When You’re Put Down In Life…

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A man travelling on a train was getting ready to de-board at Victoria.

The hurly-burly ticket-collector saw him near the door and said:

‘This train doesn’t stop at Victoria, Sir, it’s an express.”

‘Oh, my, I NEED to get off at Victoria!’

‘Sorry, Sir. There’s no stop at Victoria.

‘There must be something you can do.’

‘Well there is one thing …’

‘What? Anything! I need to get off!”

‘Well, I’ll get the driver to slow down and I’ll dangle you out the door and lower you onto the platform.’

‘Will that work?’

‘It’s worth a try, if you’re up to it.’

The train approached the platform at 50 mph. The ticket-collector held the man in mid-air out the door. The man started running! The man was running in mid-air.

‘Run faster! Run faster!’ cried the ticket-collector as he lowered the man down.

The man’s feet touched the platform! Smoke flew of his shoes and his heel came off. The man was running for his life!

The ticket-collector finally let go. The man was running at 30 mph!

He had made it! He began to slow down. He was still running at 20 mph alongside the train as the other passengers watched in amazement and burst into applause.

As the last carriage passed by, he heard a voice say, ‘You’re lucky I was around here! Don’t you know this train doesn’t stop at Victoria!’ as a hand grabbed the man by the shirt collar and hoisted him back onto the train.

…There’s Always A Helping Hand To Lift You Up.

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Credits: traveljokes.resourcesforattorneys.com

Boarding The Madras Mail

Part 1

There are some moments, precedented and unprecedented, inescapable in a man’s life notwithstanding the quirkiness of English language that permits the latter and disallows the former. After all it is the precedented;stuff that makes life livable. When the unprecedented socks you in the guts, and it’s usually when you aren’t looking, you just gather your whatever wits and play it as best as you can. Imagine yourself ambling over on seeing green at a pedestrian crossing and this Pinto comes along and lays the poor unsuspecting you horizontal on the road – that would be unprecedented for you? Whereas, the precedented is entirely another thing, and is the subject of this post. The wise majority know to prepare for them well in advance. For the few others, well…I assuredly belong to the former kind. Even so, life is not without its own quirks that turn best laid preparation on its head. You’ll be quite with me on this when I am done. Without more ado, let me get to the point.

One of those precedented moments for me was when the wife publicly announced her customary summer vacation plans for a month-long visit to her parents taking the kid with her. The first thing that hit me was it meant eating out in restaurants for a month – something I don’t exactly relish. Of course it also meant doing the laundry myself, paying all the utility bills that always left me wondering if they were for my flat or the entire complex and, queuing up before the largely unmanned counters at the bank. Or, answering the door to: women pleading with us to add to our burgeoning collection of hand-crafted brooms, couriers delivering company notices seeking hefty salary hikes for their loss-making directors, well-dressed kids trained to make me squirm about not earning for causes in life other than my wife and kid, visitors to neighboring flats who think their hosts live with us, the watchman of our complex choosing us for some unknown reason to unburden on his living conditions and ask for a loan essentially non-refundable, and many other sections of the society, not accounted here, beating to our door.

Looking at the brighter side, now I could actually read novels in bed using a table-lamp, hitherto accused of being too bright for my bed-mate’s sleep. Not just that, I could even set the ceiling fan to whir at its best, another of those forbidden pleasures. What else? Mmmm….Well, on the chores of buying vegetables and provisions at the market or chasing the boy to do school home-work, walking him to and from the coaching classes, drawing academy and music teacher’s house – I couldn’t really claim relief for they were anyway never my chores. Yes, I’m also mercifully off from taking some vexing decisions, rather, suggestions like should we go for vegetable kholapuri or paalak paneer, would the drinks be strawberry flavored or vanilla…To be honest – and it took some years to get wise to it – these are no longer vexing as the decisions are already made before suggestions are solicited. So I could, without a thought, be putting my finger on a door-mat in shocking pink and be sure to step on one in dull-grey I had really liked.

