Thursday, December 31, 2009

Destiny's Child

For me the best New Year resolution is not to make one. Having passed through most of the span called middle age, I am more confirmed in my belief that old habits die hard and new ones are difficult to adopt-especially the ones which amount to denial of small pleasures in day to day life. Moreover I am left with no bad habits to shun – so do I believe. I do not smoke, I do not drink, I do not do anything which sociologists and psychologists call deviant behaviour ,I do not ogle at.....etc.etc.

Since long, with the onset of every new year I have resolved -and miserably failed - to shun my smoking habit , as not only did it have adverse effect on my health but also burnt large holes in my pocket ,as it would in any person's , earning a modest salary. The first ever cigarette I had was at the Ambala Railway Station , in 1976, while I was going to Dehradun to try my luck to enter as a Commissioned Officer in the IAF. I could not make it , as destiny had other things in store.I did not touch any cigarette for 2-3 years.How I became a smoker is difficult for me to tell. Perhaps it was doston ki dekha dekhi.

I never became a chain smoker but Lady nicotine had nevertheless in due course of time got so much absorbed in my system that it was difficult for me to miss out on an occasional puff. I was so desperate to give up the habit, that once I purchased an interesting book titled " सिगरेट पीना कैसे छोड़ें ", only to rue later on the fact that the amount of Rs.4/- spent could have fetched two packs of my brand at that time.

I am a strong believer in destiny and was destined to leave this decades’ old habit. It so happened that almost three years back, I had a bout of illness, as I tested positive for Hepatitis A- a painless but dreaded disease. Sapped of all energy, with a pale skin ,I was bedridden for two months. In short, had a brush with death or you could say a close shave. This illness proved a blessing in disguise, as I was able to bid adieu to smoking , notwithstanding the fact that I gave sleepless nights to my wife , who had to slog it out for two long months single handed doing all chores ,big and small, for me besides attending to relatives, neighbours and colleagues who came to enquire after my health.

Thankfully this happened before the anti- smoking Act coming into force, otherwise, there could be some embarrassing moments , waiting !

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Hero from the Hills

I am no movie buff. This can be judged from the fact that I have not seen as many movies as I have seen summers. But this does not mean that film world or moviedom does not exist for me. Reading about films and actors & actresses , has been my favourite pastime and their lives have always fascinated me as they have often appeared to be larger than life, true to their filmy persona. Little wonder then that I have been an avid reader of Magazines like Filmfare , Star Dust and Screen.

Living at Shimla, which for quite some time has been a hot favourite with the film people as a shooting locale, I have had the opportunity of seeing in flesh and blood heroes and heroines like, Sunil Dutt, Rajesh Khanna, Hema Malini , Dimple Kapadia Priya Rajvansh , Nazima as also Ranjit and Manmohan Krishan. But they appeared as distant as ever perhaps because in common perception they belonged to an altogether different world.So what do you do when on a cold winter day a well dressed gentleman enters your workplace and humbly asks you to make some seating arrangement for a hero for a short while , who is to wait till the set is ready for the shot ?

In the early eighties , I was working in a Nationalized Bank at its branch office near the Lift on the Mall , Shimla . It was peak winter ; we already had a snowfall and heaps of snow which had been shoved while clearing the roads could be seen here and there. In the forenoon, a well dressed gentleman came upstairs into the Bank and requested for some seating arrangement for Danny Saheb, who was supposed to wait for the set to be ready for the shot to be taken outside. In no time, two chairs were placed around the bukhari, which , in winters , was kept warm and ready through out the day during working hours. After a short while , in came Danny Dengzongpa , the Hero from the Hills accompanied by Ms. Ratna Bhushan, wife of the legendary hero Bharat Bhushan and an actress in her own right. After exchanging pleasantries, they were offered the chairs which had been put there. A few of us took autographs in the personal diary. Danny and Ms Bhushan happily took tea offered to them in “ Sheeshe ke Gilass ” . Danny Saheb and Ms Bhushan had no airs of a filmy hero/ heroine and were quite down to earth and forthright in conversation. When the set was ready, someone from the crew came to call them and they parted smilingly, thanking us all , leaving a lasting impression on all of us.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Penny wise Pound wise

