The group that I run with is upto some crazy stuff. Just a shade short of ‘filmy stunts’, several runners have taken to, hold your breath, barefoot running. On the streets of Mumbai !
Life is not a bed of roses. Life in Mumbai is definitely not. Running barefoot will get you to deal with the fact that roads are not even a bed of tar. Forget roses! Yet, chanting the name of long term health of the knee, getting ‘closer to nature’ and better running posture, they are pounding the pavements of Powai with bare skin of their feet. Feet that are used to sophisticated shoes. Yes. Sophisticated is the word.
‘If they could do it, I could too’. I told myself in one of those half-assed-belligerent moments that’s usually devoid of reason. And I decided to venture out too. But no. Not the whole hog. A stepping stone to eventually running barefoot, they said, was to run in ‘Canvas shoes’ I was told. You remember these shoes, don’t you ?
The stuff that you wore for PT classes and something called ‘mass drill’! The mass drill that seemed such a extravagantly pointless exercise and fun filled day : ‘Sports Day’! Yes, the same ‘Mass Drill’ that came nowhere close to a ‘sport’ on ‘Sports day’! Of course, you had to be a sport in taking the effortless affront to ‘synchronous movement’ that was perpetuated in the name of ‘mass drill’, in your stride.
I, as regular readers are aware, am a perpetual sucker for nostalgia, diving into the past at the slightest whiff of an opportunity. Sitting in the shoe store and caressing the coarse canvas shoe was no slight whiff. It was a tornado of sorts! Before you could say four-five words like ‘The- Prime Minister-needs-to-speak’, (or any other four five words for that matter) full chronicles from the past years of starting off with the canvas shoe, were relived in my mind!
Many images from the past did many more sorties in the mind. Images of the ‘mass drills’ were just one genre. The ‘March Past’ was another wonderful display of how earnest kids supervised by strict ‘PT masters’ (as they were called), could swing their arms and legs in such a belligerent spectrum of directions, very rarely in synchrony!
Sports day itself was a delight of a day. Other than the mass drill and the march past, there were Olympic stature events like ‘lemon & spoon race’ where the ‘gold medal’ would go to the bloke who would balance a lemon on a spoon, with his teeth and run a distance of ten meters. Or thereabouts.
If that didn’t excite some, there were other ‘games’ like ‘Sack race’, ‘slow cycle race’, ‘ One leg hop’ and such else. (Now, these are not to be confused with similar games that go on in the present day corporate world). The ones at school were adorned with innocence and glorious charm.
(With such sport that gripped our imagination, India’s medals tally at the Olympics makes sense. A tally thats often eclipsed many times over by nations with population no more than population of Powai. Or even, an apartment complex here!)
Oh yes victory in these events meant that the ‘houses’ that you were allotted to would get points. The ‘houses’ were named after colours and a ribbon of the same arresting colours ( Fluorescent green, or blue, orange or whatever. The essence was in ‘Fluorescent’.) would be tied to your hand. Just in case you wanted to jump ship to a group that held more allure (err… due to a variety of reasons). Alas we couldn’t ! Those scheming teachers!
For several formative years the sport that occupied the mind was cricket. A sport that you could play with anything that resembled a bat, including a fallen branch of a coconut tree, with just a bit of appropriate chiseling! To play which, you couldnt care what you wore ! Anything was good!
In a few years, as innocence faded, newer sport held interest. Basketball, Volleyball, Tennis. I graduated to these new sport and took to new special shoes that pester power at home, brought me. The good old coarse canvas shoes, in my mind, were for the sissies doing the sack race!
So there ! So much for nostalgia !
Last week, I sat in this grand shoe store, in a brand new mall buying the good old canvas shoe. Running my hand over the coarseness of the canvas, i guess I was sitting there for a while! For it was the missus’s embarrassed nudging that brought me alive to the fact that the entire store staff had turned out to see the chap who was caressing the canvas shoe! Almost !
