those cool summer days


indispire 169

“Now that Deepayan’s school is closed for summer vacations, why don’t you all come down here.”  It was my brother in law at the other end of the call.

“If Durga is not free, at least they  can send Deepayan here to spend a couple of weeks.” I could overhear his wife’s loud prompting.

“I heard what bhabiji said. We will discuss and call you back”, I said and hung up.

It was this invitation that brought back memories of long summer vacations of my childhood spent in my maternal grandparents’ home. It also prompted me to suggest the topic on Indispire.

Indian BloggersTill I was 8 or 9,  summer vacations meant my granpa’s palce in Narayanapur, a tiny village four  kilometers away from my own village. Usually we walked the distance, through rice fields, mango groves, and along a  river avoiding the  lengthier motor-able road.

Narayanapur is a small village consisting of about a dozen  houses. My grandpa’s was the corner house towards the western end of the village. It had extensive coconut, banana mango, palm and other plantations covering the back and the west side the house. In front, across the main village road, was his lemon estate. My morning and evening routine consisted of  assisting my uncles in taking care of the plantations. There was a thatched mud walled house in the lemon estate that served as the place for my noon time siesta and reading room. Other pastimes included  swimming in the  pond adjacent to the village, exploring the numerous ancient temples surrounding the village and occasionally, playing with the other village boys.

My grandmother specialized in preparing various types of traditional sweets. Back in those days my favourite sweet item was ‘Arisha Pitha’.  Whenever she sensed that the charm of grandpa’s place was wearing off she would say, “Look I have already made arrangement for your favourite sweet dish. Tomorrow you will have it”.  Another incentive to detain me was to inform me that the Mahaprasad  from the local Narayana Temple was the lunch menu for the next day. This Mahaprasad, which was home delivered in a huge thali, consisted of varieties of rice, dal, curry and sweets – twenty to twenty five items in all. It was  sufficient for seven to eight adults.  Of course you have to pre-book, sometimes weeks in advance. Now imagine, home delivery of lunch for the entire family including guests in a remote village that too against a very nominal donation. Moreover, this system is as old as the twelfth century temple.

Grandma also made varieties of pickles from fruits and vegetables which were collected from the plants  grown around the house. It was so much confusion to choose the pickles of the day out of so many varieties – carambola, bitter gourd, amla, bamboo shoot, mango, lemon and so on. Again some of them had sweet as well as pungent versions.

After spending two to three weeks or sometimes a whole month,  I would be back to my native village. The summer vacation was far from being over.  In my village the days would be spent among friends with the usual sports, games and a little badmashi. Our play ground was not restricted to the village street, our houses or the backyards. It extended to the two huge  mango groves, three ponds, two mountains and a river surrounding the village.

 The two mango groves did not belong to any particular owner as a whole. Each tree or a group of trees had a different owner. So, the access to the mangoes was restricted but not to the grove or the trees. Because of this, while the security guards had a very tough time,  it  provided many avenues of fun to us.

During those long summer days a personal connection was established with each of those hundreds of trees. Each  mango tree had a character of its own.  If one gave out mangoes that tasted sweet only when raw,  another  was useful only as pickle, and yet another one must be left alone till its fruits fell down ripe. A group of two to three mango trees in a corner of the grove provided such thick foliage, not a single ray of the sun could make it to the ground thus, making it ideal to host the marathon card games for the village idlers.

I went to my native village a couple of years back. When I visited the mango groves, I was almost in tears. The majority of the trees were either uprooted or branch-less. The Cyclone Phailin that stuck Odisha in October 2013 did all the damage it could do so that this vibrant childhood playground  lived only in our memories.

Wear Your T-shirt to Humanity

The other day my social activist friend said,” Come on we have to start doing something some where”.

“Where exactly do we start? Do you have an action plan”, I asked in a friendly voice, even though he would often term me,  in as unfriendly manner as possible, as a speed breaker.

“It is like this. We go and raise funds. Then we buy fifty thousand T shirts”.

Being a born skeptic, I asked, “T Shirts?”.

“I mean these will not be ordinary T shirts. We will get the slogan -Save Trees – printed boldly on both the front and back of the T shirts. If needed we will go for another fund raising to organise a grand function. We will invite a celebrity I know to inaugurate the T shirt”.

“Great”,   I said. “Why can’t we use the funds to plant trees. Directly. As simple as that”.

My friend was agitated. Annoyed. I could see the passion of social service burning in his eyes. “You people will never appreciate my subtle ideas. You will never understand. First it is important to educate people. You know, educate people. Create awareness. You know, create awareness”.

He went on and on till I surrendered. His idea was that writing ‘cigarette smoking is injuries to health’ was the only way to eradicate smoking from this earth once and for ever.

We are a people of symbols and gestures.  It is in our DNA. That is why events and campaigns about social ills start with a bang and fizzle out in a couple of months, till another grand even after a couple of months comes up to cover up for all our callousness.

Occasions like campaigning for swatchh bharat are great opportunities for schools to improve their brand value. It also provides an opportunity for the teachers and students to upgrade their social media status. You may clean something in the morning and by evening it is back to square one. That is why one should not make one’s hands dirty and preserve their cleanliness to to utilise for a fantastic selfie.

