Mumbai’s Homeless (For Kids)

In Mumbai, when it rains it usually pours.

This time it is happening metaphorically too.

Just when we are coping up with this Covid-19 lock-down seriously impacting everyone’s personal, professional and social lives, there were these reports coming in of imminent invasion of the city by some zillion locusts, advising us to hermetically secure our residences and stay indoors until it passes away. Fortunately it did not happen as feared – the pests seemed to have lost their way or perished in their march.

Barely a few days later, now the Met Department suddenly came up with the announcement of a cyclonic storm deciding to visit Mumbai proper in the next couple of days. Heavy rains, yes, cyclones, never in this city for as long as I could remember.  High wind-speeds and heavy rains were predicted. We were advised to stay indoors which we were anyways doing with the lock-down in force; and, alerted to the possibility of disruptions in power, water, essential supplies and what else – we didn’t know.  

When it came, the cyclone had mercifully changed its mind choosing a course to the south of the city. Did cause loss of lives and damage to property in its wake though not as badly as feared, quickly dissipating itself over the land. In the city, if the clips are to be believed, rains had lashed certain parts turning some streets into mini rivers, utensils and clothes sent flying in some high-rise buildings…On our street the tall coconut trees swayed crazily. In our own complex, three or four Ashoka trees, young, tall and slender, no longer able to keep their heads high, bowed down touching the walls on the inside. Surprisingly the neem tree, also young and slender, stood up well.

All in all, no serious damage done, no disruptions of utilities, we, lodged safely in our houses – except for a vague and a nagging thought not asserting itself strongly enough yet to cause loss of sleep.


So here I was on the following day into my midday nap. A blissful escape – for, a man at my age can only take so much of not-so-amusing series of nature’s capers.

And then just when god and everything else seemed to be in their place and peace reigned, well, it was not to be.    

A persistent…rrrr…rrrr….rrrr…that refused to go away, loud and strident sure to wake up a hibernating animal in mid polar winter.

 Man had taken the baton over from nature, it looked.  

I woke me up with a humour not unlike of a man tapping on the back of a mama bear in the forest and asking it to shush its bawling cub.

It must be from the accursed neighbour’s flat across the street, I suspected. For some 6 to 8 weeks, they – mason, carpenter, painter, plumber…were making such a racket every day from morning to until late evening. Appeared to be doing some major make-over. And then the lock-down came about restoring the tranquil. So it was mercifully for several weeks until partial lifting of the lock-down was announced and today they must have returned to continue with their mayhem and murder. Don’t know how it is elsewhere, but here in our country the building and repairs industry is one of the worst offenders guilty of high-decibel noise pollution and quite unconcerned about the same.

Got up to find out what was happening…and a target for my ire.

It was the municipal staff, arranged by the quick-thinking secretary of the complex, sawing off the precariously bent-down sections of the Ashoka trees. Like decapitation on execution blocks in medieval times.

Uncovered by the branches lopped away, a crow’s nest showed up on the neem tree, now open to the elements.

Suddenly the nagging thought surfaced and struck me.

It’ll be several months before the trees grow again from the stumps they’re cut to now. Sawed off it had to be, only I wish it was done a little higher up on the trunk leaving some foliage as leafy cover for the birds. May be it was considered and found not feasible.

With their homes gone here and now, where would the sparrows rest, sleep and breed?

The only comforting thought is: it had happened before and they survived. Fervently hoping they tide over it once again. Though didn’t hear them chirp two mornings last:-(


Image: Jayashree Kulkarni,‎ House Sparrow Waraje, Pune Dec – 19


Part 1

This was mid to late seventies and I was a rookie engineer, still learning the ropes, going around with senior colleagues installing imported computer systems of a leading manufacturer.  Most customers were from government as import by private companies was like climbing Everest on crutches.

We had just finished installing a large system for an instrumentation based application at an Government Of India facility on an island in the state of Andhra Pradesh (AP), some 100 kms away from Chennai. A tiring job over some six weeks to get it up and working given the by-no-means-unusual number of dead-on-arrival equipment/peripherals, and an irate and impatient customer breathing down our necks. Nevertheless, an interesting assignment, wherein I learnt from P, my senior, among many other things digital, analogue and real world, how to troubleshoot digital circuits with a piece of wire to short two points and a blade to cut the trace connecting two points – no DVM’s, no oscilloscopes! 