When it comes to greed or avarice- one of the seven deadly sins- we Indians do not lag behind. We, as businessmen, small or big are out to fleece our customers/clients, especially foreign ones, throwing all morals and ethics to the winds. But things have changed now and the foreigner travellers have become wiser. Gone are the days when an Englishman or any European tourist for that matter, while eating at a dhaba or a restaurant would pay a tip of Rs. 80/- against a bill of Rs. 20/-, telling the waiter to “keep the change.”
The fact of foreigners having become wiser was brought home to me by an incident that occurred a few years back. One fine morning , when I was on way to Nalagarh from Bilaspur on official tour in a Govt. vehicle ,I stopped to have a cup of tea in a roadside dhaba. A foreigner, sensing that the dhaba walla was charging him more than he was supposed to, started a dialogue with me:
“ Excuse me please!”
“ What can I do for you ?” I said.
“ I think he is charging me more.”
“ What have you taken?”
“ Two chapattis , some vegetable, and a cup of tea.”
“ How much is he asking for ?”
“ Rs. Seventy.”

Visibly shocked, keeping in view the rates prevailing at that time, I made some mental calculations and asked him to pay Rs. 20/-.The guy was quite grateful and happy,and after making the payment, rode his bike and left for Manali.I gave a bit of my mind to the attendant at the dhaba- since the owner was not there- and advised him not to overcharge in future. All this left a bad taste in my mouth and I could not enjoy my cup of tea.

Monday, November 16, 2009


Moon or Chaand has different connotations for various people at different times. The beautiful face of the beloved has been often compared to Moon or Chaand and young men the world over have dreamed about having a moon-faced beauty for a life partner. It is another matter that the beloved who eventually becomes the darling wife is Chandramukhi for a brief while and as the charm wears off, turns into a Surajmukhi or Jwalamukhi. Again, since times immemorial this celestial body has been a witness to romance sprouting in young hearts. A moonlit night is the most suitable time for the lovers to take vows to live and die together. To a young mother, the newborn is her Chanda so good-looking that she has to put a dark spot on its face to ward off the evil eye. A finger is pointed towards Chandamama to divert the attention of a weeping child.

But this is in a different context that I am writing about Chandamama.A recent write-up in a prominent English Daily tells me that “Chandamama”, the most popular teenage magazine of our time has completed fifty years. I remember the good old days when as a school going kid I was introduced to this popular monthly magazine. At that time more than the stories, it was the illustrations that looked more appealing. The King and the Queen, the common man, a boy or a girl were typically drawn. I particularly remember Vikram & Baital, Paropkari Panna Lal- the good Samaritan, and the serialized story of Durgeshnandini. It was a family magazine and anyone of any age group could enjoy reading it.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Karva Chauth

