Sunday, November 9, 2008


10th November 2008. Raju has completed another year. He is thirty-one today. Another milestone goes past. Another year. Another cycle of seasons. The world keeps moving.

How, one may ask, does one move ahead, year after year, on the long road of life? What is the 'zindagi ka safar' like? No two safars are the same. In some cases it is a smooth passage. Birth, growth, flowering, decay and death, all under a gentle benign sun. Those are the lucky ones who have the luxury of taking life for granted. The world belongs to them and they partake in all its glory, moving on from one milestone to another without much ado. In some – not so lucky – cases there is a bit of upheaval on this long stretch. Not always cool and shady, it turns dusty and potholed in places. And then one has to grit one’s teeth and tide over the uneven patches, praying that the journey smoothens out again.

In yet other cases it is a long, long haul. When there are no even stretches. The sun is harsh and scorching. The landscape is nothing but stony mountains and dried bramble which cuts you and you bleed. When the path is beset with obstacles, treacherous marshes and deep ditches. When it gets hard to plod along and you try to clutch at the stones that poke and jut by the side. Or the exposed roots, twisted and gnarled, that seem so sturdy but dwindle at a touch. When nothing, nothing seems to help you along, all is hostile, unfriendly, discouraging.

It has been one such long journey for Raju. A long haul without respite. There have been no roots to clutch, no straws to grab at. Only an indomitable will that has kept him going all these thirty-one years.

Let me go back in time – before the first milestone that marked his coming into the world, this day, thirty-one years ago. When he was being readied for life. When he was the size of a pea or a marble or a pebble, yet to be born. At that point, came the first blow, the encounter with rubella. The pea-sized body was still taking form, the cells still growing and splitting, the limbs beginning to take discernible shapes when the cankerous microbes invaded the pea-body and poisoned it at its very inception. Poisoned the life-stream, the brain, the heart, the liver, everything.

That was his first set-back. But he hung on. Bravely. Tenaciously. He came into this world, amid fireworks and celebrations on Divali day. Fond parents called him Timtim, thinking his eyes would twinkle like stars. Or like the lamps that glowed on that moonless night. Raju opened his eyes to the world. But the eyes would not see. For they were glazed over with cataract. Congenital cataract, symptom of the rubella encounter.

In the first lap of his race, i.e., in his first year of life he grappled with two cataract operations. The film cleared, the eyes tried to focus, but the brain did not comprehend and the eyes could not see. Yet another blow, the brain refusing to cooperate.

Raju did not follow any normal milestones. He kept his own pace. Trapped inside a body that would not respond, he fought on. The nervous system refused to cooperate but he groped his way. He did not learn to talk or to walk, or even crawl. But he tried to explore the limited area of his cot. When he became too big for the cot he was moved to a bigger bed. His hands reached out to those who tended him. He asked them for love – not in so many words but with his smiles and the noises he made.

At the age of twelve he was still a baby. But he was strong. He was healthy. He would try to sit up and drag his unwilling body across the room. Then he lost his vision in one eye. It just filmed over – a post-operative condition that can occur sometimes. That was another door closed for Raju. He still fought on. He tried to focus with the other eye, squinting at the light that streamed in through the windows. He still smiled. He still tried to reach for the light. He still gurgled with pleasure when hugged and kissed.

Then the convulsions took place and he had to be put under regular sedation. Yet Raju fought on bravely.

Around his twentieth birthday the second eye filmed over. Another door slammed shut, but his spirit battled on. The teeth decayed. They rotted and fell. The pain was excruciating. Dental treatment being impossible, he suffered on. In between the pain he smiled and was happy. His vision gone completely, he no longer tried reaching for the light. Confined to his bed, he bided his time patiently.

At thirty-one today, his body seems to fail him steadily. It causes him pain and all he can do is cry. Stiff with pain, he lies in bed patiently, hugging a stuffed toy. From time to time, when he is tired lying on one side, he cries for help. Then he is picked up and turned the other side. From time to time his needs are attended to. He is fed, washed, changed and kept clean.