So it was finally over, the installation-completed report signed by the customer. With a great sigh of relief – it was mutual – we bade our byes, came to our rooms, picked our bags and boarded the bus that took us to the mainland by a narrow causeway, luckily not under water owing to low tide, in some 20 – 30 minutes.

P, speaking in Hindi and English, fixed up a cab to Chennai. The driver seemed a pleasantly chatty chap.

When we were ready to leave, the driver turned to me and inquired:

Ennanga (What, Sir), don’t you want to take home some rice from here?’

P was roundly ignored – coming from north, he would not be interested in buying rice, the driver guessed. He didn’t seem to mind it.

‘Believe me, your people will love Nellore rice. It’s expensive in Chennai. I know some good reliable grocery shops here, will get you quality stuff at a good price.’

After some hesitation, prodded by P, I allowed myself to be led to a shop; bought 5 kilo’s of a kind helpfully recommended by the driver and at a price he negotiated.  The rice came in two or three smaller bags for a reason I was to learn soon.

I was excited – for, this was one of those few occasions, living with parents, I was buying something for the house with money I earned; of course, laced with apprehension how it would be received.

When we returned to our cab, strangely the driver did not move the bags to the boot. Instead he spread them out on the floor where I rested my feet.  

The bulk I carried about me, not designed for squeezing into smaller spaces even in those younger days. Hard cushion, torn seat, MAYBE, but hard rice bags under one’s feet was a NO, especially in a long ride. Also, to me, it was and still is unacceptable to put one’s feet on rice, one’s food.

I looked at him.

‘Don’t worry. It is only for 15-20 minutes until we cross the border into Tamil Nadu (TN).’

Again I looked at him.

‘You see, on the way to Chennai, we cross a check-post on AP side of the border and, soon after, another on TN side of the border. ‘

So? <note: the words in italics were not vocalized>

I wasn’t giving up even if took all of Twenty Questions to get it out of him.

‘The TN guys will check our vehicle for any liquor we may be smuggling in – of course we don’t, and the AP guys for any rice we may be smuggling out.’

What…What did you say?

‘Nothing to be alarmed about. We’re not taking out sacks of rice. Only a measly 5 kilo’s. And usually they check the boot in a hurry and let us go – cars back up quickly on this busy highway, you know.’

From a rookie engineer to a rice smuggler? I stood still not moving.

‘Dear Sir, trust me, I ply this cab every day for years now. They’re after the big smugglers and not small fry like us.’

He roped in P for support. P made it sound a little better; he said I was carrying only a small quantity and that too for personal use and not for any commercial purposes, so it should be okay.

I relented.

The small talk on the way did nothing to dispel the visions I was having of me posing in a striped dress like they show it in movies.  


Part 2

Shortly the cab slowed down and stopped behind the barricading pole.

An officer in uniform carrying a baton in one hand and a torch in another walked up casually to our cab.

The driver asked us to look normal and not tense up. It’ll be all over in a few minutes, he assured.

In those days, returning from college, when I took the exit at Matunga railway station, on many occasions, the TC (Ticket Collector/Checker) would, like a hound on scent, pick me from a thick flowing mass and ask to show.  Something to do with the visage – looking guilty when I wasn’t one wee bit. So much so, returning from my official overseas trips, for many years I always went for the red channel though carrying nothing more than a few toys for the children. 

And here this guy was asking me to look normal…ah.

In a practiced routine the officer went to the back of the cab, inspected the open boot. And then…he came around to my side of the cab. Well, really not well, this was no part of the script as I had known it to be.

I summoned to mind all those best scenes of Om Prakash, Asit Sen, Utpal Dutt.

The glass was rolled down. He stuck his torch inside and shone it at the first draw directly on those rice bags under my feet and the few grains that had spilled.

