It’s a Good World After All

I have young children, but of course I love them. Of course they have changed my world. Just like most parents, I worry about their future. Just like many, I worry about the way things are going from bad to worst. Often I think about how everything was so much easier during my growing years. The world was so much better back then…

Yet today a post made me ponder.
It was an open letter from a loving young father to his newborn daughter.
This post made me rethink – maybe the world is not that bad really. In fact maybe it is a much better place today. Yes, maybe it’s a good world after all!

Yes of course competition has increased but so has opportunity. Today there are many more jobs and beyond that, there is a variety of jobs to choose from. In fact a hobby, a passion can be cultivated to bring in not only bread and butter but much more. The society I grew up in, to be an Engineer or Doctor was the goal. Today Sky is the limit for those dreamers who dare soar.

As a woman, I see my life is so much different than my mother’s and I know my daughter’s will be much more richer than mine. She will definitely have many more choices and will face lesser hurdles. There would be more doors she could knock on and the mountains would be easier to climb as others have already kept their footprints for her to follow. I hope she makes her mark, leaves her own footprints without hesitation – It will be her choice.

Yes, definitely Technology has brought us so much closer now. Just a couple of decades ago a mother’s heart would skip a beat by the thought of her child venturing overseas. Yes even today a mother’s heart does skip a beat, but the worry is much less. She knows her young one is just a phone call away; a quick video chat is all it takes. Yes today we are definitely more connected. In fact in many cases, technology has helped not only stay connect but help us reconnect.

Today, we are no longer defined by our History, no longer held back by our Geography.

I believe appreciation and awareness has definitely increased. I see more appreciation for numerous arts and crafts, besides that of age-old practices like Yoga. We are not only more appreciative about the divinity of arts and crafts, but also more aware on issues ranging from obesity, proper nourishment to cleanliness and even natural resources. Advances in technology, more educated people have helped bring this change.

Of course we are just learning to value our resources. Maybe it’s the need of the hour. But definitely things are improving towards the better today. A couple of months back, I was at a friend’s for lunch. There were some left-overs – her daughter made it a point to wrap everything in recycled bags and boxes. This was something our generation never thought about but this generation is learning and learning fast!

And we are also learning to be a little less selfish. I see middle class or even the so-called lower class making more contributions towards helping others as and when. Either hearts have become bigger or pockets have. Either ways, this is definitely a change for the better.

Ofcourse there are the obvious changes which have made the world so much better today. Lifespans have definitely increased. Machines and tools have made manual work so much less. And there are many more.
Yes, surely need to revisit this post again and again – am sure this list is endless!

The post that made me ponder was by a young father – Mark Zuckenberg ; co- father of facebook. His post was more focused on how he and his wife would be contributing to make this world a better place for his little girl and the new generation. His post also made me reflect on how I could contribute, how we could make this world a better place for our little ones. I know I am not a Warren Buffet but I hope to make a little difference. How, am not sure , but I sure wish to be able to contribute in my own way…

We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.
-Winston Churchill

He believed in me

 

“My grandfather gave me the greatest gift, he believed in me!” said my new boss, my childhood buddy.

It was early January. We were all a little anxious, a little keyed up. We were awaiting our new chief. Our last VP of IT had just stepped down, rather been asked to step down. After a series of intensive interviews and dialogues with numerous candidates, the board had unanimously voted on Mr. Pankaj Joshi to take his place. Rumored to be a go-getter and a doer, I’d come across his name a couple of times in ‘IT Today’ and ‘Computer World’. I heard that he was about my age, was looking forward to meeting him.

“Mr Kulkarni, could you please come to my office,” a call from the President.
A little surprised and apprehensive, I hurried to the elevator.

”Please come in,” I heard our president’s response, when I knocked on his door.

“Hello Mr. Kulkarni, Mr. Joshi, our new VP. I believe you know each other already.” I came face to face with my childhood pal, my buddy Pankya. I was definitely stunned to see that our class jester as my new chief!

“Anand, glad to see you again! My god, it’s been so long, at least a good twenty, twenty-five years!” Beaming we shook hands. We exchanged pleasantries, talked about our common friends and contacts. And then we moved into the conference room for a formal meeting with the rest of the company members.