Backing to the present, the announcement meant working on a tried-and-tested things-to-do that left nothing to imagination or chance including for me to get off the coach minutes before the train’s departure. Starting at the beginning as we must, the panchangam (the calendar) was consulted and three alternative dates of travel and return, declared propitious by stars (of the astronomical kind) of the day and the lunar phases (thithi’s), were picked. There were injunctions to the choice of 2nd class 3-tier sleeper tickets: (a) Specify lower berths. It’s unsafe to park the kids in the middle or upper berths in the night (b) Check if the seats are not allotted near the toilets on either ends (c) And they must be in the direction of travel to get the wind on the face; else it can get very stuffy in the summer (d) There must be families or at least ladies in the seats around; else the danger of being in the midst of boisterous college-going boys on a study tour or something (e) No screaming babies within ten feet (f) No one eating smelly or non-veg food within six feet and (g) The berths must be cushioned.

Since the old-fashioned computerized booking-system was not quite tooled to process a few qualifiers that did not run any farther than (g), it meant I had to spend a few hours at the railway station and negotiate with the booking clerk with as much charm as I could muster, undisturbed by the commotion created by those unreasonable souls behind me in the queue who seemed to be in a tearing hurry as though to catch whichever train – perhaps they were. Even so precedent told me I could expect to be satisfied on not more than a couple of counts. And a lecture would inevitably ensue from you-know-who on board the train on how I did not sufficiently impress the clerk on the remaining points. No point on losing sleep over something that was still six weeks away.

This time I was lucky on the availability – I got the tickets of the first choice itself – 2nd class 3-tier sleeper berths on the 9Dn Madras Mail of 18th night of the following month to board from Kalyan (for those of you not familiar, Kalyan is a railway junction an hour’s run away from VT, Victoria Terminus). The Madras Mail rolled out from VT late every night and reached Madras early on the second morning. What more – the friendly clerk even assured me of complete satisfaction on (a) to (c). On (d) to (g) he couldn’t. There was no telling what would happen until the boarding time. I saw his point and left it at that.

Not one to abuse your indulgence, I’m not anymore going to drag you painfully over what else was ordained by the tried-and-tested things-to-do and what was accomplished during the six-weeks of run-up to the day of departure. Suffice to say the instructions were followed to a T.

Now fast-forward to the time we reached Kalyan station wheeling in the bags and carrying a sleepy kid, with half an hour to go for the Madras Mail to arrive. Just enough time for the final round of checks before the take-off: Do you have the tickets in your clutch bag ready to show? Have you stowed away safely the tickets for the return journey? Have you kept some loose change in the purse for buying things on the way? Are water bottles standing upright and not leaking? Buy more bottles if you need them on the way after checking if the seals are intact. Are there enough biscuits and chivda to keep the boy busy? Have you carried magazines to read on the following day and story-books for the kid? And a few more, ending with: Are you waiting at a spot where your coach would come to stop? Check with the porters.

It was quarter past mid-night when the train dutifully pulled in, easing slowly to a halt.

(To be contd.)

Man’s Scheme Of Things

Here’s another one on ‘Garden’ – four over hundred words.

‘Look at the chinar-lined vistas, blooming flower-beds, shallow terraces, smooth sheets of falling water, and wide canals studded with the stepping stones. Beautiful! Breath-taking! If only man had created this world…’

‘Well, our four-legged friends, also the finned and the winged ones, would be very nervous about it. They would want to be more than ending up as garden curios, gawked at in zoos, farmed for meat, or reared as house-pets, assuming they don’t figure in circuses or in labs anymore.’

‘Animal rights, eh?’

 The stray dog behind them morosely thought, ‘Forget it, he wouldn’t have another man around to share his world and women.

