Friday, November 18, 2005

Ten Minutes

Few men have the privilege of seeing smiling dear faces just before they die. It is a beautiful picture to be carried to heaven. Such was the luck of the old man next door who passed away yesterday morning. And, he had his watch with him until the last moment and it was still ahead by ten minutes. Well, to answer your questions about the significance of the watch let me narrate some incidents from his life, which he himself had told me a few days ago. .

He was nine years old when he got his first real watch. His father never needed a watch to understand time, so he had to wait a full year, after he fell in love with the dial on his classmate's hand, before he could convince his father to get it for him. He held on to his father's hand tightly as they walked to the showroom. Among all the beautiful ones on display, he found no difficulty in spotting the one he wished, for he had seen it as many times in his dreams as on his friend's wrist. As soon as he got it, he wanted to wear it, so he asked the cashier for the correct time. The reply was "around 10 AM", the impreciseness and tone of which led him to look for other more reliable sources. He looked around and saw that all the clocks on the wall were showing ten minutes past ten, That should be the right time, he thought, and adjusted his watch accordingly. Little did he know that all those clocks were destined to show ten past ten until they obtained moksha through sale.

That was how his watch became ten minutes faster than others'. He realized it the very next day when he reached the classroom. He saw the class was just about half-full when he entered and the teacher had not yet reachedm, sights which he had not seen for long . He had been a notorious late-comer, who enjoyed the attention he received as he entered with excuses old and new day after day. But on this day, he had his watch to draw enough attention, so he decided to wait in class. The teacher was surprised at seeing him and could not prevent a mocking smile from flowing on to her lips. Some of his classmates also started giggling and he was becoming furious. He felt the sudden urge to run out of the class and re-adjust his watch back by half an hour or so. But soon the teacher regained her sense of duty and started praising him for his punctuality. She looked at his watch and commented that it looked great which made him feel proud. She displayed the watch to the entire class and told them how it had motivated and helped him become a regular student.

He was so elated by all this that he indeed resolved to become a good student. He started attending classes with interest and regularity. He vacated his place on the last bench and moved forward. He began to excel in studies and started to enjoy the new kind of attention he was now getting. He was hailed as the ideal, committed, sincere student and son, dream of many a teacher and a mother.

He was eighteen and a college student. By then the fact that his watch was ahead by ten minutes had been ingrained in his mind. So he always did the subtraction to get the right time whenever it was necessary. Where it was not, he did not bother. For example, he renamed the 8.30 bus to college as the 8.40 bus and used his watch for getting ready. But when a person on the road asked for the time, he used to subtract before telling them, for he had developed the habit of being sincere in every interaction even with strangers.

On one such occasion the stranger beside him at the bus-stop asked him the time. He had his own watch but he was suspecting it to be slow because he feared having missed his usual bus which was nowhere in sight. As usual our sincere hero subtracted ten minutes and told him it was 3.20 PM, but this time matched what his watch showed. The man was unconvinced by this and took a direct look at the hero's watch and saw that it showed a time different from what he was told. He became angry and questioned our hero of his mischievous conduct. The latter tried to explain to him that his watch was actually ahead by ten minutes but the man could not understand why anyone should keep their watch wrong knowingly. At the end of the conversation, the man was still half-unconvinced, so he moved his watch five minutes ahead. This frustrated our young man and he had the sudden urge to reset his watch to the correct time as soon as he reached home. But then he started to rethink on why should he be so correct always. He recollected so many people for whom his exactness did not seem to matter and the indifference they returned him. From the next day, he stopped his subtraction on the road and he discovered that he was in fact happy at the thought that more people are running small parts of their lives ten minutes ahead of schedule.

It was just the beginning of a change. He discovered that he had this feeling of boredom within him for some time, which he had not analyzed so far. He became selective about when and with whom he should be ideally sincere and correct, and about expecting the same in return. He started feeling more and more a part of life in the campus, a world of humor and pranks, colors and shades, love and hate in many forms, stories and dreams, and a lot of group activity.

He was twenty seven and wondering whether his search for long lasting love was nearing its end. He had met her a week ago at a friends' place and liked her at first sight. She was modern, educated and smart and seemed to fit his concept. They had become good friends in a short time. So last evening when they met he had invited her for a tea next day at a beach-side restaurant, with the intention of making his proposal there. They agreed to meet there at 5 PM and he said "5.10" to himself for he wanted to plan it perfectly. They continued their conversation that day and just before they parted, she noticed that their watches showed different times and adjusted hers to match his.