“The difference between the impossible and the possible lies in a person’s determination. This determination will certainly take us places. And as Henry Ford once said, coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success. May we achieve all the success and take this company to an unthinkable echelon,” on this note Pankaj ended his introductory speech. I was amazed! Was this really Pankya, the most mischievous boy in our class, the trouble-maker?

********

“Pankaj Joshi, behave yourself! Into the dustbin!” shouted Mrs Mishra, our Math teacher. “At this rate twenty years down the lane you’ll be cleaning dustbins! You should pick a page from your brother’s book!” And Pankaj spent the Math period standing in the dustbin, his punishment for pulling Tapan’s hair. This was nothing new. Pankaj was our class prankster, ever the mischief-maker; he always had new tricks up his sleeves.

I remember the time when Pankaj had put stink bombs in the teacher’s desk. The whole class had to spend the rest of the day in the library, as our classroom was uninhabitable thanks to the smell! Another trick I remember was Pankaj putting super glue on the tap in the teacher’s bathroom! Our poor history teacher was the victim. It was the talk of the school for months! And then there was the perfect trick, it was a custom for the entire school to gather in the assembly hall every morning for prayers and for Principal’s address. Somehow Pankaj had managed to get twenty small alarm clocks from somewhere. We crept inside our assembly hall early that morning, before the first bell. We set them at 30 second intervals and placed them randomly. You can imagine the chaos during the assembly! Our prayer session that morning is still etched in my memory!

Pankaj’s elder brother Prashant, our senior was the exact opposite. The football champ, our school prefect, our school teachers always sang his praises. One of the most popular boys in our school, he was an all-rounder. I would have been so proud if I had a brother like Prashant. But frankly, I don’t ever recall seeing Pankaj and Prashant together. Not that I’d ever seen them fight or something but they didn’t seem to be the best of friends either. We were all studying at the Mountainview High school in Panchgani.

Oh I still remember those glorious schooldays. The football matches, the debates, inter-house quiz competitions. If only I could turn the clock! I was on the swimming team as was Pankaj. The only days-scholar in the class, I would have definitely felt left out, if it hadn’t been for Pankaj. Impish Pankaj was my best pal, my buddy. Some weekends he even came over to stay at my house, of course with Father D’souza’s permission.

I have that day, stamped in my memory when Pankaj’s father yanked him out of school. That was the day when Pankaj was almost expelled. It was actually a pretty childish trick. We had placed a couple of banana skins outside our staff room door. Of course the aim was to see our teachers slip and fall. We didn’t see any harm in it! But our vice principal, our second casualty, had a rather nasty fall and had to be hospitalized for it! When asked to own up, Pankaj took all the blame for the tomfoolery.

“You should be ashamed of yourself! Look at your brother; you are a total disgrace to the family, a complete failure!” I remember Pankaj’s father roaring at him.
Thanks to Pankaj’s behavior he was called to meet the Principal that day, taking time out of his busy schedule. Pankaj’s father a renowned cardiologist was known to be a self-starter and an ambitious man. His mother was also a much sought pediatrician. This kind of behavior from their son was unacceptable.

That was the last I saw of Pankaj. There were rumors that Pankaj was sent to live with his grandfather in Pune.

********

“My grandfather gave me the greatest gift, he believed in me!” said Pankaj.
It was Friday. Pankaj and I were sharing drinks. It was then that I had asked him about the metamorphosis.

“That day my father was really furious,” said Pankaj. He continued, “according to him I was a disgrace to the family. In my father’s words, I didn’t deserve any of the privileges. And I was deported to my grandfather’s. As always, my mother supported my dad cent percent.”

And that was the turning point in Pankaj’s life. His grandfather lived alone near Parvati hill, in Pune. Just matriculate, he was a strict disciplarian . Pankaj was admitted to the English medium school nearby. Every morning he had to get up early, and then he went for a walk on Parvati with his grandfather, followed by prayers and some studies. After school he was allowed to play with the neighborhood boys and then it was homework time. His grandfather always sat by him when he did his homework.