What made it worse was he did not look at me, did not utter a word. The defence I had urgently put together was not called for. He walked up to the driver in the same casual manner, signalled him to come out and follow him to his chotu cabin.

Turning to us and making gestures of resuscitation, the driver complied.

Minutes passed…a few cars lined up behind us.

Finally, the driver came out and headed our way.

Was a police jeep with siren and flashing lights being summoned?


Part 3

‘Sorry, Sir. I had told you not to panic.’


P took charge: ‘Now, what?’

‘We need to pay hundred rupees. He had wanted two hundred and fifty – I negotiated…’

They’ll let us go?

The matter was resolved and we pulled away as fast as we could.

Took a while for all signals of life in me to return to their base.

The rest of the journey passed without any further ‘excitement’, engaged in some perfectly inane chat.

I was at once sore at the driver for getting me into the tangle and also thankful to him for tactfully fixing it later.


Part 4

The following day, in Chennai office, we finished the official business with regard to the installation.

Over lunch, when I began sharing our or my harrowing experience of the day before, the account manager who had not accompanied us interrupted:

‘Wait, wait. Let me guess – so you were taken to a shop, you bought some kilos of rice, shoved it under your feet in the cab, got caught red-handed…or rather rice-footed?’ He let out a guffaw that drew every eye in the room to us.

Wasn’t amused at all at his levity.

‘I’m so sorry, I should have warned you guys. Happens all the time like sun rises in the east.’


I tuned out.


I was at an age innocent of the ways of the temporal world.

Luckily, also resilient. Most engineers are – they don’t hurt/sulk for ever.

The fact did not rankle me for too long that the rice from Nellore in the final tally was twice as expensive and easily available from the nadaar kadai at the street corner!  Or the generous tip paid to the driver at the end of the day for his ‘damage-limiting efforts.’


Of My Friends And Acquaintances

This post is about two of them.

He is a completely self-absorbed guy of a kind if I see him coming at a distance I would be sorely tempted to duck into a nearby saloon even if a haircut isn’t due until end next month. And when the inescapable did happen, it was always about how he cooked his bhindi (okra) – he lived alone – and it came out so well done earning rich praises from the house maid or how many push-up’s he managed getting up at 4-30 in the morning. Or, which stocks he plans to buy when the market opened, how he got a noisy ceiling fan to behave itself…Did it matter my mind wandered, while he was at it, to the mails I have to shoot out that day or the chore of meeting K to hand over the monthly cheque…as long as I kept a steady stream of perfectly inane ‘mmm’, ‘oh, oh’, ‘really’…going; the latter was also a sound fail-proof defence against his mood-swings. Any attempt on my part if ever to start a conversation on my life did not proceed beyond thirty seconds at the max.

Thankfully our running into each other is not frequent enough to dent my mental state and cheer. Even when a meeting did occur, my dipping blood sugar, real or feigned, came to my rescue to bring the meeting to a civil closure.

Wait…your take on my circle of friends and acquaintances would be skewed if I didn’t leave this guy right here and take you to the other.  

It was some two weeks after my second cataract removal.

With nothing else to do, I browsed thru some recent messages. Decided to respond to a few.

After about half an hour or so, there was a knock at the door. When I opened the door, it was this guy standing out there. It was an abs surprise to find him as he was, for some reason, simply not in the habit of visiting homes. I was worried if he was in some trouble that had made him break his long-held habit.

I invited him in and asked if all was fine.

He turned around and asked me if I was fine.

Why? I was quite alright, I thought.

He saw my recent messages to him was unusually full of typos and was mighty concerned if something had gone wrong with my eyes and sight. That’s why he had rushed to my place to check on me.

A bit of a background here: a few months ago his cataract operation had gone bad due to a lapse on the doctor’s part. He had almost gone blind in one eye, miraculously recovering after consulting a second and a third doctor. Hence his worry for me.    

Yes, I was having problems running my chubby fingers over the old Nokia’s keyboard and looking at its small screen with my sight being what it was. But nothing more serious. May be it meant I had to wear glasses notwithstanding the expensive lenses installed in my eyes. .

Now tell me how is this guy for a friend.