For quite some years now, the H.P.Government has been generous enough to allow holiday to women employees on the occasion of Karva Chauth and rightly so. The preparations for the occasion start quite a few days before , when women start getting for themselves new dresses and if possible , a new item of jewellery . A day before, the women apply mehendi on their palms and exchange Suhagi - bangles, ribbons, comb, looking glass, and sweets etc. -with neighbours and relatives. Even the habitual late risers have to get up early in the morning to stuff themselves with some eatables called sargi as after that it is nirjal vrat for the whole day till the capricious Moon appears in the sky for them to look at through the atta strainer or the chhanani and offer their prayers with water. The ridge at Shimla becomes the most talked about hub of this activity. The married women bedecked almost in bridal finery-shining dresses and jewellery- carrying thali full of flowers, sweets,lota filled with water and Dhoop batti accompanied by their husbands come to see the moon and in public view , without any hesitation touch the feet of the husband- true to the Hindu tradition. The husband is the hero of the day or so is he made to feel and appear, unlike the other 364 days of the year when the wife calls the shots.This heroship also comes for a price in the shape of new clothes etc. In most of the households, the husband is worshipped all through the year; it is a different matter that the manner and instruments vary.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Dassehra, among all Hindu festivals is next, perhaps, only to Diwali, as far as festivities are concerned. Normally, Dassehra & Diwali are named together, like Siamese twins, one incomplete without the other. This is perhaps due to the reason that there is a gap of exactly twenty days between their celebration and also that while Dassehra is a reminder of record of events that lead to Rama’s victory over Ravana, the much maligned demon king of Lanka -also the reason why Dassehra is also known as Vijaya Dashmi- it is Diwali, the festival of lights, that signifies the festivities that go with the warm welcome, Lord Rama, a victor was very deservingly accorded on his return to Ayodhya after a long period of exile of fourteen years. While Diwali is celebrated by the Hindus & Sikhs both, though for different reasons, Dassehra remains an exclusively Hindu festival.The setting to fire of huge effigies of Ravana, Kumbhkaran and Meghnad, is symbolic of burning of evil that lies within us and thus cleansing of our souls.

The enthusiasm associated with the Dassehra stems from the staging of Ramlila in every nook and corner of the country , especially the northern States during Navratri. The Navratri are dedicated to the nine forms or manifestations of Goddess Durga, with whose blessings, Rama is said to have won victory over Ravana. The more religious keep fast on all the nine days of Navratri . I have previously talked of the Ramlila of our times, i.e. when we were kids. Dassehra is celebrated in various localities of Shimla, but the main festival is celebrated at Jakhu- famous for the ancient Hanuman Temple and also a natural abode of the monkeys- where the inauguration is done by some VIP.

Earlier the pride of place was enjoyed by the Annadale ground, which even then was under the Army and special permission was sought and granted for Dassehra celebrations to take place. This was an added charm for us, as the Annadale ground was clearly visible from our residence and we could see the effigies being set ablaze amid bursting of fire works placed between them, without visiting the venue. Still at times we would visit the venue to see the grand size of the effigies.

After some years, for some reasons, Annadale ceased to be a venue. Hence the added importance, the Jakhu Dassehra has gained.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Ram Lila

With the onset of Navratri, starts staging of Ram Lila, enacting Sampoorna Ramayana in various parts of a town or city as the case may be. The Ram Lila is staged on all the days of Navratri and culminates on the Dassehra day with the final victory of Rama over Ravana, or that of Good over Evil, the two symbolize.

Staging of Ram Lila, in Shimla, where I have lived most of the time, has been continuing since long. For this purpose , there are Ram Lila Club and Committee, which make every arrangement , including finances , by collecting donations. It was really a boon granted in the sixties when Ram Lila started in Lower Kaithu area within a year of our shifting our residence there. Since we were school going kids, for nine days no other entertainment, even if available, was required.

For us this was entirely a new experience, though we had heard about the stories about Ram Lila, from our classmates residing in other parts of Shimla. Quite a few familiar faces enacted different roles, but the prominent among them were those of Ram, Sita, Lakshman, Bharat , Ravan and Hanuman, that stole the limelight and comic relief was provided by the actors playing Rakshasas. By sheer chance, the actors playing the role of the trinity i.e. Ram, Lakshman and Bharat were from the same family and were real brothers/cousins and were , as if , made for the role. The actor playing Ravana with his stout physique, and handlebar moustaches was also perhaps born to play the role. All roles were played by the male cast. Only thing that seemed out of place was Sita, delivering dialogues in a male voice, though, looks wise, nothing was lacking . The dialogues were also interspersed with poetry.

In between the scenes, entertainment was provided by artistes, by way of songs and dance. Mr. Chhabra of the Song & Drama Division, who was a resident of the area, presented beautiful songs, while dance numbers were presented by one Gulab Dass. Sh. Sadhu Ram , whose son Naresh had earlier been my classmate, acted as the stage secretary and did a nice job.