It was more than the attention that I had bargained for, and certainly more than the Rs.299/- I paid for these. I was surprised that Rs.299/- went the distance a long way! Especially, when it came to drawing the attention of an entire store!
Since then, I have run once for 40 minutes in these shoes. I was left with a mega blister that ballooned ‘boulder size’ by evening that bristled with irritant pain for a couple of days.
The blister will go. The blistering pace at which some memories returned, will linger for longer.
By the way, do you remember these shoes ?
It is in one of those breaks, that I notice the pen in his pocket. Being a big sucker for fountain pens, I am curious. But before that, let me state the commonly known and do a super quick tracing back of the history of pens.
Many moons ago there was an era when the fountain pens beat the wind out of the humble quill to become the default writing instrument. What the humble quill upstaged to become the preferred writing instrument, is a matter of conjecture to me. I would request some education from readers.
In the name of ‘progress’ and such else came the ball point pen. A no mess ‘use and throw’ pen, which incidentally was banned in school for a large part of our growing up years. Ofcourse, no one threw away the pen. For that matter, in that time, no one threw away anything until they had put it to atleast five and a half different uses long after the main use that it was bought for was done. Which is a sidestory that we will sidestep for now.
For most parts of my growing years if I pictured one grand battle over which the world would come to an end, it was the battle between the Fountain Pens and the Ball point pens. Quite obviously, I was on the side of the ball point pens. The reasoning was simple : All teachers used fountain pens. And ball point pens were banned for students!
Many of you would empathise when I say, that I took to ball point pens with a relentless vengeance, when I took to working. So I thought the ball point pens had won that grand battle.
Little did I think that there would soon come a time when writing per se was at risk of being obliterated by the keyboard. And just as the keyboard was rising a flag of victory over what appeared to be a new frontier, tablets and touch screen is stretching it even further. How long the ‘touch screen’ would last is left to anybodys guess. Or a lazy swipe of the index finger.
Ah, pardon the detour. Getting back to the tea break, discarding propriety or whatever, I ask the gentleman, if I could see his pen. A trifle surprised, he hands it over. And says, ‘my dad gifted me this pen when I cleared my 8th standard exam’.
‘Eigth standard ?’
After some pronounced flexing of the non-existant math muscle in the brain, I figured that was 32 years back!
It was a Parker. It carried with it the distinct smell of several years of leaving imprints on notebooks, exam papers and many papers of significance. Not to forget empty artistic doodles in conferences perhaps.
Ofcourse, within it resided some fresh blue ink, that distinctly held the smell of school. Quite obviously opening the floodgates of my memory and grand vision of that time, that the world would come to war over the mighty pen.
I wonder how many kids of the present day world would grow to romance the fine art of writing with a fountain pen. Which is when the missus points out that writing in itself is at risk.
Which is true. Romantic lover letters, I am told, have been replaced by abbreviated text. ‘Yours in ever lasting love’ or something to that effect has become ‘Lv’ in the text message driven writing of the modern times.
Thank You has become TanQ or TY ! ‘Congratulations’ has become ‘Congo’. Happy Birthday is better written as ‘HBD’. Even the ‘Many many happy returns’ is elaborately written as ‘MMHR’ !
Will cursive writing still be taught in school or will using the index finger to lazily swipe on a glazed surface become the new and only norm?
I am not sure if it will happen anytime soon. Until then, lets celebrate the likes of the gentleman who preserves and writes with a pen that’s 32 years old. Just because a father gave it to him. For sailing through class eight !
Such folks are at a different class. An endangered class.
This is cricket season. Everyone is glued to the TV sets. Tweeting simultaneously. Commenting on how squalid Ravi Shastri’s commentary is or how queer the pitch is and how this game could be a ‘cracker of the game’.
Ofcourse, expert comments come from people ranging from the next door aunty to the ex-gully cricketer who now spouts a belly and has a ton of stories from ‘my playing days’.
The eloquence that is waxed on players and their performance, is a perpetually swinging pendulum that swings from creative abuses that will shame the insipid listlessness of a laggard bowler and extend all the way to the elevation to a GODly status when a personal milestone is cracked !