That’s not all. I also know he helps a lot of families by attending to their sick, teaches slum children, and donates to charitable causes – a good human being, far more than I can claim and the reason I don’t want to lose him despite occasional spats.

And you thought I collect weirdo’s around me – like the first one, eh?

This guy loves adhirasam, a sweet preparation from the south. I picked up a few for him today and just as I was returning from the shop, what do I see?

As luck (?) would have it, here the man was walking up my way. The situation called for an instant decision – should I duck into the ‘saloon’ on my left like I always do or hand over the sweet to him he likes so much? Samaje? (Got it?)

Of course, I did both.


I added this footnote based on seeing some initial feedback when it became clear the point that both the guys are one and the same person is unclear to the reader thanks perhaps to some obfuscatory writing at the end. .

People – self included – are such strange bundles…

A Happening On A Friday Morning…

…totally unplanned, nay, unexpected, in real – a light-hearted piece from theotheri, a blogger whose refreshingly different ways of looking at the familiar I enjoy reading:


The Other I

I have said before that it seems to me the older I get, the less predictable my days become.  Most of my plan for any day ends with the stipulation “barring the unexpected.”

But last weekend this took on a new dimension.  Most of the unexpected things in my life these days aren’t actually surprising.  They are mostly simply unplanned.  Like something breaks in the house, or a neighbour asks for help, or I get a phone call from a family member telling me about a doctor’s visit, or the rainstorm floods the drive and blows down a tree.

The surprise began on Friday morning when I went to prune the rose bushes.  There was our neighbour’s chicken, called Boudica*, energetically clucking around.  She’s gotten out before, and I’ve called the neighbour who comes over and, usually after a serious hour or so of hide and seek, eventually catches her…

View original post 376 more words

Road Traffic Accident (< 100 Words)

By jackfielduk in thedrabble:

We are comrades stuck in traffic. Nothing has moved for thirty minutes — it must be serious. Traffic opposite hurtles past, mocking our stationary plight.

The lorry driver jumps down from his yellow cab, speculating through an open window. A distant ambulance wails along the line, cars crabbing away from its path.

Finally, engines wobble into life, piercing our pop-up partnerships. As we crawl past the tangled wreckage, we stare and are thankful it is not one of us, accelerate away, turn up the music and…

…are enemies once more.


At Chennai International Airport

As we deplaned at the international airport at Chennai – it was a domestic flight from Mumbai – and made our way to collect our baggage, on both sides of the long walk we were treated to some delightfully eye-catching high-quality art-works – panels in relief, paintings, icons carved in wood…all drawing upon the rich cultural motifs of Tamil Nadu.

And that’s when our good old Murphy’s Law kicked in. Even if the gentleman had not said anything on the subject, I’m sure you’ll know what I mean. Here was art decked out in all its splendor pining for attention and adulation, and for crying out loud, my camera-cum-cell-phone rides in my wife’s handbag, about fifty feet in the lead. Lumbering along with a particularly heavy piece of cabin baggage, I had to be content merely ogling at these art pieces, telling myself may be next time…

Finally, caught up with the lady waiting for me to join at the entrance to the baggage hall.

I set my load on the floor and told her by gestures there was a pressing matter to attend that cannot keep..

Inside the toilet, I finished the business and then by sheer chance looked up.

And saw this:

The poster art, a civic initiative, by itself made sense as the city is presently reeling under severe water shortage this year. But its juxtaposition

May be it’s a brilliant move: Where/How else a message could get undivided attention for even up to a minute or more smack in the face of an audience helplessly glued to their station and at the same time in a relieved frame of mind 🙂

Retrieved my camera and took a shot of the art to ponder over the ways of those creative minds that worked on it – a perfect brain-food 🙂

And a small compensation for not ‘capturing’ those enchanting art pieces?


Archimedes, Take This: You Don’t Always Need A Lever To Move Things Around!

It is part of the routine morning walk – collecting flowers on the way, from plants jutting out over the peripheral fences/walls of apartment complexes lining the streets. No trespassing committed. And no one minds it’s only a few flowers.