During those initial days of swatchh bharat mania, it was a usual sight to see a duo or trio of  school teachers  driving a herd  of school kids holding placards and shouting slogans. They also held brooms and stopped every now and then for selfies and photo ops. I was so much swayed by their enthusiasm I also joined them. (Not because one of the teachers was pretty, mind you). At the end of the rigorous ritual lasting for one hundred and twenty minute, each child and teacher, on an average, must have spent one hundred minutes in selfies and photo ops. One teacher confided in me, “There is strict instruction from the principal. The photos must be of good quality. This event will be a watershed one for our school magazine. We will also go for a press release”

Social media like whatsapp have created another brand of social activists. You can feel the fire in their fingers. They are experts in forwarded as received messages. They do no have even time to read the messages. Because in a day they have a set a target of 10, 000 messages to be forwarded. So, you cannot accuse them of not understanding the messages.  However, it makes them appear more humane than you are. They even threaten you and emotionally black mail you. “You must forward the message to hundred others, or else you are not a patriot/ your are not a human being / you do not love your mother and so on”.  By the way I have lost a couple of close old friends because I dared to exit from such non sense groups created by them to spread socially bullshit messages. On their part, such virtual activists are absolved of all the social responsibility that comes up with being actively associated with the issues on the ground.

In the ultimate analysis, it makes sense to wear your T shirt to humanity.  You might have erroneously and unintentionally (and very humanely, because to err is human) killed a couple of animals and human beings, but wearing a T shirt is regret enough to absolve you of all your sins, because now you appear more humane than your fellow human beings and animals who choose not to flaunt such a T shirt.

being gandu

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A Tale of Two Gossips

I am thoroughly disappointed to know that google cannot throw out a name with xxxxxxphobia for this fear that I had while growing up to my early teens. It was the fear of marketing. Let it not be confused with the market place where I enjoyed roaming anonymously. It was rather the dread to purchase something. The fear was at its worst when it came to vegetables.

When I want to be precise and google, ‘fear of purchasing vegetables’, I am suggested with a poor substitute – lachanophobia which is actually the fear of vegetables. I am disappointed again because I love vegetables. I have always done so.  My mother was such a good cook of vegetarian dishes. My wife is not that bad. (Hope she is not reading this).

Before I describe the detailed prescription that I followed to get rid of this, let me share my assumption about the the genesis of this fear.

Being the youngest among all siblings I was pampered a lot during my early childhood. Nobody ever allotted me any household chore. If I went to a shop, it was to fulfill my own fancies of chocolates or some other thing. It was never to get a packet of salt that my father had forgotten to add to the monthly grocery list.

Once, while we were staying at a relative’s house, the lady of the house politely requested me to go to the vegetable market and get some fresh vegetable. I was the last option available to her, she said. She did not tell me exactly what vegetable to get. Of course, had she given me a list of vegetables to get, it would not have bettered the after effects.  If I remember, I got the costliest vegetables in the market by paying the highest imaginable price as if to claim my place among the highest bidders of a market where no body was bidding for anything. What was worse was that the vegetables I bought were not as fresh as was expected. Of course she was not angry. But my adventure in the vegetable market became the latest gossip in the neighborhood. Her husband, who fancied himself to be the funniest man of his era, started teasing me from next day. “Here is our great marketing man. Now on, whoever needs vegetable, make sure you do not forget Baba. (my pet name). He knows the freshest vegetables and  how to get those at the most reasonable price”.

From then on, whenever by mistake I happened to be at the vegetable market I  felt that all the vendors were evil-incarnates and were born in the world for the sole motive to cheat innocent boys like me. Slowly the fear went viral from vegetables to other items. This fear was akin to the stage fear faced by those who have stage fear. I developed many innovative excuses to escape from being sent to purchase anything.

There came a time when I was boarded out from home to be a boarder in a High School. There, we had a very tough hostel superintend who saw to it that we had many Gandhian habits inculcated in us. It was compulsory for two inmates to go to the market by turns to purchase vegetable for our mess. When I learnt of this, it was already too late to persuade my father to shun the idea of admitting me into that school. The consolation was that I would not be going to the  market alone.

For my first marketing adventure, a boy from the senior class was my teammate. That further emboldened me. Still, before entering the market I told him about my being a total novice to the world of marketing and my dread of the vendors. He laughed off. Never even  in his wildest of dreams could he conceive of such a fear. He commented, “So padhai mein hero, baaki sab mein mein zero”. Actually I had stood first in the district Board exam of class VII. By the time I joined the school, I had already become notorious in the district for being a kind of a ‘studious’ star.

When we were purchasing vegetable I noticed that the vendor had tampered with the weighing machine in such a way that the wight will be invariably be less than what we had bargained for. I pointed this to my senior and also explained the scientific principle behind it. He was surprised. Even though he knew the scientific principle he had never noticed this.

The next day, I was the subject of gossip all over the school. But this time the gossip was about a star who had saved the hostel from the sharks of the vegetable market.

“Let him go to the market every other day”, said the superintendent when he learned of this.

I also looked forward, with a tinge of revenge and missionary zeal, to save my hostel from the vegetable cheats.

P.S: The above incidents actually took place. The only characters fictionalized are the person who used to tease me and the lady. The person who used to tease me about my marketing skill later on became my father-in-law.

Did I take a sweet revenge on him? (For the second time, I hope, my wife is not reading this).

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(This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda.)