“He made me recite the poems aloud, quite often twice or thrice, so that I could understand their real meaning. He made me reflect on every word, on every stanza,” said Pankaj, his eyes clouding thinking about those precious moments. “I started falling in love with the words; I started getting lost in the world of books! Math which had been drudgery became an adventure. The numbers and equations puzzles I couldn’t wait to solve. I hated Hindi the most, but he pretended sometimes that he didn’t understand and I had to read the same lines over and over again.”

Of course it didn’t happen overnight. Pankaj had tried some of the same tricks in his new school. But in the end, his grandfather’s perseverance and love prevailed. Initially it had been a trying time for both of them; eventually peace prevailed in the household. Besides studies, his grandfather exposed him to a whole new world. On weekends and during school vacations they’d go on small expeditions to the nearby killas and hills. His grandfather would tell him all about their history and the old culture. They even went star-gazing with IUCAA on Singhgarh. Over time the dark horse was transformed into a star!

His father had wanted him to come back and join the boarding. Stubbornly Pankaj had refused. He completed his schooling and later Engineering at COEP staying with his old grandpa. With his grandfather’s blessings he got admission in IIT. He felt most fortunate that his grandfather had lived to see him get his first job. Despite protests from the old man, he had quit his job to take care of his granddad, during his last few days.

“If I had the kind of advantages you had, I would have achieved so much more. You don’t know how lucky you are!” had shouted the successful doctor at his son that day. But neither the wealth nor the status had helped. It had been love and faith that had made Pankaj what he was today.

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Quote from Jim Valvano :
My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me.

 

Life’s little Steps

[Printed : Blogprint – Penguin Publication]

“Sweetheart, could you please drop in at the post-office for some stamps today? We need to mail those invitations by tomorrow. It’s already pretty late. Please, you know how your mother is about these things. Besides it’s just round the corner from your office.” Yes a call from high-command, my wife, and a dash to the post-office imperative.

I was quite annoyed. Did she think I was her personal assistant? Or maybe she thought I was superman. I barely had half an hour lunch break and she expected me to run errands for her during that time besides stuff whatever I could into my mouth too! Grumbling, I rushed to the post-office at noon. It was better to walk than to drive, I decided.

I had barely set foot inside the parking lot of the post-office when I heard a loud honk. I turned to look. There was a bright red car exactly behind me.

“Hello, do you think you have the whole day?” shrieked Mr. Loud from behind the wheel. I ignored him. He continued honking the car’s horn, the car radio blaring ‘Main hoon Don’, in full volume.  Giving him the look , I rushed into the post-office.

There was a woman holding a little boy, almost blocking the entrance.
“Excuse me!” I exclaimed loudly.
She hurriedly stepped aside. I raced in to join the shortest queue; hurried to counter number seven.
There were already at least a dozen people ahead of me.
“Here goes my lunch break.” I mumbled silently cursing my wife yet again.
Irritated I looked around.
The man standing just ahead of me was jabbering non-stop into his cell-phone.

“Yeah, yeah for god’s sake don’t you understand plain English? I want those documents by 4:00pm today and that’s final.” I heard him roar.

“Mister keep it low. This is a public place you know. You are almost screaming into my ears.” Shouted back Miss Dainty standing directly ahead of him, all dolled-up pink and crimson.
Mr. Cell-phone ignored her and continued his vital conversation on the phone.

The heat, the humidity was getting to all of us. I glared at the worthless fan croaking overhead. It was going to be quite a wait from the looks of it. The tone was certainly depressing in the dimly-lit room. From somewhere in the background, probably from the post-master’s room, I could hear the cricket commentary filtering out ….”And now we have lost the seventh wicket at one fifty two, there seems to be no end in sight…victory is….”

Agitated, trying to gain control, I slowly started counting under my breath…”Zero, one, two, three, four…”
I had reached fifty-six when I heard someone whisper into my ears.

“Oh to be in love again!” startled I turned back.
It was Mrs. Dreamer, the nice old woman at the bakery next-door.
“Oh look at the two love-birds!” She exclaimed.
I glanced in the direction she was pointing to.