The flowers are for offering at the temple and also for pooja at home, supplementing more fragrant ones like roses, jasmine, tulsi, sampangi, etc. bought from vendors.

Pinwheel flowers (Rajanigandha/Nishagandha) are the ones most commonly found at these places.  In season, they follow a cycle of about 3 days of blossoming in profusion followed by another 3 days of the next succession of buds to mature. Surprisingly the cycle seems to occur fairly synchronously across plants growing in different apartment complexes!

This was the first day of the blossoming cycle with just a few flowers peeking out here and there on the bushes. Even those ones and twos could not be missed out on the days when the collection ran thin.   

A heavy hand reached out to the thin stem of a solitary pinwheel flower appearing on one side of this bush. What followed…well, plucking was not to be!

The hand withdrew like it touched hot coals.

It wasn’t any muscle or machine power that caused the hand to go empty, moving back to where it belonged. Nor any ready-to-strike insect lurking around.

It was a mere butterfly…that flew in and settled on the lone flower, folding and unfolding its wings, uncoiling and sinking in its proboscis quite unmindful of the hand and its human.

What option then did the poor hand have but to get out of the way?

Since then the collection process stood modified to leave as much behind on the bush as was being taken.



Source: and

Move Over, Chennai

Years ago, my uncle had moved from Kolkatta to Chennai, giving up a good job in an MNC to be with his ageing mother.

He had set up a factory in one of those outlying areas (may not be so, now) – Velachery – to make plastic components for the industry. Daily he drove by himself all the way to and fro his residence in Triplicane, a city suburb. Every so often, in his commute, at some point enroute he was involved in one incident or the other. One day it would be an old man or a middle-aged lady (the most aggressive lot), and on another day, it would be a chicken that would meet with his car. Immediately a neighborhood crowd would collect around the vehicle and one among them would take the lead in the cry for justice for the ‘poor victim’.  It took a while for my uncle to realize the victim was, in fact, no victim having flung himself deliberately against the car, ending up no worse than lightly soiling his clothes, so managed by clever choice of the moment and the spot at a braking distance in front of the car. Of course with a chicken thrown expertly, this was not possible – it would end up dead or near dead. But there was no way he could prove it wasn’t his doing to the small mob that would appear instantly out of thin air. It meant buying his way out by parting with a wad of rupee notes, feeling lucky to get away at that price. That done the mob would disappear faster than a magician’s now-here-now-where act. 

We learnt of these incidents only when he let it out much later in some context. And when he did, we would feel sorry for him and at the same time angry at the way of life in this city to earn a quick buck.

Another senior executive from the corporate sector who had similar experiences did a little differently under the circumstances, we learnt: to the dismay/shock of the mob, he always concluded the transaction, by carrying away the chicken with him as-was!

View of Chennai held fast over the years bolstered by other stories one heard or read as a second-to-none petty-scamming place underwent a sea-change when a few days ago on seeing this article/clip dated 2012!

Excerpts from the article translated and edited:


The feigned casualties, a whole business.

These ‘artists of deception’ practicing all the tricks and deceptions to avoid going to work or collect subsidies fall into two profiles: one, “innocent or common picaresque” that seeks to escape one or two days of work to extend a weekend and the other that feigns pathologies that are not demonstrable as a headache or a backache, or something else fraudulent that goes further in the deception and simulates a serious illness even going to medical courts to achieve a low or disability in order to defraud the social security to collect the corresponding subsidies…

In the last years, forums, blogs or websites have proliferated in which Internet users exchange tricks and advice on how to self-harm or invent a credible excuse. There are even tutorials that detail the steps to follow to train you and become a “professional deception,”…

Among the practices carried out by some workers to simulate or contract a disease are some very ingenious, at the same time curious, such as placing a slice of onion under the armpit to suffer an allergy or hives, place for half an hour half orange on the bottom of the feet to suffer fever, heat in the microwave a few varied fruits and eat them hot causing severe stomach pains or even someone who snorts chalk, something really dangerous because among its consequences is pneumonia!!

Browsing the web can ‘help’ discover pages specialized in providing alibis or excuses to workers.Among the products that are offered on these pages are fake medical receipts and false obituaries, infallible proofs to be presented to the boss.

