being sprinkled and after a little while carried by a middle aged man and put on the normal spot for begging with the bowl being placed in the front. It was confirmed, I have been like many others taken for a ride!
My friend normally drops me off to Worli where I was put up. On that day I told him I would be catching a bus back. While returning that way, the boy noticed me from a distance and his face lit-up upon seeing a ten rupee note in my hand as I approached him. I bent towards his bowl placing the ten rupee note on my left hand and picking up the coins from his bowl in my right. He for one might have thought, that I am taking 'a five rupee change to put the ten rupee in' but what I did was emptied his plate in a flash picking up all the coins saying that I was recovering all my given money for he does not deserve it as he was perfectly alright, need to start working instead of begging and briskly walked away. It took him a couple of minutes to sink in as to what was happening. But then, within no time he sprang up on his feet giving me a chase, even hurling a stone that fell short of the intended target anyway as I had covered a fair distance by then by my brisk walking, screeching all the way that I had stolen his money. Luckily, no one was around and nobody heard. The irony was that all this was happening right opposite to the Byculla Police Station.
Reflection: When I look back now, it was not entirely rights to what I did. I should have shown some wisdom just ignoring it taking some correction measures moving forward. Perhaps it was young blood boiling over. But it effectively put an end to my alms giving from then on.
The BIG Suitcase:
Once when visiting India from the gulf, on our onward journey, we were in Mumbai staying for a couple of days. My better-half's cousins had their un-occupied apartment in the suburb of Santa Cruz and having given us the keys, advised us we can use it for our duration of stay. We accepted the offer.
We had a few pieces of luggage and unfortunately the building had no elevators and the apartment was on the fifth floor. We took most of the luggage up, but the possessions in the big suitcase was not a necessity and hence my wife knocked on the door of the ground floor residents, introduced herself as the cousin of her neighbour, so and so and if she would mind keeping the big suit case for a couple of days inside her house, somewhere in the spare room as it was not needed and wanted to avoid the hassle of taking it up all the way. The lady with a big heart graciously agreed.
A couple of hours later, someone knocked on our door. It was the husband of the lady who was visibly angry as to why the suitcase was kept in their apartment. He wanted it to be instantly removed from his place and no amount of explanation and justification mattered to him. Once we dragged the big thing out of his flat, he banged the door behind us. The pain was pulling it all the way up those narrow steps without any help as my wife was on post-maternity... at the end of it, I was breathless!
Reflection: In an era when siblings do not trust each other, this is not something unusual. Remember it is Mumbai where the word 'trust' is a word in deficit. May be the doubt of some drugs or firearms hidden inside the suit case, or the owner absconding might have played in the man's mind and he did not want to take a chance and just wanted to play safe, which was fair enough.
A Tribute to Jacintha Saldanha:
It was the year 1978. My dad had been abruptly issued with a 'transfer order' in September of that year largely due to the issues he had with the incoming Director of the Department of Town Planning, my dad being the Asst. Director. So, it was bidding adieu to Bangalore, for we were left with no choice but to pack and leave. I could not even say a proper goodbye to my class-mates in Class VI of St Joseph's Indian Middle School.
Though the transfer order was 'open' and dad could choose any place of his choice within the State of Karnataka, he opted for Mangaluru primarily because of the quality of education it provided for his kids. It was almost the end of September and none of the Schools here would take us as nearly four months had already elapsed since the commencement of the academic year. When we were all dejected that a valuable year has been lost, one of our family friends Mrs. Leena Fernandes who was teaching part-time in St Gerosa High School, Jeppu, Mangaluru turned out to be ourunlikely Saviour. She put in a word to late Sr Raphael, the Headmistress of the School at that time who did not hesitate toenrol all the five of us. It gives me immense pride to say this was the only School where all of us studied.
It was a co-educational Institution with boys until Std VII at that time. I was placed in Class VII - Section 'B,' the other English medium class being Section 'A'. This is where I met Jacintha Saldanha. She was in the 'A' Section and for a couple of subjects and Catechism,both of our classes would merge.
Jacintha Saldanha pictured in her class photos in Std VII (left) and Std X (right) in St Gerosa School, Jeppu, Mangaluru during her schooling years
It was the weekly Catechism Class (Religion Class) on Friday's mid-noon. All the Catholic children from Section 'B' would move to Section 'A' just above the steps on the right hand corner of the second floor for Catechism and the Non-Catholics to the adjacent Class, Section 'B' for Moral Science. What I noticedin the Catechism Class was everyone had their set spots, for obviously I was the late joiner. Thespot that was vacant on that day whichI could occupywas somewhere in the fourth row next to a girl. She was Jacintha!
Catechism Classes were conducted by a Novitiate (studying to become a Catholic Priest) who used to come from the St Joseph's Seminary every Friday, which was right opposite to the School. For some reasons,he did not turn up that Friday. Another replacement teacher who had comeadvisedus 'to keep ourselves occupied'as long as the class was not distracted. Having fallen behind on my notes, I requested Jacintha to hand me her Social Studies notes book so that I can make good use of the time. She asked for my other Notes Book to help me out.We both spent that class writing, she writing my notes and I writing my own notes. At the end of the period, she advised me would keep that Notes book of mine, took another one on top of that and said would be bringing them on Tuesday, Monday being a public holiday.
On Tuesday morning, even before I was at School she was there in front of my Class looking for me with my Note Books. As I stood there for her to summarise as to how much she had completed and as to what wasstill pending, she placed both my books in my hands saying the notes were complete.I was a bit stunned so much so I even missed thanking her. She seems to have written it more legibly and beautifully than her own notes book. Hitherto, no one had offered to writeit voluntarily, not even anyone from my own Class.
At the tender age of 13, here was a glimpse of her helpful nature. It is the same helpful nature perhaps, she paid with her life! From a humble nurse in Fr. Muller's to a Royal Nurse in King Edwards, she made it big. Notonly my batch-mate but also a dear friend of mine, just like most others in the Class over the years we lost touch until I heard about the tragedy. "It was a face of beauty, a face of compassion, a face of innocence, a face that I would always cherish when I was a shy primary school boy and she a girl maturedbeyond her years." May her soul Rest in Peace.
Reflection: May God guard us and guide us from any adverse occurrences in our work places, happenings that are beyond our imagination and control.
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