The real names of most of the actors were unknown to us, and they were always referred to by the name of the characters they played on the stage.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Car Bekaar

I have no shame in admitting that I belong to the majority species of the animal called henpecked husband. And like all henpecked husbands, I have to act according to the fads, fancies and whims of my wife, for whom , if her bid not be done , transition from being a better half to becoming a bitter half is as quick as reaching from ‘e’ to ‘i’ while reciting the English alphabet. All the more so , since we have crossed the seven years itch period three times over. Having remained posted in small places for a considerable period, local transport had never been a problem, as all places worth frequently going to, happened to be within walking distance.

The situation for us changed altogether when after serving at small stations close to two decades, I was transferred and posted at Shimla, where local transport has now become as necessary as taking breath. The few times we had to visit our in laws, I had to face the awesome situation when on way back we had to wait for the bus. This wait used to be quite an ordeal for my wife and she would fret and fume and mumble not so pleasant things-naturally, for not having a car to carry us.

Tired with her remonstrations and unable to take her tantrums any more, I dared myself to purchase a Maruti 800, the poor man’s car, by raising a loan- which I had always dreaded taking.I may add that due to poor reflexes and abysmally poor eyesight, driving is- a no no -for me.

On the appointed day, the car arrived , and in initial euphoria , my wife went for a driving licence , and joined a driving school for a month or so. Since, that did not train her enough, I requested my sarkari driver, to give her training after office hours, for a few days. Despite this she has not been able to muster enough courage to drive independently. The car is already six year old lying in disuse and stands abandoned and forgotten in a corner of the parking slot, so much so that it is the insurance people, who remind me that I have a car and I have to renew the insurance cover. It is another thing that my wife has no reason to mumble, at least on this score. But hasn’t this left a poor man like me poorer by a sizable amount !

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Kaisey Kaisey Log

Public dealing is a mixed bag. Having been in public life for quite some time, I can look back with some satisfaction as I have come across more good people than not-so- good ones. It has been my endeavour to treat my office as a trust and the belief, that public servants are there because of the public and therefore for public only, has helped me wear a sympathetic and helping attitude towards public at large.

Despite this I have had my share of bouquets and brickbats, not that this has made any big difference to my otherwise eventless career so far.

While working as a Government functionary, in the tribal district of Kinnaur-authorized to issue inner line permits to foreigners, to enable them to visit, stay and travel in and beyond Kinnaur i.e. towards the Spiti valley- I have come across all sorts of people.

Most of them would come smiling and greet me with a Namastay , but here I am talking of a few persons, etched deep in my memory.

There was this seventeen year old girl, set out all alone without any company or guide to undertake Parikrama of Kinner Kailash, which involved trekking for 2-3 days, whom I had to refuse permission keeping in view her own safety. As per practice, permission is given only to a group of minimum four persons. My refusal drew her virtually to tears, but I remained firm. In retrospect, I consider it a wise decision, because, had I given her the permission, and God forbid, if something untoward had happened to her on the way, besides facing my own guilt, I would have been subjected to official action.

Then there was this gentleman, who, I was told, had been visiting every alternate year- coming with a packet of sweets for my office superintendent,being his old acquaintance, as goodwill.

There was this gentleman, accompanied by his wife and two kids- who had made Kullu valley his home- shabbily dressed even by rural Indian standards, and but for his nice American accent could easily pass for a poor local farmhand , speaking fluent Hindi/Urdu. He told me that the local people called him “ghorey wala goor” i.e. a clairvoyant with a horse.

A gentleman clicked my photographs in my office with his digicam to “show back home that this is the officer who permitted me to proceed on journey through Kinnaur”. There were many who were full of gratitude that they were issued permits without any hassles.

Last, there was this lady from an Asian country, whose husband was travelling on an expired visa, and she was insisting upon me - as if I was duty bound to do so - to inquire about the renewal of visa from the concerned embassy in Delhi. Driven to exasperation by her irritant behaviour, I had to send her to the local Police authorities to deal with her in a suitable manner.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Moving Finger.