I noticed the young denim-clad Romeo-Juliet gazing into each other’s eyes exchanging silly smiles. They were oblivious to everything and everybody, totally lost in their own little universe. Rolling my eyes, I turned back. “Fifty-seven, fifty-eight, fifty-nine…” I continued.

“Waah waah,” this time a baby’s loud wailing interrupted my count.

The lady with her little boy had joined the line. And behind her I could see Mr. Loud, the honker. I glowered at him, yet again, slightly distracted by the baby’s shriek.

“Waah waah,” continued the little boy.
“Waah Waaah,” his cry getting louder and louder with each passing moment.
“Shhhhhhhhhh,” hissed Mr. Cell-phone, but of course he continued jabbering into the mobile device.
“Shhhhhhhhhh,” hissed Miss Dainty, glaring at him and now also glaring at the baby.
“Cutie Pie be quiet, Sweetie. Shh.” The young anguished mother tried to calm her child.
“Waaaah,” wailed the boy paying no heed to his mother’s distress.
“Why don’t you take him outside, he’s disturbing everybody!” commanded Mr. Loud. She tried to ignore him and the rest of the bunch.
“Is he hungry, did he eat something?” asked Mrs. Dreamer, caressing the little one’s cheek.
“Waaaaah” he rewarded her with an even louder wail.
The mother nodded trying to calm him, grateful for that one sympathetic face.
“Waaaaah Waaaaaah.”

Amidst all this noise and confusion the post-master yelled,
“Please will the rest of this line at counter seven join the one at the third counter? This counter is closed for lunch now.”
“This is terrible!” exclaimed Miss Dainty, who was almost at the head of the line now.
“Public Servants, my Foot!” That had to be Mr. Cell-phone.

Protesting and cribbing, we all moved to line three, our new Prime Minister staring at us all from the photograph on the wall right in front of us.

Tempers had reached peak now. Even Romeo and Juliet were quarreling, Juliet was definitely pouting.

“……Ninety-seven,Ninety-eight, Ninety-nine…” I continued.
And before I could say hundred, amidst all the chaos and annoyance, I heard laughter…

Amazed I turned around…

Old Mrs. Dreamer was clapping loudly all smiles.
And the young mother almost in tears was smiling and laughing too!
The wailing had stopped and the little boy was on the floor, standing.
“Oh my god, he took his first step! He just took his first step!” proclaimed the proud mother.
“Right here in the post-office he took his first step!” She said hugging her little boy to her chest and kissing him.
And then Mr. Loud started clapping.
“Once more, once more” Cheered Mrs. Dreamer, as the mother placed her little one on the floor yet again.
“Once more,” joined in Mr. Cell-phone, all poised with his camera phone to take a snap, he had actually interrupted his conversation for this little miracle.
Romeo and Juliet were holding hands again. Miss Dainty was smiling too.
And tears welled up in the young mother’s eyes yet again.

“Once more, once more,” I started chanting too. And the young charmer awarded us with one tiny little step. And yet another one…

And as I watched the boy, I couldn’t help but think about my daughter, all sixteen and practically grown-up. I had missed her first step, but my eyes clouded as I recollected my wife’s animated face as she had described it all. I smiled. I thanked god for his little wonders. I felt a sense of peace and calm. And I looked around…

There were tears and there was laughter as the little one took one step and yet another step and yet another. We all looked at each other in glee and amazement. Just then a young girl, dressed in a blue and white school uniform, who had also joined the line, started clapping. And so did us all. We all joined in. We were all beaming. We were a team; a virtual bond had formed between us…

… all shared the joy of Life’s little miracle…Life’s first steps…

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*** ‘Main hoon Don’ – Hindi Song (Rough Translation : I am Don)

 

The Child in me…

Celebrating children’s day, children’s tales based on proverbs:

(A) A friend in need is a friend indeed!
(B) Better late than never!
(C) Cut your coat according to your cloth!

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Monty the monkey

Would you like to meet Monty the monkey and his friends Jumbo, bunny and Bumbly?