By next evening she had forgotten about the changed time, so she arrived quite early while he was still on the way planning a proposal of elegance and sweet timing. As she waited outside the restaurant she saw an old friend of hers just leaving it and walking towards his car. She called out his name and walked up to him. She invited him for another tea, this time with her and a friend who was coming. So when our hero reached the restaurant, he realized that he did not have the privacy to carry out his plans. He was told that they were friends from college and the conversation was hijacked by their memoirs of college life. He felt more disappointed when he noticed that she was talking to her rediscovered friend as intimately as she did with him. So he postponed his proposal plans till he was more confident about it. A week later she invited him for tea, and said she had a surprise for him, and when he reached there he saw that they were both sitting at the same table waiting for him. They had decided to tie the knot, he was told, as they had re discovered their lost love for each other. They had parted in a dreamy world and have met in a realistic one. They told him that he was send by god to unite them and he did so by arranging that remarkable coincidence the week before. He congratulated them and soon took leave. .

He was furious and heart broken. His thoughts started from the ridiculous and ended up in reason. He realized that it was his own doubts, and he still had them, about their relationship that had caused this. And perhaps this was a better ending to the episode. But why did he have to become the agent of their meeting? Marriages are made in heaven, he concluded, and God knows how to get them arranged. He was surprised to discover that he had thought of God, after a long gap. On his way back home he stopped at a temple to pray and from then on became a regular there. It was there he would first meet the girl who would later become his wife.

He was forty five years old then. His only daughter was staying away from home to pursue her studies. His wife had become more of a mother. He had been working at the same firm for last fifteen years. He was expecting his next promotion that year for the hard effort he had been putting in.

He heard that news from his boss. There was no promotion for him this year, He became extremely dejected and angry and left the office for home. On the way, he criticized himself for being part of the wretched salaried class never free from politics and taxes. He could have become a businessman, if only he had not followed the common path that all sincere students in school follow. For he knew he was intelligent even when he was not studious. His car stopped at a signal and an old blind man came near it asking for alms. This sight turned his thought in another direction. He could have remained sincere and idealistic through college and maybe he could have done more for the society as well as attain fame and satisfaction. He reached home and rang the bell. His wife was in the middle of her daily long prayer. He told her of what happened in office and she tried to comfort him saying that God does everything for one's good but it had the opposite effect on him. As she returned to prayers, he felt an instant hate for her and her God and could not help wondering whether he would have had a better life if he had reached the restaurant on time on that fateful day. He felt a strong urge to try and reset everything in his life.

He was woken to reality by his mobile phone ring. He picked up the phone and heard her daughter's voice at the other end. She was calling to remind him to take his medicine. The strict doctor had prescribed a tablet to be taken every day at 8 PM sharp for a week and his stricter daughter had been calling every day at that time. He looked at his watch and in his bad mood told her that she was ten minutes late and he had already taken the drug. She caught his evasiveness and told him that her watch also showed 8.10, the same time as his, as it has always done. She recollected that she had used similar ploys with her mother to get the jalebis on to the table faster. She told him that every time she looked at her watch she was reminded of him and their moments together. Tears ran down his cheeks as he listened to her words and he felt a sense of fulfillment. No, he said to himself, he would not change anything in his life even if given a chance. After all, he had never tried to do anything unnatural to himself. He had just followed his heart.

He was sixty three and happy. He still loved his wife, his daughter, his grandchildren, his achievements and his home. One day as he was reflecting on his life, he recollected the above incidents again, connected them and realized the role that his watch had played. He asked his daughter to repair it for him, which had been out of use for long. When she gave it to him he asked her for the correct time. She replied it was 11 PM and he set his watch to ten minutes ahead of it. And smiled.

So friends, now you should be able to appreciate how much a part and participant of his life was his watch. He got a farewell of smiles because just before his last breath he joked that he was happy to die because the world will remember him as a man who lived ahead of his time. At that moent the wall clock struck ten.


Friday, November 11, 2005

Bus No.164/166

The Top Topic
In some buses there are seats near the middle where people sit facing others, like in the train compartment. That provides a good setting for some public conversation. I've wondered what topics do people, strangers and from different age groups and home states, have to discuss in common. As far as bus travel is concerned, I've got the answer. The most common topic of discussion in the bus is about buses themselves. The most important questions have the format "Which bus goes there?"