End

The Shalimar Gardens in Srinagar was built by the Mughal Emperor Jahangir for his wife Nur Jahan, in 1619, and later, extended on the order of Emperor Shah Jahan. ‘Shalimar’ meant ‘Abode of Love’ or ‘House of Joy’.

On sighting these Gardens, the Emperor was believed to have recalled Amir Khusrau’s farsi couplet:

‘Gar firdaus bar rue zameen ast / hameen asto, hameen asto, hameen ast’
If ever there is Paradise on Earth / It is here! It is here! It is here!

More at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shalimar_Bagh_(Srinagar)

A ‘Natural’ Art

A hundred and five words on ‘Garden’ in response to Aheila’s challenge at: http://thewriteaholicblog.wordpress.com/.

The Garden is an intricate blend of nature’s bounty and subtle human creation, a celebration of aesthetic expression and appreciation, a forum for seamless dialogue between the creations of man and nature inviting interaction and exploration, an ideal retreat for public leisure and awakening of human sensitivity to the environment.

Touch the rocks, partake the fragrance, feast on the landscaping, hear the rustle of the leaves, the bubbling streams and call of the birds, and savor the fruits right off the trees!

An evocative bouquet that awakens the mind to the beauty of life, to a grateful prayer for the gift of the five senses!

End

Well, I had never looked at a garden before in these terms. Was bowled over by this alluring imagery.

Would the real be a climb-down? Perhaps, not. This is about ‘The Garden of Five Senses’, a project of Delhi Tourism and Transportation Development Corporation.

Visit http://www.vigyanprasar.gov.in/5senses/develop71a.htm for the original and more.

The Untold Story About A Rearing Horse (contd.)

Part 3

‘So, there you are, just as I thought, wasting your time as well as Uncle’s.’

I turned around to see the voice belonged to a comely young lady clad modestly in a salwar-kameez. Her dupatta in disarray, locks of hair jumping their braid and playing on her forehead, the exasperated look in her kaajaled eyes – and she appeared to be addressing my master story-teller.

A moment’s silence – we all looked at each other. He was quite calm like he didn’t hear her or the words were not spoken to him.

‘I must be mad in my head to have fallen for him. Uncle, please tell him.’

She paused to catch her breath.

‘He doesn’t work anywhere, doesn’t earn a rupee. He does just three things – imposes himself on people like you, reads books or disappears for hours into some Internet Café. So how are we going to pull on? Doesn’t bother him a bit. I’ve even threatened him, one day I’ll just leave.’

For the first time since the arrival of this typhoon, I got my turn and I rushed to his defense: ‘You’ve with you an invaluable gem, a storehouse of immense knowledge, and you don’t see it, my friend.’

‘Uncle, tell me, how do we generate cash out of this invaluable gem? Sell him? Pawn him? Who’ll buy him? All in my fate. Now, come, let’s figure out for tomorrow.’

She took him by his hand and pulled him away.

‘Hold for a minute. I immensely enjoyed listening to him for the last hour and it cannot be for free. He said he won’t accept money. Please keep this. I wish I had more on me.’ I thrust the three hundred rupee notes into her reluctant hands.

‘Thanks very much, Uncle.’

In a few winks, they were gone by the nearest exit, the Vellai Gopuram.

Days later on returning to my base, I scoured the Internet high and low for corroborating sources. Surprisingly couldn’t find much. Came up with ‘A Forgotten Empire: Vijaynagar’ by Robert Swell, an oft cited classic, I learnt. It was mentioned by my master story-teller too, I remembered. Large parts of his amazing story were supported by this source.

Was the whole thing a clever scam? An incurable romantic, making it up? I don’t want to think so. If it was made up what then is the real story?

I regretted I did not find out more personal and contact details of him, not even his name, much less a snapshot; and fondly hope I run into him again in Srirangam or anywhere else.

End

The post, partly inspired by ‘The Miracle’ of Fredrick Forsyth, is not entirely fictional.