Once upon a time in the enchanted forest, far far away lived Monty the monkey with his bunch of friends. He was the most beautiful monkey in the whole wide world, the fairest of them all. He was so proud of himself! Every morning he would look at himself in the mirror and give himself a pat with his long tail.
“Hey monkey, you look so pretty today!” He would exclaim!

“Hey monkey, you look so pretty today!”
Everybody else would exclaim, especially his two friends Bunty bunny and Jumbo.
“You are the best!” They would shout!
Simple little Bumbly bee  who loved monkey the best would just smile.
“Monkey, you are the best! Can I play with you too?” She would ask
But foolish little monkey would always say no. He didn’t want to play with tiny little Bumbly bee. He would rather play with big fella Jumbo and pretty Bunty!

One day Monty was playing basketball in the school gym along with his other classmates. Suddenly he heard shouting,
“Run, run,” he heard. It was their teacher yelling.
“Everybody out, out of the main door, there is a fire!”
All the little animals ran for dear life!
“Help, help” our friend Monty monkey shouted. “Help Jumbo, help Bunty.”
Poor Monty, his tail was stuck in the basket ball net!
“Help, help.” He shouted again. But his friends Jumbo and Bunty paid no attention at all. They just ran away.  Little Bumbly  Bee saw his friend in distress. “Don’t worry Monty i will get our teacher,” he buzzed in Monty’s ear. “Buzzzzzzzzzzz”.

Within minutes, he saw Bumbly followed by his teacher with a big ladder and a pair of scissors. And he was freed within seconds!

Monty felt so ashamed of himself. He remembered all those times he had run away from Bumbly  , had avoided playing with her.“I am so sorry Bumbly  ; I have been so mean to you. Will you be my best friend?” He asked, as they scattered from the basket ball court away from the fire.

MORAL : A friend in need is a friend indeed!

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Flora the Fairy

Hey, have you heard about Flora the fairy? Have you heard about river Sparkle?
Flora the fairy lived on the banks of river Sparkle? She was the happiest little fairy of them all! She was the laziest little fairy of them all!
“Flora, you got to learn to use your magic wand,” her mamma would tell her.
“Flora, just say abracadra, lipsie doo and hey presto you can wish for whatever you want,” her sisters would tell her. But Flora was too lazy to do that.
“Mamma maybe tomorrow,” she would say.
“Sis, you can do it for me, please sis.” She would beg her big sister.

One night there was a big storm. Miss Lightening shone as never before. Mr. Thunder rumbled with all his might It poured cats and dogs. River Sparkle started to rise. And in a matter of minutes, the banks were flooded. The fairies got scared, their wings were all wet. They could not fly. They started waving their wands. They started magically transporting themselves far far away from the water onto the mountain tops. And in hurry, her family totally forgot about lazy Flora who was still fast asleep!
When the water reached Flora’s nose, she woke up with a start.
“Mama,” she shouted “Mama, where are you?”
“Oh Flora, I can hear you,” her mother replied, “I am here on the mountaintop to the right. Flora you have got to wave your wand so that you can be transported to the mountains. Your wings are all wet; you won’t be able to fly.”
“Mama, I can’t do it, you got to help me” she cried.
“Flora this time you got to do it on your own, because of the storm my powers are weak. You are too far away for me to help. You have got to do it yourself.”
“Flora, you can do it” Shouted her sisters.
“Flora you got to try” the fairies all cheered in unison. Trembling, shivering with cold she picked up the wand and waved.
“Abracadabra lipsie do la do boo,” she whispered and tightly closed her eyes.

Flora you can open your eyes now. You’ve done it!” She heard her mother whispering into her ears. Flora opened her eyes. Yes, she was now on the mountain top in her mother’s arms. Yes, she had done it!
“Better late than never, Flora!” Her mother said as she hugged her.

MORAL :Better late than never!

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Sarja and Raja

Now, let’s visit Sarja and Raja, the bullocks…
In the tiny little village of Bhimeshwar in Maharashtra lived a farmer named Vinayak. Vinayak had two bullocks Sarja and Raja. He loved his bullocks very much and took great care of them. And the bullocks also loved him and worked hard for him, ploughing his fields. Vinayak’s neighbour was Sitaram who was a very ambitious man.