He still has pain-free moments when he smiles. When he gropes for helping hands around him, holds them tight and expresses his gratitude. The body may have betrayed him but he knows there are people around him who love him. Their prayers are with him. He continues to struggle.

Like Veer Abhimanyu on the battlefield, caught in the chakravhyu. Veer Abhimanyu, destined for a particular fate because of a certain knowledge received in his mother's womb. Veer Abhimanyu on the battlefield, surrounded by enemies on all sides, luck turned against him. Arrows raining down on him. His horses killed, his chariot broken, his armour rent and torn. And yet Abhimanyu did not give up. He fought on. Bravely, tenaciously, to the end.

Raju is a valiant little soldier, he does not run from the battlefield. Even today, on his thirty-first birthday, his indomitable spirit continues to fight.

Yes, it’s been a long, long, struggle, Raju, but you are doing well. Keep going, my boy, keep going.

Raju fights on bravely.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Jab hum hongey saatth saal ke....


The 13th of October came and went. No, it wasn't as uneventful as I make it sound. It was Vicky's sixtieth birthday and you will agree with me that it isn't everyday that one turns sixty. (Thank heavens for that!)

Okay, so this year we were in Hyderabad, post-Bulbul's shaadi, for the Reception from Rahul's side. That was on the 12th evening with the party continuing beyond midnight. Then we all had a piece of delicious birthday cake (prepared by Rahul's Chachi) and heralded VJ's 61st year before we wound up.

The actual birthday was the next day, the 13th of October.

"And how are you going to celebrate it, Daddy?" Bulbul asked.

Pat comes the reply: "We'll buy you some furniture for your house, baby, so that you have chairs to sit on, a bed, and some other household stuff – may be a fridge and TV, something for the kitchen, and…"

"No, but what will you get for yourself?"

"This is for myself – for my daughter," comes the reply with a cheesy grin.

"How like a parent! Please don't make a martyr of yourself, Daddy."

In her heart of hearts I could see that Bulbul was pleased. The house she and Rahul had moved into just the day before was, at that point, just bare walls and wooden doors. They had placed mattresses on the floor for a makeshift bed but that was far from comfortable. There was no other furniture. Everything had to be added. A little help from parents was more than welcome.

So the two parents, Vicky and I, decided to help the children line their newly acquired nest. We would first go on a market-survey, check out beds, sofas, dining-tables, kitchenware, etc. Before purchasing, we'd call them for a final approval because – because – you know how it is, the older generation's ideas are never the same as the young people's; tastes differ and surely they would not like to be saddled with the choice of an older generation which may – or may not – appeal to them.

Decided! We set out, Vicky and I, on the furniture hunt.

A ride to Nampally Station Road -- where we were told we'd find a lot of furniture shops -- and we began work in earnest. One shop after another. The minutes and hours ticked by. No, this shop is exorbitant. This one is shabby. The furniture of the new shop is crude. That one too bizarre. And then finally we found what the new couple may be interested in. A brand new shop that offered an opening discount. New furniture. Young owners, fairly classy, good salesmen. The adjoining shop had a decent enough dining table with four chairs. The shop across the road had kitchenware -- gas-stove, utensils, pots and pans, the works. All the shops -- literally -- within a stone's throw of each other.

What say? Okay, we agreed, and called up Rahul and Bulbul to give their approval.

By then it was well past the lunch hour. Papa and Mama were covered with a fine layer of furniture-dust and well-nigh starving! There was no restaurant in sight, just a very dhaba-like roadside dhaba, noisy, grimy, smoky, populated mainly by labour-class gentry, seemingly porters, autorickshaw-wallahs and roadside romeos. Pan stains on the walls, food spilt on the tables -- relics of earlier occupants -- and general chaos. The smell, however, was delectable. It was the kind that would revive the hungry, and sure we were starved, almost fainitng.