Before you label me with definitively pronounced adjectives like ‘unpatriotic’, ‘unfit to be Indian’, let me hasten to add that I follow the game too. Not quite with the same intensity that people put on display in restaurants and public places. And boy who can forget twitter. Tweeting fervently, exhorting others to sit where they are or hold on to their pee until another man scores a century ! ( No, am certainly not making this up).
Am not necessarily an ignorant small towner. My own growing up years saw many a summer day that slipped by in battling bowlers from the next building with utter disrespect for the Sun and searing heat. To hit, to run, to roll arms over irrespective of where the sun was in the sky, as long as he was out there in the sky! Ah, it’s a lovely game. Yeah. G-A-M-E !
Much water has flowed under the bridge since then. Age takes a good catch, always. The hair on my head is receding and whatever is left of it is as stark as the black & white photograph. Cricket is well, different. The frenzy is several time more pronounced. Outlets to wear it on your sleeve, is multi pronged. TV channels are a famished lot without the game. The result: everybody is an expert. Vocally so !
Truth be told, I can never get myself to sit before the TV for many hours on end and confine my exercise to jumping to conclusions, stretching the statistical truth and pushing the country’s luck (exhorting people to stay still and hold their pee)!
I harbor no ill-will against the people that are more passionate. The world is made of all kinds. For long, several well meaning people have popped the obvious question at me : Why ? Why don’t you follow the game as closely ?
For an equally long time, I have either maintained a stoic silence. A silence that could outdo a hermit in deep penance. Or have hidden behind a decorated façade of ‘a game is meant to be sweated out’ argument. Now its time for a confession. The real reason is Statistics !
Yes. Really. Statistics.
The sheer magnitude of statistical trivia that International cricket can spew ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous, perpetually pushing the boundaries of both the sublime and the ridiculous! Quite obviously what is sublime to one has another searching for words that amplify ‘ridiculous’.
‘Dilshan is the seventh batsman to face Abdul Razzak when he is bowling from the Khetaramma end in the Premadasa stadium’.
Well, well. That could well be a rather tame concocted example.
The more informed amongst my friends rattle of statistics that could perk the ears of an encyclopedia maker and could go like “This is the third highest, seventh wicket partnership between Kenya & Zimbabwe, the second highest in in a one day game in Nagpur and is also the seventh highest in all world cups and 293rd in the history of one day internationals “.
Even as my mouth opens in awe, experience has taught me not to be surprised if someone else strikes a degage pose and throw a rejoinder that could go like “It actually is the 294th. The 167th got mired in a controversy because of a thunderstorm which sometimes is not counted…”.
Such powerful stuff is pregnant with poignant potential of sending the partially interested into perpetual coma!
That’s when I go looking for my running shoes.
You had to wear something called ‘uniform’. You had to carry something called a ‘school bag’. You had to go buy books & notebooks every year. You had to wrap your notebooks with brown paper and a ‘label’ with space to write your name !
Of course the wrapper and the book were a Hollywood couple of sorts. Parting as soon as they came together !
You had homework to do and exams to write. You could never understand Trigonometry or why that man shouted ‘Eureka’ although you kind of had a vague image of him running naked through the streets !
You revelled in English while your best friend was alive only in the Maths class. He thought Shakespeare was the devil in disguise and you thought ‘Differential Calculus’ was the devil without any !
Yet. He managed to beat you in English. And you beat him in math ! You thought it a big mystery and began to respect the devil a lot more.
You had holidays. Of a full two months. Where you had nothing else in your mind but cricket in the hot sun. You played and any ‘whining’ about the heat didn’t register !
You had favourite teachers. You had your favourite partners.Your friends were the world to you. You would do anything for them. Of course, your parents were God. Most of the time !
You didn’t understand money or loans as much as you understood good food and a great time.
Neither did you understand when some elders said, ‘enjoy your time now. You’ll treasure it for a lifetime’.
And then you grew up.