One day Sarja said to Raja, “You always praise our master very much. But look at his neighbor Sitaram. His farm is as small as our master’s but he lives in such a grand house, in such great style. His wife wears the most beautiful clothes; his children have the most wonderful toys.”
Raja replied, “Our master is the best. He knows what he is doing.”
Two months later Sarja said to Raja, “Our neighboring bullocks Biku and Niku are so lucky. Their master Sitaram just bought four more bullocks. Now they won’t have to work so hard.”
Raja replied, “I still think our master is the best.”
A week later, Sarja complained again to Raja “Biku just told me that Sitaram bought more land. Now his farm will be larger than our master’s farm.”
Raja replied yet again, “Our master is the best. He knows what he is doing.”

Six months later, Raja and Sarja woke up with a start. They could hear some noises. They could see a black police car with flashing red lights. Sitaram was being taking away by the police. Biku and Niku were crying because they would be auctioned soon. Their master had borrowed so much money. That is how he had been able to live so lavishly in his big house and big farm. All on borrowed money! This time Sarja said to Raja,
”You are right. Our master is the very best. He knows what he is doing!”

MORAL :Cut your coat according to your cloth

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His smile lights up your world!
Her love is a shower of pearls.
Their laughter is sweet music,
Their chatter is what makes you tick,
His touch ebbs all the pain away,
Her trust and belief makes you a bigger person today!
Sweet, Sweet dear child!

Yesterday She Smiled!

Yesterday would have been long gone,
Forgotten, lost.
Filed away somewhere.
Never to be ever recalled.
Never to be ever remembered.
Till she smiled!

Yesterday I had almost buried.
Buried, banished
Within the pile of everydays,
It was almost dull.
It was almost dreary.
Till she smiled!

Yesterday is etched in my memory for eternity,
Cherished, treasured.
To be recollected over and over again.
It is most precious.
It is most prized.
For Yesterday she smiled!

Yesterday, her smile changed my world.
Toothless, guileless,
Warming my heart, bringing tears to my eyes.
It was Magic!
It was a Miracle,
To see my Child smile the very first time.

In Defence of Einstein – it’s all Relative!

The oblong face, the unruly mop of hair,
The popping electric eyes, the long forehead
One look at me and my Mama shrieked,
One look at me and my Papa boomed,
“Heavens he looks like Einstein!”

I started crawling, I started mumbling,
I learnt to talk, I even learnt to walk,
But as a baby ne’er in the mirror I would stare,
Cause right back at me,
Einstein would glare!!!

Oh those energetic wonder years, those school years,
But for me they were full of tears,
Life was fine till one winter day, for us the Principal sent,
To the High school science exhibit,
We all went…
One look at the poster on the wall,
And my life crumpled, it turned upside down!
From that day on, I did learn to cover the inner tears with an everlasting frown!
They all laughed and they all did tease, from that day on, I was never at ease.
Oh, how I hated that I looked like Einstein.

I tried everything – chop my hair but magically it grew right back.
Trimming, Shaving, threading – my brows I did attack
But it hopeless, and for cosmetic surgery the courage I did lack.
And by college years, I merely resigned to my fate
I just accepted that forever I would look like Einstein!

Life went on, and our paths collided,
A magnetic young lady came into my life,
I was surprised, I felt blessed,
When gladly she became my wife,
She ne’ver did care that I looked like Einstein!

Life was relatively fun, as months turned into years,
Almost had subsided my fears,
Till the stork decided to visit.
One look at my little baby, so small, so sweet, oh so fine!
I almost stopped caring that we both looked like Einstein.
And one summer day, a little daunted, a little shy,
Yet again I visited the Physics lab, trying to forget the years gone by…
Proudly my little girl ran up to me,
Loudly she declared for all to see,
See my dad and me, we are so lucky”,
For we both look exactly like Einstein!’

I Pray

I see her falter, I see her fall.
I hope she rises above it all.

I see her, yet she does not see.
I wish the darkness would spare her…
Instead, it could swallow me.