The late Z . A . Bhutto was no relation of mine nor was the late Saddam Hussein . Yet the manner of their death touched me no less .
After being deposed in 1977, Bhutto was made to face the farcical drama of a criminal trial, the likely verdict of which was anybody's guess.Within less than two years of being overthrown, Bhutto was sentenced to death by hanging and the sentence was executed in April, 1979. I still remember having heard the late General. Zia ul Haq say over the telephone, in a BBC broadcast “ the higher you go, the harder the fall ”. Ironically these same words proved prophetic, a little more than nine years after Bhutto’s death, when, one ‘fateful’ morning, sitting in a remote corner of the State, I heard someone saying in chaste Pahari “ Jia mari gaya oye.... " meaning Zia is dead. In this case the fall was harder for Zia himself , who was responsible for eliminating the late Bhutto, and died in an air crash and virtually fell from a much greater height .
Zia’s death still remains a mystery and there are many who believe that it was a conspiracy . Inspired by this event , Mohammed Hanif in his debut novel , “A Case of Exploding Mangoes”, has put forth various theories including that of emission of gas from a container purported to be carrying mangoes but no definite conclusion could be drawn .

This is no secret that President Bush was out to eliminate Saddam Hussein, at any cost and to justify his actions, raised the bogey of Weapons of Mass Destruction, allegedly possessed by the Iraqi dictator. To this day no such WMD have been found and it is more than two years now since Saddam has gone . This brings to my mind the story “The Wolf and the Lamb” with the moral -Might is right .

Is it not ironical then that some of us become arbiters of others’ fate, little knowing what the Moving Finger has written for us . Are these lines of Omar Khayyam:

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it .

-not enough to wake us from our slumber ?

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Anand of meeting Anand

Back in the eighties, I was posted at Pooh, in the tribal District of Kinnaur . Having been a student of literature , I have special regard for writers and authors. No surprise then , that a wireless message regarding visit to Pooh by the noted writer and author, Dr. Mulk Raj Anand by Ms. Dolly Sahiar, his constant companion and herself a photographer, designer and illustrator of repute , for a night stay on way to Kaza ( Spiti ) came as a godsend . Both the celebrities had been declared State guests by the government, and I was supposed to receive them and look after their boarding and lodging as per protocol .( My boss was away on tour at that time and being the 2 IC - in military jargon - from the administration , I had this opportunity.)The guests arrived at the scheduled time at the PWD rest house and after wishing them and introducing myself , I ushered them to their respective rooms
He was gracious enough to spare some time for me . During discussion over a cup of tea , he was happy to know that I had read his autobiographical book "Seven Summers "and a short story, the Lost Child .The talk veered round to his Cambridge days. He was pleasantly surprised that I had read about his crush on Irene, an Irish young lady (who later died at a very young age.). He lamented the fact that the state was still lagging behind in fruit processing and that while mango was produced in Kangra, people were using pickle made in Amritsar and Ambala . During our discussion on democracy, a quotation from Iqbal, the poet -

Jamhooriat woh tarz-e-haqoomat hai ki jismein,
Bandon ko gina jaata hai tola nahin jaata .”

-came handy .
To his query whether I had read Bang-e-dara , I politely admitted that I hadn’t .I still cherish the memory of this brief interaction with him . Incidentally , Dr. Atma Ram , who had taught me in the University, also published a book “Anand to Atma” containing letters the two had written to each other over a period of time.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Teachers' Day

“All the teachers deserve our respect and praise, because a teacher is like a candle that gives light to others by burning itself” -so ran the starting line of the essay we used to write on “My Favourite Teacher ”, courtesy, our teacher Mr. Gupta, mentioned below.