Looking back every now and then, wishing it was then, instead of now.
And some birds chirp. Half heartedly. Half in fear, perhaps. Of some wisecrack setting off a Diwali cracker. At 5.30 in the morning, he has to be a wisecrack. Maybe something worse.
The mind wanders to the smaller towns and quieter villages. Occasionally yearning. The sounds of small town mornings are getting to be mirror the big cities.
However, the one sound that’s missed,that used to be so much a part of the wonder years, is the buzz around the ‘hand pump’. The pump still survives, and is very much in use. In many parts of the country.
It goes by the name of ‘Adi-pump’ ( loosely translated to convey : ‘The pump that you have to hit’).People gathered around it, taking turns to pump that long straight handle, up and down. Out would flow water.
Well, water was the obvious reason. Yet, the buzz about the pump was unmistakable. For it was the point of convergence. Of men. Women. Children. Worries. Desires. Jealousies. Love.
And all that went within the whorls of the human brain. Everything was on display. Something like the military showing off its ware at a Republic Day parade. The hand pump being a completely unrehearsed natural event !
Exchanged glances, the extra puffed chest, the ‘help’ of pumping an extra pot-full for the girl. The wail of the complaining wife. The empty boast of the loud husband. Family economics. National economics. Politics. Movies.
The shrill cry of laughter. The sharp spank. Drunk men. Loud women. Washing. The quiet ones. The shy ones. The cleanliness freaks. Gossip. Teasing. Preaching. Repartees. Kindness. Despair. Bonding.
Several strands of society converging. All pumping. When their turn came.
It used to be magical. Almost as though, the buzz was in the water that came out. And so, the metal clang used to be the wake up call. An interesting wake up call. The house needed the water. But more importantly, the local news came through the hand pump !
Some years earlier, the hand pump having an artistic arched handle was more common. Like this.
That’s the journey. It seems. First things are straightened out. And then, they are replaced. These days, there is electricity. Motor pumps. And a battalion to keep the arm at the end of the hand, from going beyond making the odd noise at the keyboard.
To all those that talk about the buzz in the community gone. Or cry shrill about our panting news anchors on TV, and the ‘awesome’ editorial content of newspapers. And to those that hit the snooze button of the alarm clock…
Perhaps its time to try the hand pump !
Oh yes. The water. That’s a bonus.
Wonder what image comes to your mind, the moment you hear ‘cop’ !
To a small towner like me, this elevated perch of the local traffic constable in Madurai is permanently etched in memory.
He had to climb a ladder to get to his post. And there he stood. Majestic. With his khaki trousers and white shirt. The metal buttons seeming to be just about successful in holding back a pot belly from falling apart.
Yet, tall. Majestic. And the wave of the white gloves that had the power to stop anyone on his or her tracks. Not that the tracks themselves had wheels that would set the road on fire. But that’s a different story.
At other times, he held a round metal object ensconced in those gloves. That almost gave them a God like visage. Written on it, in bright red : ‘STOP’ !
That blue and white perch, with a funny pointed top, designed with the ostensible reason of protecting him from the sun and the rain, offered a sight of opulence and raw power. In the eyes of school kids. Like me.
In the modern days, the perches have slowly started dwindling. As automated signals replace the white glove and the rolling glare ! The man himself, stands besides the signal or under the tree. Waiting for the next offender. Causing the mind to wonder if he misses the days where he was on a different plane !
Well. Nostalgic struck. The other day, a neighbours kid asked for some help. In writing out a small essay on ‘Ambition in life’. When i was her age, i told her, my ambition was to become a traffic constable.
She smiled. And asked me to get serious. And in all seriousness, i told her, that that was who i wanted to become.
What flew by as the explanation reached her ears were the….White gloves, gleaming buttons, metal whistle, polished shoes and power to wave anybody down. ( No. The potbelly isn’t part of this list).
She didn’t get it. I guess she doesn’t quite know the perch side of this story !
These are not buildings with architectural significance ! But then, like every other building they hold in them a history. A tale. Perhaps two.