Today, on knees I question, I fret, I am in tears
I pray tomorrow the darkness will have all vanished.
That there will be no more fears.

I see her falter, I see her fall.
I pray she rises above it all.

Her shadows fill me with despair.
It has been a deep dark night.
Yet, I must go on, I must rise.
Only for her, I have to fight.

She is a fighter,
She is my inspiration, my joy my light.
And soon I hope,
She will fill me with carefree delight.

I see her falter, I see her fall.
I know, she will rise above it all.
She has to rise above it all.

A Day of Celebration

…..Thanks dear Mavshi………  really value it!!!
This one is yours….and only for you

~~..~~..~~..~~

Give me all your sorrows,
Oh I take all those precious tears,
I bless you to conquer all,
That you’ll have no fear,
Today we celebrate, today we rejoice…

Today, I celebrate, today i rejoice,alas it’s September 12th. Today, I pray and thank god. Yet, why these shadows? Oh, why the disenchantment? Today, as I pen these words, why am I filled with dark gloom?

“Madhu,” I hear my husband call out for me, through the gloomy fog.
“Let’s leave a little early today. You know, we don’t have booking.”

I almost don’t hear him. I stare at my image in the mirror. What’s wrong with me, I wonder; I’d even forgotten to book the table at the restaurant. With a sigh, I lay aside my diary and pen. I force myself to get ready for dinner, for celebration.

~~..~~..~~..~~

“I am really sorry Sir, all the small tables are taken, at least half an hour wait. But….”  Hesitantly the manager asks,” Do you mind sharing one of the big ones with them?”

The manager glances towards the family sitting nearby in the waiting area. They are a family of four, huddled together, two adults and two children. They seem decent enough, though the adults do seem a little uncomfortable. Quite simply dressed, the woman stares in daze at the décor and furniture, her eyes darting now and then to the tables laden with food. The man trying to appear nonchalant fools none, his self-consciousness obvious to all. The children oblivious to their parents’ discomfort are quietly entertaining themselves; a couple of paper napkins are enough for them to build boats and bridges.

My husband looks at me. I nod my head, uncaring. Together we are all seated at a big rectangular table, a couple of chairs separating the two families.

“Let’s celebrate today.Let’s have Chinese, your favorite,” declares my husband the minute we are seated, trying to cheer me.
“Please order for both of us, you know what I like.” I reply, barely glancing at the menu.
“Let’s try the usual and something different too. How about Cashew nut chicken?”
I nod.

“Sweet and sour soup for both of us, Chicken lollipop as the starter, and then Chinese fried rice, cashew nut chicken and Hakka Noodles,” rattles off my husband to the waiter. Actually it is way too much food for just the two of us.

“Any drinks, Sir?” He asks.
“A Pepsi and a lemonade, please.”
Our order complete, the waiter walks over to the family seated next to us.

“Sir, could you give us some more time, we are not sure…” I hear the husband in the family seated next to us ask the waiter, in a small voice.

With a nod the waiter walks away.

“Vibhas this is too expensive.” I hear the wife whisper to her husband. “I was telling you, we should have gone some place cheaper.”
“Radha, we’ve discussed this. We want to expose our children to finer things in life. They should know all that’s out there for them.” He retorts a bit sharply
“Hey, don’t worry about that today. It’s Sameer’s birthday, a day for celebration, we’ll manage.” He adds a little calmly, tousling the little boy’s hair. The boy, around seven or eight looks at his father his face lighting up. His elder brother yanks at his hair, spontaneously. The younger one yelps.
“Shhhh, boys behave,” whispers their mother looking here and there, worried.
I can’t help but overhear all this.

Aai Paneer, Paneer, Paneer please” chants the elder one.
“And Ice-cream too!” chips in the little boy.
“Your baba will decide.” orders the mother.
Paneer Makhanwala and Four naans and raita,” says the man to the waiter.

“Sir, is that all?” asks the waiter.
“Yes,” the man replies, a little embarrassed, looking away.” We are not very hungry,” he mumbles to nobody in particular.