Teachers’ Day is just around the corner and there can be no better time for me to remember the teachers who shaped my life. I studied most of the part in a Govt-aided private school in Shimla. I fondly remember Mr. Batra , the Principal, hopefully a nonagenarian now, an excellent teacher of English and Math, who went out of the way to take extra classes to prepare us for University/ Board Exams. (up to 1969, it was Punjab University, which conducted Matric & Higher Secondary Exams and H.P. Board , established in the same year, conducted Exams for the first time in 1970) . Then there was late Mr. Ganju, Vice Principal, who later became an Awardee-cannot recollect, whether National or State- who taught us Physics and Chemistry in Higher Secondary. The notes he dictated were so good, that we never felt any need to go through the text books. I equally revere and remember, late Sh. Bhavanand, our Hindi teacher, who’s USP was his sense of humour. Guru Lal sir- Math teacher and Mr. Vijay Raina- Science teacher left no stone unturned to make the subject as interesting as possible. I may make mention of Sh. Narata Ram, who used to teach Math and Social Studies in lower classes and was a store house of such formulae in Algebra and Geometry, as are not found in the text- books.

Gyani Balkar Singh, a very young Sikh gentleman with a flowing beard who taught us Punjabi right from class V through Class XI also deserves special mention, not only for his teaching skills, but also for being a very down to earth gentleman. He was a narrator par excellence and on the request of students of all the classes that he taught, narrated the story of his marriage, right from the departure of baraat to griha pravesh, which the students listened to with rapt attention.

Last but nor the least, I would like to make mention of Mr. Gupta, who came to teach us Hindi as an eighteen year old, but could teach English, Social Studies,etc. with equal ease and while studying and teaching side by side, rose very high in the education field and is still doing very well. It is to his credit that we learnt to write first paragraph of introduction whether, it was an essay or a story as simple as “The Thirsty Crow” . All these teachers (and most of the others also) were wedded to the profession and put their hundred percent in teaching.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Computer, Internet & Books

It may look strange that I am making use of the Computer and the Internet to drive home my preference for printed paper book over its electronic version, with some justification.
With rapid strides in development of Computer Technology the answer to the question whether computer will replace the books in near future is an emphatic Yes. We already have e-books within our reach easily available on internet at the click of the mouse. Thanks to the Internet, we have the vast knowledge bank at our disposal . All that is required is a Computer and an Internet Connection.But if a Computer were to replace a book ,as is my apprehension that it will, the first casualty will be the pleasure one derives from reading a book and this will not be a welcome development. Shuffling through the pages of a book , even randomly, is a pleasure only a genuine reader can feel and describe. And in the course of such shuffling , one may and does come across some interesting bit of information , prompting further reading, thereby opening new vistas of knowledge and learning.Besides a book can be carried any where and every where and any time to be read and enjoyed at leisure , without any fear or threat of power breakdown or a monster called computer virus. It is always easier to take down notes from a book and underline important references for future use, which possibility is not there while using a computer. Besides a book can change as many hands as we would like , whereas , computer and internet for whatever reasons , are not accessible by all.
Computer buffs may argue that the e-books besides other advantages will also cut down the pressure on our limited resources that are consumed in the making of paper and other costs involved in the process of editing, proof reading , publishing - right up to the stage the book hits the market. But they do not seem to think of the huge investments already gone in the publishing business as well as the employment this has genetared.
It is possible that the transition will be as short lived as it seems quick because like all new inventions and gadgets, we may get fed up and bored with continuous use of e-books over a period of time and may like to revert back to the realm of books to enjoy again the pleasures of reading at will.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Chhoti Vilayat

The other day , I read a Middle in The Tribune by Mr. Harish Dhillon, about the people of Kunihar, an upcoming town in Arki tehsil of Solan District in Himachal Pradesh.As mentioned by the writer, the term "chhoti viyalat"(whatever history may be behind it) has become a sobriquet for this town , so much so that even the local people call it by this assumed name.People are by and large so witty that they have as much propensity to make fun of others as to laugh at themselves. A story goes that a host scolded his wife for putting four chapatis in the thali of a guest in one go and took out one saying that Shimla ke babu do not eat much.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

About me

Hi! I am aarkay,from Himachal Pradesh- past fifty, a teetotaller, well meaning and as far as possible a good Samaritan, still learning the meaning of life.Interested in English & Hindi literature.