These were used as car garages. Many many years ago. In these ‘sheds’, as they were called, many an Ambassador or a Premier Padmini would stand. In the company of a slew of bikes. All from the housing colony over there.
And so these sheds shielded those vehicles that were owned with great pride. Sometimes to get people around. Many other times, to just keep up with the Joneses !
There were a motley crew of incorrigible kids who thought of this ‘shed’ with greater affection. For it was part of their life for most of their day. And dreams too.
Yes. Those three vertical lines, topped with one horizontal connection ? They were drawn with charcoal. A bowler of any merit, in the local community of local kids, gunned for those stumps.
The boundary was the road. The sixers meant broken glass panes. Tennis ball. Wooden bat. Teams. Matches. Challenges. All there.
There was no third umpire. There was no umpire in the first place. As kids, things were sorted out, mostly in a jiffy. Arguments. Fights. Sometimes walk outs. All would happen. But the game had to go on.
Kids didn’t play for honour or advertisements. Every kid played there, for cricket was life. Cricket was fun. Cricket defined. And cricket helped connect to other kids.
Many years later, those garages still stand. No longer are cars parked inside. They still stand though, with perhaps a thousand memories. Of kids, who live adult lives elsewhere.
The garages still hold evidence of their creativity. Of their ability to sort out things between themselves. And move on to the next match.
And perhaps those garages wonder, how different these kids grow up to be. With degrees in the pocket, jobs and routines as life. Treating cricket as a spectator sport. And somewhere, living life by rote.
Does this remind you of a different time. When passion ruled. The possessions were few. The heart was light. Losses never mourned. Fights were resolved. Smiles prevailed.
Give me some company, will you. I’ll get the bat and the ball. We’ll have a heck of a match. And more importantly, a heck of a time.
You see, the stumps..they are still standing.
So, Lets stick to, good for the body stuff : Fruits ! The varieties of fruits that are available for a roadside snack, is not only mind boggling but also, mouth wateringly awing.
The mind wonders how it is with you. If you lay all these fruits side by side, and you were to pick one, which one would you choose ?
Ask that question in a MBA class and in nine cases out of ten, the answer begins with a ‘it depends’. And dependencies will stretch from global warning to Bernanke to Osama Bin Laden !
Lets leave that aside. And think, which one would you choose ?
Well, actually…. hmm…it depends. On the weather. On the mood. On what was had before. On what is to be had just after. And so on. Hmm. The MBA types with their ‘it depends’ seem to have a point. After all !
In my ‘wonder years’, three slices of unripe mangoes came for a rupee. Of course salted with garnished with a dash of chilly powder. Of course, it was forbidden. By ‘authorities’ at home. And at school.
Of course, it was mentioned that it was unhealthy. Flies and ‘exposed’ food were topics discussed. In all classes. Including moral science ! (yes, we had a class called ‘Moral Science!’).
Of course, the security guards at school, would whack your behind if they spotted you any close to the mango vendor.
But then, that was the most delicious of fruits. For it came by saving up those small five paisa, ten paisa and 25 paisa coins. With a sprinkling of labour !
Of distracting the attention of security guards enough to sneak out and buy. Through pacts with others for a share of the bounty.
Some of it was redistributed. Never for money. But for the odd favour, like a deal with the boy who sat in the first row to carry an extra pencil for me. Always! And of course, there were girls. I leave it there.
After a while it all became boring. For, whats to be done exactly to distract the security guards was known. The negotiation with the vendor was fairly straight. So, pronto, the only thing that needed to be done, was to induct others into doing it.
The other day, a slice of cut mangoes caught the attention of the camera. A flood of thought came rushing back. It was sweet. And sour !
For along with the lip smacking taste, came the lessons: Maths. Thrift. Saving. Marketing. Distribution. Positioning. Induction. Team Working. Oh boy. That sounds like one heck of a MBA curriculum.
It disturbs me. To think, that i went through two years of studying a formal MBA after having gone some distance with it in class three!