The photographs are taken with thanks from Wiki and http://richardarunachala.wordpress.com/2011/03/08/sri-ranganathaswamy-temple-trichy-tamil-nadu/.

Thanks to Ms. Prema Srinivasan, my m-in-l, a post-graduate in History, for pointing me to Swell’s work, the chief verbatim source for Part 2.

The Vellai Gopuram has its own poignant story, a story of high courage, deceit for a noble cause ending in a heart rending sacrifice, with social overtones. The Kamban mandapam again in the same prakaram to the north has witnessed historic events of a different kind. More on these in subsequent posts.

Can I just buy some stamps?

Part 3: Good Bye, Humberto…

On our last day in Moyogalpa, we sat patiently in our hotel lobby. We knew that the ferry would blow its horn when it was time to board. We would sit in the shade of the garden-like hotel and then head into the sun and humidity only when the boat was boarding its passengers.
Humberto, who had never even glanced at us in days, now began a conversation.

Humberto: Where are you from?

Me: We are from America.

Humberto: How long are you traveling?

Me: I’m traveling for only a few months, Jeff has half a year.

Humberto: (shrugs) Oh.

He then looked back to his magazine as though we had never talked. I seized the moment; this was my first “conversation” with him and I was quite curious to know a bit about him. I thought of something to say to keep the conversation alive.

Me: How is business?

Humberto: Not good.

Me: (thinking – no kidding), “Why is that?”

Humberto: Him (he motioned with his head towards the Bahiha Restaurant and Hotel).

Me: What do you mean, how does he affect your business?

Humberto: He takes all the customers.

Oh, I see where this is going. I felt like a cat about to snatch a mouse. Jeff sat back with a big grin knowing what was about to transpire.

Me: Why do you think that is? (I tried to hide my sarcasm)

Humberto: Because he cheats.

This comment took me by surprise. “He cheats?” I thought, “What does he mean?”

Me: Humberto, what do you mean he cheats?

Humberto: Look at him, how he is nice to those people, he doesn’t even know them.

Me: What’s wrong with being nice to someone? Especially your customers?

Humberto: Why should you be nice to your customers? So that they will buy from you? This is dishonest. He doesn’t like those people [his customers], he just pretends to like them so that they will buy from him.

Me: I don’t understand. What is wrong with being nice to someone? If you meet someone in the street are you rude to them or are you nice to them?

Humberto: That is different, someone in the street isn’t trying to buy from you. When you are nice to a customer it is like offering them a bribe to buy from you.

Wow, it made absolutely no sense to me. I tried to look at it through the eyes of a man who lived through a…dictatorship regime. I suppose showing any form of “customer service” whether that be a smile, a friendly attitude or just good service was viewed as decadence…this guy actually believes that being courteous to your customers is a form of social bribery…

End

Can I just buy some stamps?

Part 2: I don’t get…

That evening I actually wrote 6 post cards. The next morning, while having breakfast at the Bahiha, I asked for change again. I had my 27 Cordobas ready to buy my 3 extra stamps. After I ate I went over to my hotel and found Humberto behind the counter. I announced that I needed 3 more stamps and watched in near disbelief as he slid down the counter, put on his postmaster hat and then announced as though he hadn’t heard a word I had said.

Humberto: How can I help you?

Me: (…OK, I’ll play along) I need three stamps.

Humberto: I’m sorry, it is Sunday, the post office is closed.

Argh!!! Are you kidding me? Why didn’t he just tell me that before he put on his stupid hat? What is wrong with this guy?…

Me: No, seriously, I need 3 stamps. Look, I even have correct change.

Humberto: No, the post office is closed today. You must come back tomorrow.

Me: What’s the point? Just sell me the stamps! I’m your customer!

Humberto: The post office is closed, there is nothing I can do.

Jeff stood nearby laughing and said, “Forget it dude, just buy the stamps tomorrow.”

I agreed and as we walked off I vented to him. It made no sense at all.

(To be contd.)