These fraudulent practices have caused companies to seek professional help and put themselves in the hands of specialized private detectives in order to demonstrate the scam they are being subjected to by workers and clients.


Now watch the clip here:

(some parts of it may have been staged)

Chennai, now you lose your spot to be second-only-to-Spain in petty-scamming if things haven’t changed over there in the last seven years!


PS: To be fair, maybe there are other cities besides Chennai no different or even worse in this regard. It’s another matter Chennai was/is never in the running for bigger scams, monumental corruption by shamelessly self-aggrandizing politicians and others in authority excepted.  

Do Surprises Ever Cease?

Some people surprise you at every turn.

We came and stayed together and then went our different ways years ago. Nevertheless, kept in touch from time to time.

His career progression took him through (some of it when we were together): Implementing retail banking solutions beginning with mechanical ledger posting machines with some 150+ column printers followed by 8-bit microprocessor-based systems and later with 16-bit systems; supplying and supporting DTP systems with HP laser printers and software like PageMaker that made a publisher out of anyone; offering high-end CRM solutions for enterprises


I often wondered what am I doing with myself whenever I saw him, from his snaps in FB, taking off to places not on tourist maps

Staying in the same concrete jungle not far from him, while all I get is an occasional pigeon who eyes me with feelings I have not been able to quite decipher or a crow that caws its heart out for some unknown reason, I see him tease all kinds of feathered friends to readily pose for him cutely on the window-ledges at his flat

While at these and a lot more I know not, he also married an accomplished globe-trotting bharathanatyam/carnatic dancer cum musician of renown who, along the way, picked up a PhD in French, now regarded as a cultural ambassador.

Today I learnt – had I known, would have insinuated myself to go with him on his binges:-)  – he is a highly rated reviewer of eating joints all over India with a substantial following on TripAdvisor.

And now this: In a competition announced by Lufthansa, he bungs in a recipe for his new gastronomic fling and walks away from the crowd with rare recognition from the airlines – it’s now likely to be featured in their in-flight meals!

This news comes in just after I wrote here:

Not very hungry, we pulled our folding-tables down ready to receive our Asian-Veg meal (acronym’ed AVEG, could be taken for average!), planning to take not more than a bite. When we did get our trays, to our dismay, it was not very diff from what was served earlier in the Cairo – Bahrain sectorpeas-rice-dhalpaneer as the main course, a bowl of semi-cooked chana, a sweet dish and the ubiquitous bun. Led me to think: ‘Bring out a recipe book for AVEG meals, these chef’s, their wits strained, will grab them like hot gulab jamuns.’

A generous guy that he is, he readily gave away the winner recipe, reproduced here below:

Guava (Peru) Curry By R. Badrinathan

It is unusual to find Guava Curry in many restaurants or homes. Delicious as any other curry, it could add taste to your fresh roti’s making a full meal. Fiber-rich guavas come loaded with vitamin A. With tomatoes and capsicum thrown in, your taste buds are in some pampering and your eyes, for a visual treat! Here you go:


Preparation Time: 10-15 minutes      Cooking Time: 10 minutes       Servings: 4 – 6 portions

Ingredients • Well-ripped peru’s (Guavas) – 4 nos (red peru’s add color to the dish) • capsicum red and green  – 1 cup (cut into small pieces) • Well-ripped tomatoes – 1 cup (cut into small pieces) • 2 teaspoons cooking oil • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds (Rai) • 1 teaspoon coriander powder (Dhania) • 1 teaspoon cumin powder (Jeera) • 1/4th teaspoon asafetida (Hing) • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder (Haldi) • 2 teaspoon chili powder • 1 teaspoon dried mango powder (Amchur) • Salt to taste  • 3 teaspoons sugar or good quality jaggery powder