I look away. But my eyes wander back to them. I notice that they have not ordered any cold drinks either for the grown-ups or for the kids. The elder boy looks at my lemonade as I slurp on it. I try to smile. He smiles back. Quickly he picks the straw from the container in front of him and places it in the glass of water. He slurps on the water, his eyes twinkling. His brother follows suit. The expression on their faces is simply priceless! Surely they are enjoying the water much more than I am enjoying my lemonade.

By then both our meals have arrived.

“Madhu, you are enjoying yourself, aren’t you?” I hear my husband ask.
I look at him and answer with a smile.
“I am really enjoying myself.” I replied honestly. Those boys have somehow lit up my world.
“I am glad,” says my husband.
“Yes, do you know it’s the little boy’s birthday?” I ask. He glances over at the family smiling at the little one, his eyes clouding just a little.

I too look at the boys. Pleasure is written all over their faces .And their parents are all smiles too. The family is enjoying their meal. Paneer, raita and Naan is all they need. Our table is overflowing with delicacies and theirs is overflowing with love and bliss.
I am somehow deeply touched.

I am rather impressed with the children’s mannerism and discipline too. Not once have I heard them answer back nor have I heard them complain or shout. They seem quite satisfied and happy.

“Waiter, can you get some chocolate ice-cream for the boys, there?” I order the waiter to get some ice-cream for the young ones.
I look at my husband’s face. “It’s a day of celebration.” I stammer.
He nods his head.
“Sure. Ma’am,” with that, the waiter leaves to get the ice-cream.

“But we didn’t order any ice-cream, take it away” states the woman the second the waiter set the cups of ice-cream on the table.
“It’s all right.” I say to the waiter aloud. And he hurried away from the scene.
“I ordered the ice-creams for the children.” I smile back in response.
I feel the children’s eyes on me and then on their mother.
“But ma’am why?”  She retorts, hurt and indignation written all over her face.
“Why did you do that? We would have bought the ice-cream for our children if we wanted to. We are not those types of people. We don’t want anybody’s charity.” Blurts the woman
“But…” there are tears in my eyes…
“Ma’am we try to give our children the best we can. And we don’t want anybody spoiling that. We may be poor compared to you but we have our self-respect. We want our children to work hard and I know that they will get all they want. We don’t…”
“Lady please don’t misunderstand…” I try to cut in.
“Ma’am there is no misunderstanding. We cannot take it. How could you?”

Tears are steaming down my face. My husband touches my hand and walks over to the woman’s chair.
“Lady Please, these ice-creams are not charity. These ice-creams are love. We are very sorry if we have insulted you in any way. We meant no harm.”
She is quite taken aback when she hears this. The woman, the man, the boys all stare at him.
“Lady just like you are celebrating your son’s birthday, we are also celebrating our grandson’s birthday, today. He is probably the same age as the little one. He is probably a lot like him too. And …and…” he pauses, overwhelmed.
“You see, we’ve not seen him for more than five years. He stays far away in America, we miss him so much…” his voice breaks.
“Lady our grandson loves chocolate ice-cream, if your sons eat the ice-cream, it’s like we are feeding our grandson…”

No more words are needed. The woman walks over to me and hugs me, her eyes clouding in understanding and love.
“I am sorry ma’am, I misunderstood. So sorry, you know even my mother is far away …” she whispers overwhelmed
I hold her tight, trying to fight back my tears. But now I am weeping. I am weeping with joy…

And I weep as I watch the little ones gulp down the ice-cream.
I weep as I hug them.
And I weep as they bid me goodbye.
“Bye Aij, see you soon,” those are their parting words.
I am overjoyed.

You are pure joy,
You are sweet delight,
You lighten my world,
You bring warmth and light…

It is indeed a day of celebration. It’s my grandson’s birthday…and on this day I have just attained two new grandsons too. They have promised to visit me next Sunday…I am waiting…
Copyright(c) Rutuja Joshi 2007

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Aai : mother
Baba : father
Aji : grandmother
Paneer Makhanwala : A delicious and spicy North Indian dish; made from Cottage cheese (Paneer)
Raita : Salad
Naan : Bread