So on one day I hear some kids on way to school discussing about where and how does the 164's and the 166's go and which takes lesser time. As usual, there was one boy leading from the front, mapping numbers huge enough for him to places he has probably never seen, and taking pride in it. There were many ones among them he was seemingly not sure of (or had no idea of), but he handled them cautiously with casual glances around to see who among the unintended tall listeners looked dangerous. There was the other boy beside him, who was chipping in between with his limited but genuine knowledge, but listening intently to the former one seemingly trying to memorize what he heard. Then there were the two girls in the opposite seat, who may have been the only real intended listeners, one of them nodding in agreement and asking some questions to both the boys, and the other little one who seemed to be flying around somewhere in her own small beautiful world (was there a gentle rhyme on her lips?)

And on another day I see a man in his sixties talking about the same to an audience in their twenties. The listeners seemed to belong to the newly landed forward looking young crowd of bangalore having little idea of its history and geography and more gravely, of bus numbers and routes. So the old man took on the responsibility of education and seemed to be doing it with conviction and genuine interest. He seemed to know as many bus routes as the number of grey hairs he had, and seemed to enjoy this opportunity to talk. And the three young listeners again seemed to consist of a learner, a listener and a dreamer. Just that the learner was finding the job easier, the listener was asking more questions than needed and the dreamer was getting slightly irritated by all this discussion.

The universality of a topic depends on what the universe is.

The Curious Twins
The young boys were looking outside through the window and talking to each other, each one having one arm over the other's shoulder.

They hear the sound of nadaswaram into he distance and get up from their seats to get closer to the window. Soon they spot the marriage crowd near the temple and watch them with curiosity. They notice the decoration and the colors. They see a lot of happy faces. They try to imitate the music. Boys, enjoy the music of hope and union!

The bus moves forward from the stop. Another few minutes, and they here another loud sound. They look out of the window again with same curiosity. They see the ambulance struggling to pierce through the traffic. They see the flash light and the white paint. They see a lot of largely indifferent faces. They attempt to shut their ears with hands to block the sound. Yes boys, that sound reminds of despair and separation.

Childhood is bliss!

Smiling Together
It was a crowded bus and passengers were struggling for space. Rains and traffic were at their peak and the bus was moving like a snail. The air was cold and smelled of frustration. The conductor came to us near the rear of the bus for giving tickets. Suddenly he seemed to have remembered something, looked outside and then started shouting aloud "Left, left" turning towards the front of the bus. The bus then took a left turn and he turned and explained that the driver was new on this route. This seemed to enthuse some youth at the back seats who took up the job from the conductor. They started shouting the directions in unison "Right, right", then "left, left", "straight, straight" and so on. They got supported by some voices at the front as well. The air was becoming warmer and happier and there were a lot of smiles around. Some more mischievous ones started shouting out wrong directions as well, inviting laughter from some and anger from others. The bus suddenly was livelier and seemed to be moving faster. Well, not sure what the driver was feeling amidst this though!

On another day, and in another crowded bus, there were again smiles. The bus had just left a stop and was fast accelerating when there were some shouts from near the door asking the driver to stop the bus. The driver did shouted that there was enough time to get in or out during last stop and now he will go on. Then someone shouted out that it was none other than the conductor himself who was left out at the last stop. That provoked laughter, multiple shouts of "holdeee, holdeee" and combined bangs against the roof. The driver put the brakes and there were many smiling faces looking out of the windows welcoming the conductor woo was running towards the bus from behind.

When God send man to live, he gave him a powerful weapon. It is called humor.

I stand and listen to the voices. Kannada voices discussing bangalore and work. Tamil voices talking of the latest stars in movies. A Hindi voice sharing his dreams of job, car and family with his yaar. A malayalee arranging friends' get-together over the phone. Telugu voices talking I understand not what of. An English voice whispering metropolitan love. And others too, which I fail to identify.

I look for signs of Silicon Valley, I see a young man reading "C Programming" very intently at the bus stop while waiting for the bus. Inside the bus I hear discussions about SQL, java, windows and Linux. I hear of placements, foreign trips and salary differences. I hear call-centre experiences.

I feel the population. The big rush when the bus arrives to get the seats. Is it the sense of accomplishment, victory over others that we seek or the actual comfort of seat? Or is this fight for space simply natural for us necessary to move ahead? The bus moves slowly disadvantaged by its size in the vehicles' fight for space to move. And more often than not, in wars there are no rules.

I'm still sampling!