For Garnishing • 2 teaspoons finely chopped coriander

Preparation: 1. Take well-ripped guava and cut them into pieces making them into small cubes.  2. Remove the middle portion of the fruit which may have lots of seeds. Blend the middle portion by adding a small portion of water in a mixer and make a smooth paste 3. Heat the cooking oil in a non-stick pan. 4. Add the mustard seeds and sauté on a medium flame for a few seconds 5. Add asafetida, turmeric power, guava cubes, capsicum and tomatoes and sauté on a medium flame for about 4-5 minutes, mix them well while stirring occasionally 6. Add the guava paste and mix it well 7. Add the following – coriander powder, cumin powder, chili powder, dried mango powder, jaggery powder and salt to taste 8. Add 1/2 cup of water and mix well (add less/more water to improve the consistency) 9. Cook on a medium flame for about 5 minutes, while stirring occasionally 10. Garnish with coriander and serve immediately with Roti’s.

Guava Curry can be easily served on flights along with roti’s/paratha’s and naan’s or with pulav along with chill mint raitha.

Do surprises ever cease? All my bets are off with him around.



It Happens…

First of a series of short vignettes on life around as seen, heard, felt or even read about:

I was on my morning ritual – walking around the outer periphery of Diamond Garden near where I live, with an enthusiasm that wasn’t exactly gushing, taking in the usual sights: other walkers speeding past me with an ease that at first annoyed me to no end, now at peace with it; straight-from-Nashik farm vegetables sold in a brisk but unlicensed trade under the fear of sudden raids and confiscation by allegedly-bribe-taking authorities; a motley bunch of young and old of both sexes collecting inside the Garden, flinging their limbs about as directed by a trainer and emitting noises from the deep-end of their voice boxes like they do in a movie on martial arts; an enterprising middle-aged lady serving, in small plastic cups designed to hold only a little more than a spoon-full, a chlorophyll-rich herbal concoction of ingredients pulled from half-a-dozen polished containers, perhaps to make up for an husband idling or lying senselessly drunk at home; another bunch, mostly in their sixties and above, in casual postures, letting out bursts of loud mirthless laughs – do these qualify for health benefits? – sure to  startle the unwary; a homeless guy looking like a runaway from coal mines, sitting feet up on one of those shiny steel benches reading a newspaper in English; …

I’m digressing.

Into what was my third round I think, this man crossed my path heading somewhere beyond the Garden, clad in a black dhoti usually worn by Ayappa devout’s, unshaven, with a small sandal-paste-kumkum tilak on his forehead.  As he pulled ahead of me, as they all do…ugh…, I read ‘TATAVAMSI’ printed at the back of a sleeve-less jacket he wore over his shirt. I was intrigued. One has heard of many vamsam’s (lineages) named after illustrious guru’s, acharya’s and even venerable rishi’s from mythology. But a vamsam by this name TATA – this was a new one for me. Who was this TATA his grandchildren so proudly and publicly announce to the world? Why not take his name? The word means grandfather in Thamizh.

Well, the question remained in my head for a few moments, going out of my mind no sooner he went out of my sight.

Then, it was not to be. In my penultimate round executed more in joy than in breath – the end was in sight, you know – this guy was walking right back along the same way he had gone, crossing me again. Curiosity could not be contained. I stopped him in his stride to ask him politely who was this TATA and what was grand about his grandfather that he went about carrying the old man on his back instead of in his heart as the usual practice was. He was startled out of his wits to be suddenly accosted by a perfect stranger and hit straight out of the blue with a query that made no sense to him even after he recovered his wits about him. Helpfully I drew his attention to the words he carried on his back.

‘Oh,’ he burst out laughing, ‘Sir, it’s nothing about my poor diseased TATA who would have given his life to belong to a worthy vamsam, it’s TATVAMASI.’

No elaboration was needed for the profound advaidhik pronouncement from the scriptures.

‘Oh,’ I said.

Moving on, mercifully and gracefully he didn’t make it worse for me. Having said that, I must also tell you this – at my age, it takes lot more than this for me to be shamed, a limit not challenged yet.

At the same time, inescapable’s cannot be ducked for long, Regrettably it looks like the long delayed visit to my doctor would be sooner than I had planned for my cataract. Though it would still leave me with the flawed ‘auto-suggest/correct’ feature embedded in my grey cells unfixed.