Fast Food Chinese Joint, so the sign board proclaimed. It seemed to be popular indeed, jampacked with people guzzling down platefuls of noodles and fried rice. Seeing that two elderly men at a table almost at the entrancee wereabout to finish eating, we stood behind their chairs -- ignoring their dirty looks -- and waited for them to finish. They took their time, lingered over the saunf, the bill, the change, et al. And then, belching loudly, they got up and began gathering their belongings -- shopping bags, parcels, and other paraphernalia. Barely had they stood up when we grabbed their chairsand made ourselves comfortable. So what if the table was still littered with leftovers, napkins and dirty dishes; at least we had a place to sit and would now be sure of being served!

Two plates of chowmein later we sauntered back to the furniture shop to wait for Bulbul and Rahul.
They arrived finally. Just as the sun was beginning its descent. Just as the birds were debating whether or not to head home again. Bulbul and Rahul arrived to put an okay seal on the furniture we had shortlisted for them.
To cut a long story short -- since brevity is the soul of wit, my dear, some purchases were made and some orders placed. Among the new purchases was a dining set -- nice mahogany colored table with four chairs. How do we take it home? Never mind, children, you go home, we will come with the furniture.

Are you sure, mom and dad? they were solicitous.

O, yes, the shop has a pickup-van; we will get the furniture loaded on it and come with it. Don't worry.
Parents are a strange breed. What do they not volunteer for the sake of their flesh and blood! Move mountains. Dig up mines. Lay down bridges over stormy waters. What we had offered to do was comparatively insignificant!
We waited by the roadside for the pickup-van.
We waited and waited. And waited.
We watched the sun set behind the furniture shop. We heard the excited chatter of birds in the trees beginning to settle in for the night. we saw the streetlights come on.

The pickup-van did not come. It is on the way, sir, said the owner of the shop.

We waited some more., sitting by the roadside on a sofa tht had been sold to another -- yet another parent waiting for a pickup-van.

The sky turned a deeper hue. IT had been a long birthday. We were tired. The chai-walla vendor supplied us some sugary tea in nano-sized plastic cups. Half the tea was soaked up by the tea-bag, but one sip of tea in each cup was still available. Pas mal!

Papa dozed. His eyes closed and head nodded over his chest.

We still waited.

And then I remembered. His birthday is almost over but no birthday picture. How can that be. Taking out my camera I clicked his pic. Lower lip pouting in sleep, eyes closed, catching a catnap on a chair by the roadside. Buses honked around us. Tyres screeched. There were loud voices, hustle and bustle.

Papa slept.

And then the picup-van finally came. Hardly a van, it was more of a tempo! a glorified scooter-rickshw with the hood removed. the dining table fitted neatly on it, so did the chairs. But what about us? How do we go along with the furniture?

Sit on the chairs, madam, the driver instructed us without batting an eye.

So the middle-aged parents climbed up -- rather, they were helped up -- and sat on the dining chairs placed in an open tempo.

Then began the long journey home.

Anyone who has been to Hyderabad knows that the traffic there is chaotic. Cars and scooters all around. Traffic lights. Policemen. Whistles, honks, shouts, swears -- you name it and we had it all engulfing us as we rode the crowded streets atop the tempo. a huge sea of traffic bore us along with bumbs, jerks and jolts. From time to time we would have to stop at the traffic lights and then we would be the cynosure of all eyes. Children pinting at us and clapping with glee, grownups suppressing a smile.

The ride became even more interesting after we stopped en route
But I am tired and sleepy now. Perhaps I should keep the rest of the story for another time. Or may be just a hint of what happened next to keep the interest alive. What say?

Once there was glass on the table top, Karim the driver told us it wouldn't be safe to sit on the idining table / chairs ans the glass may break. What then? we asked. He promptly suggested that we ride along with him, sharing the driver's seat.

Good God! The seat was small. Far too small for three adults, Vicky, Karim and I. But there was no other way, so we piled into the driver's cabin and sa on either side of Karim.

That's right! we did. the seat was small so we could barely balance half a deriere each. Jumping and joting, we started for home again. a sixty year old Birthday Boy and his ageing wife, trying not to fall off a few inches of the driver's seat, hoping that no constable would stop us en route.

Yawn! Just thinking of it makes me tired, so I think I'll call it a day. Goodnight!